Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Canoe Trip from Achray to Opalescent

Usually we book our tips last minute. Partly to make sure the kids are healthy and the weather is good, but mostly because we're not usually that organized. This time we booked a trip to the eastern part of Algonquin (Achray) well in advance. As our departure date approached we could see that there was some rain in the forecast. We weren't worried about it but we kept an eye on it (Though I'm not sure why. It's not like keeping an eye on the weather actually changes anything). The day we left the forecast was calling for lots of rain with some rainfall warnings in nearby Pembroke and Petawawa. As we drove north we were hopeful. There were some showers, but mostly it was just cloudy, that is until we were about 30 minutes away. Then the rain started and didn't stop until sometime overnight.

At Achray we donned our rain gear and headed out. Everyone was in great spirits, so it didn't really matter that it was raining. We loaded the boats and headed off on Grand Lake. It was so peaceful. We were the only ones on the lake. In fact we only saw one other boat all day.

The Lake to Ourselves
We blasted through the 50m portage into Stratton Lake and began the long paddle to the other end of the lake. By the time we got to the portage leading into St. Andrews we had been paddling in the rain for about two and a half hours. This kids were soaked to the bone (time for some new rain gear) and were chilled. We hurried through the portage and made our way to the first site on the lake. It was empty so we decided this would be our home for the next two nights.

I don't mind camping in the rain, but it's really difficult to setup in the rain when you're already soaking wet. We setup a tarp and started unloading some gear (tents and dry clothes for the kids) but found it difficult not to get everything wet. Fortunately, the rain let up a bit as we were ready to setup the tents. While we were setting up the tents our son thought he'd try to get the stick stove going. Everything was so wet that it was going to be a challenge getting any kind of fire going. It's a skill we should practice more someday, but late in the day with a bunch of cold bodies didn't seem like the right time. We fired up the stove, cooked some pasta, cleaned up then got into the tents to get away from the bugs. It was quite late by the time we got into the tents. This has a lot to do with the fact that this was our first trip with two boats. We move a lot slower with one adult paddling in each boat than with two in a single boat. I'm sure we'll get faster with practice.

It was an amazing feeling to waken to the sun streaming into the tent on the second day. What a relief. We would be able to hang all of our wet gear out to dry. The morning was a little cool but the sun was quickly warming things up. We slowly had some breakfast and cleaned up. The plan for the day was to head to the 'water slide' to play in the water. We packed a lunch and headed off. We retraced our steps into Stratton Lake and started paddling towards High Falls.

Off to the Water Slide
As we got close there was no question about where to land to get to the water slide. There were about ten boats on the shore. We found a place to squeeze into and followed the trail and the sound of water. We had some lunch then played in the water. I went down the water slide first to see what it would be like for the kids. It was a blast. I sat on a solid, smooth mass of Canadian Shield with water pushing at my back. I pushed off and let the water take me down the slide. At the bottom I hit the wall of water and disappeared under the water, not quite sure when I would resurface. Sure enough I popped up a few seconds later. Our son is a confident enough swimmer that I knew he would feel comfortable and both of our daughters were wearing their PFDs so they would be fine. I waited at the bottom as the two older kids had a turn. The smiles on their faces were priceless. Our youngest daughter wanted to go but was a little frightened. Eventually she was ready so she went down with Sarah. She was so excited when she resurfaced at the bottom. I didn't get any pictures of the water slide but I did get some video that I will post soon.

After sliding for a bit the kids wanted to swim in the lagoon upstream from the slide. I took this opportunity to head down stream to see High Falls. There were far fewer people downstream but High Falls was spectacular. If you visit the area do yourself a favour and hike the extra couple of hundred metres to see the falls.
High Falls

Further Down Stream
Heading Back to the Campsite
We had a lovely paddle back to our site. We decided to skip the portage and run the rapids back into St. Andrews Lake. We made it through and only bumped a couple of rocks on the way down. By the time we made it back to our site it was getting late. We cooked up some pizza (on the fire). What a great day.

