Sunday, May 11, 2008

French-Pickerel River Loop May 8-11 08

Finger Islands: Holding their pose for a photo, both are pretty
well matched, but my money is on Marylou to budge first!

Thank goodness for the warm sunny day when we got back from our last trip. We quickly took advantage of the weather and got most of the gear dried that same night. The rest,...well, it had more than double the time (4 days instead of 2) to dry out before the next trip! Still not much time to dry, clean, and repack, but we'll take it! (if you haven't figured it out by now, "wet gear" means way too much work!)

On this trip, we decided to head to one of my favourite places to paddle, the French river. I wanted Marylou to see and experience some areas that I had paddled through last year along the Main Channel, but I also wanted to paddle the Pickerel river, an area that seems to be underused by canoeists. The plan was to start at Hartley Bay and head south on the French river to Georgian Bay and then paddle back upstream along the Pickerel river. Normally, the Pickerel river gets very shallow and challenging to navigate during the summer, so we took advantage of the high water levels to guarantee our passage through there.

I don't paint, but if I can capture the scene at the right
moment, Mother Nature's rendition is perfect!

Unfortunately, we left Toronto very late due to a last minute chiropractic appointment for Marylou. It was frustrating as the earliest time was almost at noon! (the chiropractor came in early - imagine that!) Marylou needed an 'adjustment' like I needed a canoe trip! I guess we all need some form of therapy, except 'mine' was going to be late! ; ) After picking up lunch we headed north and soon arrived at the familiar docks at 1545.

Knowing that we were leaving late and not going to have too much time to paddle, I scanned the map and decided to head to Sturgeon Chutes to camp for the first night. It was somewhat out of the way, but it sounded interesting and I wanted to see what was there. We paddled west along Hartley Bay, but instead of turning south on Wanapitei Bay, we continued west through a narrow channel to Wanapitei river and then turned north to Sturgeon Chutes. At first, paddling along the narrow stretch was a cause for some concern - flooded grassy banks without any real shoreline as the bare trees were underwater. The sight was dreary and uninviting. At times there was the odd outcropping of granite and pines that resembled the usual look of the French river, but that was it. Heading north on the Wanapitei river produced more of the same bleak landscape. Was our campsite going to be underwater?! As we approached the chutes, we not only felt the strong resistence of the current, but heard the low rumbling of water far ahead. It was heartening, as I wondered whether we would just find a small pathetic chute draining water into a flooded plain!

Sigh! - Sturgeon Chutes campsite. It was simply an awesome place!

Needless to say, Sturgeon Chutes was beautiful! As we rounded the last bend we could see the upheavel of granite in the distance, which consequently brought forth the roaring chutes and cascading rapids beyond. It was like shangri-la!, considering everything else we had just seen.

We quickly set up our tent on a flat patch of grass overlooking the river and chute, then spent the remaining time on the smooth pink granite indulging in the scenery. Later that night, as a good omen, we both saw a shooting star while sitting around the campfire sipping hot cider. It was then I turned to Marylou and thanked her for the late chiropractic appointment. Sometimes, things just happen for a reason!

Sturgeon Chutes

Arising early the next morning, I wasn't going to allow one of the best times of the day to pass without taking a few pictures. (okay, lots!) It was a chilly one as the tent and surrounding area was all covered in frost, but it didn't deter me. Sometimes you are so caught up in the moment, you don't even know where to shoot first! (that's after I emptied my bladder!) The main thing is to pay attention to the light, focus and see how you can utilize it in the best way possible. Sometimes I wish I didn't have a camera as you are seeking/searching for an angle rather than taking the whole thing in. I think that's why most photographers stay at one place for more than one day!

Later in the morning, I had to convince myself to leave as it was such a nice relaxing place to stay, but we had to move on. We had some distance to cover as we wanted to be out on Georgian Bay today, but it didn't help that we left at 1130! (dragging my feet - purposely!) We paddled south on the Wanapitei river down to Thompson Bay and then headed east to the Main Outlet of the French river. We then proceeded south past the Elbow down to Bass Lake. It was interesting to note the high water mark at the campsite I stayed at with a bunch of guys last fall. The large beach area where we had all sat around looking up at the moon and stars last year was totally under water!

