July 15-16, 2017
# of portages: 2
Total portage distance: 480m
Total distance: 23.4km
Sometimes you can only get out for a night, and sometimes that’s all you really need. Just one day in the sun, where you can go swimming and fishing without a care in the world except when to eat dinner.
Such was the case this weekend. Between work and life, it looks like I won’t be able to head out on a properly organized trip from until (gulp) September, so I fit this in when the opportunity arose. Joining me was Shane, my wife Gwyn, and our little dog Ginny. This wouldn’t just be the dogs first time camping, but her first time in a canoe at all! We were decidely excited and a bit nervous as we unloaded gear from out car at the Smoke lake put in.
Smoke lake is a gigantic, one of the biggest bodies of water I’ve had to paddle in Algonquin so far. We were lucky that it was water, calm, and inviting as we pushed off from the boat launch which services the cottages that dot the lake. I should also note here, before I go any further, that while picking up permits at the park office I was recognized again from my Youtube videos and postings on the Algonquin Adventure forums. It’s always a treat to see that people actually look at these ramblings, if you see an off-red canoe with an Ewok on the front, feel free to say hi!
Anyways, back to Smoke Lake. We paddled south, with Gwyn wrangling the dog (who was doing fine in her new experience), and Shane soloing his long red canoe. The portage was initially steep but well-trodden going up about 3 flights worth of stairs in the first 100m. Once you’re over the hill, you’re basically at the beach head of Ragged Lake.
Ragged Lake is a very pretty, medium-sized lake of many bays. There are islands made of sand, as well of granite, large open sites and tiny camps stuck up a hill. With the ease of access, I’d say it’s slightly less well-used than the Joe lake system north of Canoe lake. We careened gently past people making breakfast on coolers and took pleasure in the warm sun. Near Crown Bay, there was a system of submerged logs and stumps, showing just how high the water used to be before the dam, it is easy to navigate through these days though.
As we rounded north again up a small channel to Parkside Bay, the wind had started to funnel down into our faces. This made life difficult for Shane, spinning his canoe round in circles as he tried to get out of the lee. Gwyn and I wound up tying the nose of his canoe to the back of ours, using our weight and keels (the Ewok has 3!) to keep his boat from catching the wind too badly. We were quickly into Parkside Bay, and grabbed the first site that looked nice.
Our site had a large beach area to lounge around on, while the firepit, cooking, and sleeping areas were tucked back up a berm in the woods. In the shoulder seasons it would be nice to be able to stay out of the weather, but this weekend we spent most of the time out on the beach, lazing around. We fished, made silly videos, and I think the main goal was to relax. The dog did cute dog stuff.
As night started to fall, Shane and I had to head out into the steady wind from the west and try to grab some good firewood. We spotted a pile of driftwood that promised tempting spoils, so we went to investigate. We settled on a rather large log that had washed ashore and quickly dumped it in the canoe to start processing at the campsite.
Dinner that night was a Shane Souter special. Potatoes baked in coals, with a delightful mix of baked beans and ground beef on top. Being as we were all very tired and hungry, it was a great meal. I was very tired by this point. I hadn’t spent so much time in the sun all year, and was ready for bed as soon as the sun went down. Shane and Gwyn stayed up a little bit longer, but I was asleep by 10:30 which is very rare for me. We knew we wanted to be up early, as there was nasty weather forecast for the next day.
Sunday morning was surprisingly glorious. The lake was glassy still and the sun was up but not hot. It was one of the few times we could pack everything up in the dry too, which was nice (hadn’t really had that luxury since the hike-in trip to Maple Leaf lake). We didn’t even take time for breakfast, just a few hot drinks, and were on the water by around 9:15. This meant we felt the need to push the pace and race to the car before rain and lightening stranded us somewhere.
We were amazed as we plodded back through Ragged Lake, that the whole lake seemed to have filled up. Every nook and cranny was filled with rental gear, Canadian Tire tents, and 3-seat canoes which looked like clown cars as they tried to make their way across open water. Luckily, there wasn’t too much boat traffic and we were through the portage with nary a traffic jam to be had.
Making our way back across Smoke lake was a slog. It’s around 5.5km, but you can see the whole way to the access point. The dog wasn’t whining like she had on the way in, resigned to her fate as a canoe-dog, and we set out eager to get some food. About two-thirds of the way down the lake, the rain started to pitter-patter around us, but it was mostly to a scattered shower. We made it to the very busy access point around 11:30 and tired. Running that far with no calories really took it out of us. Avoiding the summer camps taking canoe after canoe off of trailers and buses, we packed up and were quickly on the road.
It was a pretty good weekend despite the mad dash to the finish. Gwyn really doesn’t like lightning and if the wind picked up like it had on Saturday, Shane would have struggled across the big water on Smoke, so there was no real indecision or regret to get out ASAP. All together, it was a great trip to a part of the park we haven’t been before. Ginny the dog slept for days afterwards.