2016 Smoke - Big Porcupine - Dividing - Smoke

Wednesday, August 17 - Day 1

The day was hot with a mix of sun and clouds.  We picked up our permit at the Canoe Lake office around mid-morning.  A short time later we were on our way down Smoke Lake with a slight tailwind to help us along.  The last two days had seen heavy rains and we passed a number of parties coming out who looked worse-for-wear.  As we headed down the lake I spotted a juvenile Bald Eagle soaring over Molly's Island.

It had been years since I had headed down Smoke Lake and in through Ragged and Big Porcupine.  It was one of those sections of the Park I tried to avoid given how busy the lakes could get, especially on weekend.  But given it was mid-week and the weather over the last few days I was optimistic that there would be a good number of vacant sites on Big Porcupine, our destination for the day.

After about an hours paddle we arrived at the portage to Ragged Lake.  The portage was good, albeit an uphill hike to the lake.  There were a good number of people coming off the portage and one other party heading out from the Ragged end.

We were soon on our way down the lake.  The lake was pretty much deserted, at least the section we were on.  The only campsite I saw occupied on our paddle to the portage to Big Porcupine was one of the sited on the north-east shore of the lake.  By the weekend though I'm sure the lake would be a capacity.

In less than an hour we were at the portage to Big Porcupine.  There were a couple of parties that had come off the portage and were having lunch.  Another party was just coming off the portage and put their nice Swift canoe right in the shallow part of the creek on top of the rocks.  They then proceeded to load up the canoe and then dragged it over the rocks in about six inches of water.  The funny part was the girl, who was pulling the canoe, kept throwing softball sized rocks out of the way as if that was going to make the channel deeper.  I have no idea why they didn't portage an extra forty feet and put the canoe in where the water was much deeper.

Ragged to Big Porcupine Portage.
 We loaded up and were soon on our way.  The trail was a steady uphill climb and sections of it had been washed out from the heavy rains of the previous two days.  I had forgotten what the trail was like but at least we'd be going downhill on the way back.  At the other end we relaxed for a bit and had some lunch.  Soon we were on our way again.  We decided to forego the 395m portage across the point of land and paddle around the to the main part of the lake.  I'm sure the portage would have been faster but why portage when you can paddle.

End of Ragged to Big Porcupine Portage.
 There was one party camp in the north section of Big Porcupine as we headed into the western bay.  The wind here was stronger and was coming right out of the bay and gave us a pretty good cross-wind as we headed around the peninsula.  A half hour paddle from the portage brought us to the southern section of the lake.  From what I could see we were the only people on the lake and none of the visible campsites were occupied.  This boded well for us as I wanted the nice, high, open site at the end of the lake near the portage to Bonnechère

As we passed by the point of the first island the site came into view, except there was no visible campsite sign.  We landed on the site and checked it out.  It definitely was a site and I found the tree where the sign use to be but there was no sign of it anywhere.  Within five minutes of us landing an interior Warden and Canoe Ranger came onto the site having just come off the Bonnechère portage.  We chatted for a bit and then they went about cleaning up the site, putting up a new sign and digging a new latrine while we unpacked and set up camp.  They then moved on to maintain the other sites on the lake.  There was one other party camped on the lake across from us on the eastern island, other than that the lake was quiet.

Big Porcupine Site.
By mid-afternoon the clouds had moved in and it looked like it might threaten rain.  We set up the tarp just in case and moved a bench under it.  We then went for a swim and relaxed for a while down by the shore.  Dad spotted an adult Bald Eagle flying over the lake and then swoop down and snag a fish out of the water.  It perched on a fallen tree on the far shore and fed on it's catch.

After a while we decided to explore the portage trail to Bonnechère Lake which we were able to access by a short bushwhack through the back of our site.  After that we walked from our site to the adjoining site to scrounge for any fire wood but to no avail.

A light rain had started to fall so we took refuge under the tarp for a while and relaxed and had a glass of wine.  The rain came and went over the next hour as the afternoon stretched into early evening.  When there was a break in the weather we decided to head out in the canoe to explore the lake a bit and look for some firewood.  We paddled down to the eastern bay of the lake meandering the shoreline, gathering bits of wood as we went along.  As we reached the backside of the island the rain started to pick up again but a little heavier this time.  Not having our rain gear with us we made a beeline for camp.  Fortunately the rain subsided as quickly as it started.

