Winter camping hot tenting!

Nov 28-29
Distance: ~5km

We’ve all been there, sitting at home beset on all sides by the winter menace. For years I’ve taken this as the way it is, grumbling at my lot in life until May when I can go canoeing again. This year though, the planets aligned and I was able to try hot tenting in the dead of winter.

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This warming hut marks the head of the Minnesing trail

Shane and I rented a Snowtrekker tent from Algonquin Basecamp, an outfitter in Kearney who really bent over backwards to help us have a good time. They walked Shane through how to put everything up nicely and threw in extra gear we might need (like a little shovel). All kitted out, we drove along Hwy 60 to the head of the Minnesing bike/ski trail.

The Minnesing ski trail is completely unmaintained, making it perfect for snowshoeing or more adventurous cross country skiing. As we were to find out, it has a lot of dips and streams throughout its long loops, making it exceptionally difficult terrain summer or winter. We each pulled one toboggan. Shane had one which has more contoured but without lashing points allowed things to fall out easily. Mine was longer and made of high-density plastic, but with no runners underneath it was prone to slipping off any kind of incline. I lashed things down rather loosely and off we went.

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Our pulks, slightly tied down

Initially, the going was easy (isn’t it always?) and we marvelled how much better it was to drag gear than carry it like we had in November. Sure, it wasn’t as easy as canoeing, but it certainly was smoother than hauling things around! About 20 minutes in though, we came across what we dubbed Calamity Hill. This steep-ish hill was where we cut our teeth with the sleds. They had a propensity to fall over, often into moving water, and we were very much unimpressed with this. We managed to man-handle our load past the rocks and up the hill where we rested and I re-tied all my knots so they were much more secure. I had the wooden box with our stove in it and the large Tupperware bin full of gear so lashing was fairly easy.

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Calamity hill

We hauled for the next hour or so, honing our skill getting through tight squeezes and along narrow ledges. The good thing about winter camping is that when you get tired you just have to get 30m off the trail and you’re home! We selected a small plateau that overlooked Canisbay Lake and started setting up camp.

First, we dug as far down as we could to avoid things sinking as they heated up. This also helped with levelling the floor off. The tent went up very easily over an A-frame pole structure, and we got things going inside to keep them out of the snow which was falling all day. We were cold, tired, and wet so we set about having a coffee. I had brought my MSR Pocket Rocket, and in the cold it did work, but just barely. The fuel was slushy and even at full tilt just managed to heat the snow to a low boil. Never really liked that stove, should have just brought the Whisperlite.

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Getting things up and running

After a life-affirming coffee, Shane set about erecting the stove inside the tent while I trekked down to the lake to get some spruce boughs to sleep on. Even the small hills proved a strenuous exercise, but snowshoes really helped me out here. 1-2 inches of floatation vs 1-2 feet of tent-poling? Easy choice to bring them. By the time I brought back my first load, Shane had the stove all set up and ready to go. At the suggestion of the guys at Algonquin Basecamp, he had used provided wire to attach 4 sticks to the bottom as a means of stopping the stove from sinking into the snow. It’s hard to describe, but basically it was a set of snowshoes for the stove! There was still much to do though.

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Shane sets to drying wood and melting water

We both attacked the chore of bough gathering, before grabbing firewood. There was a large maple down near our camp, so we grabbed lumber from that, splitting what we could. Shane was the wizard of the fireplace that day, expertly stoking the fire and fiddling with the door to keep as much heat going efficiently while keeping the smoke outside (harder than it sounds).

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Canisbay Lake

We had lunch of grilled cheese on english muffins, and that really restored our depleted energy. Before long we had all the wood chopped up for the night, our bedding laid out, and a system to continuously melt water going. We could finally relax and enjoy ourselves.

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Our tent as dinner warms on the stove

Dinner that night was a pre-made stew from my pressure cooker at home which was already in a sealed pot so all we had to do was set it on the stove in preperation for dinner. We cleaned up dinner quickly and were ready for bed nice and early. The day had really sapped our strength. Our sleeping systems were in the same order (starting on the bottom): Snow, boughs, tarp, Thermarest, -20 sleeping bag. It was surprisingly comfortable and warm, I really enjoyed it. When I woke up the next morning, Shane had already gotten the fire going and my thermometer read 10 degrees above 0, better than some late summer temperatures.

