The Big Dipper - 8 Days Alone in Algonquin

Trip Info

Date: September 7th – 14th, 2021

ROUTE Smoke > Big Porcupine Big Porcupine > McGarvey McGarvey > North Grace North Grace > Louisa Louisa > Phipps Phipps > Ragged Ragged > Smoke
Travel (Single)
3.5 hrs
2 hrs
1.5 hrs
1.5 hrs
3 hrs
3.5 hrs
2 hrs
Travel (Double)
4.5 hrs
3 hrs
2 hrs
2.5 hrs
4 hrs
4.5 hrs
2 hrs
Portage #1
240m
220m
810m
1,460m
510m
175m
240m
Portage #2
590m
930m
165m
-
470m
200m
-
Portage #3
-
425m
-
-
715m
590m
-
Portage #4
-
-
-
-
60m
-
-
SINGLE CARRY
830m
1,575m
975m
1,460m
1,755m
965m
240m
DOUBLE CARRY
2,490m
4,725m
2,925m
4,380m
5,265m
2,895m
720m
DIFFICULTY Travel (Single) Travel (Double) Portages Single Carry Double Carry
Total
17 hrs
22.5 hrs
16 portages
7,800m
23,400m
Per Travel Day
2.5 hrs
3 hrs
2 portages
1,114m
3,343m
Trip Reports The Big Dipper Map and Details
Credit goes to Algonquin Map v4.0 from Jeff’s Map at algonquinmap.com, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License. All derivatives or copies must use the same license and note the original author.

Background

This is the trip that I was looking forward to the most in 2021. It was going to be my third trip of the season, my first of the season in September (my favourite month in the park), and it was going to be double the length as my other trips in 2021. So yeah, I was excited!

When planning the route, there were a few things that I took into consideration. First, even post-Labour Day was going to be busy in the backcountry this year, so I wanted at least a few nights on smaller lakes. Second, I knew I wanted to cover at least a little bit of new territory, but I was ok with repeating some areas as well. Lastly, I wanted to go to McGarvey. I don’t think there’s anything particularly special about McGarvey Lake; in fact I’ve actually heard a few people say that it’s not very memorable. But for the past 4 years I’ve had McGarvey built into my plans, and each year, somehow those plans changed and I never went. 2021 was going to be the year of McGarvey!

And why is it called The Big Dipper? Just take a look at the map! I had considered some Little Dipper options, going from Big Porcupine > McGarvey > Bonnechere > Big Porcupine, but that’s a route more suited for a 3-4 day trip, so I created a bigger loop, aka The Big Dipper.

Day 1 – Smoke Lake to Big Porcupine Lake

Why is it that despite attempting to go to bed super early the evening before a trip, I can never actually sleep? That sounds like a rhetorical question but the answer is probably simple… excitement, or nerves. I’m not sure which one it was for this trip, but I had a TERRIBLE sleep. About 3hrs of tossing and turning. At 3:30 AM, thirty minutes before my alarm was set to go off, I finally gave up and got out of bed.

I made it to Smoke Lake at 7:00 AM. I almost forgot to call Algonquin Outfitters the day prior to find out the number of my boat (it was delivered in advance and waiting for me). There was supposed to be a sticker on the boat with my name on it, but they forgot to include that, so it was lucky that I did call to get the actual boat number.

This was my third time starting a trip from Smoke Lake, and for the third time, the lake was covered in a thick fog making it nearly impossible to see more than 20ft ahead of me.

The short but uphill 240m was pretty brutal on my first carry since I was taking the canoe, my fully loaded barrel, as well as my camera gear. I wasn’t looking forward to The Devils Staircase coming up next.

The paddle down Ragged Lake was very peaceful. The sun was shining and I got to watch other groups start their morning routine at their campsite as I passed by. I was the only one on the water. The south end of Ragged Lake right before the portage into Big Porcupine can be a bit tricky to navigate through, but once you figure out the right way it’s not too bad.

