May 5th to 8th 2006 Trip to Joe Lake - by Al LeBlanc
This year, as we did last year at Booth Lake, we decided to make a base camp and take day tours from that campsite. We also decided to go earlier in the season to avoid the bugs so we choose May 5th to May 8th as our dates. Since we have never been to one of the more popular areas of Algonquin Park we chose the Canoe L. access and Joe L. as our base camp.
Our arrival at the Canoe L. parking lot as an eye opener. The parking lot was full of cars (well, maybe ˝ full). This sure looked like a busy spot and it’s not summer time yet. The Canoe Store sure is well stocked and the staff are very knowledgeable. A quick estimate calculated about 400 canoes available for rental. We had my cedar strip and we were well stocked so we only took a tour of the facilities.
Day One was overcast.
A brisk wind was coming across Canoe L. from the southwest. The water was choppy with the odd white cap and rogue wave. Not too bad but we had to travel up the east shore to keep the wind broadside as opposed to hitting us at an angle while we traversed the length of the lake. At the bay where Ahmek Boys camp is located we turn into the wind to cross over to the west arm of Canoe. The crossing was rough but we made it. My buddy was up front and he only got splashed once. We’ve seen worse water on previous trips. The water was a little calmer in the upper west arm of Canoe L. and we made it to the P295 in good shape. Just before the putout to the P295 there is a large tree and a large shrub blocking about 95% the river. We had to push through the brush to get through. We got through without any scratches. The water level marker on the dam registered “0” (zero) level which was about 4 – 5 inches from the top of the dam. So Joe L. was near maximum level. On the way out this level rose to +5 on the mesuring stick and water was overflowing the dam.
We put into Joe L. and headed for the island and one of the two campsites there. We like the island campsites because we have the impression we are safer from bears (ya, right). The southern site on the island looked promising but we decided to check out the sites in the East Arm and come back if they were not any better. We spotted a pile of firewood at the second site on the south shore of East Arm and decided to come back for that later. So after exploring the 1st two sites on the north side of the East Arm and deciding that the remaining sites would not match our criteria for the perfect site (facing east for morning sun, and shelter from the shifting winds) we decided to head back to the island site we liked. We pulled into the site next to the little bay on the south side of the East Arm to collect the pile of firewood. The pile was about 3 feet tall and 6 feet wide. The wood was cut into 12-inch length and most of it was split. This is what we found resting on top of the woodpile.
Bob’s gift to fellow campers.
Bob … we couldn’t be more thankful for your thoughtfulness and hard work. As you will see in this trip report, that substantial woodpile was a godsend for us. We tossed it into the canoe. Lucky my stripper is a freight-hauler also. She was loaded with two men, two very full packs, two small coolers and now a load of wood. And we could have loaded more. What a boat! So off we set. Loaded down, we headed for the island campsite.
Not long after pushing off we noticed a group canoes and about a dozen female students at the northern campsite on the island. They were a little distance away and it was hard to tell visually, but the voices gave then away. As we approached the island, 3 of the girls hurriedly got into one of the canoes (an aluminium rental) and headed in the direction of the the other island campsite. The one we scouted out earlier. OUR SITE! We stepped up our pace. The race was on. But just to look like we were not racing we didn’t go all out. Just good strong strokes. The load in our canoe was slowing us down though. When we were within talking distance my buddy said (in a good tone) “This isn’t a race, is it?” And the reply was, from an adult – the teacher as it turned out, “No, not really.” Both canoes kept paddling briskly. As we approached the site, we were running parallel and we were ahead by a canoe length. I said, “We're pulling in here, so we'll let you go by.” The adult then let us know that they wanted that site. Well, according to any rules I think are fair, we got there 1st and it was our site. We starting talking. They were a group of schoolgirls from Toronto and they had lots of rules as to what sites they could use. There was the Provincial Park rule of 9 people max. per site and they had 12 people. There was the school rule that the group had to be on sites beside each other so the site across the lake wouldn’t do. We chatted and even talked hockey a bit (playoffs were on) and one of the girls said she was cheering for the Senators. That softened our hearts and we relinquished the site, although we never did put up much of an argument. We talked a bit more and bid them a nice trip. Once we were away we joked with ourselves for winning the race against a bunch of schoolgirls. All in good fun. It’s great to see the kids in the park. Every year in May and June, we see large school groups in whatever area of the Park we are in. Kudos to the teachers for bringing the kids in and kudos to the kids for going.
