Algonquin Park – Canoe Trip: A True Confession

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Let me start by saying, “this has been one busy summer and it’s only the beginning part of August!”

Since returning from Prince Edward Island at the end of June, we’ve continued hiking the Bruce Trail in the Beaver Valley; dealt with flooding in Lynn’s parent’s basement; visited with our daughter in Kitchener(who is now moving to Halifax); hiked in Orangeville; and made three trips to Algonquin Park.

None of which includes getting up at 3 am most days to head off to work.

Okay, I have a confession to make. It deals with how incredibly slow I’ve become as I’ve gotten older. Hang on for a minute and you’ll understand why.

Over the years, Lynn and I have done a number of canoe trips throughout Algonquin Park. About 4 years ago, our old Langford canoe met an untimely demise one winter. You can read about it here “Katie and the Old Girl.”

I sort of thought one day in the future after we buy a new canoe, we can head out once again and start doing some backcountry trips. This is where the incredibly slow part comes in. At no point in the past few years did it occur to me that, “hey you’ve got the gear…why not just rent a canoe.”

My next and hopefully last confession has to deal with Tom Thomson and a weekend of envy combined with a somewhat poopy attitude. It’s the “poopy attitude” that kind of kick-started the canoe trip planning.

Backstory……..with the 100th anniversary of the death of Tom Thomson occurring on July 8(and it also being a weekend), Algonquin was full of activities marking the anniversary of his death.

A good friend and fellow blogger Joyce @gooutside.live, had headed north to Algonquin over that weekend partake in many of these activities. As she posted just a few pictures of what she was doing and seeing…..my weekend spiralled into something like…

  • wow, that’s neat; have a great time
  • she’s so lucky
  • oh..neat speaker..wish I was there
  • why can’t I be there
  • why do I have to work
  • why can’t we go canoe tripping
  • we’ll never get to go again
  • life sucks….my life is terrible
  • hope it rains
  • hope the bugs are bad
  • hope she slips in the water and gets soaked
  • and so on……

Ok, so it wasn’t exactly like that, but I did really feel we were missing out.

Tom Thomson, his life and art I find fascinating and like many of you, I follow @TTLastSpring on twitter. I so wanted to be there in Algonquin on that Saturday and the whole weekend.

Unfortunately, my current work crew has me working weekends, but with 2.5 days off during the week. So, we tend to miss most if not all things that happen on weekends.

But I, like all of us, have that little voice that speaks up some times. Mine said, “Stop acting like a 4 year who is in desperate need of a time-out or worse. Act your age and figure out something here.”

Not wanting a time-out or worse, an idea sort of popped into my mind. Why not simply rent a canoe and do a canoe trip?

What a revelation eh?

With all this confession behind us, let’s get on to the actual trip.

I do feel better confessing though!

With some switching of shifts at work, I managed to make my 2.5 days off into 3 full days off; Wednesday August 2 to Friday August 3.

My first crack at planning was to leave the Canoe Lake access point and go to Burnt Island Lake. After checking estimated travel times using “Jeff’s Map”, I kind of felt that over 12km of paddling and several portages might be a bit ambitious, seeing as we hadn’t been tripping for a number of years and would have Katie with us this time.

I settled then on a less ambitious route and distance. Leave the Canoe Lake access point and head to Tepee Lake with distance of between 7 and 8 km.

With a destination in mind, I headed over to the Ontario Parks reservation service website entered in the appropriate information and within a few minutes made and confirmed our trip:

  • Enter Access 5(Canoe Lake) – Wednesday, August 2
  • Tepee Lake(Wednesday, August 2 and Thursday, August 3
  • Exit Access 5 (Canoe Lake) – Friday, August 4

Seeing as we needed to rent a canoe and a couple of other pieces of gear, my next call was to Algonquin Outfitters. I had some concern on the availability of some items, given it was leading up to the August Civic Holiday long weekend. But, after a quick chat with Becky at the Oxtongue Lake store, I secured:

  • 16 foot Swift Algonquin(Kevlar)
  • dog pfd
  • 60L barrel

The best part of all of this was the canoe would be delivered to the Canoe Lake access point the day before we left and for free. Bonus!