When I got to the portage landing for The Devils Staircase, I lay back on my pack behind me while still in the canoe and took  a quick 10 minute nap. I was crazy tired from the lack of sleep, the drive, and the first few hours of the trip, and I knew I needed a quick micro nap jolt of energy before this portage.

The Devils Staircase sucked. Even after my micro nap I still just didn’t have the energy for it, and the weight of my first carry didn’t make things any easier. I was happy when I finished, knowing that the next time I would do this portage I’d be going downhill with a much lighter barrel.

I took Campsite #11 on Big Porcupine; it’s the site right at the point just before the narrows. It’s a nice site with open rock facing west and a spacious interior. I didn’t know what was still available in the south end of the lake and I decided not to take my chances.

I got to camp before noon and spent the whole afternoon relaxing around the site. I did my campsite chores, made an early dinner, got a fire going for a few hours, and sat by the shoreline. I noticed that fall colours were starting to make an early appearance. They weren’t prominent at all, but it was definitely noticeable that they were just starting. I was hoping that by the end of the trip they would be even stronger.

The forecast was calling for 30-40mm of rain overnight (yes I know, that’s a crazy amount) and I mistakenly pitched my tent at the bottom of a very steep hill. Not smart Cody. After assessing the other tent spots, they weren’t much better… they all had a nearby slope leading into them. But at least the spot I chose had some tree protection.

I pitched my tarp above my tent and took every large rock I was able to find at the campsite and created a drainage structure around the perimeter of my tent to help flow the water away. I was still nervous about whether my preparations would be enough, or if I was going to wake up in the middle of the night in a big puddle.

It started to rain at 7:00 PM so that’s when I got into the tent, with my fingers crossed.

Day 2 – Big Porcupine Lake to McGarvey Lake

It didn’t stop raining the whole night. It turned into a drizzle at times, then back to downpour, but it rained all the way through. I woke up at 6:30 AM and got out of my tent to find the area surprisingly dry. The tarp did most of the work, and then the rock drainage surprisingly worked as well. I was worried there was going to be full puddles underneath my tent, but barely any water actually made it past my defences!

I packed up camp and got on the water at 8:30 AM to a calm lake and a sunny sky. I took my time paddling through Big Porcupine towards my first portage of the day.

I knew the portages would likely be muddy from all of the rain, but for this first portage, the landing SUCKED. The “high water” landing is right after a beaver dam, which is arguably even more annoying when travelling solo, so I took the muddy option instead. The portage itself wasn’t too bad… but yeah, that landing was brutal after all that rainfall.

Then it was time for the Double Devils Staircase. Was it going to be twice as hard? Double the stairs? I guess I was about to find out. The first 100m is basically straight uphill and what makes it even harder is that the narrow path of stairs will suddenly turn 90 degrees, so it’s difficult to manoeuvre while carrying the canoe.

At least I wasn’t scared of running into any bears on this portage. They’d take one look at those stairs and say “nope, screw that. I’ll get my berries somewhere else.”

There’s one or two more inclines after that first crazy portion and then it finally levels off. A couple muddy sections right near the end, and voila, I made it out of hell.

The last portage of my day into McGarvey Lake was much easier in comparison, although it did still have some rolling hills throughout and a very steep decline right at the end.

But alas, I made it to McGarvey Lake with a strong tailwind at my back. I was supposed to be the only person on the lake so I went straight for the island site. The campsite was indeed available so I brought my gear on shore and started to set up camp as the winds grew even stronger.

It was a pretty nice campsite. There is lots of rock by the shoreline, an open interior, and a more sheltered tent spot inland that I chose to use for the night. But the best part was that the wind was completely unnoticeable. I could hear the wind. I could see the wind when looking out to the water. But the island gave me the perfect amount of protection.

My one complaint about the campsite was that it was filthy. There was literally a garbage bag full of burnt cans… I guess they learnt the hard way that it doesn’t fully burn. There was about 1/2 lbs of coffee spilled right beside the fire pit… how do you even manage to do that? And there was a single Keen sandal… I wonder how long it took them to realize that one sandal went missing.