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Morning, digging out from under snow

Breakfast and coffee were nice to have in the tent with nothing to set up. Real bacon this time, none of that microwavable stuff! With our bellies full, we reversed the process of setting up (minus digging in) and before 11am we were on the way we came. I found the trip out very tough physically, but it got easier that closer we got to the parking lot as the terrain levelled out. Calamity hill was definitely easier to go down than up, but was still a challenge. It didn’t help that there was fresh snow everywhere, slowing down our sledging.

Looking back, we were very green and I think we were ambitious taking on the Minnesing trail. Next time I think we’ll take the railbed from Mew Lake campground for flat terrain to haul across. Also, everything takes longer in the winter. Gathering wood, cooking food, boiling water, setting up the tent…it all just takes so much out of you! I don’t want to make it seem like I didn’t enjoy it, I’m definitely going to go again, it was just significantly more work than I had expected.

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Enjoying the wilderness, despite a bit of cold.

Also, I have no idea why anyone would willingly subject themselves to a cold-tenting trip when hot-tenting is available. The extra size and work was definitely worth it to be able to cook, eat, and live comfortably in the tent. With the shorter days, you’d either be forced to have a gigantic fire outside for heat, or go to bed early and wake up late (and miserable).

I learned a lot in this short 24-hour trip.

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Booth Lake – Labour Day 2016

Sept 3-5, 2016
Farm, Kitty, Booth Lakes
# of portages: 4
Total portage distance: 1470m
Total distance: 12km
Videolog:

Do you believe in karma?  Karma is the idea that any one action will lead to subsequent reactions, usually in a balancing act.  This year has been nothing but rain and cold, with occasional cloud.  This trip was the ying to those trips yang.

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Heading out into the fog

This year, because of math and traffic, it made all sorts of sense for me to forego heading north the Friday night and instead push all the way from Oakville to Shall Lake access point Saturday morning.  Waking up at 2:30am wasn’t fun, but the drive was a breeze!  Honestly, I’m probably going to go this way for many of the next long weekend trips.  I met Shane 3/4 of the way there at a Hortons in Huntsville and we managed to pull into the proper park office at almost exactly 7am.

What greeted us was a thick fog and chilling cold.  I marked the temperature at 3 degrees near the East gate.  Seeing some bass playing in the water near the bridge between Shall and Farm lake I threw in lure and lo!  A little bass.  Good tidings.  We went into the fog, hoping our past experience would let us navigate it fairly easily.  As we rounded the point into the lake, we were treated to wolves howling.  It started as just one lone drone, then built into a cacophonous roar.  From our vantage point in the fog on glass, it was really something special.

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Back on Booth Lake

The portages in were exactly as we remembered them, but with our new perspective on the terms “long” and “heavy”, they were a doddle.  Didn’t hurt that we were pretty much jogging from excitement as the sun started to warm things up.  Getting back onto Booth, glassy and inviting, was like catching up with an old friend.  We were hoping to get the site we were at last time (third from the portage on the eastern side of the lake) mostly for the view and to see if the table we built was still there (seriously, we’d still like to know).  We were disappointed to see we were one of the last groups there, most had come up earlier in the week to stake a claim.

We definitely wanted a westward view of the sunset, so we plugged along to the far end of the lake before checking out the island sites.  It was there that we came on the best damn site we could have hoped for.  Nestled away from every other site, just south of the two sites by the portage to Chipmunk lake, was a grand ol’ site.  This baby had a beach, multiple tables, drying racks, nails to hang stuff, a hill behind it, and a unmarred view from the campfire across  the northern basin of Booth lake.  Sure, if there wind was blowing cold right up main street you’d freeze, but the lake was still and the shade was nice.

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Our hovel.

We took a few minutes to marvel at our luck, then set to work around the camp.  Shane has gotten into the habit of bringing a few hand tools and screws with him to fix up benches and tables, so he went about making the table sturdy.  I tried to make a fire blower.  It’s basically a split stick tied back together with a large opening at one end and a small hole at the other (imagine a large wooden straw).  You blow in the big hole, and the breath is condensed through the pipe to a needle which gets a fire really popping!  Unfortunately, mine didn’t work very well, I definitely need to refine the technique.

