Sunday, August 28, 2011

2011 Algonquin Provincial Park


The beauty of Algonquin Park
For the second consecutive year, I enjoyed a week of canoe camping with my 16 year old son Calvin. We returned to the same general area as our previous trip, but our route would take us to places I've never been to before.

In order to  to allow others to follow my progress and to provide my spouse some piece of mind, I brought along a SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger. You can see how our trip went by clicking on the following link: Algonquin 2011 - Spot Adventure

Day 1 - Magnetawan Lake to Queer Lake
Nighttime approaches
With a planned late arrival at the access point, we quickly loaded up the canoe and headed out. Two hours later, we were setting up camp. We collected firewood, filtered water and cooked dinner before nightfall.

Day 2 - Queer Lake to Shippagew Lake via Tim River
This was planned to be a long day. Even so, the day was longer than expected. The Tim River has a reputation for being twisty and slow.

Discouraging, but accurate, commentary
The day began with a 1330 meter portage. In Algonquin, each portage is marked with a yellow sign indicating the body of water on each end, along with the length of the portage. The sign for this portage also had some editorial comment, which had Calvin saying, "That doesn't sound promising." Unfortunately, the commentary was right on the money.

Starting from the Queer Lake portage, there were two beaver dams right away. The second one had effectively choked off the water beyond it and we found ourselves doing a lot of wading. The river bottom in this section was mostly sandy, so it wasn't miserable, but it was slow. After this point, water levels weren't much an issue.

The twists and turns made for some slow paddling, which I expected. What I neglected to consider was how slow the travel would be in the "straighter" sections of the river. There were a lot of weeds, which also made for slow going. It took an effort just to get the paddles into the water.

Shoreline erosion at our Shippagew Lake campsite
After seven long hours, we arrived at our campsite on Shippagew Lake. As we set up the tent, it started to rain a bit. Thankfully, the rain was brief and we had an enjoyable night sitting around the campfire.

For the day, we only saw one other canoe and they were bailing out on a day trip to the first campsite past the portage from Queer Lake after they saw the really low water. We had Shippagew to ourselves.

Despite the difficulty, I enjoyed paddling the Tim River. We saw a bull moose and more great blue herons than we could count.

Day 3 - Shippagew Lake to Burntroot Lake
The day started when I was awoken by an incoming thunderstorm at 6:00 AM. In the east, I could see a brilliant red/orange sunrise. In the west, the skies were dark with flashes of lightning. I quickly double-checked to make sure everything was secure and went back to sleep.

When I crawled out of the tent two hours later, it was a bright sunny day. I spent the rest of the morning lounging in the sun, reading a book as Calvin continued his slumber. After breakfast, we broke camp and headed out for a relatively short day. We quickly realized that we were still feeling the after effects of the previous day.

A short paddle brought us to our first portage, which turned out to be a 1460m beast. The trail was rugged and hilly. There were long sections where you had to walk across moss-covered rocks to get over some swampy areas. With the morning rain, everything was very slick, especially those rocks.

Checking out some suspicious-looking paddlers
After surviving the portage, we started paddling up the aptly named Longer Lake. The upper part of this lake narrows dramatically into a grassy, marshy area before flowing into a river. This is one of my favorite areas in the park.

As we made our way through the channel in the marsh, Calvin spotted a moose. I quickly grabbed my camera and we moved closer to get some pictures. For a long period of time, this large bull moose munched away on the plants, occasionally glancing our way to make certain we were no threat.

We left the moose to enjoy his lunch and continued to the shortest portage of our trip - 40 meters around an impassible set of rapids. We enjoyed some raspberries, which Calvin discovered, and continued on to Burntroot Lake.

Burntroot Sunset
We chose to stay at a nice island campsite, the same one we used last year. After setting up camp, we settled into our normal routine - playing Gin and Mille Bornes. As nighttime approached, I enjoyed the sunset while Calvin scoured the shoreline searching for frogs. 

Day 4 - Rest Day on Burntroot Lake
As usual, I awoke early while Calvin slept. Immediately after making my coffee, I set up my hammock in the morning sun and spent the morning alternately reading, napping and sipping on coffee. It was heaven.

Root cellar on Burntroot Lake
Since this was a rest day, we planned to do a little bit of exploring. On last year's trip, we went to the top end  of the lake where the map indicated that there was a root cellar. After searching for half an hour, we couldn't find it. We vowed to be successful this year, even if it took all day.

We put ashore and started our search. After a grueling 30-second search, we found the root cellar, stunned at our ineptitude of the year before.

After returning to our campsite, we rested up for what was planned to be our longest day of the trip.

Day 5 - Burntroot Lake to Otterslide Lake
This day started like the previous day - I was relaxing in my hammock as Calvin slept. There were more clouds in the sky, so it wasn't quite as warm. Since we had a long day ahead of us, I woke Calvin up early at 9:30.

While packing up, we noticed that the western skies were darkening. We loaded up the canoe and pushed off with lightning and obvious rain in the distance. We were traveling south toward brighter skies, so we were optimistic. Our optimism turned into misery in just ten minutes. The rain started falling hard and the lightning and thunder turned more ominous. Before long, we pulled ashore to wait out the worst of it.

