Algonquin Canoe Trip Log - Crotch Lake - Booth Lake Trip

Peter Barkwell's
Crotch Lake - Booth Lake Trip
July 17 - 20, 2001


To fully understand what you are reading you need to know the background. In 2000, my wife and I took leave of our senses and began to contemplate canoe tripping in Algonquin.

We are "officially" middle aged and we will both confess to being not quite as "in shape" as we would prefer. We have three children at home. By the time the summer of 2001 arrived they would be 8 1/2, 7 and 5. Neither of us had ever done any canoe camping before. Neither of us had done any camping for at least 15 years. My last was backpacking on the Bruce Trail in the mid Ď70ís, Chris did "car camping" in Algonquin into the mid Ď80ís.

On the other side, we have a rustic cabin near Huntsville, no hydro, no running water, no power boats and both we and the kids love to spend time there. It is, to use the words of the Assessment Review Board Chairman two years back "luxury camping".

Both of us are self taught canoeists who had never done more that a day paddle on a cottage lake before 2001.

So we read, and we read, and we read, then we read some more. We test paddled canoes, then we test paddled some more. After that we watched Bill Masonís films on video. Then we watched them again and again.

Finally, in the spring of 2001 we went out and started buying equipment. The biggest purchase being a tripping canoe. We settled on a Clipper Tripper, 17.5 feet long, big enough for all of us at one go. We now refer to it as "the station wagon of canoes".

This canoe is a mental adjustment for me. As far as I am concerned real canoes have recurve bow and stern, are made from wood, covered in canvas and painted red. You paddle them from a kneel. The Clipper has vertical bow and stern, it is glass light (no gel coat, when the sun gets behind it you look like you are paddling a stained glass canoe) and it is green. To top it off you sit low on wide white plastic tractor seats.

But, it has fabulous volume, good speed, great seaworthiness and excellent stability. On your shoulders it has a nominal weight of 62 pounds.

On Victoria Day 2001 we took a test trip from Source Lake to Bruce Lake, had lunch and came back. This was our first ever portage.

Lesson One - Forget that "comfortable deep dish yoke" advertising, it digs into your shoulders. Enter blue closed-cell foam and duct tape to pad the yoke for all future carries.

In attempting to decide where to go for our first trip, Algonquin Adventures trip-logs were one of our sources. So, we thought we would submit our log(s).

We will try to emphasize specific practical information that we would want to know about any given area. Naturally, our experience is governed by the need to be safe, warm and dry with three kids and to keep them happy to boot.

We will also indicate the "lessons" that we have learned (you already read Lesson One). Likely only beginners will be interested in our "lessons", those with more experience probably learned them long ago.

After all our reading and research we decided to take our first overnight canoe trip starting at the Shall Lake Access and staying one night on Crotch Lake and two nights on Booth Lake.

Day One

We packed up and left the family cabin near Huntsville as early as we could get three kids and ourselves organized. It had rained overnight and was still cloudy and drizzly as we left. By the time we made the West Gate the sky was clear and we didnít really see another cloud for our whole trip.

We managed to arrive at the Shall Lake by about 11:30 AM, picked up our Permit and began to move our stuff down to the waterís edge at the put in. Once it was there we could not really believe that all of us, and all of it was going into one canoe.

Hereís what we had to get into the canoe:

    Adults (2)
    Children (3)
    Full sized canoe packs (2)
    Sea Line food pack
    Child size canoe packs made by my talented wife (3)
    Full size self inflating sleeping pads (2)
    ĺ length blue sleeping pad
    Folding "Lounge Lizard" chairs (2)
    Day pack
    Paddles (5)
    Life vests (5)
    Bailer with throwing rope inside
    One liter Nalgene bottles (3)
    500cc Nalgene bottles (3)
    Pair of menís size 10Ĺ hiking boots
While we were working that out we had a conversation with a gentleman who was just coming out from spending some time on Robin Lake with his fourteen year old son. He advised us that the island campsites on Crotch were vacant when they came past.

The station wagon of canoes did not let us down, and we did not have to leave anything or anybody behind.

Only the food pack, riding vertically behind the stern seat, poked above the gunwales.

Paddling down the river from the put into Crotch Lake we found there are many rocks just under the surface. The bow paddler needs to keep a sharp eye as you wind your way through here.

We paddled up Crotch Lake to the island campsites and selected the one on the north-west end of the island.

This site has a nice, small, beach landing. There is a climb up about 25-30 feet of elevation to the campsite, which is in under a section of pine trees. We found a level spot large enough to put our two tents up door-to-door.

The "kitchen" has two chest high "tables" which made food preparation easy on the back.

The swimming is good for kids off the beach, but because of the elevation of the campsite, one adult always had to be down at the water. Otherwise, the swimmers would be out of sight.

