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The Island MEGA-Site on North Tea Lake

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Trip Info

Date: September 21st – 24th, 2023

The Island MEGA-Site on North Tea Lake in Algonquin Park, Trip Map with Route and Campsite Information

To purchase your own copy (physical & digital formats), visit Maps By Jeff

Background

Like most other trips of the 2023 season, this was a very last-minute trip that I had planned. Like, literally the day before. I had the vacation days booked from work, and the forecast was looking spectacular. I just had no idea where in the park I wanted to go. For a mid-September weekend, the park was shockingly busy. There were lots of red triangles on the reservation system (meaning the lakes were fully booked).

I did a 6-day trip a few weeks earlier, my 6 Day Heat Wave on North Tea Lake & Biggar Lake. That trip was potentially going to be 10 days, but due to the extreme heat, I cut it short. But on my last day I had spent a lot of time contemplating staying. I really wanted to spend more time exploring North Tea Lake, but I didn’t feel like it was the responsible thing to do with Elo under that heat, so I left early.

I don’t know if I’ve ever gone back to the same lake two times in one month, on two separate trips, but I thought it would be kind of fun to go back to North Tea Lake for this trip. It would give me more time to explore the lake, and hopefully offer a sense of finality and a proper conclusion to the previous 6-day trip. There were very few reservations booked for both North Tea East and North Tea West, but I decided to go with North Tea West for the three nights.

Day 1 — Kawawaymog Lake to North Tea Lake (West)

I seemed to be following a regular routine for the 2023 tripping season. Trips would start on a Thursday, I’d wake up around 5:00 AM, go get my canoe from my parent’s house, get on the road around 6:00 AM, and get on the water around 9:00 AM. This trip was no different. Except there was one small plot twist.

The road between the town of South River and the access point at Kawawaymog Lake is 23km each way. There’s basically no cell service on the road, and of course no gas stations. I had 80km left in the tank before starting down the road. I figured 23km each way, that’s only 46km of my 80km. That leaves plenty of buffer and I’ll be ok. Right? RIGHT??

But I forgot that the 80km was based on highway mileage, not gravel road mileage. The mileage kept going down faster and faster, and by the time I arrived at the access point I only had 44km left in the tank. It used 1.5x as much as I anticipated, and if it kept going down even quicker on the way out, I was going to have a problem. But I had a few days until I needed to worry about that (we’ll circle back to this plot twist later). For now, it was time to get on the water.

For the first stretch of Kawawaymog Lake and the Amable Du Fond River, I was travelling alongside a group of four guys. They were probably in their late 30’s or early 40’s, but they still seemed like kids at heart. They brought a huge case of beer and stopped for a break in the Amable Du Fond to smoke a joint.

The water was dead calm and was very beautiful to paddle. The fall colours were starting to become very prominent, but they weren’t quite at their peak just yet. The perfect reflections of the colourful trees on the clear water was worth admiring.

I met a few more groups along the way into North Tea Lake. At the end of the 280m portage leading into North Tea Lake, I met a man with his girlfriend. He told me they were finished a 6-night trip guiding a Swiss couple who were at the other end of the portage. We spoke for around 15 minutes, which is a pretty long time to chat at a portage landing. He told me his company was called Driftwood Paddle and his property was just a few doors over from Voyageur Quest Outfitters. He told me to stop by and say hi on my way out.

After my encounter with my new friend, I put on sunscreen, had a snack, and gave Elo some water. I wanted to start filming the paddle across North Tea Lake, but of course the GoPro had no battery left, even though I put in a fully charged battery the night before. Classic GoPro.

The sun began feeling very hot while paddling across North Tea Lake. I had my shirt off and it felt great. The water was dead calm. The calmness of the water was a nice touch, especially for late morning on North Tea Lake.

I was debating taking the stranded island site that I camped on for my first night of my 6 Day Heat Wave trip a few weeks earlier. But I decided to keep going. I wanted a good waterfront facing west (views east would be a bonus too), and a view of the water from the fire pit. The stranded island is a really beautiful site, almost perfect actually, but it wasn’t what I wanted for this particular trip.

For this trip, I had the crazy idea of taking the campsite on the southwestern tip of the large island. It sits up high on a cliff, which I dislike, but the site itself is nice and it offers a beautiful view west from the large pebble beach at the front of the site. But the reason I called this idea “crazy” was because I was hoping the adjacent campsites would be empty. There was one campsite a few metres to the north, and two more campsites just on the other side of the southern tip of the island, facing east. If all of those stayed unoccupied, it would give me one MEGA site all to myself.