After nailing down the reservation and equipment rentals, I spent the next week doing all the nitty-gritty bits including, gear lists, food ideas and general packing.

Getting home from work the day before leaving, we spent the early evening packing the gear up, checking to make sure we had everything and then took the rest of the night to relax.

Up early on Wednesday, we retrieved our food from the fridge, packed the car, put Katie in her regular spot in the back seat. I did a quick check of the anticipated weather, noted that there could be thunderstorms Wednesday afternoon. Then we where off on our adventure just after 8:30am.

Our only stop along the way was Algonquin Outfitters to complete the paperwork for the gear rentals and to get the pfd for Katie, the 60L barrel and a spare paddle. This took about 15 minutes and then off again on Highway 60 to the Canoe Lake Permit office.

When we arrived at Canoe Lake, the neither the access or permit office was very busy. After quickly getting our permit and retrieving our canoe from where it was delivered(which was right at the access point…did I say bonus!), we packed up the barrel; loaded the canoe; parked our car and where on the water before noon.

A somewhat blurry picture(by me) of Lynn organizing stuff at Canoe Lake.

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A quick selfie.

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As the above picture shows, the Canoe Lake was calm, no breeze and smooth as glass. In about an hour though, this was all about to change.

As I mentioned earlier, I had checked the weather forecasts for the time we where to be tripping. They forecasted a chance of thunderstorms late Wednesday afternoon and again on Friday.

Well, let me confirm that they were correct.

When we arrived, you could see large thunder-heads off in the far distance, so you knew that something was likely to occur at some point in the afternoon.

As we passed between the two islands on Canoe Lake housing the facilities for Camp Wapomeo, you could hear thunder rumbling in the distance. As the thunder rumbled away, dark and ominous clouds kept inching closer.

At this point, I told Lynn we where going to start to move closer to shore in case lightning started.

Sure enough, within about 30 minutes the wind picked up, the lake got choppy and was immediately followed by a couple of flashes of lightning over the hills on the mainland behind Camp Wapomeo.

I forcefully told Lynn we where going to get off the water and take shelter at one of the last cottages prior to the sign that points you to either Potter Creek or Joe Lake.

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Source: Google Images

By the time we got to the cottage(no one was home), we where in a dandy thunderstorm. Lynn grabbed Katie and her camera equipment and got out of the storm up at the cottage, while I secured the canoe.

At this point, people where getting off the water and sheltering wherever they could. The storm lasted for about 45 minutes to maybe an hour. And as quickly as it started it was over.

We re-loaded our stuff, got Katie back in her spot and headed off again. A wonderful lady from the cottage next to where we sheltered came out after the storm, waved us over to see if we where okay. We replied that all was good, just a little damp; well a lot damp is a better description. We chat for a brief moment and then headed up the lake towards the Joe Lake portage.

After re-starting, the weather turned quite nice. Although, all of the gear was dry, both Lynn and I where completely soaked. The storm had come up so fast, that even though I managed to get my rain jacket on……still soaked.

But, the sun came out; the water was calm and I started to think, “Hey, I might actually dry out here.” However, as we where about to find out, the weather gods had a different idea in mind.

Lynn with Katie(she’s there someplace) at the Joe Lake portage.

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After getting our stuff across the portage between Canoe and Joe Lakes, we heard that intoxicating distinct rumbling sound again. I tried my best to convince myself that is was the rumble of a ghost train from years ago.

Nope, that wasn’t it.

The storm after the storm decided to make an appearance. I told Lynn that we should wait this one out here, instead of being out on the water if we got hit again.

