Day Trip Up the Petawawa River from Brent

This Bushlog entry describes a day trip up the Petawawa River, launching our canoe at Brent on Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park. We stopped to photograph the first falls where the river tumbles into Cedar Lake, visited the Corbeil gravesite, and continued upstream to the former timber slide at the second falls. Due to time considerations we did not go any farther but instead returned to Cedar Lake, intending a visit to the mouth of the Nipissing River. However, conditions on Cedar Lake were such that instead we returned "directly" to Brent.

2008 June 25

It used to be that a trip into Brent was a major undertaking. The first 20km of the access road was sort of OK, but the final 20km was a vehicle wrecker. However, the road is now much improved and day trips out of Brent are a practical proposition for those living in the upper Ottawa Valley -- Point Alexander, for example! But the wind and waves of Cedar Lake remain untamed and are an important consideration in trip planning. It is always a good idea to be flexible and to have a plan 'B'.

We used to travel into the interior of Algonquin Park via Brent quite regularly, but for various reasons we hadn't travelled up the Petawawa River from Cedar Lake for almost 20 years. So when the weather cleared for a day or so recently , we took advantage of it to revisit and photograph the waterfalls and the site of the former timber slide.

The Petawawa River as it flows into Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park

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The Petawawa River as it flows into Cedar Lake.

top of first waterfall on Petawawa River upstream of Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park

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The top of the first waterfall. Cedar Lake is just around the corner at the bottom.

top of first waterfall on Petawawa River upstream of Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park

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Water levels are very high for this time of year, due to the lingering effects of the past winter's heavy snowfall combined with the heavier than normal rain in recent weeks.

top of first waterfall on Petawawa River upstream of Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park 1975 August

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This photo is from 1975 August 20 (see also) showing these falls at low summer levels. This photo also shows the remnants of logging "improvements" that are no longer evident.

grave of A Corbeil on Petawawa River in Algonquin Park

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Until recently, the grave of A. Corbeil (near the top of the portage around the first waterfalls) was in good shape. (This photo is from 1975.)

grave of A Corbeil on Petawawa River in Algonquin Park

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However, currently the cross is broken into several pieces, crushed beneath a fallen tree -- probably from the wind storms of 2006 -- and needs immediate attention if it is to be preserved. We wonder whether the Algonquin Park authorities will restore it or simply allow the forest to reclaim it.

top of second waterfall upstream of Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park

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The top of the "timber slide" (Second waterfall upstream from Cedar Lake).

portage around second waterfall upstream of Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park

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The portage around the timber slide. (Somehow we neglected to photograph the less photogenic mucky bottom section of the portage, which is our lasting memory of this portage.)

along portage around second waterfall upstream of Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park

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... from the portage. (And no, this is not the alternative launching spot.)

bottom of second waterfall upstream of Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park

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... from the bottom looking up. No sign of a timber slide here.

timber slide on second waterfall upstream of Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park in 1976 May

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But in 1976 May, the timber slide was still evident -- although somewhat in need of repairs.

timber slide on second waterfall upstream of Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park in 1975 August

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1975 August

timber slide on second waterfall upstream of Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park in 2008 June

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But even today there are still some remnants of the old slide.

rock face with rock tripe

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This little rock face is in an eddy, just downstream of the timber slide. While current water levels are high, the high water line defined by the rock tripe shows that the water can be much higher. (A question for the student: does a high water line defined by rock tripe show the water level of the past spring? the highest level over the last decade? century? ...?)

view along Petawawa River upstream from Cedar lake in Algonquin Park

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Looking downstream towards Cedar Lake from the rock tripe site.

hemlock trees along Petawawa River upstream from Cedar lake in Algonquin Park

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One thing that impressed us about this section of the river (and probably true of other sections as well) was the large number of hemlocks near the water's edge. Usually they simply fade into the background, but right now they are very evident along the portage trails due to the bright green of their new growth. They are also evident in the skyline as well; look for the floppy leaders.

view along Petawawa River upstream of first waterfall above Cedar lake in Algonquin Park

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Approaching the first waterfall from above. Note the abrupt change in the height of the tree tops. You wouldn't want to just paddle blissfully through that gap.

shoreline of Petawawa River upstream of first waterfall above Cedar lake in Algonquin Park in 1975

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One significant change we noted from 20 to 30 years ago is the much heavier shoreline growth now. Perhaps it had been cut back to make shoreline access easier during the log drives, and has now had a few more decades to fill back in. Or it may also simply indicate that canoe route maintenance was more intense in the past. This photo is from 1975 August. Granted it's a lower water level, but that's not the whole story.

Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park at mouth of Petawawa River with Brent in background

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Bob contemplating Cedar Lake with Brent in the background. From this sheltered location the lake looks quite benign, although we realized that it was windy out on the lake.

To avoid being overly dramatic we won't dwell on our crossing of the lake. Suffice to say it was probably the windiest conditions in which we have ever attempted to cross Cedar Lake. Once we got away from shore, we were subjected to wind and waves coming out of the mouth of the Nipissing interfering with rollers coming down the long northwest arm of the lake. We were unable to maintain a heading quartering the wind, and eventually turned and ran with the wind. That got us across the lake but downwind of our intended destination, so we clawed our our way back upwind close to shore where the going was slightly easier. We made it back to the car safely and relatively dry, but the crossing took over an hour of very hard work.

Notes

In the past, we have always referred to the first falls up the Petawawa River from Cedar Lake simply as "the falls" and the second falls as "the timber slide". That reflected the situation when we first travelled that way, but now that the timber slide is gone, the second designation no longer makes sense. We suspect that both of these falls must have proper names, but we don't know what they are.