Monday, September 21, 2015

Tim River, My Huckleberry Friend

Toot toot, salut!

I was fortunate enough to go on not one, but TWO camping trips in the Algonquin backcountry this summer. What a lucky guy I am! This trip is a tradition for a group of guys who call themselves "the Monkeyboys", which generally consists of myself, Nick, Brad, and Ian. Unfortunately Ian is caught with a bad case of overemployed currently, and wasn't able to make it this year. Luckily our good buddy Sean Cannon Shannon was able to join in to make sure we had the right number of paddlers, and euchre players.

We set off late on Thursday night, and stayed over in Hunstville's luxurious Motel 6. Before dozing off, we decided to watch an episode of "I Shouldn't Be Alive" which featured a young man getting his leg eaten by a bear and then wandering around in the forest for several hours and almost dying. Excited for our upcoming stay in a very similar wilderness, we fell quickly to sleep.

The next morning, we set off to the small village of Kearney to pickup our lifejackets and camping permits, and continued on to Access Point #3 (Magetewan Lake) where our canoes were very conveniently waiting for us. Our trip started with several quick paddles and portages, and then the long haul across Ralph Bice Lake, aka Butt Lake. Along the way, we overtook a group of slightly more senior adventurers who remarked that we must have consumed a Red Bull. We were quite driven to reach our campsite, as we weren't quite sure how well the planning had been for river paddling, so we didn't take many breaks. When we reached the end of Butt Lake, there was a quick portage into White Trout, and then another to Queer Lake where our largest portage was waiting.

Before setting off on the portage, we came across a group that warned us it was a doozie. Since we were committed to our route, this wasn't welcome news. This group also had no memory of any moose on Tim River, which was one of my goals for the trip. Slightly disheartened, we set on our way from Queer Lake to Tim River. This was roughly a 1.5km portage, but we managed to single carry with a canoe swap half way without any trouble. There was a decent amount of elevation change, but it wasn't particularly difficult after all! When we reach the Tim River, there was a beautiful set of rapids cascading in, so we paused for a swim and a snack and a beverage.

While enjoying our break, another group of paddlers came along with reports of a "shit load" of moose up ahead. This was very welcome news indeed! We set off again, and found the Tim to be rather slow going thanks to some crafty beavers. We had to egress our canoes at several occasions to lift them over beaver dams and fallen trees. It was actually quite fun maneuvering these road blocks, and the sun was shining in full force.

After less than two hours on the Tim, we arrived at our campsite just along the riverbend tucked beyond the shore. There was a 'C' like curve in the river, and at first I thought it would be somewhere past the 'C' - but I looked once more and I was wrong.

We quickly made camp, and began our evening of freeze dried meals and euchre. Sean and I were playing against Nick and Brad, who called themselves the Euchre-tan Penninsa-Bros. The evening ended with Sean and I up 3 games to 2.

Thus ends Day One.

Day Two I woke-up before the others, and set out on a solo mission up the river to checkout some signs of moose activity from the day before. I didn't find any meese, but I did come across a feisty beaver who was not pleased with me for interrupting his wood snack. He followed me about 1 km up river and slapped his tail a lot. Eventually we resolved our differences, and I headed back to camp for a nice meal of freeze dried bacon and eggs.

The others enjoyed a few helpings of oatmeal, and we had some great coffee provided by Nick before setting off. We paddled the Tim for around 90 minutes on ultra silent mode hoping to spot a water horse, but there were none to be found. We made it to our first portage of the day, taking us from Tim River to Shah-Shah Lake. This was only 1.1km, however it featured 450m of elevation change and was one of the most challenging portages we faced. There were some very steep cliff faces, but we managed to scramble up them all, and once again achieved the heroic single carry. Shah-Shah lake had a beautiful sand and pebble beach and was very quiet. We took a break for a snack and some swimming, but then traffic picked up and we decided to vacate the shore.

Our next leg featured a short 300m portage into Pandion Lake, followed by 750m into Misty Lake. These all went smoothly, and when we reached Misty we followed a narrow channel down into Timberwolf Lake. Here we were met with a strong headwind and some darkening skies. We paddled onward with vigor, and discussed the nefarious nature of criminal that was likely residing on nearby "Snake Island". After sneaking by Snake Island safely, we reached our final 450m portage into Mcintosh Lake where we setup on a Peninsula overlooking the massive and calm lake. 

This was my favourite of all the campsites. We had lots of time to setup Hammock Cove, go for a swim, and do some fishing. It was around this time we were realizing we had overestimated how filling freeze dried food would be, and that we ran the risk of being quite hungry on day 4. Regardless, we happily ate our meals, made a concoction of red wine, whisky, and lemonade crystal light which we warmed over the fire. It was surprisingly tasty, and was henceforth referred to as mulled wine. We sunk our teeth into another game of euchre, and The Euchre-tan Penninsa-Bros tied things up at 4-4. We went to sleep with our food hanging from a record breaking tall tree. That night there were moose sounds, but no sightings.

