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Canoe Lake to Tom Thomson Lake, May 2015

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Yes… it has been awhile, hasn’t it? Ah, life. It gets in the way of camping. Finding the time to get into the backcountry is a real challenge. Luckily, I made sure to *make time* last month and I got back in the proverbial saddle and hauled ass into the bush once again. This time, I made the pilgrimage. I mean *THE* pilgrimage. That’s right… Canoe Lake. Granted, Canoe Lake is probably the most traveled lake in all of Algonquin, and the chances are good that most readers have kicked off here more than once. Anyway, it’s an iconic place. Here’s my take on it…

Day 1:

After a week of cooking and dehydrating food, packing and re-packing, we got in the car at 5:00 am and headed north. We made great time and were booking our permit at the Canoe Lake access by about 9:30. And, for the first time ever, stopped for breakfast at the restaurant above The Portage Store. Why not? The scenery is great and it was going to be the last feed of fried eggs for a few days.

This really was a trip of a few firsts. Without getting too expository here… this was my first time on Canoe Lake and it was my partner’s first canoe trip in her adult life (she had been on a 5-day trip to the park way back in highschool)… and she’s expecting our first child this fall! Our first family canoe trip, as it were. As such, I planned a route that wasn’t going to be too demanding, and one that would enable us to get out quickly if necessary. After all, we were carrying precious cargo.

So, our permit had us staying on Tom Thomson Lake the first night, Sunbeam Lake on the second and Burnt Island Lake for the third and fourth nights. We’d paddle out the loop through the Joe Lakes and back through to Canoe Lake. Well, that was the plan anyway… but I digress.

We finished breakfast, went downstairs to rent the canoe (16′ ultralight Kevlar – spend the extra few bucks… your back will thank you), loaded up, parked the car and kicked off. Ah, wilderness!

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Full disclosure – I’m a full on Tom Thomson nerd. The mystery, yes. The mystery of his death intrigues me, but I’m even more fascinated by the man himself. I couldn’t help but imagine Thomson as I paddled into Canoe Lake. It’s what I went for, and I was immersed in my imagination right away. Heavy canoes and packs… art supplies, food, dishes, fishing gear, canvas tents… respect, man… Respect! I try to go as ultralight as possible. How they traveled back then just makes me wince at the thought.

We kept to the east end of the lake as there was some chop to the water and this was my partner’s first time in a canoe in decades. We passed by sweet cottages and one even had a woman painting the landscape on a canvas and easel set up on her dock. We passed her silently, so as not to disturb her.  A beautiful sight. The wind was strong enough to make us take the long way around to the entrance into the Joe Lake portage, but that was fine by me. I suggested that we take in the Tom Thomson cairn if possible. However… we couldn’t find it. I couldn’t figure it out. I double and triple checked the map, but we couldn’t see it. Ah, well. On the way back, I promised myself.

Admiring the cottages all along the way, we found the sign directing us to Joe Lake and made it easily to the sandy approach of the portage. It’s an easy 360m. Didn’t even change out of the canoe shoes into the hikers. It’s flat and, with the exception of a slightly mucky spot, there aren’t any roots or rocks or uphill sections. It’s a breeze.

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Within half an hour, we were ready to go on the other side of the portage and kicking off into Joe Lake.

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Along the way, there are some really impressive cottages to get jealous of and daydream over. Keeping to the left of the lake, we paddled by Camp Arowhon, through Teepee Lake, Fawn Lake, Little Doe and found the left turn into Tom Thomson Lake. A mostly completed beaver dam prevented us from paddling straight through, so we had to get out and drag the canoe over in order to continue into Tom Thomson.

Tom Thomson Lake

According to the “Names of Algonquin” book issued by The Friends of Algonquin:

Named (1958) in honour of Tom Thomson (1877-1917), pioneer artist of Algonquin Park, who drowned in Canoe Lake in July 1917. A move to have a lake in Algonquin Park named after Thomson was started by the Canadian Federation of Artists in 1946. The proposal was strongly supported by the late Mark Robinson, at that time retired Park Ranger and Acting Superintendent. It was Robinson who proposed that this lake, formerly known as “Black Bear Lake,” would be appropriate to carry the name. Thomson travelled and painted over much of the area surrounding Canoe Lake and there is no reason to believe that Tom Thomson Lake was in any way special to him.

Once we hit Tom Thomson Lake proper, we were facing some strong winds. We forgot about checking any of the sites along the south and western parts of the lake and seeing as the first three were taken already (some good sites there, by the way), we inspected the fourth one (on the north side of the creek that heads into Bartlett Lake). It was a decent site, but we could hear the guests across the way, who were high school kids with a teacher. We weren’t crazy about the idea of having to listen to them all day and night, and the wind was pretty strong blowing right through the camp. Out of curiosity, we continued onto Bartlett Lake to see what our options were.

Bartlett Lake is a small lake with 4 campsites, at the end of which begins a series of portages. Completely sheltered from the wind, we decided to set up camp here instead of on Tom Thomson Lake. We chose the 3rd site on the south east side of the lake.

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After setting up camp, I got straight to preparing dinner:

Thai Noodles with Peanut Sauce

All measurements are just ballparked here. I can’t find the original recipe and I tend to modify as I go anyway. Measure to suit your own taste.

1 cup egg noodles

1/4 cup mixed dehydrated veg (i.e. – corn, peas)

1 teaspoon garlic salt or powder

1 teaspoon ginger

1/8th teaspoon chili flakes

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons peanut butter

Combine all ingredients in a pot with about 1 1/2 cups of water. Soak for 15 – 20 minutes then add medium heat. Allow for rehydration, adding water if necessary. If it’s too watery, just keep on the heat and allow it to reduce a bit.

