Trip Report - Exploring Lake Travers in Algonquin Park
Big Thompson Logging Dam, Pembroke Lumber Company, Degeer Moraines
Bob and Diana recently spent three days exploring Lake Travers (Lake Traverse) on the Petawawa River in Algonquin Park. That exploration is reported here.
Apart from just getting out in the bush, we had three objectives:
- To visit Big Thompson Rapids on the Petawawa River and to determine the state of the logging dam there in comparison with some photos we took back in 1979.
- To visit the former site of the Pembroke Lumber Company in order to augment the exploration of that site we had done last fall.
- To locate, identify, and attempt to photograph, the Degeer moraines, which lie to the east of Lake Travers.
We were successful in meeting all of our objectives.
It is our intent to prepare a separate page describing the Degeer moraines [done 2011-10-08: see Lake Travers Degeer Moraines]; to finally complete our page describing our exploration of the Pembroke Lumber Company site [done 2011-10-01: see Exploring the Pembroke Lumber Company Site on Lake Travers]; and, in the longer term, to prepare a "Then and Now" page contrasting the current state of various structures in Algonquin Park — including the Big Thompson Dam — with their appearance in the past. However, it must be remembered that the road to hell is paved with good intentions — so no promises.
Our diary from the trip (written by Bob) is reproduced here, along with a selection of photos. The diary has been copy-edited, with more extensive edits and explanatory material indicated by square brackets.
2011 September 12
- away from house at 8:00
- away from Sand Lake gate at 9:30
- at Lake Traverse at 10:15
- now 10:45 – on water 0.5 km from start
- weather – cloudy with sun, but milky
[The temperature was in the low 20’s and the air was very humid, so it felt quite warm and muggy.]
11:45 and we're at our newly adopted home – a sandy point opposite the big island on the west shore of the lake
- not pristine, but not too bad (but we’ll probably want a garbage fire)
[We never did have the garbage fire, just collected the bits of debris into our park garbage bag and took them home for disposal. When we arrived at the campsite there were potato chips strewn all over the place, which we thought we should clean up to avoid attracting critters, but within minutes some whiskeyjacks showed up and started carrying the chips away. Eventually there were four birds and a chipmunk on cleanup duty, and they removed every little crumb, saving us the trouble.
The campsite itself was quite nice – level and roomy, on top of a sand bank, with scattered red pines. There was a large sand point out in front – pretty, but it made for a long walk to fetch water.]
1:55 – all set up – tarp, food rope, etc.
- Diana is having a nap
- with respect to the food rope, I used a 3-rope setup, but with a long run between two trees, so I suspect I will have stretchy rope issues again.
- 2 guys out on the lake fishing – otherwise the place looks deserted. [The two guys out fishing were in a canoe with a very quiet trolling motor. However, they were anything but quiet themselves, chatting their way up and down the lake until suppertime. They disappeared into the campsite on the long point to the south of us and we never saw or heard them again.]
[We had also met two guys in a motorboat leaving as we were arriving at the put-in. They had been at the lake fishing for several days, catching — they claimed — muskies and pickerel. We suspect they were the previous inhabitants of our campsite.]
4:20 – making soup
- while Diana was napping I explored south down the lake on foot to the next campsite. When I returned, Diana was up – refreshed – made coffee – very good. We had a few drops of rain. Could see rain showers down the lake. Earlier in the afternoon, the wind had shifted from west to north. Can now hear thunder.
- pitched the Scout tarp over the tent. It provides some protection but marginal.
- Tomato vegetable soup — not bad and not too salty but sort of tasteless.
6:30 – ready for the night – food up, teeth brushed – enjoying our Bushmills.
- supper – chili [from home, frozen] – with bagels – brownies for dessert – all good.
- Winds quiet – direction ambiguous but changeable
- very quiet
- thunderstorms and rain have passed us by for now.
8:00 – red full moon has arisen. The mosquitoes are out and a whippoorwill can be heard across the lake. I’m writing this by headlamp. Time to head into the tent.
