This year's trip had been planned for a party of 4 and we were almost packed .. when once again unexpected events caused some last minute changes. My brother Ken and his wife (Sheila), as well as my friend Robert and myself (Randy), had planned a 7 day loop starting at Rock Lake .. taking in Pen, Welcome, Harry and Louisa. Unfortunately, Sheila and Robert became unavailable 2 days before departure. My brother and I quickly put a new plan together that would allow Robert to join us mid trip and Sheila to join Ken on weekends. This new plan would include a mini 3 day trip for two, followed by a 4 day trip for three and then followed by Sheila joining us for the last weekend.
Ken and I had spent the ritual evening at the cottage doing last minute planning/packing and were up at 8 am and on the road by 9 am. After our usual stop at the Whitney restaurant for a hot meal before a long week of our bush cooking, we soon found ourselves at the park office to get our interior trip permits. Getting the permits was an experience in itself, as my brother explained to the somewhat confused agent the multitude of different aspects/locations the trip would have, starting with two people, changing to three, then to four and finally back to two again .. along with interior locations, ranging from Sunday/Sproule to Pinetree Lake. The agent was really confused about how we were going to portage from Sunday/Sproule to Pinetree, as well as why our canoe colour and tent colour would change. We quickly set her mind at ease explaining how this long portage would be accomplished by car with an exchange of canoe at the outfitter in Whitney!
The first 3 days were planned to be spent at Sunday/Sproule with optional side trips to either Bluff, Myra or Little Minnow. We quickly had the car parked at start of the portage to Sunday Lake and I for one was extremely grateful for the short portage length of only 150 meters as my brother and I proceeded to transfer the mountain of gear we had stuffed into the van. I was able to convince my brother that one could easily get back to the car for gear that might be required during our stay, reducing our portages to only three carries.
This is not our typical mode of operation, as we typically are self contained and move much farther into the interior. Seeing how the trip had been hastily put together, the close proximity of the car was an option we took advantage of. Ken and I have had numerous discussions on the art of single portaging. Robert and I believe we have almost perfected single portaging and together are constantly working on 'improving' Ken's technique. I must admit that Robert and I may need to consider double portaging as our trips get longer in duration and as we age, while Ken's portaging technique would benefit from some serious triage (in my humble opinion). To each his own ability .. yet it's always a topic of lively discussion at our one channel nightly campfires.
The canoe was loaded (or should I say stuffed) and we proceeded down the lake to find a campsite. We checked out the south shore point and were just about to stay when I suggested that we at least check out the north side island. The island campsite was without a doubt the better of the two and we quickly set up camp and then tried our luck at some fishing on Sunday Lake. We returned from our fishing venture empty handed and ended the day with a great supper of mashed potatoes, sausages, cream corn and white house wine followed by a brief campfire until the rain started.
Day 2 (Sunday)
Sunday was a bit dreary and cool when we awoke, with a light rain falling. Thanks to the tarps, that we always erect "just in case", the day started with a breakfast of bacon, eggs and English muffins with Jam and coffee under roof. Still warm and dry in spite of the rain we did a quick cleanup, and planned the day's activities with more coffee. Mid-morning, the rain had tapered off but not disappeared, so we decided to stay close to home and fish Sunday Lake and possibly Sproule and Titmouse Lakes. I had suggested the short portage (3245 m) to Opeongo from Spoule should the weather turn better, but my brother was not quite as sure that we required this exercise. And then there was the sausages. He was content to do without mustard (available at the Opeongo store) that he normally insisted on bringing in abundance. In fact, he had taken a disliking to the fast-fry golden brown sausages for some reason and indicated that the not-so-short portage was not in his plans for the day unless it had heated washrooms every 500 meters.
Day 2 became sunny in the afternoon and we fished every nook and cranny of Sunday, Spoule and Titmouse Lakes but still returned empty handed to our campsite on Sunday Lake. After a supper of spaghetti with meat sauce and red house wine, we went by canoe to gather firewood for the evening's planning-fire and for the morning bagels. That night the sky was clear and we turned in around 11:00 pm looking forward to the next/last day on Sunday Lake.
