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6/05/2020 2:16 pm  #1


Talk to me about Unicorn Hill

I've never started a trip from Cedar but I've been eyeing the Cedar > Catfish > Hogan > La Muir > Burntroot > Catfish > Cedar loop for a while. I've camped on Burntroot and I really love that lake, but I've never been on the other lakes.

The only thing stopping me is Unicorn Hill. I double carry so not only is 2.3km a massive portage when I need to double back, but it's infamous for being difficult as well. And I would need to do it on my way in, and my way out, so walking it 6 times total, 4 with gear.

I'd probably spend 7-10 days total... first and last night on Catfish, and the other 4-7 nights between Hogan / La Muir / Burntroot.

Am I crazy for considering double-carrying Unicorn Hill twice in one trip? Catfish to Hogan probably won't be a walk in the park either with double carries (well I guess literally it would be).


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6/05/2020 2:59 pm  #2


Re: Talk to me about Unicorn Hill

One hill is stopping you from an entire canoe route?

Dude just do it, then decide if you ever want to do it again or not. There are much worse hills & portages in AP - some of which I'm sure you must've crossed already.

You should be more concerned about crossing Cedar twice (solo or otherwise) as she can whip up some wind and waves like no other.

Edit: Forgot to add - did the hill on Monday, it's fine.

Last edited by Peek (6/05/2020 3:00 pm)

 

6/05/2020 3:36 pm  #3


Re: Talk to me about Unicorn Hill

One hill six times lol. I usually curse at myself when I choose portages >1.5km while solo double-carrying.

I don't mind windy paddling too much, but I'd cross Cedar at probably 6-7am on Day 1, so I'd have to be pretty unlucky to get waves at that time, it would just be the last day that I'd be crossing in the late afternoon. Worst case if it's not passable I can take shelter at one of the campsites nearby.

Is it just 1 small section of the portage that gives the bad reputation, or is the whole 2.3km nasty?

Curious if it's like the 3km from Manitou into Three Mile, where the first 100m or so is straight uphill but then otherwise really flat and easy.

Or if the whole thing is just rolling hills.
 

Last edited by trippythings (6/05/2020 3:39 pm)


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6/05/2020 4:05 pm  #4


Re: Talk to me about Unicorn Hill

I am doing a similar route with my group in about 6 weeks.  We are planning on single carrying but may need to change our plans.  I'd like to know about that portage as well.  

I don't like repeating the same trail/path if possible so on the way out we are going to stay at Lynx instead of Catfish and then go onto the NIpissing to get back to Cedar.  It avoids that hill at least.  

 

6/05/2020 4:39 pm  #5


Re: Talk to me about Unicorn Hill

Unicorn Hill is not difficult. Leap frog your gear when it's over you will wonder what all the fuss was about.

 

6/05/2020 5:01 pm  #6


Re: Talk to me about Unicorn Hill

trippythings wrote:

Is it just 1 small section of the portage that gives the bad reputation, or is the whole 2.3km nasty?

 
Honestly man, the 'hill' is just one section, probably a few hundred meters long at best - and there are benches at the top to rest at. MartinG nailed it above, when it's over you'll wonder what all the fuss is about.

 

6/05/2020 5:34 pm  #7


Re: Talk to me about Unicorn Hill

I double carried it a couple years back. It ate up time, but honestly the worst part was the bugs. I’d say it’s worth it. You could come out along the Nip if you really didn’t want to repeat it at the end.

 

6/05/2020 5:34 pm  #8


Re: Talk to me about Unicorn Hill

Peek and MartinG are both right on.  It's a longish portage all right, but not a nasty trail - the worst thing is that it goes up and up and up in the most frustrating way.  Most of it is not particularly steep. I've done it quite a few times over the years in both directions, first time in 1975.  Last time was 2015, and I'd do it again if my back and knees weren't starting to fall apart.

The portage from Lynx to the NIpissing is the same hill but going down (mostly a better trail, though).

If you want a real hill, try the portage from St. Andrews Lake to Tarn Lake.  Nearly 5 km long, with climb of more than a hundred metres, and down almost the same, for a net gain in elevation of less than 30 metres.  

And yes, the wind can whip up some mighty waves on Cedar.  If the surf's up, it's best to just wait till things calm down.

Last edited by dcmcelroy (6/05/2020 5:35 pm)

 

6/05/2020 6:00 pm  #9


Re: Talk to me about Unicorn Hill

There's a canoe rest at the top of the hill and a cleared area with benches -- party central.
The last time I did it I was 70; Diana somewhat less.  Yeah we were a little winded but no big deal.  For a young guy, just do it!  And on the return leg of your trip towards Cedar, you won't even notice it.  (Well, maybe just a little when you return empty to pick up your second load.)
(Oops, I didn't notice Diana posting ahead of me.)

