Tuesday, February 8, 2011

2009 North Tea - Birchcliffe - Gibson - Highview Cabin - Biggar - North Tea

Friday, July 31st - Day 1

We left Access Point #1, Kawawaymog Lake, late morning.  The Lake was quite calm; much different than the last time I was here with the wind howling like a banshee.  It was a pleasant paddle down the Amable du Fond River.  There were many others on the water today mainly heading into North Tea.  Not surprising given that it is the Civic Holiday weekend.  I know I told myself I’d never go on a canoe trip over a long weekend but we got away in good time to beat most of the Toronto crowd, other than the first night on North Tea the other lakes we’d stayed on were off the beaten path, and the last night on North Tea was after the weekend was over.

The first portage on the river was supposed to be 135 metres but it was definitely much shorter than that.  I reported this to the Park so hopefully it will get changed on the next printing of the Canoe Route Map.
The second portage, 255m, has a nice flat landing on the river side and even has a dock.  The trail is good with a bit of a climb at the start and a downhill section with stairs at the lake end.  Wanting to get away from the gathering masses quickly we decided to have lunch as we paddled down the lake.

North Tea is a big lake with two distinct arms.  There are a lot of nice sites on this lake, either with rocky outcrops or sandy beaches.  There wasn’t much of a wind today but it was at our back.  I’m dreading coming back up the lake as I’ve encountered strong winds coming down the lake from the west in the past.
Through the narrows into Mangotasi and another good paddle took up to the 240m portage into Hornbeam which was a relatively flat, easy going carry.  A short paddle across Hornbeam and a short carry around a nice little water fall then a short paddle across a pond and a 140m portage took us into Biggar Lake where we were spending the first night.

I was hoping for the first site on the right after the narrow section that brings you into the big part of the lake.  It’s a nice big site with a large sloping rock to the water’s edge.  I’d say the only bad thing about the site is that it’s on the west side of the lake so doesn’t get the evening sun.  Unfortunately though it was taken, but not to my surprise.  We pushed on down the lake and found a nice site second to the end on the south side.  It had a good spot for a tent, makeshift table, log benches around the fire pit and some good flat rocks by the water’s edge which made for a nice natural chair.

After setting up camp we had a swim and then relaxed, read and enjoyed the view while going over the map for tomorrow’s leg of the trip.  Wasn’t really looking forward to doing Birchcliffe Creek as the last time I did it several years ago the alders had grown right over the creek and we spent most of the time on our backs pulling the canoe under them.  All-in-all it took six hours to do the length of the creek to Raven Lake.

We had a good steak dinner as is tradition on every trip.  After dishes were done and the food pack hung we enjoyed a coffee by the lakeside the headed out for a paddle around our end of the lake.  The site down from us was half decent and had another party on it as did pretty much all the sites on this section of the lake. 
With darkness approaching we headed back to the site, had a little bonfire then turned in for the night.

Saturday, August 1st - Day 2

Awoke to a pleasant day.  Had a good breakfast of bacon, eggs and coffee then loaded up and were on the water in good time.  A brief paddle brought us to the outlet of Birchcliffe Creek.  The water level looked good and our only problem in the early going was a stiff current which we had to work hard against at a couple of points.  So far things looked promising.  

After about two hours we came to the 580m portage that would bring us into the section of the creek that would then take us into Birchcliffe Lake.  There were some alders jutting out into the creek and had to pull around some but nothing like the last time I was here.  The only major obstacle we encountered was a tree across a bend in the river which made us do a quick 5m portage across the point of land to get around it.

I was amazed the creek only took two hours and was actually glad to do the portage.  A short paddle took us into Birchcliffe Lake.  We decided to stop at the old ranger cabin, which sits atop a hill and has a wonderful view of the lake, and check it out.  Other than the cabin there are only two campsites on the lake which are mediocre at best.  We had lunch at the campsite beside the cabin and it was evident that it hadn’t been used in some time, probably not since the spring fishing season.

After lunch it was a short paddle to our next portage, 1010m into Calm Lake.  On the Canoe Route map it shows the start of the portage on a point east of where the small creek heads southwest.  There was no indication of a portage sign, let alone a clearing for a portage, on the point.  We headed just slightly down the creek but it quickly became un-navigable.  In the little bay between the campsite and the point where the portage was suppose to be there was a definite clearing at the water’s edge but no sign.  Assuming this must be the portage, as our forward progress had been halted with no evidence of the portage where we were, we headed back to check out the landing.  While there was no evidence of a sign it was clearly a trail that headed in the direction we were going.  Loading up with gear we headed off down the trail which was evident that it was an ATV trail, probably for interior crews to maintain the cabin from a logging road.  After a good steady climb for about 15 minutes we passed through a clearing from an old logging operation, and then shortly after that we came to an old logging road.  From here you could head either left or right down this old logging road.  The problem was there was no portage sign or marker to tell us which way and now it definitely didn’t look like a portage.  Straight ahead of us down the hill through the forest we could see a lake, but which lake?  Pulling out the map I had a feeling we might have ended up at Burt Lake to the southeast of where we were suppose to be.  We both languished at the idea of having to portage back another kilometre to find the real portage and then portage another kilometre in the heat of the day.  Deciding to figure out where this road went I dropped my gear and headed west up the road towards where Calm Lake might be.  After about 100m I came across a portage sign on either side of the road designating the real portage.  From the logging road it was only about 25m down to Calm Lake, which was the lake we could see from up the road.  It was great to see the lake knowing we didn’t have to do at least two more kilometres of portaging to get back on the right track.

