A Radiant (lake) backcountry honeymoon.
Updated: Aug 25, 2020
Per usual I will follow up this detailed blog with a "just the paddle" version but if you want to know how we ended up honeymooning in Algonquin, keep reading...
Wendigo > Allan > North Depot > North River > Clamshell > Shoal > Radiant Lake In & Out
If 2020 taught us anything it was the need to be adaptable! The original plan was get married in September in Nova Scotia, do a glamping minimoon in Cape Breton and then proceed to a romantic adventure in Saint Lucia or New Zealand - haha, we all know how that went. We still managed to tie the knot at our VERY intimate covid wedding here in Ontario and though we could have boarded a flight to BC for our honeymoon, we just didn't feel comfortable yet. We endlessly searched for cute glamping options or cabins and nothing stood out so assessing what we like to do (be antisocial and challenge ourselves haha) we decided on a backcountry honeymoon. We had 5 days before Martin was due back at work and knowing we weren't in our usual weekend crunch decided to explore an area of Algonquin we'd never been to, starting at Wendigo Lake or Access Point 25.
Before I carry on any further, I want to acknowledge the privilege of being able to explore and discover these borrowed lands.
The "Wendigo" is an evil spirit and a greedy cannibalistic monster described in First Nations Algonquian folklore. If I was a superstitious person, maybe I'd have reconsidered starting my honeymoon on Wendigo Lake but also what better way to start a marriage than to fight through those evil spirits together, from the get-go?
We rented our canoe from Algonquin North Outfitters (seemingly like everyone else in Ontario who decided to take up canoe camping this summer). Unfortunately, they were sold out of anything remotely lightweight and we knew this was the beginning of a LONG 5 days...starting with the struggle of strapping the canoe to the car. I've been in a few accidents that make overhead lifting *incredibly* challenging for me, and this was no walk in the park but we strapped her in and made our way to Wendigo, with many potholes and sketchy dirt roads along the way. The car lot at Wendigo is small, not a problem for our Wednesday launch but was definitely busy packing out on Sunday.
Maybe it's because I learned what a "Wendigo" was but this lake definitely had some evil spirit vibes (especially on our return, see photo here).
While Jeff's Maps makes the portage seem pretty foolproof and straight ahead we veered a bit to the right (ahem Martin) and had to paddle back to find the portage so my advice is STAY LEFT, stay as left as possible. The first portage into Allan was pretty painless albeit e l e v a t e d but at 180m, not too much to sweat about. Allan Lake was a quick paddle, to be honest it felt like I blinked and it was time to portage again. Martin decided to take on these light "rapids" while I was more comfortable on foot to complete this 255m portage. In hindsight, I should have braved the waters because this was another elevated, rocky, rooty, portage but I made it and we were off into North Depot.
We passed by the first island site on North Depot (the one that has two campsites) and boy was it nice, or at least the west-facing one BUT we carried on in hopes of getting the private island site. This paddle to the end of North Depot felt A LOT longer but we got to the site and thankfully it was available. No great place to put in on this really elevated site and compared to the campsite hacks of Clydegale no real "perks". Thankfully we had our Trekology chairs because there was no real seating here, even of the log variety. The thunderbox was shitty, pun intended. Very rickety, albeit with a nice view. We set up camp and started to make dinner but the rainy week had left us with damp wood and not even the possibility of a twig fire. So I resorted to making burgers on the MSR stove, which if you've ever done you'll know is incredibly painstaking - one burger at a time, GREASE, and more grease. We were treated for the first time ever with what Algonquin is known for, rolling storms. Martin secured our cooking station with a tarp but unbeknownst to us our MSR fly on the tent had lost a bit of its "waterproofing" and was leaking. It was a mess of an evening, one of those Murphy's law days when everything went wrong including a flood of white wine in our new Ice Mule cooler - friendly reminder to double bag all liquids, I forgot and here we were emptying, drying, and repacking a cooler in the rain. Needless to say, bedtime came early and we tarped over our leaky tent for a good night's sleep.
I swear I woke up to the sound of a logging operation but there's nothing in plain sight so maybe ghosts of loggers past? We took our time packing up, had a friendly couple and their dog pull up to check out our site and set out on our way for Radiant Lake, really underestimating what lied ahead. Finished up the paddle on North Depot and carried on to our longest portage of 770m into the North River, NBD right? We've done portages of 770m before. BUT. NOT. LIKE. THIS. Brutal elevation, slick rocks and roots, up and down and up and down with the combination of the summer heat. I've never portaged like this before. Not to mention the culmination of this portage is balancing on rocks (with your packs) with a river cutting through. The only thing that made up for it was the gorgeous rapid falls. Nothing about this was easy, including the launch but we did it and set out on the North River.