The campsite to the north would serve little purpose; it wasn’t a very nice site and offered nothing that the other sites didn’t offer. But it was important for it to be unoccupied because of its extreme close proximity to my campsite. And because I would walk through the campsite to get to the middle of the island for firewood. The real benefit would come from the southeastern campsite being unoccupied, so that I could take advantage of the east-facing beachfront. With large west and east facing beaches to choose from, I could decide to catch a breeze, or protect myself from the breeze. I could choose to have the sun on my face, or have the sun at my back, shining its light onto the opposing shorelines. It was the best of both worlds. And I would later find out that the thunder box at the east-facing campsite was better too.

I arrived to the island to find that all of the campsites were vacant. Well, at least they were vacant for the time being. Would it stay that way? I sure hoped so. I wasn’t planning on doing anything sketchy like setting up gear at the adjacent sites to trick other people into thinking they were taken. I was going to act responsibly and stick to my one main site, and just hope that the other sites stayed unoccupied for the rest of the trip.

Elo lying down at my island mega-site on North Tea Lake in Algonquin Park

After setting up camp I realized how insanely buggy the campsite was. There were so many mosquitos. In late September, really!? A big chunk of the large island was marshy overgrowth with tons of vegetation, which created the perfect habitat and breeding ground for all sorts of bugs, insects, and small wildlife. Within my first hour at the campsite I saw a mouse, lots of birds, chipmunks, squirrels, and the most flying bugs/insects I had seen all year. I was seriously debating moving off the island on Day 2. Elo and I both weren’t a fan of the flies. But for the first night, at least, this would be home.

I rearranged the fire pit, set up my tent, did my bear hang, filled my water jug, and then organized my gear. Camp was fully set up for the evening. Other than the huge incline from the beach landing to the main campsite, which I already mentioned I disliked (but I’m going to mention it again, because it sucks), the campsite itself was very large, open, and exposed. It still offered some shelter from the elements, if needed. The site to the north offered better shelter, but luckily for me the forecast for the entire trip was calling for straight sunshine!

I really liked the flat seating surrounding the fire pit, the trails in all directions to explore the neighbouring sites, and the large pebble beach at the waterfront that turned into sand about 15ft or so into the water. Both campsites on the southern tip of the island offered perfect swimming.

I made an early dinner at 3:30 PM, an AlpineAire Kung Pao Chicken with Rice. The water was still dead calm and very beautiful. After dinner I decided to go for a walk through the island. There were lots of fallen trees. Lots, and lots of fallen trees. I made it to the campsite on the west shore, midway up the island. At least, I made it to where the campsite was shown on the map, but I couldn’t find the campsite. I was up high on an elevated incline and there was no opening to be found anywhere. Just lots of thick forest and fallen trees in all directions. There was no way a campsite existed in that environment, but just to double-check, I figured I would scout it from the water later on, while going for an evening paddle.

There was plenty of good firewood around, so I collected some larger branches and carried them back to my campsite. I was feeling really low energy so I didn’t want to do any major processing, so I brought back branches that I could mostly break over my knee, with a few bigger pieces that I’d take out my saw for. There was already some firewood left at the campsite as well, from previous campers. But if I was going to stay at this campsite for three nights, I knew I would want a healthy inventory.

I gave Elo dinner at 6:45 PM and then went for a paddle. The non-existing campsite was still non-existing. Confirmed, 100%. The shoreline was full of thick bush with absolutely no opening, and the shoreline was very steep. Earlier I had thought maybe the campsite was closed down years ago, but after seeing the view from the water, I don’t think it was possible that a campsite ever existed at that location.

I continued onwards to the northernmost campsite on the island, the Aruba campsite. At least I decided to call it the Aruba campsite because it felt like a beautiful Caribbean beach lost in the middle of the ocean. The campsite offered absolutely zero shelter; it was one massive, narrow beach with very small trees on the beach. But it offered stunning views onto North Tea Lake with a breathtaking view of the sunset. I was at the campsite just as the sun was crossing the shoreline, and it was an inexplicably beautiful experience. I think the campsite would be a great place to stop for lunch, but with very limited shelter and heavy exposure to the elements, you would need a pretty perfect weather forecast before intentionally choosing to camp there.