Lesson Two - Islands are likely to have had all the easy firewood already picked over. We should have made a run to the mainland for firewood. As it was, we wound up with some birch from the back end of the island that wasnít really dry enough to burn well.

We found this site to be quite congenial. However, we discovered that the second site on the island is also at this end of the island on the north-east side, and not really very far away. No one was there, but, it is possible that you would hear another group if both sites were occupied.

Night One

The children slept well. The adults layed awake feeling paranoid and listening for bears. Then the loons of Crotch Lake began to shriek loon insults, loon threats and general loon abuse at one another. Who knows how many there really were, or how far away, but they managed to give the impression of being many, and close. Adult sleep took another hit.

Day Two

This was our test, our longest travel day. We had to get ourselves up, fed, packed and make Booth Lake in time to set up camp again.

We hit the water at about 10:00 AM.

A very hot day, it proved that our decision to use a water filter instead of relying upon Pristine water purifier was correct. If you think the water might have giardia (and youíve got to think that) you are supposed to let the Pristine act on the water for 30 minutes before drinking it. With the filter we were able to unpack it, refill 6 water bottles (4.5 liters), and repack it inside of 15 minutes. As soon as the first bottle is re-filled everyone can start drinking again. I should note that we also elect to carry Pristine with us in case the filter packs it in on us. Despite knowing intellectually how much water people drink in the heat, it is surprising how often we stop to top up our water bottles.

After a stop back at the Access Point to recover two forgotten T-shirts from the van, we paddled up Farm Lake to the Kitty Lake portage.

Now, at this point, almost every account you read about this route will say something to the effect of "and then, to save time, we waded up the creek".

Unfortunately, that is all they say. So we scoped out the creek while munching on trail mix. The bottom that could be seen was a jumble of large slime covered rocks. It wasnít obvious from which side you should start you wade. Chris still wanted to wade. With visions of a sprained or even broken ankle dancing in my head, I declined and we did the carry. Of course, it takes longer to unload and reload than it takes to walk across this easy 90 meter portage. (More on wading the creek when we get to Day Four.)

Up Kitty Lake to the Booth Lake portage. The take out here is much further up than the map makes it look. Basically, you can keep going until navigation becomes impossible and then, there it is on your right hand side.

We stopped at the take out for lunch. I donít remember where we read the advice that tortillaís make a good bread substitute, but it was right. Peanut butter and honey rolled up in a tortilla is easy for your kids to handle and neater for everybody involved.

By now we were into the hottest part of a hot day and we had to get ourselves over the 550 meter portage. For us this required two carries (three 550 meter trips) even with the kids shouldering their own packs.

I should note here that each child was carrying a pack with his or her sleeping bag, towel, swimsuit and change of clothes. They also had their lifejackets spring clipped on the back and carried their own paddles. Our five year old only weighed 40 pounds, his pack weighed 10. He didnít complain. Our 8 year old made all three trips over the portage.

Two thirds of the way across there's a very steep, if relatively short hill. It is seriously eroded. I found I had to be very careful with my footing going up with 17 Ĺ feet of canoe overhead. I would not wish to climb this hill in the rain or when it was wet. I think I would detour into the bush under those conditions. After this, the trail plays a cruel hoax on you as you approach a very bright area that cons you into thinking you're finished. You arenít. Thankfully, you almost are. At the Booth Lake end there's a very level spot above the put in which makes a good staging area for your canoe and packs.

While I was getting the canoe across Chris was walking behind with the two boys. Our 5 year old pronounced the need for a break at the half way mark. Chris decided to leave her pack with them and go back to the take out for another one. Regrettably, leaving a 5 and 7 year old on the trail made her feel compelled to run the entire distance there and back.

By the time we were all across both Chris and I were seriously overheated. Since it was now almost 3:00 PM we felt we had to push ahead as quickly as possible to get to a campsite.

Lesson Three - Pushing ahead is a mistake. We both ended up feeling physically miserable as we paddled past one occupied campsite after another. We should have stopped long enough at the put in to go into the water and be sure everyone was cooled back down to normal before going on.

We proceed up the east shore passing seven campsites. Six were occupied. The seventh was assessed by Chris as not having enough space for the two tents to be door to door. We pressed on to the eighth site. It was unoccupied and had enough room.

We stopped. We didn't unload the canoe, instead, we proceeded directly into the water, clothes and all. After 15 or 20 minutes we were cooled down enough to feel almost normal. It was about 4:00 PM.

This campsite has a red sand beach about 20 feet wide. The main site is two to three feet higher than the beach and wedged between the beach and a steep hill. The result is a long narrow campsite.

In 2001, it had newly installed split log benches on three sides of the fire pit and two knee high "tables" on opposite sides of the fire pit. At mealtime, we put a tarp down and had the kids sit on the ground and use the benches for a table.