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It’s amazing how great food tastes in the bush. Even a package of Lipton’s Cup-A-Soup will lift your spirits, but if you put even a small amount of effort into creating your own backcountry menu, you’ll be over the moon with the return on investment. One of the great joys in (my) life is eating real food out in the middle of nowhere. The thai noodles were spectacular.

Sun began to set, we cleaned up and hung our “bear bag”. The mosquitoes and just arrived days before we did, so we dove into the tent pretty much right away. As we settled in, my partner remarked at how surprised she was with the workout that her arms received that day. At this point I said, “You know… being pregnant and all… you’re in charge of this trip. If you want to head back at any point, just say the word. I won’t be disappointed. Safety first.” Our surroundings were beautiful and the workout wasn’t so hard on her that she couldn’t continue, but the bugs were… a challenge. We decided to sleep on it and see what the next day would bring.

At about 2:30 – 3:00 am, I woke up to Nicole sitting upright trying to kill a rogue mosquito. “Are you OK?”, I asked. “This f***ing mosquito won’t DIE! I have to pee. My back’s sore. The baby’s doing a gymnastic routine. I am NOT A HAPPY CAMPER.”, was her reply. I couldn’t help myself, but I laughed so hard at hearing the “not a happy camper” line used in the correct setting. I’d never heard the phrase used while actually camping. It works well in its intended setting. I said, “well, go pee… we’ll wait until sunlight to make any decisions.”

Day 2:

When morning finally came, she had slept the worst of it off and I made chocolate chip pancakes to take the edge off.

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Nicole felt much better and we talked about what to do with our day. Our planned route had us portaging through to Sunbeam Lake and spending the night there. Environment Canada was forecasting a thunderstorm that afternoon, so we opted to stay put and just rest. We ate and paddled and napped. We didn’t see a single canoe come through to access the portage.

At this point I want to address a comment that I received on an earlier blog post about straying from the itinerary that we gave at the Permit Office. A reader expressed some concern about the perception of disrespect to fellow campers by veering from “the plan” and possibly depriving others of a site.

If, and I have to emphasize *if*, we were ever in a situation that had us taking up the last available site on a lake that we weren’t booked on and another group came along needing the site and held a permit for it, we would most definitely concede and offer it up (weather and safety permitting, of course). If it were an unsafe situation to leave, we would make room and offer all the hospitality that we could. That said, I have never, ever, found myself in a situation like this. Especially in Algonquin Park, whenever I amend my original plan, I’ve always been the only person on the lake with extra campsites aplenty.

That night, we ate pasta with ratatouille and tomato sauce. Sorry, no pictures. Again, we hit the sack agreeing to decide on the next day when we woke up. For this trip, we bought two new Thermarest sleeping pads. Nice, thick red ones that velcro together and provide amazing comfort while sleeping on the ground. I usually prefer to sleep in a hammock, but these pads are great for tent sleeping. They’re bulky and heavy, but easy enough for a canoe trip.

Day 3:

Upon waking, Nicole knew that she wanted to leave the backwoods despite having a better sleep the night before. There were some clouds and again, Environment Canada was calling for that elusive thunderstorm to hit. Portaging in the rain would have been too much, and ensconcing ourselves deeper into the bush wasn’t appealing to my mosquito-weary partner.

We packed up camp and pushed off back into Tom Thomson Lake, retracing our steps back through to Canoe Lake. Determined to find the cairn to Thomson, it was much easier to spot coming from the other direction. In fact, I had to laugh at my ability to miss it the first time through. It’s really quite well marked and obvious.

We came down the other side of Canoe Lake on the way back to the Portage Store, passing Camp Wapomeo and the old site of the village of Mowat. I daydreamed of the places that Tom Thomson would have graced back in the day.

Sure, we didn’t get through our planned itinerary, but it was our first “family” canoe trip. Mom’s safety and happiness was the most important thing for me and we’re really looking forward to heading back as a trio. Even though we cut the backwoods camping short, we did stick around for another day driving through the park and getting a motel just outside of Dwight that evening. The following day, we visited antique stores and saw a few more sights. The locals that we encountered were all complaining about how fierce the bugs were this year. So… that helped ease the pain of the welts we were sporting…

In my estimation, it was a great trip. I got a few days in the backwoods with my partner, and I finally got my Tom Thomson pilgrimage.

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Written by canadianparkhound

July 25, 2015 at 12:10 pm

O.S.A. Lake, Killarney, May 15-18, 2013

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It’s been 2 years since the last canoe trip with my lady (see: Ragged Lake, 3 days/2 nights). After my first taste of Killarney last August (see: Killarney 3 days/4 nights), I just had to bring her to see the incredible scenery that this park has to offer. Knowing that O.S.A. Lake is usually fully booked, I called ahead with the intention of reserving a site. The person taking the reservation told me that there was plenty of availability for the days that we were planning, so I cancelled the reservation (to save on the extra fees) and was able to book three nights upon arrival at the George Lake access. The lake was indeed fully booked for the long weekend, so we had just hit that sweet spot in the schedule. Personally, I think that this is one of the best times of year to visit a park. The weather is generally favourable, the bugs aren’t crazy-making yet, and we leave the park as the throngs of ill-equipped party paddlers jam the lakes and portages.

