Day One - Tuesday August 6th 2002
We had all driven from Sarnia to Toronto the previous day so we had only about three hours to drive to get to the park. We headed to Elephant Lake Road just past Harcourt and got our permits at Pine Grove Lodge. We then headed a little farther up the road to South Algonquin Trails to get our canoes and paddles. They gave all of us a lift to the access point (#15) along with all of our gear. The cost for all of the transportation was $10 total! They also allowed us to park our cars at their lot as we would be coming right back to their building on the York River.
The wind was very brisk when we arrived at the put-in (about 25k per hour we estimate). There were breakers on the lake and of course the wind was from the northeast. Just the way we were going. We had three per canoe so we were tight for room. The youngest of our trip was not up to paddling the full trip, which forced us into the three-canoe situation. All in all it didn’t workout too bad. The paddle across Kingscote was a little tough but we were still full of energy so we made it with no real trouble. We wanted the site next to the portage but it was taken so we took the site just west of it. It had a southern exposure so the wind didn’t bother us; in fact it died down just as we finished the crossing (arrrrrgh!). However this was one of the worst sites I have seen in the park. There were piles of bottles all over the area. Some were broken and there was even broken glass out on the rock porches. We even found and old electric stove in the bush behind the site. I am sure that there is some history of this area that would explain all this debris, but it should be cleaned up before it is designated as a campsite.
The tent sites were flat (we had two tents). There was no grate to cook on so we had to fry our hamburgers in the frying pan. They still tasted great. We settled down and got set for the next day.
Day Two - Wednesday August 7th 2002
We woke early and had our breakfast of gruel (instant oatmeal) and coffee (perked and AWESOME!) and we headed to the portage to Big Rock Lake. To say the least it was a slow start. About 300 meters or so down the path we reached a swamp! The path was completely flooded and we had to track around these areas. If it was just water it is not so bad, but this was mud! The kind of mud where your foot comes out and your footwear stays. With this happening so early on the portage it gave the group a kind of sinking felling about the rest of the day but after about 100 meters of this the rest of the way was clear and dry.
We arrived at Big Rock Lake and took the quick paddle over to the next portage. The lake was much better than I thought it would be. In fact I would have liked to have done a little exploring and paddled its length to the south. There is an inviting little “gap” in the middle of the lake that made me want to see what was on the other side. Its just one of those feelings that I have every time I am camping. The feeling of exploration.
The portage to Byers Lake was relatively easy and before we knew it we were ready to paddle up to our reserves site on Branch Lake. That is when the Algonquin Gods intervened and threw us a curve. For some reason (that I still can’t figure out) we missed the turn to the Northwest to go upstream and ended up going downstream towards High Falls. We got to the portage between Byers Lake and the York River and STILL didn’t realize our error. The portage was unexpected but we thought maybe the changing nature of the river had added an unexpected portage. So we went over the portage! In the wrong direction! We didn’t realize the error until the current of the river started to pick up and we saw that we were going downstream. With heads down and spirits dashed we turned around and finally headed the correct way (I know I know! carry and USE a compass!)
After going over the portage again and paddling back to where we had come out of Big Rock Lake, we looked at the proper route and could not believe we'd missed it! It was so obvious. This is another lesson to us to always be aware of where you are and keep checking the map for reference points.
We finally arrived at Branch Lake and found the site next to (actually ON!) the portage. The site was not very good, it was completely exposed to the hot sun and had only one tent site that we could see and no swimming possibilities. This is where we broke with the plan (and I guess the park rules too, I humbly admit) and decided to press on to Scorch Lake. I knew that there was only one other group going to Scorch from the girl at the permit office so we felt confident that we would find an available site. We were aware that the possibility existed that we would have to come back to this site, but we went anyway. Our fifth portage of the day went well but it was near 5 p.m. before we got to the campsite. The prime site on the point was taken so we took the site on the north shore. There are only three sites on the lake and one is in the narrow “river like” area before you get into the main body of the lake. I am pleased to say that we didn’t see anyone other than the other party that was already there for the next three days so we felt that our move to Scorch one day in advance did not adversely affect anyone.
We quickly got a water supply started. There was a huge pile of logs already at the fire pit. It did not look like this site had been used much at all. There was firewood everywhere! A real luxury. However there were no “seats” around the pit, and again no grate. We did find a grate by going to an old campsite a little farther up the shore. Before we left the site three days later we had constructed three bench type seats around the fire pit and had left a nice sized pile of cut and split wood for the next people. It was a good home for the next three days. Our dinner was penne with sausage and garlic bread and although it was late it was good. We swam and fished (unsuccessfully). And ended the day with some stargazing.