Beautiful bends, vistas, and lily pads... before you know it you're at the next portage into North River South. This 390m portage (signed as 230m - lies & slander) was something else. We got on, followed the "path" launched and realized we were caught between rapids and bog, "something feels wrong here Martin, let's stop", and thankfully we did. Realizing this did not look like anything on the map we went back to the portage path and discovered our misstep. The "path" we took had clearly been made by people setting out to enjoy the rapid falls, maybe even swim in them but it was not the signed portage path. Don't make this mistake! The elevation and rocks make the whole thing brutal nevermind having to back peddle and unload, reload a canoe again. But we made it and didn't have to be rescued from the rapids and were on our way again to, ANOTHER PORTAGE! This 230m portage to continue on the North River was another back and ankle breaker with up and down elevation, but at least it was only 230.
THE WRONG PORTAGE LAUNCH
THE RIGHT PORTAGE LAUNCH
330m (signed 235m) into Clamshell Lake, just like the rest of them brutal elevation and at this point just exhaustive. None of these portages had a good place to load in or load out, lots of wet feet in the mix but at least we got to see the site on Clamshell Lake that we had reserved in a few nights and it looked epic. Paddled quickly through Clamshell to BOOM another portage into Shoal lake, this one was short at least but at this point even 135m feels like too much. Paddled through the very reedy Shoal, were greeted by a diving beaver and continued on. We thought we could maybe avoid the 20m portage at Sandy Bay but with the rocks the way they were, we had to unload and reload. By the time we made it on Radiant Lake we were EXHAUSTED, it was wavy, and I was motionsick and hangry - no surprise there as my Apple watch informed me we had burned ~1900 calories.
Every site on the northern shore was occupied until we finally found a spot just passed the coveted beach site we renamed the "5 star resort". While we didn't end up with the resort we still had a small private beach and a relatively awesome site - I say relatively because two minor annoyances: 1) The thunderbox was flipped over. Martin went to unflip it, thankfully, but the massive bite-mark of missing wood and claw marks on the lid were far from reassuring :| 2) The motorboat. I saw this complaint come up in other Radiant Lake blogs and forums and man was it annoying, back and forth and back and forth, not quite the serene "backcountry" I had envisioned. Nonetheless we set up camp here for 2 nights and made the most of it. Radiant lake is shallow and warm, no leeches in site, made for great swimming! We paddled out to Squirrel Rapids for fun one day and the old bridge along the way made for great pictures. I can definitely see how in low-water season you'd end up having to drag the canoe endlessly across Radiant Lake.
We woke up leisurely on Saturday morning, packed up our site and hit the road back to Clamshell Lake. Knowing we only had two short portages made the whole trip more enjoyable, and luckily when we arrived at the campsite it was already vacant. Clamshell is so special! There is only one campsite on the entire lake, and although the portage is in site not one single soul came in or out while we were there so you have an abundance of privacy. The site has plenty of rocks for sunbathing, the campfire area is in a lovely tree canopy, the thunderbox is in good condition and far enough from the site, you get the sounds of the rapids but you're on a calm lake, and your very own swing! The lake is deep and super refreshing, we can vouch for it given the numerous swings into the lake by Martin and jumps into the lake from me. This was a honeymoon highlight. The rocks by the water make for perfect cuddle sessions while dunking your feet. I swear I have never seen a campsite more romantic! We had a lovely dinner, followed by the Backpackers Pantry Apple Cobbler which while it looks disgusting when made, was SO fricken delicious. I wish we had more time on this lake but alas.
Saturday was over and we crawled into our tent under starry skies, fell asleep and woke up to the pitter patter of rain at 2AM. I woke Martin up knowing our leaky fly situation and we got on a quick tarp, thank goodness, because by 2:30AM IT WAS POURING! And it didn't stop. We had our alarm set to 5AM knowing we had to get going to make it through those 6 brutal portages again and with the rain coming down hard neither of us got much more sleep. When the alarm went off it was still pouring so we decided to wait a little longer. By 6AM things seemed to have slowed down at a minimum and we started packing up. Packing wet is not fun! To top it off I had left my shoes out just past the fly somehow and they were soaked.
I feel like this should be an idiom... never start a journey with wet feet, but I had no choice. The rain dampened our breakfast situation so we loaded up on pepperettes and dried mango for breakfast and hit the road.
I'm not gonna say much about the journey home except this. Elevated portages that are hard in dry weather are EXCRUCIATING when slick. We had to take microsteps to avoid falling down slippery rocks and roots with our gear and simply put it was brutal. On our longest portage between the North River and North Depot that river running through rocks was even worse and Martin had to drop the canoe halfway and go back. I was getting a bit peckish at this point so I pulled out my pocket pepperettes for a snack but couldn't shake this feeling I was being watched, thinking to myself "definitely a bear, he's going to come at me while I'm snacking, I'm going to have to throw the pepperettes at him and he's going to be offended." Martin came through and as he puts the canoe down he's looking at something on the ground asking "what's that?", I respond "you know exactly what that is...LET'S GO".
It was a massive bear paw print, looked really fresh considering the rain had just started in the middle of the night.
Needless to say I have never been happier to get back into the car and put on dry shoes and socks, but I'd do it all again for those Clamshell vibes.