Even though previous campers at this site were completely irresponsible, I won’t hold it against the site, or McGarvey Lake in general.

I wanted to go check out the other sites on the lake, but I was completely windbound. Huge waves and whitecaps is not a good time to attempt paddling anywhere.

I decided to relax for the next few hours instead. I walked to the opposite end of the island, which wasn’t too exciting. It’s just hilly with downed trees everywhere. There’s some rock by the water when you make it all the way to the end, but you have rock by the water right at the actual campsite. So yeah, not worth it.

I collected some firewood while walking through the island on my way back. I spent some time processing it before making a quick dinner with my gas stove; a delicious Sweet + Sour Chicken from Backpacker’s Pantry!

Backpackers Pantry Meal in Algonquin Park September 2021

After dinner the wind finally slowed to an “ok, it’s safe to paddle” level. It was still gusting pretty strong, but not enough to deter me from going out for a paddle. I went to check out the other two sites on McGarvey Lake, which you can read about in my campsite reports. Then I came back home to get a fire going.

A handful of marshmallows and a few swigs of whiskey later, and I was ready to call it a night. I put away my camera gear early because the day was full of overcast and I doubted that I’d see any stars. But when I was ready for bed at 9:15 PM, the stars decided to actually make an appearance.

When duty calls…

(ok one of those pictures is a terrible astrophotography shot, but I think it looks pretty cool, don’t you think?)

I went and got my camera gear and set up for a few quick astrophotography shots. It was still windy by the shoreline, which meant it was quite chilly too. I only stayed out for 30min or so and then finally got ready to get into the tent for the second time.

I got the island campsite that I wanted, I was alone on the lake, and I had a really lovely evening by myself while ending the night with some stargazing. I’d say Day 2 was a big success.

Day 3 – McGarvey Lake to North Grace Lake

It rained again overnight. Not as much as the first night, but it was still plenty. And even worse, it kept going throughout the morning.

Packing up my tent and tarp in the rain is always annoying. Otherwise the morning was nice. I was still alone on McGarvey and it was very quiet and serene.

I got on the water at around 9:30 AM to start my day. The first 810m portage felt easy after the previous day. It had a few ups and downs and it was muddy at spots, but nothing too crazy. The landing at Lemon Lake however was super duper muddy.

Lemon Lake isn’t the prettiest lake in the area. It’s small, muddy, and has plenty of dead trees bordering the shoreline, many of which have fallen. But with no campsites it’s not a destination lake anyways.

My second and final portage of the day was similar to the first, just shorter. It was missing the portage sign on the Lemon Lake end, but it should be pretty obvious to find regardless.

I made it to North Grace around 11:15 AM. My home for two nights. I was deciding if I wanted to stop at the first campsite to document for my campsite reports, or just paddle straight to the site I actually wanted. Well, two minutes before approaching the site I saw a tipping spider in my boat. For those unaware about tipping spiders, see The Aftermath section of my trip report Six Days Solo in Algonquin: Misty, White Trout, McIntosh Loop for reference. 

The decision was made for me. I couldn’t keep paddling now that I saw the tipping spider, so I stopped at the campsite to deal with it. And while I was there I might as well take some pictures for my campsite reports, right!?

I continued onwards. The day before my trip started I was the only reservation for North Grace. At one point I had looked for 3-4 days before my arrival, and 3-4 days after. No one. Not a single reservation. Just me. I had a feeling that nothing had changed since then and that I’d have the lake to myself.

I arrived at the campsite that I wanted around noon and spent 1-2 hours just admiring how gorgeous of a site it was before I even unloaded my boat. I walked around, sat on the rocks… really just soaked it all in. By the time I finished setting up camp it was already 3:00 PM or so. I decided to do a quick day trip into Stringer Lake and take a look around. 

The portage into Stringer Lake was fun. Well, as fun as a portage can be. It isn’t too long, it isn’t too hilly, and there are some wooden boardwalks to cross an open section alongside the water. The canoe landings are pretty poor on both ends, but it’s not the end of the world.

