Trip Log: Brent to Catfish Lake

Bob recently undertook a four day, three night solo canoe trip in northern Algonquin Park, from Brent on Cedar Lake to Catfish Lake and return. He started at Brent, crossed Cedar Lake, ascended the Petawawa River and portaged around the waterfall and the timber slide. He camped on the river just above the timber slide. The next day, he continued upriver, completed the Stacks Rapids portage, paddled the length of Narrowbag Lake and portaged into Catfish Lake. He camped for two nights on Catfish Lake, taking advantage of the non-travelling day to explore the lake. On the last day, he returned as he had come, completing the journey back to Cedar Lake and Brent on the same day. This trip was characterized by being hot (~30C), humid, and windy.

2010 August 27

I left home at about 7:45 am, somewhat later than I had hoped. The drive up the valley was pleasant with morning mist rising off the Ottawa River. I picked up my permit -- no reservation, no problem -- and continued on to Brent, launching on Cedar Lake at about 9:45.

Brent on Cedar Lake

(photographed: 2010-08-27 - map - explore

Launch site at Brent on Cedar Lake: I started across without delay. While the water was calm in the shelter of the point, I could see white caps out in the lake. The wind direction was from the mouth of the Nipissing. Out in the lake, the white caps were coming and going with lots of surface ruffling, but not too bad. The wind was gusty, not steady, so the big rollers were not developing.

waterfall upstream of Cedar Lake on the Petawawa River in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-08-27 - map - explore

The first portage upriver on the Petawawa from Cedar Lake is around a waterfall, almost placid at these water levels. Here's some pictures at a significantly higher flow: Day Trip Up the Petawawa River from Brent

old timber slide on the Petawawa River above Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-08-27 - map - explore

The next portage is around a another set of falls. There used to be a timber slide here, down the right hand side in the photo above.

I reached the top of the timber slide at about 12:40. (I was double carrying the portages and taking lots of time for photography) and I stopped for lunch. I was in a quandary. There was an empty campsite at the top of the portage, but it was not very good -- in extremis only. My permit was for "Stacks Rapids" which includes all of the campsites along the Petawawa River between Cedar Lake and Narrowbag Lake, but not including Narrowbag Lake. It seemed too early to stop, and yet the next campsite farther upriver that I was sure of was at the top of the Stacks Rapids portage, and that was farther than I wanted to travel that day.

I checked out the campsite across the river. It was quite nice. It looked like it would get the evening sun and had a bit of a front porch. It was a bit exposed to the wind, but I assumed the wind would die at sundown (and I had tarps for a wind break if need be.). I decided to stay.

top of the portage around the timber slide on the Petawawa River above Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-08-27 - map - explore

View of the end of the portage around the timber slide from my campsite across the river: The drop in the river is evident.

A couple came downstream at about 1:45. I think maybe they were looking for this campsite; if not, they were looking for the portage on the wrong side of the river. Another couple came through at about 3:45 and headed down the portage. Other than a couple I had met on the first portage, these were the only travellers that I saw on the Petawawa River that day.

I gave myself a nasty rope burn on the ring finger of my right hand in putting up the food rope. It subsequently blistered and burst. It was a bit of an issue for the rest of the trip, but I was able to keep it (relatively) clean and it didn't interfere with my paddling too much.

By 6:55 I was packed up for the night. The food was up but not quite as high as I would have liked. Supper had been "Katmandu Curry with Rice" by Back Packers Pantry. It was a little much for one person but I finished it. It was OK, but it was strongly flavoured and not a flavour that I particularly liked. But my wee dram of Bushmills went down very well. After sending Diana an "I'm OK" message on my SPOT, I was in my hammock a little after 8:00. It was still twilight but I was quite tired.

2010 August 28

morning on the Petawawa River above the timber slide

(photographed: 2010-08-28 - map - explore

Morning calm.

I had an OK night and I was up at 5:45. I was on the water at 8:50 but still had to filter some drinking water. It wasn't that I was having problems, it's just slow when you're alone. (But there's lots of scope for improving my efficiency.)

The sky was clear but the breeze was coming up.

The foot of Stacks Rapids on the Petawawa River upstream of Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-08-28 - map - explore

The foot of Stacks Rapids: The portage starts just to the left of the photo.