The blower came from something I saw on the show Alone, a survival show that I adore.  Another little tidbit from Alone was how effective a Paiute deadfall was at trapping mice.  I figured it might not be a bad idea to see if I could get a proof-of-concept one constructed.  I won’t go into detail about how to put one together, but again I was unable to replicate the effect I wanted.  I was disheartened, but overnight I remembered exactly how it looked on the show.  Within minutes the next day I had it all set up, and I’m a bit more confident now in my ability to gather food without a supermarket.

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Exploring the lake

We did a little exploring later, just to gather firewood and do a bit of fishing.  There was a ton of driftwood dotting the eastern shore, so we didn’t kill ourselves.  We did find a sizable pike in the shallows waters by our site, but couldn’t manage to catch the guy.  I had been up since 2:30am though, and Shane not much later, so it was an early night.  Shane brought a great meal of beans, meat, and potatoes which stuck to our ribs and knocked us both out.

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Waiting for the stars to come out

The next morning we woke up on our own accord to a very foggy lake.  Once again, the cool temperatures mixed with the warm lake to produce an impenetrable curtain over the far side of the water.  We were hoping to go fishing, but it wouldn’t happen until this burned off so we had some coffee and watched the world go by.  Soon enough we were on the water heading south aimlessly.  We had no luck around the closest island to our site, and on a whim started towards “driftwood bay” near the second site from the portage.  The whole way, past the close grouping of sites on the eastern shore, we saw no structure on the floor and it was pretty shallow.  No bites, but the scenery was lovely.  At driftwood bay though, the fishing was marvelous.  there’s a large ridge right off the site there where it drops off and the minnows were thick.  Both Shane and I got our fill and headed back for breakfast.

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Success in driftwood bay

Shane hadn’t slept too well due to a sinus infection of some sort, so he decided to take a nap.  Meanwhile, I played around with making a bowdrill to try and get a friction fire going.  I knew it was going to be a slog and probably wouldn’t work (it didn’t), but I was interested in trying the technique.  You can understand the concept as much as you want, but trying things like this out in the real world are usually the best preparation for the worst-case scenario.  The hottest part of the day was spent idly passing time at the site, swimming, collecting lumber, and taking photos.  After a small lunch, we decided to explore the north basin of Booth Lake.

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Many miles put on the canoe that day

Our original idea was to paddle all the way down to the Tattler cabin and fish the mouth of the river there, but about halfway there we started hooking into bass hiding in the shade of the tall hills.  Enjoying the shade ourselves we decided to slowly fish our way back.  Time flew by and before we knew it we were heading back to the site for dinner.  Tonight was pizza on the Outback Oven, which takes time and care to prepare so we wanted to make sure there would be sunlight to use.  The evening was as sublime as the rest of the weekend and we spent a good amount of time watching the sky rotate as we searched for satellites.

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Not a bad dinner spot

Monday morning came too quickly for my liking.  It meant I had to start taking things down as coffee boiled and we slowly got packed up.  Breakfast was brief, but we dragged our feet putting things into our bags.  We noticed everyone else had the same idea, because when it finally came time to push off there was a sudden influx of boats on the lake.  We stayed near the back of the pack, no need to rush to the portage where there’d be a backup anyways.

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Saying goodbye to Booth lake

At the portage, as expected, there were piles of gear on each side.  We had the benefit of youth and preparation which allowed us to pass just about everyone ahead of us by single carrying.  By the time we were on Farm lake, we had left everyone we saw on Booth behind us.  Seems our increasingly usual long weekend plan of going 20km in a day meant we had increased our average travel speed.  We arrived at the take out and then headed down the road, content that this had been the best canoe trip of 2016 (so far).

Canada Day: Rock-Harry Lake

Jul 1-3
Rock, Penn, Galipo River, Welcome, Harry Lake
Total km: 40km
Number of portages: 6
Total Portage distance: 5640m
Video log:

Canada day weekend meant 3 days off for both Shane and I, so we decided to take a jaunt to a part of Algonquin park we haven’t been near.  Insofar we’ve barely scratched the southern half of the park, and picked Harry Lake based on trout fishability.

Ready to head out

Ready to head out

We got on the go early and were at Rock lake getting permits at 8:05am.  This was the first time we had been to the Rock lake campground and I was impressed by the relatively remote area.  We didn’t take time to look around though and before long we were paddling down Rock river at the put in to the lake proper.