Stringer Lake has a few really pretty viewpoints, but the real beauty is the complete sense of isolation. North Grace isn’t popular since it’s out of the main canoe routes in the area, and Stringer Lake is even farther of a detour. Plus, it’s a dead end lake. You really feel the solitude when you’re paddling through.

I stopped to check out both vacant campsites before having a really fun back-and-forth calling game with a nearby loon on the water.

I collected some firewood on my way back through the portage and then went back home to make myself some dinner.

I enjoyed a dehydrated AlpineAire meal on the large chunk of rock at the west end of the site. The sun was getting low in the sky while intermittently poking through the clouds.

The temperature outside was perfect. There was a gentle breeze. The lake was silent with the exception of the birds. And once again, I was completely alone. This is what it’s all about. I felt like I was in heaven. I was sipping on some whiskey too, so of course that only made things better.

On good weather evenings it’s basically a given that I’m going to go for a sunset paddle. But with my late day trip into Stringer Lake and my gorgeous campsite wanting to hang out with me, I decided to break tradition. I sat and watched the sunset from the campsite before putting the insane fire pit to good use.

It turned into a beautiful starry evening so after I was finished with the fire I went to the west point of the site to do some astrophotography. But first, the moon was on its way down so I was treated to a gorgeous moonset before getting to admire the stars.

It wasn’t too late in the evening and I’ve been wanting to try a night sky timelapse, so I figured this was the perfect chance. Usually I’m way too tired by the time the stars come out, but on this day I had the energy. Plus, I was staying on the same site the next day so I had all day to rest.

I ended up doing two timelapses. The first one turned out pretty great. There was definitely room for improvement, but it wasn’t too bad for a first attempt. The second one didn’t work out too well. The quick drop in temperature outside led to condensation forming on the front of the lens, which gradually blurred the images. Oh well, maybe I’d get another chance on Day 4 if it was another clear night.

But for now, it was time to go to bed.

Day 4 – Rest Day on North Grace Lake

Day 4 was a rest day for me. The only one of the trip. Although I somehow always manage to turn rest days into something strenuous anyways.

This day started with an early wakeup after a very restless sleep. I normally don’t sleep well in the backcountry, but on top of that I realized in the middle of the night that I was sleeping on a very gradual slope. Most people probably wouldn’t even notice, but it bugged me. I put some clothes under the bottom half of my sleeping pad to prop it up and even it out for my second night’s sleep.

After a quick breakfast I went for an early morning paddle on the perfectly calm and insanely gorgeous North Grace. I checked out the two nearby campsites, then paddled into the little section of the lake just beside the site north of mine. It had a very rough feel to it, but it also felt pristine, untouched by humans. A small relatively circular body of water that feels like its own mini lake beside North Grace, even though it’s actually part of the lake, just separated through a tiny passage.

When I got back to camp I spent 1-2 hrs processing firewood. A lot of firewood. I think I processed all of the firewood in Algonquin Park. Ok that may be an exaggeration, but it was a lot.

Then it was finally time to relax. My site was blocking most of the westerly winds and the sun was making frequent appearances, so I just enjoyed the open rock at the front shoreline of the campsite.

I was still completely alone and it was such a perfect day. I spent the rest of the day relaxing, doing some photography, taking some videos, and basically just embracing the trip and enjoying my amazing campsite.

I went for a sunset paddle back to the “mini lake” in hopes of seeing moose. I didn’t have any luck so I went back to the main body of the lake and stayed there for a while to watch the sunset. The wind had completely died down and the trees were reflecting perfectly against the water. It was definitely an evening to be out in the canoe.

I started making a fire well before my evening paddle when it got a bit chilly. I put it out while I left camp, but once I got back I got it going again. I had so much wood and I wanted to put it to good use. I was proud of my processing work so I rewarded myself with, well, fire!

It was another starry night after another even more spectacular moonset. Instead of going to the west point of the campsite, I set up my gear on the main rocky shoreline. I set up for a few more timelapses while I continued sitting beside my fire.

