Algonquin Park Portaging – Wilderness

Amanda Filipowicz, CNP, BES
Algonquin Park Portaging

During the second weekend of July, I departed on a four day portaging adventure with my brother. Being my first time, portaging and going to Algonquin Park (camping I have been many, many times) I truly did not know what to expect. My brother being an expert (as he goes nearly every year, if not twice) informed me of the basics; what to bring, what to not bring. Being a Holistic Nutritionist this trip may have been a little different for him, as I said, “Just because we are going camping does not mean we can’t eat amazing healthy meals”. So for about a week, I dehydrated vegetables and fruit. They took up a lot less space and turns out coming altogether, meals were by far the best my brother has had on a trip (and that’s comparing a vegetarian meal to a steak….he loves steak!)

We packed up my little yellow Fiat and drove off. I wish we could have picked a better time to go as we had rain and strong winds the entire time, but I guess that is what made it an amazing trip. We got there by noon and in an hour, after having a snack, calling our parents and leaving our phones in the car (no electronics other than a GoPro— which ran out of batteries) we were on the water.

The first hour I had a bit of trouble with paddling, ever now and again I had to yell “Switch” as my arms and hands grew tired. Eventually, I got the hang of it, I also used my lifevest as padding for my knees and sat in the seiza position (Japanese formal sitting position) for hours as we made our way down a winding river. The sun did come out at this point, it was magical. It was just the two of us and the wild. No cars, no people, no noisy sounds of our every day, I truly felt transported to some other time. We got to our first campsite a bit past six. The sun was on its descent as we set up camp. I slept in a hammock and my brother in a bivy sack. Not the best idea, as he would find out the next two days, and that night. I had a horrible sleep. Apart from the fact that my overactive imagination constantly heard a moose walking about (frankly this may have happened), I was very, very cold. A hammock is great at rocking you to sleep, however, it also exposes your entire backside to the element of COLD WIND!! I eventually used my towel and sweater and extra padding under my back and bum and at some point coming upon morning I fell asleep.

Despite my lack of sleep, I was ready to take on the next day. We were to have more portages then paddling that day, which was all the same to me, or so I thought. A 2km portage in the rain with mosquitoes nibbling at you for all directions was not too pleasant. It did, however, give me time to contemplate how the Group of Seven and Native Americans dealt with the onslaught. I was using citronella tincture, which worked well at times, at other not so much. There are times of the year that their presence is far less, however as E.O.Wilson stated in his book “The Creation”, we would all be better off if they did not exist. We spent our day paddling in the rain as well, which was not at all bad, not for me. I stayed quite warm in my rain jacket and amused myself at watching the raindrops hit the surface of the lake and loons pop in and out of the water. We stopped by a campsite which ended up belonging to three lovely men (and one man’s three children). The three men were old friends who got together every year sometimes dragging their family along and camped out in Algonquin for a few days. My brother’s mission was to get matches……he did not pack enough and he also had horrible luck with lighting them, surprisingly I was the one to eventually get the fire going the first night. They gave me tea, and we spent some time by their fire trading stories and having a very pleasant time. They sent us away with two small boxes of matches and some organic millet, which I still need to make.

Our second campsite was in a location that was home to a momma bear and her babies. It was also completely wet, as were we and it took us quite some time to start a fire, especially since I had no idea what I was doing for the first hour as my brother was off attempting to figure out how he was going to sleep in his bivy and not get completely wet (from both the rain and his own breath and sweat, he had no problem with cold, his sleeping bag simply got damp). We ended up eating potatoes and corn and something else… The sun also came out for a bit, before a giant dark cold came our way and we called it a night.

The portage on the third day was longer than the second, but at this point, I had it under control and we did everything in one trip. The sun had come out but the wind picked up. The lake we paddled across was pitch black making it a perfect canvas for the sky. I felt I understood what captivated the Group of Seven so much as to spend their time here, winter and summer, mosquitoes and all. This moment, the whole trip was something I greatly needed, an escape from the everyday rush, from the jungle of concrete to come amongst the living, breathing wildlife that is and always will be the true home of human nature. At our last campsite, I took out my sleeping bag and took a nap in the sunshine on a giant rock. I woke up to a chipmunk, grey clouds and a horrendous wind. We started up a fire, however after having enough of wrapping ourselves in a tarp to block off the wind we moved ourselves to the other side of the hill and found a far better campsite. We carried over the fire on our last trip, It reminded me of Calcifer from Howl’s Moving Castle. We had a wonderful dinner and followed by smores as we watched the sky dance in color. Again the rain began to trickle down and off the bed, we went. We had a slow morning, we basked in the sun with our feet in the water and I met a ferret, a brown curious ferret.

On our way back to the canoe rental place we happened upon three moose. One we saw at a distance, the other two, were a cow and her babe who same swimming right past us. The afternoon was gloomy and they came out of the low fog a meter or so in front of us. Of course, when technology needs to work it never does, but I suppose this was best left to memory. She carried her calf on the back and they swam to the other end and disappeared.

I can’t wait to go back, even alone. Bring a few books and disappear into the wilderness and find myself and stillness.

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