2010 The Otterslides, Old Men and Rain
First thing: no one was left behind so we have definitely improved over years past. Just kidding, I think. Unfortunately, we have begun the pattern of having to leave people behind in Cleveland due to scheduling or health issues.
Only 3 of us headed north to Algonquin this summer, so our much adjusted trip plans were essentially scrapped after Jester had a restless night in one of Algonquin Outfitters' canvas palace contraptions. Upon arrival at the Oxtongue Lake facility we reported that there were just 3 of us so Gord Baker, manager of that operation, suggested a 3 seat canoe based upon the Sawyer of Michigan canoe molds that Swift used when they first got into building canoes. Swift Canoe has labeled this canoe the Cruiser, although there is at least one other "Cruiser" in the fleet. The canoe weighed probably 15 pounds more than the Carbon Kevlar Bell Chestnut Prospector layup and was 18 plus feet. However, I did not see the specs on either the Algonquin Outfitter or the Swift Canoe web sites.
Our amended route was to see us shuttle to Magnetawan Lake access, as we've done a few times, and paddle to Queer Lake due to Daisy Lake's being booked. That meant we'd portage from Queer down to Little Misty, but my heart was not in it with this heavier and longer craft.
Day 1: Upon waking I presented Baron with the idea of chucking the shuttle to Magnetawan and heading in over at Canoe Lake and doing the Otterslide route which would not have a 2450 meter portage but rather the maximum hike would be 790 meters or so.
Here's is a picture of the 3 seat canoe built by Swift, from the old Sawyer of Michigan molds.
So the route taken was an out-and-back plan. And due to the rain, we did not even do what was our plan D, revision 12 or whatever. But, we had an enjoyable time, and agreed that using the 3 seat canoe for the route was better than having one tandem and one solo, especially if we encountered heavy weather.
AO shuttled us to Canoe Lake where we stopped by the permit office to change our route for about the 3rd time, loaded the canoes and then headed over to the Portage Store Restaurant for a breakfast to help us forget that we were careening through the park like a runaway.
By the time we actually departed on the trip it was 9:40 AM. The weather was fine and we enjoyed a 50 minute paddle north across Canoe Lake to the Joe Lake portage. The temperature was definitely cooler than what we had encountered back in May and June but certainly enjoyable for exerting ourselves. The Jester flipped the heavy canoe up and began walking the gradual uphill trail to Joe Lake, approximately 295 meters away over a very good path. Ooops! The sprinkles began as we got our gear over to Joe, so Czar and Jester pulled out their rain gear. But Baron decided to wait it out. We were getting decent rain by the time we cleared the logging road bridge and the splats of water began to generate grumblings as we swung east of Joe Island. No one died as a result of this kind of rain, but we had hoped the weather reports might be accurate this week as it was to be wet late in the day and be nice through Saturday evening.
By the time we'd passed through Joe Lake's East Arm and were on Little Joe, the rain had diminished and was a memory as we entered the creek system that connected Little Joe with Baby Joe. We paddled north past the first short portage which is marked as an optional trail on Jeff McMurtrie's Algonquin Park map and despite the length of the 3 seat canoe we were doing fine with the meandering route. After encountering several canoe parties heading south towards Little Joe we finally reached the portage that leads past Lost Joe and on to Baby Joe Lake. This section of the route is marked by someone's attempt at "posh" since we climbed the fancy wooden stairs which always seem to be poorly implemented, though a nice gesture. The first step is always too high when carrying a canoe and this is especially the case when the one carrying a canoe or heavy gear has had knee surgery. I had to think which foot was the one I should step up with to avoid wobble or the AARP shuffle.
Our trio was soon loaded, back on the water and headed towards the last portage of the day, the short trail above another wooden monument to unnecessary intrusion on the park's own natural beauty. This time the stairs lead up to a V with the left portion leading to the Littledoe portage and the right side leading to the Burnt Island Lake trail. At the Burnt Island end there is another, still mutating wooden creation, which awaits. One year the landing had taken on the hint of a "sand box" which, depending upon water level, allowed the paddler to float over a manicured landing with wooden walls or step down onto a mushy landing and then set the canoe into the lake about 10 feet away from the shore. This year the general structure appeared to be similar but sometimes I think park staff behave as if they must be clever to warrant further budgetary support. The phrase, "Too clever by half" percolates in my thinking when I see such "improvements".
