Trip Log - Brent, Nipissing River, Catfish lake
in Algonquin Park

On 2011 August 29 through September 01, Bob undertook a four day, three night solo canoe trip in northern Algonquin Park. He started at Brent on Cedar Lake, travelled up the Nipissing River, crossed over to Catfish Lake via Luckless Lake and returned to Brent through Narrowbag Lake and the Petawawa River. The primary objective of the trip was simply to get out in the bush, while the secondary objective was to attempt to determine if there were any identifying marks on the remains of the alligator tug on Catfish Lake.

Bob's diary from the trip, with photos, is reproduced here. The diary has been copy edited with more extensive edits and explanatory material indicated by square brackets.

2011 August 29

- left house at 7:45 am.
- uneventful drive up the highway.
- left permit office at 8:40
- ready to launch at Brent at 9:40

- I had an unfortunate interaction with an asshat camped at Brent about where it was appropriate to park. In the end I moved my car [although I don't accept that there was any problem with where I was intending to park]. There wouldn't have been any issue except for how aggressive he was; [I'm a reasonable guy and would have readily accommodated a friendly request]. It seems that he embarrassed his companions. His male friend asked him "Who made you the boss of the campground?", [and he subsequently engaged me in friendly conversation and offered to help carry my stuff to the lakeshore. The two women of the group continued to scurry around the site doing domestic things -- looking at the ground and avoiding eye contact with me.]

- Left Brent and crossed the lake.
- Wind was light but a nuisance.
- I had some navigational uncertainties in mouth of Nipissing. The key is to keep the faith and keep left.
- I arrived at the portage to Ravenau Lake, which is where I am now, at 10:55 am.; I'm 3.41 km from the launch (although I reset the gps a little out from Brent).

Emergent plants in the mouth of the Nipissing River where it flows into Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2011-08-29 - map - explore

Emergent vegetation in the marsh at the mouth of the Nipissing River where it flows into Cedar Lake. The channel through is clear, but first you have to find it.

- Reached the first portage on the Nipissing River at 11:30.
- Carried each load straight through.
- Finished at about 12:15.
- Had lunch at the top end of the portage.
- The weather is sunny with clouds.
- Haven't seen anybody since leaving Brent.
- Mosquitoes are a slight nuisance.
- Away after lunch at 12:50.

Remains of an old bridge near the mouth of the Nipissing River in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2011-08-29 - map - explore

The remains of an old bridge near the mouth of the Nipissing River. This the start of the first portage when travelling upstream.

Rapids at the first portage upstream of the mouth of the Nipissing River in Algonquin Park

(photo by Bob: 2011-08-29 - map - explore

Rapids along the first portage upstream of the mouth of the Nipissing River.

- I waded up the shallow section that is just a little shy of the next portage in bare feet [Not a prudent thing to do but I had no spare shoes and I like dry feet].
- I proceeded to the portage, rinsed my feet and put on my shoes without socks.
- Through the portage at 1:40 - easy.

- There is another shallow / fast section a little above the portage. It didn't require wading but was tricky to paddle [fast and shallow]. A pole would have been helpful.

Lower Nipissing River in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2011-08-29 - map - explore

Along the lower Nipissing River in Algonquin Park

Marsh along the lower Nipissing River in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2011-08-29 - map - explore

Marsh along the lower Nipissing River in Algonquin Park

- 2:40 - break time: I have been battling a head wind as well as the current. I'm feeling good but a little tired. The [incident with the] asshat at Brent is still eating at me. [Am I going to return to four flat tires?]
- on my way at 2:52.

- I'm in my campsite at the end of the Luckless Lake portage at 4:25. I had paddled up to Rolling Dam but there were 4 canoes there with assorted adults, kids and dog [the first people I've seen since leaving Brent]. The bottom campsite was available, and while it is a nicer location than this, it isn't as good a campsite. In particular, it is all open with a wall of bush behind it. There is no obvious place to hang a hammock.

Rolling Dam on the Nipissing River in Algonquin Park

(photo by Bob: 2011-08-29 - map - explore

Rolling Dam on the Nipissing River in Algonquin Park. Twenty-five years ago there was still evidence of the old dam; I didn't see any on this visit. However, because of the presence of other people and because I hadn't yet claimed a campsite, my investigation was rushed.