I continued circling the large island clockwise until I arrived at the cliff site on the eastern shoreline. I paddled past this campsite on my trip a few weeks earlier, but I didn’t want to deal with the rocky landing so I decided not to go on shore. This time, I decided to suck it up and check out the site. The view from the campsite was nice, and the interior layout was kind of cool, but the canoe landing was brutal and the climb to the site was very non-ideal. The rocky incline might even be kind of dangerous while carrying gear from the water up to the site.

View from the water of a campsite on North Tea Lake (West) with large rock cliff shoreline

I got back to my campsite at 7:45 PM and it was very dark outside. I immediately got a fire going and went to get my food barrel, which was hung in the trees. I heard a loud sound in the water and figured it was way too late for it to be a person, so maybe it was a moose or a bear? I got out my camera and bumped the ISO to increase brightness, and noticed it was actually a canoe in the distance. A soloist. I couldn’t believe they were on the water looking for a campsite when it was basically pitch black. They passed my large island and went straight to the smaller islands to the east. I hoped they made it ok. Earlier at 6:00 PM I saw another group heading east looking for a campsite, and I thought they were late!

I set up my camera to do an astrophotography timelapse in the secluded section of the campsite where I had hung my food barrel. Then I sat by the fire while having some late-night snacks and listening to music quietly from my phone. I stargazed for a little while down at the pebble beach, and then put out the fire and then went to bed at 10:15 PM.

Day 2 — Rest Day on North Tea Lake (West)

I woke up a bunch of times throughout the night, but I still managed to get a decent sleep. I slept with the fly door open and saw the sky start to get light at 6:45 AM, so that’s when I decided to stay awake for good. I went to the east-facing beach from my mega-site to watch the sunrise. Afterwards, I got my barrel down and had breakfast, along with Elo. It was a cold morning but nowhere near as cold as the previous week on Parkside Bay; it was chilly, but I didn’t need my jacket or gloves. I think it was around 10c.  

I continued my morning routine and at 8:00 AM I got hit with a wave of fatigue and felt really crappy. What was going on!? It came out of nowhere; I was feeling great and then boom, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I started moving at a very slow pace with no energy.

I decided to sit by the water for a while and enjoy the stunning views from the main site. The sun was behind the main campsite, so it was shining on the opposing shorelines. It was a very serene and beautiful morning.

Rocky shoreline at a campsite on North Tea Lake (East) in Algonquin Park, September 2023

After a little while I decided to go for a walk to see if some movement would help me feel better. I went into the forest to collect some firewood. Afterwards, I decided to go for a paddle and check out some campsites. I was moving at a very leisurely pace, and I didn’t plan on going too far. If I started to feel overexerted, I could always turn around and be back at my campsite within a few minutes. The plan was to head to the north shore and check out the cluster of six campsites. I got everything ready, tidied up camp, hung my barrel, and got on the water at 10:15 AM.

The water was dead calm and the trees were reflecting perfectly. It was a gorgeous morning. I paddled very slowly to the north shore. I was able to check out all of the campsites in that cluster, with the exception of one site that was occupied. They all had beachfronts at the shoreline, some better than others. Overall, they were pretty nice sites and I can see why they’re popular.

By the end of my campsite tour, the wind had picked up and clouds were starting to fill the sky. It was still very pleasant; actually, it was more pleasant than earlier because the cloud coverage and the breeze offered some relief from the heat. I paddled very slowly back to my campsite, filling my water jug along the way. Elo got comfy and plopped herself down at the bottom of the canoe for a nap. The whole day trip took 3 hours, which included writing the individual campsite reports while relaxing at each campsite.

I started hearing voices as I paddled alongside the large island that I was camping at. No, not metaphorically voices in my head. Real, human voices. I was confused because all of the campsites on the west side were still unoccupied and surely I wasn’t hearing voices all the way from the east side of the island? I’m pretty sure this is what the characters of Lost felt like the first time they heard “the others”. Then I saw two people walking among the trees, where I was collecting firewood, midway through the island. Did they land on the east-facing campsite and walk through my campsite to get there!? I paddled back quickly, walked over to the east-facing campsite, and saw them paddling away in the distance. I think they must have landed on one of the east-facing sites and found a way inland from there.

Anyways, I went back to my main site and let Elo go for a swim. I only went in up to my knees, but she kept shaking off beside me. So basically, I went for a swim. Oh well. I picked up a handful of the pebble rocks and tried skipping them. It was at that moment that I learned Elo LOVED chasing rocks. She has very little interest in playing fetch when we’re at home, but she was having so much fun chasing every rock I threw into the water. She even let out a quiet whimper when I stopped. “Pleaseeeee Cody, just one more!!”