Day 3 (Monday)
Monday morning we awoke to more rain and to lots of wind. Through the night, one of the tarps had broken loose from two of its bungee cords. This was quickly fixed by myself, while Ken set about toasting the bagels and preparing instant oatmeal with raisins. Fish was initially on the menu as Ken had told me he was planning on poached trout and bagels with cream cheese. But we had no fish and my brother balked at more sausages, so oatmeal and raisins were the choice. The sky was starting to darken so we quickly decided that rather than spend the day at camp we would do a side trip by car. Myra or Little Minnow Lake was our intended destination. We buttoned down camp and departed for the day. Reaching Opeongo Lake, we decided to pick up one of the weatherproof adventure maps before departing.
Returning to the car and noting the sizable whitecaps on the bay, we decided to chose Bluff Lake instead as we were lightly loaded. We chose not to tempt fate by crossing Opeongo in such windy conditions. We back-tracked to the highway, unloaded and carried the gear across the highway. It was a short portage of 915 m that presented more than its share of difficulty due to uphill terrain, wet ground and fallen trees. But soon we were on Bluff Lake. We spent the next 3 hours trolling and spin casting every part of the lake. At 2 pm we had a shore lunch of instant noodles and crackers with cheese/peanut butter. The wind had picked up and made fishing from shore difficult so we gave the lake another half hour of our time and then called it quits. The trip out was even more treacherous than the trip in, as it was mostly downhill on wet rock and mud.
Reaching the highway, we quickly loaded the car and headed into Whitney to make phone calls to confirm the rendezvous timing with Robert and Sheila. The rain had stopped but the sky was even darker. In town, I suggested that we might as well treat ourselves to a sit down dinner before heading back to Sunday Lake. During supper my brother got to talking about the hockey game we just heard about on the news. I am not a hockey fan, so was not very interested in that part of the news but the weather forecast sure caught my attention. High winds, severe thunderstorms and rain was the forecast for the night. I suggested that we head back as we still had camp to break in the morning and was hoping we could do some that night before the rain.
On the way to the car I had a second thought. Heck, if we hurried, we could even break camp tonight and we could spend the night at the motel since we needed to meet Robert in town the next day anyways. Repacking and triaging dry gear in a dry environment would suit me just fine. Now we are not generally prone to wimp out at the first sign of bad weather. We have spent our share of days in early May in rain, in sleet and in snow, but when I vocalized this idea to my brother it took about 10 microseconds for us to agree. We immediately confirmed the availability of a motel room and then high-tailed it back to our Sunday Lake camp site. Still no rain, so breaking camp was quick and we had almost made it to the car when the heavens opened up and let loose with rain and thunder. We only got slightly wet, as we were on the last trip to the car with canoe and pack. Donning rain gear, we secured the canoe to the racks and then getting into the car with smiles as wide as could possibly fit in the front seat of the van, we headed leisurely back to town. The remainder of the night was dry and uneventful except for the laughter and joshing we received when calling Robert to inform him that he should meet us in the Whitney motel the next morning, rather than at the Pinetree Lake parking lot.
As could be guessed, we awoke warm and dry and started repacking for the next part of our trip. It is at this point one realizes how small a motel room actually is or at least realizes the quantity of gear actually packed for a trip of 5 days for 3 people. We were still in the process of triaging when Robert arrived with his share of gear. Thankfully, Robert is really good with gear triaging (at times leaving behind essentials) so with his assistance we soon had everything into two large and one small pack. The large (heavy) packs would each be carried by an individual and the lighter pack carried by the person carrying the ultra light 3 person Kevlar canoe.
The rain had stopped by the time we reached the start of the Pinetree Lake portage and, after drawing straws for the first privilege of the preferred canoe carrying position, we set off. It was at this point that Robert noticed the new piece of gear I had snuck past his watchful eyes. This was my Father's Day gift of a nylon/canvas folding chair with arms and cup holder. I explained to him that it would be totally my responsibility to carry this 2 pound chair even when carrying the canoe but this did not sit well with him or Ken. They both then tested the chair and quickly decreed it was a community item. Everyone would help carry and more importantly, be allowed to use the chair. Happily I agreed and only insisted that we consider a chair for each person on future trips.
About 30 minutes into the portage, the rain started again and we discovered the one good thing about the three person ultra light Kevlar canoe. The width and length of this canoe easily provided overhead protection for all while we donned our rain gear. We decided to wait out the rain while refueling on chuckwagon sandwiches and a shared beer. Now some of you may be thinking that we bring more than our share of booze on our trips. But let me assure you that the quantity of wine and beer we portaged fits into a total of seven 500 ml plastic bottles. Five of these held beer and at this point we had only four more beer to last three guys five days.
