Day 3 - McIntosh Lake to Sunbeam Lake (12 km)

Day 3 - McIntosh Lake to Sunbeam Lake (12 km)

All maps shown on this page are provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada. I have made additional markings to show route information

I was awoken by the call of nature shortly after 6 AM. Emerging from my hammock, I was immediately assaulted by a plague of mosquitos. It was insane how many had hatched and emerged over the previous 24 hours. At the water's edge, I snapped a quick photo of the rising sun to the east before almost sprinting back to the sanctuary of my hammock.

I read my novel in the hammock for a bit listening to the buzzing of the little b@st@rds trying to get in at me. After an hour or so, I got up again in the hope that the bugs would be better, but the sun was still behind the hill and the buggers will still out in force. I made breakfast and coffee with my bug jacket on. 

I got on the water at 9:20 AM and snapped the following photo of my campsite from the water. 

I made my way to the portage into McIntosh Creek. I was alone...for the moment.  

The portage was relatively flat and ended up at a muddy put-in that was remedied by thick planks to create a boardwalk to allow easier access to the water. 

Again, I was alone on the creek for a short time as I made my way through the marshland to the next portage about half a kilometer away. This would be my only moment of solitude in the day. 

The next portage was 770 meters in length and I would end up sharing it with 4 other parties. Everyone was courteous, friendly, and respectful in terms of allowing others to pass, however. In fact, when I went back for my second load, which was my canoe and food barrel, a young man travelling in the opposite direction was carrying my barrel back for me on his return trip for his canoe! Wow! That was a first for me. I thanked him profusely. He and his partner said that they would have carried my canoe, as well, but were afraid they might bang it up. Geez! I wasn't sure if I should tip them or not! What a great couple of guys! 

It reminded me that canoe trippers are generally great people. And who I mean by canoe trippers are the people that are interested in experiencing nature and the adventure of a trip that involves travelling a fair distance from one's vehicle. This means that portaging is involved. Unfortunately, in my experience, I have noticed that lakes which are only a few short portages away from car access can often invite people who would rather party at a campsite for multiple days rather than go on a "trip". I was far enough into the park at that point to encounter people who were canoe trippers and not weekend warriors. It would not be the case on Sunbeam Lake later in the day, unfortunately. To be clear, I'm not against partying, it's just that the Algonquin backcountry isn't the place for it. 

The portage was mostly downhill and was quite pretty in spots, especially where the trail crossed McIntosh Creek over a footbridge. 

I put in at the same time as a father and his teenage son. They were single-tripping the portages so they had caught up to me. In conversation with them, I discovered that they also stayed on McIntosh Lake at the next point to the south of my campsite. They were going all the way to Burnt Island Lake which is a formidable amount of travelling in one day. They were going the same way as I was through Sunbeam Lake. I had about 4.5 km of portaging that day; they would have an additional 4 portages adding an extra 1.6 km to the 4.5 that I had to do! It would be a tough day for all of us because the 1.4 km portage from Hawkins Lake to Canada Jay Lake would be a tough, hilly climb, indeed! 

I made quick work of McIntosh Creek. There were a couple of beaver dams to lift over, but the downstream paddling certainly assisted. 

I had forgotten how wide the creek became as it approached the marshy area to the northeast. It was basically a shallow lake at that point. 

There was a sign in the middle of the creek pointing me the way to the landing spot for the portage to Hawkins Lake. It was a steep take-out there. I was getting peckish at that point, so I lifted my boat and gear off to the side and pulled a few snacks out of my barrel to replenish some energy. The father and his son were following me and since they were single-tripping the portage, I thought I would wait and let them start the portage first so that I wouldn't be in their way. 

When they arrived, we chatted a bit more. I discovered the man was ex-military and that he and his son were relatively new to canoe tripping, but they both loved it. It was fantastic to see that they had found this shared passion to bond over, much like my own father and I have, only much later in our lives. I hope they have many more fantastic trips ahead of them!  

They started the portage to Hawkins Lake and I followed them. It was mostly uphill, but not overtly so. There were a few squishy spots on the trail, but it was a relatively benign carry.  