Darken on purpose - look carefully at the clouds - there are streaks
of coloured clouds! Greenish-blue below, and orangy-red
above! I honestly thought I
was seeing things!

Just prior to Bass Lake, I decided to proceed down a narrow channel to explore a different area I hadn't paddled. We stopped at one point to climb a smooth granite knoll to look around at the surrounding area, but just before we left, an urge came over me to go visit the bush. It wasn't the greatest place for digging as the area behind us was a marsh, however, once I managed to scramble over some boulders along the water, I found an ideal spot by some trees. During this time Marylou was waiting for me quietly by the river. Marylou occassionally heard rustling in the bush behind her, but she thought it was me looking for the perfect spot, but it wasn't. When the sound approached closer, it didn't make sense, so she called out, hoping to get a response from me, - but didn't. (thinking I couldn't hear) When the rustling approached even closer, she knew it wasn't me and started to get nervous. Then not even 20ft behind her through an opening in the bush, she came eye to eye with a large white wolf! She was stunned to say the least! Fear came over her as she reached to get the bear spray(?!) and a paddle as she yelled out to me. I on the other hand was calmly squatting over a hole when I vaguely heard "wolf!" coming from her direction. Of course, I yelled back and told her to take a picture or video it! - oops! At this point Marylou didn't know what to do, so she smacked the paddle against the canoe and the wolf turned tail and bounded away. She was shaken, but at the same time totally blown away! Of course once I finished and scrambled down to where she was, I asked if she got footage, only to get some biting sarcasm! She then relayed the story to me as we both stood in amazement. We both figured that as I ventured back into the bush, it spooked the wolf from where it was staying and then came around to avoid me, only to find out Marylou was there! Wow! That kind of thing doesn't happen often, so its too bad we don't have anything to show for it. However, Marylou said she will never ever forget those piercing eyes! Cool!

Once out on Bass Lake, we turned south towards our first portage along the Bass Creek Tramway. It is basically a wooden boardwalk that was built atop the original railway set up to help transport things from one end to the other. There was also the cluster of cabins at the take- out which was called Rainbow Camp, one of the first fishing lodges in that area. It was a short 240m along a level surface - what more can you ask?

Portaging along the Bass Creek Tramway

We quickly paddled out to Georgian Bay, happy to find it fairly calm. We then headed east toward Finger Islands where we soon found a decent campsite on a small island. We originally wanted to head further north to Fox Bay, but it was getting late and we were tired from the long day. No matter, as I'm sure we'll be back to explore this beautiful area again. After setting up, we had a quick supper and turned in early so that we could start first thing tomorrow. As we were going to paddle further out into Georgian Bay the next day, we wanted make sure to get an early start to possibly avoid wind and waves in the afternoon.

The next best thing to paddling a canoe is sleeping in one!

Sleeping comfortably was elusive due to a large root under my Thermarest. (hmmm, it must have been Marylou's strategic placement - she said she slept fine!) With a kink in my back, I arose to a nice calm morning. After taking a few pictures, I quickly got some hot drinks going with breakfast. Unfortunately, the calm didn't last very long as the wind started to pick up immediately. Chilled by the morning air and wind, we downed the food hastily and then began packing. We were soon on the water, but found ourselves disoriented due to the large cluster of small islands, many of which are not even on the map! At one point we did end up going the wrong way, but found out quick enough when things didn't match up. We finally headed southeast through Dores Run and then straight out to the vast expanse of Georgian Bay.

The headwind wasn't too bad, but enough to create rolling waves. However, by the time we were right out on the Bay without the protection of the surrounding islands, whitecaps were visible and there was 1 - 1.5 ft cresting waves with the frequent gusts of wind. We had to head out past the last of the remaining narrow strips of rock attached to the mainland and turn east through Dead Island Channel, (Marylou didn't like the sound of that) at which point we would be broadside to the waves. We stopped prior to heading out for a brief break on a smooth bare island before tackling the open water. It was here that I found "Smiley", a yellow ball with a smiley face on it in the crack of a rock! Liken to Tom Hanks "Wilson", in the movie Castaway, we found a similar companion and saved him from certain loneliness!