The swimming was good with a shallow entry. There's enough of a view of the beach, and you're close enough, that you can allow the kids to swim while you cook or wash dishes on the main site.

Starting about 100 meters further along there's a large collection of driftwood trees on the shoreline. Take a saw for a walk and you can get excellent firewood in short order.

Lesson Four - Your plan to use your collapsible bucket for a dishpan is flawed. Hot water relaxes the plastic which will then bend over and spill out the water. We used our largest pot for the dishpan for the rest of the trip. For the next trip we bought a $10 inflatable dishpan which worked great.

Night Two

With the two boys (5 and 7) in bed it was time to hang the food pack.

I was tired and clumsy by now and had a battle.

Lesson Five - A small metal pulley would be worth its weight on the portages for the help it would give at pack hanging time. (We got one for the next trip.)

Just at dusk, our 8 year old daughter who was reading on the beach called us down. Two moose, a cow and her calf, were out in the middle of the lake walking on water. At least, that is what it looked like from our angle. It was clear that they'd swum across from the other side, and that a sand bar extends far out into the lake about 200 meters further up the shoreline from us. They walked to the shore and stared at us for quite a while before walking into the bush.

Very shortly after, the adults were driven into the tent by bugs. We heard what could only have been the moose, walking slowly through our campsite. It seemed she was only waiting for us to go to bed before continuing on where she wanted to go.

Later, every small forest animal for miles around came to cavort in our campsite.

Still later, our number one son woke up disoriented and created a fuss.

Lesson Six - (Iím cheating here, we didnít actually work this out until later). Better to put one adult in each tent for re-assurance.

Day Three

This was not a travel day. So we re-hydrated some freeze dried blueberries and had blueberry pancakes for breakfast.

We walked up the beach to the point where the moose had come out of the lake the night before. We found tracks from both cow and calf. We also found raccoon tracks in the sand. This was a big hit with the kids. We were able to wade quite far out into the lake here and still only be knee deep. This was the day we also tried McCarthy Creek. We hoped to make Mole Lake. This creek is more like an open channel through a wetland. You probably paddle 400 or 500 meters for every 100 meters of straight line progress toward Mole Lake. It's a very quiet and peaceful paddle. We turned back before we made Mole Lake in order to get back to camp and make supper.

Night Three

Fewer animals came to cavort. No moose passed through. Number one son woke up disoriented again (see I told you we didnít learn until later). Adults got more sleep than on nights one and two.

Day Four

This was our day to come out. We didnít anticipate any problem. We only had to go back to the take out, so our trip was shorter than Day Two. We'll hit the long portage first, and before the worst heat of the day.

It worked out.

Coming down the hill on the Booth Lake portage with a canoe overhead was slightly easier than I had imagined.

While I was making trip two, our sons saw a bullfrog eat a smaller frog at the Kitty Lake end of the portage. What can I say, they were thrilled.

We stopped on the shore of Kitty Lake and made Kraft Dinner for lunch.

When we got to the portage some people coming in had just waded up the creek.

We pulled over to the side of the creek opposite the portage and consulted with the folks who had just waded up. After they departed we consulted with each other.

Then we waded.

What you want to know is this. In July 2001 (a dry month) the water in the creek was, at times, up to mid-thigh on a 6í1" individual. The bottom was indeed a jumble of slime covered large rocks. Moving slowly, one adult at each end of the canoe we came down without incident. Great care with oneís footing is recommended. Another time we will not hesitate to wade up the creek on our way in. We believe your best bet going in would also be starting on the side of the creek opposite the portage, but as you know, we havenít done it in that direction yet.

Interestingly enough, the children, who rode down this small swift in the canoe, were not visibly impressed in any way by the experience.

We stopped half way down Farm Lake so the kids could swim and the water bottles could be replenished. The filter turned water clouded with silt into clear drinking water in short order.

Then on we went, to the take out and the closing scene.

It was Friday, so three or four sets of people were at the take out getting ready for a weekend in the park. As we approached, I stepped out of the canoe into what I thought was knee deep water. I was deceived. The water was almost hip deep. My left sandal caught on the gunwale. I had a brief moment where I realized I was about to dump the whole canoe, and then I kicked my left foot higher and fell backwards into the water. Those on the shoreline were greatly amused, but not nearly as amused as our kids who roared with laughter for a considerable time.

Lesson Seven - It ainít over Ďtil itís over. Didnít Yogi Bera say that?

Final Lesson - You can take kids on a canoe trip and they will enjoy it. They will carry their packs on the portage, they will travel well if you stop along the way. No speed or distance records will be set. They will be thrilled by much of what they see and do. For the adults it will be a lot like work - but worth it.

Peter and Chris Barkwell