Well, we were cold and tired by this time and we headed into what I will call the bay that leads to Tepee L. The very 1st site looked good. We checked out the second site , but came back to the 1st one. This site was to be our home for the next 3 days. The site faced east for the warm morning sun and it protected us from the wind on the remaining 3 sides. It had a good beaching area for the canoe and was low to the water. It was much better than the island site we had first chosen. So the losers (us) were better off in the end and the school group had two sites that met their criteria. A win-win situation as they say. We unloaded our gear, the coolers and the wood and set up camp. The tent went up, the two tarps, we checked out the Thunder Box and checked out the area (moose droppings everywhere – loads of it). We lit a fire and had supper, which was Subway Subs, purchased in Barry’s Bay. The fire was great and we were toasting to Bob from Niagara Falls for his generosity. There were many toasts to Bob from Niagara this weekend. That night the temps went below zero and my +5C rated down sleeping bag just didn’t cut it. My buddy had a synthetic bag and he also froze. We wore socks, flannel jogging pants and T-shirts and we shivered all night.
Day Two we awoke to snow squalls!
I have heard that this section of Algonquin Park was referred to as the Algonquin Highway. We were on the 401 section of this highway. Everyone coming or going from Canoe L. had to pass our site. Canoes were coming by our site all day. Some were groups of 10 to 20 canoes. One group of 12 canoes was loaded with 3 students each. Most were heading out to Canoe L., their trip being over. The traffic as it turns out was good entertainment for us. Since we were grounded for the day (we were not about to go out into the cold windy weather), we had all this activity and entertainment in the passing canoes. One thing I noticed as the day went by was that many people had gloves on. What a novel idea! When we asked someone about them, he told us they were kayaking gloves. This item is now on my shopping list. The prospect of freezing hands was one of the major reasons we didn’t tour that day. I had my spare pair of socks on my hands as my mittens. So we sat around our campsite burning Bob’s wood and saying hi to passing canoeists. We had short conversations with most of the people who passed by our site. In this way, we passed our day. Cold but entertaining. I tried to imagine how busy this area would be in the warm summer months.
I was tired from the lack of sleep the night before, so I took a short nap in the afternoon. I was woken from my nap about 30 minutes later by my buddy saying hello to a passing canoe. He asked them if they knew the results of the hockey game between Buffalo and Ottawa. It was the 1st game of round 2. The man replied “Wow! You’ve got to hear this” and he stopped his canoe. “What a game! Ottawa was leading, the Sabres tied it, Ottawa leads again, and Sabres tied it again. It went into overtime and the Sabres won 15 seconds into overtime”. Sounded like a great game but we were disappointed. The Sens were slumping in the playoffs again. Every year we are in the park when the Sens are on in the playoffs and every year a passing canoeist gives us the bad news about a game. I will not ask again and calm down you guys from TO. We'll get over this hump before you win the cup. OK, I digress. I got up from my nap and joined my friend around the fire. We toasted Bob from Niagara again. We built the fire up in preparation for our supper. Dinner tonight was NY cut steaks marinated in Montreal Steak Spice. Cooked over hot coals they tasted fantastic. TO DIE FOR! We passed the evening by the rejuvenated fire and as dark approached the traffic down the 401 stopped for the night. We went to bed at sunset. I wore two pairs of socks, my flannel jogging pants and my day pants, two T-shirts, my light jacket and my rain jacket. I had left my toque at home anticipating better weather. Never again! I was finally warm and my sleep was good. My friend did the same.
Day Three was a good day.
It started threatening bad weather and a long detailed discussion insued as whether to trash this trip and go home or take a good long day trip. The conclusion was that the cloud cover was high and not threatening, the winds were calm and so was the water. The temps, we remembered from the forecast were to be slightly warmer today. And the next day was predicted to be sunny and warm. So we prepared for a circle day trip. The plan was to head up Tepee, east on Little Doe, up through Bluejay and Vanishing Pond, west on Sunbeam, south through Aster Pond, Willow and Bartlett to Tom Thomson. Back into Littledoe, Fawn L. and Tepee to home. So off we set.