We chatted with a couple while hauling gear and learned they were headed out through BIL to Sunbeam Lake, a nice spot especially when one can grab one of the nice island campsites and spend some quiet time there. We pushed on to Cherry Vanilla Bay and a wonderfully flat campsite which has good trees for tarps and hammocks along with multiple tent options. The only drawback we've noted during the 3 visits is the quite awkward landing.
We were debating whether to set up the tarp and tent and then eat or eat first. Although the rain had stopped for most of the last hour, the fast moving clouds and strong wind gave us pause. So, we chose to delay lunch, rig the tarp and set up the tent. It took all three of us to get the tarp up as the winds began blowing out of the south, diagonally across BIL and right down into the corner of Cherry Vanilla Bay where we were situated. We finally got some protection behind the tarp and then pitched the tent.
We finally got around to a lunch of flat bread and on-the-spot homemade chicken salad and various designer filtered water. My designer H2O was First Need while Baron's was Pur and Czar's probably came from AO's washhouse.
The afternoon was passed reading, watching the ever changing clouds, commenting on the wind direction and thinking if we could just get a back hoe or Bobcat in to Cherry Vanilla Bay and do something with the awkward landing we could sell our campsite using one of those timeshare operations.
Supper was a Knorr Rice and Sauce Spanish Rice pouch to which we added some AlpineAire freeze dried beef, a Ziploc of Just Corn, a packet of tomato soup, 2 small beef bouillon cubes and a dash of Butter Buds. One pot meals are the way to go since the thinking is done at home and all we do is open and pour, then check the watch, stir occasionally (just like sleeping paddlers who only stir on occasion) and then at times concoct some story about how we consulted the great chefs of Europe prior to eating.
We saw stars that night along with the first quarter moon and we were enjoying another visit to Algonquin Park. Thursday came to an end when the firemeisters finally came to bed about a half hour after Jester, a pattern that has marked decades of northern visits.
Our campsite with the morning sun streaming through the stand of birch trees that rimmed it.
The level ground ran along both directions from the picture, about 5 feet above the water level.
Day 2: It was Friday, August 20. It began with fog over Burnt Island Lake's Cherry Vanilla Bay. But after the high winds and rain of Thursday, morning fog was a nice gift. We woke up about 7 AM. However, the Czar, who likes to get up early and who was going to prepare pancakes, managed to make enough noise outside out tent that we were all moving about the campsite soon enough. Nothing like moving the one burner stove out from the tarp area and over to just outside the tent door to get a group going!
I ask you, "What affects a sleeping man more, snoring or pumping a Coleman stove?"
The first thing that greeted the Baron and Jester was a pronouncement by the Czar that, "The ground is not level enough to cook pancakes. We need to make oatmeal." This was a first! The RTA engineer, designer of all things related to track beds, maintenance facilities and such, could not shim one of our stoves on a flat as a pancake (no pun intended) campsite. So, instant oatmeal it was.
We should have caucused and turned around then and there and camped in the parking lot outside the Portage Store Restaurant, bartering our food for pancakes and sausage!
Approximately 9 AM we loaded up the 3 seater canoe and managed to launch without incident and paddled out of Cherry Vanilla Bay and headed north towards the portage over to Little Otterslide. As we neared the end of the lake we again were unsure as to exactly where the portage was located. We did this in '07 as well since we have actually travelled south through The Otterslides more often than we have headed north. I seemed to remember that we should look right of the low grassy area and Dick thought we would find the portage a bit to the left of the low shoreline. Looking at the map did not help us but while we drifted and scratched our heads I saw 3 canoes heading farther to the left or west and they were making steady progress towards an area that we decided was our goal. We began to aim where they were headed and soon the canoes landed, emptied and actually disappeared quickly. I thought back to the day when I traveled with one pack and a fanny pack, had everything I needed and sometimes even carried the canoe at the same time over the portages. Youth!
Eventually, we reached the fairly nice gravel and small stone beach marked by the large boulders in the shallows. Each year our memories tell us there is less of a beach and less grass but I think the truth is that there is less of our memories working harder at tracking our canoe trips. We took about an hour to reach the portage and soon had walked down the trail far enough to get past the "good" stretch and started walking around and through the rocks that seem to grow more frequent and closer together each year. In general this is a good trail though it does remind us more of Temagami than many of the other Algonquin trails. A few places have planks through moist spots but there are no really bad hills to go up or down. The worst spot is possibly the Little Otterslide end where the trail goes down over rocks and roots to the water level and a much smaller gravel beach landing. Certainly fewer canoes can be accommodated at one time, so etiquette is the order.