Last edited by rgcmce (6/05/2020 6:02 pm)

 

6/05/2020 6:33 pm  #10


Re: Talk to me about Unicorn Hill

I'm going to get myself in trouble here; a slight pedantic correction to Diana's statement that the first time she did unicorn hill was in 1975.  In fact when we did that portage in 1975 -- on 2 separate trips actually -- we didn't go up unicorn hill.  In those days, the portage went all the way to Narrowbag Lake and it was about 500m longer.  But the route did not go up unicorn hill.  The portage was rerouted to it's modern configuration sometime in the late '70s.  So the first time we encountered unicorn hill was a few years later.  (But if you go back even further to when there was an intact dam at the outlet of Narrowbag Lake, I believe the portage did go up unicorn hill.)
But before the internet came along and we started reading about unicorn hill, we didn't realize how hard it was supposed to be.  There is something to be said about going on trips without any idea about what you would be encountering.

 

6/05/2020 7:31 pm  #11


Re: Talk to me about Unicorn Hill

Thanks for the feedback everyone. Seems like I should suck it up and just do it and enjoy the week in that area.


AlgonquinLakes wrote:

I double carried it a couple years back. It ate up time, but honestly the worst part was the bugs. I’d say it’s worth it. You could come out along the Nip if you really didn’t want to repeat it at the end.

I'd most likely be going in mid-September so hopefully bugs won't still be hanging around.

Did you go south from Catfish to Hogan? Are those portages marked on the old Jeff's Maps "very buggy" like it says?




dcmcelroy wrote:

If you want a real hill, try the portage from St. Andrews Lake to Tarn Lake.  Nearly 5 km long, with climb of more than a hundred metres, and down almost the same, for a net gain in elevation of less than 30 metres.  

Reminds me of the 2km from Grace to Carmichael that I did last summer in Killarney PP. Goes from 251m (Grace) to 267m (Carmichael) with a peak of 339m... so 88 up then 72 down, over the course of 2km. It was so gradual though that I really didn't find it bad at all. I was with my girlfriend so thankfully didn't need to double carry
 

Last edited by trippythings (6/05/2020 7:32 pm)


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6/05/2020 7:53 pm  #12


Re: Talk to me about Unicorn Hill

trippythings wrote:

...I was with my girlfriend so thankfully didn't need to double carry
 

 That’s funny. I always remember when ever I went with my wife I always ended up carrying more than when I went solo.

I’ve encountered many steep portages in the park and they have never been a big deal. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and you’ll keep moving, even if it’s a little slower going uphill. What would really worry me is a portage so steep that you couldn’t climb up or you’d slip back for lack of traction. I sometimes encounter that in my local woods when it’s icy or muddy and it really sucks to have to crawl up the hill on all fours. Haven’t experienced that yet in Algonquin but I did once look at, in passing, the 45 m portage on the Islet Lake railway embankment. Jeff recommends 30 minutes+ to traverse that.

Last edited by solos (6/05/2020 7:54 pm)

 

6/05/2020 8:13 pm  #13


Re: Talk to me about Unicorn Hill

solos wrote:

trippythings wrote:

...I was with my girlfriend so thankfully didn't need to double carry
 

 That’s funny. I always remember when ever I went with my wife I always ended up carrying more than when I went solo.

We bring a tiny bit more... but there's still only one canoe and one tent, so the load per person goes down dramatically. It's about 90-100lbs total when I'm solo (with all gear, food, boat, etc.) and only 20-30lbs more when she comes. So the load goes from >70% bodyweight, to <50%. And this year I'll probably have an extra 10-15lbs in camera gear as well.
 


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6/05/2020 8:15 pm  #14


Re: Talk to me about Unicorn Hill

solos wrote:

What would really worry me is a portage so steep that you couldn’t climb up or you’d slip back for lack of traction. I sometimes encounter that in my local woods when it’s icy or muddy and it really sucks to have to crawl up the hill on all fours. Haven’t experienced that yet in Algonquin but I did once look at, in passing, the 45 m portage on the Islet Lake railway embankment. Jeff recommends 30 minutes+ to traverse that.

I've had a few of those moments in Killarney but I can't recall anything in Algonquin that steep that I've personally been through.

Muddy is another story though, it doesn't even have to be that steep, but if it's wet/muddy I'll always be extra cautious.
 


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6/05/2020 9:54 pm  #15


Re: Talk to me about Unicorn Hill

solos wrote:

What would really worry me is a portage so steep that you couldn’t climb up or you’d slip back for lack of traction. I sometimes encounter that in my local woods when it’s icy or muddy and it really sucks to have to crawl up the hill on all fours. Haven’t experienced that yet in Algonquin but I did once look at, in passing, the 45 m portage on the Islet Lake railway embankment. Jeff recommends 30 minutes+ to traverse that.

Often on steepest uphills one can drag the boat by a painter. But the real danger is falling backwards while carrying a heavy backpack - if there's nothing behind to break the fall then you are in trouble! Of course Unicorn hill is not in this league. It's not even steep enough to deserve a name, just longish.

 

6/06/2020 6:27 am  #16


Re: Talk to me about Unicorn Hill

If you don't want to hit it twice, why not go out through Philips/Madawaska/Radiant?  As mentioned, you have probably carried on trails that are not much different, this one just has a nickname. 

 

6/06/2020 11:10 am  #17


Re: Talk to me about Unicorn Hill

I portaged Unicorn Hill in 2018.  Part of a ten day solo trip.  Did the double carry and it wasn't a big deal.  Sipping some Whiskey by the fire on Catfish at the end of the day was a nice reward.

 

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