Although we were soaked, I pulled out the rain jackets to make sure we stayed warm enough. After the worst of the lightning had passed, we resumed our journey. We made it five minutes before it started raining even harder than before. Silently, we paddled on.

A mother and her offspring
At one of the first portages, we again waited out the lightning and heavy rain. Calvin was very quiet and miserable. With the rain letting up, we began our paddle down Longer Lake. Within minutes, heavy rain started again and Longer Lake never seemed so long.

At the next portage, we encountered a father and son standing under the trees. They looked like we felt. Trying to lighten the mood, I asked if it was drier on the other side of the portage. The father laughed and the son continued looking miserable.

Next, something amazing happened. It actually was drier on the other side of the portage. The skies had turned much brighter and the rest of the day was dry. Our miserable day had turned around.

Later in the day, as we were loading the canoe after a portage, Calvin spotted another moose. This one was a cow and was wading in the water nearby. We quietly watched when suddenly Calvin spotted a second moose - this one a calf. It was amazing how our day had turned around.

It wasn't to last, though. After eating, the skies grew dark again and we were chased to our tent for the rest of the night.

Day 6 - Otterslide Lake to Tom Thomson Lake
It rained most of the night, but thankfully, it stopped by morning. The skies were still gray and ominous, which put a damper on our mood. Our spirits didn't brighten as it started to rain in our first hour of paddling. The rain didn't last long and we paddled happily under overcast skies.

Gray skies on Otterslide Lake
We stopped at an island campsite on Burnt Island Lake for lunch. While we were there, the skies cleared and we had a wonderful lunch sitting in the sun on a large rock. It made us forget about the foul weather we had endured. Fortunately, we couldn't see the western skies or it would have put a damper on our enjoyment.

After lunch, the winds were starting to kick up and we had to work much harder to make progress. Our campsite on Tom Thomson was on the tip of a peninsula, but was nicely sheltered from the wind. It was dry while we set up camp, but it wasn't long before the rain started again. There were some tall pine trees over the campfire ring, so were sheltered from much of the rain. Eventually, though, we were chased into our tent again without a campfire.

Although we ended up with a good day, it wasn't without its disappointments. Being somewhat close to the Highway 60 Corridor, we were traveling over some of the most heavily used sections of the park. We saw more people on this day than we had up to this point. We also saw signs of the heavy use. At the first portage, I picked up more garbage than we had accumulated ourselves. It was appalling to see. On other portages, I saw more garbage. At the campsite on Tom Thomson, it was even worse. I picked up a dozen zip ties that people had used and just left on the ground when they left. Trees were hacked with hatchets and stripped of their bark. When looking for firewood, we came across a pile of garbage that included styrofoam cups. It was depressing and I probably won't ever travel to this section of the park again.

Day 7 - Tom Thomson Lake to Magnetawan Lake
A welcome sight - clear skies
After two days of rain, we had decided the night before that we'd make a push for the car. This meant that we would need to combine two days of travel into one. It would be a challenge since it meant 18 miles of travel with ten portages covering 3.5 miles. We were confident we could do it even though the furthest we had traveled in a day was 14 miles. If we were on the water by 8:00, I thought we could make the car by 2:00.

Even though it had rained most of the night, we awoke to clear skies. We packed up and were on the water by 8:30. Unlike the rest of the trip, the winds were blowing strong and were in a direction that meant we'd be paddling into the wind for most of the day.

Amazing view on Timberwolf Lake
After tackling a difficult 2400 meter portage, we arrived on Ink Lake. This is a small lake surrounded by marshes. It wasn't long before we discovered the origin of the name. The water was so dark with tannin, you could barely see your paddle in the water. Calvin described it as paddling in red wine.

At one portage, Calvin refused to get out of the canoe. He said there was a giant spider. I couldn't see it, so I assumed he was exaggerating. Once I saw it, I realized that he wasn't. This thing was about three inches across. I moved the canoe to a different spot so Calvin could disembark.

After our third portage and fourth lake, Calvin asked me if we were at least making good time. I felt we were, but it was hard to know for certain. We still had a long way to go, including a river that would have a number of beaver dams. We pressed on, determined "to have dinner on a plate," as Calvin said

On the river, we encountered a couple of beaver dams. We had seen many on this trip and were experts at getting our canoe over them. The second one was very tall with about a 2-3 foot drop. As we were crossing this one, we saw a beaver. With all the evidence of beaver activity, this was the first one we'd seen on our trip.

Looking back at Misty Lake
After our river travel, we were tiring somewhat, but we were in the home stretch. At one of the last portages, after I hoisted the canoe onto my shoulders, Calvin gave me a single blueberry, which he had found. I said with a laugh, "Thanks, that will get me to finish line."

Before long, we were paddling across the last lake and arrived at the car at 2:30. With the glorious weather we had enjoyed all day, it felt like a mistake to cut our trip a day short. That thought was quickly washed away as a downpour started as we carried the canoe back to the car. We loaded up the car and started the long drive home.

It was another successful trip. We had some good times and some miserable ones. It will be a lifelong memory.

Since writing this bog entry, I've written a related entry, which has more pictures and a complete equipment list.

1 comment:

Dawson brothers Algonquin trips said...

I really enjoyed reading you blog. I look forward to the day that my children are old enough to enjoy a trip like this through Algonquin park.

Grant