The Yates Group Trip to Tom Thomson and Sunbeam Lakes - August 2001

Day #1: From Access Point 5 to Tom Thomson Lake

After half of our group made its 5½ hour drive from Sarnia and the other half made its 3 hour drive from Toronto, we found ourselves at “canoe central station”, the Portage Store on Canoe Lake. I stood in line for the permits and was told about the complete fire ban in the park. I already knew this because of Then I stood in line at the rental office to get my canoes. We were given these new bailer kits with our canoes that we were told were required by regulation and that if we lost them would cost us $10 each. What a pain they turned out to be. You could either keep them in a pack, not a good place for a so-called bailer kit, or leave them in a canoe and have something extra to carry on a portage. I grew to hate that little package.

We rented two ultralight 16-ft. kevlar canoes and one 18-ft. kevlar to hold two paddlers and our nine-year-old on his second trip. We paddled out on to "Main Street" and took about 3½ hours to travel Canoe, Joe, Teepee, Fawn, and Little Doe Lakes to get to Tom Thomson Lake. I thought it was a reasonable days paddle but some in the group complained that it was a long haul. We were fascinated by the activity in the Boys and Girls camps on Canoe Lake and Camp Arowhon on Teepee Lake. Oh! To be a kid again! We saw a moose and her calf feeding in the weeds just at the point where Little Doe Lake changes to Tom Thomson. There is a beaver dam that blocked the access into Thomson with just a little opening that could be paddled through with maximum paddle effort. I admit that it took our canoe two attempts to get through (or was it three?)

We camped on the far west shore of the lake just across from the prime island site. We watched the campers there jumping off the cliffs into the cool water. It was funny to see the splash and hear the sound about a second later. The temperature was scorching and swimming was the only relief. Dinner was penne with tomato sauce and sausage. Star viewing that night was good. We saw the space station going by. Most of us hit the tent fairy early to get ready for the next day.

Day #2: From Tom Thomson to Sunbeam Lake

We woke, had our breakfast of "gruel" (instant oatmeal) and broke camp. We paddled through the stream access to Bartlett Lake and took the 470m portage out. We were a little concerned when we saw people coming out of the portage covered in MUD! When we got to the end of the 470m portage we discovered why. There at an un-named lake was a mud hole. (I will call it mud lake from now on). The only way through was to either wade in the mud or walk the perimeter. We decide to take the right bank and walk around with the packs and come back to get the canoes. It was passable but I was up to my knees in mud in places and there were “ankle breaker” logs all over the place near the end of the walk. Later, on our way back through this area, the portage was marked to go on the other side of the lake and someone had come in and cleared some of the logs.

We walked at least 500m to get around and then the regular 130m portage on the other side of Mud Lake to get to Willow Lake. A quick paddle and again we had the packs up. What was marked on our maps as a 365m portage turned out to be 670m! Finally we were at Sunbeam Lake. We found the prime Sunbeam spot available ... on the easternmost island on the lake. A wonderful site with good views, nice "porches" and flat tent spots. There was a second, unmarked campsite on the island and shortly after our arrival we had a group from Camp Arowhon ask us if they could camp there. We said we had no objections as long as they realized they were camping in an unauthorized spot. A little later a couple of the young kids came and asked us where the "Treasure Chest" was. We had never heard it called that before. We have a less delicate term. Since they were NOT a designated campsite they didn’t have one. We let them use ours and had a good laugh every time someone had to visit the "Treasure Chest".

Dinner that night was Bacon Carbonera pasta with wieners. After we hit the hay some of us heard strange noises outside. We observed a raccoon take a six pack of bagels from a hung pack and climb up the rope with it and sit there and eat then in front of us! Did you know that they could undo zippers? It seems that racoon was in all of our vestibules and he even ate one of our emergency panchos. I hope it was tasty.

Day #3: Stay at Sunbeam Lake

Photo: The gang is all here at our Island campsite on Sunbeam Lake.

This was a stay at home day with fishing and swimming and exploring. We had a single knock out Cribbage tournament and our youngest member, nine year old Travis, beat us all! We swam around the whole island and explored the other islands in the lake. A great “do nothing” day. Dinner that night was KD with pepperoni. That night to avoid the racoon getting even fatter we had to put the food pack out on a tiny dry rock in the lake. It stayed safe all night.