Towards the end of the evening I went to lie on the rock and enjoy the stars. I still hadn’t seen anyone since I left Big Porcupine a few days prior. No one was camping on McGarvey or North Grace. Not even a single person passed through. I was still completely alone. I was lying flat on my back with a million stars up above. The fire was crackling with a faint flicker to my left. The quiet shutter of my camera was going off every 10 seconds behind me. I felt totally calm and at peace in that moment. It truly was one of those moments that words can’t describe.

After two perfect days on North Grace, it was finally time for it to come to an end.

The weather was calling for strong winds in the morning, and only getting worse in the afternoon, building up to 42km/hr. As a soloist paddler and my destination being the huge Lake Louisa, I knew that I needed to get there as early as possible. Not only to avoid paddling in the worst of the winds, but also to make sure I got a campsite that would offer protection from the wind.

My alarm was set for 6:15 AM with hopes of being on the water before 8:00 AM.

Day 5 – North Grace Lake to Lake Louisa

I woke up as planned at 6:15 AM and it was already quite windy. I got on the water at 7:45 AM, a few minutes ahead of schedule. I was ready to tackle my one and only portage of the day – the 1,460m into Lake Louisa – which also happened to be my longest portage of the trip. Good thing my barrel was at least a few pounds lighter than when I started!

The portage from North Grace into Lake Louisa was probably the most hilly of the ones I had done thus far. There were a few bear tracks, and some moose poop in a few places as well. Overall, the portage was well maintained though. There’s two canoe resting spots along the way, although ironically I didn’t see them when I was doing my first carry with my canoe because the canoe was blocking the view. Oh well.

I arrived at Lake Louisa just past 9:00 AM. The waters were calm… for now. I was in the south bay and the wind was coming from the southwest, so I knew it would get worse when I got into the main body of the lake. Plus, it was still super early in the day.

The first campsite on the point was taken, and I could see in the distance that the site just east of it, on the south shore, was taken as well. The western of the two adjacent islands had a group packing up to leave, and to my utter surprise, the east of those two islands was available. This is probably the most popular site on the lake. I’ve been to Lake Louisa many times and I’ve seen most sites on the lake, but never this one. It has always been taken.

Of course, it’s an island site in the middle of the water and it faces west, so it was basically the worst idea given the weather forecast. But I went on land to check it out anyways.

Wow. Just wow. I won’t go into too much detail here, just go read my campsite report for it. What I will say though is that it was an insanely epic site and it provided all the shelter I would need from the winds. I was more than happy to stay there for the night. And the best part? It was only 10:00 AM so I still had the full day to enjoy the site.

After I set up camp I literally spent the whole day just roaming the island. Bouncing between the different chill areas depending on my mood. Front of the site when I wanted the views and was ok tolerating the wind. And the rocks at the side of the site when I wanted to enjoy the sun while being protected from the wind.

At one point I attempted to go for a paddle to check out some nearby sites while they were still empty. I made it 15ft from shore and gave it a big “nope”. The waves were crazy. I was able to paddle, but any wind gust would immediately bully me around.

Tipping the boat while paddling solo is never good. But tipping while paddling solo, in these crazy conditions? What happens after I tip and the waves are throwing me around as I lose sight of my canoe within seconds? Yeah, it’s a recipe for disaster. So I did the smart thing and I turned around.

Today was going to be a pure campsite day for me… no more paddling.

Other groups slowly trickled in as the day went on, occupying all of the campsites nearby. The only bad thing about this island campsite is that it doesn’t have great privacy. But that’s a tradeoff that’s worth it in my opinion.

The forecast called for rain in the evening and then overnight as well, so I made an early fire at around 5:00 PM. I enjoyed some of the extra warmth and prepared to spend the rest of the evening under my tarp or in my tent.

By 8:00 PM thick clouds had been hanging in the sky for a while, but the rain was still yet to come. The sun disappeared and the light outside slowly faded to dark.

My stomach had been bothering me all afternoon so I decided I’d try and go to bed early. I got into the tent just after 8:00 PM and went to bed shortly after. The wind was still howling with just as much strength as during the daytime, and it would stay that way all throughout the night. 

