Looking down the Petewawa River from the 2nd take-out
Ready to launch at Access 23 - Lake Travers
Paddling from the put-in to Lake Travers proper - I knew I was in for a treat!
The put-in at Lake Travers is pretty cool – a huge slab of Canadian shield gently sloping into the Petewawa River just below Poplar Rapids. I drove down to the shoreline and unloaded the car. With only a couple vehicles in the parking lot and no people at the landing, it seemed I would have a very quiet trip. I wasted no time unloading the car, securing the safety equipment to the canoe and parking up in the lot. I did a final check of my gear then sat in the boat and shoved off – the trip has begun!
Day 1: Lake Travers to Crooked Chute
“Ouch’’ is the only word I could use to describe my sleep last night. I shouldn’t be surprised though, given the fact I slept in the back of a rental car at the Sand Lake Gate. I thought the down sides of sleeping in the car would be outweighed by the benefit of being at the permit off when it opens – next time I’ll sleep at home and just leave extra early in the morning. Algonquin’s east side is a five and a half house drive from where I live and normally I would just pitch a tent at the access point or some near-by crown land but today this wasn’t possible – I didn’t have a tent. Its not that I forgot one, I just didn’t need one – today I was headed to the Crooked Chute Cabin for four days!
The office opened just before 7am (sweet!) and I was able to secure my permit then I was back on the road in minutes. I’ve been to Algonquin’s east side many times, but never as far as Lake Travers so I didn’t know how long the drive would be. I estimated it would be 45 or 50 minutes and that seemed about right – I arrived at the parking lot of Lake Travers a touch before 8am, after having stopped along the way for a couple quick photos.
The put-in at the lower end of P365
The fog slowly moves off the hillside
Little Thompson Rapids
It really was a beautiful paddle
As I continued down Lake Travers the fog began to lift off the lake but it was still very thick throughout the forest. With the spectacular falls colors the entire area looked very surreal. Algonquin really does boast some of the most beautiful landscapes in central Ontario. In just under two hours I arrived at the fresh water spring on the south shore of the Petewawa River. It can easily be heard splashing onto the rocks as it pours out from a black pipe. I filled my bottle and rested there for a few moments while I snacked and drank freezing cold spring water. Once my Nalgene was empty, I filled it again and got back in the boat. Only minutes later I arrived at the first portage of the day – a quick 345m around Big Thompson Rapids. Now I should mention, there is nothing ‘quick’ about most of the portages downstream of Lake Travers. A 345m portage here is not the same as it is on the west side of Algonquin. These are goat trails and some of them are just outright dangerous - they must be travelled with extreme caution and attention. I’m not kidding – anyone who has taken these portages can back be up. This is big-time ankle-busting territory. The take out for the 345m portage is a flat, small sandy beach. I loaded up for the single carry and was happy the trail seemed flat. That didn’t last long – it’s flat for about 1 minute then things get a little nuts. A huge up then down followed by a steep and loose-rocky decent. The put in on the other end will make you wonder if running the rapids is the better way to go (it’s not unless you have WW experience). I loaded up while balancing on rocks and trying not to fall into the fast-moving water. Immediately after pushing off you must navigate down a small swift (there is no way to walk further beyond the trail and avoid this – you’re now in the canyon). The swift was fine and once the fast water was over I took in my surroundings. It was like a mini-canyon. Huge rocks lined both shores and the river narrows a couple of times, increasing the rate of flow. This was unlike any other part of Algonquin I have seen before, including the Barron Canyon.
Looking up the northern shoreline of Lake Travers
I must admit, I was a little more excited for this trip versus any other – I was making my way to the Crooked Chute Cabin for 4 days and there was good reason to do so. I wanted to visit all 15 remaining ranger cabins in Algonquin Park and this one was last on the list – once I made it here my ranger cabin journey is complete. As I came around the point of land where the Petewawa River dumps into Lake Travers I was hit with an instant realization that this paddle would be epic. There was a very thick fog over all of Lake Travers – as thick as I’ve ever seen it in Algonquin – or anywhere for that matter. Luckily, I travel with a GPS because this was nothing short of paddling through a cloud. I really took my time crossing Lake Traverse – the air had a crispness to it and the whole area smelled of pines and the lake was dead calm. At one point a lone Merganser popped up right in front of me – he looked surprised to see me and promptly swam off in the other direction.
Scenic but don't be fooled - the water moves at a good pace through the narrow sections of river
A refreshing way to fill your Nalgene
In less than ten minutes I was at the next trail, a 165m portage around Little Thompson Rapids. I wasn’t going to be fooled this time and good thing – both take outs were very rough and the trail itself went up and down so many times I refuse to believe it’s only 165m. Once I navigated the boulder-garden that is the put-in, I was happy to once again launch on the river knowing it’ll be a while before my next portage. This part of the Petewawa River is also very beautiful. It begins as a narrow rocky river, like the previous section – but it then widens to a marshy section for a few kms. Before the wide marsh, there are several campsites on the river. The first one is actually on an island in the narrow part of the river – it looks really cool and I’d definitely camp here sometime. The others along the way have their advantages and disadvantages so it’s a good mix.
