Track and Tower Trail
in Algonquin Park
2008 November 05
2008 November 05 was forecast to be a beautiful late fall day, so we decided to hike the Track and Tower Trail along highway 60 in Algonquin Park. Our plan was to do the main loop to the lookout, omitting the side trail to Mew Lake. The day started at 4C and foggy, but as the sun got higher the temperature rose and the fog rapidly burned off. Long before we arrived at the start of the trail, the sky was completely clear and the day was sunny but hazy.
We had chosen the Track and Tower Trail because of two old photos in our possession by (or of) Frank Morris . The first photo shows the remains of an old logging dam that we tentatively associated with the dam at the outlet of Cache Lake. The second photo is of a vista overlooking Cache Lake. We believed both of these photographs were taken at locations along what is now the Track and Tower Trail, and we wanted to try to "duplicate" them ninety-plus years later .
As we approached the Madawaska River at the outlet of Cache Lake, we could hear voices and lots of crashing, banging, and splashing. Through the trees we glimpsed some large orange plastic objects, and assumed it was a bunch of late season kayakers trying to cheat the portage.
Instead we found a pickup truck parked on the trail and three workers installing warning barriers and a warning sign upstream of the dam. From one of the workers, we learned that such barriers were being installed on all "man-made" dams in the park due to liability issues .
An excellent day: the weather forecast was accurate, and the temperature reached 17C; it was an interesting trail and a good workout — but not so tiring that the drive home was a problem; and we made good progress in establishing the location of the Frank Morris photographs. There were more people around than one would expect for this time of year, but not so many as to be a problem, and we had the lookout to ourselves. The only negative was that the haze gave rise to difficulties in photographing some scenes.
The Algonquin Park Information Guide rates this trail as difficult with a length of 7.7 km. The difficulty is due to the elevation changes. It starts at highway 60 at an elevation of about 460m; it drops down to Cache lake and the Madawaska River with an elevation of about 420m; it then climbs to the lookout at about 525m, returns to the elevation of the Madawaska River (420m) climbs back up to about 500m, and then returns to the parking lot. (Elevation figures are according to our GPS measurements.)
Diana has a tenuous family connection to Frank Morris — the teacher and naturalist, not the Alcatraz escapee!
The exact dates of these photos is unknown but we believe(d) they were taken prior to 1920; it now appears that the view over Cache Lake may have been from 1922 or a bit later.
We assume, but don't know for sure, that the warning barriers are only being installed above modern, maintained dams and not above the remnants of old logging dams and other hazards. But that strikes us as a slippery slope. Once you implicitly accept responsibility for some of the hazards in the Park, we don't see how you can avoid taking responsibility for all of them. As a pair of senior citizens, we can take heart that we probably won't live to see chain link fencing installed along the top of the Barron Canyon, but we have already seen a roughly analogous scenario at Hogs Back in Ottawa. See Bob's photo: Progress.
In 1910, the Ontario Government repurchased the timber rights of the Munn Company in order to protect the scenic beauty of Cache Lake; see "Algonquin Harvest" by Donald L. Lloyd. But as one can see in the old photos presented here, much damage had already been done.
This is our first attempt at posting a GPS track. We need to develop some means of smoothing the track data for display; the file size is very large and contains many more points than is necessary. If you zoom in on the track, in a few locations it is quite scattered. Some of this can be attributed to photography but some is simply "noise". (2012 May: I now filter the track using GPS Babel)
In this instance the track was recorded by a Garmin 305 Forerunner, a "GPS enabled trainer for runners". In form, it is an oversized wristwatch. This unit is very convenient for recording a track, but is not really designed for navigation or bush work. It would not be usable on a multiday trip since the battery would need recharging and is not removable.
Disclaimer: The maps and overlays are for illustrative purposes only and are not intended for navigation. The base maps tiles and some overlays have been obtained from external sources and have been used without modification or verification. Some feature names have been modified for consistency across this website and with other sources. While these data are believed to be mostly accurate, there are likely some errors. Consequently, any use of this data is not risk free. If you use this data, that risk is entirely your responsibility.
Donald L. Loyd (2006), Algonquin Harvest — The History of the McRae Lumber Company, published by Robert D. McRae, Whitney.
Dan Strickland and Russ Rutter (1993), The Best of The Raven, The Friends of Algonquin Park.
Dan Strickland (2004), Track and Tower Trail, A Look Into Algonquin's Past, The Friends of Algonquin Park.
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