Dick carried the canoe all the way and then headed back towards BIL for his personal pack. When I returned for the equipment pack, I picked up the small one and was going to carry it until Nick met me but he appeared right away and took that pack back to Little Otterslide. I looked at my watch when I headed off with the last pack and noted that it took about 11 minutes to walk the trail but I was traveling faster this time.
Loading up the 3 seater was beginning to be easier as we knew what packs went where and which ones need to be pushed into place to provide sufficient foot room. In about 20 minutes we were passing by the island which had several times been our campsite as we'd traveled south. Soon, we were aiming at the channel to Otterslide. A group that had beaten us to the portage was off like a shot at the northern end,, veering right down a dead end bay to the northeast. After going through some lily pads with a few flowers, we paddled to the left as we entered Otterslide. We wanted to get close enough to campsites we'd not previously investigated.
The first site to the left was quite shaded and did not appeal to us, so we actually did not take the time to land. We did check out the site just to the left of Otterslide Creek. But it was small, had limited tent options and did not appeal to us. We then looked for the campsite that is marked very close to the portage and creek but on the eastern side. The campsite is actually on the open point where years ago we stopped for lunch with a group. This site has a lower area with fire ring, grass and some nice rocks that allow great relaxing while watching the lake. Up behind this area is a clearing with trees and a further spot with a large rock and a small grass tent pad. We used this area for the tent and actually the large rock served as a temporary gear storage location. Jester's hammock went up in the adjacent clearing and then we sat down to enjoy the sunshine and have lunch.
We fixed lunch and then everyone went off to read, sleep or just enjoy the views and the quietness of the lake. In the background of my digital notes the recorder has picked up some loons every now and then and it is a great reminder of one of the reasons we paddle through Algonquin. We enjoyed the afternoon and were getting used to this route and our schedule which did not include a layover day for one of the first times ever. But we had built in more half day traveling, which means more actual slack time for the kinds of activities that we previously had reserved for the layover day.
Supper was another Knorr meal. This day it was Cheddar Broccoli with a pouch of Tyson chicken, a Ziploc bag of Just Peas, a smaller amount of mixed veggies, onion soup mix, chicken bouillon cubes and Butter Buds.
The firemeisters again swung into action, in part gathering wood and in part cleaning up the shreds of junk that others leave behind. If we had a buck for every stupid hatchet or axe operation we've encountered we'd own the park.
As with the night before, Jester crawled off to the tent first. Since he occupied the center ground, to keep the two younger brothers from fighting during the night, he endured the zipper noises and flashlights while the others fell over his toes and settled in on either side. I think I know why some paddlers have resorted to hammocks in recent years. You only annoy yourself entering and exiting a hammock. Although, in the stories that others tell about a trip on which I did not go, at least one person annoyed them self as they couldn't get the hang of exiting the hammock they were using.
The view from our campsite looking pretty much east .. with the main island peeking from behind the trees .. with the fire ring at your back.
To the right, out of the picture, would be the west side of the lake .. and the route most canoes travel north and south.
OK! I forgot to mention that in a rush of euphoria, we decided to not rig the 8 X 10 lightweight silicone nylon tarp and just put our packs on the ground, then covered them with the tarp, using the 4 canoe paddles to anchor the tarp. Sometimes we have put packs under the canoes and on those trips where Dick brings his Buckley (almost every trip since he bought it), we use that for overnight protection.
Day 3: When 4 AM arrived and the sprinkles began, we figured that we'd wait it out and then pack up to begin our next segment of the trip north. We slept on our left sides. We rolled over and slept on our right sides. Then we slept on our backs for a while. I began to realize my bladder needed emptying but I was not about to get out of the sleeping bag, pull on my rain jacket and sandals just yet. I was a tough guy!
I forget what time it was but I finally did the dance and jig to get some relief. Then as I crawled back in the tent and tried to declare victory over the elements, I heard Baron ask, "Is it getting brighter?" "Not too bright" I thought to myself but I wasn't thinking of the weather, rather my cohort's assumption that a half-blind old man would even care to take time to peer through the trees and try to gauge the un-gaugeable.