Photo: The Pinetree Lake campsite.
The rain was not letting up, so wearing our sweat-inducing rain-gear we carried on to the end of the portage. We then loaded the canoe in the rain and paddled to the first campsite at the north end of Pinetree Lake. Checking out the campsite, it was agreed this campsite would meet our standards especially when Robert agreed that we could call this home.
We quickly set up the tarps and then the tent. The rain was tapering off and shortly after finishing a supper of hamburger helper lasagna, tea and cookies, we decided to try our luck fishing in the remaining hour before dusk.
Ken chose to stay at camp as it had started to rain slightly again so only Robert and I ventured out, till the setting sun called us back to camp. Once again, no luck with catching fish but Ken somehow had managed to find enough dry wood for our nightly fire. After deciding on the next day's itinerary, we put out the fire and went to bed.
Photo: The Chair under test by Robert.
Day 5 (Wednesday)
We awoke to the morning sun and not a cloud in the sky. Ken cooked us a breakfast of poached eggs on toast with coffee and tang. Robert suggested we get underway as we had planned to cover all of Pinetree and perhaps Rose Lake today. Ken said he was content to stay at camp since he was here for the next 10 days. Robert and I carried the canoe to the lake and then proceeded to load our lunch and fishing gear. I noticed a litte bit of water in the bottom of the canoe but thought nothing of it. I then climbed in and steadied the canoe for Robert. Once he was in, I noticed even more water in the canoe and quickly located the leak. The side of the canoe had been obviously stressed by a previous user as the Kevlar was gouged and cracked in the mid section. The leak was slow but steady so we unloaded the canoe and pondered the situation. We talked about returning the canoe if necessary but didn't want to waste the time unless it was necessary. After a bit of experimenting, and with a bit of duct tape we had a water tight solution. We found that by placing a large flat rock in the middle of the canoe over the weakened spot, the Kevlar bottom remained flat and the duct tape was able to stay attached and plug the leak.
Feeling less likely to sink, Robert and I headed out and decided to try Rose Lake first. Soon we were scouting the shore for the portage and after much searching, it was only by finding paint on some rocks near shore that we located the portage. Unloading and starting down the portage, we did manage to locate the torn Portage sign face down in the mud off to the side. We took note of its location and agreed to replace it where it belonged when we returned. About a hour later and much farther than the presumed 915 m portage to Rose Lake, we ended up on Fraser Lake. Well, one lake is as good as the other so off we went.
After exiting the narrow bay that was too shallow to fish, we cast out our lines ensuring that the net was available and within reach, and continued our plan to catch fish. Two hours later we landed for lunch and some shore fishing. The sun was warm and we both stretched out on the smooth rock ledge for a brief rest after our meal of soup, hot dogs, tea and cookies.
Two hours later we awoke to find the sun was hiding behind some threatening clouds, so we loaded up and head for home. It wasn't raining but surely looking like it could start anytime. We decided to just paddle back and forgo the fishing due to the possibility of rain as well as the diminishing daylight. About half way home the smoke from our campsite quickened our pace. The light of Ken's campfire became visible and soon we were all seated around the fire eating yet another fishless supper. Ken had been busy that day and had fetched, cut and split about a half face cord of wood from the standing dead trees located a fair distance behind our campsite. However, we were quickly lectured as to what wood we were allowed to burn, as the hardwood that was piled under the tarp was reserved for Ken and Sheila. There was lots of other wood cut and split, so this didn't appear to be a problem till much later in the week when I must now confess that we did borrow a few sticks from the reserved pile.
Day 6 (Thursday)
Thursday, we awoke early to a day of sun and a little wind. This was the last full day Robert and I had, since I was required to be in Toronto on Saturday .. requiring our return to Ottawa on Friday night. We were just about finished breakfast, when Ken noticed that a group of two canoes had arrived. We noticed there was no camping gear in their canoes. Thanks to Ken's binoculars we discovered that they only had fishing rods. Before finishing breakfast, it became obvious that they were catching fish so we quickly got motivated. We were on the water in no time. We decided to pass close to their canoes and chat, as they were likely local people who knew the lake and where to fish.
