Algonquin Park 2002 Canoe Trip - Trip Log

The first part of the trip log is written from the perspective of Jeff Wilson.

Well, my friend Troy and I had never been on a canoe trip before so we decided one day to plan one for a bit of a vacation from the hectic Toronto lifestyle. Since this would be our first canoe trip into Algonquin we chose a small loop for a 3 day trip. The plan was to travel from Access Point 5 North through Canoe and Tepee into Tom Thomson on the first day, then East through Littledoe into Burnt Island on the second day, and Southwest through the Joe's and Canoe back to Access Point 5 on the third day.

Route Map

I think we were looking forward to this trip for about a month. We planned and prepared off and on for a few weeks. The resources on the internet were amazing for helping us determine what to bring and what to leave behind. We tried our best to keep things light because we had a 1140m portage on the second day and we really had no idea if that was considered difficult or not. We would soon discover that it was.

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Monday, August 26, 2002

We departed at 6:00 AM on Monday, August 26, 2002. We figured it was about a 2.5 hour trip from Peterborough, Ontario, where we stayed for a couple of days while we made final preparations. After making a quick pit-stop for my last good coffee for a few days the sun rose to reveal a beautiful and refreshing morning.

The canoe which we had planned to bring with us had been left behind in favor of what we had hoped would be a lighter rental we would grab at the gate. At 9:00 AM we stopped at Algonquin Outfitters and managed to pick up a nice 45 lb canoe.

Here is Troy outside Algonquin Outfitters displaying his gitch through a maximally opened zipper. It became apparent that the cheap Wal-mart pants he had acquired were slightly deficient in that the zipper would just not stay up.

At 9:30 AM after strapping the canoe to the roof of Troy's new car and passing up a $40 bottle of bear spray we were on our way to Access Point 5.

Upon our arrival we found it to be quite busy - at least we thought that a Monday should not be so busy. We unloaded our gear under a perfectly clear blue sky and probably 20 degrees Celsius.

We ate a quick lunch, caked on the sunscreen, loaded up the canoe and at 10:15 AM we were on our way.

We began paddling up through Canoe Lake, all the while feeling a little unsettled in the open water. This was, after all, our first time traveling with a geared up canoe. We were also a little worried about tipping the canoe as you can see our gear was all strapped to the yoke of the canoe :)

Around 12:00 noon we reached this sign. From about here I thought for sure that it said Tom Thomson beside the arrow Left. Without paddling closer for a better look, we made the left and continued paddling until a guy on the roof of a cottage asked us where we were going.

I guess we weren't the first to take a wrong turn at the sign, however I believe he said 80% of people go the correct way. I guess we are in the 20% dummy group.

Throughout the trip, we ended up taking turns in the front and rear of the canoe, but I had started out in the rear. Here I am armed with my camera.

At 12:15 we arrived at our first portage. This would prove to be a painful experience for me. We mistakenly strapped a few things inside the canoe and then I decided to shoulder it for the 295m gravel portage.

This just about killed me. Unfortunately what you can't see here is my face. I look like a baby crying for mommy. I'm pretty sure it would have been easier if we hadn't strapped those things inside the canoe.

I think another mistake I made was that because I wanted it to end faster, I almost jogged with that thing on my shoulders. This caused the bottom of the canoe to bump up and down quite hard. I sure sound like a whiner. Well, next time I try this I will make sure NOTHING is strapped inside the canoe, and I will take my time. We saw other people portaging this way taking their time strolling along with no problems at all. Lesson learned. During another portage later in the trip, we saw a man who had the metal frame of his backpack extended up to form a 'Y' above each shoulder which fit the canoe yolk and shifted the weight of the canoe onto his backpack framework (something we didn't know existed, and we might look into for the next trip).

Just look at how busy this portage was. I guess this one in particular gets the most use simply because it is common to many routes that people take. Indeed, after this portage we never saw this many people in the same place at once again.

We were back on our way at 1:00 PM.

We saw some beautiful scenery on our way up through Tepee Lake including a nice blue heron just after Tepee Lake.

We also managed to treat 2 liters of water from Tepee Lake as we paddled along. It tasted a little like chemicals but it was a small price to pay to avoid having giardia swimming around in my colon.

We also saw some kids from one of the nearby camps jumping off a rock cliff. Those kids have more nerve than either of us did. I don't think I would jump off that cliff even if paid to do so. Troy said he might do it for the right price, but didn't disclose what that was.

Just before 3:00 PM we came across a beaver dam. What a nice surprise to emphasize the fact that we were in the animals' domain.

As we crossed it at one bank of the creek, we admired the difference in water levels above and below the dam.

At 3:10 PM, we arrived at our first site on Tom Tompson Lake Somehow, even at 6:00 PM, we still hadn't completed setting up camp. While setting up camp we were distracted by the view, the smell, the sounds, and food. We cooked and ate some food, which under most circumstances would have been sub-par, but it tasted damn good to us. We hadn't eaten since 10:00 AM because we were too busy paddling all day long. We were thirsty and hungry and worn out from paddling. We treated half a bag of water as soon as we thought of it. This would last until the morning when we would refill our canteens for the next day's paddling.

