This was a trip taken by myself, my better half, J, and a couple of friends from work, R and S. This being our friends first interior camping trip in Algonquin, we decided to head into Big Crow Lake for three nights, and day trip from there.
June 27: We arrived at Opeongo lake a tad early. Opeongo was calm, not a ripple to be seen, but even when calm, it's a loooooooooooooong tiring paddle up to the Proulx portage. Prior to coming, we had decided to take the water taxi to the Proulx portage.
Outfitter loading up my Swift Otter and the rental
We got to the Proulx portage, and loaded up to head out. We'd packed sparingly, wanting to single pass our portages this year. Last year's trip into Lake Louise was done with double carries, and J stated quite firmly that this was not to be repeated. I helped her get the canoe pack on, then shouldered the 30L barrel with our share of the food, scooped up our Swift Otter and headed down the trail. Only two small problems ensued. Firstly, the top of the barrel kept bumping the kneeling thwart which would throw the canoe forward, nearly catching the bow in the dirt. Uncomfortable visions of the undignified cart-wheel that would result if I failed to keep the bow up dogged me down the trail. Secondly, J had vanished. We all got to the pond we planned to cross before continuing down the trail minus one group member. A howl of irritation came from the hill one could climb to go around the pond. Running back up that trail we J collapsed in a heap under her load half way up the steep trail. We got her untangled and headed back down to the pond and crossed it. Some bear scat at the start of the second section of the portage caused some brief anxiety for R&S. Apparently there had been a documentary on bear maulings on TV the week prior to our trip. So scat was the last thing S wanted to see. Needless to say, no bears were forthcoming.
We stopped for a quick bite to eat on one of the nearby campsites on Proulx Lake and then headed up the Crow River. The weather was excellent, and so was the scenery. All in all it was a great paddle. We encountered a skittish cow moose who seemed quite determined to keep tabs on us, as she followed us for at least 1 km up the river. I kept looking over the edges of the trees and bushes, figuring a calf must be hidden someplace nearby to get the cow so worked up, but didn't see anything.
Someone wanted to keep tabs on us
Nice reflections off the Crow River
We arrived on Big Crow Lake, paddling beneath the high cliffs we would climb later in the trip. I had planned for us to camp on the site right at the entrance to the next section of the Crow River, and was disappointed to find a couple already set up there. We headed down the shoreline, since there are two sites that are rumored to be quite nice nearby. The first site down the shore was a stinker, but we took the next one which was on a beach site with make shift tables, lots of tent pads and a decent fire pit.
Note the ultra-high-end $30 Canadian tire tent on the left. That one's mine.
Evidence of this site's last visitor
Where we stayed on Big Crow
J prepared us dinner that evening, and I have to say that the chicken and vegetable stir fry pita was quite nummy. The bugs drove us into the tents by about 9:30. By 9:31 our companions in the next tent over were snoring in harmony. J and I had a good chuckle at that.
June 28: It rained a little bit last night, but my ultra-hi-end $30 Canadian Tire tent held up well. Unfortunately, right after we ate breakfast that morning, the skies opened up in earnest, and the mosquitoes were obnoxious, so we headed back into the tents for a bit to nap or read. By about 11:30 am, the rain slowed, and a breeze started, which helped reduce the bugs. While we were all itching to see the fire tower and the view from the cliffs, we decided that the overcast conditions wouldn't make for very good pictures, so we decided to paddle over to the start of the hiking trail to the white pines. WOW…that's all I can say. As soon as we hit the Crow River like we'd suddenly stepped into a zoo. Everywhere we turned there were moose, moose of all shapes sizes and ages. I was astonished, usually I had to be out early in the early morning, or at sunset to see them, but this was the middle of the afternoon, and they were everywhere. Picture taking galore ensued, my friends were delighted, if somewhat intimidated by the sheer size of some of these creatures.
Bull moose on the Crow River
We got to the hiking trail, took one look, and promptly donned our bug jackets and put bug spray on our hands and ankles. This was one swampy looking trail. But having read about the pine grove at the other end, we weren't about to pass up the opportunity to see them. It was a fairly strenuous hike going in, up hills and down into valleys, but generally more uphill going. I have to say we actually walked right by the first few pines, not because they weren't large or impressive, but because they would appear as solitary giants amongst other, younger trees. I had this image of a grove of giant pines all together in a group, so it wasn't until after I had seen 4 or 5 trees at various intervals that I realized that there wasn't going to be a grove to get to.
That's one big Christmas tree!
More of the king sized Christmas trees
It was still quite nifty to see 35 meter tall Christmas trees that were so wide around the base that 3 of us couldn't link arms around it. After getting numerous pictures of various trees, along with some of the more colorful flora in the area, we headed back down the trail.
Lots of colorful mushrooms were found
Left to right: S, J and myself, on the last hill down to the river edge
We saw more moose on the way back, including a calf/cow pair that made for some wonderful pictures. Usually a cow moose keeps her young near the edges of the trees so that the calf can take off into the relative safety of the forest if predators show up. This pair was well out in the lilies, so we were able to get several great photos and some video of them before mom got fed up and marched her youngster off into the woods.
