One of the must-sees on my list when planning for our Algonquin Park camping trip was moose. I hadn’t seen one since I was a kid. In fact, I remember one of the last times I saw one. I was about 11 years old, and my family was heading up to our camp* on Boyce Lake, near Temagami, Ontario. We were in the boat, going up Wicksteed Lake when we spotted something swimming in the water up ahead. We slowed down to get a better look, and it was this:
A young bull moose with just a hint of impending antlers was crossing the lake!! I managed to snap this somewhat blurry photo with what I’m sure was a disposable camera. The actual print is in my treasured Box of Important Crap. We could hear his laboured breathing, see him flick his ears and cast nervous glances toward the floating thing full of gawking bipeds. It was amazing to be so close to such a huge wild animal.
The morning we set off into the park, I was practically bursting with excitement over the possibility of seeing a moose. We paddled non-stop for 3 hours from the access point to the North Arm of Lake Opeongo, and I relentlessly scanned the shoreline the entire time. Nothing.
We portaged 2.1km to the second lake, which took about 40 minutes. Nothing. Perhaps I was expecting too much, but since Algonquin Park is considered one of the best places in the world to see moose, I half expected to have them jump out at me from all directions.
It wasn’t until the second day that I finally saw one. We were portaging from Shiner Lake to Otterslide Lake, where we would set up camp. I was about 10 minutes ahead of my partner down the trail, as he was slowed down by the massive canoe he had on his head. I was trudging down a small hill at a fairly good clip, considering I was carrying a 60lb backpack, 2 paddles and a fishing rod case. My bear bell was jingling, having been annoyingly placed right beside my ear. I was huffing and puffing, and sweating and swearing, when I heard a crashing noise in the bush to my right. I stopped immediately, and spotted a large, dark brown shape about 40 feet away. My first thought was: Oh my god, it’s a bear. This stupid bell doesn’t work!! So I started talking in a loud but calm voice, so I wouldn’t startle it. HELLO BEAR. WE’RE COOL, I’M JUST PASSING THROUGH. PLEASE DON’T EAT ME, etc. At the sound of my voice, the shape lifted his head, and I saw it was actually a massive bull moose!! He had huge, perfect, late summer antlers. After having a look at me, he turned back to the plants he had been munching on. Suddenly my pack felt lighter. I was no longer tired. I stood there for about 5 minutes and just watched him, in awe.
Oh, I also took some pictures:
Sigh. The bush was so dense that I could barely make him out. But he’s in there. He’s the brown blob in the centre. And you can just see his antlers if you tilt your head and squint. Seriously though, I wish I could have gotten a better picture. It was an amazing moment. I continued on my way to the end of the trail, and 5 minutes later my partner arrived. Unfortunately, he hadn’t seen the moose. You don’t see much with a canoe on your head.
Moose are plentiful in Algonquin. In 2003, Moose survey observers determined that there were 3490, plus or minus 628. Which is a very strange number. The area with one of the highest moose concentrations in the park is Hailstorm Creek, the mouth of which runs into the North Arm of Lake Opeongo. I had successfully lobbied my partner to camp at the site closest to the mouth on our last night in the park for this very reason. After an early supper, we set off in the canoe to paddle up the creek and hopefully see more moose. We had to portage over a beaver dam, then paddle for almost an hour through a winding wetland before reaching the actual creek. It was a beautiful evening, the water like glass and the sky ablaze. We saw an otter, who puffed and snorted at us…
Great blue herons who flew away as we approached, only to land 30 feet upstream and have to repeat the whole process over and over…
A beaver who smacked his tail in warning…
A mink who swam furiously around the canoe….
…but not a single moose. We barely had time to explore the actual creek, because we only had about an hour of daylight left to get back to camp. So we reluctantly turned around. The moose I’d seen while portaging ended up being the only one I saw during the entire trip. But I felt extremely lucky to have seen that one.
*Just an aside here: I used the term “camp” in the first paragraph. In Northern Ontario, a cottage is called a camp. The main difference being lack of electricity, access roads, and sometimes indoor plumbing. Cottages, typically found in “cottage country” like Muskoka Region or the Kawarthas, usually have satellite tv, jet skis, and cost more than your house.