Flack Lake Loop

Day 1 - Flack Lake to Astonish Lake (8km)

Total Distance: 38 km

Duration:  5 days including a rest day. (It can be done in 3 days, however, the portages from Flack to Astonish Lakes are demanding.)

Number of Portages: 17

Total Portage Distance: 6.5 km

Level of Difficulty: Experienced novice. (Portaging accounts for 17% of the distance.)

Map provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada. I have marked my route in blue and portages in red. 

2020 had a record number of people visiting provincial parks and backcountry destinations; it was busy all across southern Ontario's usual paddling destinations. Reports of trashed campsites, increased bear encounters and booking issues were rampant in many of the popular locations like Algonquin and Killarney. Even crown land campsites were feeling the increased pressure.


With the Covid pandemic still raging in the spring of 2021, I decided to plan my summer trips further north to avoid the crowds. The Algoma Highlands was on my bucket list for its beauty, remoteness, and fantastic fishing. It was here that I did my first summer trip of the year. By June 30th, I had wrapped up my classes, finished report cards, attended my last online meeting, and was packing my gear for departure the next day.


Day 1 - Flack Lake to Astonish Lake

With everything locked and loaded to go the night before, I left Peterborough at 5 am. I had a 7-hour drive ahead of me on Canada Day. The early departure was a necessity; the roads would most likely be busy and I was hoping to reach Ezma Lake for the first night.


The drive was uneventful and, indeed, Highway 17 west of Sudbury was laden with traffic. I made fairly good time, however, and was pulling into Laurentian Lodge on Flack Lake shortly after noon. I had contacted Melanie, the owner, earlier in the week and had arranged to park my car and launch from the resort for a marginal fee. The same thing could have been done from the Mississagi Provincial Park office on the east end of the lake, but for a similar price, I felt my vehicle would be in better hands under the watchful eye of a resort owner. The resort itself was beautiful; a waterfall goes right through the middle of it!

Melanie was great! She jotted down my itinerary so that she would know to send in the cavalry in the event that my car was still there after I was supposed to have returned. She directed me where to launch and where to park my car. She even drove up to the canoe launch in her ATV to wave me off as I was paddling out into the lake.


Unfortunately, Flack Lake was not in a happy mood that day. It had rained most of the morning and by afternoon the wind wanted to join the party, as well. Luckily for me, the wind was coming from the northeast which meant that it was at my back. Travelling solo on this large, round lake against a strong headwind would not have been fun. I made it to the portage at the west end of the lake in good time. The massive rock face known as Old Baldy watched over my take-out.

While researching this trip, I had read that I had three tough portages ahead of me to get into Astonish Lake. I'm not going to lie -- those ports kicked my a$$. Later at my campsite that evening, I named them Bad, Worse, and Worst in consecutive order.


What made the first one bad was that it was a solid uphill climb. Other than that, it wasn't too nasty given that it was under 500m.


Emerging from the woods at the put-in on Bruce Lake, I was happy to see the sun trying to poke its nose from behind the clouds. At that moment, it happened to be shining on the carcass of a canoe that had seen better days. I always wonder about the story behind a canoe rotting away at the end of a portage.

Putting in and moving around a point, I could get a better vantage point of that rock face on the south side of Old Baldy.

A few minutes later, I was unloading the canoe and soon humping it up Portage Worse -- an 845-meter steep incline to Olympus Lake. This one seemed to veer slightly north and up onto the slopes of Old Baldy itself before veering southwest again down through a swampy area just before the put-in. I did not dillydally at the far end as I frantically loaded my canoe in a cloud of mosquitoes.


Happy to be out on the lake with the sun trying to make its presence known and out of the clutches of the mosquito plague, I loaded up a trout spoon and eagerly cast out into the lake. My joy immediately dissipated. Somehow, my line tangled in and around my reel so horribly that I had to paddle next to a log on shore to take the whole darn thing apart. This process took the better part of 20 minutes to untangle. Yikes!

Not wanting to tempt fate after solving the issue without cutting my line nor wasting any more valuable time without rain, I abandoned my fishing efforts on Olympus and decided to get the bad, nasty Portage Worst out of the way.


That b@$&@*d was 1100m long and went like this: a couple of large downfalls to negotiate in the first 100m, a steep rise over a bluff, a 90-degree turn and descent into a valley, a very steep incline over a cliff that overlooks a massive swamp, an equally steep decline with several ledges off of which I bounced the back of my canoe, and best of all, a 200m section toward the end, where the portage miraculously turned into a knee-deep creek that one must wade through. Fun for the whole family!


These were not the worst portages I've ever done, but by the end of all three, I certainly was feeling it. I think it was because I was travelling alone, double-tripping them and they came at me in quick succession with almost no paddling in between. In addition, this trip was only my second overnighter of the year and I had some extra Covid-lockdown weight to take along. This was certainly one way of dealing with that!


Though I had wanted to make it to Ezma Lake, I immediately unloaded on the peninsula site on Astonish after seeing the familiar orange campsite indicator (Astonish Lake is officially in the Blind River Provincial Park Boundaries, and sites there are marked). It was a great site on a gorgeous lake and I was exhausted.


I set up camp, got a fire going, and enjoyed a very pleasant evening watching the sunset over this beautiful northern lake that I had entirely to myself. Amazing! Those horrible ports were worth it!