This trip log outlines some of the details of my second trip into Algonquin Park. My first trip was a couple of years ago with my friend Jeff and that trip log can be seen here. This time, I had to atone for not taking my fiance on the first trip... my second back country camping trip into Algonquin Park would be Jen's first. To make things easier on us, we decided to partly retrace my previous steps from the first trip, the plan being to travel from Access point 5 north through Canoe and Teepee into Tom Thomson lake.
Taking a lesson learned from the first trip, we decided to schedule 2 nights on Tom Thomson before coming back out the third day. Our goal was to have a little more vacation time, since the loop we traveled on the first trip (into Burnt Island on second day and back out on the third) on the first trip was tiring with not much down time.
Thanks to the pack-rat nature of my friend Jeff, our packing lists and checklists created during preparation for the first trip were still available (ya gotta love computers). These were amazingly helpful and greatly reduced the time spent preparing for this trip, which was a good thing, because I was only able to secure the week off work with one week of lead time.
Having learned some things from the previous trip, we wanted to improve on things where we could. The two main issues that stuck in my head from the first trip was:
It seems most things these days can be solved with money, and this time was no exception. After some internet research, we bought an MSR MiniWorks EX water filter and an Orbit self inflating sleeping pad from Mountain Equipment Co-Op. These would prove to be worthwhile purchases.
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We left at 6:30 AM on Monday, July 26, 2004 from Peterborough and headed north. We figured it was about a 2.5 hour trip to the Portage Store at the Canoe Lake access point. Thanks to some highway suggestions from my Dad the night before, we arrived at the lake a little earlier than expected at 8:38 AM.
My previous trip, we rented a canoe from Algonquin Outfitters. This time, we opted to pay a little bit more and rent from the Portage Store. The trade-off here is that the process of renting, loading and obtaining permits is all completed at one location, meaning we were ready to leave at 9:47 AM. This was about a half hour earlier than our previous trip, and it made a noticeable difference. As we were about to leave a number of new groups were just arriving and began getting themselves ready to head out. We learned during the first trip that travelling days are akin to race days. Getting to your destination lake earlier usually means more choice when it comes to campsite selection, especially during busy summer periods when all campsites are fully booked.
The weather was a beautiful sunny day and very calm. Here is Jen posing beside a loaded canoe. I was comfortable with this trip and the route, having done it once before. The compass and the map did not seem quite as important as they did the first time (but we still had them). After an application of sunscreen we were on our way. I remember feeling uneasy at first in the canoe during my first trip, with visions of capsizing dancing through my head and this trip was no exception. The thought of diving to try and find the digital camera before its protective ziplock baggy gave way to a water leak was not too appealing. However, after a few minutes, the uneasy feeling gives way to a calm, relaxed smile as you begin to enjoy your surroundings and realize that it isn't that hard to sit, relax and paddle... all at the same time.
Apparently, it is common for travellers of this route to make a mistake at the north end of Canoe Lake when approaching the portage into Joe Lake. Despite the presence of this sign, many wind up entering the creek instead of going around the corner to the portage. We made this mistake during my first trip, and I noticed that the man re-roofing the cottage at the mouth of the creek was not there this time to save us or others from our old mistake. Thankfully, this time we didn't need saving.
At 11:00 AM, we reached the first portage between Canoe Lake and Joe Lake. Here I am offering up a piece of cheese with this pose beside the tree when we landed at the portage. The time stamps on the photos from the digital camera are an excellent way to document the trip, but you have to take alot of pictures... even if they are bit cheesy. This would be our only portage during this trip, and is fairly short and very well travelled. It is common to see several groups at a time here both coming and going, at least that has been my experience so far.
Here Jen stands at 11:28 AM, ready to shove off after having completed the first portage and reloaded the canoe. During the portage, I shouldered the 46 lbs. 16.5' Kevlar Expedition canoe myself. I left the life vest on during the shouldering, thinking it would provide some additional padding for comfort. That may have been true, but the slick material of the jacket also provided a slippery surface for the yolk of the canoe, so that may have meant some additional effort with the arms to keep the canoe in place where it should be during shouldering. I'm still undecided if that was a good idea or not.