For the next few hours, until 10 or 11, we rested. Dick got up and tried to convince Czar and Jester that it was hardly raining. Then he tried the, "I think it's letting up" gag. Right after one of his encouraging pronouncements, a long roll of thunder went through the area and I closed both eyes and both ears. Even Czar, the early riser, knew enough was enough. So it came as no surprise that right after another attempt to talk us out of the tent by claiming that it was "hardly raining", we heard the sounds of zippers. Then came the ungainly thump of a body entering the security of a dry tent. Just as the trailing heel of the wet sandal entered, the telltale sound of slopping rain drops began to increase to a new level of intensity. 2/3rds of the canoe party erupted in laughter. "Right, did you mean to say it is raining hardly or hardly raining?"
I think it was around 11 AM that we began to creep out to investigate the campsite. One of the first things we did was decide to stay put and not go north to Big Trout. We rigged the tarp so we could cook. While the breeze blew the rain drops off the trees, we hunkered down and read without having to retreat back into the tent and generally flex our legs.
We got our exercise in by walking to the various levels around the campsite. I was able to rig my hammock once again in the same trees as the previous afternoon. While not the best way to spend a day in Algonquin, we could have been stuck at a smaller and darker campsite. We actually had it pretty good and were pleased to have arrived early enough on the previous day to find this site vacant.
By this day, I think the trading of books may have begun .. as the books were being devoured at an alarming rate. By the end of our trip we might be educated! I had offered Nick a book on Charles Goodyear's efforts to develop rubber, “The Nobel Obsession” a book by a Polish soldier who together with several others walked out of Siberia after WWII, “The Long Walk” a book about Ernest Shackleton's other explorers who laid the supply depots that the more famous party would need to make it across Antarctica, and a book about the rescue of WWII prisoners of war in the Philippines “Ghost Soldiers”.
Our meals were fit in whenever we could. In addition to our regular chicken salad made on the fly lunch, that evening we had Knorr Teriyaki Rice with tuna, peas and some mixed vegetables. After the trip we decided that this meal is less of a taste treat than the others and we'll probably drop it from the menu. Of course, this could be all related to the disappointment of the wet day.
Czar in the "reading room" which gives a sense of what less than perfect weather is like.
We all were a bit out of focus by this time.
Day 4: It found us enjoying a much better weather day, with the promise of dry conditions .. if not sun. We slowly got moving and enjoyed our campsite, knowing that by noon we would break camp. We'd then be heading back south, to position us for carrying back over from Little Otterslide Lake to Burnt Island Lake via the 790 meter portage. We wanted to stop on Little Otterslide Lake's island where one of the campsites is flat and serviceable for a small group of 4 to 6 or 2 tents.
We enjoyed lunch, then dismantled the tent and shook the water off Both the tent and tarp, as best we could. We then began the incredibly short paddle without portages over to Little Otterslide via the channel that has lilies. At its south end there's a downed tree and the remnants of a beaver dam, barely seen under the water.
This was the simplest of paddle days. As we approached the southern tip of the island, I strained to see evidence of another party already on the site. We had been fortunate to camp where we wanted each night and I was elated to find that this site, although a bit scruffier than previous years, was available.
Soon, we had a clothesline up and the various items needing a bit of breeze, including the tent fly, were arrayed along the rope. We rigged the tarp with a few additional lines to make it a bit better than at the previous site, dumped our packs and proceeded to relax after the grueling 30 to 45 minute paddle from Otterslide. Within 30 minutes, Jester's hammock was up and in use .. though I wore myself out thinking about what to then do. In the end I filtered water, ate snacks and read from Baron's John Grisham novel “The Brethren”.
This campsite has room for 2 or 3 tents but is not a destination site. However, the view of Little Otterslide Lake to the south, in the general direction of the portage over to Burnt Island Lake, is nice. Supper was the only repeat of the trip, another Spanish Rice meal based upon a Knorr pouch. This was the last of the Knorr meals for this year and it was only by accident and poor thinking on Jester's part that the first 4 meals were Knorr and the last 2 would be Bear Creek soup-based meals. As was the case on the first night, we added a pouch of AlpineAire FD beef, a Ziploc of dried Just Corn, a tomato soup packet, a couple cubes of beef bouillon and Butter Buds. Merlin would have been proud of our formula.
