Grand-Carcajou Bay-Lower Spectacle-Upper Spectacle-Little Carcajou In-and-Out
May 15 to 17, 2015 - by Cathy Quigg
This trip was our first for 2015 and our first one in the new canoe. We were both excited to be going back to the park and to a place we hadn't stayed before.
We tied the canoe on the car and checked that we had all the bags. There's always something forgotten each trip.
We were on the road shortly after 7 a.m. The traffic was good. It was the Friday morning before the long weekend. We were at the Sand Lake Gate in good time.
Grand Lake was fairly flat. We pushed off at 10:00 a.m. Our first day's route wasn't going to be very arduous. Loons were escorting us into Carcajou Bay and I tried to get a few shots of them. I'm going to have to get a telephoto lens for these moments!
Our first portage was only 20 meters. It wasn't marked, but it was obvious. It was straight over a large rock that was beside the narrow flow of water that dropped just over a meter. It was tricky getting the canoe and bags out.
We arrived in a pool that had several waterfalls landing in it. We paddled close to the cascades to get some great pictures.
The portage was to the right. It was another tricky landing spot .. straight up a rocky, treed hill. This was a short portage - only 90 meters.
The put-in was nice though .. a big smooth rock to ease our way into the water. After a very short paddle, the next 220 meter portage came up.
With that one done, we loaded up the canoe and headed straight away from the portage landing. We paddled a narrow channel through a marshy area for a good 15 minutes before LT decided to check the map. We were going the wrong way. But it didn't take long to get back to the portage and head towards Lower Spectacle Lake. As we turned in that direction, we were directly above roaring waterfalls. They look very innocuous from above - just a line on the horizon, nothing at all really. The roar reminds you that all is not what it appears to be.
The narrows into Lower Spectacle Lake is gorgeous. It has rocky walls rising above, which are not nearly as high as the Barron Canyon, but evocative of the canyon. Lower Spectacle is a nice lake. There are two campsites on the lake, on opposite sides.
The put-in at our last portage of the day was interesting. It took a while to figure out where to go through the marshy grasses, as beavers had made many paths! But once we had the right one, there was a floating dock! I peeked through the entrance to the portage and saw that there was a tree that fallen over. The base of the tree stuck up and looked just like a black bear's profile from the neck up.
This portage was fairly short and easy to do. We put into Upper Spectacle Lake, with most of the work done for the day. We paddled to the first campsite. It was okay, but we went to check out the second site and chose it over the first. We'd launched at 10:00 and it was now 12:30.
We had a fresh lunch of small subs with cold meat, cheese and sub sauce .. followed by apples, green grapes and Gouda cheese chunks.
After lunch, we set up camp. We erected both the tent and the bug shelter. The bugs weren't horrible yet. I pulled out my hammock, set it up and climbed in for a nap. I don't remember falling asleep, but someone claims I was snoring.
Once naptime was done, we decided to walk the next portage to see what it was like. We came upon a blow-down. It had been a big tree but the parts across the path were the various smaller branches. LT snapped off all the smallest ones. The next day he would take his saw out and clear the remaining branches.
The path had some mushy wet spots. There were several boardwalks, but we could have used a few more. The map stated that we would come upon a pond that we'd be able to put the canoe into to paddle for 300m if we were so inclined. We were keeping an eye out for that landmark. We came upon two floating logs in a small creek. Neither of us were going to attempt to walk across them. I went upstream, he went down. He was right. Turns out, you don't need to cross these two logs anyways. The path veered to the left around a hill and bam, there was the pond. We were on foot, so we attempted to find the portage on land. It was tricky. We had to climb a small ridge that was topped with trees. LT would have to weave the canoe through these tightly knit trees, just like threading a needle. We decided the pond would be the way to go the next day.
The rest of the portage didn't seem that far from the pond end. It was maybe a 10 minute walk, but it was a rough one. It was up and down, rocky, not a smooth path, with one more blow-down .. a full spruce tree that needed to be detoured around. The put-in on Little Carcajou Lake was a bit tricky. We eyed the lake, then turned around and walked back.
Back at the campsite, our supper was fresh beef stew followed by dessert of banana-nut-bread pudding. I had chocolate that I shared. We didn't have a fire. We were pretty tired and went to bed fairly soon after dark.
