Trip Log - Wendigo Lake to McManus Lake via The Petawawa River
1976 September 18-25

In 1976 September Bob and Diana traveled by canoe from Wendigo Lake down the North River to Radiant Lake, then down the Petawawa River through Lake Travers (Traverse) and on to McManus Lake. At the time we knew little about that stretch of the Petawawa, with the exception of the section from Whitson Lake to McManus Lake. We had read the comments on the Algonquin Park map, looked at the markings on topos, and knew that Blair Fraser had died at Rollway Rapids. We were not aware of any more detailed descriptions of the rapids, and did not know anyone who had ever run the river.

Given our limited white water skills and experience at the time, and the fact that we would be travelling alone and without support, our trip planning was based on portaging everything, and in general that is what we did. In fact, we portaged several rapids that, in retrospect, we probably could safely have run (how many Petawawa River trippers have actually portaged Five Mile Rapids?). However, the very low water level did make some sections impossibly shallow, and even for an easy set of rapids it was usually more efficient for us to simply do the portage rather than spend the time scouting.

In later years we revisited the Petawawa numerous times with various groups of paddlers, and ran most of the runnable rapids at a variety of water levels.

The point form text below is a verbatim transcript of our trip notes (with only minor copy editing), while the material in italics is current commentary. We have, however, removed any of our speculative evaluations of how runnable a particular section of the river might be. For information about running any of these rapids, please consult a more authoritative guide [see notes].

Our enduring memory of this trip is one of silence and solitude. The birds had flown south or were keeping quiet. The flow in the river was very low. The only other people we encountered were a couple at Crooked Chute and some day trippers on the last day at Whitson Lake. Flocks of geese kept passing overhead. While the weather determined the character and pace of the trip, it did not significantly colour our memories.

1976 September 18 -- Wendigo Lake to Clamshell Lake

  • Left Wendigo Lake launch point at 11:20.
  • Very light north breeze - some cloud - warm and hazy.
  • Bottom of Wendigo at 11:50.
  • Portage 200 yd (wood chips!).
  • Allen Lake approx. 12:05. Diana paddled stern about halfway down lake.
  • Stopped for lunch at 12:40 at campsite opposite island. Temperature was 81°F
  • Left at 1:20 - to bottom of lake approx. 1:30.
  • Heard geese going over but did not see them.
  • Portage 280 yd (crossed old lumber rd). took about 15 min.
  • Shallow at top of North Depot Lake. Paddled down lake 3/4 distance, stopped for smoke. Continued on. 840 yd portage into unnamed swampy hole. approx. 3:-3:30.
  • Continued down swampy North River, 3 portages (250, 250, 340) + wading, beaver dam, etc.
  • Finally camped on Clamshell Lake about 6:00. Had to use rocks instead of pegs to put tent up.
  • Had swim.
  • Minestrone, Jerky Macaroni [for supper] (ate after dark).
  • Saw some toads, duck, heron flying over.
  • In tent about 9:00 and now quite ready to sleep.
North River

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Allan Lake, looking south from the end of the Wendigo Lake portage.

1976 September 19 -- Clamshell Lake to Francis Lake

  • Up at 7:10 - slight mist.
  • No wind - bacon and eggs for breakfast - very inefficient. not away till 10:00.
  • Shoal Lake one big mud hole - had to wade portion of it. Took break on Radiant Lake - sandy beaches, clear water. Traveled down Radiant Lake with wind. Eastern quarter of lake one big sand flat. Some wading necessary.
  • Had lunch at junction with Plover Lake - starting to cloud up.
  • Big Sawyer Rapids don't exist.
  • Battery Rapids are powerful even at low water.
  • Only one 75 yd portage above Cascade Rapids - it starts with an abrupt ledge.
  • 200 yd portage into Francis Lake [was] quite unnecessary at low water.
  • Camped by exit portage on Francis Lake.
  • A little rain before supper (Chicken stew).
  • Now in tent and raining like hell.
Radiant Lake in Algonquin Park

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Walking across Radiant Lake. Under the conditions of our trip, the water depth at the eastern end of the lake was insufficient to float our canoe with us in it. Luckily, the day was sunny and the water was still warm.
One only has to visit Radiant Lake, with its clear shallow water and sandy bottom, on a bright sunny day, to realize how it probably got its name.

