Algonquin Park - gigantic nature reserve in north Ontario and biggest provincial park in Canada - offers a great variety of hiking and canoeing routes. During my last visits I only touched a very small part along Highway 60, which cuts across the park in the south. This trip, which leads us into the interior of the park, this changes a bit. This time Christoph, my room mate and Geraldine and Jochen, friends from Germany, are with me. We planned a five day trip to cover a small part of the vast lake system of the park by canoe. Five days, that we are going to be cut off from civilization and every day's routine.
Saturday, June 2nd 2001
We want to use the available time as good as we can and so we get up early in the morning and load the minivan. We picked up the canoes the day before and so we are good to go around 7:30am.
It's slightly foggy on the fields of Waterloo County as we head northwards. Farms are lining up along the highway, there's almost no traffic on the road.
About 3 hours later we reach Huntsville where we buy some last items of equipment, before we go on east towards the park.
Around 2pm we get to Canoe Lake from where we want to start our trip. It is cloudy, but from time to time the sun makes its way through the layer of clouds.
Quickly we get the canoes ready and load our stuff. Shortly after we are on the water, ready to leave behind stress and civilization.
We paddle northwards on Canoe Lake and pass numerous cottages, which line up along the shoreline.
At the northern tip of the lake we take the route to Joe Lake.
The first and only portage of this day is only about 300 meters long, but with two fully loaded canoes we have to carry a lot of weight. Just the food alone takes two bags, but who wants to spare on the most important equipment ;-)) As we put the canoes back into the water we have our first wildlife sighting, an otter swimming on Joe lake. As it senses our presence it dives and disappears. Beside us there are numerous canoeing groups so that there is quite some traffic at the portage. We hope that it is getting a bit calmer later on. After half an hour of paddling we get onto Tepee Lake where on its western shore there is a camp located. From here we get onto Fawn Lake, which looks more like a natural canal than a lake. Before we get to Littlefor lake, Jochen shows us how a dying swan walks on the water ;-))
In the late afternoon we reach Tom Thompson Lake where we going to stay the first night of this trip. As we approach the camp site we discover that the mosquitoes have there high season. Fortunately we are prepared for a situation like that and brought some bug spray (containing 95% DEET). A steady humming sound still remains in the background and countless bites give us a feeling for Canada's nature. It looks like it is starting to rain any time and as we pit the tents some water drops fall down on us.
The search for fire wood is rather difficult as the camp site is located within a weekend trip radius from the starting point, so most of the dead trees are cut out already. After about 1 hour I finally find some useable fire wood, for which I pay with countless mosquito bites. But the smoke of the fire that we get going shortly after repels the bugs and so we can start to relax a bit.
For dinner we have some awesome pasta with meat sauce, a real feast, hungry as we are. Additionally we munch a pack of cookies and get into our sleeping bags soon. We are just gotten in our tents as it start pouring rain, a thunder storm reveals its power above us. The tents turn out to be really water-proof, the water repellent treatment yesterday already pays off.
Sunday, June 3rd 2001
As I wake up the next morning it is still raining, but we aren't in a hurry and so we stay in the sleeping bags for another couple of hours. Our first breakfast in the wilderness tastes delicious, Oatmeal with fresh apples for Geraldine and me, Nutella buns for Christoph and Jochen. After we packed the wet tents and loaded the canoes we get going again, staring on the next stage of our trip.
We only have to paddle for few hundred meters, then we get to the longest of the portages of this tour. The following 2.4 kilometers we carry our gear over slippery rocks, muddy puddles and wet wooden walkways.
The air is saturated with water, it's hot and humid. This time we get wet by sweating. As we reach Ink Lake after more than on hour we have our lunch break.
During our break it starts raining softly again, so we have both, mosquitoes and rain. The water that we get from Ink Lake in order to treat it for the use as drinking water looks like thin coffee, honouring the lakes name. After about 200 meters of paddling the lake narrows down to a wonderful creek that runs through a unique landscape of tundra.
Soon we get onto McIntosh Lake, passing huge beaver lodges.
The further way leads us to McIntosh Creek, which brings us two more portages, which - 510m and 745m long - make us pay with some more sweat. But even paddling on the creek is getting more difficult as numerous small beaver dams block our way. So we either have to increase speed to pass them or we even have to get out and drag the canoes across.
The creek leads into a swampy area, shallow water and rich water plants. Then - in soft rain - Jochen discovers our first moose. It's standing on the shore and munches on the tender underwater roots of the plants. As it senses us it steps back into the dense bushes from where it watches us out of a safe distance.
We paddle on, but only few hundred meters down the creek the next moose appears. But it's the same game, as we approach it, it disappears in the dense forest. The portages took us a lot of time and it already starts to get dark. Tired we reach our camp site and the mosquitoes aren't active at all. We pitch the tents and we don't have to search for fire wood for a long time.
The rain stops at some point and so we can try to dry our stuff near the fire. I was looking forward to having a nice swim in the lake, but the leeches in the water kind of spoil it. After a delicious vegetable rice we have some chocolate and brownies, which cheers us up. We are all pretty exhausted and go for some sleep soon.