Day Three began with a vote on what route to take. We had two options, both with 8 portages, but one with about 2km less portaging than the other. I felt like punishing ourselves and roughing it through a punishing route, but considering our food stores and the general dislike for carrying canoes for hours, the less grueling pond hopping option was chosen. Back to Timberwolf!

We made our way to Timberwolf, past Snake Island, and back up to Misty Lake (two portages down). This time we veered west and headed from Misty to Muslim Lake to Winona Lake (4/8 portages done!). Winona was my favourite lake of the trip. It was clear water with deep rocky shorelines, and lots of old trees all around. There was a single campsite on a hill located halfway, and we encountered very little traffic. I think next year I may take a trip with the sole purpose of staying at that site!

From Winona, we hopped to Bandit followed by Moccasin Lake. Moccasin was quite nice as well, with lots of long bays. This had a short portage to a tiny lake that I could literally throw a football across. This left just one more portage to reach our final campsite destination, Jubilee Lake. 

I think Jubilee must be a choke point for portagers, as there were lots of canoers and only one site option. It was quite muddy and didn't have much of a view, but it had a fantastic selection of trees for hammocking. We managed to tie off with one tree shared amongst the four of us with our other end of the hammock stretching off in four separate directions.

Here on Jubilee we engaged in the traditional last day "put your life jacket on like a diaper and float in the water passing around an inflated bag of wine" ritual. The water was cold at first, but we acclimated and caught some of the final rays of the day.

It was then time for the last of our freeze dried meals, and a final mulled wine which eliminated the remainder of our liquids. I tried for some night sky photographs, but the moon was blindingly bright - enough to cast a clear shadow! So all that remained was more euchre.

I do not often engage in the game of euchre, and therefor needed some encouragement to continue playing. I complained that the game was similar to snakes and ladders, as it seemed all the moves were scripted. We then engaged in a hearty debate about if there was indeed any skill to the game, and the consensus was "yes". We then packed up our very small bag of not quite enough food, and had our final sleep in the wilderness.

We woke up and expressed relief that none of us had been mauled by a bear even a little bit. We then had a very quick breakfast and pack up (and of course, more coffee). We had a lot of canoeing and driving to do on day four before we could be reluctantly returned to civilization. Our route was once again portage heavy, with 7 portages this time around. Luckily many were quite short. The weather was warm, calm, and overcast.

The day wasn't particularly eventful, and each lake came with more and more canoers, adventurers, and eventually motorboats. Our route brought us from Jubilee to Sawyer, Sawyer to Rain Lake, and then Rain Lake had a hefty 1300m portage to a puddle of a lake called Casey's followed immediately by 1200m portage up to Little Eagle. It was then mostly smooth sailing with some short portages before we were back at Access Point 3. On our last portage, Brad was teased for making Nick carry the canoe all by himself by some genial campers just beginning a trek (or maybe it was the other way around). We all agreed the offending party was the laziest camper around, and then me and Sean sprinted the last 100m of open water and declared ourselves the winners!

We changed back into our normal day clothes and shoes at the car, and piled in for the long drive back to Toronto. Before we returned to cell service, we were treated to some CBC radio discussion food trends, and why cupcakes were so popular. After 4 days in the wilderness with no access to social media, it was a breath of fresh air learning what food would be the most trendy in the coming months!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Out of the parking lot, into the park

I used to commute to Mississauga from Toronto for work. Often while stuck in traffic on the 401, I would see the sign saying Algonquin Park was only around 250 km away and I would wish I wasn't stuck in traffic on the 401. Luckily, this weekend I got to go to Algonquin Park instead of Mississauga. Double luckily, Ariane accompanied me for what would be her first Ontario interior camping trip. We only had three days off, so we planned a straightforward paddle/portage in on the first day, then a day of exploring around our destination, and the same paddle/portage reversed on the way out.

We left Toronto at 5 am on Friday morning, and we were on the water in Rock Lake by 10 am and the sun was shining. Our next destination was Lake Louisa. Along the way, we passed Picto Bay which contains a cliff with some very old Native markings. We had our first break at the foot of the cliff, but it was a bit of a Rorschach test to spot any markings. I'm confident if you told me there were ancient markings on ANY cliff, I'd be able to find something for you.

Shortly after the cliffs we reached our portage, which was 2.8 km by Algonquins measurements, but 3.3 km by trusty old Jeff's map. There is a canoe rest half way, and the elevation changes are pretty reasonable. Regardless, we were very happy to reach Lake Louisa!