- It's 6:30 and I'm having my soup. The food rope is up and the hammock hung. (Putting the hammock up was a comedy of errors [The under pad and cover need to be attached before the hammock is hung]).
- At 6:00 a Dutch couple completed the portage from Luckless. As it was getting late, I asked them if they would like to stay and they accepted.

- I had chilli for supper [frozen when I left this morning] - It was good but too much. [I didn't eat the scheduled bagel.]

- I fell in the river while rinsing my teeth. [I had a mouth full of toothpaste. I didn't want to spit it out at the landing spot, so I hopped in my canoe with the intention of going a little downstream. I guess I was a little too nonchalant in spinning around to face the bow and the next thing I know is that I'm off balance and taking water over the upstream gunwale. I teetered on the edge for a while but I couldn't regain my balance. So I just rolled over the side into the Nipissing muck. Nothing injured but my dignity. I have no idea what happened to the mouthful of toothpaste.]

- I'm writing this by headlamp [sitting outside on a log]. The Dutch couple have gone to bed already. The mosquitoes are out.
- I have been thirsty all day; I will drink a full mug of water before bed.
- The food - both mine and the guests - is hung. It is well protected from raccoons etc. but only from short bears. [I used three ropes with the food hung from the middle of the line between two trees. The problem was that there was too much stretch in the horizontal line for the weight of the two food packs. I need less stretchy rope.]

2011 August 30

- Rain during night.
- Headlamp failed.
- Up a little before 7:00 in the rain.
- Set up a tarp.
- Wearing wet clothes [from last evening's impromptu swim in the river.]
- The Dutch couple readily agreed to share my tarp. They left at 8:45.
- I'm packed up and ready to go at 9:30. [Rain has stopped.]
- I am drinking Nipissing River water treated with chemicals. [Tastes terrible. I had filtered a couple of litres of Nipissing water the previous evening, but that clogged my filter and that water has now been drunk. I didn't want to clean and rinse my filter in the Nipissing, hence the chemicals. Of course, many years ago we would have just drunk that water straight.]

- 11:17 and I'm taking a break on the portage - [I'm most of the way across] where the portage leaves the old road.

Along the portage from the Nipissing River to Luckless Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2011-08-30 - map - explore

Along the portage from the Nipissing River to Luckless Lake in Algonquin Park. Much of this portage is along an old road. The trees have grown up significantly since the last time I was along here. You can no longer see just how long you have to trudge along this road, which is a good thing. Here's a photo from 1975.

- Everything is through to Luckless Lake at 12:00 exactly. In some ways I think this portage is worse than the Stacks Rapids portage. [It doesn't have a steep section akin to "Unicorn Hill" but] it is longer and it is uphill relentlessly.

Luckless Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2011-08-30 - map - explore

Luckless Lake in Algonquin Park

- I had lunch - a heavy snack, actually - and was away at ~12:30. The weather is looking suspicious.

- I'm on the water in Catfish Lake at 1:20. The first campsite I see is empty, but I'm going to gamble on finding one at the top.

- I'm ensconced on my island campsite in Catfish Lake. I am tired. I arrived a little after 2:00, I think and now it is 4:00.
- I have been trying to dry things out; everything is a little damp. Wonderful drying weather, breezy -- perhaps too breezy -- and sunny.
- I am currently enjoying a mug of strong, sweet Starbucks coffee -- good, but probably not four times as good as the Taster's Choice. I just couldn't face soup -- just too damn salty. Similarly, I think I will skip the noodles for supper. I will probably just have pepperoni and bagels (I didn't eat my bagel ration last night or at noon). I am beginning to think that you should eat lightly for the first few days of a trip and your appetite will kick in when it is ready. [When I was younger, my body used to switch into tripping mode on day three; now it is at least day four and perhaps longer.]
- I haven't seen anybody since the Dutch couple left this morning. This area of the park seems deserted.

- 6:40 and I'm ready for bed. But another hour of sunlight, I guess.
- Either it's hot, or my metabolism is out of kilter.

small island campsite on Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2011-08-30 - map - explore

Small island campsite in the north part of Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park

sunset on Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park

(photo by Bob: 2011-08-30 - map - explore

Sunset on Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park

- The food up. Not my best effort, but not too bad - two ropes, single carabiner.
- I tried to fix my headlamp; [I didn't do anything and] now it works. I conclude it works in the daylight, but not in the dark.
- No booze; I just don't feel like it.
- The sun is going down and the wind has died. The temp is about 25C. It is a solid high pressure day.