Crooked Chute 2nd of 3 take-outs along the rapid - this was my stop
The best thing about staying at a ranger cabin - the woodstove
The put-in at the lower end of P165
A quiet paddle through the marsh and I haven’t seen anyone or anything yet. No people, no wildlife, nothing but rocks and rapids – no issue though, the scenery is just so awesome out here. The east side rocks! (Get it?... ok I’ll see myself out.). At half past twelve I came upon the 3rd portage of the day – a 130m trail around a small swift. Given that it was October, you could see the entire swift (130m) and it looked really innocent, I decided I would take a chance and go for it. I crept up to the ledge allowing myself the maximum amount of decision making time before I committed to a pathway down. It took a few seconds but eventually I spotted the ‘V’ and went for it. I didn’t paddle forward, I just let the current take me along and made small corrections. It worked – I stayed dry and managed to avoid a portage! Pretty cool! Ten minutes later I approached the fourth portage of the day – a 420m trail around Grillade Rapids a certified C1 rapid. I have next-to-no white-water skills but am not completely ignorant to it. I stopped at the landing to get out and survey the rapid. From the trail, I could see the river was clear and this is probably on a C1 in the spring – it was simply a long version of the previous swift. A clear and straight path was visible so I got back in the boat and decided to go for it. I moved to the ledge and let the current do all the work. It was a pretty exciting because I was moving faster than I was in the previous swift, but there weren’t any obstacles to avoid so it was a really nice and effortless half km! I ran the ‘rapid’ and once again made it through to the other side and staying dry.
My home for the next four days - The Crooked Chute Cabin
It's hard for everyone in the fog - he popped up mere inches from my canoe
There's a first time for everything - today I would paddle through a cloud
Lake Travers to Crooked Chute
Navigating through the Fog on Lake Travers
With a massive pile of firewood ready to go I decided it was time for dinner – given my crappy sleep, journey here and firewood work – I was getting pretty tired. Dinner tonight would be a traditional Algonquin first night meal: Steak with potato and grilled peppers. I lit a fire outside in the pit to make some coals for the steak, and also lit the woodstove to get that cabin heated up – it wasn’t cold out but you could feel the cool evening air moving in. At just after 7 and as it was getting dark and I ate dinner in a patio chair down by the fire pit. The fire was almost out so the only sound was the odd crackle from the pine logs. I sat there for a few minutes after dinner, realizing just how tired I was. I decided to make it an early night and not long after 8pm I was in my sleeping bag, dozing off.
I don't see how this qualifies as 'Little' Thompson Rapids
I was pretty happy with being able to skip two out of five portages however the next rapid is not one to mess around with. Crooked Chute Rapids along the Petewawa River is very dangerous. Not just regular dangerous – it’s so insane that back in the logging days, a blast channel was created to prevent damaging the logs by sending them down crocked chute. There are videos of people running Crooked Chute Rapids – but that won’t ever be for me. There are 3 take-outs for this rapid. The first one is just across the river from the previous portage around Grillade Raps, the second is after a small swift-like but long (700m) rapid and the third is right before Crooked Chute itself. Considering you can see the entire first section of the rapid (except for the take out which is just around a corner) and it once again resembled a swift like the two I had just run, I decided to save myself some walking and go to the 2nd takeout. It was very low water and the path was obvious. I didn’t end up gaining too much speed here as the river is kind of wide so the flow wasn’t as powerful. After a minute or two I came to the big bend in the river and stuck to the right. The take out was easily visible and I had no trouble pulling over to make it. I landed and got out of the boat and when I looked down the next section of river it also appeared to be tame – but I wasn’t about to test my luck. Crazy, not stupid – especially when solo. As far as I was concerned, I managed to skip two and a half out of five portages today, which had me at the landing pretty early in the afternoon as it was only 1pm – I was very happy so far.
The 1580m portage from the 2nd take out is a pretty straight-forward trail. It’s flat, a bit rocky and follows the riverbank for most of its length. Once you get to the 3rd takeout, the trail get a bit rockier and suddenly you are faced with a massive incline – it’s not long but it’s nearly straight up! When it tapers off at the top you begin a slow decent to the pool below the rapids. The put in here is very rocky and can be a little difficult in low water. There is a trail leading from the put-in to the cabin, but I didn’t know this at the time so I made the short paddle over down the shore and landed at the gravel beach in front of the cabin.
Finally! After five and a half hours I made it to the Crooked Chute Cabin. Before I even unloaded the canoe I took a bunch of photos of the cabin – inside and out. That was it – mission complete – and with that mission over the vacation begins! It was really great to arrive at the cabin so early in the afternoon – especially at this time of year when the sun sets much earlier. The cabin was in tip-top shape and very clean. I swept off my bunk but it wasn’t needed – someone did a really great job of cleaning up before they left – thanks! I unpacked my gear, setup my bed and took out some snacks for lunch. I didn’t eat much on the way in so I was really hungry. As I snacked I walked around the immediate area, scouting for firewood and other things to explore. There is a trail leading south from the cabin, it seems wide enough for an ATV to get through so I assume this is how the MNR access the area for maintenance. I walked back to the cabin, grabbed my saw and axe and put in some time getting firewood – I wanted to make sure the woodstove saw good use during my stay here. One thing about staying at a cabin is you need twice as much firewood – wood for the stove and wood for the outdoor pit. I didn’t want to continuously collect and process wood during my stay here so I spent a solid 3 hours at this task, and by 5:30 I figured I had enough wood for at least 3 out of my 4 days here.
Big Thompson Rapids on the Petewawa River
Along the drive in I stopped at Pretty Lake for a photo. The lake lives up to its name