Panorama of North Tea Lake in Algonquin Park, September 2023 v2
Misty morning at my island mega-site on North Tea Lake in Algonquin Park
Sitting with Elo at the rocky beach at the front of my island mega-site on North Tea Lake, Algonquin Park
Beach landing at a campsite on the northern shoreline of North Tea Lake (West) in Algonquin Park, September 2023
Panorama of North Tea Lake in Algonquin Park, September 2023 v5
Outhouse at Driftwood Paddle with green leaves in the foreground, September 2023
Driftwood Paddle dock and muskoka chairs with fall foliage in background behind lake September 2023
Burdock Burr at campsite in Algonquin Park, September 2023
Panorama of North Tea Lake in Algonquin Park, September 2023 v1

After cooling off in the water I made myself an AlpineAire Vaquiera Egg Scramble at 2:00 PM. Breakfast for lunch is pretty cool. I enjoyed the meal, it was a bit bland, definitely not the same as fresh eggs, but it still hit the right spot. I felt pretty tired so I continued to relax in the shade and watched as canoes passed by in both directions. The wind was blowing from the west directly into my site which was nice, since it was just a moderate breeze. It helped keep the shockingly high number of flying bugs and insects at bay.

I decided to lay down on the pebble beach and go for a nap. The sun felt so nice. I used Elo’s life jacket as a pillow and my t-shirt as a blanket. Hey, it got the job done! Elo laid down beside me and napped as well. A few minutes was all that I needed. It was a glorious nap and when I woke up, I felt so much better and refreshed.

I continued having a rather lazy afternoon hanging around my mega-site. I went to the east-facing beach and went swimming with Elo, and then went back to my west-facing pebble beach and dozed off in the sun once again. The late afternoon sun felt so nice against my body.

At 6:30 PM I went for an evening paddle. I started by going to check out the campsite on the south shoreline, just east of my campsite. It wasn’t a great site; it was small, dark, and enclosed, with lots of garbage left over from previous campers. Based on its position on the shoreline, I’d also guess that it gets very little sun throughout the day.

I continued paddling along the south shoreline, heading west, towards the next campsite on the point. As I was paddling, the sun had crossed the shoreline. It was a beautiful sunset and birds were circling directly overhead. It was quite the scene. I knew I couldn’t waste too much time though, because I still wanted to check out the campsite and then paddle back to my own site, and daylight would start to diminish very quickly now.

The campsite on the point had a terrible landing, basically non-existing, and then a steep climb up a slippery rock face to the main campsite. Thinking about getting gear up to the main site from that landing didn’t sound like a fun time. The main area of the campsite was ok, I guess, but it had lots of small hills and rocks, and it was very dark and enclosed. It was the exact opposite of the type of campsite I typically like. Thumbs down from me on that one.

Canoe paddle with engraving and water droplets in front of beautiful sunset on the lake, September 2023

I got back onto the water at 7:30 PM to head back to my campsite. It was getting very dark out. I saw two canoes in the distance, coming from the west, looking for a campsite. Why does late-night-campsite-scouting seem to be a trend on North Tea Lake!?

I got back to my site at 7:45 PM, turned on my headlamp, flipped over my canoe, took my barrel down, and got a fire going. Can you guess what was on the snack menu for the evening? Unless this is the first trip report of mine that you’re reading (in which case, welcome, and thanks for reading), you probably would have guessed banana bread, marshmallows, and whiskey… and you’d be correct. Elo seemed pretty tired from the day. Even though it was a rest day, we still spent more than 4 hours on the water. It’s very rare that a real “rest day” exists for me.

I sat by the fire for a while as the sky became black and the moon dropped lower in the sky. The moonset was called for 11:00 PM that evening so it was slowly approaching the shoreline as I sat by the fire. The evening wasn’t too cold while I had the fire to keep me warm. It was chilly, but tolerable. By 9:00 PM everything started to get moisture on it from the temperature drop; my tent, the tarp covering my gear, my camera tripod… basically everything was wet.