Yes, its Smiley - he was really happy we found him! Can't you tell?!!

The paddle through the narrows went fine, despite Marylou's uneasiness. It was tricky as times with the broadside waves, but we managed okay. It also made Marylou feel better when we passed kaykers going the opposite way. Once across, we made our way north along Genessee Bay towards the Pickerel river with the wind at our back. The drama was short-lived and we were back on calm protected waters.

The Pickerel river is gorgeous with its spines of granite that paralleled the river on our paddle northward. It feels more wild and untamed here as it is more isolated and much more intimate than the French river. I couldn't help fall in love. At one point, we stopped for a break, and as usual I climbed atop a high ridge and got a stunning view of the surrounding area. It was a perfect sunny day, warm with no bugs, an unending vista of cloud filled skies and rocky pine-swept shorelines intertwined with ribbons of royal blue water. If time could have stood still, there would have been no better moment!

The Pickerel river was just beautiful!

Further northward, we came to a narrowing in the ridge walls that created several small chutes and rapids. Difficult to paddle up, we had to line several sections. Despite the lining, the higher water levels were a good thing as there were several times our paddles barely went in the water all the way. We were planning to camp on the river halfway up, but there was no indications of the campsite marked on the map. Not surprising as the place is untravelled, - its a shame. In the same area, there was several rapids that had to be bypassed, but we couldn't determine if there was a portage or not. After some searching, we finally found a vague trail that got us to the other end. We continued northward looking out for any possible spots to camp, but didn't have any luck. We eventually came out to the east-west branch of the Pickerel river and headed west to Pickerel Bay.

Attempting to line the canoe up a small chute on the Pickerel river

Being out in the main channel and open to boat traffic, I figured the campsites here would be well used and in good shape, but unfortunately they were rough and overgrown! We don't mind rough, but we couldn't even find an area to pitch a tent! (although it did have a clean thunderbox!) Third time is a charm, so when we checked out campsite number three south of Bear Island we found an amazing campsite. It was a great way to spend our last night; well, until the fishermen came around in their motorboats!

As we had a short distance to go the next morning, we slept in and took it easy. The clouds were steel grey and it looked like rain was headed our way! (nooooooo!) We finally packed up and headed into Pickerel Bay. We stopped to checked out "The Elephant", a huge mound of granite which when viewed from the side looks a bit like one of those big pachyderms, - neat. We didn't stick around too long as we hoped to avoid getting rained on. We continued west across Ox Bay and snuck through some narrow channels back up to Wanapitei Bay. From there we continued north and then turned east along Hartley Bay to the familiar waiting docks.

Marylou 'calmly' siting on the head (& edge!) of "The Elephant"

Imagine that!, we made it to the docks bone dry!!! (I know Mother Nature felt pity for us!)Although the welcoming party was little cause for celebrations as the black flies started swarming us. No problem, we've mastered the art of the 'quick get away' as Marylou and I can independently and jointly (ironic?) pack stuff away quickly with little or no communication. I guess after all those years of tripping together, there has to be some benefit! No sooner than you could shake-a-leg, we were driving back home.

Marylou and I thoroughly enjoyed this trip and look forward to going back. I hope some of you enjoyed this trip report as well and will take advantage of paddling through this area too!


Not an angle you get to see often - "Say cheese!"

What's Next?: Our next trip is not scheduled till the first week in June so we'll have some time to decide. I gather that we will probably head to Temagami to visit some other area we haven't been to. Its been a rapid succession of trips so far and it will be nice to unwind a bit. Although, a month is too much! (family functions - sigh!) Let's see how I cope! :)

Monday, May 5, 2008

South River - Algonquin PP May 1-4 08

Looking out over the ice free Kawawaymog Lake

It is always exciting to prep for a trip while counting down the days, but sometimes it can be stressful. Especially when there is little time between the last one and the one coming up - exactly 2 days! We knew what was coming but we dreaded it, especially since most of our gear was soaking wet from the previous trip. On top of that, Marylou and I didn't work the same shifts, so it was challenging trying to co-ordinate and get things done separately. In the end, as hectic and crazy as it was, we managed to get our act together. (barely!)