Day 1

We arrived at the George Lake access point around 10:00 am. The parking lot was empty. We walked right in and booked three nights on O.S.A. Lake and the staff let us know that we’d have the lake pretty much to ourselves until Saturday (our departure date). After that, we drove down to the canoe launch where our rental canoe from Killarney Kanoes awaited us, and we were on the water by 10:30 am.

Side note: while we were getting our permit, I mentioned to the office staff that I had read a post on myccr.com (a terrific resource, I love the trip report forum), about a bear encounter on Muriel Lake a few weeks before. The staff hadn’t heard of it at all. I’ve never had a bear encounter or sighting, but it’s worth mentioning that you can get better information on sites like myccr.com than you can from some of the park staff.

The skies were clear and the wind was nothing more than a pleasant breeze. We reached the portage from George Lake into Freeland Lake within the hour. It’s a tiny 80m portage with a well-built dock right by a picturesque little waterfall. Looking back at George, the wind had just picked up and we were thankful to have avoided the choppy water that had just been brewed behind us.

Freeland Lake is calm and shallow by comparison (with no campsites) and it only took about 20 minutes to get from one end to the other. This early in the season it’s free and clear of vegetation, but I bet that changes quickly with the warm weather. The approach to the 380m portage into Killarney Lake wasn’t too mucky (another benefit to traveling early in the season), and the portage itself is very easy.

The water in Killarney Lake is quite transparent and beautiful. As you kick off, you’ll find yourself winding through little inlets, points and bays along the way to O.S.A. One of my favourite experiences while paddling in Killarney is the trick of the eye that occurs when paddling around a point with the quartzite mountains in the distance. The optical illusion of the scenery moving in opposite directions gives the feel of watching two back drops being pulled away to “reveal” the mountains. It’s as if you’re watching one of the oldest theatre tricks… two scenic flats being pulled by stage hands.

There are two portages from Killarney Lake into O.S.A. The first one is a 455m, but if you paddle a bit further into the shallow end of the lake, there is a much shorter (and flatter) 130m. We opted for the short portage. If you choose this route, be on the lookout for dead trees lurking just below the surface. Also, you’ll serve yourself best by choosing to go to the left of the beaver dam that sits in the middle (fewer trees that way). There is a low-lying section indicated on the map that we were just able to wiggle our way through into the last little bay of Killarney that gives you access to the 130m. (Note: on our way out of the park, this low area had the beginnings of a beaver dam being built, so it was a quick lift-over as opposed to a tight “scootch through”).

As we made our way through the short 130m portage, we were excited to finally lay eyes on the fabled O.S.A. Lake. We could hear the wind and the waves lapping at the shore. At the end, we were met with strong wind and a view of a very choppy lake. White cap choppy. For everything that I’ve ever read about O.S.A. (and believe me, I love to read anything and everything that I can find out about a route during the months leading up to a trip), I hadn’t read anything about how strong the wind can get on O.S.A. I’d read about George Lake being a bit of a wind tunnel, but nothing about O.S.A. That said – we were finally here! And it was stunning despite the wind and waves.

Determined to make it to site #29 (on the large island), we tackled the waves. Right out of the gate, I knew we were in for some trouble. We were in swells and white caps from the first moment. I wanted to turn back but it took some figuring to turn around in high waves without capsizing. The water is fiercely cold right now and the last thing I wanted was a swim and wet gear. Mercifully, the lake turned our canoe around and sent us back to shore.

The 130m portage is a pretty little place to spend an hour or two… we tied up the canoe and carried our gear to the leeward side of the portage to have lunch, listen to the weather radio and plan our next move. The weather report was telling us that a strong wind warning was in effect. 40km/hr gusting to 60km/hr. Since buying the weather radio, I’ve developed a bit of an addiction to listening to it every hour or so, and there was no mention of wind prior to our arrival. There had been no hint of strong wind until the moment that we were facing it. We decided to try again when it died down and make it to the first site (#28) by the portage.

After waiting about an hour or so, the wind was still strong, but the lake appeared to be a little less choppy. Foolishly, we decided to make another attempt. Our goal was to get out past the point to the southwest of the portage, thinking that the wind would push us to site #28. The wind was a *little* less intense than it was earlier and we did indeed make it out further than our previous try. I was doing everything in my power to keep the nose to the wind and not be blown sideways and into the water. We were paddling as hard as we could and moving backwards once we got close to the point. As we inched forward beyond the point we could see a canoe at #28 and a fellow sitting at the site, cross-legged, enjoying the view of two paddlers in the choppy water, moving 1 inch forward and 2 feet back. Once we saw that the campsite was taken, we struggled to get the canoe over to the shore and plan our next move.

It was as if Mother Nature was saying, “today’s not the day”. We sat on the point between the portage and site #28 for an hour or so debating our next move. Being hammock campers, we can sleep almost anywhere. We weighed our options of staying put, turning back to sling the hammocks at the portage or doubling back even further to Killarney Lake and picking the closest site. We were fairly certain that the park wasn’t full, so we chose to head back to Killarney Lake after a very quick and nervous paddle back to the portage.

The difference in the wind between the two lakes was remarkable. It was still windy on Killarney at times, but we were thankful to have a home for the night. Site #23 on Killarney Lake is the closest to the portage and has a covered thunderbox. Luxury. The wind did subside a bit for the night, but we stuck to a dinner of jerky and gorp rather than fire up the stove. A small campfire was had (and thoroughly doused) before turning in for the night. We fell asleep to an orchestra of loons, crickets, frogs and a lone wolf.