Staying Dry.
Back at camp the wood was cut up into pieces for the evening fire and dinner was prepared.  Afterwards we went for a paddle around the other end of the lake.  It was a nice evening with a few clear breaks in the clouds which still threatened rain.  As daylight waned we headed back to camp and got a good fire going hoping we wouldn't get rained out.  The rain held off and we enjoyed a couple glasses of wine before retiring for the night.

Thursday, August 18 - Day 2

Awoke to a foggy morning.  It was hard to tell if it was a sunny or cloudy day.  The night had been good and we were both well rested.  We set about getting breakfast and breaking camp.  Just after 8 we left the site, heading towards the portage to Little Coon Lake.  The rest of the trip back to Little Coon would all be new territory for me.

As we paddled across the lake the Canoe Rangers were ahead of us heading in the same direction.  We reached the landing to the portage a few minutes behind them.  They were trying to pick there way through the swamp to the head of the portage.  The little stream that leads up to the head of the portage had overrun its banks.  The crew said it was because of beaver activity and they've tried to build boardwalks in the past but they keep getting washed away each year.  So we loaded up and followed in step, trying to pick the best route through the flood without ending up to our knees in muck.  After a couple of minutes of fancy footwork we were at the real start of the portage and on our way.  The trail into Little Coon is pretty good despite the flooded area.

Canoe Ranger Heading out through marsh to Little Coon Portage.
A much better landing on the Little Coon side.
 As we paddled across Little Coon the fog and begun to lift and it became evident that it would be a beautiful day.  Little Coon is a nice little lake and has only two campsites on it which both seem decent but with the northern most one being the nicer of the two.  It would be a nice lake to camp on on those busy summer weekends.

A short paddle had us at the 930m portage to Whatnot Lake.  The trail crew was still ahead of us.  They said they had reports of good size trees down and were going to clear them out.  Unfortunately for us we were going to be ahead of them and would have to deal with navigating the blow-downs.

Trail crew gearing up.
 Gear up we headed up the trail.  Literally up the trail as the first part of the portage was narrow and was quite the steep climb.  Luckily it wasn't that far of a trek and soon the trail leveled off to a more manageable grade.  Pretty soon we came to the blow-down, a big maple right across the trail.  Getting around it wasn't very difficult and we were soon back on the trail again.  From that point on the trail was a steady descent to the lake.  As we reached the lake we heard the chainsaw start up as the crew began to clear away the tree.

Climbing the Double Devil's Staircase, Little Coon to Whatnot Portage.

Heading out of Whatnot we had two options, a 425m portage into McGarvey or a 140m portage into Lower Whatnot.  Reports were that the narrow section out of Lower Whatnot into Loader Lake might be impassible due to low water conditions.  I wasn't too optimistic that the section would be passable but we headed that way and walked the short trail without gear to see if we could see the channel heading out of Lower Whatnot.  The vantage point from the end of the portage didn't allow for a clear view of the channel so rather than risk it and get bogged down in mud and aquatic plants while trying to pole and shimmy our way along we opted for heading through McGarvey.

Back along the trail we went and across the lake to the other portage.  A few minutes later we were at McGarvey Lake.  We had camped on this lake once a few years earlier but had never ventured to the west end of the lake.  Paddling south the creek began to narrow and shallow but our progress was never impeded.  We passed by the channel that came out of Lower Whatnot and all you could see was a vast mat of aquatic plants.  I was definitely glad we didn't choose that route, we'd probably still be trying to make our way through it.

At McGarvey Lake.

Paddling Loader Lake.

Start of Loader to Lower Loader Lake Portage.
In short time the way opened up as we entered Loader Lake and soon we were at the portage to Lower Loader Lake.  The portages for the rest of the day would be low maintenance.  The 225m into Lower Loader was good and soon we were paddling down the lake.  Lower Loader has two campsites on it which are decent but the area out from of both are a little weedy and not ideal for swimming.  It would definitely be a nice lake if you were looking for solitude as I'm sure not many people travel this way.

Lower Loader Lake.
The start of the 720m portage out of Lower Loader was not where it was marked on The FOAP map or Jeff's Map but it was easy enough to find.  The trail was pretty good for the first half then it seemed to disappear at the head of a little stream bed that headed downhill.  With no trail markers or any other visible trail I headed down the stream bed.  Eventually the trail picked up again off of the bed and became a little over grown but passable.  As I was ahead of Dad I dropped the food barrel and headed back to make sure he was on the right trail.  Good thing I did as he was at the start of the creek bed wondering which way to go.