1976 September 20 -- Francis Lake to Bypass Falls portage

  • It rained on and off all night.
  • Up at 7:00 and with some difficulty started fire and had coffee.
  • Rain - hard - returned and drove us back into tent.
  • With help of plywood from previously destroyed outhouse, we built shelter for fire and cooked breakfast - eggs and bacon - in the rain. We finally got away at 11:00 - still raining.
  • Had lunch at campsite on opposite side of river from end of 425 yd portage.
  • Sun made its only appearance all day approx. 30 sec., but rain stopped.
  • On water after lunch by 2:30.
  • 1420 yd portage [around MacDonald Rapids] seems longer and runs along railway tracks - ends at trestle. This portage is absolutely necessary due to at least 2 sets of approx. 5' falls. It must be really spectacular in the spring.
  • There is a campsite at the lower falls approx. 1000 yds from upstream end of portage.
  • Camped above 220 yd portage.
  • Having jerky curry for supper.
  • No rain since lunch but everything is very wet.
  • Temperature seems cooler now at 46°F.
  • Into bed at 8:30 - slight intermittent wind-blown mist outside.
MacDonald Rapids on the Petawawa River in Algonquin Park

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Portaging along the railway tracks at MacDonald Rapids. (Note Diana's use of a tump line.) This portage is along the north side of the river; the modern portage is on the south side [see notes].

MacDonald Rapids on the Petawawa River in Algonquin Park

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The second falls along MacDonald Rapids

MacDonald Rapids on the Petawawa River in Algonquin Park

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MacDonald Rapids

Francis Lake on the Petawawa River in Algonquin Park

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The rail line through Algonquin Park was still active until the mid 1990s. This shot is from our campsite upstream of Bypass Falls.

1976 September 21 (Equinox) -- Bypass Falls portage to Little Thompson Rapids

  • Up at 6:30 - heavy mist - cool breeze from west. Temperature in tent 42°F, outside 36°F.
  • Sky looks clear but due to mist, can't tell for sure yet.
  • It turned out to be clear with white puffy [clouds].
  • Due to drying etc., we didn't get away till 10:00.
  • Morning was reasonably efficient and uneventful.
  • End of 220 yd portage very wet - picturesque falls - see photo [Bypass Falls].
  • 300 yd portage - inadvertently took short turnoff and had to line over bottom ledge - there would be no problem at high water but canoe scraped even when empty.
  • 600 yd portage - Devil's Cellar - most spectacular.
  • Had lunch at bottom of 1150 approx. 1:00 - changed film.
  • At top of Lake Travers we met a whirlwind (water spout) the wind was fantastically high and almost upset us even though everywhere else was calm - a most harrowing experience.
  • Camped at top of Little Thompson Rapids at 5:30.
  • Sky now completely clear and temp was 52°F.
  • Having chicken curry for supper.
Petawawa Trip

Bypass Falls

Devils Cellar Rapids on the Petawawa River in Algonquin Park

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Devil's Cellar Rapids. This is downstream of the initial ledge.

Devils Cellar Rapids on the Petawawa River in Algonquin Park

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Devil's Cellar Rapids. [see notes].

Lake Travers on the Petawawa River in Algonquin Park

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Lake Travers. All is calm now, but just previously, we had been beset by a whirlwind -- quite frightening, with high winds blowing east at one end of the canoe and west at the other. It appeared out of nowhere, almost seeming to seek us out deliberately, spun us around, and then just as quickly moved away and disappeared around the next point. Just a warning, perhaps.

1976 September 22 -- Little Thompson Rapids to The Natch

  • (I am writing this on Thursday morning).
  • It started raining about 3:00 AM and rained continually. We got up about 7:00 and constructed a rain shelter - tripod over the fire place - using previously cut tent poles and a rope running back to ridge of tent. The tarp went over this. It worked quite well but was cramped. Had coffee, red river cereal and made bannock for lunch.
  • Progress was very slow due to continuous rain and didn't get onto water below little Thompson Rapids until 11:40.
  • Had lunch below 465 yd portage below Grillade Rapids [stopped raining].
  • Met an American couple camped below Crooked Chute - we talked for about 10 min and then proceeded [These were the first people, other than train engineers, that we had seen since leaving Wendigo Lake].
  • 330 yd portage below Rollway Rapids is a real brute and should be nominated to our "honour roll" of portages - continually up and down, unsure footing and a little technical rock climbing [see notes].
  • This has got to be some of the most ruggedly beautiful country we have yet encountered.
  • Camped at The Natch.
  • Arrived late - 6:00. No hot chocolate tonight.
  • Jerky stew for supper - terrible!.
  • Into tent at 9:15 (latest yet).
Algonquin Park  Petawawa River  Little Thompson Rapids 19760922

(photo by Bob and Diana: 2007-03-27 - explore

Cooking bannock in the rain at Little Thompson Rapids

Algonquin Park  Petawawa River  Little Thompson Rapids 19760922

(photo by Bob and Diana: 2007-03-27 - explore

Little Thompson Rapids

Algonquin Park  Petawawa River  The Natch 19760922

(photo by Bob and Diana: 2007-03-27 - explore

The Natch at sunset

1976 September 23 -- The Natch to Five Mile Rapids

  • Canyon filled with mist but no rain.
  • Up at 7:00 temp 40°F, but chill east wind. Overcast but clouds moving out of west - snow wouldn't surprise us.