Day 6 – Lake Louisa to Phipps Lake

I woke up in the middle of the night at 1:00 AM sneezing and with a stuffy nose. I hadn’t even been near another human in more than 5 days, but it felt like I had just caught a cold.

I went outside the tent to pee and to get some fresh air since I was wide awake. I was eventually able to fall back asleep at probably 2:30 AM or so.

I woke up again at 5:45 AM to watch the sunrise. In hindsight this wasn’t a smart choice. My body desperately needed some rest and I wasn’t giving it the rest it needed. On top of that, the sunrise wasn’t even that pretty!

I went back for a quick power nap from 7:45 – 8:00 AM and then got on the water at 9:30 AM. I was heading to Phipps Lake and the park only issues one permit for the lake, so I knew which campsite I was getting. I was in no rush.

The day got even worse at the end of the first portage. By the time I finished my first carry my stomach was really bothering me and I was feeling slightly nauseous. Sometimes on trips I just need to get past the first portage of the day and then I get my energy. I continued on slowly and hoped that would be the case. It also didn’t help that there were a few up and downs that needed climbing on that portage.

When I got to the second portage I decided to take a Pepto Bismal. I still wasn’t feeling great and that was the best solution I had. Thankfully, I was going down the Stairway to Heaven portage, but I still took it easy and went very slowly. By the time I finished my second carry I started to feel a little bit better. I guess the Pepto was helping.

I stopped to check out all 3 campsites on Lawrence Lake as I paddled through. One of the sites I visited right as a group of six were leaving. They didn’t put out their fire though. I don’t know if people are ignorant to the dangers of not putting out their fire, or if they just don’t care. But it was extremely annoying to see. After putting out their fire, I continued onwards.

I stopped briefly at the island site on Kirkwood Lake to get some pictures and then took a few minutes to rest and collect firewood at the waterfalls leading into Phipps Lake.

Kirkwood Phipps portage waterfalls September 2021 Algonquin Park

I finally arrived at my campsite for the evening around 3:30 PM. I took the western site on Phipps Lake, which is my preference of the two. The site was the same as the last time I camped there in 2017, but water levels were higher which made the canoe landing very inaccessible.

The site was also surprisingly very clean. And it sucks that I have to use the word ‘surprisingly’ in reference to a site being clean, as opposed to the opposite. The high demand for camping in the past 2 years has brought with it some very messy campers.

Anyways, I spent the evening relaxing at my site and going for an evening paddle. Once again, I was all alone. The water was calm, the sun was shining, and it was another gorgeous, peaceful evening. Other than the noises coming from my stomach, those were loud and disturbing the peace!

I sat by the fire for maybe an hour and then decided to go to bed early. I needed to start listening to my body and give it some rest. By 9:00 PM I was fast asleep.

Day 7 – Phipps Lake to Ragged Lake

I got a great sleep by backcountry standards for myself. I woke up feeling pretty awesome actually. It was still an early 6:00 AM wakeup, but I was feeling good, and that’s what mattered.

I got a fire going to keep me warm while I packed up camp, then got on the water by 8:00 AM. The plan was to camp on Ragged Lake for my final night, but if I couldn’t find a decent campsite, or if I started to feel like crap again, I was ok with pushing forward and ending the trip a day early.

It was another very calm and relaxing morning on the water. I passed a few groups and stopped to check out a few campsites as I made my way through Bonnechere Lake and Big Porcupine. The Devils Staircase was much easier going down, but I guess that’s pretty obvious eh?

On my way through Ragged Lake a week prior I noticed that the southernmost site before getting to The Devils Staircase looked pretty nice from the water. My plan was to take that site if it was still available. And indeed it was. The front of the campsite is very large and crazy nice with chunks of beach and rock to explore. Inside the site was pretty nice too. I did notice what looked like a faint bear track on the ground, but I told myself I was probably just being paranoid.