Picking up the food barrel we were back on our way.  The trail continued to be over grown a bit and rocky making for unsure footing in spots.  Despite that it was a much better trail than I had been expecting and we were soon at the Hollow River.  This section of river was nice.  It's wide and long and quite picturesque.  It's just too bad there is not a campsite here.

Arriving at the Hollow River off of 720m portage.
Soon we were at our next portage, a 375m into our last stretch of river.  It was getting around lunch time but we decided to push on to the next portage and have a bite before doing the long one into Dividing Lake.  The portage was easy and I was pleasantly surprised at the condition of the trails along this route.  I just hoped the ones into and out of Dividing were in equally good shape.

Hollow River.
After a very short paddle we were at the portage into Dividing Lake.  After a quick bite to eat we loaded up and were on our way.  The trail was good and surprisingly flat.  The first half was dry but the second half was wet and muddy in some spots with a few small trees across the path.  I imagined if we hadn't had two days of heavy rain the trail would have been much dryer.

Having lunch at the 1040m portage to Dividing Lake.
The portage was marked 1040m but I got to a point where I figured the trail should be done but it kept going.  I wanted to stop and take a break but I figured if I did that then 50m later I'd be at the end.  So I kept plodding along getting more sore with each step and wondering if this trail would ever end.  Finally it did much to my relief.  That definitely wasn't a kilometre.  As Dad approached he said the same thing.  It was probably an extra 300-500 metres.

The good news was we were at Dividing Lake, our destination for the day.  The lake had only two campsites.  We paddled out into the lake and came to the first site on the south end of the lake.  It looked like it had either been recently hacked out of the bush or had suffered damage in a wind storm at some point.  Not overly impressed with it we headed across the lake to the other site on the north shore.  It had a nice rocky outcrop and would get the sun most of the day.  The fire pit was good as was the swimming area.  The only downside was there was hardly an area to put the tent.  There were only two possible spots and despite us having a two-man tent it would only fit in one spot.  You definitely wouldn't be able to camp here if you had a large party or a tent larger than a 3 man.

Dividing Lake Campsite.
Once camp was set up we went for a much needed swim and relaxed for the rest of the day.  A couple of hours after we arrived another party appeared on the lake coming from the Minkey Lake portage.  Good thing we got here when we did or we'd be stuck with the other site.  I wondered if they even had a permit with them given the direction they came from and Tower Hill Marine in Dorset was no longer acting as an agent for interior permits for the Park.  It would be really interesting to see what would happen if another party appeared on the lake to camp.

As the afternoon progressed we headed out in the canoe to explore the lake and gather wood.  On the eastern shore of the lake there was evidence of a massive blown-down at some point in the last 5-10  years.  That would explain the condition of the other site.  With enough wood gathered we headed back to the site.  Once the wood was unloaded and broken up we went for another swim then sat on the rocks and relaxed with glass of wine.

Once dinner was cooked, eaten and things cleaned up we headed back out in the canoe.  A waterfall could be heard in the bay to the west of our camp so we paddled over that way to see what we could see.  We followed a little creek a short distance but then hit a large beaver dam and the creek beyond that didn't look paddleable.  Standing on top of the dam I wasn't able to see the source of the sound but there was definitely a good flow of water coming down the hill at some point.

Back in the canoe we paddled down the western shore of the lake.  On Jeff's Map there is a campsite marked with is suppose to be outside the boundary of the Park and there for one doesn't need a permit for it.  From our site, which isn't marked on Jeff's Map, I couldn't see the site with my binoculars, just the portage to Minkey Lake.  We slowly paddled the shoreline all the way to the Minkey Lake portage but with no sign of a site.

As the sun set behind the hills we headed back to camp and got a fire going.  We enjoyed the fire for a few hours before turning in.  Tomorrow would be a rest day and weather permitting we would head to Dagger Lake to look for the stand of giant pine.

Dividing Lake, end of a good day.

Friday, August 19 - Day 3

 It was a good night and we both slept well.  The morning was warm, humid and overcast.  It looked as though it could rain at any point.  While we had breakfast another party was coming off the portage from Little Coon Lake.  I was sure hoping they weren't planning on staying on the lake as there were no sites left.  Not wanting to wait and see what the day would do we cleaned up and then headed off across the lake to the Minkey portage.  The trail was good and well used.  Minkey is not a very picturesque lake.  There are a lot of dead standing trees along the shore.  Not surprising there aren't any sites on the lake.