Hawkins Lake was a nice lake surrounded by a lovely wooded forest and rolling hills to the south. There looked to be a nice point on the western shore which would have made a fantastic campsite. It's too bad there aren't any authorized sites on the lake because it would be a pretty spot to spend a night and have an Algonquin Lake to oneself. 

The short paddle to the 1330-meter portage to Canada Jay Lake was against a stiff and gusty headwind. I could see the father and son heading up the hill with their gear as I approached.  At the takeout, the portage had some planks set up to cross a stream and it immediately went uphill. 

And uphill it went! In the first 400 meters or so of the portage, the trail rose 35 meters which is the equivalent of about a 12-floor walkup. Not the steepest onslaught that I have ever done, but it was certainly enough to get my heart thumping. The trail crested at the top of a ridge for a bit and then began to descend almost as much as it had risen. At the bottom of the hill, I carried through a stand of remarkably tall pines and had to leave my gear next to a pond created by a large beaver dam. The trail continued on the other side of the dam, but the dam didn't look solid enough in spots to walk across, so I loaded the canoe and paddled across the pond to restart the trail.  

The rest of the 1330-meter portage was less arduous with the exception of a short but incredibly steep drop down a ridge just after the pond. Arriving at Canada Jay Lake after both loads, I was certainly feeling tired. I had double tripped four portages on the day thus far, with the last two being long uphill battles in quick succession. And I still had one more to go before reaching Sunbeam Lake! Hats off to the father and son who pressed on and did four more after that! 

Canada Jay Lake was small but beautiful due to its rocky cliffs on the eastern shore. Unfortunately at its southern end, there was a lot of algae in the water similar to what I saw the day prior on Straight Shore Lake. It made me wonder what caused it. Fish getting a cold and sneezing a lot? (Feeble attempt at humour, please don't write in and tell me how dumb I am. )

The 870-meter portage into Sunbeam was mostly downhill and a relative breeze compared to the previous two, despite being wet in a number of places. 

I was exhausted but ecstatic to have finally finished a total of 4.5 kilometers of portaging and reaching my destination for the night. I was looking forward to a nice meal, sipping on some whiskey, and enjoying a quiet evening on a gorgeous Algonquin Lake. Unfortunately, my hopes were immediately dashed at the put-in by a couple of bros in a canoe out in the bay. One was hollering across the lake back to his campsite, "Dude, just bring me my f%$&ing hat!" at the top of his lungs. 

I silently prayed to the canoe-tripping gods that I could find a vacant site away from that guy and his dudes, so I paddled toward the west end of the lake to examine the two sites there. What I found was worse. There was a group of at least 8 people on the site at the northwest corner of the lake blasting loud music and shouting. It could be heard all over the lake, even in a stiff wind. What was going on?!? Was I at a backcountry lake in Algonquin, or was I at Sibbald Point?!? 

I frantically looked at my map and saw that I had one hopeful option to get away from loud, drunken @&&holes that seemed to dominate the 6 northern sites of Sunbeam Lake. There was a site on the southern shore all by itself and on the other side of a large island away from the stumblebums. Praise be to the canoe-tripping gods! It was vacant and an incredible site, high on a rock with amazing western views over the lake.  Best of all, I could barely detect any noise from across the lake. Salvation!

By the time I set up my hammock, the wind began to die down somewhat...and the bugs came out. There were already clouds of blackflies, but at that time, the mosquitoes emerged to join the party on Sunbeam Lake, and boy did they party. I immediately set up my bug shelter and moved most of my gear inside it. I wouldn't bother with a campfire that night; it was just too darn buggy to enjoy. In fact, I would say it was one of the buggier nights I have ever had out in the backcountry. 

I didn't let it get to me, though! I had a very quick dunk in the lake to wash off the bug spray and sweat from the day, then retreated to the sanctuary of the shelter and ate a curry dinner. I could still faintly hear the music of the party jerks at the west of the lake, but I was far enough away that it wasn't too obnoxious. To their credit, they turned the music down or off at around 9 PM. All in all, it was a nice evening capped off by a wonderful sunset.  

Not long after, I got into my hammock and fell asleep immediately. I was spent. It wasn't even fully dark, yet.

Day 4