Rock lake is similar to Cache.  Lots of islands, cottages, and some big water.  There are great high rock points and high cliffs all around the picturesque body of water, very appealing to every kind of outdoorsman.  I got us mixed up because I didn’t look at the map and headed for the first portage I saw, winding up with the canoe on my shoulders before realizing the sign said Rock-Louisa.  Lucky we didn’t go down!

Picto Bay

Picto Bay

A few minutes later we arrived at the actual first portage of the trip, into Penn lake.  The theme of today was uphill, and this delivered a good taste around a waterfall.  For some reason I thought it was only 200-odd meters, but it’s clearly marked 375 and fairly well used.  The opposite side is wide open, complete with a dock.

Dock on the Penn Lake side of the portage

Dock on the Penn Lake side of the portage

Launching southward onto Penn we faced light winds in our faces and had to head east around the two northern islands.  There were large rocks between them and a bog on the west.  Even taking the safe route, we had to be careful of large rocks just below the surface.  The rest of Penn was just a pleasant paddle in the park.  We had beaten the weekend warriors with coolers and heavy plastic canoes, so the lake was quiet and we had the water to ourselves for the most part.  Before we knew it, we were looking for the outlet of the Galipo river and really started our adventure.

A very boggy takeout leads into the Galipo river from Penn Lake.

A very boggy takeout leads into the Galipo river from Penn Lake.

Using Jeff’s map and MarkinthePark’s triplog of the area, we knew to look for moving water in the south end of the bay by a little island/peninsula.  We found it right away, but we’re dismayed to discover it was only an inch and a half deep.  We had to line our way up about 20m of water before we could paddle again.  Before long we were at our second set of falls to go around.

This portage looked very lovely, hosting three falls, but we were in no mood to slow down and take pictures.  Seems like every mosquito absent in the past two months had come to greet us at the rocky take out at the bottom of the portage.  They didn’t let up as we sunk up to our knees in the soupy entrance to the Galipo river either.  We bounded over 4 or 5 beaver dams as we tried to get away from the flying menace.  Within 15 minutes we were on the last portage of the day, heading to Welcome lake.

After a lot of walking, we were finally done portaging for the day

After a lot of walking, we were finally done portaging for the day

Just as we pulled up to the trail, the grey skies that had been overhead all day began to throw down some rain.  Didn’t bother me because I had a canoe-shaped hat protecting me, and Shane had the leafy canopy offering what protection it could.  Single-carrying went very well and we were through the 2.1km  in about an hour.  There’s a broken canoe stand about halfway through and a little boardwalk across an old stick bridge 2/3 of the way along.  The end of the trail dumps you down a steep hill onto a beach, where Welcome lake lapped gently and the rain abated long enough for us to enjoy lunch.

Wildlife along the way.

Wildlife along the way.

After restoring our energy and throwing on some rain gear, we set off northwest to the creek leading to Harry lake.  This creek was longer and easier to navigate than the Galipo, but very buggy.  Despite heavy winds heard on the portage, they were light on Welcome and non-existent here.  We were very glad to see Harry lake unveil itself around the last bend.  With the way the wind was blowing and a general consensus online that the northern sites were in good nick, we beelined to the northwest most site and set up camp.

Finally on site, and with a bit of sun!

Finally on site, and with a bit of sun!

First thing to go up was the tarp so that no matter how hard it rained we would have at least one dry area for ourselves and our gear.  The rain was light or on and off all day except for a deluge in the evening.  The site was wonderful, with plenty of room, lots of tarpablity in the rain, and a nice waterfront of rock which gathered warm sun.  We set about the chores of camping, eventually lighting a fire for dinner.  Tonight was shishkebabs, from a local butcher in Oakville.  We had been up early and retired to sleep not long after sunset around 10.

Dinner on the first night

Dinner on the first night

We slept in as long as we wanted the Saturday morning. I got up and started a warming fire to drive away the chill from the night before then got coffee going.  The allure of coffee roused Shane and we eventually had a pancake breakfast while looking at the glorious morning sun and blue sky.  Before long, we got to doing some projects to make our lives a bit better on the site.  Things like bench repair, table engineering, and firewood collection all got done before noon, and we realized how early we had gotten up in the morning.  I guess we weren’t used to these long July days.