I reported the discrepancy of the location of the portage to the Park after the trip so hopefully this, and other discrepancies I’ve come to report get changed on the next edition of the Canoe Rout map.

A short paddle across Calm brought us to a 1055m portage which we had no trouble on, and then a short paddle across J E H Macdonald took us to our last portage of the day, a 150m into our destination lake, Lawren Harris.

As there is only one campsite on Lawren Harris we knew we would be alone on the lake.  The site is on an island and on the map it appears on the southern tip but it’s actually in the narrow centre part of the island.  Yet another discrepancy!  The site was quite nice, open on both sides to allow for a good breeze, with good spaces for a couple of tents and a good fire pit with some nice log benches.

A quick dip once camp was set up felt good on a hot day.  Afterwards a paddle around the lake and Dad did some fishing but no luck.  Once back at camp we started to get dinner ready and noticed the clouds quickly moving in and looking a little ominous.  By the time dinner was over and camp cleaned up the wind had begun to pick up from the south.  We headed out in the canoe to head down into Loughrin Lake to see where we were headed the next day.  A bit of a log jam from Lawren Harris into Loughrin makes you do a short 20m portage.  From there it’s a nice picturesque paddle down a narrow section of the lake.  It looked like a good area for wildlife viewing but there were no moose to be seen.  Eventually the lake opened up and as we approached the point with the only campsite on the lake you could see the wind really picking up from the southwest with the clouds getting darker.  

Instead of battling the wind and wanting to stay ahead of the impending storm we headed back to the site uneventfully.   As the campfire blazed in the dusk of the evening the storm clouds to the west began to put on a show, rolling thunder and lightning danced across the sky as the wind whipped the clouds to the north.  We kept waiting for the rain but nothing came to fruition where we resided.  Those to the west of us were obviously getting a good one.

Sunday, August 2nd - Day 3

The next day broke sunny and warm with not a cloud in the sky.  After a quick breakfast we packed up camp and were on our way retracing our steps from last nights paddle.  A 495m portage from Loughrin took us into small Barred Owl Lake and a very short paddle brought us to a very short 10m portage over a narrow bit of land separating Barred Owl from Nod Lake.  The portage actually went through a campsite, which again appears on the map more to the north of the portage rather than directly on it. 
A ten minute paddle down Nod brought us to the first of three low maintenance portages we had on the trip.  While paddling across Nod I failed to locate the campsite that was supposed to be on the west end of the lake.  As well, the portage out of Nod to Nid was at the start of the small creek that runs north to Linnet Lake rather than part way down it as it appears on the map.

The 315m portage into Nid was easy and a couple of paddle strokes to us across Nid to the 825m portage into Gibson.  This portage was quite pleasant and cut across an old logging road with plenty of signage to keep you on track.

By the time we had reached Gibson the day had completely changed.  Gray and white puffy clouds had rolled in and a good headwind coming from the west greeted us at the end of the portage.
Gibson is a beautiful lake and supposedly has some good trout fishing.  I would surmise that this lake doesn’t get used much as it’s a good 2-3 day trip from either the north or the south just to get into it and it’s on a low maintenance route with low maintenance campsites, and there is a steady uphill 2.7km portage if you’re coming in from the south off of the Nipissing River.

The best campsite on Gibson has to be the one located right below the “L” on the Canoe Route map.  I was actually surprised to see a picnic table on the site!  That’s something you really never see in the interior of the Park never mind on a lake that not easily accessible.  

Part way down the lake we were harassed by a Herring Gull who didn’t appreciate us being as close to its little rock island as we were.  It kept its distance above us but kept making passes at us until we were a good distance away from its rock.  Fortunately it was well past the nesting season so it wasn’t as aggressive as I’ve seen them be in the late spring or early summer if you get too close to a nest.  I had no worries about it coming in for some low level contact, just wary of being pooped on.

After a good steady paddle through the headwind we arrived at our final portage of the day, a dreaded 2.7km low maintenance to our final destination, Highview Cabin on the Nipissing River.  The length of the portage didn’t bother me that much; I knew we could get it done in under an hour.  What I didn’t like was that it was low maintenance.  With those types of portages you never know what you’re going to get.  You could luck out and hit a portage that the crews had been through just that year or you may encounter one that hadn’t been looked after for several years.  So I had no idea what we were in for.