I continued to take advantage of my mega-site and set up my Canon R7 at the east-facing beach for a wide landscape astrophotography timelapse. I went back to my main campsite while the timelapse was running. Elo kept walking towards the tent, she was obviously very tired and ready to call it a night. I had to keep bringing her back to the fire pit because I was worried she might accidentally paw through the mesh trying to get inside. The tent is already held together with duct tape from her destruction during my 6 Day Heat Wave trip a few weeks earlier…

I went back to the east-facing beach and sat under the stars for a little while. Afterwards, I made sure the fire was ‘dead out’ and the campsite was clean before getting into the tent. I noticed Elo had six or seven spiky burrs attached to her fur. Great. I spent 15 minutes trying to get them out as best as I could, while Elo was squirming because she was tired and it was making her uncomfortable. I got mostly all of them out and then finally got into the tent at 10:30 PM.

Day 3 — Rest Day on North Tea Lake (West)

Day 3 started with a riddle. I got the worst sleep of the trip, but I felt the most refreshed in the morning. How did that happen? This riddle has no answer.

I went to the east-facing beach again to watch the sunrise. I was really loving my mega-site. Then I did my normal morning routine; I fed myself and Elo, checked my InReach, visited the thunder box, changed clothes, filled my Nalgene, and organized camp.

The plan for Day 3 was to cross all of North Tea (East) and head towards the portage leading into Manitou Lake. There are two portages actually, both right beside each other, but one of them has a waterfall on route that was supposed to be very pretty. That was my destination for the day. It would be 3 hours round trip of just paddling without stops. But you know me, I stop a lot to check out campsites. With campsite reports and time spent at the falls, I was anticipating that this would become a 5 to 6 hour trip.

Fall colours on North Tea Lake in Algonquin Park, September 2023 v3

I set off at 8:30 AM. The morning was chilly, but warm enough that I was ok in all of my layers, including gloves, but without a jacket. By around 10:30 AM the sun was high in the sky and it became much warmer.

I stopped at four island campsites on North Tea (East). The first one still had remnants of a fire burning. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time I arrived at a campsite to see a fire still going. I assume the group didn’t have any ill intent, but rather was misinformed and didn’t think there was any danger. They definitely never heard of making sure the fire was ‘dead out’. There really should be some sort of mandatory education before people are allowed to set out in the backcountry.

Luckily, I had Elo’s collapsible water bowl with me so I didn’t need to use my Nalgene, which was the only water supply that I had brought for the day trip. The water bowl was quite small so I had to do multiple trips back and forth, but eventually I got the fire ‘dead out’. I spent a few extra minutes at the campsite lathering up with sunscreen before getting back on the water.

The second campsite that I visited was a nice island site, and thankfully, there was no fire burning. The next two campsites were both on the small island in the very northeast end of the lake. They were both very interesting in their own ways, but I’ll save the details for the full campsite reports. Oh yeah, and I saw a snake at one of the thunder boxes (like, literally touching the box as it slithered). I’m personally not scared of snakes, but I feel like a snake coming out of the thunder box is probably pretty high on most people’s “that’s gonna be a no from me, dawg” fear list.

There had been barely any wind on the paddle so far, other than an occasional gentle breeze. The sun was hot, but not overwhelmingly so. The fall colours on the trees were really starting to come through. It was an absolutely gorgeous morning and I was very happy to be on the water.

I finished checking out all four of those campsites by 11:00 AM, already 2.5 hours after I had left my mega-site, and I still wasn’t even at the waterfall yet. I also noticed one new campsite on the northern shore towards the portage entrance. It wasn’t on my map so I took a screenshot on my GPS and a picture of the shoreline for reference, but I decided not to get out on shore to visit the site.

The portage landing was a nice beach shoreline, just wide enough for two canoes. And guess what? When I arrived, there were two canoes on the beach, halfway in the water. No people, just canoes. Not left off to the side where they should have been stored, but completely blocking the entrance. Another ‘bad etiquette’ event to add to that morning. At least this scenario was only a nuisance, unlike the fire earlier that was an actual safety and environmental concern.

I manoeuvred around their boats and brought my gear on shore. I was really tempted to say something as the group walked past me on the trail, but there was some gear I left with my canoe that I didn’t want to mysteriously go missing. Odds are, they were nice people and would probably appreciate the advice, but I didn’t want to take my chances. They were finishing their visit at the waterfall when I was approaching, which meant Elo and I would have it all to ourselves.

The falls were absolutely magnificent. The water was gushing hard and they were even prettier than I had imagined. I spent some time walking with Elo to the different rocky areas throughout the falls. It might not have been the safest thing to do in Crocs and with Elo tethered to my waist, but we clearly survived to tell the tale. I spent probably 20 minutes exploring the waterfalls with Elo.