By now, we were really getting worn out from all the “nothing” on the agenda and half day treks around the vicinity. But after decades of actually stretching ourselves on many trips and this year going through so much just to get north and then carrying the 3 seat canoe, I think we earned the right to at least one "valet service" trip.
Another dry night and a good rest. Being able to empty the bladder without needing a PFD was a real treat.
The Little Otterslide location looking east through the campsite and towards the mainland ..
.. away from the bay that leads to the Burnt Island Lake portage trail.
Day 5: It found us dry on Little Otterslide Lake and pleased with the prospects of a nice workout compared to the easy portage free paddle from Otterslide to Little Otterslide on day 4. We broke camp, broke bread (instant oatmeal), loaded up the canoe and headed off to the south towards the portage to BIL.
We encountered a few paddlers along the trail. We spent a bit of time lingering in conversations, but in general kept moving our gear south. It was my turn to carry the canoe and I went almost to the end. However, a few minutes from Burnt Island Lake I set the canoe down and headed back for my pack. I am guessing that the northern 2/3 of the trail is rocky with the southern 1/3 much better as far as looking like a smooth path. I got to the spot where I had left the canoe and soon dropped my pack off to the left side near the open grassy area. Soon the canoe was placed at water's edge and we were loading up once again.
Leaving the beach area and scooting to the left of the larger rock that "guards" the landing, we headed for the first point on the northwest side of Burnt Island. We had never camped in the northern third of this lake and planned to play our remaining days by ear although we were permitted for two more days on BIL. We passed by the first site on the right as it was not as open as we would have preferred and kept to the right and curved around the point to the second site. I jumped out as we bumped the shoreline and noted that there was lots of flat space, grass, a large fire ring and by golly, even a picnic table. Behind the main site was another clearing that could have supported additional tents if needed and there were several trees suitable for hammocks. The others climbed out while I stabilized the canoe and we soon were unloaded, with the canoe up out of the water and pulled off to the side.
We staged our gear and then decided to rig the tarp, which by this time looked better and better as we had cut and attached more sections of Kelty Trip Tease guy line. By the time we were thinking of lunch, the hammock was up in the back and we were joking about the supposed weather forecast we had heard as we passed the others at the portage. Clearing by noon! Clearly we were happy with the prospects of sun again but the sky was still quite cloudy with no blue in sight. I heard Czar mumbling about "Clearing by noon? Huh?" I picked up the cause and told Czar, an employee of Cleveland's Regional Transit Authority, "Maybe the weather is on the RTA's schedule so expect delays." Actually, we cheered the appearance of some sun beginning at 12:30 PM and the day improved noticeably as the clock ticked.
The afternoon turned out to be great. We were comfortable in our shorts, even pulled off sweaters and layers and had to chase the shade for a little bit. In general, we just soaked up the beautiful views of the lake. Everyone read, slept or just inhaled the park's beauty, forgetting about the previous dampness.
We pitched Baron's Eureka Apex XT close to the water and then aired out sleeping bags, tent fly and other items either on top of the tent itself or on the clothesline. I took some time to put my low cut, light weight hikers out in the sun down by the waterfront. I remembered to move them every 45 minutes or so, as the sun and shade shifted along the ground. I had worn my Tevas on days one, three and four . However, on days two and five, when we had the longer portage over the rocky trail between BIL and Little Otterslide, I wore my LL Bean hiking shoes. Since my knee surgery I debate what footwear to use. But as I gain confidence in my knee and learn that while it's stiff, sore, achy and tight .. it's not necessarily about to fail.
I recall that while we nibbled snacks through the afternoon, we were laughing about bringing too much. Baron kept holding up Czar's snack bag and hefting it as if it was something that should be in a car trunk to hold an automobile on the road in winter. Each day I pulled out my "blue bag" and took a pair of Clif Bars out and transferred them to a "daily Ziploc" along with some Plain and Peanut M&Ms, a few pretzel balls and lemon drops. The "blue bag" and anything I had not eaten during the day went into the food bag at night, a ritual that is pretty well maintained to avoid not just bears but those more likely to be a nuisance .. chipmunks or raccoons.