2011 August 31

red sunrise on Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park

(photo by Bob: 2011-08-31 - map - explore

Red sunrise on Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park

Red sky at night -- sailors delight!
Red sky in morning -- sailors take warning!

Other good rain signals are the lack of dew or mist and an east wind.

- Up a little after 6:00 to a beautiful red sunrise -- naw, doesn't mean anything!
- The loons put on a tremendous audio performance last night -- loud, many birds, and many voices and phrases.
- Sounded like some trippers arrived really late last night -- ~ 11:00 -- and set up in the narrows

- Morning temp ~ 12C. Some, but not much dew on tarp. [no morning mist] Mosquitoes are a bit of a nuisance.

small island campsite on Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2011-08-31 - map - explore

Small island campsite on Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park

- 8:15 and the chores are done - I'm fed, the dishes are washed, etc.
- It is a very pleasant benign morning -- weak sun, milky sky with some definition, with a very light breeze out of the east. I'm going to go explore the alligator area again, but I think I will string a tarp before I go.
- The loons are still sounding off, but no sounds from our late arrivals of last night.

- 9:34 - I thought it was later. Finally ready to go explore that alligator. The tarp is up, the food hung, the loose junk packed away and under a tarp.

- I went out paddling. I couldn't find the alligator island! I didn't realize that I was camped just one island away, so I paddled right by it. I had no problem in finding it when I approached from the other direction.

alligator remains on Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2011-08-31 - map - explore

Alligator remains on island in on Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park.

I learned subsequent to my last visit that on the side of the steam box is embossed the name of the manufacturer, West and Peachy, and perhaps the engine number. As can be seen, that covering plate is missing. Furthermore, from the state of the bolts, it can be assumed that the plate was removed a long time ago, before the nuts had become rusted on. I was unsuccessful in finding any identifying markings for this alligator; its identity remains unknown to me, at least.

alligator remains on Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park

(photo by Bob: 2011-08-31 - map - explore

Alligator remains on island in on Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park.

alligator remains on Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2011-08-31 - map - explore

Alligator remains on island in on Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park.

- Last year the alligator was obscured by alders, blow downs, etc. These have now all been cleared away.
- I was unable to find any identifying markings. The key plate of metal had been removed and was no where to be found.

- Upon returning to my campsite, I made a cup of tea using the Littlebug Stove [a twig stove]. In these circumstances, it is more trouble than it's worth. I ended up blackening a pot and ended up with a pile of unburned ashes to dispose of [and without an appropriate scoop]. The Trangia would have been much more convenient. [If it were my only stove, however ...]

making tea on my Littlbug Stove on small island campsite on Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2011-08-31 - map - explore

Making tea on my Littlbug Stove on small island campsite on Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park

- The people I heard last night are camped a little way up the lake (towards the Narrowbag portage) on the shore. [The only other campers on the lake as far as I know.]

- A little while ago, a couple passed heading north. Currently two canoes (a 3 person and a 2 person) are passing south. Either they are heading for one of the two campsites across the way or they are making a navigational mistake.
- It is still not raining, but I think it's coming.
- Well, the two canoes didn't re-emerge and I'm pretty sure they didn't camp, so I assume that they barged their way through to the south of the lake via the shallow channel.

- I had a bagel and a half for lunch. It went down very well. While I think bagels, peanut butter and jam have a role on canoe trip meals, I am less sure about them as a travelling lunch.
- I felt good after the bagels, but tired. I tried to have a nap on the shore. It was comfortable enough but the ants and flies kept waking me up. I tried for a nap in the hammock, but the breeze kept flapping the fly. I have good protection from a west wind, less so for east.

- I got up and made myself some Starbucks instant coffee. It's good, but two packages is just too strong. A better solution would be a smaller mug. I don't need that much coffee [500ml] in the morning or in the afternoon. [The instructions say one package of instant coffee for 240ml water.]
- After that caffeine jolt, I felt flushed.

- It is now 4:45. I am still expecting the rain, but it is not imminent.
- I have my freeze dried beef stroganoff hydrating.