Of course, on my way back I stopped at the campsite adjacent to the falls to snap a few pictures. The appeal of the campsite is obvious; it’s literally right at the falls. It would be a pretty cool place to spend the night, as long as you didn’t mind the very loud sound of flowing water. And as long as you didn’t mind people walking literally right through your campsite while they went to check out the falls. And as long as you didn’t mind that the thunder box was very much exposed, so you would need to choose your timing wisely while doing your business. All joking aside, I personally wouldn’t want to camp there, but I can understand why some people might.

Before getting back onto the water I went for a 15-minute swim with Elo at the sandy beach landing. Elo had a blast; she basically had constant zoomies the whole time and was chasing me around the water. It was a nice moment we got to share together. I lathered up sunscreen once again, and then headed out.

There was still only a gentle breeze on the water, but it was now 12:15 PM and the sun was getting very hot. I wasn’t sure if it was a smart idea, but I decided to paddle shirtless. My head was covered, I had plenty of fluids, and I was wearing plenty of sunscreen. I figured I’d be ok.

I decided not to stop at any campsites on the way home. I had already been gone for almost 4 hours and I still had around 1.5 hours of paddling under the hot sun. I did take one break though, at the peninsula site that separates North Tea East and North Tea West. I really needed to pee, plus I figured it couldn’t hurt to reapply a bit more sunscreen. The sun was very hot and I didn’t want to take any chances! Then I did the final stretch to get home. Elo laid down in the canoe and slept most of the way. I arrived back to my mega-site just after 2:00 PM. It was a total of 5.5 hours for the day trip.

Immediately after unloading my canoe at my main campsite I decided to bring my chair, my barrel, and my camera to the east-facing beach to relax. I needed shade. And I needed wind. The east side of the island had both. I spent the next few hours doing absolutely nothing.

At 5:00 PM I was back at my main site and I heard a group occupy the east-facing site. Nooooo! Was my time with the mega-site coming to an end? I also heard a dog bark and the owner yell its name to come back. Did I also have to worry about an off-leash dog making its way into my campsite? I guess I was going to keep Elo on her leash too. And the worst part of it all, no more thunder box privileges (I was using that campsite’s thunder box the entire trip).

About ten minutes later I saw a canoe pass by in front of my campsite. I got out my telephoto lens and zoomed in to see two men and a dog. I think it was the group from the east campsite. I walked over to take a look, and no one was there anymore. They must have just needed to use the thunder box or something. And now that it was past 5:00 PM, I was hoping it would stay unoccupied and I would get my mega-site for the third night in a row. Muahahaha!!! (imagine Doctor Evil from Austin Powers laughing while you read that)

I walked into the shallow part of the lake and splashed some water on my face and body, but didn’t go for an actual swim. The sun was still very warm at 6:00 PM and felt very nice on my body. Soon after, I went for my evening paddle. I decided to circle the large island counter-clockwise.

The four campsites in the southern half of the island that made up my mega-site were all still unoccupied, but the cliff campsite on the east side of the island was occupied by a couple yelling loudly while they played a card game. As I passed, they asked if I was already set up somewhere or if I was looking for a site. It was around 7:00 PM and it sounded like they were offering to share their site with me. It was a nice gesture, and I do the same when I see late-to-arrive paddlers, but I told them I was just out for a stroll.

Towards the north of the large island, where the other smaller adjacent islands are located, I saw two canoes out fishing. They must have been staying on one of the smaller islands. One of the canoes had someone sitting solo in the stern seat of a tandem boat, and the whole front half of the boat was literally above the water. It was a pretty funny scene to witness. I wanted to yell out to him to sit in the bow seat facing backwards, but I was enjoying the silence on the lake… and the humor that came from watching him.

Just before rounding the north corner of the large island, I took a few pictures of the moon as it swayed between the trees, while my canoe glided gently in the water. It was really pretty, and so was the sunset. The poorly sheltered beach campsite on the island was occupied by what looked like five females and a dog. They were pretty rowdy and had music playing from a speaker. Thankfully they were far enough away from my campsite that I couldn’t hear a thing. And thankfully they didn’t take one of the campsites from my mega-site! After spending some time photographing the moon and the sunset, I paddled back to my mega-site. It was my last night of the trip, and my mega-site was still intact. Nice!

I got a fire going while watching the oasis of a sunset. The gradient of tropical hues acted as a backdrop behind the dotted islands just west of my campsite, and the view was pure magic to enjoy. I ate a rather unhealthy portion of banana bread, marshmallows, and whiskey, while sitting by an unnecessarily large fire (well, unnecessarily large for a solo camper, it was still an appropriate size in terms of safety). I listened to some music quietly from my phone while winding down for the evening. On the playlist for that evening was Masterpiece by Big Thief and Atom Heart Mother by Pink Floyd.