Day #4: Go get John - rest go back to Tom Thomson Lake

Well this was one of those wierd days in the park. We had a member of our group that could only come for the weekend so his dad and I volunteered to go back to the Portage store to pick him up! This meant re tracing our progress to this point back to the starting point. The rest of the group was going back to Tom Thomson for the next two nights so the two of us decides to go early back to Thomson with a tent and pack, set it up to save a sight and then go on to the access point. The rest of the group would follow later.

The two of us got up at 5:30am and were on the water at 6:20am. The portages seemed easier the second time. Maybe it’s just the familiarity? I carried the food pack with the tent strapped on, plus the paddles and life jackets and my partner carried a small pack and the canoe. We had to negotiate mud lake again but this time we went the correct way around. With the paddles sticking high up out the sides of my pack they kept hitting the branches above and knocked me over once, leaving me on the ground like a flipped over turtle.

When we got back to Tom Thomson we picked a site quickly, set up the tent, hung the pack. And paddled on. The beaver dam that we paddled through was now completely blocked and was a carry over. How do they get such big logs in there so quick? We reached the Portage store at about 11:30. We both got to the restaurant and dug into a “portage burger” and read the latest Globe and Mail. (the Blue Jays lost again!) our passenger was due to arrive at 1 p.m. but got there early. After he got his permits we hit the water (again!) at about 1:30 p.m. Our passenger brought a cooler along in the canoe. We saw moose again at the entrance to Thomson. Since it was momma and calf again we suspect it was the same two we saw two days ago.

Back on Tom Thomson we saw that our group had moved from the site we picked that morning which was not surprising in itself but the site our tent was set up on was less that desirable. Slanted and lumpy. The hard workers get the "C" tent site. Life sometimes isn’t fair.

That night the camp next to us (and I mean right next door!) started a campfire! I went over and talked to them and asked them to put it out. They said that they thought it was lifted. I guess they just figured that everyone else on the lake decided on their own not to have a fire? Some people! Dinner that night was from the cooler, a lovely meat ball and pasta dish that we just heated and served. What luxury. After dinner we started a double knock out cribbage tournament and I lost the first game. Tomorrows another day!

We took the canoes out in the lake to watch the sky after dark. I can’t describe how wonderful that site is. There were meteors, shooting stars, planets, satellites…..those who have been there know what I mean, those who haven’t, can’t understand.

Day #5: A move, on Tom Thomson Lake

Photo: We found a huge log on Tom Thomson Lake and spent hours having fun and doing our version of Log Rolling.

Today was a day to stay on the same campsite again but we decided to move over to the vacated prime site on the lake. The island site next to the cliffs. As soon as we saw the group there leave (about 8am) two of us paddled over with a tent and pack. The rest followed shortly. It was a great site with flat spots on GRASS! Yes GRASS! WE did some jumping off the cliffs and found a huge log in the water which we climbed on and had fun with. We are all now expert log rollers. Well, at least more expert than most.

The cribbage tournament continued throughout the day. One more loss and I was out. I kept winning and believe it or not I made it to the final, but I had to beat him twice. I won the first of the two and here we are …. The grand Algonquin Cribbage Championship on the line and YES! I pull out a narrow victory and claim a whopping looney (a dollar for non-Canadians reading this) from each of the losers!

Photo: The cliffs that were just off the back of our campsite on Tom Thomson Lake were a great place to do some cliff "diving". Here is our youngest camper in mid air.

We spotted a huge turtle just of the point of the site and did some more fishing swimming and log rolling. Dinner was soupworks and rice (surprisingly good!). Again a magnificent sky greeted us on our last night in the park.

Day #6: OUT

We were up at 7am and on the water at 8 and on the way home. The beaver damn was even higher on the way out. “Busy as a beaver” is certainly an appropriate phrase! We got back to the portage store at about 11:30 and feasted on restaurant food and ICE WATER! We were in the cars at 11:45 heading home. We had only one flat easy portage that day. A simple 295m portage from Joe Lake to Canoe Lake and we still managed to leave a camera AND a tent (mine!) at the portage! I discovered the missing items when I arrived home in Sarnia and called the store right away. Luckily someone had taken them from the portage to the store. Thanks to that person, whoever you are!!! I am going back to the are in a few weeks and will pick the items up then. A note to all: It’s easy to get careless when you are on the way out. Be careful to check the canoes and portages to make sure you have all items.

Our weather was great. A little hot early in the week but bearable. Bugs were not too bad at all, some biting flies and a few 9 0’clock mosquitoes. All together a great trip.

Email: Tom Yates
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