Supper this day was the first of our Bear Creek soups on steroids or an “Algonquin Chowder”. Actually we had Creamy Potato Soup to which we added one foil pouch of Pillar Rock salmon, a Ziploc of dried corn, ½ a bag of mixed veggies and Butter Buds. Originally our menu was aimed for about 6 paddlers and as we had participants drop out, we marked the menus with notes on what to cut and what we could safely cut if we added a little more of the dried veggies, etc.
This year, I had scouted out some Dole Fruit Crisps and small containers of mandarin oranges that we intended to use on those short paddle days when perhaps a treat would be fun. When we'd cut the menu and then originally faced hauling the three seat canoe over the original route out of Magnetawan Lake Access, most of these extras were pulled from the equipment/food pack and my own pack. I had kept 3 of the Dole Fruit Crisps. Somewhere along the way, Dick and I nibbled ours, but Czar made a big deal of saving his until the next afternoon. He was in rare form with a multifaceted explanation of the wisdom of patience.
Once again when it got dark, Jester was first in the tent but unlike the inventory system, not first out.
"Hammock with a view" .. Czar preparing to air out his sleeping bag ..
.. Burnt Island Lake peeking through the trees and one of the first shadows seen in about a day.
Day 6: Sun's up! By now the original route discussed back in late winter and early spring was a thing of historic interest and long since forgotten. When Czar stuck his head out of the tent and saw his shadow, he declared that we should be smart and hang out until the midday meal and then head further south, closer to the smells wafting from the kitchen of the Portage Store Restaurant. Actually, for a few days we had been discussing our return and thinking about what day we should be where, so as to be positioned to be at the lower end of BIL in time to make a dash to the restaurant by the 11 AM breakfast deadline. Our three person party was being whipped to a frenzy by Czar's railroad mentality and time schedule.
We enjoyed pancakes this morning, since what would go better than the picnic table that we had stumbled upon yesterday and pancakes. Baron and Jester were waiting for the official declaration that "the table is not sufficiently level for pancakes today" but in a moment of heroic proportions, the Czar rose to the occasion and after a false start with the batter, water and the dried blueberries, came on strong. We had one tub of Just Blueberries that we were using in the pancakes and I believe we finished them up on this day.
After breakfast clean-up, we stretched out our packing and arranging of gear and everyone went off to read or once again take in the beauty of the park. I noticed that Czar was enjoying my hammock, so I began to kid him about needing to rest before the sprint to the access point and the final park meal.
About noon, we fixed our lunch which on this day was flat bread and "on the spot" homemade tuna salad. Soon we had the tarp packed up, the tent was packed and the cooking gear was in the equipment packs. Baron was in his element as he fiddled with the packs. But we reminded him that we should not consolidate too much as we still needed to be careful with the canoe's trim, noting that the two personal packs that were stowed nearest the front were not dropping in weight so we would need to have some weight in the small bag stored behind the stern seat. Sometime during the week we'd swapped where we stored the equipment pack being used by Nick. As a result, the main equipment pack and the canoe seemed to handle the breezes better.
After a quick glance around the campsite for fanny packs and items hung on trees, we were off down Burnt Island Lake. We'd originally thought we might camp at the lower end of BIL or even in the East Arm of Joe Lake. But weather reports we'd gotten on the BIL Little Otterslide portage indicated the weather was turning. So when we reached the portage out of BIL to Baby Joe Lake, we picked those whom we encountered for more info. It was not sounding good and various reports of colder weather for Tuesday night with rain beginning Wednesday made us pick up our pace. We did not mind the idea of colder weather, but the thought of breaking camp on the last morning in wet conditions was not appealing.
By the time we were launched on Baby Joe Lake, we were estimating our arrival time knowing we would possibly be too late to call for a shuttle prior to the outfitter's closing time of 5 PM. We commented on the change in the air noting that it felt like a front was arriving. The clouds looked a bit grayer but not black. This was one time when paddling 3 in a canoe and not worrying about trying to stay together was a big plus.
We carried over the portage out of Baby Joe which skirts the edge of Lost Joe and then parallels a creek before descending those wooden stairs designed by a Frank Lloyd Wright wannabee. We encountered several parties heading in the opposite direction and inwardly chuckled as a fellow was pulling a plastic ice chest on wheels. It was more suited to a city park or an outdoor concert venue than portage trails. I thought to myself, "I sure hope you have medicine in there and are not hauling weekend warrior food or beverage."