All day looked like this!

All day looked like this!

We spent the day puttering around the site, touring the other sites of the lake, and lounging on the warm and protective granite on the southern coast.  We had no luck fishing from shore and it was very windy on the lake.  Word on the street is that there are brook trout in there, but all we saw were baitfish.  We fired up the Outback Oven for pizza and fresh baked cookies for dinner, and as we munched away we began to hear the unmistakable boom of thunder.

Warm sun baked these rocks, making them great for surveying the lake

Warm sun baked these rocks, making them great for surveying the lake

“Crap”, we collectively thought.  All we need is more rain after the deluge the night before.  Amazingly enough, we must have been just a few km from anything and a giant black-blue cloud floated lazily by us occasionally letting more thunder roll out.  What followed was a lovely calm evening spent around the campfire piled high with premium sunbleached lumber.

Thunderclouds fade into the distance.

Thunderclouds fade into the distance.

We woke early on Sunday, knowing full well that we had a slog in front of us.  We had packed up as much as possible the night before, but we got on the water a little after 8am.  The wind was at our back across Harry and the first creek was less buggy than we remembered, but Welcome had started to blow up.  After a little navigational error, our canoe ground into the foamy beach next to the longest portage of the day.

Getting ready to portage again

Getting ready to portage again

This time the portage was a doddle, although very much warm.  The bugs were out, but the breeze along Galipo Creek kept them at bay.  By the time we were lining through the mouth of the creek in Penn Lake, it was mid-morning.  As we made our way north, we wound up joining into a large convoy heading out.  Aside from the some headwind, it was a lazy and enjoyable out.

Traffic on the way out.

Traffic on the way out.

I would wholly suggest going to Harry Lake, it was a wonderful place to camp and a lovely part of the park.  Every site seemed well maintained and frequented by people who really care for them.  However, the route we took was a bit brutal at this time of year.  In higher water with fewer bugs it would be manageable in a day or two, or alternatively coming in from Louisa.

Ice Out 2016 – Little Eagle Lake

May 7-8
Magnetawan, Little Eagle Lake
Total km: 4.4km
Number of portages: 2
Total Portage distance: 680m
Video Log:

Shane and I started the weekend at Shane’s cabin in Kearney.  The permit office had only been open for a few days, even less when you consider road conditions blocking Rain Lake access, but it was already hopping.  The lovely ladies behind the counter had said the Friday was busy, and we figured it was because of all the people whose permits had been for earlier this year getting in on the good weather.  Armed with our papers, we bounced down the dirt road to Magnetawan lake.

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Magnetawan Lake looking back from the portage

We were astounded by the amount of cars at the access point!  It was pretty much standing room only, something I haven’t seen at that spot previously.  We decided to make the most of the sunshine while it was out and set out south towards the coveted Little Eagle Lake at 10:30.

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All set for the first portage of the year!

The wind was light and the sun was shining as we came up to the only portage of the day.  It is only a short jaunt, a mere 340m, but climbs around 30m from Magnetawan.  We emerged from the portage sucking wind, but happy to be outdoors after a long winter.

Little Eagle Lake is a small lake, similar to many in the area.  It feeds many other rivers and water systems from its high perch, but is surrounded by gentle foothills.  The foliage wasn’t out yet, but in the fall this would be a beautiful slice of the interior.  The lake isn’t deep either, the anglers bible we consulted put it at around 18′ at the deepest point.  Jeff’s map says there’s splake in there, and we wanted to find them.

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Dinner prep table on site, a nice touch.

But first we had to set up camp.  We knew a cold front was moving in, and rain was on the way.  You can imagine our disappointment when we started to see smoke gently wafting from the point where our site was supposed to be.  We came around to see a group of guys  leisurely packing up, telling us to come back in 45 minutes.  Being as there is only one site on the lake, we were forced to spend an hour or so paddling around the perimeter of the lake, investigating potential fishing spots and exploring the area.  It was still nice out, but we were muttering about the delay.

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Local bushcraft found around the site

Once our fruitless fishing expedition had circumnavigated the lake, the two boats left our site laden high with coolers and assorted gear.  We quickly looked around before unpacking the bags from the boat, excited to discover pre-cut lumber and some bushcraft additions like a table.  As I was about to lift my pack from the canoe, I glanced across the lake and to my horror I saw one of the  departing canoes had flipped!

