Trip Log - Brent to Carl Wilson Lake

Bob recently undertook a three day, two night solo canoe trip in northern Algonquin Park, from Brent on Cedar Lake to Carl Wilson Lake and return. On the first day, he started at Brent, paddled up the northwest arm of Cedar Lake, passed through Little Cedar Lake and Aura Lee Lake, and camped at the island campsite on Laurel Lake. On the second day, he travelled through Little Cauchon Lake and portaged into Carl Wilson Lake where he spent the night. On the third day, he returned to Brent following the same route in reverse.

2008 August 19

I left Point Alexander a little after 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday August 19 for a short solo canoe trip. The temperature was 10C and the sky was clear but with a few clouds; it was a breezy morning. I reached the Permit Office on the Brent Road around 9:00 (hours in summer are 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.) and didn't run into any problems with site availability. Since there was minimal cell phone reception at the office, I returned to the top of the hill just west of Deux Rivieres and checked in with Diana to confirm my planned route. I arrived at Brent at about 9:45 and was away by 10:00. A group of 8 canoes were leaving Algonquin Outfitters; they disappeared from view, most likely heading down the Petawawa. I counted 14 cars in the parking lot by the dock, but didn't see how many cars were parked at the store.

at Brent on Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park

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Cedar Lake at Brent - Big water. But I'm cheating with this photo. This is looking down the lake towards where the Petawawa River flows out. My route was to the northwest, the opposite direction.

The paddle up the northwest arm of Cedar Lake was uneventful. The wind was not much of a problem but was noticeable, rising and falling, even generating some whitecaps occasionally. Since it was mainly out of the north, I was able to find shelter along the northern shore. I especially appreciated the shelter afforded by Gilmour Island where I was able to rest in calm water, sitting in the sun.

Suspecting that the next point might be the former site of Kish-Kaduk Lodge, I landed and went bushwhacking, but found nothing. The point was completely overgrown, and given the size of the trees, it was obvious that there had been nothing there, at least not for a very long time. I proceeded up the lake.

stone fireplace on Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park

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This stone fireplace is on an island near the northwest end of Cedar Lake. The remains of a cottage, I suppose, perhaps associated with Kish-Kaduk Lodge?

Little Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park

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I stopped for lunch, just into Little Cedar Lake.

Aura Lee Lake in Algonquin Park

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Aura Lee Lake. The lump in the background is the hill on Laurel Lake. Donald Loyd, in his excellent book, "Canoeing Algonquin Park", makes the case that these two lakes are misnamed. He contends that Laurel Lake is the real Aura Lee Lake [note 1]. However, I will stick with the current naming convention. Soon we will be discussing Tom Thomson's painting "Little Cauchon Lake" which is actually of the falls falling into Laurel Lake!

the island campsite in Laurel Lake in Algonquin Park

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I arrived at the island campsite in Laurel Lake mid-afternoon and decided to stay. Diana and I had camped on this island almost exactly 34 years previous, in August, 1974. As I remember, it was the Friday before the Labour Day weekend.

It was dusk that evening 34 years ago and we had finished our supper, when a couple in a canoe appeared heading for the island. They were obviously exhausted and when they realized that the island was occupied, they just stopped paddling, and sat in their canoe dejectedly. It was clear that they didn't have a plan 'B'. As we were going to be moving on in the morning, we called them over and offered to share the site, which they readily accepted. They had traveled from Boston, and as I remember, were quite fit but had never canoed before. However, they had heard of this campsite: "An island in the middle of an amphitheater where the call of the loon echoes continuously back and forth". (I'm not sure how you were supposed to get any sleep, but anyway ... ) It turned out that they were a very pleasant couple (and not axe murderers) and we left them alone to enjoy the island in the morning.

The last 34 years have not been kind to the island, but the site is just beaten down, not dirty. Except on the steep inclines there is essentially no undergrowth at all, and it certainly suffered wind damage from the summer storms of 2006. But it is still a very pleasant spot. (And the thunder box, located on the highest point of the island, provides a wonderful panoramic view, although not a lot of privacy.)

Sunset on Laurel Lake in Algonquin Park

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Sunset on Laurel Lake.

2008 August 20

Wednesday dawned cool (about 8C) with a heavy mist and light breezes. Earlier it had been clear with an almost full moon. Sleeping in a hammock and with the breezes and damp air, I wouldn't have wanted it any colder, but I slept well. I was up at 6:15, and was on the water and ready to travel by a bit after 9:00. (I need to add some efficiency to my solo camping skills, but the reality is that things just take longer when you're alone, especially when you're still at the Keystone Cops stage of solo experience.)

Morning mist on Laurel Lake in Algonquin Park

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Morning mist.

sparrows at the island campsite in Laurel Lake in Algonquin Park

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An entertaining feature of the island campsite is that the cleanup squad are sparrows. To me, it is somehow more acceptable to have my stuff rifled through by a creature with feathers than one with fur. (I don't find chipmunks particularly cute - can you imagine what they'd be like if they weighed as much as a bear!) Also, having sparrows fulfill this role is an interesting (but I'm sure, completely bogus) demonstration of evolutionary principles. Island are notable in evolutionary theory for providing examples of animals radiating out and evolving to fill empty niches in their particular environment, Darwin's finches being the classic example.

The portage to Little Cauchon Lake is short but steep. After completing the portage, I went back to take photos of the falls.

waterfalls on Laurel Lake in Algonquin Park

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This waterfall is where Cauchon Creek enters Laurel Lake. It is supposedly the waterfall depicted in the Tom Thomson painting Little Cauchon Lake, although I have my doubts. If so, he has exaggerated the vertical dimension, as he seems to have done in a several of his paintings.