(I am now continuing this at breakfast Friday)

  • Instead of snow we got cold wind driven rain with a strong east wind. The clouds were ragged and low and really booting it out of the south east. This started just as we were leaving at 10:00. It continued until lunch at the start of the portage around Schooner Rapids. It [wind] then changed to to the west. We had sun interspersed with short violent wind and rain storms. We were hailed upon at the end of the Schooner Rapids portage.
  • We couldn't find campsite at mid way point so we proceeded [down] second half of rapids. Ran half way down but then portaged remainder as we couldn't see a clear route through.
  • Camped approx. 1000 yds along Five Mile Rapids portage at 5:40.
  • Had sweet and sour pork for supper. Very good but not really appropriate for a late stop. [a flashlight was required to peer into the pot to check on its progress].
  • Wind and rain storm considerably abated but continued into the night.
  • Into tent for night at 9:20.
The Natch on the Petawawa River at Sunrise

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The Natch at sunrise

1976 September 24 -- Five Mile Rapids to Whitson Lake

  • Bob up at 7:00 (Diana later).
  • 40°F in tent, 36°F outside. Sun rose - some mist on water - canoe dry - some clouds moving out of northwest, but basically a sunny day. Not much wind.
  • Had coffee, RR cereal.
  • Heard geese go over a couple of times.
  • Wind up a bit now (out of west approx.).
  • Having 2nd cup of coffee.
  • Started portage 10:45. Stopped for lunch at 1:00 - still on portage (good trail most of the way - part old lumber road on sand bank above river).
  • Finished portage approx. 2:00 (total 6100 paces - the map lies).
  • Evidence of bears (large turds) along trail.
  • Down Whitson Lake with tailwind to campsite. Leisurely put up tent, made fire, cooked supper ([freeze dried] beef steaks - not worth the nuisance). Hung up bags, pads, etc. and got everything dried out.
  • Fairly fresh west wind - died at dusk.
  • Very loud blue heron in next bay down.
  • In tent for night at 7:45.
Five Mile Rapids on the Petawawa River in Algonquin Park

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Five Mile Rapids in the early morning. Note how shallow the water was.

Whitson Lake on the Petawawa River in Algonquin Park

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Looking up Whitson Lake with the silver maples just beginning to show their autumn colours.

Whitson Lake on the Petawawa River in Algonquin Park

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Looking downstream on Whitson Lake.

1976 September 25 -- Whitson Lake to McManus Lake

  • Up at 6:45.
  • Rained a bit during night. Temp approx. 32°F. West wind, some cumulus [clouds] moving fast.
  • Set up windbreak for fire - very effective.
  • Had bacon, bannock, chop suey for breakfast. Made day's bannock also.
  • Took our time, aired things out, finally packed up and left about 11:45.
  • Met some people coming upstream for day trip at bottom of lake.
  • Ran neck - zig-zag course through gravel banks. Took smoke break and drifted down lake [Smith Lake]. Stopped at campsite for lunch approx. 12:30 or 1:00.
  • Geese flying over all morning, more and more frequent towards mid-day.
  • Continued after lunch, scouted and ran neck to McManus.
  • Taking break partway down lake we spotted two people at end point; paddled down and met our pickup.
  • Finished at approx. 3:30 (2:45 by our watch).
Petawawa Trip

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At our lunch spot on Smith Lake. While it didn't photograph well, this small red maple remains one of our enduring memories of this trip.

Notes

  1. Whitewater Guide
    For a whitewater guide to the rapids of this trip, you could consult: "Petawawa River, Whitewater Guide, Algonquin Provincial Park" by George Drought.

  2. Portages
    Note that all portage lengths in this log are expressed in yards and that the location and lengths of some portages have changed significantly in the intervening years, particularly upstream of Lake Travers. We believe that we have accurately identified the river features in this section, but after 30+ years, we cannot be 100% certain.

  3. Devil's Cellar Rapids
    For essentially the same view 27 years later, see A Hike To Eustache Lake. The two large boulders on the far shore can be identified in both photos.

  4. Natch Portage
    Quoting George Drought: "You have to be a mountain goat to do this portage". However, most people avoid this portage by portaging around the two ledges separately (to the consternation and dismay of anyone innocently camping by the first ledge).

Sources

George Drought (1996), Petawawa River, Whitewater Guide, Algonquin Provincial Park, The Friends of Algonquin Park.