Surprisingly the portage was pretty good.  The first part went through an area that had obviously seen some type of disturbance in the not too distant past and was quite open and had lots of berry bushes.  It looked like prime bear country but unfortunately I didn’t see any.  The last half went through forest and the entire portage was a nice gentle slope down to the river.  I knew when the forest started to change to more balsam and spruce and could hear the rapids that the end was near.  Forty minutes had brought us out to the river and then another five walking beside the river brought us to Highview Cabin.  Having reserved the cabin we had been given the combination to the lock for it but it wasn’t needed as there was no lock, as there wasn’t the last time I had visited several years earlier.  

My first visit to the cabin was a welcome one as it had poured all day and I was soaked to the bone and was glad to have a roof over my head and a warm fire to dry my gear out.  This time was different, the day had cleared again, the sun was hot and the cool rapids upstream from the cabin were just begging us to come and soak in them.

We unpacked our gear, had a quick lunch then answered the call of the rapids and let the rushing waters of the Nipissing sooth our aching muscles and sunbathed on the warm rocks while half heartily fishing.
Heading back to the cabin we decided to paddle downstream to the end of the 860m portage and then portage back to the cabin.  From the rapids where we swam, which is right by the campsite on the 860m portage, to about 50m from the end of the portage, the river is just fast moving.  It’s not until the last 50m or so that there is a stretch of rapids and these were run easily and even in lower water they could have been tracked down.  I’m not sure why this portage is so long.  It could easily be shorted by putting in just after the rapids by the campsite and then taking out just before the last set of rapids near the end of the existing portage.  Even if you are travelling upstream the current isn’t strong enough in this stretch to prevent upstream travel.

We relaxed and sunned ourselves in the patio chairs at the cabin for the rest of the day until dinner.  After another good meal we gathered up some firewood and got a good fire going and enjoyed the rest of the evening listening to the gurgling of the rapids under the moonlight.

Monday, August 3rd - Day 4

Awoke to another beautiful day.  Enjoyed a quick breakfast by the river then packed up and were on our way.  Having done the Nipissing several times I knew it was hard to judge distance and time by the map and the river wound back and forth.  I figured about 1-2 hours from the cabin to the 1825m portage that would take us back into Nod Lake.  Just a little over an hour of uneventful paddling brought us to the portage.  Not surprising the start of the portage was straight up hill as are most of the portages that take you away from the river.  After a brief steep climb the trail levelled out then headed downhill towards Nod.  From Nod we retraced our route from the day before taking us back into Lawren Harris to the 635m portage into Loughrin Creek. 

Even though the portage was relatively short the trail twisted and turned and you had to take care of the numerous exposed routes and rocks which prevented you from getting a good pace going.  I would have rather done the 2.7km low maintenance portage again than this one.

I was a little wary of what Loughrin Creek would be like as on the Canoe Route map it warns of low water conditions that can make travel difficult.  Given that it had been a fairly wet and cool summer and that the water level of Birchcliffe Creek was high I was slightly optimistic that Loughrin would be the same.  My hopes were dashed in the first hundred metres or so of the creek as it was narrow, rocky with a gravel bottom and windy.  If the whole creek was like this it could take us quite a while to get to the end.  Fortunately after about a hundred metres the creek widened and deepened and opened up to a nice marsh.  It looked like a good place for wildlife but unfortunately the paddle was uneventful.

About an hours paddle brought us to the 2010m portage that would bring us back into Biggar Lake, our destination for the day.  The portage started with a short uphill climb the followed the creek for a short distance.  This part of the portage was littered with rocks which you had to pick your way through and watch your footing making for a slow pace.  Fortunately after about 5 minutes of this the trail veered away from the creek and rose steeply into the forest for about forty metres.  It then levelled off for a short distance before a long, steady downhill to the creek leading into Biggar Lake.  A short paddle down the creek brought us out onto the lake where we could see the nice big flat site at the west end of the lake was once again taken.  We decided to head down the lake to see if the site we stayed on the first night was vacant and fortunately it was.  Even though taking this site would probably add 20-25 minutes of paddling to our day tomorrow we knew the rest of the sites in the western section of the lake were mediocre at best.

Tuesday, August 4th - Day 5

We awoke to a fairly grey day with a slight wind coming from the west.  It looked like we would have a headwind for our entire paddle back to Kawawaymog.  I just hoped that the wind on North Tea was manageable.   All hopes of this were dashed as we emerged from the narrows of Mangotasi into North Tea as we were greeted with a fierce headwind; this was going to be a long hard paddle.

After about two hours of hard paddling brought us to the portage that would lead up back into the Amable du Fond River.  By this time I had never been so glad to see a portage.  Having been through this area before when it was windy I knew that if North Tea was windy then there was a good chance that Kawawaymog was also as windy.

Judging by the wind direction as we paddled up the river I knew we would definitely be encountering a strong headwind once we emerged onto the lake; and I was correct.  Unlike North Tea though where the wind was coming from the west straight at us, on Kawawaymog it was coming from the south making our paddle to the access point on the west shore even more challenging.  Finally after what seem like an eternity we landed safely, albeit tire, at the access point concluding another great Algonquin canoe trip.

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