Day 2

We were up and on the water by 9:00 am, hoping that the folks at #28 on O.S.A. weren’t heading to the island site that we were aiming for. Being well acquainted with the 130m portage, we made quick work of getting our gear across and thrilled at the sight of an O.S.A. Lake that had mere ripples on it compared to what we saw the day before. There was still a bit of wind to contend with (and some nerves, I’ll ‘fess up to that), so we stayed close to the south shore, avoiding crossing in open water until absolutely necessary. The fellow at site #28 was sitting in the same spot, this time with his lady. We waved and said “good morning”, knowing happily that the odds on getting site #29 were good. If you look at the map, you’ll see that there is a larger, longer point to the southwest of site #28, putting you into open water again. There is nothing like a crosswind at a point to make you a better paddler…

The wind was coming from the northwest and the safest way to the large island with site #29 was to go around the leeward sides of the islands and approach it from the south. Despite the challenging winds, the vista that unfolds when you come past that large point is incredible. All of a sudden, you’re treated to a view of the bay and the large mountain that sits there covered with a huge stand of birch. Worth every trial and tribulation. This would be the view from our site for the next 3 days. We were beyond happy to arrive at site #29.

Our first order of business was breakfast. We lounged over coffee and gorp for well over an hour on the south side of the island. The wind was picking up again on the windward side and we’d had enough of paddling in it. There was a plan on the table to make a day trip to the infamous “Pig” for a hike, but we scrapped that in favour of exploring the island.

The island is just shy of 1 km long and is home to another, albeit retired, campsite. You can easily spend an afternoon exploring the place, climbing the rocks and finding great little spots everywhere. At the far end of the island, we saw evidence of a recent visit by a bear. There were distinct paw prints and then a full-body depression in the pine needles on the ground that looked like a springtime, bear version of a “snow angel”. That was our only sighting of any bear evidence for the entire trip.

Days 3, 4 and out…

We really didn’t do a whole lot on the third day aside from taking a short day trip through Muriel Lake (where the nuisance bear had been reported) into Artist Lake. It was clear and sunny and the water was tropical looking. So tempting to dive in, but the water was still about 4 degrees so… no swimming. We were hoping to make our way to Baie Fine for the day, but we couldn’t find the portage out of Artist Lake. We did pass a solo paddler who had come from that direction and he said that the water level was way down and that he had to pull his canoe for the better part of a kilometer. So, we decided to make our way back to O.S.A. and enjoy the rest of the day exploring the islands. It was easy to kill a few hours just staring at the horizon.

The next morning, we packed up and started the journey out of the park. Sure enough, the “May Two-Four” party paddlers were starting to clog the portages. It just amazes me to see what people will wear and carry into the backcountry. One very affluent looking family were wearing flip-flops, Chanel sunglasses, t-shirts and jeans. They looked miserable. Another pair of guys had a bear barrel full of liquor and smokes. It takes all kinds…

Killarney really is the “crown jewel” of the Ontario Parks.  My next trek into the park will likely be a loop that includes Nellie Lake. I’m counting down the days until the next…

Written by canadianparkhound

February 24, 2014 at 10:35 am

Killarney: (Carlyle-Johnnie-Bell/3Mile-Balsam-Deacon) 4 days/3 nights. August 6th – 9th 2012.

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I’m beginning to notice a pattern in my camping habits. The schedule that I start out with as a plan is rarely (if ever), the schedule that ends up being the trip that I end up taking. This particular trip into Killarney started out on paper as 6 – 7 day trip, but ended up as a 3 night/4 day stay for a variety of reasons. My friend Danny joined me and this was the first time that either of us had been to the park.

Killarney Provincial Park is beautiful and busy. Very busy. We were lucky to get permits for 6 nights just walking in without reservations on the day, but I wouldn’t recommend doing it this way. Next time, we’ll book well in advance.

Johnnie Lake access point

Day 1 (Carlyle Lake):

We arrived at the park around 10:00 am, having left Waterloo at 5:30 am. The staff at the permit office on George Lake were very helpful in choosing a route, but the pickin’s were slim as the park was nearly full. The plan at this point being for 6 nights, we were given the following route:

Day 1: Carlyle Lake – Day 2: Bell/Three Mile Lake – Day 3: Deacon Lake – Days 4 & 5: Balsam Lake – Day 6: Boundary Lake – Day 7: out.
We put in at Johnnie Lake between 12:30 – 1:00 pm and paddled into Carlyle Lake. It was a quick paddle (less than an hour), with a small beaver dam that we had to get out and walk over. The wind was strong coming into Carlyle and Danny had already realized that he had too much gear, so we landed on the first site that we came across. (Site #60).

Making dinner at the Carlyle Lake site

Our route had us doubling back through Johnnie the next day, so we planned to make a pit stop at the car and dump the unnecessary gear. If you’ve visited this blog before, you’ll notice a theme of “too much gear”. I’ve never dreamed to be an ultra-lightweight interior paddler or hiker, but now that the sport has its hooks in me, I’m quickly realizing that traveling light is the way to go for a whole host of reasons. This was Danny’s first time in the backcountry and I was supplying all of the gear and food, if only to keep the weight down. I prepared dehydrated meals and we used both of my Hennessey hammocks. I sent a very sparse list of necessities (clothing, toiletries, book… no more) to Danny a week prior to our trip, but… he’s his own man and prefers to make his own lists. Anyway, the decision was made to stop at the car and dump gear on our way past the access point the next morning.

