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
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