Back on St. Andrews Lake

Our Campsite
On the third day we woke up to sun and lots of wind. Thankfully the wind would be in our favour. We had some breakfast and packed up and headed out. The paddle down St. Andrews was a breeze, thanks to the wind. Then came the first long portage of the trip (the first of three for the day). It was a 595m portage into High Falls lake. The kids did great on the portage and we were rewarded with a beautiful water fall near the end of the portage. The very end of the portage was a very steep and rocky decent to the water. Watch your footing!

Waterfall Along the Portage
I was curious to see what High Falls Lake looked like. There had been a fire there a couple of summers ago. I wondered how quickly things had regrown. We had some lunch as we drifted (assisted by the wind) down the lake. We could see where the fire had been. I imagine it would have been a scary place to be during the fire. We could see some signs of damage at the south end of the lake but the damage was much more obvious at the north end near the portage into Ooze Lake.

Burnt Tree Overhanging the Water

North End of High Falls Lake
After lunch we finished paddling High Falls Lake and completed the 330m portage into Ooze Lake. The portage was uneventful and Ooze Lake looks much like you might expect it. It was a short paddle across Ooze to the 640m portage into Opalescent (our destination). The 640m portage was a tough one for us. It was late in the day and we were getting tired. At the beginning of the portage our 4 year old broke down in tears. She didn't want to go any further. When I asked if she was tired she replied "No...My feet are tired". Given how well she had done and that we needed to get going, I piggybacked her halfway across the portage. I set her down where she had a rest with the other kids while I went back to get the canoe. By the time I made it back to the halfway point the kids were still there resting. I stopped and chatted with them, then went back for our packs. Thankfully they had moved on when I got back. The portage was long but we made it through. The kids seemed to be enjoying themselves when I finally made it to the end. It started to sprinkle as we finished the portage. We got into the canoes and began searching for a site. We chose the site on the south end of the lake. It was a really nice site. The only drawback was that there was another site (not marked on the map) less than 20m away. We speculated that perhaps the other site had been decommissioned but the sign hadn't been removed(?). We thought this because we were unable to locate the thunderbox.

Setting up in the rain was a little easier this time. It had only been raining lightly and we weren't completely soaked.

Opalescent Lake

Looking South On Opalescent
We cooked up some rice, vegetables and cheese for dinner and had a delicious grasshopper pie for dessert. By the time we finished eating the rain had stopped so we did a little fishing. Our son caught a couple of small bass. We were all tired so we headed for bed early. This was a tough day for us but everyone was in good spirits by the end of the day.

The plan for day four was to do a day trip to the Barron Canyon. The girls, however, were insistent on staying put for the day. Sarah said that she would be happy to stay with them if our son and I wanted to go to the canyon. Our son thought long and hard about what he wanted to do and eventually decided to stay at the site. It was probably a good decision by all, given that the following day we would need to retrace our steps all the way back to the access point.


Swim Time
While the others hung around the site, I decided that I would head to the Barron Canyon. I battled a tough head wind to get to the 750m portage into Brigham Lake. It was such a peaceful portage. I was in the woods all by myself. I paddled across the lake to the 100m portage. I thought the rapids might be runnable, but figured it was probably faster to portage than to scout the rapids then run them. Next came a 440m portage, the first part of which was not runnable. The second part looked doable. There was even a spot where people obviously put their canoes in. I decided to finish up the portage instead. I figured taking unnecessary risks when you're by yourself, in the middle of nowhere wasn't worth it.

Once I completed the portage I was leisurely moving along the Barron River taking in the amazing sights of the canyon. Unfortunately, the battery for one of my cameras died and the other was giving communication errors between the lens and the body. I didn't get as many pictures as I had hoped but did manage to get some.

The Barron River

As I paddled along I could hear water rushing. There was a waterfall flowing into the canyon. I made for the shore, pulled the canoe up and realized I was thigh high in poison ivy. Thankfully I was wearing pants. I should have landed about 30m upstream to avoid the poison ivy.

Waterfall into the Barron Canyon
The canyon was quite busy, but it was hard to notice because of the sheer size and beauty of it all. Mother Nature sure is a beautiful artist.

After paddling through the canyon I figured I should turn around and make my way back to the rest of the family. Upon my arrival the girls were lying in a hammock while Sarah read a book out loud. They had a good restful day.