As the thunder clanged away in the distance, it started to rain but not overly hard. A few trippers, who obviously come off Canoe Lake and the previous storm and looking just a bit unravelled so to speak, trucked across the portage and decided to head out from that point.

To sort of emphasize the concept that caution may be a better policy than potentially heading into the eye of storm, a park warden showed up inquiring if we had seen the canoeists who had tipped. He had a report that they were fine and had been rescued, but was somewhat concerned about their safety and well-being and wanted to find them to ensure they were alright.

As he headed down the portage talking to others to see if they had seen them, I pulled out a small tarp; Lynn got her rain gear on; I got my rain jacket on; I positioned the canoe over the gear; Lynn and Katie pulled the tarp over themselves; I pulled the hood up on my rain jacket and we waited.

The rain lasted for about 45 minutes and fortunately the storm wasn’t as bad as the first one. At one point it looked the storm had passed in that there was blue sky……blue sky I say!

As I put the canoe in the water and start to load up to continue on, guess what happened?

Yup, it started to rain yet again. So, back under the tarp for Lynn and Katie; I flipped my hood up once again; we all sat back down and waited.

In about 15 minutes, it was all clear, the sun came out and we where off once more. From this point on, it turned into a beautiful afternoon

The water was calm; the sun was shining and the paddle up the Western Gap between Joe Island and the mainland and then up through Tepee Lake was as enjoyable as one could get. The kids from Camp Arowhon appeared to be having a grand time on Tepee Lake, sail boarding and whipping around in their sail boats.

The sites that are reservable under Tepee Lake are technically at the north end of the lake on the Little Oxtongue River. After scoping out the vacant ones, we chose the last one on the west shore before you get to Faya Lake. It was a grand open spot, situated on a slight point.

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After unloading the canoe, I checked the time. Just after 5pm.

We got camp set up made some dinner and relaxed for the rest of the evening.

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Actually, I guess I have one more confession. Before hanging the barrel and pack for the night, I though it a good idea to collect a bit more water to treat from the middle of the lake. Less chance of “floaty stuff” out there as compared to right at shore.

Now, our site didn’t have the best landing area for the canoe. You kind of had to go down a very short, but steep little rock face into the water. Once I got the water bottles filled I came back in and handed them to Lynn. In order to hand them to Lynn though, I needed TWO hands. In using TWO hands, that meant no hands on the canoe.

As I finished handing the water to Lynn, she calmly suggested I turn around and take a look at where our canoe was headed.

Yup, with a mind of its own, it float off into the evening. The resulting picture I feel needs no additional explanation.

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Next morning, we or at least I awoke to a very moody Algonquin. Gone was the sun and clear skies and was replaced by this. A wonderful, but surreal fog and mist had rolled in.

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After breakfast, we kind of lounged around the camp site more or less taking it easy. At some point mid-morning, Lynn decided that a quick swim might be order to wash some of the dirt and grime away.

As she headed to put her feet in and take “the plunge”, I was immediately regaled with a barage of four-letter words and phrases, non of which can be repeated here.

After a series of “holy wtf’s”, it appears we had a visitor.

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Seeing as any attempt to have a quick swim were dashed, naturally Lynn responded by grabbing her camera and “snapping” away.

As early afternoon settled upon us, we decided to head out in the canoe and explore the area north of us up into Little Doe Lake.

After only paddling for a few minutes, we came upon this “little guy.”

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We continued a leisurely paddle into Little Doe Lake at which time Lynn indicated she was feeling tired and wanted to head back to our site.

An hour or so later we made it back to camp, and by now I was getting the sense that Lynn wasn’t feeling well at all. She pulled her sleeping bag of the tent, unfolded the tarp Katie had and both of them promptly fall asleep.

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I made some lunch for myself and spent the rest of the afternoon canoe watching and reading.

After having dinner around 7 and getting things tidied up, Lynn said she didn’t feel well, in fact felt worse. I hung the barrel and pack for the night and we both crawled into the tent before 8:30.

