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. 

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