Not a raccoon, not a bear, not even the weather or bugs were a problem for us on this night. Instead, the tarp would prove to be our greatest nemesis. It was up at 7:10 PM - we have pictures to prove it. That's correct, it took us about an hour to put up the tarp. Rookies. The biggest contributor to our tarp problems, was the size of the tarp itself (30' x 40'). Our borrowed tarp was much larger than necessary, and we wasted considerable time folding the tarp and trying different size configurations.

We had a beautiful view from our site, but unfortunately no sunset because we were facing NNE.

We enjoyed some wieners at around 8:30 PM, OK, a lot of wieners, cooked slowly on a hand twisted stick rotisserie. This would prove to be the only decent food we would eat this trip.

At 10:00 PM the sky was unbelievable. It had been a long time since I saw so many stars. The moon was about ¾ full and it lit up the landscape quite a bit. I wish the cameras could pick up the stars.

The loons were also calling out to each other under the evening sky. It was stunning and I will remember that for quite a while. It wasn't until after the trip that I realized that I should have recorded a movie with my camera - that would have captured the loon calls which seemed to be only 20 or 30 feet from our shoreline.

We hit the sack around 10:30 PM or so. It was quite windy and our oversized tarp was very noisy with the multiple folded layers flapping together in the wind. Troy figured out a way to anchor it better to avoid the noise. I think the last thing I remember saying before falling asleep was "ohhwww, I'm sore" as I rolled over.

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

We were up at 6:15 AM on Tuesday to the sounds of rippling shoreline waves and loons calling. It was 8 degrees Celcius and we were sore. There was no evidence of animal intrusion during the night. My arms were killing me from the day before and Troy complained about pains from an uncomfortable sleep. Do we sound like a couple of city folk from Toronto or what? Actually, we are both software developers who sit on our keesters all day long at computers for a living, and although we love the outdoors, we just don't get ourselves moving like this too often. The soreness quickly dissipated once we got ourselves moving.

The sun cracked the trees across Tepee Lake at 7:00 AM. We began to cook oatmeal and coffee by the shoreline as the sun rose. It was quite breezy with winds out of the North. The sunrise was a beautiful one.

It was quite enjoyable to sit by the shoreline listening to the sound of only wind, water, and the burner boiling our water.

Here Troy contemplates life.

I'm not sure when we began tearing down camp but we didn't shove off back into Tepee Lake under clear skies until just after 10:00 AM. This would prove to be a mistake.

It seemed like we paddled with the loons all the way to the 1120m Little Doe to Burnt Island portage.

These loons were beautiful. We believe they were fishing. They seemed quite curious to investigate us and our canoe as they seemed to follow us for quite some time. They were talking to each other all the while with their familiar loon call.

We arrived at the entry to the long portage at 11:30 AM.

We intended to use a small notepad to record a trip log with times and details. It was about this point that we realized that our digital cameras, with timestamp, would do that for us and we tried to document as much as we could.

We munched on a load of trail mix and fruit bars to give us the energy to attempt this unknown journey through the shelter of the woods.

The trip log now continues from Troy's perspective, as he took over the keyboard, to give me a break.

After a discussion about how best to tackle the portage, we decided upon the "move pack part way, come back for canoe, move canoe up to packs, and repeat" method. Jeff suggested that I would not enjoy carrying the canoe on my own, so we began by hoisting the canoe over our heads, and heading off into the trees along the trail.

By 12:45 PM, we had managed to get both canoe and packs to a rest stand, which we assumed to be about half way. To be honest, looking back, I have no idea how it took this long to get this far.

It turns out that this was the last picture to be taken for a while. As the day wore on, our need to find a campsite became more important. We reached the end of the portage to reveal Burnt Island Lake. From what I can recall, we discussed making some food here before striking out onto the lake in search of a campsite. I just wanted to get to our destination, while Jeff was thinking the route across the lake, against the headwind would be a little more bearable with some full bellies. As it turns out, I think we were both right. The ride would have lacked a little of the urgency that was present if we hadn't both been hungry, since we elected not to eat. However, as this lake is a large lake, and many of its camping occupants enter and exit the lake from the same end, the campsites closest to the above portage seem to fill up first. A further delay to cook before heading out, would surely have meant an even longer journey against a headwind in order to find an open campsite. As it turned out, it was plenty long enough, not arriving to our campsite of choice until around 4:00 PM.

The first site we landed upon, was a beautiful site, facing southwest and showered in amazing afternoon sunshine. It had a nice rocky shoreline and a well built firepit, complete with large log benches. However, the wind was blowing from the northeast, and this site was well sheltered by a canopy of evergreen trees. The lack of wind must have been the deciding factor, and we were almost amazed at the presence of deer flies. Compared to the site from the night before, which was virtually bug free, this site seemed to have been cursed by a plague of biting insects. Despite our desire to get a sunny site, as well as being hungry and tired, we passed on deer fly alley and launched the canoe in search of something better.