Part of the agenda for this trip was to quantify what my 65 year old bones were capable of. The Stacks Rapids portage was to provide that data. Twenty years ago and travelling tandem, reaching Narrowbag Lake on the first day would not have been an issue; but now? solo? I wasn't sure. That's why I had stopped early on my first day.

campsite along Stacks Rapids on the Petawawa River upstream of Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-08-28 - explore

Compact campsite squeezed between the portage trail and the river near the beginning of the Stacks Rapids portage: This campsite is located less than 100 paces from the start of the portage. It didn't figure in my campsite considerations of the previous day because I hadn't remembered it.

top of the hill along the Stacks Rapids portage on the Petawawa River upstream of Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-08-28 - map - explore

Party space at the top of the hill on the Stacks Rapids portage: (Note the shadow of a second canoe rest in the foreground.) The Stacks Rapids portage is 2345m long and the middle third is a relentless uphill grind; it takes it out of an old man. But the parks staff have anticipated this and have provided a small recreational area at the top of the hill. (No liquid refreshments, however.)

I started across the portage at about 9:45 and finished at 11:50 (double carry). I was beat. I had lunch at the end of the portage and was ready to go again at about 12:30, still tired, a little stiff and probably overheated. It was hot and the wind was looking to be an issue for the rest of the day.

decommissioned AFA road crossing the Petawawa River between Stacks Rapids and Narrowbag Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-08-28 - map - explore

I was pleased to note that the AFA road that crosses the Petawawa River between Stacks Rapids and Narrowbag Lake has been (at least temporarily) decommissioned.

I stumbled my way across the portage to Narrowbag. I encountered three guys out for the day fishing. I assumed they were camped on Catfish (there was no way one could have comfortably fished Catfish in that wind).

I slogged my way up Narrowbag against the wind, but I was too tired to notice. Someone was camped at the point on Narrowbag -- he was spread out on the shore like the polar bear from Sherman's Lagoon. No one was camped at the portage into Catfish.

View from Campsite at the north end of Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-08-28 - map - explore

View from Campsite at the north end of Catfish Lake.

I arrived at my home for the night at 2:30. It was somewhat exposed to the wind -- in fact, it was probably the most exposed campsite on the entire lake. However, the wind was just too strong to go looking for something better. Catfish Lake looked -- except for the wind -- pretty quiet, just a single canoe out doodling around, trying to fish, I think. I saw several more canoes as the afternoon wore on. It was not clear what their story was. By 8:00 pm, the sun was down but the wind was still blowing, albeit, less strongly. If tomorrow were to be the same, I wouldn't get much exploring done. I was beat, but less inclined to go to bed as I was at this time the day before. Once again, the Bushmills had gone down much better than the freeze dried dinner (Mountain House Chicken and Rice).

2010 August 29

Looking south on Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park from near the northern end

(photographed: 2010-08-29 - map - explore

Looking south on Catfish Lake from near the northern end.

I was up at 6:00, somewhat stiff, but not too bad once I got moving. The sky was clear but there was a slight breeze already. The morning temp was 18C with no mist. I left to explore the lake at about 8:30. I figured that I'd at least get to visit the alligator before the wind came up. I found it, relying on memory, without any problem, but it had recently been the victim of a tree falling on it.

The remains of an alligator are on a small island in the northern Bay of Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-08-29 - map - explore

The remains of an alligator -- a steam powered tug capable of winching itself overland -- are on a small island in the northern bay of Catfish Lake. (For more alligator remains see Alligators of Algonquin Park.)

The decommissioned campsite on the alligator island in Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-08-29 - map - explore

The campsite on the alligator island in Catfish Lake has been decommissioned, but it used to be one of the nicest sites on the lake.

After leaving the alligator, I stopped before the narrows for some water filter maintenance and pumping. When I finished, I noted that the wind had largely died. A group with three canoes was camped at the narrows. I think it was the fishermen of yesterday and two women. They said good morning and asked what time it was (9:33). They were the only campers I saw on the lake

rock just south of the narrows in Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-08-29 - map - explore

Gull nesting spot just south of the narrows in Catfish Lake: If you pass this way in the spring or early summer, stay well clear unless you want to get dive-bombed. (And I am not sure that the bombs that they use are approved by the Geneva Convention.)

Obstructed passage at the southern end of Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-08-29 - map - explore

Obstructed passage at the southern end of Catfish Lake: I was sure that the unobstructed passage around the southern island was to the west. Oh well, I guess you can't always trust your memory from 20 years ago. But at least I deserve points for remembering that only one side of the island was passable.

I continued down the lake, rejoined the Petawawa River and proceeded to the first portage (at Catfish Rapids).

The bottom of Catfish Rapids on the Petawawa River in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-08-29 - map - explore

The bottom of Catfish Rapids.