[the moonrise was spectacular but the photos didn't do it justice. It was a very bright night with the full moon, and dead quiet.]
2011 September 13 (Tuesday)
6:00 - up to the sound of distant thunder. Wind lively from the southeast. Red sunrise. Now almost 7:00. Sitting under the tarp, making coffee and waiting for the thunderstorm – although it has been quiet for the last little while.
8:30 – breakfast over
- Red River cereal with butter and brown sugar – dishes done – still raining lightly on and off. There’s been thunder around us but not right over us. – Wind calm, waves from the south.
- away a little before 9:45 to explore Big Thompson – sky overcast, low ceiling, waves and light breeze out of the south.
[We had very dramatic views into the narrowing channel of the Petawawa as we paddled north, with mist and reflections in calm water. Near the north end of the lake there is a large area where trees were blown down by the microburst in 1999. For a very dramatic description of that evening on Lake Travers see the comment following the article: Backpacker Magazine - Phenomenon: Microbursts. The author of the comment was camped on the island to the right in the photo below.]
We arrived at Big Thompson a little before 11:00. The weather is clearing – “Rain before 7:00, clear before 11:00”.
- spent about an hour exploring Big Thompson – [area and portage is] very rough.
- now having lunch at upstream end of portage.
- two canoes approaching.
[There is not much left of the dam at Big Thompson. The last time we were there (mid 80’s) the dam was essentially still complete. The portage trail is challenging, with some short, steep ups and downs.]
12:30 – finished lunch. The two canoes – a tandem plus a solo – scouted from the water and went straight down. [with a few thumps]
[The approaching canoeists stopped briefly upstream, perhaps to take off their shirts and put on their helmets. They looked well equipped for running rapids and clearly knew what they were doing.]
1:45 and resting behind a small point after a hard slog back against the wind and current
- another 2k to go.
- Atmosphere is very muggy
- Whiff of smoke
- Wind – gusty – out of south – but the waves are not too bad.
2:15 and back at our campsite. The wind relented for the last section. Even so, all in all, it was a hard slog.
- had coffee – Taster’s Choice. Not nearly as good as the Starbucks.
- set up chairs on the beach. Had a little snooze.
- woken up by the wind – got a little chilled. The wind is now solidly from the north.
- retreated to under the tarp at the campsite and starting to make soup and then supper.
4:30 – air temp – 18C
- soup – Minestrone – good
- the air is clear; the murk is gone.
7:00 - ready for bed – having our Bushmills
- the wind has largely died but the waves on the lake persist
- air is clear but the sky is cloudy – not overcast
- temperature is dropping
- had Zatarain Jambalaya with pepperoni – good. Brownies for dessert.
- I think we have the lake to ourselves.
2011 September 14 (Wednesday)
Up at 6:20 – or rather, awake at 6:20 – out of the tent, maybe 6:30. Temp 9C. Overcast, low ceiling but broken and air clear. – Lake calm, no wind. – Running low on fuel.
7:30 – the sun has riz; the sky has cleared – Bob has strung a clothesline.
8:30 – breakfast over. Looking like a very nice day.
10:17 – sitting on a log on the beach at the old Pembroke Lumber Company site. We left our campsite and paddled straight here. The wind is a nuisance but still manageable. Blowing south to north but with a west wind component.
11:10 – sitting on the beach at the lumber company, having a snack. Didn’t really learn anything new exploring the site, but things seem to have grown in noticeably more. Got some shots about where we think the jackladder was.
- a couple of rangers are working along the shore doing campsite maintenance.
1:20 and we’re having lunch at the last campsite (north) on the east shore of the lake before the big island.
- We have just returned from bushwhacking, looking for Degeer moraines
- we found them
- basically we just followed a compass bearing south from this location. We crossed perpendicularly multiple rocky ridges; impossible to photograph effectively.
- the bush wasn’t too bad – relatively open red pine, but we eventually encountered a mass of blowdowns, probably from the microburst of 1999.
- we returned to the campsite and realized it was situated on a Degeer moraine. And then we realized that all the little fingers of rocks jutting out into the lake along this shore are Degeer moraines!