All too quickly we learned their secret. They were fishing deep with steel line and they even had downriggers! A bit disillusioned, we carried on and started trolling as deep as we could with our spin cast gear weighted with numerous sinkers. No luck by noon, so we decided to try Rose Lake. After much searching again, we still were unable to locate the portage to Rose Lake and decided to give Sylvia Lake beyond Fraser Lake a try, since it was rated good for specs. The portage to Fraser Lake went well as did the climb to Sylvia and soon we paddling the waters of Sylvia Lake. We decided that it was well past lunch and that we could kill two birds with one stone by stopping for lunch and doing some shore fishing. We spend about a hour doing just that and the only thing we accomplished was to finish the last of our beer, hot dogs and granola bars. It was just after 12:30 and we decided to troll/spin cast the lake from canoe. The wind was not cooperating enough to allow three to fish so Ken agreed to paddle and not fish if we would switch on the way back.
We fished all of Sylvia Lake and yet remained fishless. However we did discover a heron rookery on the tiny island in Sylvia Lake which is a sight that is worth seeing. (I believe such a bird nesting area is called a Rookery but I could be wrong?) Anyway, we were trolling up the lake when we noticed a lone heron in the sky above the tiny island. As we got closer, we noticed numerous clumps within the treetops. As we approached closer, the island exploded into life. A total of 10 herons took flight and circled above as we trolled beside the island. We were then privileged to see the birds land back in their tree top nests as we passed the island. This is a feat that can only be described as one of the most awkward yet graceful landings I have ever seen a bird make in a tree. Remembering this event is eerie, as it reminds me of a prehistoric scene in a movie where there are pterodactyls circling overhead.
We gave up on catching any fish in Sylvia around 3 p.m. as we still had a ways to get back to camp. And we still wanted to try trolling Pinetree. We knew at least that lake had some fish albeit perhaps too deep for our fishing gear. We reached Pinetree in record time and proceeded to troll out of the bay we were in, through to the main part of the lake. Upon reaching the narrows of the main part of the lake we encountered a stiff head wind and all hopes of trolling were abandoned as it took a lot of paddling to make it back to camp.
It was about an hour before dusk when we reached our campsite bay. Ken suggested that we check for a road/trail in the bay that might lead to Leaf or Bud Lake which we might be able to try the following morning. Robert and Ken headed up the hill while I scouted the shore-line for the creek. All of us were looking for a likely route/trail to Leaf/Bud Lake. Trails were found but it was impossible to confirm where they went as it was getting dark and we still had to get across the bay to camp and cook supper. That night we cooked by campfire light and soon had settled down around the fire to discuss the day's events and plan for the next. Fortunately, we happened to find a micky of vodka (Robert's emergency rations) in the bottom of the food pack. So, tang was mixed and we celebrated that night .. each having a couple of drinks to pass away the hours until bedtime.
Day 7 (Friday)
Friday was our pull out day. The three of us had to be out at the Pinetree parking lot before 3 p.m. Sheila was arriving to join Ken for the weekend and Robert and I still had a drive of 3 plus hours to get back to Ottawa. We awoke early, ate breakfast under a sunny but windy sky and then packed up the tent and other gear not required in preparation for our departure shortly after lunch.
It was now about 10:30 so we all decided to spend the next 2 hours exploring rather than fishing. Robert and I decided to venture up to the cliff lookout behind our campsite to get a view of the lake from up high. Ken chose to follow the creek to check out access to Bud/Leaf for the coming week. We both had success in our outings. I especially remember the view of Pinetree as well as the two foot high Inuksuk that Robert and I constructed on the ridge behind our camp. We tell everybody that there is now an Inuksuk guaranteeing fish to all who venture into its view of Pinetree.
And regarding the fish caught on this trip, when somebody asks about any fish, I am quick to inform them about the perfectly deep fried meal of fish I enjoyed the third night of the trip. I also never forget to mention it was served with french-fries, coleslaw, Diet Coke and followed by apple pie .. all at the Whitney restaurant.
In summary, this trip had parts that I never would have expected or could have envisioned (like our mid-trip Motel stay). But in looking back on this trip now, I realize again that it's the journey and not the destination that makes these trips so fulfilling and is the real reason that we continue to repeat these annual early May canoe trips into Algonquin Park. God willing, may there be many more days of canoeing and portaging remaining for us and all those who care to travel Algonquin's interior canoe routes.