I used Elo’s small collapsible water bowl to put out the fire at 9:30 PM. It was a lot of back-and-forth and up-and-down the very steep incline at the front of my campsite. After putting the fire out I went to watch the stars. The moon was still high in the sky with more than 50% illumination, so it wasn’t going to be an astrophotography type of night. But it was still a thousand times better than what I get to see in the city, so I made the most of it. At 10:00 PM I went into the tent.

Day 4 — North Tea Lake (West) to Kawawaymog Lake

I made a tiny little mistake overnight. I left some gear out at the campsite, like my tripod and chair. I knew that they’d be soaking wet in the morning from the dew, but I figured the morning sun from the east facing campsite would dry them off before I packed up. Fool on me… there was a thick fog covering the water and blocking the sunrise. The sun didn’t make an appearance until much later, after I had already left the campsite. It wasn’t the end of the world, but I could have easily avoided packing away wet gear if I had just done it the night before. Oh well. My tent was soaking wet too, but I didn’t have much of a choice with that one. It’s always annoying to deal with wet gear when I get back to the city, but I guess it’s all part of the tripping experience.

I was awake at 6:30 AM and took my time packing up camp. I was on the water by 8:45 AM. The lake was still completely obstructed by a thick white fog. I literally couldn’t see a single thing in front of me and had to rely on the Avenza app to make sure I was going in the right direction.

I’ve paddled in these conditions many times before, but never a lake as big as North Tea Lake. Normally, you can make out faint shorelines in the distance, but this was just white. Pure white, in all directions. I felt like I was staring straight into a sensory-deprivation illusion, with the concept of space surrounding me feeling alien-like in all directions.

The foggy conditions lasted about 20 minutes before the faint distant shorelines slowly became visible. The fog continued to slowly disappear throughout my paddle towards the 280m portage. The water was pretty mucky, with lots of dirt sitting on the surface. It was a similar experience during my final day on North Tea Lake during my previous trip, a few weeks earlier. I’m not sure if it was an early morning thing, before the winds picked up, or if it was just on certain days.

The views were stunning as the mist cleared and the trees lit up from the sunshine. It was my fourth sunny day in a row. The fall colours were noticeably more vivid on Day 4 compared to the start of the trip, and they were looking extremely beautiful. Everything about my last morning was so pretty. Except for the massive amount of spider webs in the tall grass after the first portage. That was eerie.

I did the two portages relatively quickly and then took a break at the end of the second portage to give Elo water, change into my Crocs, and to put on sunscreen. A group of four women caught up to me while I was taking a break at the portage. One of them commented about how it must be difficult to trip with Elo. Another one asked what breed Elo was, and when I said “Australian Cattle Dog” she thought I said “Australian Paddle Dog” and was like “Ohhh that makes sense!” and then her friends teased her for the misunderstanding.

I set out under the hot sun for my final shirtless paddle. The sun felt particularly hot on the river because there was no breeze, and the morning mist was long gone. But even still, it was amazing how different of an experience it was compared to my trip a few weeks prior during the heat wave. On the previous trip, every one minute paddling on the Amable Du Fond River felt like ten minutes. But on this trip, it was such a calm, lovely paddle.

Once I got into the main body of Kawawaymog Lake, the winds picked up and I had a strong tail wind. The forecast only called for 10km/hr winds, but it must have been at least double that. There were some pretty decent waves.

I stopped paddling and had a quick snack and water break under the hot sun, while letting the wind guide me to my destination. I kept thinking about how different it was from my previous trip. The last time, I was facing brutal white caps under a 35c degree sun. This time, I had a strong tailwind pushing me forwards while enjoying a very comfortable heat from the sun. One trip was basically torture, the other was basically heaven.

Voyageur Quest Outfitters in Algonquin Park, view from the water with beautiful fall colours on the shoreline behind the buildings

Remember the guide that I met on Day 1 of this trip? The one that told me to stop by on my way out? He told me that they were two properties over from Voyageur Quest Outfitters, but I was hesitant to potentially land my canoe on the wrong property, so I decided to go straight to the access point instead. I made it back at 12:15 PM. After loading my car and strapping down my canoe, I asked one of the staff from Voyageur Quest if they knew Driftwood Paddle. I was told that they were just down the road, and there would be a Driftwood Paddle sign to indicate that I was in the right place.