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Dinner of kebabs and rice, really hits the spot.

 

Shane and I kinda froze and watched as they floundered for a minute, unpacking the canoe and watching the scene unfold.  We thought we heard laughing, but quickly realized that it was cries of distress.  Instead of putting the flooded canoe over the righted one, the crew was towing it to shore about 100 feet away and the people in the water were swimming for it in their boots and lifejackets.  By this time, we had ditched all our gear except for the food (we didn’t have time to hang it), and we were furiously paddling towards the splashing victims and floating debris.

When we arrived at the scene we didn’t quite know where to go first.  There were two people in the water and the other canoe had towed the boats to shore and were getting ready to start their own rescue.  We didn’t know whether it was prudent to gather gear with potentially crucial supplies or help get the people to shore.  Perhaps sensing our hesitation, one of the people in the water screamed to us “Please, help us!”  I’ve never before heard someone in such distress.  We siddled up to him, instructing him to hold on as we didn’t want him to swamp the boat (his motor control was fairly shot by this time).  I could see he was in shock, just barely holding on, so I just kept talking to him.  His name was Tyler (or Taylor, I was excited at this point).  They had been in for 3 days.  We got him to shore and directed him to get out of his clothes and warm, and one of his comrades helped get him to his feet.  We turned and went to help out the other person in the water.  By this time, the second boat has already reached the last victim and was dragging him in.  We got to the boat, and the bearded man paddling told us to hold his gunnels and he dragged the poor lad into the boat as they both cursed but managed.  In total, the guy was in the water maybe 15 minutes.  It took them two hours of warming up on the rocks before they resumed there 3km journey and 340m portage to the access point.

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The flipped crews dries off and warms up across the lake.

If these people hadn’t been wearing lifejackets, they would be dead.

If I hadn’t looked up at that time they might have died.

If they were on a bigger lake, they might not be alive.

I cannot over-emphasize this enough.

WEAR A LIFEJACKET WHEN THE WATER CAN KILL YOU.

The rest of the weekend passed as these weekends do.  We couldn’t go out fishing because of the wind and rain that blew in.  We discovered that a high-quality shishkabob is a great protein for your first or second night.  It went below zero overnight and my new sleeping bag performed supremely.  Shane built a little table out of some junk rope he had brought along for the purpose.

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How many tarps can I fit on my pack?  3 at least.

While I do not consider what happened a tragedy, this was a very scary event that could have gone way worse.  It was a cold, wet, and tarp-heavy weekend.  I loved it.

Labour Day 2015 – McIntosh Lake, Day 2 & 3

September 05-07
Canoe/Joe/Tepee/Little Oxtongue River, Tom Thomson, Ink,
McIntosh Lakes
Total km: 38.4km
Number of portages: 4
Total Portage distance: 5300m
Video log:

The next morning we slept in a bit, knowing that this was our vacation day. We had logged many hours yesterday so that today there was nothing to do. It was unusually hot for September, and we wanted to take full advantage of summer’s late exit.

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A misty morning gave way to a beautiful day

But first, our site, at first I wasn’t sold on it. It has easy water access and a wonderful view, but the tent pads are a little closed in by the woods. There is also a large amount of rocks and roots waiting to be tripped over. But by gum if I didn’t grow to love that site! Any more than four people would find it cramped, but for us it was luxuriously expansive.

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Our site as per Jeff’s map

With breakfast and more importantly coffee in our gullets, we set about getting geared up for trout as we enjoyed the morning. Just before noon, we paddled westwardly into the wind and used the wind as a trolling motor. We were set up to go deep, bouncing off the bottom as close as we dared and were rewarded quickly. In an hour, both Shane and I had fish up to the boat, but in a twist of fate both trout spat the hook out just as we could see how big they were (2-3lbs, I swear!). Heartbroken, we headed in for lunch.

Shane is an industrious guy, he likes to build or improve things he sees are lacking. I’ve seen him fashion drying racks, tables, fishing rods, and many other useful things out of sticks, rocks, and twine. This time though, he decided we needed…a chimney? To this day I look at it with a cocked eyebrow and a shake of my head (see below).

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This…didn’t really work.