Campsite at Carlyle Lake

Our site, the last one on Carlyle Lake before heading into Johnnie, was a nice one with a great rock formation that came out to a point, facing a small island with a sweet cottage on it.
After a meal of cheesy beefy macaroni with homemade tomato sauce, we cleaned up, hung our food bag and went for a paddle around the island at sunset.

Rock formation on Carlyle Lake

We ended the evening with a small campfire and were in our hammocks by 10:00 pm.

Day 2 (Carlyle-Johnnie-Bell/Three Mile):

We woke up to cloudy skies and light wind. The forecast had called for the next two days to include rain with possible thunderstorms in the evening. Knowing that we had a significant day of paddling ahead, we loaded up the canoe and readied to kick off. Just before we left, Danny turned around to adjust his backpack, and in doing so, set off a cloud that was unmistakeably bear spray. The canister only discharged for about 2 seconds, but that was enough to set us up for a challenging next several hours which we couldn’t even begin to imagine this early in the day. Suffice it to say, we had a brief conversation about the need for safety when traveling and handling bear spray and Danny had a cough and burning eyes and ears to scold him.

We stopped at the Johnnie Lake access as planned for Danny to do a gear dump. What with the intense burning and general misery of having just gassed yourself and your buddy with bear spray, the gear dump took a bit longer than initially hoped for. We were back on the water by about 12:30 pm.

Heading out on Johnnie towards Bell happened without too much of a headwind. Johnnie is a nice lake that zig-zags its way towards Bell. You get to pass quite a few cottages along the way. It’s hard not to envy those lucky cottage owners!

A quick storm approaches towards the end of Johnnie Lake.

Towards the end of Johnnie Lake, the thunder signaled some serious business and we pulled on our rain gear just in time for the onslaught. We pulled over to the shore and debated our options. During a small break in the torrential downfall, we made a break to one of the two campsites nearby. Perhaps not the smartest thing to do with the threat of lightening, but we saw another canoe making the same choices and decided that we’d take those odds. We finished setting up a tarp just in time for the rain to stop. The sun came out, and all of a sudden, the burning from the bear spray that had gotten on our rain gear and canoe bag that we unloaded during the rain, took the pain to a new level. We chilled out on the campsite for an hour and once again, debated our options.

Temporary rain shelter on Johnnie Lake

I use a quick and easy method for keeping my tarp taught on a tight ridgeline. I’ve attached an alloy climbing ring (MEC – $4?) to a loop of rope using a prusik knot and clipped it to a carabiner attached directly to the tarp.

As you’ll see in the pictures, we took a belt of whiskey and decided to push on. We had no desire to turn back, our permits were strictly for the next lake and it was pushing 3:00 pm. We had to find our home for the night.

The portage into Bell Lake is a short one (300), but you will have to do short one (10-15. We did a full carry, just picked up the canoe, bags and all and dead-lifted it) around a beaver dam just prior to the actual portage. The portage goes through the parking lot at the Bell Lake access and has a wide, flat nice entry point into Bell. There is also a park office here as well as an office for Killarney Kanoes.

Our plan was to stop at the first site that we liked. We canoed the length of Bell, checking out each site and each site was taken. We entered into the narrower Three Mile Lake by 4:30 and found each and every site taken, except for the very last one at the end of the lake. After setting up and getting our dinner ready, it finally occurred to me that my bear spray rash and the burning that accompanied it was pretty much gone. Good to know, eh? Note to self: the pain and discomfort of a quick blast of bear spray will dissipate by the end of the day. Unless you touch your eyes…

Sunset on Three Mile Lake. Site #70

We set up our hammocks by the water again. The Hennessey Hammock really does help ease the pain of a backwoods trip. So comfortable.

Inside the Hennessey Hammock

Campsite on Three Mile Lake

Day 3 (Three Mile-Balsam-Deacon):

Having covered a lot of our distance the day previous, we took our time over coffee in the morning before setting out for Balsam Lake. Aside from the 30m portage into Balsam, we could only see having to deal with a low-lying area getting into Deacon. Easy-peasy.

The portage from Three Mile Lake to Balsam Lake (looking into Three Mile)

During our 10:00 am coffee, a couple canoed our way and asked if we were staying the night. They were relieved to find out that we were soon to be on our way since ours was, still, the last available site on the lake. We invited them to set up while we packed, but they opted to hang out a ways down the shore and enjoy the morning on their own. We pushed off and promptly lost 45 minutes by paddling up the low-lying creek to the south of the low-lying area that approaches the portage into Balsam. So glad to get out of the low-lying creek, I thought to myself, “thank God that’s over with. I won’t do that again.”

We finally found our way into the right creek leading us to the portage. When we approached we met a group of 4 guys carrying their canoes over the old cart track, coming out of Balsam. They told us that there wasn’t a soul to be seen on Deacon or Fox Lake (they spent the last night on Fox) and said that they thought Fox was the more scenic of the two and to watch out for the wasp’s nest that was on the site if we did make it that far.

Balsam Lake as seen from the end of the 30m portage from Three Mile Lake.

It took about an hour and a half to paddle the length of Balsam and, once again, every single site was taken. We were certain of our course into Deacon and there was no way that the map could be wrong. However, once in the low area, we felt as if we were up the wrong creek again, just like we started out the day! Danny kept asking me, “are you sure?“, but the map couldn’t be wrong. It was hard to tell at the roughly 0.5 km distance to the “shore”, but I reassured him that we needed to follow the path through the lily pads. We were navigating the canoe more like a gondola in a river of mud. The stench of putrid organic muck right at the surface had me worried at the notion of standing in it if need be. We finally reached a point where the muck wasn’t as bad as it was in the middle and we could jump out and scout ahead to see if there was, in fact, a passage into Deacon. We were in deep and out of options it seemed, if there wasn’t a passage.