Monday, June 4th 2001
The sky is still covered with clouds as we get up the next morning. After having breakfast everybody is keen on paddling on, as there are no portages today.
We leave the swampy area, where we see another moose from far and get onto White Trout Lake. On the northern shore we have our lunch break close to an old supply depot from the early 1900's.
Meanwhile the sun made its way through the clouds and so we enjoy our Landjäger sausages, cucumber, cheese and buns in warm sunshine.
We hang around for at least two hours before we get started again. Now the sun burns down on us and so we discover some huge trout that swim in the shallow waters of that canal that connects White Trout and Big Trout Lake. Our camp site is located on an island at the southern tip of the lake, which we only have to share with two squirrels, which try to get some of our food.
Unfortunately the island is pretty small, so that Christoph and I have to take the canoes to get some fine fire wood from the lake shore.
We don't have to paddle far and shortly later we come back with some thick wood logs, which Geraldine and Jochen cut down. For supper we have some lemon-tomato-cheese-rice, which we enjoy with some tea or hot chocolate.
The sun sets, the full moon rises and we sit around the fire for a long time.
Tuesday, June 5th 2001
The next day occurs to be a real portage day with its 2.5 km total length. The first two portages bring us to the Otterslide Creek and soon later we know why it carries that name. There are no otters, but the water flows in tight curves through rich meadows, several beaver dams block our way.
As we drag our canoes across one of those I hear a sucking sound that seemed to be originated behind the next curve. In silence we paddle on, but there isn't anything. If there was a moose it must have sensed us and strolled away already. As Geraldine and Jochen discover a huge rock behind the next curve - no 5 meters away - they stop paddling. Finally the rock lifts its head out of the water and looks at us in surprise. Without any hurry the moose climbs ashore, shakes itself like a dog and walks away. We sit in our canoes and shoot pictures like crazy. As always one has shot the last pictures of the roll a minute ago and not changed the roll yet when the most interesting objects appear in front of ones lenses. But this moose takes its time and so I get some good shots.
After 10 minutes the moose is finally gone and we paddle down the amazing creek. The next portages come up and the backpacking part begins again. Until now the food supply has diminished a lot and so we can carry everything at once.
Somewhere after a short portage we are having our lunch break with a astonishing view. The sun shines hot today and the temperature rises.
At the end of the portage that leads us to the Otterslide Lake mosquitoes are waiting for us. The lake is crossed quickly and the last portage of the day brings us onto Burnt Island Lake.
We pass little rocky islands that are home for many big doves and is adequately defended.
We reach our camp site for tonight and later on we sit around a cedar wood fire, which smells good and burns very well.
As we have a hot chocolate a racoon shows up, strolls curiously around and walks on. A chipmunk, too, visits us, as we pitch our camp on its cave system.
As the sun sets it trenches the lake into a warm light.
The evening turns out to be just hilarious. After supper we sit around the camp fire and relax a bit. As we look for that racoon, that is still strolling around our camp, we discover a lot of life, such as leeches, cancers, little fish, gigantic tadpoles and great trout, in the shallow waters. We great appetite we set up plans how to catch a such a big trout without any fishing gear.
Finally a net from one of the tents is being knotted to one of our paddles, using oatmeal as bait. Unfortunately the net turns out to be too small and the trout only swim underneath instead of into it. At some point Jochen just grabs one big one with his hands, but it keeps bouncing and Jochen loses his hold and almost falls into the water. We are laughing hard, rolling on the ground, it's just hilarious ;-)) As is gets dark the racoon appears again, this time he's got company. I got some good shots again, but unfortunately the film roll isn't inserted properly, and I lose some more good shots the next day. Like every evening we hang our food up into a tree, out of reach even for the climbing racoons.
Wednesday, June 6th 2001
The first portage today leads us to Baby Joe Lake, which is dominated by mosquitoes. After the second portage we have our lunch break again, then we reach Little Joe Lake. We slowly get back into civilization. At the end of the lake we can already see an outdoor camp from far, but on the way there some surprises wait for us.
A moose stands in the water, no 100 meters away and munches on water plants. We are about to approach it as we discover a huge snapper turtle that warms itself in the sunshine on a dead tree trunk. It's not shy at all and lets us shoot some pictures.
As we watched it long enough we turn to the moose again, which has move only deeper into the water. We get as close as 5 meters before it gets suspicious and runs out of the water.
At that point I discover my mistake concerning the wrongly inserted film roll, just a couple of minutes too late as I think. But around the next corner the next moose stands with two young.
The remaining way back to Canoe Lake is more like a visit in a zoo. Several snapper turtles in all sizes, two other moose, loons and a marten cross our way. Sometime when we watch an animal and turn around we see more animals and probably miss some more behind our back again ;-))
Even the natives show their presence.
Back at the car everything is loaded quickly. The last five days passed by way too fast, but what we experienced beats everything else so far.
On our way back we see a house on the road and stop shortly at the Ragged Falls that I have seen only frozen over in winter.
As we head back to Waterloo after a pizza feast in Huntsville we are still trying to catch with our minds what we saw the last days. This trip was pure fun and will stay in our memories for a long, long time.