Around 4:00 PM, we decided the second site we came upon was good enough for us. It lacked the evening sun, as it faced east, but like the site from the day before, it was exposed to the wind, and again, we saw virtually no bugs to speak of. Having learned from setup lessons on the previous day, our efforts to get our camp organized were much more efficient, with most of the work done by 4:45 PM.

The evening view to the northeast from our site looked like this, and faced Caroline Island, located just left of center.

We were able to enjoy a little more of the evening, having set things up a little quicker the second time. Around 7:45 PM, we tried different methods of cooking bannock on sticks, with this image showing both the "looks like a wiener" method and the "pancake" method, using our only pot to get the mixture to the right consistency.



Wednesday, August 28, 2002

I awoke to another beautiful morning, cool with a very slight breeze. It seemed Jeff was feeling the effects of the previous days' portage/paddle combination and was a little reluctant to become mobile. The sun had not yet risen, but was about to break, and the morning mist danced across the lake, surrounding the small island to the east of our site.

As I sat quietly on the shore, awaiting the first rays of warming sun, I watched a chipmunk bounce from tree limb to tree limb, dropping seeds from the treetops to the forest floor, where he'd later collect them and disappear down his hole. By 6:45 AM, the sun was peeking over the treetops.

Once the sun broke, I decided to take a small hike around the area. I was able to capture an image of the sun pushing its way through the forest. As I headed inland, I came across the tree where he hung our food bag, for which we used a third smaller pack. Again, this second day revealed no obvious evidence of animal intrusion, although I do recall waking up to something that sounded like digging not too far from the tent. An inspection with a flashlight revealed no cute animals nor gnashing teeth.

With a little more exploring, I found a nice rocky area that overlooked the lake to the east. The sun was up over the trees by 7:06 AM, and this shot provided a slight aerial view of the small island and the edge of Caroline Island at the top left of the frame.

By 7:15 AM, I got back to the site, and started some chores. I collected the food bag from the tree, got some water boiling and made some apple and cinnamon cream of wheat for breakfast, together with a hot cup of apple cider. I soon realized that dipping the spoon into the apple cider before each mouthful, made the cream of wheat even better. The sounds of site activity got Jeff mobile, and I started breaking camp while he made some chow. If you're wondering, the pot we wound up bringing was only really large enough for one meal at a time (we would bring a larger one next time). As I broke camp, Jeff took a nice panoramic while waiting for some water to boil.

Once the bulk of breaking camp was finished, we decided a supplemental meal of Kraft Dinner was in order before heading back. I set the timer on my camera, and with the help of a flat rock on the firepit and a couple of twigs under the front to get the angle right, we hammed it up with our KD for a not so candid shot.

With the work done and things packed, we decided to complete one last hike around the area before heading out. During the hike, I managed to crawl up to the top of this rock.

By 10:35 AM, the canoe was loaded, and we were pushing off for the last leg of our trip, heading back out through Burnt Island Lake. We enjoyed a tailwind paddling across the lake to the portage. At the narrows, just before the portage, a loon was busy fishing, and we stopped paddling, allowing the wind to blow us through the narrows, while we watched the loon. He let us get quite close as we sat quietly drifting, and it was quite cool to watch him swim under the canoe in the shallow water.

At 11:26 AM, we nosed our canoe into the portage at the west end of Burnt Island Lake. We took turns taking the canoe for a little spin by ourselves, and posing for more photos in attempt to show off our new found canoeing skills. By 12:00 PM, we had finished the 200 metre portage to Baby Joe Lake, including a little time spent exploring a creek alongside of the path.

By 12:30 PM, we had crossed Baby Joe Lake and reached the 435 metre portage into Little Joe Lake. The portage ends at a small creek that empties into Little Joe Lake. Having finished the portage, Jeff loads up the canoe around 1:05 PM, which also included a little bit of exploration time to look at the creek alongside of the path.

At 1:25 PM we passed the start of another portage, 165 metres which leads from the creek, to a navigable part of the creek below which opens into Little Joe Lake. We were pleasantly surprised to find out that the water level was high enough to allow passage through the creek without having to portage.

By 2:30 PM, we had crossed Little Joe Lake, and the East Arm of Joe Lake. We decided to stop on the bank, beside the root base of a large tree that had fallen to take a break and have a swim. I got the mask and snorkel, and enjoyed a few minutes of exploring the underwater world of rocks and fallen trees around the area.

By 4:00 PM, we made it to the end of the last portage, from Joe Lake back into Canoe Lake. About 10 minutes of paddling brought us back to the sign that we misread two days earlier, and we had to document its' clarity, that is obvious when you are close enough to read it.

A steady paddle back across Canoe Lake lead us to view the beach we were to land on to finish our trip.

At 4:50 PM we landed, and celebrated our accomplishment with a couple of final pictures.

Hope you enjoyed reading our trip log as much as we had making it.

Jeff and Troy...


Oh, almost forgot - here is a list of things that we learned and need to remember for next time:

Feel free to us both with comments!

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