The spring peepers were in full force, as the sun was setting. We also heard a bird that was singing a "whip-oh-will" song. He started singing in the twilight and seemed to go on for ages.
I woke up early. The birds in Algonquin don't realize we're not keeping office hours! I unzipped the tent and the fly to see if the sun was shining. It wasn't. But it wasn't bad, just slightly overcast, not threatening.
Breakfast was fresh eggs and pre-cooked bacon reheated and tea. The eggs we put on English muffins with some shredded cheese.
We packed up and were on the water by about 10. It took us 2 hours to do the portage. LT spent 20 minutes cutting the blow-down tree at the beginning. We were very happy to launch the canoe into the beaver pond, it was actually a pretty pond.
We pulled the canoe out of the pond and had a break. We then eagerly started the last 10 minutes, that seemed to take more like 20 minutes when we were fully loaded. We got the canoe into Little Carcajou Lake and started to look for the sole campsite. We found a pile of rocks that looked like a fire pit, but no campsite sign. We continued to the end of the lake where the portage is for Wenda Lake. That sign was sitting on a post sticking out of the water. We doubled back to our single option.
Once we landed and looked around, we realized that we were in the right place. There were 4 orange corners still nailed on the tree - just no sign. The fire pit was still smoldering from the fire the previous tenants hadn't full extinguished.
The campsite was hilly. It was tough to make a final decision as to where the tent would be pitched. LT picked one, set up the tent and I set up the hammock between two trees on top of a grassy hill leading to the water. If I fell out I would roll down right into the lake.
Lunch was dehydrated rice with salsa and vegetables.
Dinner was a bit more complicated. I made raised pizza dough using yeast. LT started a fire. We used a rock on the side to set the pot and get the dough rising. It easily more than doubled in size. I punched it down and manipulated into a buttered fry pan. I had been rehydrating the pizza sauce in one baggie and the veggies in another one. Cut-up turkey pepperettes were added, along with bacon, and shredded cheese strings. I put the lid on the fry pan and placed it onto a rack over the fire embers.
The pizza turned out pretty good. It was slightly burnt on the bottom - but not much. Dessert was my first attempt at a pineapple-upside-down cake. It is made from dehydrated: pineapples, angel food cake, and vanilla pudding. It turned out pretty delicious and will go into regular rotation as a dessert option for future trips.
On this lake, we had 2 beaver dens that we could see. One was in the bay right by our campsite. The beaver came out to inspect our campsite when we were in the tent that night. At least we surmised it was him. As we were lying there in the dark, the whole frame of the dome tent moved like something had landed on it falling from the tree, or something tripped over the frame on the outside edge. We lay there frozen for a while. Shortly after that, the paddles were rattled. They were stored under the overturned canoe. I teased LT that the beaver would take his paddle, as it's much nicer than my cheap lacquered $24 one. His is oiled and would be much tastier. Luckily the next morning both paddles were there waiting for us with no teeth marks.
I woke up very early and opened the tent to see mist hanging over the lake. I was tempted to get up and take pictures. But I was tired, so I just went back to sleep. When we finally did get up, the lake was like glass.
The beaver wasn't shy. He was swimming around his bay early in the morning. Breakfast was pancakes with dried blueberries in them. And we ate the last of the bacon.
We packed up camp and were on the water by 10. It took us 1 hour and 40 minutes to do the portage. It was 20 minutes less than on the way in. But those 20 minutes had been spent by LT cutting back the downfall. When we were paddling through the pond, we saw a pair of turtles out sunning on a log. One turtle was shy and slipped into the water, but the other one didn't budge.
It was nice to have the hardest portage of the day done first. The rest of the trip felt leisurely. There were campers on both sites on Upper Spectacle Lake, with about 10 tents pitched in total for the 2 sites. Lower Spectacle had 2 canoes out floating around. Both campsites were occupied. Again, each campsite had a large number of people.
We got to the top of Carcajou Bay .. the easy put-in on the smooth rock. A quick walk through that one and the next portage .. and we were in Grand Lake. We were in no hurry and took advantage of the time to hug the shore on our right to check out the campsites there. The campsites are well used. We crossed over to the access point. It was quieter, as everyone else was staying one more night.