The day was spent in a wonderfully pointless manner. We went back out fishing, actually getting one IN the boat this time. I went for a refreshing swim in McIntoshs’ clean blue waters, and our fire was a roaring/crackling mess when the “chimney” caught fire. Couldn’t have asked for a better day.

It was with heavy hearts that we packed up the next morning, both of us agreeing that we could easily spend 4-5 days at that site without becoming bored. We had looked at other sites, and even the northern island we adored from 2 years ago couldn’t keep up with the charm of our site this time. We hopped out early to try and beat the rush from the easy-access sites with clear heads and bellies full of oatmeal and GORP.

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Did not want to leave.

Coming back, the portage was a breeze. We basically jogged it, stopping only 3 times to rest our shoulders (last time we didn’t even take the packs off). It’s amazing what not having a hangover can do to your energy levels! The wind was in our faces, making some parts of the return trip a bit less leisurely than we had enjoyed two days earlier, but nothing we will remember too well.

It wasn’t until “The 401” portage that we realized it was a long weekend in a popular holiday spot. Up until then, besides a few small groups and the occasional soloist there was nobody to be seen on the waterways. Now there was a backup of coolers and Coleman branded gear to contend with. We just blew through the portage ASAP, getting out boots wet for the first time on the trip and got out of there quick as can be.

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Last morning, done all artsy-like.

Canoe lake was a zoo, an absolute gong-show. In my trip video I caught 11 other boats on the water from the Potter/Joe fork and that was just the tip of the iceberg. As we rounded into Portage Bay, we had to dodge motorboats, kayaks, inexperienced daytrippers in rentals, and long distance trippers trying to get to Smoke lake. Oh, and the wind was picking up.

But we had made it, aboput 20km before lunch and ready to go another 20 (maybe not). I was just about the best trip I could have hoped for, and renewed my enthusiasm for long portaging as a means to find great camping spots.

Labour Day 2015 – McIntosh Lake, Day 1

September 05-07
Canoe/Joe/Tepee/Little Oxtongue River, Tom Thomson, Ink,
McIntosh Lakes
Total km: 38.4km
Number of portages: 4
Total Portage distance: 5300m
Video log:

Labour Day means one thing, fishing trip! Shane and I decided to buckle down and take a paddle back to McIntosh lake, which we had quickly poked our heads into during a May
24th trip a few years back. It meant about 20km of paddling and a 2.4km portage, but we were more than game for the long haul.

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Getting ready for a long paddle.

Spending the night at Shane’s cabin in Kearney meant we were on the lake early, but it also encouraged certain amounts of beer to be consumed. We shipped onto Canoe lake at 8:30, and I was VERY hung over. Don’t drink kids, it’ll make you feel like crap. We were very lucky to see a congregation of loons on Canoe Lake, about 20 or so of them just shipping around. As far as researchers can tell, this is usually a social interaction to re-inforce cooperative feeding habits and to show off their little spot in the world. It was really neat!

We got to the first portage to discover we were the only ones there, a first for the Canoe-Joe portage which I affectionately call “the 401”. It was warm and calm on the water, so we made haste to get into Joe. As we made a left at the fork and into Tepee Lake, we started to explore a part of the park we had never been to while still nursing some nausea from the night before. The sites along the Little Oxtongue seemed geared towards first timers, party-seekers, and families with young children. These are usually spots with bear issues and bad litter strewn around them, but such is the plight of easy-access sites.

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Oxtongue River, about to turn north into Tom Thompson.

After filling up on water, we turned north from Littledoe (really it felt like part of the river still) and into the creek providing water from Tom Thomson lake. A very well-used pull-over and we were basically there. T.T. Lake is quite large, and has tonnes of sites on it. We marveled at the rolling hills and picturesque islands that dotted the site, no doubt inspiring at least some of the famous painters work. The sites here were well used, but seemed mostly in good condition. A lot were fairly steep with tough water access, but all seemed comfortable at the very least.

We paddled into the northern bay and stuck a bit to the left (behind the western campsite on the point) to find a shallow takeout to the long walk of our trip, a 2390m portage to Ink Lake. We had a bit of a break here, having completed most of the paddling for the day and made final preparations for the single carry. The first third of this portage was the hardest as it follows a creek and goes up and down a bit. In my hungover state I nearly wept at the sight of a large hill after a small boardwalk. Little did I know that this hill was the end on our hardships. We had decided that no matter how many breaks we took, every step forwards was a good one. At the top of the hill, everything flattened out and the going was easy.

