2013 Opeongo - Big Crow - La Muir - Opeongo

Friday, June 21 – Day 1

Each year the Naturalist Staff at the Algonquin Park Visitor Centre (affectionately known as Geeks) partake in a canoe trip in June before programming for the busy summer season gets underway.  This is an opportunity for the staff to get out and experience and explore a part of the Park apart from the Highway 60 corridor where we spend a good deal of our time.

We arrived at the Opeongo Store around 10am.  I had already packed the food at the Visitor Centre so we just had to pick up the canoes and a few other bits of equipment.  We packed up quickly and I loaded the gear into the water taxi for our 11am departure.
Geek Trip 2013, loaded up and ready to go.
Our destination for the today was Big Crow.  It was a smooth 20 minute ride up the lake to the Proulx Lake portage.  The day had started out sunny but had clouded over by the time we reached the portage and were unloading the packs and canoes.

We were greeted at the portage by a swarm of hungry mosquitoes and we were all hurriedly dousing ourselves with bug dope to keep them at bay.  We loaded up and were off on our way over the 1450m portage to Proulx Lake.  With Peter in the lead, and me following behind, we came face to face with a wolf on the trail as we skirted the small pond before coming to the cart trail section of the portage.

After that great encounter the rest of the trail was uneventful.  Twenty minutes from the start we arrived at the Proulx end of the portage.  After a bit of a snack we loaded up and were on our way across the lake.  The paddle up the lake to the mouth of the Crow River was a pleasant one and the lake was empty save for us.
Snack break at Proulx Lake.
Coming to the end of Proulx Lake.
Continuing up the river we came across a loon about 100 metres in.  It acted strangely as we approached, not swimming or diving away to avoid us in the narrow river.  It actually swam right by one of the canoes close enough that Sonje or Peter could have reached out and touched it.  It quickly became evident that there was a nest nearby.  We watched as she climbed up onto the nest, rearranged the egg and straightened out the nest before sitting back on the egg.
Could have reached out and petted her.
Heading back onto the nest.
After some photos and videos we pushed on up the river.  A little further along we came across a Bull Moose with a good sized set of antlers for this time of year.  Once it got wind of us it quickly beat a hasty retreat into the bush.

Several minutes later we emerged onto Little Crow Lake.  It’s a nice lake with three half decent sites but none of them were occupied.  Continuing on through the narrows we soon came into Big Crow with the nice cliff face to our right
My canoe with Brian and Verana headed to the Big Crow Cabin around the corner.  The cabin was to be occupied by another party that night but I wanted to stop by and take some photos and a GPS reading before they arrived.
Big Crow Ranger Cabin.
Looking out at Big Crow Lake from the cabin.
After exploring the cabin for about 20 minutes we headed off across the lake to the campsite at the mouth of the Crow River.  The other two canoes had caught up to us at this point.  They had stopped back at the cliffs as they had wolves howling and had howled back at them.

As we approached our site we spied another Bull Moose just up the river feeding on aquatic plants.  The site was nice and big but a bit too sloped.  There was room for possibly two tents but not three, so we set up the tents on the beach.
Lots of room but not much flat space.
With camp quickly set up we then got lunch underway which consisted of hamburgers and sausages.  We finished up around 3pm and after cleaning up and hanging the food we headed down the river to explore the stand of virgin White Pine.

As we headed down the river the moose was still there feeding.  We watched for a bit but he soon departed making his way through the forest.  We continued down the river and right by the 240m portage was a bigger Bull Moose up to his neck feeding on water lilies.  We sat there taking pictures and video for a long time and he didn’t seem overly concerned that we were there.  Having our fill of the moose we paddled over to the trail that would take us to the big pines.
Don't mind us.
Lunch Time!
The trail was in good shape and after a twenty minute hike we were at the first of the giant pines.  They are impressive in size but they aren’t many of them left.  On the trail there are about a half dozen at best and a couple that have died.  I’d guess that within the next 25 years those remaining trees will meet their demise as well.
One of the few remaining giant White Pine.
We finished taking photos and admiring the trees and headed back to the canoes.  The moose was gone when we returned; I guess having had his fill of aquatic plants.  As we headed back up the river the first smaller moose reappeared at a different spot.  As we continued on we reached the spot where we had first spotted him and there in his place was a huge Bull Moose.  I couldn’t believe the size of the antlers for the time of year!  This guy was definitely a prime bull.  After watching him for a while we headed back to camp.

We reached camp close to seven and started to get things ready for dinner.  A good hearty steak dinner with peppers and rice was cooked up.  Once the dishes were cleaned and the food put away a good roaring fire was started and we enjoyed that until just after 10pm when we all decided to call it a night.