Paddling along an intimate unnamed creek towards Craig lake

Since we didn't take our inaugural trip to Algonquin this year, we decided to head there to paddle the South river. Actually, the river itself is outside the park boundary, but to get there, we started the trip inside the park. It was an opportunity to paddle an unfamiliar route, take advantage of the high water levels, and immerse ourselves in the historical significance of the river. The South river is full of history from the logging era to its POW camps, but it was also the primary exit point for many park trips before there was road access. People back then would paddle down the river to the town of the same name and board the train back to where they started. Now its the second most popular access point after the Hwy 60 corridor.

Marylou huffing along the 1470m portage to Cayuga Lake

Prior to the trip, we ran into one dilemma; trying to locate someone to provide shuttle service. Being early in the season, the one outfitter we attempted to contact was not opening until the first day of our trip! As it was, I had an alternate loop route in mind if things didn't work out. Even on our way up, we tried to call the outfitter, but they still weren't answering the phone. I was already relegating ourselves to the loop trip, but when we got to the outfitter later in the day, they were open! With renewed hope, we entered the Swift/Tracs Outfitter's building and enquired about a shuttle service.

The total Algonquin package - big blue sky, fresh water lakes,
majestic white pines, and of course, experienced
only in a canoe

Initially, we were told that they didn't provide shuttle service, but further discussion regarding our route brought a willingness from the owner to help us in our situation. Bernice Thornborrow, owner and a canoeist herself, (her and her husband have done the same route) decided to briefly close her shop and shuttle us to the put-in at Kawawaymog lake! Now talk about customer service, - for a service they didn't even provide! More than that, I believe her actions speak highly of her kindness. I was quite impressed and really thankful! If you ever need an outfitter, you won't go wrong here!

Unable to locate a trail, we scrambled up a scree slope to Craig
lake dam, only to find a steeper drop on the other
side to the creek below.

Here's a picture from atop the dam looking towards Craig creek

After buying our permits at the park office, we set out east on Kawawaymog lake to the Amable du Fond river. The river winds lazily towards North Tea lake, but eventually comes to a couple unrunnable rapids that we portaged. Before heading out on the lake, we took a moment to admire a cairn at the put-in commemorating past park rangers. The paddle along the south shore of North Tea gave us small glimpse of the beautiful lake and we made a mental note to come back and visit here in the future. We soon reached the take-out to began the slog of long portages Algonquin is well known for. After completing a couple 1km plus portages, we ended the day at Jeepi lake on an underused campsite at the east end.

A fine tribute to an Algonquin Park Ranger - Tom Wattie

Tom Wattie himself holding a huge loaf of "sand bread"
Photo credit: Ken Cooper

We slept in the next day and took our time getting ready, but we were soon huffing along four more portages before ending at Craig Lake. Despite ice gone on the rivers and lakes, there was still lots of snow in the forest which radiated a refreshing cool chill along the portage trail. Later on, we got to witness our first moose of the year and then battle some strong headwind and whitecaps on Pishnecka Lake. There always has to be a contrast of sorts! There was no sun today as we had this grey pall throughout the day threatening rain, but thankfully it saved itself for later. We checked the weather forecast before the start of the trip and knew the outlook wasn't good, but that's how the dice falls and we certainly weren't going to stay home because of it. We finished the day early and camped on an eroding sand island on Craig lake.