Hangin' Around

Our final day was all about retracing our path back to the access point at Achray. We left our site a little after 9:00. We had the three long portages to do, but everyone had fresh legs so we blasted through them. We had lunch in the canoe on St. Andrews Lake with the wind pushing us in the right direction.

St. Andrews Lake
With the three big portages out of the way, the rest of the trip should be fine. The girls spent much of the time playing and making up games and stories as I paddled along. They were happy, as was I. Stratton Lake is a long lake and it took us a long time to paddle it, but eventually we made it to the portage.

Stratton Lake
We completed the portage and before we had finished paddling the small creek that leads to Grand Lake we knew that the strong wind would be in our faces. We paddled and paddled against the head wind. The wind was strong enough that as we neared the end we didn't hear that a float plane had landed behind us and was making its way to the dock we were headed for. The plane dropped of a crew (of what I assume were maintenance workers) and a canoe, then headed out again.

Grand Lake

Float Plane
It was an incredible trip. We had a great time connecting with nature and to each other. The rain on the first day was a bit of a downer but the rest of the trip was great. The only other negative part of the trip were the bugs. They were really bad. At one point we counted 39 bug bites on our youngest daughter. Everything else more than made up for these two negatives. 

If we were to do the trip again I would add an extra day so that there could be a rest day at Opalescent Lake as well as a trip to the Barron Canyon or I would pay the $55 to have our car shuttled from Achray to Squirrel Rapids. This would allow us to paddle the Barron River on our way out of the park.

Rather than scratching the itch to get out there, this trip has only made the itch worse. I wonder when we can sneak in another trip?


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Victoria Day at Bon Echo

We don't make a habit of getting away for the long weekend in May but this year we decided to head to Bon Echo Provincial Park. The kids love it there and we always have a great time when we visit. It's also fairly close which meant we could get there early Friday night.

Large Saddle Shaped Rock at the Gate House
 We checked in and made our way to our site. Upon arriving we decided that we needed more clothes since there were a lot of bugs. We setup our site and had some delicious chicken sandwiches for dinner. We then went for a walk around the campground and to the boat launch to get a look at the rock.

All Setup
 Upon returning to our site we got all bundled up and settled in for the night. The low for the night was forecast to be in the low single digits. Although it was cold we all seemed quite comfortable.

The morning sun made it easy to get out of our tents and get moving the next morning. We cooked up some oatmeal then headed for the High Pines Trail. The trail is a nice trail and at 1.7 km almost all of use could do it quite comfortably. The four year old did catch a short ride a couple of times but other than that she was fine. The highlight of the hike was seeing a small deer trying to cross the trail, only to realize we were on the trail. It stopped and watched us a bit then took off. A few hundred metres up the trail, as we stopped for a rest we could hear the deer coming towards us. It crossed the trail about 30 metres behind us. What a great reward!

Heading Up the High Pines Trail
After the hike we headed back to our site for lunch. As we were eating the cousins and family showed up, followed shortly by the grandparents. It was a beautiful day so we carried the canoes to the water and headed for the rock. We paddled right along the rock to see the amazing pictographs.

This View Never Gets Old

As an added bonus we were able to see some rock climbers.

Sunday was a bit wet with showers on and off for the morning and the first part of the afternoon. We made hiked to the visitor centre and gift shop. Although there was no scheduled show at the amphitheatre some of the kids decided to put on their own show.

We Even Pack the Entertainment
We had planned to cook fajitas over the fire but as dinner time neared the rain grew stronger. We debated about cooking over the fire or using the stove instead. It's hard to pass up a delicious meal cooked over the fire so that is what we opted for. We had decided before the trip that we would work on our bushcraft skills a bit. We wanted to try starting all of our fires with a fire steel and we were successful. It was fairly easy to do given that we had paper and our wood had been under cover all day. Now to work on that skill a bit more for the backcountry.

Fajita Time
We headed for bed with the sound of rain pounding the tent and cars leaving the park. I spoke with one of the park staff the following morning and she said there was a steady stream of traffic leaving the park Sunday night.