I turned around and started back.

On the Petawawa River in Algonquin Park looking towards Sunfish Lake

(photographed: 2010-08-29 - map - explore

On the Petawawa River looking towards Sunfish Lake: The route to Hogan Lake goes through here. I'm not saying that you can't get there from here at this time, but I didn't see any passage.

At about my farthest extent from home, the wind had returned, although perhaps a little more out of the west. There were a few high clouds as well.

The large island campsite in the southern Bay of Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-08-29 - map - explore

The large island campsite in the southern Bay of Catfish Lake: I stopped here for lunch at around 1:00 pm. This is a campsite with a reputation. And while I agree that it is very nice, my preference is for something a little more compact, a little more sheltered, and with a little more firewood (says the guy camped on the most exposed site on the lake).

The narrows in Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-08-29 - map - explore

The narrows in Catfish Lake: Diana and I camped near here many years ago in our old Taymor nylon wall tent. The winds funnelling through the narrows that night were ferocious. Although everything stayed together and upright -- it just sounded as though the end of the world was nigh -- it precipitated our move to a free standing, more wind worthy tent. But while our new tent was more secure, our old wall tent was (and is) more comfortable. (And it has a much more durable floor.)

I was back at my campsite a little before 2:00; all was well. I had a nap -- perhaps an hour -- and then got up and brewed myself some tea. While it was cooling / steeping, I had a quick dip in the lake and felt much better. I then sat around and air dried. I had a cold supper; I just couldn't face soup and FD dinner again. They're way too salty; I need a better solution. Or alternatively, maybe it was just too hot. Supper comprised left over lunch supplies and the next day's pita / PB / jam.

The temperature at 6:00 pm was 27C. The lake was essentially deserted. I had seen two separate canoes during the afternoon. I had earlier determined that the group at the narrows had moved on -- without putting out their campfire! Once again, some Bushmills and early to bed.

2010 August 30

Morning cloud over Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-08-30 - map - explore

Morning cloud over Catfish Lake.

I was out of the hammock at 5:45. The morning was calm, warm, and felt heavy. I broke camp and was away by a little after 8:00.

Logging dam remains at the outlet of Catfish Lake into Narrowbag Lake on a close muggy day

(photographed: 2010-08-30 - map - explore

Logging dam remains at the outlet of Catfish Lake into Narrowbag Lake on a close muggy day: On a several occasions Diana and I have travelled upstream by this spot in the spring. Often fishermen would be camped by the portage. And it would not be unusual for them to advertise their prowess (at fishing) by hanging their gutted brook trout on the alders along the portage. I remember another occasion that we were travelling downstream and encountered a bear and two cubs at this spot. We wonder whether these two observations might be related.

The morning was uneventful, just hot and muggy. It took me a little over two hours for the long portage, but this time I stopped for a break at the top of the hill. It was definitely easier in this direction, but temperature control was the main issue.

The bottom of Stacks Rapids on the Petawawa River in Algonquin Park

(photo by Bob: 2010-08-30 - map - explore

The bottom of Stacks Rapids.

I met a soloist going upstream. He asked about the portage. I suggested he had some hot work ahead of him. He was to be the only traveller I was to see that day. I stopped at my first night's campsite at 1:00 pm for lunch in the shade. It seems that I had lost a carabiner. I was hoping to find it here. However, someone else had been here in the interim, so no joy on that front.

the bottom end of the portage around the timber slide on the Petawawa Ricer above Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-08-30 - map - explore

At the bottom end of the portage around the timber slide.

a touch of rain

(photographed: 2010-08-30 - map - explore

I ran into a touch of rain, just before the last portage; it lasted maybe a minute. I guess the relative humidity tried to fluctuate above 100%; it certainly felt like it.

the beach at Brent on Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-08-30 - explore

Back on the beach at Brent. (My boat is the red one.)

I was back at Brent at 3:30. The afternoon had been straight forward but hot (in the low 30s I later learned). Cedar Lake was a little choppy with the odd white cap, but not hair raising. My concern had been that if I were tardy, there might be some late afternoon thunderstorms brewing so I didn't dilly dally.

I was home around 5:30. Overall the trip was a success; I satisfied myself that I was still capable of undertaking Algonquin trips and can do so solo, but I need to pace myself. My old bones were sore and aching for the first three days, but I gained my stride on the fourth day. In my younger days, I would have hit my stride on the third day.

For more photos from this trip see our photo gallery: A Solo Canoe Trip From Brent To Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park.