[Degeer moraines are formed under water at the face of a retreating glacier. The small parallel moraines result from the seasonal oscillation in the position of the ice face. That is, the ice face moves forward in the winter, creating the rocky ridge, and retreats in the summer. Since the glacier is overall retreating, the summer retreats are larger than the winter advances. A good description of the formation of these moraines can be found here: Canadian Landform Inventory Project: Main/Degeer Moraines.
Degeer moraines are roughly parallel and at Lake Travers run more or less east-west. Going through the bush we crossed four or five of them. They resemble very large, messy stone fences and are composed of worn looking rocks about watermelon size. However they are difficult to examine — without excavating; they are covered in forest debris, moss and thin soil. Quite a few of them are visible along the shore as bouldery points. Presumably the parts that used to extend out into the lake were carried away by glacial drainage when the drainage shifted from southeast towards Forbes Creek and Grand Lake to north through the lower Petawawa River valley. Perhaps they have also been reworked or disturbed by the seasonal movement of lake ice.]
2:30 and we’re back in our campsite. Quite a hairy crossing [of the lake]– wind – big waves – lots of whitecaps. The canoe performed well. Diana moved her seat forward and I put the daypack forward of centre. That is the first time I’ve had that canoe out in really windy conditions that I felt that I was controlling the canoe and not vice versa. [To paddle back across the lake, we oriented the canoe upwind and more or less ferried across towards the long point. We ended up a bit upwind of the point, then turned away from the wind and ran down to shelter behind it. It was certainly a crossing for which wearing PFDs was comforting. (We're old school and usually only wear our PFDs when things look a little dicey.)]
- Diana has just returned from getting some water and now it has started to rain.
3:08 – the rain has stopped; the wind has died; the lake is calm; the sun is shining through gaps in the clouds.
- We're skipping afternoon coffee and having early soup (chicken noodle) – we’re low on fuel and the Taster’s Choice is not all that good.
4:10 – minding our own business when a Herc [or some other very large military airplane] comes flying down the lake (north to south) just above treetop level, banks and flies almost directly above our campsite. [It was following the shore. The time from our first hearing it and its passing overhead was insufficient for us to realize what was going on and get our cameras out.]
Into to the tent at 7:45.
- Weather is all over the place but the island opposite turned a beautiful red just at the moment of sundown. Wind is quiet for now.
- Indian supper – chickpea curry and basmati rice – quite good.
- quite low on fuel, but probably enough.
2011 September 15 (Thursday)
– the water’s on, the Red River cereal is soaking; the sun is about to come up.
- the sky is clear, the wind is still
– a few ripples on the lake and a little mist towards the campsite island.
- my ankle was bothering me during the night – I was quite crippled at bed time – but not too bad this a.m. As far as I know, I didn’t twist it, so it's either arthritis or gout (and yes I know gout is a type of arthritis!)
9:45 – essentially ready to go – everything is consolidated and ready to go in the big packs. A cool breeze out of the southeast – no waves yet – sky looks clear with some scattered cumulus.
11:36 – car all loaded and ready to go – both of us are somewhat chilled – we photographed the various rocky points/Degeer moraines along the east shore of the lake. [The photographs in conjunction with the gps track should allow us to accurately locate the various moraines.
It was uneventful paddle back to the car, with only a bit of extra effort needed against the wind — but it was a chilly wind.]
Had lunch in the car at Pretty Lake [around noon].
[Home by 2:00pm. This was an excellent trip. The weather co-operated (sufficiently); we were physically comfortable and well fed; we accomplished our objectives; and for the most part, we had the lake to ourselves.]
For more photos, see our photo gallery: Exploring Lake Travers in Algonquin Park
Any exploration of Lake Travers should be augmented by the book:
Gwendolyn M. Woermke (2009), Lake Traverse Station, A Railroad Wife's Algonquin Park Memoir, Mark Woermke (email: email@example.com). (Available through the FOA bookstore).
A good description of the formation of Degeer moraines can be found here: Canadian Landform Inventory Project: Main/Degeer Moraines.