The low lying bog between Balsam & Deacon. Behind Danny, you’ll see about 500m of muck. We managed to stay in the canoe up until the end of the lilypads.

Sure enough, we found fresh footprints and saw how close we were to Deacon. Again, we deadlifted the canoe and carried it in short spurts to the lake. Mucky, tired and wet, we landed on the first island site on Deacon to spend the night. As we unpacked the canoe, we thanked that group of 4 guys on the Balsam Lake portage for the helpful info about the wasp’s next on Fox Lake… and wondered aloud why they kept the part about the boggy portage into Deacon to themselves.

Heading into Deacon Lake

We figured, quite certainly, that we’d have the lake to ourselves, but around 6:30 pm, we saw a canoe make its way out of the bog and into Deacon. As they got near to our site I called out to them, “how was that?”. “Holy f***!! What was that?!” was their reply. We chatted briefly with the campers and they marveled at how busy the park was. They were headed to David Lake the next day and thought that it was perhaps a bit too much work to get in and out of Deacon for a one-night stay. I guess Deacon is a bit of an “overflow” lake for last minute campers, or for those who are looking for more solitude than the bigger lakes.

Cooking shepard’s pie at the site on Deacon Lake.

For dinner, we polished off a cheesy beefy macaroni and a package of shepard’s pie. After cleaning up and hanging the food bag, we hung out by the water’s edge where I gave my feet a much needed soaking.  The noise of my feet in the water attracted a small school of fish and one large turtle who came right up to us for a close-up.

The turtle who came for an after dinner visit on Deacon Lake.

Home for the night on Deacon Lake. Site #123

Day 4 (Deacon-Balsam-Three Mile/Bell-Johnnie-out):

Overnight, the weather turned from clear to overcast and windy. When we woke up, we decided over coffee that we didn’t want to spend the next two nights on Balsam Lake or do all of the portaging over the following days with the amount of gear that we had. Having paddled the length of Balsam the day before, we were acquainted with it and we weren’t totally thrilled with the idea of hanging out on the same site for two days (or even one) with the wind that was beginning to pick up. We opted to pass on making a hot breakfast and agreed to make the push to paddle all the way back to the Johnnie Lake access point, retracing our route rather than attempting the loop through David Lake with all of its portages. This meant that we would only have to deal with the bog between Deacon and Balsam and the easy 30 metre portage from Balsam into Three Mile, as well as the 300 metre between Bell and Johnnie.

Packing to start the trip from Deacon back to Johnnie.

Using the map of Killarney and my compass (which has markings to measure in kilometers on a 1:50,000 scale map), I calculated that we had about 29 km to cover and budgeted between 6-7 hours for us to complete the journey. Luckily, we had a tailwind for the majority of the trip and covered the distance in 5.5 hours. At the Bell Lake portage we met 4 older women in 2 canoes who were setting out (at 2:30 pm!) for David Lake against a strong headwind. I’ve since wondered many times about how they fared on such an arduous task so late in the day. There were a few tricky crosswinds to be encountered during the trip as we came around the occasional point of land and a couple of challenging headwinds in some areas, but the wind pushed us through large waves during the home stretch on Johnnie.

At the Johnnie Lake end of the 300m portage from Bell Lake.

Filtering a couple of litres of Lake Johnny water before heading home.

We made it to the George Lake permit office in time to get our refund for the remaining unused days, and the staff told us that we had made the right decision in leaving early as the weather was only going to get worse. Within the hour, the rain came and stayed for two days (according to the Environment Canada webpage). The rain stayed with us for almost the entire drive back home.

Even though the trip was cut short by a few days of our own accord, we were very happy with what we’d undertaken. Aside from the bear spray incident, we considered it to be a success. I told Danny that my definition of a successful canoe trip is when you: 1) don’t dump the canoe and gear and, 2) have more fun than stress. This was definitely a success.

People spotted: Dozens.

Wildlife spotted: Loons. A turtle.

Unnecessary gear: Books (again… why do I think that I’ll get bored?), backgammon board.

Gear wishlist: Weather radio

Written by canadianparkhound

August 18, 2012 at 5:44 pm

Algonquin: Ragged Lake, 3 days/2 nights, May 18th – 21st 2011

with 3 comments

Wednesday May 18th, 2010

In the seven months since our last visit to Algonquin, we’ve been planning the canoe trip that was to have happened in the fall. After getting our asses kicked on the Highland Backpacking Trail, we had a real appreciation for how big and challenging the park could be. We decided to go for an easy, straight-forward canoe trip with very little portaging and we wanted to hang out at one campsite for our entire stay.

We spent months looking at the map and planning various routes. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine to read trip reports by fellow paddling enthusiasts and get ideas from them about routes, food, techniques etc. Unfortunately, our schedules only allowed for Jill and I to be able to get away over the May 24th long weekend. Everything that I had read screamed “stay away!” at this time of year, but if we didn’t take this opportunity, we’d be out of luck until the late fall. So, we planned ahead, and decided to brave the tourists, black flies and rain.

After our last trip, I wanted to invest in some better gear and spent the weeks leading up to the trip acquiring some new necessities (Black Diamond Vista tent, compression bags, dry bags, stuff sacks, map cover… it really adds up!). On the way up to the park, we stopped at the new MEC in Barrie where I convinced Jill to ditch her Coleman sleeping bag and go with the Drake 0 degree down-filled bag (I was the one who was going to be carrying it on the portage after all).