When we awoke on Monday the rain had stopped and we were all mostly dry. It was very cloudy and it looked like it might rain on and off throughout the day. The weather didn't bother the kids at all they were happy to be outside, playing. The girls wanted to play at the water so we headed to the boat launch where we were greeted by this cool fog/mist/low clouds. We stayed for a bit then headed back to the site to start the packing up process.

 We packed up some stuff, had lunch, packed up the rest of our stuff and left the site at 2:00. The girls really wanted to play at the beach so that's where we headed. They didn't seem to mind that it was sprinkling. They had the entire beach to themselves.

Deserted Beach
We had an amazing time. You can have a lot of fun outside in what many people would typically call bad weather. The right attitude and a bit of planning go a long way.

Where are you headed next?

Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter Hike At Frontenac Provincial Park

We took advantage of the nice weather over Easter weekend to do some hiking at Frontenac Provincial Park. On Sunday we headed to the park. The forecast was for a mix of sun and clouds with a high of 18°C. There was an increasing chance of showers as the afternoon progressed, but we figured we'd be finished before the greatest chance arrived.

As luck would have it, as we pulled into the parking lot it started raining. We made our way to the park office, purchased our permits and used the facilities. We had a look at some of the displays in the office then decided to head out. The rain had stopped by this point and it looked as though the skies were clearing a bit.

We've hiked the Arab Lake Gorge trail (an easy 1.5 km hike) in the past so this time we opted for something a little more challenging. We decided to hike the 3 km Doe Lake trail.  

Checking Out the Trailhead
The Doe Lake Trail (along with the Arab Lake trail) starts with a section of boardwalk that passes through a swamp that was teaming with the sounds of frogs. We heard northern leopard frogs, wood frogs and tree frogs. It was great to hear these signs of spring.

Stairs leading to the Boardwalk
Along the Boardwalk
A Fork in the Trail
 The Doe Lake trail starts by meandering nicely along the shore of South Otter Lake. On this day, the lake looked so inviting. It was quite calm and the light breeze off the water was welcome given that the temperature in the sun was 24°C. Our son kept saying that he wanted to swim so I encouraged him to walk down to the water and put his hand in. After doing so he still said he wanted to swim. When I mentioned he should try it, he didn't take me up on the offer.

South Otter Lake
The lake looked so inviting. I wished that we had brought a canoe with us. Next time!

Looking out Over South Otter Lake
The trail branches off to head up to see the Kemp Mine, an old mica mine. We were able to see deep into the mine, where there was water and some snow. Outside the mine it's very easy to see small bits of mica. We had fun looking at the different forms of mica. I didn't get any pictures of the mine. We have a new camera and the kids were enjoying having a turn.

Garter Snake 'Captured' by the Four Year Old
Huge Rock
Through The Woods

Looking Out Over Doe Lake
As we left the Doe Lake lookout I noticed some dark clouds off in the distance. We picked up the pace as the clouds started to roll in. It did start raining lightly on us for the last 500 m or so. It didn't much matter since we had come prepared to hike in the rain.

We all had a great time enjoying the fresh air and taking in the sights of the forest as it awakens from its winter slumber. Next time we'll be sure to bring the canoe along.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Family Day in Algonquin Park

We made an effort this year to get to Algonquin Park's Winter in the Wild held on the Family day weekend. We didn't decide to go until quite recently so there weren't any yurts available. Instead we booked a room just outside the park. We arrived on Friday night and were very excited to see more and more snow on the ground as we headed north.

Saturday we took in a number of the Winter in the Wild activities. The first was a great talk by one of the park staff about bears. He talked about bears, their habitat, their habits, etc. but he also talked about the research going on in the park about the bears. He showed some amazing pictures showing how the park staff attach collars to the bears so they can be studied. Listening to the talk make me wish I was a biologist so that I could do some of this cool sounding research.

Following the talk we had lunch in the Visitor Centre and checked out the viewing platform. It was a great view. There were a huge number of evening grosbeaks enjoying the bird feeders. We also saw some woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees and ravens.

Beautiful View

View from the Visitor Centre
Our next stop was the Spruce Bog Trail for a guided bird hike. The weather was amazing, we saw a lot of birds (including ravens, crows, chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers and gray jays) at the beginning of the hike and the guide was a wealth of knowledge. We haven't done many guided hikes recently. It was so great to have an expert travelling with us.