We started to get our legs beneath us and even began passing people who were having a VERY hard go of it. One poor group must have been on the trail for at least an hour by the time me and Shane passed them about 2/3rds of the way down the path. We didn’t see them emerge from Ink lake until well after we had set up camp (~3 hours later). The end of the portage dumps you down a nice set of stairs and onto the sandy shores of Ink Lake, a small pond which gets its name from the tannin-rich colour of the water. We refueled and set out as quick as we could to secure a site in front of the other people resting on the beach.

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Home at last!

Ink creek feeds into McIntosh, and it was a great paddle after the portage. The water pushed us along and the technical turns were a welcome change from the long slog of the morning. My hangover was even gone! We soaked in McIntosh as we rounded the last turn and headed east in search of a site. We didn’t have a particular site in mind, but a west-facing one would give a nice sunset, and who knew if an island site might be nice for a change? Eventually we settled on the third site from the south on the eastern side.

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The main reason we searched for a site on the east side of the lake.

Tired but with a feeling of accomplishment we set up camp at a leisurely pace, taking time to put up things we normally wouldn’t, such as a clothesline, preemptively.  We fished a bit from shore, but were in no mood to paddle around the large blue lake any more that day. I was a teetotaler that night, and we turned in fairly early.

Proule Lake – July 2015

June 18-19
Proule/Sunday Lakes
Total km: 4.8km
Number of portages: 2
Total Portage distance: 960m
Video log:

I had the very distinct pleasure of introducing my future wife to canoe camping this year. Earlier in the winter, I had broached the subject to map-maker supreme Lord-High-on-the-Mountain Jeff McMurtie, without whom I would be at the mercy of *shudder* MNR based map production. I asked our map-making deity if he knew any places within the park that felt secluded, had at least one notable portage, and yet was relatively close to tarmac in case of rain or wind. Luckily, this cartographic savant was the right person to ask, and he laid out a perfect plan.

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Looking at Sunday Lake from the portage to Proule

 

We were to use access point #A43 just off Highway 60 at KM 40, and portage down to Sunday Lake. The road to the portage is just off to the side of the Big Pines Trail, it says logging trucks only, but there’s a little spot for you to park up top before a gate by a recognizable yellow sign. The bugs were brutal so we basically ran down the steep rocky trail to the bug-free safety of the lake. Sunday Lake is a small but pretty lake, resplendent with all the key features of a Algonquin waterway. There’s some bogs, rocks, pines, and even a homily island site. This lake looked like it was relatively untouched considering how close it is to the highway, or at least used by people who aren’t trucking in coolers and barbecues.

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My fiancee enjoys the afternoon sun

We took our time paddling across the lake, meandering eastward to the portage towards Proule lake. The sign for it was pretty far back, a bit hard to see from the water at a distance. Once found though, there was a nice log in the water which served perfectly as a dock for getting out and unloaded. I took the requisite pictures of my fiancee’s first portage and then we set out down the trail. This one is easy peasy, if not a bit undermaintained. There was a lot of canopy to avoid, but all the blowdown was a great source of birchbark to get a fire going.

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Proule Lake

Proule lake is a more open lake than Sunday, but is still a smallish one. We had the lake to ourselves though, and took our time to find the perfect site. The first two westerly sites were a bit closed in by the forest, and not open to the wind which we wanted to keep the bugs off. The site just before the lake dives south in a shallow bay actually had an outhouse too, I’ve never seen one in the park before! We eventually settled on the northernmost site, next to the giant portage towards Opeongo, which is the crowned jewel of the lake. It’s wide open, with plenty of tent pads, tarping points, firewood aplenty, and although rocky the water access is great. This was an ideal warm weather site.

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One of many, many, photos taken this evening of the setting sun.

We spent the day relaxing and having fun around the site. We swam, fished, explored the other sites (the other two were great by the way) and we had a very picturesque sunset. A highlight was seeing a youth group head through on the way to Sunday lake. It reminded me of when I was young and with a camp trip covering many miles a day regardless of the portages. The next day we got out early, but in no particular rush. I hope my fiancee had fun and wasn’t just humoring me, but I had a great time exploring a new part of the park which I don’t think many people give two thoughts to.