After shoving off from the portage, we headed north across Joe, Teepee and Fawn lakes. We passed by several canoes that were on their way out, as well as some kids from a local camp whose instructors were guiding them through the process of capsizing and righting their small sailboats. The squeals of delight seemed to indicate that slipping off the wet hull of a capsized sailboat and back into the lake is actually quite fun.
Passing through Fawn Lake there is a decent amount of marshland complete with lily pads and the like. We were hoping that this might yield a moose sighting, however, it was not meant to be. We made our way without incident to the creek between Little Doe lake and Tom Thomson lake. A beaver dam crosses this creek and separates the two lakes. This pic shows us approching the dam, having arrived at 1:07 PM.
Knowing our destination was just around the corner, I was anxious to get over the dam and into the lake and claim our campsite... home for the next couple of days. Before shoving off on the other side of the beaver dam, I dug my binoculars out of my pack, so they would be handy a little later on. As we entered the open part Tom Thomson lake, an inspection of campsites around the lake with the binoculars revealed that a number of the sites were already taken. At this point, I was quite glad of having decent binoculars and being able to roughly survey and evaluate the available sites, without having to paddle around the lake to each one. During my previous trip, the wind was almost northeasterly, and taking a site in the path of this breeze kept of free of bugs and made for a very enjoyable stay. This time, there was virtually no breeze to speak of, so our campsite selection involved other criteria, including topography and features (swimming rock, privacy). After a brief discussion, we decided to investigate a site on the northern part of the lake, on the eastern side of a point of land.
At 2:10 PM we arrived at the site which would later become home had a large fire pit, complete with log bench, and large rock to serve as a table while seated at the bench. The site was gently sloped, with bed of dried pine needles on the forest floor. We found out later that the mosquitos were fairly active in the woods and on the periphery of the site, but in the open centre area, things were quite comfortable. After checking things out, the site seemed pretty good, but I couldn't help myself from wondering if another one around the corner could be better. Besides, if the wind came up from the North like our last trip, we'd get no bug clearing breeze on this site.
The decision to stay or go was pretty much sealed, upon looking up to see three new canoes enter the lake from the direction of the beaver dam. Perhaps some of them were folks that arrived at the access point about 30 minutes after us. With other parties looking to find a home for the night, we decided that what we had was perfect and began to set up camp.
The site offered decent privacy and a short trail to a fairly level clearing that was perfect for our tent, located past Jen's left shoulder. We unloaded the canoe and started setting things up. In a wave in inspiration, and knowing the size and height of our tent, I figured that it might be easier to put up the covering tarp first. My last trip we wrestled with a huge tarp, but this time we bought two 9x12 tarps, one for tent coverage and one for an outdoor rain lean-to. After spreading out the tarp, picking its location and supporting trees, we were well on our way. The tent went up quickly and we positioned it under our tarp, to look something like this, by 3:23 PM.
Next on the list was to get the rope over a choice branch to be used for hanging the food bag later on. After that I took the canoe out into some open water and filled our jug with 5 litres of water. As I mentioned, on my first trip, the taste of the water was a bit of a downer, and it was now time to test my new water filter. The filter is a decent filter that is probably capable of providing drinkable water, however, just to be sure, I treated the water with the CIO2 chemicals first, and then filtered that water into another water jug. This proved to be a really good method. The water filter did a good job of removing strange tastes, both chemical and otherwise. The only thing that would have made it better would have been ice cubes.
By 7:30 PM we had finished setting things up, and had enjoyed a bit of down time. Now it was time to eat. Dinner was comprised of Kraft Dinner with some fire roasted all beef hot dogs added in for extra flavour. The taste of the water was much better than my first trip, and it also improved the taste of the food cooked with the water.
As 9:00 PM approached, Jen and I were relaxing beside the fire and enjoying the end of the day. We were exhausted, and it was all we could do to stay awake until dark.