Calf moose are charming in their cinnamon coats
R&S prepared dinner this evening, we had burritos with Mexican rice, refried beans, and rehydrated hamburger for meat. Smores for desert. Who says food on the trail's no good? Well ok…maybe if it's cooked by ME…:
We built up a fire that evening, kind of tricky with the rain we had had, but we managed. The smokey start to the fire drove off the mosquitoes, so we were able to enjoy the embers long into the evening before we hit the sack.
June 29: The weather turned ugly last night. At about sunset I was standing on the beach trying to figure out what might be coming weather-wise for the next 12 hours or so. Saw 3 layers of clouds heading in 3 different directions, a red sunset, but brief glimpses of the moon showed halos. Wacky. At 2 am a spectacular storm passed through. Lots of lightning and heavy rain. My ultra-high-end $30 Canadian Tire Tent was up to the challenge though, so we enjoyed the pyrotechnics before heading back to sleep.
In the morning, we found some water on the tent floor, along with some worn spots on the single walled sides. Might just be time for a replacement…this tent is 5 years old after all.
Today, while still cloudy, showed some promises of sunny periods, so we ate breakfast and headed across the lake to the ranger cabin that marks the start of the start of the hiking trail up to the cliffs. One look into the cool, damp forest and out came the bug jackets and dope again. I don't usually like to wear them, but I have to say that on this trip we would have died from blood loss without them. This hike, while steep, is quite short compared to the one to see the white pines. We got to the top of the hill, and took some shots of the tower. The bottom 5 meters of the ladder up has been removed by park officials, and I don't really enjoy heights, so I elected not to try to scale up to the start of the ladder.
The view from directly under the tower
More of the fire tower
We noticed several animal trails heading off into the bush, and started checking them out, hoping to find the cliff edges we had seen when paddling in. As luck would have it, the first trail we tried was the right one. The view was great. I could have sat there for hours soaking it in and taking pictures, but the others wanted to check out where the other trails went to. We had spoken to a couple of canoeists on the way in who had told us that another of the trails had an even better view. We searched the other trails, but the cliff edge we'd been to was the only one we were able to find. R & S were about to head down the trail when I pointed out that we didn't have anything else planned for the afternoon, why not stay and enjoy the view for a while longer. So we headed back, and suddenly the sun broke out. Needless to say plenty.
Ignore the wise-guy in the background
The entrance to Little Crow Lake
We climbed back down the hill and were in the middle of getting our canoes back in the water when the folks who were renting the ranger cabin came out. Out with them came a puppy who couldn't have been more than 2 months old. Seeing the dog, I gave a moment's mischievous consideration to howling "GAAAAAAAAH IT'S BEAR! RUN!! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!" But then I figured the ensuing pandemonium might upset the puppy, and that just wouldn't be right.
While going to the white pines trail yesterday, we all noticed the first portage along the Crow River. We decided to paddle over and take a look at the rapids, and see if there might be more photo opportunities nearby. We saw lots more moose on the way, and after seeing so many, the reaction was "Ho Hum". There was a logjam at the head of the rapids, and lots of dead falls that went well out into the flow, giving us all sorts of opportunities to pose for pics our over the rushing water.
The rapids at the 240m portage
Eventually our stomachs started voicing concern so we headed back to camp, got a fire going (damn tough after all that rain boy) and chowed down on some egg drop soup. In spite of needing to start early tomorrow we all sat around the embers late...no one was looking forward to leaving.
A nice beach shot taken by R at sunset
June 30: We woke up, packed up, and wolfed down some food. Our taxi wasn't scheduled until 2:30, but the winds were coming out of the south something fierce. Big Crow was covered with white caps, and it was clear that we were going to have a long tough slog back to Proulx. It took about 45 minutes to get to Little Crow Lake and another 30 minutes to reach the section of crow river that connects Big Crow with Proulx. At this point, the winds shifted, coming more out of the west. Those winds, being funneled down through the valley that connects Big Crow with Proulx helped push us down into Proulx without much effort.
Merganser on the Crow River
We were nearing the portage by about 12:30, and seeing as we had plenty of time, we decided to cook up a quick lunch at one of the campsites nearby before crossing.
This time, when carrying the canoe, I decided to tie water bottles and lifejackets to the stern seat to help keep the rear end of the canoe down. Worked like a charm. The kneeling thwart rested on the top of the food barrel I was carrying for the whole trip, transferring most of the weight of the canoe into the hip belt.
Who is that handsom fellow carrying the canoe?
The ladies are all saddled up and ready to go too.
We flew across the portage this time, and arrived at the drop off point at 2:00. The taxi showed up a few minutes later and took us back to the outfitters at the access point.
As always, I couldn't resist lobbying for a stop in at the visitors center. The bookstore, exhibits and view from the balcony behind the restaurant just never get old for me.
The view from the visitors center