Saturday, June 22 – Day 2

I awoke to the sound of a moose sloshing through the water.  I poked my head out of the tent and there was a small bull walking in the shallows down the length of the beach.  Not a bad start to the day given it had been raining on and off the past couple of hours. 
The rain finally let up around 8am.  Sonje and I got breakfast going, cooking it under the cover of a pine as the light, intermittent rain decided to pick up again.  In no time we had a good breakfast of eggs, hashbrowns and bacon cooked up. 
With everyone fed and the dishes cleaned, camp was packed up.  We were headed across the lake to the Hogan portage.  The sky was looking like it could be one of those all day rains.  I was hoping it wouldn’t turn into that.
Gray day on Big Crow.
A twenty minute paddle brought us to the 3750m portage to Hogan Lake.  We loaded up quickly and were on our way.  The first part of the trail was good and flat as it was also a cart trail.  After 15 minutes we came to a junction where the portage and the cart trail split.  Here we waited for everyone to catch up and took a rest.  After a short break we were on our way again.  The middle section of the trail was largely an uphill climb.  Twenty-five minutes from the first rest brought us to a junction where the portage crossed over the cart trail.  After a short break we pushed on with the last section of the trail and 20 minutes later we were at the shore of Hogan Lake.
Loading up for the big one.
So far, so good.
Rest stop, Hogan portage.
We loaded up and headed off to the Hogan marsh.  Past the old logging road bridge we rafted up and had lunch.  Once lunch was done we paddled into the marsh to explore.  After a short paddle we pulled up on shore and most people got out to walk the marsh.  Verana and I stayed in our respected canoes and I took a short nap while the others explored.
Hogan marsh.
After about an hour everyone was back in the canoes and we headed off to the other end of Hogan to check out the cliffs to see if there was any nesting activity by raptors.  The only evidence of nesting though was by some ravens.  Once photos of the cliffs were taken we turned around and headed back westward towards the Madawaska River and Lake La Muir.
Hogan cliffs.
The paddle up the river was nice but uneventful and we were soon at the 685m portage into Lake La Muir.  We ran into a party of six at the La Muir end just loading up.  It made for a bit of a traffic jam due to the boardwalk and small dock but everything was cleared out in a timely fashion due to the experience of both parties.

Back into the canoes we continued up a wide section of the river before coming out onto La Muir.  We took the first site on the left as you come out onto the lake.  The site itself is a little deceiving as from the water there is just a little cleared area and no fire pit but further back the site opens up nicely with a large fire pit and benches.
A little deceiving at first look...

...but opens up nicely.
I got to work cutting and splitting firewood while others set up the tents and got things ready for dinner.  We soon had a good fire going and dinner of pasta and garlic bread was soon underway.

After a good dinner and with dishes cleaned and food put away we settled in around a good roaring fire and enjoyed our last night.  Although it had been cloudy all day the rain didn’t persist past Big Crow and it turned out to be a decent day.

Sunday, June 23 – Day 3

I awoke around 7am and got things started for breakfast as we needed to be away in good time in order to catch the water taxi at the north arm of Opeongo at 4:30.  A hearty breakfast of pancakes, sausage and homefries was prepared and enjoyed by all.
Breakfast of champions.
After breakfast camp was quickly broken and we were on the water by 9am.  A twenty minute paddle up the lake brought us to the 1510m portage to Deer Yard Lake.  At the start of the portage was an outboard motor boat (5.5hp).  Boats up to 6hp are allowed on La Muir until the last Friday in June.  The boat belonged to a group of guys camped in a clearing off of the start of the portage.  They had ATVs so I assumed that they were probably First Nations but I would drop our Conservation Officer a line anyway when I got back to the office.
Native camp on La Muir.
The portage was a good one and we were over it in just a little over 20 minutes.  A short paddle across Deer Yard Lake brought us to the 1470m portage to Hemlock Lake.  The trail was good but the landing on the Hemlock side as a little steep.

Another short paddle brought us to the 380m portage to Blowdown Lake.  At the start of the portage there were some small bits of machinery from the old logging era of the Park.
Logging artifacts.
Over the short portage we headed across Blowdown to the 1130m portage that would take us into Merchant Lake.  By this point the clouds had cleared off and it was a beautiful sunny day.  It was another good portage and we were soon at Merchant where there was a good breeze coming from the west that would help us down the lake.
Heading down Merchant Lake.
On the one small island in the middle of the lake there was a pair of nesting loons with one egg in the nest.  We took some photos then headed on our way.  As we approached the next small island two Common Terns flew up from shore and flew around us with all the gulls.  At this point we decided to have lunch.  We rafted up and prepared lunch as the gulls and terns flew overhead.     
Floating lunch.
After lunch Verana and I headed off to check out Chickaree Lake while the others went to check out the tern island to see if they could find a nest.  I walked the short 60m portage to Chickaree Lake while Verana stayed in the canoe.  I took a few pictures of the lake then headed back and took some photos of a small waterfall near the trailhead. 

Back in the canoe we headed off to the 340m portage to Happy Isle Lake.  We arrived there a couple of minutes before the rest of our party.  They didn’t have any luck finding a tern nest but they did have a Bald Eagle fly over.

Another party of two canoes arrived at the portage along with the rest of our party.  We all headed over the portage and were soon at Happy Isle.
Across Happy Isle we go.
With the wind at our back we enjoyed a good paddle down the lake.  We stopped at the site of the DeLamater memorial plaque on the island to view it and take a few pictures.  After a brief stop we pushed on to the 2180m portage that would take us to the north arm of Opeongo, our destination for the day.
Plaque on Happy Isle Lake.

Pulling into our last portage of the trip.
Despite the length it’s a good portage and we were over it in less than forty minutes reaching the dock about 3:45pm.  We relaxed and waited for our water taxi which was fifteen minutes late due to having to perform a rescue en route to our location.  We loaded up the gear and with the canoes tied down we were on our way back to the access point.

The trip was a great one with some wonderful wildlife viewing and good company. I was also able to add on a small section to my master route map.  I’m sure next year’s trip will be just as rewarding!
Until next year.  Thanks for a great trip guys!

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