We stopped for lunch at this point, which consisted of cheese, pickled eggs. Ariane made an offering of cheese to some inquisitive ants. They appreciated this, and left us alone for the rest of the trip.

Lake Louisa is host to many great camp sites, and wasn't very busy on Friday afternoon. We paddled around most of the lake scoping out sites, and ended up at out 2nd favourite after almost settling in beside someones modest setup. It was located on an island with two sites facing  east and west. The island was all ours the whole trip though, so we migrated between the two based on if the sun was rising or setting.

We got in at around 3:30 pm and setup the camp basics. Once this was out of the way, we very quickly got to swimming and relaxing. We also had our celebratory beer we can carried in (and dutifully carried out again). As the sun started to set, we cooked up some beef shish-kabobs and stuffed peppers over a bonfire. We then sat out to watch the sunset (I was a bit trigger happy).

As is tradition, I was up several hours before the other traveller(s). I made myself some Sam James coffee, and started working on a book called the Golden Spruce by John Vaillant. Then I gathered up some firewood from across the lake, and when I returned Ariane had risen and whipped up some oatmeal with berries.

There were thunderstorms in the forecast, but it didn't look very cloudy. We decided to set off across the lake to follow Lemon Creek up to North Lemon Lake. I thought there might be meese in the creek, but instead we found the creek was mostly mud. There is a reason these things are unmarked on the maps, but this is a lesson I have a hard time learning.

Giving up the hunt for mooses, we went looking for a ranger's cabin instead and some native spirit stones. We couldn't find it, but we did find some big fresh bear tracks. As Ariane is a trained bear fighter, the bears were keeping a cautious distance from us. So instead of rangers cabins, moose, or spirit stones, we found pickled eggs and some smooshed sandwiches. At this point, the weather prophecy started to come true.

Rain struck in a strong burst and we hunkered down on shore. Once this cleared up, we paddled hard for home with some ominous clouds chasing us across the lake. The wind was also in our direction, and we had a very fun very fast canoe ride home. Poetically, as we reached shore, the sky opened up. The thunder was awesome in the truest sense of the word. Truly eardrum popping. I had setup a tarp and hammock shelter, and after some extra help from some pine boughs it did a great job keeping the rain out. Ariane and I hunkered down with books, and the rain just kept hammering down for several hours.

When the rain stopped falling, it was time to go back in the water, followed by dinner. This time around dinner consisted of the Ryan Jones special, kraft dinner mixed with chilli. It turns out Coffee Mate works as a great milk substitute for your KD, and dinner was surprisingly good. We hungout on the shore watching the sunset, and then stayed up for a while trying to get some night photos of the camp.

The next morning, I was up with first light. The lake at this time of day is really beautiful, so I took the canoe out to watch the mist and wait for the sun to rise. There was a very spooky stream near our site which had a lot of drift wood and spiders as well. I thought it might have some moose, but I was not so lucky. 

I headed in just after sunrise, and finished up The Golden Spruce. This book is a great read while out in the wilderness, and talks a lot about the logging industry and the struggle many loggers had between spending their days outside, and destroying the resource they loved. It also included some great history about the Haida Nation and Queen Charlotte Island. Native people of Canada have such a rich history, I was a bit embarrassed to realize just how little I know about it. Since returning I have already been researching Toronto's native history, and I'm excited to learn more.

Once the day was starting to heat up, Ariane surfaced, and we had another round of oatmeal and coffee. Simple and delicious. It was a very hot day, so we started off with a long swim before tearing down the campsite. I also took some photos of the aquatic life, which were very aggressive toe nibblers. Packing up didn't take long, and we were on the water by noon.

On the paddle home we had a visit from some friendly loons. They a very elegant creatures, with terrifying red eyes. If they had visible teeth they would be a lot more frightening, but luckily they don't, so they are majestic.

The trip had a healthy dose of outdoors and wildlife, and the peace and quiet was quite relaxing. It would have been nice to stay for several more days we agreed, so the portage back was made with a reluctant attitude. About 3/4 of the way back, we came across a family portaging in. They had taken a break, and desperately asked how much further they had to travel. The suffering just makes the breaks that much more enjoyable. Back on Rock Lake we were thrust into cottage living. Motor boats buzzing around, armies of kids piled into canoes, dogs all along beaches. People were enjoying the lake in full force, but it was surreal how different the two scenes were. 

The return to civilization continued at a steady pace for the rest of the trip. Our stop for dinner in Huntsville made it feel like a metropolis, and then at Barrie we caught up with traffic leaving WayHome festival. I got made fun of in Orillia for asking the Tim Horton's drive though if there was a Starbucks in town (they were out of dark roast), and we were back in Toronto at 9 pm. 

Falling asleep, Ariane and I both agreed that mattresses were one of the most impressive inventions known to man.