Now, do you also remember my gas situation from the beginning of this trip report? Because I definitely did. It was on my mind the entire trip. Just to refresh your memory, the road to town was 23km. I started the drive on my way in with 80km estimated fuel remaining, but had reached 44km remaining by the time I got to the access point. The estimated fuel was adjusting from highway to gravel road. Either it finished adjusting, and the remaining 44km would be enough to get back to the gas station in town, or it would continue to adjust and go down even quicker. There was a very real possibility that I would run out of gas on the road before reaching the gas station.

Every single kilometre counted, so even though Driftwood Paddle was less than a kilometre away, I decided to leave my car at the access point and walk over with Elo instead. It took less than five minutes. Kieran (the one I met previously), along with his girlfriend Ella and his brother Chris were outside getting work done on the property. We ended up speaking for close to two hours. We chatted mostly about Algonquin Park, of course. We were talking about different campsites, their experience as guides, some favourite routes in the area, etc. I also spent some time talking with Chris about their online marketing and SEO, since that’s what I do when I’m not out in the backcountry.

I asked Kieran if there was any cell service on the road into town, while explaining my gas situation and the predicament I was facing. He said there was only cell service in one spot along the road. So basically, if I ran out of gas, I would have a long walk ahead of me (or hope someone nice was willing to stop and help). But Kieran immediately offered to top me up with some gas before I left. I was totally not expecting that, but it was a major life saver. I walked back to get my car and drove it over. By the time he was finished, I had 127km left on the estimated fuel. That should be plenty. Phew.

After almost two hours hanging with Kieran and Chris, I finally set out for my drive home at around 2:30 PM. First stop, the gas station!

It ended up taking 35km to get there, meaning the 44km I would have started with would have been cutting it real close if I didn’t get the top up. 

But guess what… the gas station was closed! 

I couldn’t believe it. There were signs on every pump saying to pay inside, but there was no one inside and the lights were off. Even though I would have just barely scraped by without the extra gas, I would have been totally screwed at that point. The next gas station was 22km away. Thankfully, I had more than enough to get me there. I burst out laughing to myself at the ridiculousness of the whole situation. Thank you, Driftwood Bros.

The first song I put on after finally filling up on gas was “Look At You” by Patrick Watson, and the first lyrics sung are “Such a beautiful day”. Again, I laughed out loud. Yes, Patrick, it was a very beautiful day indeed. I finished my drive home under sunny skies while getting to enjoy the beautiful display of fall colours along the sides of the road.

Everything about Day 4 was perfect. Throughout the whole day I had a strong sense of appreciation for life and the fact that I was able to do canoe trips in Algonquin Park. The morning mist, the sunny skies, the fall colours, the people I met, the kindness of the Driftwood Bros, Elo by my side the entire time… everything was just perfect.

The Aftermath

What can I say, this trip was fantastic. The mega-site was pretty amazing, and I was lucky to have all four campsites to myself for the entire trip. With so many reservations available for North Tea West, and with people generally liking island campsites, it seemed like I defied the odds to get all four of those campsites to myself for three nights. I felt so powerful, like how Dwight must have felt with his mega-desk in that one intro of The Office. “All I care about is mega-desk. That is all I care about. Getting. More. Mega-desk.”

It was also kind of funny how I had gone the entire season without seeing a single squirrel or chipmunk, and then they were all over the mega-site. Unfortunately, the mega-site was also full of burrs, so I had to keep an eye on Elo while she was chasing the squirrels, because pulling burrs out of Elo’s fur wasn’t a fun time.

There was also so much wildlife at the mega-site. There was a ridiculous number of bugs and flying insects like mosquitos, especially for a mid-September trip. There were lots of spiders, squirrels, mergansers, a grouse, and other birds. Every morning when I would flip over my canoe, I would find multiple toads underneath. I saw a mouse on my first day, and two snakes on my last day. It was like a mini jungle at my mega-site.

But I really can’t complain about anything (even the mosquitos). I had absolutely perfect weather for the entire trip. Temperatures in the low 20’s, with a few clouds and some gentle breezes. The nights were cold, but tolerable, at around 10c. And the entire trip back on North Tea Lake felt so satisfying after cutting short my 6 Day Heat Wave trip a few weeks earlier. With the beautiful weather, the epic mega-site, the exciting day trips, swimming with Elo… I couldn’t have asked for a more ideal trip.

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