Algonquin – Mink Lake

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Number of days: 3
Portages: 4
Access Point: #29 – Kiosk Lake
Visited: August 2017

Day 1: Rain. So much rain

We left Toronto bright and early at 7 a.m to avoid the brunt of the traffic in anticipation of the long weekend. We met up with P, K, E & M at the Algonquin North Outfitters just before noon. We arranged ahead of time for our canoes to be conveniently dropped off at Kioshkokwi (Kiosk) Lake. We checked in, grabbed life jackets and paddles and headed deeper into the park towards our access point.

The weather forecast for this weekend was less than ideal with cooler than average temperatures and rain (lots of rain). Today was supposed to be the worst with 20 mm of rain and a severe thunderstorm warning on the horizon for later this afternoon and evening. So we were anxious to get out onto the water and find a decent campsite before the storm rolled in.

By the time we loaded up our three canoes and were ready to take off it was 12:45 p.m. The air was hot and humid and the promise of a severe storm gave us a sense of urgency to reach Mink Lake as soon as possible.

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But despite the promise of a major storm looming in the back of our minds we had a rather pleasant canoe ride out of Kiosk Lake. There was a slight breeze that we canoed against for the first bit until we reached the railway (troll) bridge. From there it was a short distance to get to our first portage of 635m into Little Mink Lake.

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It took us two trips to carry all three canoes and our packs and paddles to the entrance onto Little Mink Lake. There were some muddy sections along the path, but for the most part it was relatively flat. Along the portage we encountered two other groups of people – one group was heading in the opposite direction back towards Kiosk Lake and the other group in the same direction. We overheard that they planned to set up shop on Mink Lake as well.

We were back on the water for a short period of time before reaching our second and final portage of 450m onto Mink Lake. Just as we completed our second trip of lugging all our gear over to the end of the portage it started to lightly rain with some thunder off in the distance. We decided to wait it out under some tree coverage at the end of the portage. After an hour of waiting around conditions were deteriorating. There was so much rain. A group of two younger guys met up with us the end of the portage and waited it out with us for another 30 minutes or so. At least until the thunder and lightning died down. They took off first in the torrential downpour to secure a site on Mink Lake. They also informed us that all of the sites on this lake were booked for tonight. With a growing fear that the rain would not let up anytime soon and of not finding a decent campsite we waited around for another 30 minutes until finally making a move onward. In the rain.

Conveniently all the campsites along Mink Lake are located along the eastern shore. So we could just hug the shoreline and motor along until we found an available site. And the first site we came across was free. We scampered out of our canoes and scoped out the area, but the site was super tiny and the trees were scattered too far apart that would make setting up the tarp impossible. Plus all the flat spots for tents were covered in a deep pool of water. We were quick to reach a consensus that this site would simply not do and we should roll the dice and keep searching. We were greeted at the second site by the two younger guys we met earlier at the end of the portage during the thick of the storm. They informed us that the next five sites were all occupied and that the farther cluster of remaining sites on the lake would be at least another 30 minute paddle from here. They kindly invited us onto their spacious site which we much appreciatively took them up on their offer.

The rain was beginning to subside. P, K, E & M first set up a tarp above the trees before erecting their tent. We just decided to give ‘er. We’re no strangers to camping in extreme conditions (see our travels to Iceland for 20 days). We managed to set our tent in under three minutes. We jammed our packs inside one of the vestibules. We decided to wait a bit before opening our packs and sort everything out. Instead we helped our new canoeing compadres Anthony and Cameron set up a larger tarp over the seating area on the campsite.

At this point I was starting to get chills. And we were both getting hungry. So I carefully slithered into the tent and peeled off my wet clothes. Luckily we packed the towels near the top of K’s pack. And luckily everything managed to stay dry inside his pack. And in my pack too. We’re super glad we lined everything in a combination of a double barrier of garbage bags and dry sacks. After sorting through our gear we set up our sleeping area and made some dinner. We didn’t even bother trying to start a fire as everything was soaked. We sat around under the shelter of the tarp for a bit enjoying each other’s company. As an added bonus from our seating area we were in prime location of watching a group of kids from a nearby campsite paddle out into the lake to practice what to do when your canoe tips over in the open water. The conditions seemed a little harsh to learn in. Not sure capsizing a canoe in a thunderstorm is safe. But it was super entertaining. And they managed to make it back into their canoes … for the most part.