All we took were our daypacks with Power Bars, water bottles and our cameras. We wore the same clothes we woke up in and we were comfortable. The little rain we did have during the day was on and off drizzle we hardly noticed. The Boys and Girls Camp Arowhon was impressive. We passed up the east side of Tepee so we didn’t get a close-up look of the camp but we could tell it is a substantial operation. Tepee must be a busy lake in the summer months with the camp running full tilt. Today the camp was quiet.
The paddle up the upper arm of Tepee was uneventful but very nice. Little Doe opened up and we encountered drizzle but calm waters. I like that kind of water to paddle in. It’s very calming. We chose to go up Bluejay for the narrow waterways in case the winds decided to come up. At the P405 we bumped into a couple that were heading for Tepee. We chatted a bit and the man told us of a beautiful lake trout he caught on Sunbeam (I think he said Sunbeam). He said it was too big to keep because the two of them couldn’t eat it all. He showed us a photo on his digital camera. WHAT a beautiful fish! In the photo he held it by the mouth at waste level and the tail was on the ground. This guy was 6’ tall so the fish was huge. Very nice catch and nice to put it back when he knew he'd otherwise be wasting it.
The paddle into Sunbeam was fun and picturesque. We stopped on an island and a Herring Gull checked us out. Looking for MacDonald’s fries we joked. They sure are a much nicer bird compared to the city gulls (shithawks we call them). On the put-in into Bartlett there is small bay on the left side. There was a cow moose casually munching away on aquatic vegetation. My guess is she is pregnant but I don’t know for sure. Maybe you can tell. Here she is, tick-bitten and without half her winter coat.
What a pretty face, eh! Do you think she is carrying?
On we pushed to Tom Thomson and Littledoe, checking out the ducks and loons along the way. We saw a few pairs of these ducks along the way. We don’t think they are nesting yet since every pair we saw were just sitting on logs. I believe they are called the Common Merganser.
We caused some agitation with a pair of loons. They might have had a nest near by. They were near the canoe, flapping their wings and diving aggressively. We also saw loons in groups of 3. I have never seen that before. Maybe it’s just before mating season. I don’t know.
On the upper arm of Tepee, we met the couple who caught the fish. They had made camp on the west side. They offered us a drink, but it was late . And, we had dinner to cook and the sun would soon set. But we sat in the canoe and chatted with them for a bit. They were very interested in other areas of the park to travel. Especially the north sectoins. So, we shared what we knew. Just prior to putting in at Tom Thomson after the P470 we had loaded a few dry logs into the canoe. Bob’s firewood was great but it needed a little encouragement with dry stuff to keep going. When we got back to camp we got a rip-roaring fire going. We toasted to Bob again. Dinner tonight was chicken & gravy with mashed potato aka Mountain Equipment Co-op pre packaged dinner.
Day four was beautiful.
The skys were clear, the sun was shining, the winds were quiet and the temps were cool. And, it was promising to be a perfect day. Morning coffee was a treat and it was great to be facing the rising sun.
Waterway 401 runs from right to left towards Tepee. Canoe L. is straight across.
We had Power Bars for breakfast and took our time breaking camp. We even left a few sticks of Bob’s wood for the next campers. The paddle out was relaxing in calm blue waters and a bright clear sky. When we arrived at Canoe Store there were about 5 small groups of campers preparing to head out. One was a group of 4 women; another group was two older couples. It’s good to see the diversity in the park.
On the ride home, back to Ottawa we saw another cow moose at the road into Rock L. I have often seen moose at this spot. It’s a favourite spot for them. I think it’s the road salt they like.
Our final stop, as always, is Finnagin’s Roadhouse in Renfrew for the finest fahita’s (sp) I have had anywhere I have been. I have fahita’s everywhere they are on the menu and Finnigan’s are the best. YES they are better than Loan Star’s fahita’s.
Now the long wait for next year's trip. One thing for sure, it will be in the north. Not to say that this years location was bad. Far from it. As it turned out the traffic in front of the campsite was fun. The north is more rugged (read – less comercialized). It will probably be a loop trip out of Kiosk or Brent. A year is a long time so we will see what happens. In the mean time it’s RV camping with the wife and family and friends. To Kitchner Whitney. Maybe we will see you guys.