We awoke just after 6:30AM on Tuesday to a beautiful calm day. The food bag was still secured hanging in the tree where I left it with no signs of animal intrusion. On my first trip, it was at about this point, if not earlier, that I started to whine about being sore from the previous day's paddle as well as the aches and pains that come with an uncomfortable sleep on a foam pad. I now know that the self-inflating mattress pad bought from Mountain Equipment Co-Op was worth the money. I felt considerably better getting up this day, compared with how I felt on the first trip.
At 6:39AM the mist was dancing across the lake and the day was shaping up to be a good one. By 8:30AM breakfast was well underway, serving up healthy helpings of oatmeal with milk, raisins and brown sugar. Some of you may have flung your eyebrows up when I said milk. "On a back country camping trip?" you are thinking to yourself... well, yes, Jen found some tetra-pak milk in box kinda stuff that doesn't need refrigeration until it is opened, so we thought we'd try it. Don't ask me how milk stays fresh in a cardboard box without chilling, I don't know, but I do know it tasted pretty good.
During the relaxing breakfast hour, we were visited by a couple of chipmunks. "Slash" was a bit more adventurous than "The Other One" as he was quite comfortable to come close and scout around for any tasty bits he could find. Slash was aptly named due to the small chunk of fur missing from the top of his head. I got some of our trail mix, and was able to get Slash to take a nut from my hand.
Our plan for the day was basically one of relaxation. The one thing I learned on the first trip, is a downtime day between travelling days would be a good thing. After breakfast we headed off to do some exploring. We left camp and travelled northeast through the creek and into Bartlett Lake to look around. The weather was great, although it was a little bit breezy. Bartlett is a small lake with a couple of campsites. Some folks were swimming and enjoying their day as well. On our way back out, we noticed the campsite across the bay from ours had been vacated. We took this opportunity to pull ashore and check out our neighbours lot. It was a nice site with several terraced level areas that were elevated above the lake, offering nice views of the water and surroundings. For a brief moment, I considered moving to this site, but then sanity stepped in (or was it laziness?) and we decided that our site was just fine. It didn't stop us from kicking back for a few minutes, here I enjoyed a seat with a built-in back rest provided by the rocky terrain.
Moving off to explore a little further, we made our way south to an open island. Not many trees and no approved campsites, this island offered little shelter from the elements, but did provide a commanding view of the lake. Not overly large, but rising quickly on all sides to provide a decent elevation from which to take in the scenery. Jen managed to find a few wild blueberry bushes, but the berries themselves were slim pickings.
Around 2:00PM the lunchhour bug took hold and we made our way back to camp to rustle up some food for lunch. We managed to waste the rest of the afternoon lounging around on our swimming rock, doing some swimming, and watching the wildlife. A frog seemed to like a shady spot under an outcropping at our swimming rock. The still shallow water around the rock was home to other things too. Jen managed to catch a minnow in my bowl while doing dishes and some kind of freaky looking water spider that crawled around on the surface of the rock underwater was neat to watch.
At one point, our friend the frog leapt from his perch, and bounded a few hops away. I noticed something dark dangling from one of his back legs. Before I knew what it was, the frog kicked his leg as if possessed by Jackie Chan, sending the dark dangler flying a couple of feet and into the water. As I watched it slither/swim away, it was then that I realized that it was a leach that had been feasting away on poor froggy.
By 7:00 PM we were hungry again, this time for dinner. We put together a pot full good 'ol Kraft Dinner, dressed up with chunks of all beef hot dog. We chased that with some pan fried bannock and some Crystal Light made with filtered water. The food tasted really good and I was pleased with how the set of Coleman pots/pans was working.
The evening was calm and relaxing sitting around the fire. There were no real mosquitoes to speak of, as they wouldn't show up until later. After dinner Jen did some fishing from shore, but she did not land any fresh breakfast.