I continued exploring the site and found where my tent was going to go. On a tree directly beside the tent pad there was what looked like bear claw marks. It could have been someone throwing a hatchet repeatedly or something. Realistically I was just being paranoid again, but now I had a really bad feeling in my gut about this site and I knew I couldn’t stay there. I had to keep moving and look for something else. I had felt so calm and at peace the whole trip and I wasn’t going to ruin that with any anxiety or paranoia on the last night.

As I paddled through Ragged Lake most of the sites were already taken, or I would see people just arriving. I turned into the south of the lake in hopes that either Campsite #15 or the island Campsite #16 would be available. It was about 12:30 PM at this point and most sites that I passed were taken.. but not the island!

I have no idea how I got so lucky with campsites all trip. The island site on Ragged is epic and surely I couldn’t be the only one to think that? I’m pretty sure people just like taking the first available site they find that looks half decent, and no one made it as far as the island site. Well, that was fine by me!

I spent 1-2 hrs relaxing at the beach at the bottom of the site and enjoying the views from the top of the site before setting up camp. The views from the top of the campsite are to die for.

After I set up my tent and did my food hang, it was time for more relaxing. The weather was absolutely perfect. Sunny with a few clouds, hot enough to be shirtless, and a light breeze at times. It was such a perfect day.

I paddled to check out two of the campsites in the south of Ragged Lake that I didn’t get a chance to look at the last time I was there October, 2020. Afterwards I pulled up to a random spot at shore to get some firewood, then headed back to my site.

The fall colours were starting to get more prominent than when I started my trip a week earlier, but there was still a long way to go until they would be at peak. There were signs of orange, yellow, and red, but it was mostly still green. A few trees had fully changed colours already, but those trees stuck out like a sore thumb among the forest of green.

I had been eating dehydrated meals for dinner every night other than the previous night on Phipps Lake. I knew they weren’t doing my stomach any favours. I decided that again, for my last night, I would avoid the dehydrated meals. Instead I had a camping classic and personal favourite, Kraft Dinner!

I usually love the convenience of dehydrated meals (no prep and no clean up) so even something as simple as KD is now a luxury for me. I always keep one KD dinner in my barrel as a ‘backup’ meal in case I get windbound or something and need to extend my trip by a day. Well on Night 7 it was no longer a backup, it was part of the starting lineup.

After enjoying my delicious KD washed down with some Bulleit Bourbon from atop my campsite cliff with 10/10 stunning views, it was time to do something stupid. It’s not like I planned for the stupid act that followed, but it happened anyways.

I decided to stomp on a piece of firewood to break it… while wearing my sandals. It’s one of those things I knew I shouldn’t be doing but I did it anyways. Well, lesson learned. A tiny piece of wood went straight through my sandal and punctured the bottom of my foot. It took off a chunk of my skin and my foot started bleeding a little bit.

After cursing a few times I cleaned it up with an alcohol wipe and put a bandage on it.

Thankfully this was the last night of my trip and the only portage left was the 240m into Smoke Lake that I would need to double carry the next day.

I spent the rest of the evening sitting at the beach. I was writing in my journal while a group of geese shared the beach with me at the other end.

As the sun started crossing the shoreline I went back to the top of the campsite and got a fire going. The clouds were whisking away as the stars gradually became visible and the moon started slowly getting lower in the sky. After a hot, sunny day, the evening was just as perfect.

I spent my last night of the trip sitting by a warm fire on another spectacular campsite while stargazing and doing some more astrophotography.

Despite never wanting to leave, I eventually put out the fire and went to bed. The temperature was in the low single digits and I was able to see my breath in front of me. It felt nice getting inside my warm comfy sleeping bag!

Goodnight Ragged Lake and goodnight Algonquin Park.

Day 8 – Ragged Lake Back to Smoke Lake

I took my time packing up camp on my last morning of the trip. I watched the sunrise while slowly getting my things organized and I ended up getting on the water at 8:30 AM.

I knew that winds were going to get between 40-50km/hr, but they’d be coming from the south so they would be at my back. Still, I didn’t want to be on the water while they were at their worst, so I planned to be finished paddling Smoke Lake by 11:00 AM.