After a long wet day we went to bed fairly early. It felt extremely satisfying to snuggle deep inside our down sleeping bags knowing we have survived the worst of the weather. And that all of our food and gear managed to stay dry. It wasn’t until after we returned back onto the mainland that we learned that two tornadoes touched down in the Huntsville area Friday afternoon. No big deal.

Day 2: Wind. So much wind

It rained on and off again all throughout the night. But by the time we awoke the weather was starting to clear up a bit. We survived the worst of the weather for the weekend and things could only improve from here. We boiled some water for tea and fried up some eggs for breakfast. Soon after Anthony and Cameron headed off to continue their seven-day trek in the backcountry. We decided to rejig our tarp coverage to cover more of the seating area since we planned to stay here another two nights.

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We did get a few scattered showers throughout the day. And so much wind. But the strong gusts of wind were particularly pleasant for drying things out and keeping the mosquitoes at bay.

Later in the afternoon we went for a canoe ride to scope out the other campsites along Mink Lake and check out Cauchon Lake. We scavenged the area for decent firewood and bark along the way so we could make a legit fire later in the afternoon. The below picture isn’t really an accurate reflection of all the fuel for the fire we collected. This was just the beginning.

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The wind was so fierce that we barely had to paddle downstream. We got out at the last campsite on Mink Lake and dragged our canoes onto land. From there we hiked the 440m portage to get to the entrance of Cauchon Lake. It was a super scenic lake with towering cliffs. But the portage was fairly strenuous with lots of steep uphills and downhills and rocks and roots everything. We found it challenging even without carrying our canoes and gear. And in retrospect based on the weather we were satisfied with our decision to camp at Mink Lake.

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By the time we returned to our canoes it was starting to drizzle. The rain coupled with wind made for a super challenging canoe ride back to our campsite. We decided to hug along the western side of Mink Lake as it offered slightly more protection from the wind. But it was still challenging nonetheless. There were a couple of times where we thought we were honestly going to tip from the waves. At least the water was warm. And at least we learned the proper way of righting your canoe after it capsizes based on last night’s entertaining display. We ended up pulling our canoes out on the campsite before ours and just carrying our canoes and all the sticks and bark we collected over. Soon after we lit a fire to dry off and get warm and eat dinner.

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We spent the remainder of the evening enjoying the warmth from fire. Temperatures plummeted to around 12°C overnight.

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Day 3: No rain; minimal wind

Even though we planned to stay on Mink Lake for an another night we decided to pack things up and leave a day early. We wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to pack up and canoe back in pleasanter weather as the forecast for the following day called for scattered showers ..again. We enjoyed a long breakfast and spent the remainder of the morning leisurely tearing down our tents and packing up our gear. We left our campsite around 12:45 p.m. And within minutes of us departing another group of paddlers secured our campsite.

As we were nearing the northern part of Mink Lake we canoed passed this area in the forest on the western shore that was apparently devastated by a tornado a few days earlier according to the two guys we shared our campsite with. Glad we weren’t camping when that storm hit here.

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The journey back to Kiosk Lake was rather pleasant and we even encountered some sunny periods. We leisurely took our time to get back to the main land and stopped for a snack break at the end of both portages.

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After we made it back to Kiosk Lake we unloaded our gear into our cars and returned our canoes. We ate a late lunch, K & P took a quick dip in the lake, and then we hit the open road back to civilization. We stopped in Huntsville for some dinner before finishing the remaining leg of our journey back into the city. We were exhausted.

Despite the weather (especially on our first day) we still managed to have a wonderful trip. Algonquin really is such magical place that offers such a unique way to explore the backcountry. We’re already counting down the days for our next trip down to Algonquin the following summer.

L & K

Return here for our complete list of Algonquin adventures.

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