One of the Spruce Bog

Ice Formation
Following the hike there were some winter camping demonstrations at Mew Lake so naturally we headed to the campground to check it out. I was amazed by what we saw. There were far more people camping in the campground than I would have imagined. We saw such a variety of winter accommodations. We saw regular tents, tent trailers, campers, a tipi and a good number of hot tents. We visited and toured a number of the tents and also had the chance to meet some of the great outdoor people that we follow online. We talked about winter camping and the amazing community that springs up at MewLake in the winter. It was incredible. A huge thanks to The Camping Family for giving us the scoop on winter camping at Mew Lake. I'm sure we will be back. Also a big thanks to Camper Christina for showing us her homemade tipi.

After checking out the accommodations we headed to the BBQ hosted by Friends Of Algonquin Park. We bought some burgers and hot dogs then made our way to the campfire to eat and roast marshmallows. It had been an action packed day and the youngest among us were exhausted so we skipped the fireside talk and night hike (hopefully we'll make it next time). Instead we headed made our way back to our lodging.

When we got back to our room we began talking about what the next day might look like. We all decided that it would be best to ski in the morning before the snow got too slushy (the forecast high was 9°C). The plan was to ski the Leaf Lake Trail, get an early start, ski to Dee's cabin for lunch and then ski back. Once the kids were in bed it occurred to me that I didn't remember seeing the ski boots in our room. I went and checked the van but they weren't there either. I would have to wait until morning to do a thorough search of our room, but I was feeling pretty confident that we had left the boots at home. Sure enough that's exactly what happened. I was very disappointed at myself for forgetting the boots but eventually realized that it just meant we'd have to come back next year.

Needless to say we changed the plan. We opted to skate at the Mew Lake rink in the morning since the ice was likely to be slushy later in the day. We had a great time. It wasn't very crowded, everyone we did see was very friendly. Our kids were laughing, giggling and just having a great time.

Super Excited to be Skating

Round and Round She Goes

Going Solo

Break Time
Once we finished skating we headed over to the camp fire and ate lunch. It was such a beautiful day we were happy to be taking our time eating and soaking up the sun. We had a couple of campers stop by to chat with us which was great. We asked a lot of questions and there were all great at promoting winter camping.
Lunch by the Fire
With our bellies full and our bodies rested we decided to head back to the Spruce Bog Traill. We hiked to the bird feeder then followed a small path that meandered through the woods. There were a number of suet ball setup along the path and the gray jays would move back and forth between the feeders. They really didn't seem to mind that we were there.

Gray Jay Enjoying  a Snack
After a full day outside it was time to head back to our room, have a bite to eat and get a good night's sleep.

On our final day we packed up and decided to snowshoe the Logging Museum Trial. What a great trail. There was a lot to see and tons of information about logging in the area. We will have to return in the summer to see the museum itself and the displays that are not accessible in the winter. The weather was great, though the temperature was much more seasonal with a bit of a breeze. There were a ton of chickadees around the parking lot so we gave them a snack before we headed out. Some of us decided to snowshoe along the well worn path and others decided to walk (or on occasion run) the path.
Snack Time
Running Free
Checking Out Giant Woodpecker Holes
Small Lake Along the Trail
Alligator Paddle Wheel

Checking Out the Alligator
Log Chute
After the hike we were ready for lunch. We had spotted some picnic tables on the other side of the snowbank across the parking lot so we beat a path through the snow to a table. Although it was a bit cool with the breeze the snowbank offered a good wind break and the sun warmed us up nicely. While we were having lunch the a pair of gray jays thought they'd see what we were eating. They were very interested. One landed on the table and plucked a small piece of bread off one of the kids' plates.

Lunchtime Visitor

Friendly, Feathered and a Bit Heavy
Such Beautiful Birds
Seasonal Bird Feeder
We built a snowman and left some seeds for the chickadees. Then we packed up and headed for home. We had such an amazing weekend. The weather was outstanding and it was great to be able to spend most of the weekend outside. We will certainly be back...hopefully in a tent of some sort.