I had intentionally babied my foot the night prior to not make the cut any worse than it needed to be. I put on my wool socks on top of my regular socks before leaving camp so that I would have some extra padding and protection while doing the 240m portage. It was a bit sore to walk on, but it was totally manageable.

The winds started picking up by the time I got to Smoke Lake, but they weren’t at a dangerous level and it just made my paddle significantly easier. I exerted such little energy and let the wind do most of the work, guiding me through Smoke Lake. It was really nice having an easy last paddle and getting to enjoy the colourful shorelines as reds, oranges, and purples started to occupy the landscape.

The park plane had done three or four fly by’s overhead until it eventually landed beside me on Smoke Lake, maybe 300-400m away. That was pretty cool!

By the time I finished paddling Smoke Lake the wind gusts were very strong and there were large waves. I watched two groups going in the opposite direction as me struggle to make any progress against the wind.

But finally, I had arrived back at the launch point and it was time for my trip to come to an end. It was definitely a bittersweet ending and I was sad to leave.

The Aftermath

There are so many key takeaway and things that I enjoyed about this trip that I’m just going to do this section in bullet points.

  • Each trip report I seem to comment about there being more cell reception in the park, and I honestly don’t mind. I keep my phone on airplane mode all the time anyways, but turning it on to get a quick weather update can be very useful in making informed decisions, like knowing that I had to arrive at Lake Louisa early because of 42km/hr winds.
  • This might have been the most relaxed and at peace I’ve ever felt on a canoe trip. No nighttime paranoia or anything like that. I was just so happy to be out there. And I absolutely loved the complete solitude for the days I had between Big Porcupine and Lake Louisa.
  • The only rain in the 8 days was overnight, with the exception of one morning while packing up camp. But I never needed to wear my rain jacket during any of my travels. I got extremely lucky with the weather for an 8 day trip.
  • I wanted to practice setting up my tarp this trip. It’s always the slowest task for me while setting up camp and I needed to get better at it. I definitely felt like I achieved my goal by the end of the trip and I’m much more efficient with tarp set up and take down now.
  • July and August were pretty brutal for bugs but there was nothing during this trip. Even for September, the bug situation was pretty damn good.
  • I didn’t see any large wildlife like moose but I enjoyed all the exciting smaller wildlife. I watched a seagull feed on the remains of a fish head, I saw a family of 30-40 mergansers take off in flight, I watched a mink play by the shoreline at one of my campsites, etc.
  • I pack too much clothes. Every time. I don’t bring a lot of clothes, but it’s still too much. I literally wore one set of clothes during the day, and one set at night. Anything else that I brought was just wasted space and weight.
  • It really sucks that dirty campsites are becoming the norm. I used to be surprised to see a dirty campsite, now I’m surprised to see a clean campsite. I really hope that post-COVID things start to get better.
  • There’s a limit to how long my body can sustain such a crappy diet and poor sleep. On my 3-4 day trips it’s not as big of an issue, but on longer trips like this it definitely catches up to me.
  • I was paddling the 16′ Swift Shearwater for this trip. On my other trips of the season I had paddled a 14.5′ H20, and a 15′ Swift Keewaydin. The Keewaydin felt the most ‘tippy’ of them all, but it paddled nicely. The H2O was solid all around; fast, stable, and super light. The Shearwater felt the fastest in the water and felt very stable, with a lot more space inside the boat for gear. But it was a pain to portage. Maybe it was the yoke that I didn’t like, but it just seemed like such a bigger burden than carrying the Keewaydin or H2O.

 

Overall, this was the longest trip I’ve ever done, tied with another 8 day solo in September 2020. The 2020 trip had really poor weather; it was constantly rainy, windy, and cold, and 8 days felt like too much. With this trip, I could have been out there for twice as long. I had amazing weather, amazing campsites, great wildlife, and 4 of the 8 days I was completely alone. I was very much looking forward to this trip, but it still surpassed my expectations in every way.