- 5:05 and supper's over -- I just have to do the dishes. It's just starting to rain, very lightly. I think I'm in good shape. A while ago, I thought I heard some distant thunder; hopefully, it was just a jet. A small island campsite isn't the best location to ride out a thunder storm. [I'm protected, but I'm also the highest thing around.]
- The stroganoff was reasonable, although it did turn out a little watery. Some ketchup or hot sauce might have helped as well.
- The rain only lasted for 5-10 minutes or so; now it's back to just being dull.
- Just cleaned my glasses; what a difference that makes!

tarp at small island campsite on Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2011-08-31 - map - explore

Tarp set up on small island campsite on Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park

- An interesting thing about this campsite is, as far as I can see, there are no squirrels or chipmunks on the island. Thus no cleanup squad, camp robbers, etc. There is a very active clean up squad in the lake however.
- This morning, I saw what I believe to be a mink swim over to the island.

- 6:11 There is no doubt that I just heard thunder well to the south of me. I'm not sure if I'm better off in a t-storm in my hammock or under my tarp. Not an issue yet as it is still too early.

- 7:09 It has been raining with conviction for the last little while but has now let up. I have sent my check-in signal [on my Spot]. I am now going to get into the hammock as I am getting a little cool. Still some distant thunder.

2011 September 01

- Up at 6:05. On the water at 8:35. Now behind the alligator island writing these notes.
- The skies cleared over night but now there are high stratus clouds with a gentle breeze from the east.
- I can hear in the distance (south east) the faint drone of heavy machinery.
- I had my regular coffee and cereal for breakfast. I am getting more adept with the Trangia [and thus not wasting as much fuel.]

skyline on Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2011-09-01 - map - explore

Skyline on Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park

- Into Narrowbag by 9:20.
- I could see a canoe heading downstream when I arrived at the portage -- perhaps the couple I saw yesterday.
- The noisy guys were gone on Catfish - perhaps the two canoes heading south that I saw yesterday.

logging dam at outflow of Catfish Lake into Narrowbag Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2011-09-01 - map - explore

Remains of a logging dam at the outflow of Catfish Lake into Narrowbag Lake in Algonquin Park

- It's 10:18. I am sitting in my canoe in the pond above the Stacks Rapids portage, filling my water bottle, having a snack, etc. I can see a pack on the shore at the end of the portage.

- I started the portage at 10:35 and finished it at 12:35.
- I met the couple who I saw pass on Catfish yesterday and in the distance on Narrowbag this am. [They replaced the noisy ones on the campsite on Catfish last night. In conversation with that group, the couple confirmed that the noisy group had indeed done the Stacks Rapids portage in the dark the previous evening.]
- The couple finished the portage a little ahead of me. [They had been out for 14 days and were doing a full double carry].

- Tired. [I portaged through my lunch time and past experience tells me that delaying lunch is usually a bad idea.]
- I stopped at the campsite opposite the timber slide for lunch at 1:15.
- 2:15 and I'm at the bottom of the timber slide, on the river in the shade. (Man, it's feeling hot. It must have been a warm front that came through.)

animal tracks in mud

(photographed: 2011-09-01 - map - explore

I don't think the last tripper across this portage was human.

timber slide site on Petawawa River above Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2011-09-01 - map - explore

Previous site of a timber slide on the Petawawa River above Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park

waterfalls on Petawawa River above Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2011-09-01 - map - explore

Waterfalls on Petawawa River above Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park

- 3:20 and I'm on the shore of Cedar Lake. It looks as quiet as one could reasonably hope. [Even a slight tail wind.]

Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2011-09-01 - map - explore

Brent, as seen across Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park

- 3:50 and I'm on the beach at Brent. The asshat and party has left. My car looks Ok with four fully inflated tires.

- [As I was trying to write in my diary, I was befriended by two little kids. Were you out fishing? Where did you go? How did you sleep? Can we see your hammock? What about water? Can we see how your water filter works? Your car is funny ... etc., etc. They volunteered to help me carry my canoe to my car. With the two of them at one end and me at the other, we managed it. The little boy told me I was funny and that I looked like the River Monster. I'll take that as a compliment.]

canoe on beach at Brent on Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2011-09-01 - map - explore

Canoe on beach at Brent on Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park

- Home a little before 6:00. [Diana claims she has never seen me looking so grubby.]

Further photos from this trip may be found in our photo gallery: A Solo Canoe Trip to Catfish Lake via the Nipissing River from Brent in Algonquin Park.