(Note added 2015 December. I am now absolutely convinced that this is not the location depicted in the painting. See Trip Log - Kiosk, Mink Lake, Club Lake, Cauchon Lake and Return.)

Little Cauchon Lake in Algonquin Park

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The entrance into Little Cauchon Lake as seen from the end of the portage from Laurel Lake. The abandoned railway line is visible in the middle distance.

I encountered a moose at the beginning of the portage from Little Cauchon Lake into Carl Wilson Lake. While I was setting up for the portage, it came out of a side trail only about 20 - 30 ft away, clearly curious as to what was going on. I stood still and we just stared at each other. All the while I was calculating how I could get to my camera without spooking him, but before I could make my move, the moose started ambling towards me with a let's-get-better-acquainted look on his face. I moved slightly sideways and said to him: "Are you really sure that this is what you want to do?" The moose stopped dead in his tracks, took a closer look at me, turned and hightailed it off into the bush. Pretty neat, but no photos.

The portage into Carl Wilson is a steady, but not gruelling, uphill all the way, climbing 30m in one kilometer. It is a good trail at the beginning, but gets a little mucky at the Carl Wilson end.

Carl Wilson Lake in Algonquin Park

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The entrance into the main part of Carl Wilson Lake. Note the "granite lump" to the left.

campsite Carl Wilson Lake in Algonquin Park

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I stopped at the campsite on the point on the western shore (the first campsite on your right as you enter the main part of the lake from the north). It is a nice big site, but while a lot of tents would fit in there, few would have a level bed. This site is gloomy in the evening, but it gets the morning sun. That was important to me as I wanted an early start.

In mid-afternoon, a single canoe containing a man and a woman passed by, heading south along the far shore. I was glad it was a couple rather than a large group, as I felt a little guilty hogging this large site all to myself.

clear water of Carl Wilson Lake in Algonquin Park

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The water of Carl Wilson Lake looks quite clear, but it is not a Green Headwater Lake. However, despite the water's apparent clarity, it seemed to be quite effective at clogging my water filter.

cliff on Carl Wilson Lake in Algonquin Park

This hill / cliff face was directly opposite my campsite. This area seems to be characterized by distinct, often elongated, bedrock hills with steep sides or cliffs. The eastern shore of Carl Wilson Lake is made up of three such formations. The "lump" on Laurel Lake is another example, and there is at least one on the southern shore of Cedar Lake. If I remember correctly there is another one south of Carl Wilson Lake along the Nipissing River. I would be interested to learn the geological significance of these formations. A current interest of mine is to understand the Ottawa Bonnechere Graben, the edge of which runs along the southern shore of Cedar Lake. Are these geological features in any way related? (I suspect not, but I need to ask.)

Since I had stopped to make camp quite early (a little after noon), I had a mid-afternoon supper and then went out to explore the lake. I paddled down to the southern end of the lake, and as far as I could determine, apart from myself the only occupants of the lake were the couple who had passed by earlier. They were camped near the point on the eastern shore. The lady at the Permit Office had told me I would be sharing the lake with three other parties. She also told me that I would have Laurel Lake to myself, but there was a large group spread over two campsites there. I guess people don't actually do what they say they're going to do.

cliff on Carl Wilson Lake in Algonquin Park

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This is the more prominent cliff face on Carl Wilson Lake, and is the southernmost of the three "bedrock lumps" of the eastern shore of the lake. I also suspect that there may be a geocache hidden at the top of this cliff: see The View from Point Alexander - Geocache?.

2008 August 21

morning mist on Carl Wilson Lake in Algonquin Park

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Morning mist on Carl Wilson Lake

sunrise on Carl Wilson Lake in Algonquin Park

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Sunrise

On Thursday morning, I got up a little after 6:00. The temperature was about 10C and the sky was clear. There was less mist than Wednesday morning. I was more efficient at preparing coffee and breakfast and packing up than the previous day and was ready to go at a little after 8:30. As I launched I could hear the couple down the lake launching their canoe as well.

Approaching the portage to Little Cauchon Lake from Carl Wilson Lake in Algonquin Park

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Approaching the portage to Little Cauchon Lake.

The couple passed me on the portage; they were single carrying and were through in about 20-25 minutes. I was double carrying and it took me about 45 minutes. They headed west towards Kiosk while I turned east towards the portage into Laurel Lake. They were the last people that I saw until almost Brent.

Downstream of Aura Lee Lake on Cauchon Creek in Algonquin Park

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Downstream of Aura Lee Lake on Cauchon Creek. I got confused at the railway crossing. You can't see the bridge/tunnel until the last minute. I thought that I had paddled up a blind alley and I was annoyed at myself for relying on memory rather than the map. But as it turned out, my memory hadn't led me astray.

Cedar Pake in Algonquin Park

Another bedrock lump, this one on the southern shore of Cedar Lake.

On the way back down Cedar Lake I again stopped to explore, and this time indeed did find the remains of Kish-Kaduk Lodge (it was a little west of the point where I had looked previously). However, due to a series of unfortunate circumstances, I didn't get any photos good enough to present here. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to make a return visit!

I arrived back at Brent a little after 3:00. Most of the way down the lake, I had been fighting an intermittent headwind, similar to when I paddled up the lake - not fair, but par for Cedar Lake.

A good trip: beautiful country, excellent weather, few people and no significant misadventures (other than a sunburned nose).

Notes

  1. A 1919 Map of Algonquin Park shows Laurel Lake and Aura Lee Lake as one continuous body of water named Aura Lee. This map also shows Carl Wilson Lake as Dog Lake.

Sources

Donald L. Lloyd (2000); Canoeing Algonquin Park, Published by D.L. Lloyd. Distributed by Hushion House Publishing Ltd. Toronto.