Blocked by a big logjam with no portage, we drag the canoe
under a tangle of adlers looking for promising channel
leading to the main river

It rained through the night, but we were happily ensconced in our tent and warm sleeping bags. As if on cue, the rain stopped in the morning before we got up to start another day. Today we were finally going to begin the river leg of the journey. We paddled to the dam on the north end of the lake and lugged our gear over the steep retaining hill as there was no trail down to the river. To get to the South river, you can either head west on Craig lake through a few portages, or head north and paddle a distance down Craig creek. We obviously chose the later, but soon found out that even with the dam open, we still encountered low water levels. It almost was more work than it was worth as we grounded many times and came across multiple log jams. One time the log jam was too big for a reasonable lift over so we had to drag the canoe through dense brush to find a promising side channel in the river!

Bridges visually distract from the wilderness experience,
but one thing they do is tell you exactly where
on the river you are!

By the time we reached the South river, the volume of the water increased substantially and significantly reduced the times we scraped the canoe. The water levels were high and the water moved swiftly which gave us (okay, me) pleasure running endless swifts and multiple class 1's. The only downside was the heavy rains and drop in temperature that followed, including the numerous log jams that kept coming. Lift overs are using straight forward, but try it on slick, wet, barkless logs that are not totally secured, sawing branches to provide an opening, and trying to keep the canoe from pinning under the logs or going broadside due to the strong current! There is one particular area on the river where a giant white pine has fallen across the river. It is practically impossible to lift over due to the steep pitch the canoe would have to be in. Most paddlers manage to squeak underneath as the trunk is fairly high up, but the accumulated logs at the upstream end and the high water levels squashed that idea. Rather, it meant we had to drag the canoe up and over the steep bank and dense growth on river right! Talk about strenous, maybe we should have done the mega-liftover!

One of the many liftovers on the South river - a little
more challenging with a fast flowing river,
rain, and slippery logs

The scenery along this river route is beautiful and we enjoyed it immensely. It would definitely be better to savour with better conditions rather than retreating our noggins under the rain hood, but it was still worth it. We saw lots of wildlife, but the funniest was catching a deer in the squat position relieving itself. It really had the expression of "deer in the headlight" look! As it got late in the day, our only other concern was locating a campsite. There wasn't really much in terms of possibilities, but thankfully, we spotted a mangled lawn chair on a sandy point and decided to check it out. There was evidence of an old overgrown campsite which we made claim to immediately. So under heavy rain, we rigged up a couple tarps and set up the tent. We decided to forgo supper after munching on a few granola bars and headed into the tent to warm up. It wasn't long before we were nestled in our warm bags and dozing off to the steady patter of rain.

Making the best of a rough bush camp along the South river

The first thought on my mind when I awoke early the next morning was hoping the rain would stop. No luck. It kept coming down as strong as ever. On top of that, it was really cold. It was miserable putting on damp clothes, cold boots and wet rain gear, but such is the fact of being in the wilderness. Its not all smiles and sunshine. After a hot breakfast, we packed up our gear with a load of sand. Did I ever tell you that I hate sandy sites? Throw in 'wet and sandy' and I'll guarantee you'll hate it too! We noted as we put-in that the water level rose almost a foot! That almost eliminated grounding out!

Looking out over the vast expanse of North Tea Lake

We finished the river portion later in the morning with a long series of class one's that ended at Forest Lake. The fun part was over now as we paddled just over an hour through a flooded lake lined with cottages. The sun broke through the clouds just ever so briefly as we approached the outfitter as a tease. Of course by the time we finally loaded up and left, the skies opened up and it turned out to be a beautiful day! Before we left, we spoke again to Bernice, her husband Keith and grand-daughter Meagan. We found out more about the fascinating history of the area, learned to appreciate the trip even more, and made new friends. This was the type of trip that even with the weather conditions, I felt I got more from it than I expected! Can't beat that!

Doesn't matter how many sunsets you see,
they will never ever be the same

What's Next?: Okay, so conditions have improved. I now have 4 days to get ready for our next trip! :) We are headed to French River PP to paddle the Pickerel river. Gawd I hope it doesn't rain on the last day on our next trip, as it's a pain in the ass to take home sopping wet gear! We are already 2 for 2 with this last trip including sand thrown in as a bonus! D&M