When I came to the end of my second pass and began to load the canoe, Dick was chatting with the couple who he had discovered just standing at their canoe drinking from illegal cans. The lame excuses that were given to us was that “too many people agree to the park rules without truly listening to them”. When I heard their comment, "We're going to carry them out. We have food in cans." I commented, "You are liable to have your car impounded and face a large fine. Plus a can is a can and the only exception is medicine containers. Read the back of your permit that you signed."
We were off down the creek, meandering a bit slower than if we had been paddling in one of our usual rentals, the much more nimble Bell Carbon Kevlar Chestnut Prospector model. We ran the optional portage as we had done on the upstream run a week earlier and as we approached the waters of Little Joe we passed a canoe of 3 who had been out for a day trip and who appeared to have paddled directly from Baby Joe skirting Lost Joe and followed the creek past the stairway end of the portage.
As we approached Arowhon Pines, I started to speculate that maybe we could phone AO from there to arrange for a shuttle. However, as we neared that building we decided to rather brave the elements. We slowly searched for a campsite in the more crowded regions north of Canoe Lake. We closely approached a few campsites, paddled by others but turned thumbs down on the only one we stepped out of the canoe to check. Eventually we paddled all the way west through Joe Lake to the Oxtongue River stretch of Joe that leads to Teepee Lake. There we took a very utilitarian flat grassy site that was below Gibraltar Rock. We pitched the tent, decided to skip the tarp and just put packs under the canoe since we'd be packing-up in a hurry and paddling back to the access early.
I recall years ago, when I did more paddling out of Canoe Lake and headed back to Sunbeam Lake along this stretch, passing by someone else camped on this spot. I'd wondered why anyone would choose this location. On this trip, I had at least one answer. It was available, it was suitable for one night and it was flat. Though I felt like I was camped just over the guard rail on the highway, it functioned as we hoped. It allowed us to eat supper and get a fairly good night's rest.
The last meal from our menu, or as Czar referred to it, the "officially scheduled meal", was another Bear Creek soup. This time it was Cheddar Broccoli augmented with a pouch of Tyson chicken, a cup of Just Peas and a half cup of mixed vegetables, onion soup, chicken bouillon cubes and Butter Buds. It brings a smile to my face when I think back to the days when we emptied a freeze dried package of something into a pot and, imitating Merlin in King Arthur's kitchen, shook some Mrs. Dash in the pot and declared victory. Now we seldom use Mrs. Dash but we do open more pouches and packets as if the more we toss in, the more chance of victory we have, whether or not we declare it officially.
The thunder box was discovered up a trail. Not just down the trail 50 paces but literally uphill, up the trail. A definite downside of a site in this location was being near Joe Island's rock cliffs and the solid hill on the opposite side of the Oxtongue River, since additional sound waves reverberate in the area. Long after we were interested in quietness, the next campsite was the source of several female voices. So the three of us basically yelled for quiet, but I think the voices only lowered a bit. Both Dick and I commented in the morning that as late as 1 AM we'd heard voices but they were coming from another campsite, possibly the one north of us. That is one downside of having to use a campsite along the Oxtongue or on the western side of Joe Lake.
Czar's breakfast special, proving that for one meal at least, we ate well.
My Sea To Summit bowl, similar to a Squishy bowl .. it and accompanying cup collapse flat
into a zip pouch.Together they took up less space than my old knockoff Sierra cup.
I recollect volunteering to set my wristwatch alarm for 6 AM, in order to get going as early as possible. Two reasons were behind this step: 1.) we went to bed fearing that the poor weather forecasts we had been fed by the passing canoeists would prove to be accurate and 2.) we wanted to possibly get on Canoe Lake before the winds came up. Canoe Lake had been quite windy the last time we came this way. Although we were paddling the larger 3 seat canoe, we didn't want to tempt the local "Manitou", said to be living in a shed behind the Portage Store.
Day 7: Upon awakening, we noted the sun shining from behind the clouds over the hills of Joe Island. So, we were quite grateful. The clouds didn't indicate the bad weather that had been predicted, so we grabbed our granola bars which we had set aside in our food bag to replace our standard instant oatmeal breakfast. To save time, we struck the tent, which was quite dry, did a final pack of personal items and were soon eating our granola breakfast in advance of launching the canoe.