Day Three - Thursday August 8th 2002
With the luxury of not moving comes the slower pace of a day to enjoy what we came here for. Breakfast was not only gruel and coffee but also bagels with jam and peanut butter. The morning was spent getting to know where we were. I took a solo journey in the canoe around the area and found the head of the trail to the lookout. That afternoon we all took our cameras and headed to the path. After a good 1k walk uphill you get the payoff! It looks like you are in an airplane. I had seen Barry’s pictures before and knew a little of what to expect but you have to be there to really understand. The view was great ands we stayed on top for about an hour.
Dinner that evening was scalloped potatoes and Noodles-n-Sauce all in one pot and was well received by all. We did talk to our Scorch Lake neighbors and found out that they were staying till Saturday also, so there was no chance in moving to their site. I think we had already decided to stay where we were anyway. In the early evening two of us took a canoe down the north arm of the lake into the swampy area looking for a moose with no success, but a nice paddle at that time of day is always rewarding
More stargazing and storytelling ended a great day. By the way, the weather on the entire trip was unbelievable, barely a cloud, warm days, cool nights, not one single drop of rain, just perfect!
Day Four - Friday August 9th 2002
Another day in paradise. Again with no camp to move we had a day of swimming, fishing, loon watching and making campsite improvements. Myself and one of the group decided to take the walk to the Bruton Farm. It is a 6k (round trip) walk in the woods which led us to the Bruton Farm which I have to admit was a bit of a disappointment as we didn’t really know what to look for or what the history was.
We saw a few pots and a well (or root cellar). I have since found out more about this area and you can read more at…. http://www.lebrecht.com/travel/ The walk although long is not particularly tough. On the way back we had a white tail deer jump across the path in front of us. This was a bonus! It is the very first deer either of us has seen in the 15 years we have been coming to the park.
Dinner this evening was mashed potatoes and noodles and sauce in one pot. Don’t knock it till ya try it!
Day Five - Saturday August 10th 2002
Time to leave Scorch and head for the falls. We had camp broken down and loaded at 8:20 a.m. and headed back across the portage to Branch Lake. We then headed back to Byers and had deja vu as we made our way across strangely familiar territory.
There are many beaver dams on the York so be prepared with water shoes and shorts. One of the damns was quite high (at least 5 feet) but all were either pulled over or portaged. All of the marked portages are short and well maintained and we arrived at our High Falls campsite in time for lunch (beef jerky and tortillas).
We could not see the actual falls from the camp but were right beside a nice little set of rapids that would sing like music to us for the entire stay. The campsite is right on the portage on top of the hill. People using the portage will march right past your tent!
The falls themselves are about 250m farther down the portage path and then marked with a side trail. (Or you can walk down the rocks from the campsite). What can I say about High Falls? WOW! It is a great place to spend a day and there was about 20 or so already there when we arrived. They all came in by the trails that lead from the south.
It was hard drinking water out of the river when these people were drinking cold pop and beer and eating Doritos! The falls are like a Jacuzzi! You can nestle up on a rock seat and get the portaging pains massaged away. There is even a little waterslide if you have a tough rear end! And it all ends in a cool 7-foot deep pool at the bottom.
We headed home for dinner. Our traditional is to have KD on the last day in. We returned to the falls at about 8:30pm and sipped on some good Canadian whiskey. We lay on the warm rocks and waited for the stars to come out. Satellites, shooting stars….saw em all…those who have done it know how wonderful a time it is! Those who haven’t? I feel sorry for you. My tent site was slanted so I spent the night dreaming of hanging on to a cliff!
NOTE: there is NO PRIVY at this site. Caution is required when walking the woods around the area. Unfortunately some people have not read "How to shit in the woods".
Day Six - Sunday August 11th 2002
A unique double portage takes you out to the York River again. 445m takes you to the river where you have a 30m (yes I said 30) paddle to an additional 280m portage. Most of us just carried the packs around the water on the rocks but the canoes had to be floated across.
The river winds its way out of the park and slowly into civilization. We first saw a bottle tied to a deadhead, then the top of a telephone pole, then a road and a bridge. A car went past us on the bridge and we knew we were no longer wilderness camping. Finally under a second bridge and to the take out area just up the road from South Algonquin Trails. We were eating in Wilberforce by 11am and on the road home at noon.
Fishing report - only very tiny bass.
Animal report - almost no critters! No chipmunks in camp at all. No sign of coons. We saw bear paw prints at the Scorch put-in area but that’s all. Saw a deer on the Bruton Trail and later saw what we thought was the same deer from our campsite across the lake.
Bug report - minimal. Very few flies. Horseflies bugged us when coming out from swimming. Skitters were there but not too bad ..worse at about 9pm.
A great trip. Nice to see an area that has not been over used. We left the site better than we found it and we are proud of that.