Around 10:00 PM the mosquitoes got hungry and without much of a bug clearing breeze, we were good bait for the hungry buzzers. We suited up to better withstand the buzzing, because we wanted to stay up until around midnight, to see if there was going to be any northern light shows to be had. While doing a "mosquito net check" with the flashlight, Jen discovered another friend of the insect kind perched upon my shoulder. I have no idea what this critter was, but he was freaky looking, especially out of the corner of your eye when resting beside your head on a shoulder. At about 10:30PM we noted that the sky was mostly overcast, and the mosquitoes were not showing any sign of letting up, so we decided that it was again time to crash. I was OK with that, even though I didn't really do anything all day, I was so tired.
The dawn revealed another nice calm day. Today was our last day in the park and we were planning on retracing our route to make our way home later in the day. Not needing to be back at any specific time was nice and allowed us to take our time and enjoy the nice weather.
Around 9:00AM we dug up some breakfast consisting of more oatmeal, some hot chocolate and a banana... not too shabby at all.
The thing I like best about the park is how calming the natural surroundings are. I'm sure that bad weather and adversity could quickly serve to replace these feelings with agitation or stress if things weren't going well, but both of my trips to the park have offered excellent weather. I suppose that a comination of luck and preparation are the keys to enjoyment when in the park. No doubt that learning lessons from one trip to the next will further improve my backcountry camping abilities and just might help to prevent agitation by being properly prepared when I do encounter some bad weather on a trip.
This pic of the calm water, framed by fishing rods, a canoe and the rising sun just scream "serenity now!"... I really like this pic. Our chipmunks again came to visit us, as well as this red squirrel, who just happened to be nosing around the food bag that contained the trail mix. Even doubled sealed in two ziplock bags, the critters know where the goodies are at.
By 10:57AM we had finished packing up camp, the canoe was loaded and we were ready to start the journey back to civilization. About 20 minutes later, we were passing through the narrows and approaching the beaver dam situated between Tom Thompson lake and Littledoe Lake, when we came upon a moose, wading about chest deep in the water and munching away on lily pads. I couldn't believe how much noise this animal made by simply slurping, scooping and chewing some freshwater vegetation. It was very cool. The moose didn't seem to care too much that we were floating around watching her. We then heard some thunderous noise coming through the bush behind her, and later realized that she had two calves that were playing in the woods behind her. They didn't seem to want to enter the water very much, instead content to chase each other through the woods while mom ate. We watched the action for about 10 minutes, before mom left the water and headed back into the woods. Now feeling fully satisfied by our wilderness adventure, we again started heading back home.
We crossed over the beaver dam around 11:50 AM, pausing to apply some sunscreen and eat a banana to refuel for the rest of the paddle home. The weather continued to be perfect, with very light winds and nice warm sunshine escorting us home. By 1:16 PM we had made it back to the start of the portage into Canoe Lake from Joe Lake. We took another break here, taking some time to wade into the water and cool off, and eat some trail mix. Again, it was great not having to rush, knowing that we didn't need to make it into another lake to set up camp, but simply toss everything into a waiting car and head to a nearby restaurant for dinner.
At 1:53 PM we shoved off on the other side of the portage into Canoe Lake. It was a leisurely paddle back, passing by more girls at camp screaming with glee as they tipped their sailboat over on purpose. At 3:04 PM the hull of the canoe slid up onto the beach. We made it back. I had survived my second backcountry camping trip and Jen had survived her first. We had a great time, but it was also good to be back. I was looking forward to some restaurant dinner and a shower. Once we unloaded the canoe and loaded the car, I paddled the canoe across the bay to the rental office. We decided to have dinner in Huntsville on the way home, so before leaving, we thought it would be a good idea to take advantange of the shower facilities located beside the Portage Store. After having a nice warm shower and slipping into some clean clothes, we felt like new people and at 4:02 PM we headed off to find our dinner, as seen here in a timer taken picture from the dashboard of the car.
Hope you enjoyed the triplog and thanks for reading!
Jen and Troy...
Feel free to us both with comments!