View topic - My First (Solo) Canoe Trip - Serpentine Lake

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PostPosted: March 6th, 2018, 9:06 am 

Joined: December 14th, 2017, 10:31 am
Posts: 34
The short version:
I did my first canoe trip. It was also solo. I had fun. (long trip journal below)

A short video from my cell phone.

Serpentine Lake Loop - Trip Diary

My First (Solo) Trip

It’s Wednesday evening and I just finished flipping through Kevin Callan’s book ‘Cottage Country Canoe Routes’. I picked it up a few days ealier off the library shelf while returning some books. My dad and I had often talked about putting our canoes or kayaks in Eels Creek and “seeing where it goes”. We drive along highway 28, crossing it multiple times, enroute to our Cottage near Apsley. After a quick scan of the table of contents and seeing the Eels Creek listing, I decided it was coming home with me.

After looking over the Eels Creek canoe route, a short day trip, I checked out some of the other routes nearby and was amazed at all the overnight possibilities. My wife an I had just started camping this year and had made the main purchases of tent, sleeping bags and pads, a stove and everything else you would need for car camping trip. I would only need a few more essentials to be outfitted for such an adventure (water filtration, a canoe pack, and a canoe). I know my parents had a couple of canoes but also knew they were old and could be in questionable condition. After some research I found Long Lake Lodge which had canoe packs, and canoes if the old ones were found not seaworthy.

I looked at the weather forecast, which called for a lovely sunny weekend with warm temps and light winds. Perfect for a first adventure. The wife had some work to do but told me to go as to give her some quiet to get it done. Before my mind could talk me out if it I had my backcountry permits printed for Kawartha Highlands Signature Site Provincial Park on Serpentine Lake.

I chose the Serpentine Lake loop because it was close to my parents cottage, starting just south of Apsley on Anstruther Lake. When my mom was younger she actually had a cottage on Anstruther Lake right near the first Portage to Rathbun and told stories of jumping off the rocks that rimmed the lake and sliding down the water falls between the two lakes. The loop also seemed simple enough for a first trip. Besides Anstruther, most of the lakes were small, with short portages, the longest being about 1400m, between them. The trip can also be completed with only 1 overnight stay which would give me small taste of the wild, without having to worry too much if I forgot something or being too far to head back if something went wrong.

Day 1

I fled the city Friday afternoon and stopped at Sail outdoor store to get a water filter, unfortunately they were sold out so a pit stop in Peterborough was added. I grabbed a couple of water treatment tabs at sail just in case. In Peterborough, the filter I bought had a ripped/retaped box and I didn’t really think too much of it as I used to work retail and know boxes sometimes get ripped. I won’t make that mistake again. An hour or so later I arrived at my parents cottage and we took a look at the old canoes. After a dunk in the water to get the dirt and spiderfication off of the boat, I paddled out for a test. The seats were quite rotted and with no proper yoke I felt this wouldn’t make for a fun trip. There was also a spot on the gunwale where the aluminum had been ripped up to make a nice razor-blade to possibly lose a finger on. It was an easy decision to rent the canoe for this time.

The next morning my dad drove me down to Long Lake Lodge to pick up the canoe and drive me to the put in at Anstruther Lake. I got a 16ft Kevlar canoe, which was a bit big for this trip but it was what was available and it only weighed about 50lbs.

There was only a couple of canoes being put in at the launch when we arrived at 10:30 with a family group with 3 dogs heading to Rathbun Lake. Once on the water I quickly paddled ahead into the luckily calm Anstruther Lake.

Anstruther Lake is the biggest lake enroute and this morning the winds were calm and it made a lovely paddle. There is many cottages along the lake and being a Saturday, many people were up and out on their docks. A couple cottagers asked me where I was headed as I paddled by their docks and we talked about the lovely late September weather that would go up to 25C later that day. Being alone I think made people interested in what I was up to. After saying going camping in the backcountry most would respond with “By yourself?” and one thought I was ‘crazy’. Funny thing was I didn’t really feel too nervous at all. I had a bit of excitement for sure, but I don’t think travelling alone seemed really dangerous. It did unnerve me a bit however and my mind churned through some of the risks as I paddled across the large lake. Was I ‘crazy’? Was I paddling into certain doom? I wanted some adventure but not mordor style adventure, after all there would be no eagles to save me at the last minute. The weather was supposed to stay good all weekend with light winds, the water was warm, I wore my PDF at all times stayed closed to shore. I grew up at the cottage so I was a good, although not graceful swimmer. I also know how weather can change on lakes and what to look for. So being on the water I felt the risks were low. This left portaging and camping. I was planning to double carry all but the longest portage and just go slow and steady. With lots of hiking experience I wasn’t expecting a problem. As for camping my biggest risk was probably using the hatchet to split wood. What about bears and animals you say? Although having a bear come into camp for a hug went through my head, giving it rational thought, the risk was really small. I would hang my food and stinkables away from camp so they really shouldn't be attracted to me. On the portage I would make some noise and I had a bear-bell.

