Fenwicks' and Jeremy's First Portage Trip
(Sep. 25 - 27, 2009)

This is the one thing I have always wanted to do - canoe tripping. But three years ago, Jeremy told me that his friend and wife had hardly survived the portage, so I'd given up the idea. I'd read about inflatable canoes last year and thought it might be the solution. But again, I did not follow it through. Then this year, after two short canoe trips at Ragged Falls and Charleston Lake, I gained some confidence. But uncomfortable of making the trip ourselves, I booked a guided trip.

Jeremy complained it was expensive and inconvenient. We'd have to drive to Kearney to meet the outfitter, then drive a 20km unpaved road. Jeremy was quite certain it would kill our poor little 1999 VW Golf. And access point #3's wilderness parking lot had many reports of break-ins. I had to cancel the booking with $100 penalty. I spent months doing research online and reading others' trip-logs, and what seemed to be impossible at the beginning now seemed doable. I finally settled with this: 1. Rent everything from Algonquin Outfitters 2. Use access point #9 and 3. Do the easy Rock to Pen Lake route - There's only one short portage and I believed Jeremy could make it. We were really nervous before the trip. How did we prepare ourselves? Jeremy learned canoeing & portaging techniques from "Youtube" and I worked out other details.

1st day:

We headed out early at 6AM and stopped by Tim Horton's at Huntsville for a coffee break. We reached Algonquin Outfitters at 10AM. The staff was attending a group of family members and we had to wait an hour. They only had one staff in charge of their outfitting service. He was really friendly and helpful though. He briefed us on our camping & cooking equipment, and arranged our food according to the form we submitted weeks ago. Then we packed them in two huge canoe packs, mounted the 45 lb canoe on our car and headed to the access point.

It was almost noon when we launched our canoe. It was great weather - warm and sunny. It was a good day to start our adventure. As expected, we were clumsy at the beginning. Jeremy needed some time to practice his "J" and whatever strokes that he'd learned from "Youtube". We read some advice that we should keep to the shore to shield ourselves from strong wind, so we kept close to the west shore at Rock Lake.

The water was shallow and I felt safe> In case our canoe capsized, we didn't have to dive too deep to recover the packs. We passed by Picto Bay and we looked around for the Indian pictographs. Not quite sure if that was the one..? We paddled further and realized that we wasted too much time paddling along the bay. We should have paddled across the lake closer to Rose Island.

When we reached the portage to Pen Lake it was 2 hours later. Jeremy wanted to carry the canoe first. He was struggling with portaging. He was obviously in pain. I tried to help but it looked pretty awkward, and it was too h..e..a..v..y.. for me. He thought he could do better without me, and insisted doing it alone. He took 11 minutes to portage 375m. Hmm.. he wasn't proud.

After that we turned back to get our packs. On way back we detoured to the waterfall. Jeremy wasn't impressed and kept urging me to leave. The pack was way too big for tiny me, I thought I sprained my back.

It was 3PM when we started on Pen Lake. This time we were wiser not to paddle along the bays. Wind started to pick up. We were against the wind and the water was choppy. We had to paddle furiously. My aqua-phobia kicked in. I was scared (sigh..), tired and desperate. I thought we had paddled quite a distance but why had we not come across the 1st site at the east yet? We read some good reviews on the last few sites on the east shore, but I didn't care anymore. I would just get the 1st site. Then we saw the first site from a distance, but when we approached, we found it was taken . We paddled further down and soon came across the second site. Didn't look good from our canoe. We landed to investigate. It was vacant and in fact it was really a nice site.

The site was surrounded by mature trees. It was well sheltered from the wind and had lots of privacy. We settled down. After setting up the tents, Jeremy started a fire and I started to cook. We had rib-eye steaks for dinner. Yummy! It was cold at night, Jeremy refused to go out of tent to make a campfire, so we retired early.

2nd day:

We woke up at 6AM. I walked to the lake and it was a foggy morning. Gosh, this place was so beautiful. It's heaven on earth. Our breakfast was sumptuous - bacon, fresh eggs, coffee and cranberry juice. The weather forecast predicted rain in the afternoon, so we decided to venture out early. We planned for a day trip to Galipo River. We decided to paddle south down along the east shore and to cross the lake only when we reach the last site. Along the way, we stopped by a few vacant sites and checked them out. We took a snack break at the sixth site. While munching on the snacks, something just looked weird to us. "Is that an island?" I asked Jeremy, pointing at the piece of land across the lake.

Well, we expected to see an island across from the last site, not from the sixth. We checked our map and started getting suspicious. As we paddled south, it hit us that we were approaching Clydegale Lake portage. Ahh.. now then we realized that we had been mistaken that our site was the second one. It was in fact the fourth site. We missed the 1st and 2nd yesterday. No wonder it took us forever to reach "1st site".. Aren't we dummies with maps? This was again proved as we took a really long time to locate the entry point to Galipo River.

The water was so very shallow, that at some point we couldn't paddle at all. We had to stick the paddle into the sandy bottom and use it to push the canoe forward. We reached the portage a few minutes later. We had no intention to proceed further, just wanted to spend some time there. We hiked to the waterfall. It was late September and the leaves had started to change color.

After spending an hour, the sky started getting gloomy. It was about to rain. We decided to go. We didn't paddle long before Jeremy realized that he lost the map. We had to turn back to search for it. When we crossed the lake back to our site, it was windy and water was very rough. We had to paddle at record-breaking speed. Soon after we reached our site, it rained. Lunch and dinner were simple and didn't need much cooking.

I was awakened twice at night. First Jeremy woke me up to listen to distant wolf howls. Really cool! Then I was awakened by some noises. I guessed it was some small animals searching for food. I pondered.. They should have gotten nothing from us. We'd packed our food and garbage well in one of the canoe packs and hung it high from the branches.

3rd day:

We woke up at 6AM again. While walking towards the lake, we noticed .. OMG.. our food was scattered all over the ground! How could that be? I shouted for Jeremy. Jeremy came over and his eyes widened. He lowered the pack from the branches to check. To our surprise, some small animals (squirrel? raccoon?) had managed to bite and squeeze through the little opening of our pack, and to ransack our food. Our mudslide pie was consumed!!

It was drizzling. We dismantled our tent and started packing. I wore my poncho and Jeremy wore his rain coat that his father gave him. Hmm.. he looked like a tough Harley Davidson biker. It was hard for us to leave, as we'd had such a great time. We made it to the launch site within three hours. Finally we could take a much deserved hot shower at the Comfort Station. We'll definitely be back!!

by "Fenwicks"