Around 1:00 am Lynn awoke exceedingly sick, and running a fever. Thinking it might be her sinuses, I gave her some sinus medication, but she indicated she was also very thirsty. I got her a bottle of water I had treated; she took a couple of gulps and tried to go back to sleep.

Prior to hitting the sack that night, I found we had a very weak phone signal, but it was enough to check the weather. I wasn’t shocked when the forecast for the area indicated rain and strong winds on Friday. Several times during the night I was woken up by the sound of the wind rushing through the forest.

I got up about 6:30 am after a somewhat restless night to find another moody Algonquin and the winds blowing right into my face; which was the direction we were needing to go. I wasn’t sure how Lynn was feeling yet, but my mind was racing to figure out if it might even be possible to paddle by myself with a fully loaded canoe, dog and sick wife for up to 4 to 5 hours into a strong headwind.

My mind had even gone to the spot of, “if I have enough of a signal I could text a friend to see if they could come and help.” Mentioning this to them after we returned, they said, “absolutely I would have come.” Isn’t that great!

Seeing several parties canoe by it gave me some thought that with careful and slow progress we might be okay. I got Lynn up around 7:30 and she said she thought might have been dehydrated, but felt better than she did 12 hours before.

So, after several coffees and quick breakfast of oatmeal, we packed up; loaded the canoe and headed out.

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As we pushed off, it didn’t take long to get the full impact of paddling into the headwinds. I do admit though, they weren’t as bad as I originally thought they might be. Even Tepee Lake was generally not too bad. Yes, we paddled into a headwind, but a slow and steady pace brought us to the Canoe Lake portage after about an hour and a half or so.

I know that up through Canoe Lake is considered the “canoe trip highway”, but having never been here on the start of a long weekend I wasn’t really prepared for the parking lot of canoes and absence of etiquette at the portage landing.

Not to go off on some rant, but we were met with a large family group who thought it prudent to have semi-unloaded their canoes; sort of move their stuff 10 feet; but leave their canoes completely block the landing; all the while standing together discussing nothing in particular.

A pair of experienced trippers had just unloaded before us, saw us approaching and quickly moved their canoe and gear to try to create some more space. The four of us sort of looked at each other; gave a bit of a sigh and politely asked the family if they could move their canoe’s so we could land.

After getting our stuff moved out-of-the-way, it become evident to me that Lynn was trying her best, but not feeling well was starting to take a bit of a toll on her. She picked up something small and with Katie in tow, headed across the portage to the Canoe Lake end at which point she found a spot and flopped down.

After making “several passes” across the portage I finally got everything over, we loaded up and headed off Canoe Lake.

One thing that shocked me and Lynn to a great extent was the blatant disregard many incoming parties had for the interior can and bottle ban. Full cases of water; beer cans; glass bottles; you name it; it was all coming across the portage.

We started out onto Canoe Lake and where immediately met with headwinds two to three times stronger than earlier on and accompanied at times with very strong wind gusts.

Lynn by this point was sort of operating on auto-pilot. I told her not to think about the access point, which we couldn’t even see, but to just focus on getting to the next point of land; the next cottage or whatever. Kind of little goals that she could easily see and focus on.

I mentioned to her later that I though she had fallen asleep at one point. She said, “I didn’t really fall asleep, I just closed my eyes and sort of dozed in the seat, making a paddle stroke every minute or so.” It might not be the best technique out there, but it worked!

By this time, although slow, we where making decent progress given the paddling conditions. Along the way we passed scores of canoes heading in for the long weekend.

One thing we both noticed was that over half of the people we saw Friday on our way out did not have pfd’s on. I bet we saw between 50 to 75 people(likely more) on the water heading to the interior from the time we left our site until we got off the water at the Canoe Lake permit office.

I had been watching the sky and knew that by mid to late afternoon all hell would break loose weather-wise again. Given the strong winds; the rolling water which at times broke into small white caps, we found it almost criminal that people would make the decision not to wear a pfd.