After a quick detour to check out the cliffs on the west side of the lake, it was on to the first portage (201m). The portage to Rathbun Lake is uphill but and easy wide and well used trail. It seemed really easy and I got thinking. ‘This portaging thing it pretty easy. I would eat those words.’ There is a huge boat cache at the top of the portage, with many boats looking like they are rarely used. Just off the portage on the west side is a beautiful little cascade from Rathbun to Anstruther. I stopped here for my peanut butter and jam sandwich (thanks mom!) and some water.

The put in to Rathbun Lake had a gorgeous new dock which made loading up and pushing off a breeze. For all the boats that were cached, Rathbun was empty. This calm lake looked more rugged with its granite shorelines. It didn’t really feel too remote as there are a couple cabins on the lake and I could still hear motorboat traffic coming through the trees from Anstruther. It was an easy crossing to the portage to North Rathbun which sported a well used dock. Be careful here as there was some loose nails that could catch your gear, canoe or barefeet. Between the lakes there was another easy 164m portage along a creek and past a cabin.

I really enjoyed the paddle through N. Rathbun. Right from the put in it has a more wild, less-manicured feel. Canoeing in the shallows from the put in there is floating sphagnum or peat moss, which provides enough rooting for tamarack and spruce to begin to grow. The lake opens up a bit and had some nice colour starting in the hardwoods on the north side. It was now time for the big portage (1415m). It was a hot and sunny afternoon and I was tempted to go for a swim at this take out but heeded Kevin Callan’s warning about leaches and saved my swim for Serpentine. At almost a mile long, rather than walk in my leather sandals it was time to bring out the hiking boots. The plan was to single carry this portage and with food for only 1 night and a 50lb boat I didn’t think the weight would pose much of a problem. Laced up, bag and boat on my shoulders and paddle in hand I was off. About 1/4 of the way through the portage, I was starting to feel some real pressure pain on my shoulders and decided to leave the boat and just double carry. After dropping off the pack and grabbing the canoe for the second trip I noticed pain again almost right away. I was only able to go 200m or so before putting down the boat to give my shoulders a rest. It dawned on me during on of my breaks that I wasn’t wearing my PFD for this portage and it was on the far other side of the portage. I couldn’t even believe the difference the little bit of padding from the PFD’s neoprene could make such a large difference but it was huge. The way the wood yolk dug into my shoulders just wasn’t fun. After plodding along the rest of the portage lifting and dropping the boat 5 more times I saw the end of the portage and I could feel a huge smile hit my face. What a great feeling to be done. Just to see I put on the PFD and lifted the boat on to my shoulders to test. While my back and shoulders were very tender from the portage, They felt 100% better with the PFD. lesson learned.

After some water and a quick self-massage, it was out onto Serpentine Lake. This lake made it all worthwhile. A thin, long almost….serpentine shaped lake with lovely shores of exposed pink granite bedrock. The only sound was my canoe paddle. A couple times i bumped it on the gunwale and had to cringe in embarrassment for disturbing the peace.

I arrived at my site, 224, in the western arm of the the north-east bay. If I had a choice I would have taken the west facing 223 on the point but it was already booked. In the Kawartha Highlands you book a specific site for each night, not a lake, like in Algonquin. The site was nice with a large smooth granite rock outcropping and easy access with the canoe. The provincial park also outfitted it with a picnic table, a firering with a steel grate and a thunderbox.

First thing first I’ll get some water filtering and set up the tent. I was using the new platypus filter which looks like 2 IV bags connected with a hose with a filter between them. As I took them out of the box I noticed they seemed to have a film on the inside like how a car looks after a bad wash. I thought maybe thats how they come with something in there from the factory for freshness. I filled the ‘Dirty’ labelled bag and hung it to filter down into the clean bag. The clean bag filled fast, too fast. It was supposed to take 5-10 minutes but it was through and done in 30 seconds and my ‘clean’ bag was filled with brown water. I looked closer and there was some small particulates too. I figured the filter was broken and performed the blowback test in the instructions. As air bubbled through I confirmed the filter was indeed broken and cursed myself for taking the taped box. Good thing I had some water treatment tabs. So plop plop fiz fiz and ten minutes later I had some delicious pool water to drink.

After getting the tent set up and dehydrating I put on the water shoes. scrambled down to the water and went for a swim. The water was a lot warmer than it should have been for this time of year. Especially in the top 6 inches or so where the sun was beating down on it all day. I layed back trying to get my whole body in this thin warm layer and sculled across the surface watching the fair weather cumulus float through the blue sky. This was so peaceful, I even just closed my eyes and floated for a good while. My brain shutoff and I just really fell into the moment. It was almost hypnotic. It is really hard to explain as I have floated similarly in pools, the bath or even just at the cottage and while lovely it felt like a completely different experience floating alone in serpentine lake. When the arboreal shadow marched forward and eventually caught me with their cool embrace I knew it was probably time to head for shore and focus on some camp chores.