The portage out of Minkey to Dagger isn't marked but the trail head was quite evident.  We followed it for a bit until we hit a fork.  We headed right, crossed an old bridge over the stream between Minkey and Dagger and then followed a rough trail to the north shore of Dagger Lake.  The trail then became more substantial and was evident that it was an ATV trail that followed the north shore of the lake but no indication of another trail leading to the big pines.  We back tracked and then headed off on the other trail from the fork.  This trail also went nowhere with no evidence of any pines, just hardwoods.  We then headed back to the original portage trail and made our way to Dagger Lake.  From the shore we looked at the hills to the north and north-east but couldn't see any big pines poking through the hardwood canopy.

Old bridge between Minkey and Dagger lakes.
With not having found the stand of pines we headed back to the canoe and back across Minkey.  As we passed by the portage leading from Minkey to Rockaway Lake I noticed the canoe and some gear from the party that came off the Little Coon portage earlier that morning.  I guess they weren't staying on Dividing.

Back over the portage to Dividing we headed across the lake.  The day was now hot, humid and sunny.  We decided to walk the portage from Dividing to Whatnot Lake to see what it was like.  The first part of the trail was good and after about twenty minutes we are at the junction of the trail that split off between Whatnot and Little Coon lakes.  The section to Whatnot Lake was a little more hilly with one really good short, winding, steep section.  After that point it was a steady downhill to the lake.  There was only one large tree down a couple hundred meters from the lake but that was easily skirted.

As we approached the lake we could hear voices.  On the other side of the lake at the portage to Little Coon was a group of campers from Camp Wapomeo as I could tell by their canoes.  It looked like they were having their lunch break.  After a while they loaded up the canoes and headed off toward to the portage to McGarvey Lake.  After a snack and a brief rest we to headed out, back to Dividing.

Whatnot Lake from Dividing Lake portage.
Arriving back at camp early afternoon we both went for a much needed swim after our hot, humid hike.  We then had lunch and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon.  While lounging on the rocks I noticed a Snapping Turtle in the water just off our point, just its nose poking out of the water.  It soon disappeared but when it reappeared it was closer to shore and you could see the whole thing through the clear water.  What a giant!  I had never seen a snapper so big in all my years in Algonquin.  This turtle had to be easily over 100 years old if not 125.  It came near shore a couple of time but never up on shore.  It just lazily swam the shoreline towards to portage to Little Coon popping up for a breath every 5-10 minutes.

The guys at the other campsite had been out fishing for a good part of the afternoon and they soon passed by our camp.  We conversed for a bit and they continued on their quest for fish which hadn't been going too well so far.

We decided to go for a paddle ourselves and gather some wood on our journey.  Dividing is a nice lake and there are one or two more possible spots for sites on the lake but given the lake probably isn't used that heavily what there is is sufficient.

After unloading and breaking up our supply of wood for the evening we jumped back in the lake for a swim.  I wasn't worried about the turtle as it was long gone and given that it spooked when I tried to get close to it when I was on shore I'm sure the splashing around in the water was more than enough to keep it at bay.  But given that we had gone in for a skinny dip I still couldn't shake the feeling that it might be enticed to venture in for a closer look if it was nearby.

As the afternoon progressed Dad sat on the rocks and wrote in his journal and I crawled into the hammock and took a bit of a nap in the shade until dinner.

Evening on Dividing Lake.
We took one last swim of the day and then enjoyed a glass of wine.  Once happy hour was done we cooked up dinner.  Afterwards we headed out in the canoe to enjoy the beautiful evening.  We paddled the lake until the sun set.  With the waning daylight we headed back to camp and got a good fire going.  We enjoyed the fire and some wine for the rest of the evening before calling it a night.

Saturday, August 20 - Day 4

We slept in today as we didn't really have anything on the agenda.  I had thought about doing a day trip down to Cross Corner Lake but neither of us had the desire to do the portage back to the Hollow River again for some reason.  Plus it would also be an all day venture which both of us really weren't up to that day.

The day itself was warm and humid with variable clouds.  There was a ring around the sun which didn't bode well.  That meant rain in the next 24-48 hours.  At least if it did rain tomorrow we would be on our way home.  Just as long as it didn't rain while we were packing up.

About mid-morning the guys on the other site packed up and left.  We headed out for a paddle and decided to stop at the site to check it out.  It was in pretty rough shape.  It was fairly open because of the blow-downs which were laying about the site and in the water in front of the site.  The area for the tent was decent enough and there was a little point you could walk out to and sit.  After our exploration of the site we headed off down the south-west bay of the lake before heading back to the site for lunch.