Lynn commented that she thought the more experienced canoe trippers had pfd’s on, while the “weekenders” perhaps felt pfd’s were unnecessary. How she picked out the “experienced canoe trippers” I’m not sure, but we had no trouble picking out the “weekenders.”

Regardless of the reasons, the number of people both young and old not wearing pfd’s was shocking.

Rant done.

We where getting close, although I couldn’t yet see the Portage Store or the access point. I knew we had one more point to come around and once we saw the access point and Permit Office things would be okay.

Funny thing, no one bothered to mention any of this to Mother Nature. By this time, the sky had started to get very dark and foreboding to the west of us. The situation didn’t really didn’t make us feel much better when we heard that ever sweet sound of thunder rolling across the hills.

Just to make the point of who was still in charge, Mother Nature then decided to open up the heavens one more time. By this point, Katie had enough of the rain and figured that loud whimpering combined with trying to get under Lynn’s canoe seat was the best plan for her.

I could see the Portage Store and access point by this time, so we just dug in a bit more and made a strong push to get done and off the water. Luckily, the rain only last for about 20 minutes.

About 500 metres or so from the access point the rain stopped; the sun came out and the water became flat and very calm. I told Lynn she could stop paddling and within a few minutes we slid into the sand at the Canoe Lake access.

Once we landed, I unloaded the barrel and got our phones and Lynn’s camera equipment out. As I walked up to the parking lot to get our car, I turned my phone on and was met with a dozen severe weather warnings for Algonquin Park, Huntsville and area that had just been issued.

I think we landed at the access point around 1:45pm or so, which wasn’t bad considering the circumstances.

While unloading the canoe, I asked Lynn to give us a pose for one last picture.

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I think this is how she really felt!

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After loading the car with our gear, we finished the trip as we started ……with a selfie.

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In hind sight, that calm and sun we paddled the last 500 metres in should have been a warning for what was about to come. The next picture was taken just after 2 pm. At 3 pm the Portage Store tweeted a photo of a potential funnel cloud seen out over Canoe Lake.

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Just as we got into the car, I noticed a police boat just out from here about 100 metres or so going up to canoes as they were leaving. Maybe they were informing folks of the severe weather warning(which included the potential for the formation of funnel clouds)? Not sure though.

We got us a coffee to go from the Portage Store; Lynn changed into dry pants and we headed off down Highway 60, leaving the park to drop off the barrel, Katie’s pfd and spare paddle at Algonquin Outfitters.

After dropping the stuff off and having a long look at all the gear we could lighten our bank account with at AO, we gave up a poor sad sigh; got Katie back into her spot in the car and drove headlong into the storm of biblical proportions that hit Huntsville, Bracebridge and area that afternoon.

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We arrived back in Midland between 5 and 6pm I think. Both of us where tired, damp, kind of smelly, but overjoyed by the entire experience.

I”ve been asked that given the weather and other challenges, how was the trip.

The trip was one of, if not the best canoe trip I’ve ever been on. Yes, the weather was slightly cranky at times, but so what… you deal with it. Lynn getting sick was obviously not planned, but she gutted it out, didn’t complain and felt good that she held her own for the most part on the way back in.

We both faced challenges; we didn’t freak out or lose our cool; we made good and safe decisions; all of which resulted in one excellent and might I just add….epic adventure.

For me, it was just what the doctor ordered. There has been much tweeted and sent out over social media regarding the health benefits, both physical and mental, of spending time outdoors.

I came back with my soul re-filled and re-fueled. As a fellow blogger said just before we went, ” a bad day in camp is always better than a good day at work.”

Yes, it is….it most certainly is!

And besides all of that, we had a hell of a great time!

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Algonquin Park – Canoe Trip: A True Confession

  1. Pingback: A Day Trip to Visit with Tom – justabitfurther

  2. Pingback: The 100th Post – justabitfurther

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