We paddled past the noisy neighbor's campsite, as we whispered jokes about lobbing some firecrackers or latex paint balloons onto their tent. Baron suggested he might see just how loud a beaver-tail-slap could be, using his Ray Kettlewell paddle. We were at the Joe to Canoe Lake portage in less than 25 minutes and soon had our gear ready to go for the last lake of the trip. A pair of paddlers heading north asked if we had seen a pair of gloves at the portage landing, but we had not seen them. The Baron remembered that they had passed by our "side of the highway" campsite the previous day and I believe they had been out fishing in the direction of Tom Thomson. The early morning lighting was splendid and I took a picture or two of the waters leading south towards Canoe Lake.
Our utilitarian campsite on the Little Oxtongue River, below Gibraltar Rock
.. looking south across the Western Gap and Joe Island.
We eagerly anticipated what the exact conditions of the lake would be. But the sky and the very light breeze boded well, as we went around the bend and towards to opening to Canoe Lake's main body .. to coin a phrase, "Piece of cake, smooth as a beaver's tail" or something like that. We paddled across the lake enjoying the colors, the soft clouds that did not look threatening at all. I remember inwardly smiling at all the effort we put in the previous day in our attempt to race south from Burnt Island Lake ahead of the predicted bad weather.
Looking south over the small section of the Little Oxtongue River that connects Canoe Lake
with the waters of Joe Lake. The Joe Lake dam is behind the photographer's position.
We passed one or two canoe parties that had left the Canoe Lake Access. We were early enough that, when we passed near the camp on Wapomeo Island, we heard a loud bell echoing its ring across the lake. It sure brought back some memories. I thought it must be either a wake up bell or a call to breakfast. Some camps just play music or bugle calls on an old record player. But the sound of the bell was classic and it motivated me to paddle harder in order to show the Czar I was doing my best to get him to the Portage Store Restaurant in time for not only a good breakfast, but seconds if he so chose.
I forget if we took more or less than the 50 minutes we took on day one to cross Canoe Lake, but we were soon on terra firma, digging out the phone number and my Ziploc with Canadian money and a credit card. While the guys made a bee line to the wash rooms and cleaned up just enough to be semi presentable at the breakfast table, I went to the phone booth at the edge of the parking lot and called Algonquin Outfitters. Beth answered and said she would have someone over to the access in an hour. That was perfect. It gave us time to eat and burp the Czar, who'd seemed to imply all week long that he was insufficiently cared for by the concoctions of the Baron and Jester.
After eating and kidding around with the same person who served Dick and I back at the end of our May/June trip, we returned to the canoe and our gear. Prior to breakfast, we'd emptied the canoe and staged the gear near the edge of the gravel launch area and had moved the canoe to the same area, so we pretty much sat around using our packs as loungers.
I popped into the permit office to ask if they knew anything about the campsite that is adjacent to the Magnetawan Access parking lot. We'd wondered if there were other campsites adjacent to any other access points which might be used if canoeists arrived at an access point after a trip but too late to arrange for a shuttle pickup. The contractor's staff did not know of other such spots other than places like Rock Lake which has a regular campground adjacent to the access point. Also, I gave them my two cents plus exchange rate about the "fancy wooden staircases" along the Joe lakes, complaining about the "too high" first step which is nasty when you are carrying a canoe or you are a kid whose body can't make such a high step up or down. I ended my polite tirade by suggesting that if there were funds available I'd prefer to see more bear bag stations such as over near Achray and Saint Andrews Lake rather than building fancy stairs.
We were soon back at AO, where we cleaned up and then headed off via the back roads for a visit to Peterborough’s Lift Lock which our engineering friend Czar had never seen. The following morning, we spent time wandering around the Canadian Canoe Museum, another spot the Czar had not seen.
Although our original route hadn't been taken, it has already moved to the list of suggestions for 2011. And so, the review of 2010 has started the process of planning for 2011. In the future we might see you paddling from Magnetawan through McIntosh and down The Otterslides .. or south of the highway, where we want to combine several regions into what we call the “lazy figure eight” .. beginning at Rock Lake, looping westward through the lakes as far as Little Coon and returning via Louisa.
It was an enjoyable trip, even though it was not what we originally had in mind during our first planning sessions and morphed right up until launch day.