We arrived at the park late on Wednesday (6:45 pm) and decided to just check out the Smoke Lake and Canoe Lake access points and chat with the girls at the permit office to make sure that we were OK to camp without reservations. The park was pretty quiet and they assured us that we’d have no problem getting out early and getting a site before the weekend rush.

We debated car camping for the night, but the weather was pretty terrible. We found a great roadside motel in Dwight called the Dwight Village Motel (which we highly recommend!), went for beer and wings at the Cookhouse Saloon (also recommended) before living on trail mix and couscous for the next few days.

Thursday May 19th

I woke up at 7:00 am to light, but steady, rain. We waited out the rain until 11:00 am and went to get our permit and rent the canoe. The Canoe Lake access was pretty busy with paddlers, but not too crazy. Unsure of when we wanted to leave the park, we got a 4-day permit ($70 for 2 people) through to Sunday and rented the canoe for the same amount of time ($180 with life jackets and paddles). We opted for Smoke Lake – Ragged Lake to avoid the obvious traffic that would consume Canoe Lake in a day or two.

We were carrying a lot this time, but since we were “canoe camping” with only one short portage, there were a few luxury items aboard.

Lesson #1: Don’t get cocky.

When deciding on which canoe to rent I went with the 15′ Kevlar standard which was about $38/day. The difference between that and the Ultralite was about 10 pounds and $8. Plus, the rental guy told me that the 15′ was more sturdy than the Ultralite. I’ve been canoeing for years, but Jill hadn’t been in one since she was a kid. Portaging 10 extra pounds didn’t sound like so much at the time, so I went with stability on the water over comfort on the portage for our first open water experience together with all of our new gear.

I was ready to rent the roof rack when the rental guy told me that most people just do the 300m portage across the highway. Why not? Considering that the portage from Smoke Lake to Ragged Lake was less than that (290m), why not do it and see what it feels like, eh?

Lesson #2: Portaging is hell on the shoulders.

We were a bit nervous when we saw a large group of teenagers hanging out on the dock on the Smoke Lake access. As it turns out, they were a highschool group from Brighton who had just come in from a 4-night stay in the park. Great to see a class dedicated to outdoor sports! They had a great time and caught their own trout.

We finally pushed off around 12:30 and made our way down the west side of Smoke Lake, getting disoriented once before getting to the portage. Seems we passed Molly Island without noticing and I misread which bay we were in. It wasn’t until our return up the east side that we saw the narrow between the island and the mainland.

There were a few motorboats on Smoke Lake but only one canoe coming out of the portage. A couple who had spent 2 nights out and warned that the portage was buggy and muddy. Fantastic. Bugs are slow torture for Jill.

As soon as we landed at the portage the clouds opened up and dumped a deluge of humid rain on us. It was muddy and buggy as reported. It was around this time that I remembered the rental guy telling me how steep and uneven the portage could be. Sure, it’s short, but it’s no escalator ride. Jill tripped once, falling in the mud with a heavy pack on her back. I, foolishly, was carrying the canoe and the 120-litre expedition bag on my back. Upon reaching the other end, we waited out the rain with a tetra-pack of wine.

Once the rain stopped, the bugs and flies came out and chased us out of the dam/portage and into Ragged Lake. We took a quick peek at the campsite just by the portage and saw that it was haven for flies and wasn’t the kind of site that you’d stay any length of time at.

We chose a site on the east side, just across from the tiny island that you *can’t* camp on. It was a beautiful site with a great fire pit. This site would be ideal for a group of 4, but we had it to ourselves. We pitched the tent right away and got our new down-filled bags in there to stay bone-dry. The site had lots of dry wood available and nice options for hanging your bear bags far away from your tent. We didn’t have time to cook anything warm since the clouds were telling us that they had more in store for us. The rain came and we napped, thankful for the rest, and curious to see if our new tent was indeed waterproof.

Lesson #3: When buying a new tent, do yourself a favour and buy the footprint as well.

We didn’t buy the footprint. In the gear buying mayhem that carried on in the weeks previous to the trip, I managed to forget the footprint. I had even written myself a note to buy it at the Barrie MEC on the last day, but forgot the note in the car while in the store.

We did, however, buy a used tarp for $10 at the canoe rental store in the park. We used this as our groundsheet and quickly learned that having the tarp so far out as to funnel rain under your tent was a bad thing. The tent, thankfully, is waterproof. And, our luxury items, self-inflating sleeping pads, provide great insulation in the damp and cold. The down sleeping bags work like a charm.

There was a break in the rain and we were able to get out for an evening paddle to check out our immediate surroundings. It was beautiful yet brief. We got ourselves into the tent for the night and it rained off and on until morning. The sounds that night were really wild. Mostly loons, bullfrogs and crickets, but an enormous orchestra to be sure. Jill felt something thudding by the tent in the wee hours and there were some tracks. Couldn’t tell if it was a deer or a young moose, but the prints were definitely not bear or anything large.

It was a night full of nature on Ragged Lake and we had it all to ourselves. The only other people that we saw on the lake were one canoe with three teenage boys who were only out for the day to fish. They passed our site after 7:00pm saying that they were trying to get back to the rental store. My guess is they camped at the site by the portage that night.