The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing, swimming and snoozing in the hammock.  By early evening the clouds began to look more ominous.  I hoped the rain would hold off so we could get our evening campfire in.

Siesta time.
Clouds moving in.
 The evening paddle after dinner was enjoyable with blue and pink sky with towering thunderheads over the distant hills.  We stayed out on the lake as the sun disappeared behind large, dark cloud.  Back at camp we got a good fire going for our last night.  The moon soon appeared over the hills and played hide and seek with the clouds throughout the evening.  We stayed up late finishing off our wine and the rest of the wood.  The weather was still holding off as we turned in for the night.

Sunday, August 21 - Day 5

 It rained a bit overnight into the early morning but had stopped by the time we awoke.  The sky was gray and threatened to rain again.  We went about getting breakfast and as we did the rain came again.  Nothing heavy, just a light steady rain.  I just hoped it wasn't going to be a steady all-day rain.  The tarp was up so we sat under it and had breakfast and enjoyed a coffee while we waited hopefully for a break in the weather.

In a short time the rain subsided and the clouds were moving quickly from west to east.  Hopefully that bode well for a change in the weather.  We took advantage of the break in the weather and started to break camp.  In less than an hour we were packed up and on our way to the portage to Little Coon Lake.  We at least knew what the first half of the portage held for us, we'd just have to wait and see what the last half had in store.

The trail was wet from the rain and we had to watch our footing on the slippery rocks and roots.  It was also very humid once we ventured into the forest.  About ten minutes into the trail I heard a crashing through the bush.  Looking up I caught a glimpse of a young Black Bear bounding through the bush that I must have spooked.

Shortly after our first break we passed by the junction to Whatnot Lake.  The trail continued to ascend for a while then leveled out.  The trail remained good and clear and so far was much better than some regular maintenance portages I've been on.  After our second break the trail started to descend.  One last carry had us at the landing at Little Coon Lake.  By this point in the day the wind had blown the rain out and the sun was starting to make an appearance.

End of 2545m portage to Little Coon Lake.
We paddles across Little Coon and back over the portage to Big Porcupine, once again having to traverse the swamp at the end of the portage.  As we paddles up Big Porcupine we spotted another adult Bald Eagle; probably the same one we had seen four days earlier.

All the sites on the south section of the lake looked to be occupied, not surprising for a weekend.  Most looked like they were packing up ready to make the push back to civilization.

Once again we decided to forego the portage across the point of land and paddle around the peninsula.  The wind was really blowing hard out of the western bay of the lake and I kind of wished we had done the portage.  On the up side as we rounded the last point we then had the wind at our back.

The landing to the portage back to Ragged Lake was busy with people heading out.  We geared up and headed off down the trail.  A short while later we were at Ragged Lake.  By now the weather had turned once again.  Gone was our nice sunny day.  Instead the rain clouds had returned and the wind had picked up in intensity.

Another party of three was just heading out in front of us.  The first canoe had two young teenage boys, probably no older than 13 or 14 who weren't very strong paddlers.  As we pushed out into the main section of the lake the wind became stronger and the rain started to come down, blown horizontally by the wind.  The two young lads were definitely having a hard time of it.

The other canoe in their party was their father, who was paddling a canoe by himself, sitting in the stern.  This didn't bode well for him either as the wind was just whipping around the bow of the canoe.

We pushed on up the lake and as we came down the last section of the lake towards the portage to Smoke the wind and rain subsided and the clouds began to break up a bit.  Ragged was busy and it looked like most people were packing up and heading out.

As we reached the portage there was another party heading over the portage.  There were two other parties at the other end of the portage heading back and another already heading up the lake.  We pushed ahead of the parties at the portage and soon passed the other on the lake.

The wind became stronger as we came into the main body of the lake, blowing hard out of the west.  It was giving another party ahead of us a hard time and they had to be towed by a cottage across to the west shore to get out of the wind.  We pushed on and plodded up the lake at a steady pace.  In just a little over an hour we were back at the access point at Smoke Lake.  It was hard to believe that five days had come and gone and another canoe trip with Dad was over for the season.

As usual it was another good trip with Dad.  Definitely relaxing.  Nothing like the slog through Maple and Raven creeks that we did last year.  Not sure what we'll do next year at this point.  Maybe something in between the two as I like to travel rather than sit in one spot for several days.  Whatever the trip will be I'm sure it will be a great one.

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