First up was finding a place to hang the food. I found a nice high branch about 200 feet away from camp that was perfect for trying the PCT method of hanging. A quick clove hitch later my bag was hung like a pinata. On the way back to camp I collected some nice dead standing wood and started breaking and processing it. The previous campers had left 2 nice large pieces of birch bark near the fire(Thanks) after ripping one in half and using some dry twigs from around camp the fire was easily started with one match. (Okay okay…it was two matches, the first blew out just after striking) The nice dry wood was a pleasant change from the wet Ontario Parks wood we had to pay for at Algonquin and Killarney this year while car camping. (Side note: the ontario parks wood was so wet it wouldn’t even burn holding an MSR stove to it and when we finally got it going water was just oozing out of the ends)

After boiling some water and re-hydrating my backpackers Pad Thai meal. I found a nice spot on the granite shore to sit and eat by the lake and then discovered I had no cutlery. whoops… I found my extra tent peg worked well if a little slow.

With a full belly I watched the sky darken and the moon rise over the mirror that Serpentine Lake had become. It was a lovely evening and quiet…..too quiet. After retiring to the tent and heading to sleep I would be awoken a few times through the night by fish having some sort of jumping contest in the bay. It was funny how loud it seemed compared to the completely still night. Like someone doing a cannonball off of a diving board.

Day 2

Even with the rowdy fish neighbors I slept well and woke just before sunrise, drank my morning tea watching the sky change as the sun came up. It was beautiful and looked to be another perfect weather day. I was lucking out.

I was on the water early and caught a glimpse of a blue heron taking off through the morning mist. The Lake was calm and I paddled around exploring some of the big granite shores and islands. A quick flat 200m portage towards Copper Lake lead to an interesting part of I think what is Anstruther Creek. Here a narrow path, just wide enough for a canoe in some spots, snaked its way through a meadow. Hundreds of dew covered spiderwebs glinted in the morning sun and I thanked the spiders for keeping the mosquito population in check. A small lift over and I was into Copper Lake. I saw a groups camped on this lake as I rounded a large island and headed towards the next portage.

As I approached the portage there was 2 groups there that would also be heading out of Copper Lake to Anstruther Creek. As I got closer I noticed they were in inflatable kayaks. These seemed like the cheap toys kids would float and play with in the surf with lifegaurds and parents near by not something you would take out into the wilderness as your only means of transport. With bags piled capriciously and legs dangling into the water on all sides like some sort of insect. I found it humorous, in stark contract to the semblance and mystique of Bill Mason in his red canoe that I would associate with canoe tripping. I hoped they don’t puncture on a submerged stick.

I read that there was a confusing spot in the portage where an ATV trail splits off and you can go the wrong way but it seems like the turn off is now well marked. Off to the left of the portage the water cascades over some smooth pink granite and by a small cabin. This portage is a constant downhill for 370m. Once underway on Anstruther Creek the winding and snaking began. A good channel throughout but it meananders from side to side making a travel slow. Another heron sighting as well as some turtles and frogs to investigate broke up this section of paddling. Another downhill portage(216m) awaited me on the way back into Rathbun Lake which passed a lovely waterfall. I thought about leaving the boat and pack and heading up the to the bottom of the falls for a better look, but with my inflatable kayak friends coming down as well as another foursome arriving from Rathbun I just wanted to get away from the portage rush hour. An few seconds and another nice downhill portage and I was back on Anstruther. Coming around the bend there was a bit of a head wind brewing but it wasn't a long stretch before turning towards the take out.

After arriving at the landing I called my dad who came and got me and we headed to the cottage to have a beer on the dock and enjoy the last of the summer weather.

Last edited by mtphoto on March 7th, 2018, 7:08 am, edited 5 times in total.

PostPosted: March 6th, 2018, 3:49 pm 
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Joined: June 23rd, 2006, 4:25 pm
Posts: 3088
Location: Milton
Great report!

For your link take the "s" off of the http when you put it in the youtube brackets.
But just the "s"

https: should look like this in the bracket [youtube]http:[/youtube]
Did not post the whole link in so it would not show up :D


Choosing to save a river is more often an act of passion than of careful calculation. You make the choice because the river has touched your life in an intimate and irreversible way, because you are unwilling to accept its loss. — (David Bolling, Ho

PostPosted: March 7th, 2018, 7:07 am 

Joined: December 14th, 2017, 10:31 am
Posts: 34
Thanks Jeff!

Got it working now.

PostPosted: October 11th, 2019, 10:13 am 

Joined: September 6th, 2019, 10:19 am
Posts: 9
Well written, enjoyable report. Thanks for posting!

PostPosted: October 17th, 2019, 12:14 pm 
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Joined: September 21st, 2006, 8:41 pm
Posts: 165
Location: Southern Ontario
Nice write up, sounded like a very enjoyable first solo trip. Thanks for sharing!


Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit. ~ Edward Abbey

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