Friday May 19th

We don’t fish and we’re just learning how a day passes in the backcountry, so we spent the first half of the day just tending to our camp. Drying out the tent, figuring out how to rig a tarp, building a smoky fire to keep the flies at bay, etc. In the afternoon we went out and paddled around the big island in Ragged Lake to check out its 5 campsites. There were one or two that seemed worth looking at, (and they would all suffice if there weren’t any other options), but our trip convinced us that we had found the best site in the area. There are a few other sites that seem well-maintained with nice views, but ours was on a point allowing for all-day sun, nice shade, two swimming spots,  and a large clearing with a great fire-pit built up against a large boulder. A good amount of benches for sitting and spreading out gear. And, most important, it’s flat.

Lesson #4: Bring more food than you’ll need to eat… but don’t bring a one-month supply for 2 nights.

There was so much planning and work to do ahead of time, I made real rough estimates of how much we would need of everything food-wise. I bought a new cookset (GSI Dualist) and used the cups in the set as measurement for the dry goods like; flour, israeli couscous, smarties. I used the cups without noticing that they actually have measurement lines right in the cup. My portions were, let’s say, generous.

Lesson #5: When cooking a meal in the bush, make only as much as you can eat.

It wasn’t until we saw the last five mouthfuls of spicy Israeli couscous with cheese sauce sitting at the bottom of our pot taunting us that we asked ourselves, “what are we going to do with this?” It also took me this long to realize that I had packed enough food in Jill’s pack should the Rapture actually happen this weekend. We were stuffed and we didn’t want to add this to our garbage so early. Lesson learned. Pack light. Eat up. Stay clean.

As a “gateway” campsite, we saw a few canoes come by in the afternoon and early evening, some going to Big Porcupine and others to Parkside Bay. A group of four guys camped at the site across the water on the west side, south of the portage into Wisp Lake. Another soloist was at the site down the way on the south side and the site to the east of us towards Archer Bay had a tent and a fire going as well.

It was quiet and the night sky was clear. The temperature was 20 degrees in the day and not much below 10 at night. The down sleeping bags were great and the Black Diamond Vista has great air circulation for the mixed weather that you get in Algonquin. Again, we slept off and on throughout the night, being woken by loons and bullfrogs at random times. The campers were quiet.

Saturday, May 20th

Our permit was good until Sunday, but we could see the traffic starting to come our way. We were already of the mind to leave the park wanting more and the black fly bites were distracting us from the many beautiful moments that pass while living in the woods. There was a Dad with two kids in a canoe floating by checking out sites when I offered ours up to him before the crowds came. He thankfully took it and said that there was another canoe with three more kids and their Dad in their party. We were thankful to be able to pass the site onto a group who could use it well over the remainder of the long weekend. They told us that the portage into Smoke Lake was pretty busy. That proved to be an understatement.

Lesson #5: They don’t lie when they say that Algonquin is busy on the long weekend.

Our campsite was only a 15 – 20 minute paddle from the portage, but in the time that it took us to get to the portage, we passed at least 6 to 8 canoes with varying loads heading into Ragged Lake. At the portage, there were 2 canoes pushing off and two more coming down the trail. I left Jill with the packs at the dam while I carried the canoe, and only the canoe, to Smoke Lake. On the way, I passed almost a dozen people in various groups carrying some of the most ridiculous things. One guy was carrying a case of wine. I hope it wasn’t full of glass bottles, but it was clearly his job to carry a cardboard box full of liquor. There was a girl coming up the portage carrying an armload of beach gear, pinching a bag of Doritos in her free hand. At the bottom of the Smoke Lake side, I felt sorry for the 12-year old kid holding the other end of the 75-litre Coleman cooler that his old man put the hotdogs and beer in.

There was a guy sitting at the bank of Smoke Lake having a smoke and finishing off a tallboy of Coors Light. I asked him how he was doing and he told me that his back was “f****d”. Apparently his canoe kept going to the right no matter how hard he paddled on the left and he’d zig-zagged all the way here from the access point.  I couldn’t tell if he was joking and I thought it best not to laugh.

On my way back to get Jill, I passed the guy who carried the box of liquor for his party. Turns out, they wanted him to carry their bags, too. Mr. Zig-Zag and his party carried in a 13-pound Broadstreet 6-person tent.

Lesson #6: Camping “ultralite” takes time and practice.

Lesson #7: Bring a hat. No matter what. Bring a hat.

I didn’t bring a hat. I have lots of hats. Different hats for different occasions. I have hats for camping and canoeing. I didn’t bring either of them. Why? In a last ditch effort to go “ultralite” (save, of course; 2 self-inflating sleeping pads, 3-person tent, 1-month food supply, cribbage board, 2 decks of cards, 2 books, flashlights galore…), I chose to ditch the hat. Again, you ask, “why?”. Because…. I believed that what the weatherman said on Tuesday night would stay true on Saturday.

Lesson #8: Pack for rain and shine in Algonquin. It’ll all happen. Probably within the hour.

The paddle back to the Smoke Lake access point from the portage was great. We got totally sunburned and it couldn’t have been more beautiful. We passed at least another 6 to 8 canoes that were heading towards the portage. There were a few motor boats out on Smoke Lake taking advantage of the super calm water and sunshine.

We saw Molly Island and went through the narrow and enjoyed the views.  The Dot and Dash islands are worth noting as you head out or come back in.

That last 300m portage back to the Portage Store is a real… can’t wait for the next trip!

People seen: two dozen or more (mostly at the end of the trip)

Wildlife seen: Loons, fish. Heard lots. Maybe even a wolf?

Unnecessary gear: Books, Cribbage board, 90% of the food

Gear wishlist: Personal floatation device, paddle, MSR simmerlite stove

Written by canadianparkhound

May 23, 2011 at 8:40 pm