Ivy and Irene's Canoe Trip To Rock and Pen Lakes
(July, 2014)


A big thank you to everybody for their route suggestions earlier in the year. It really helped with planning our first ever canoe trip. My sister and I ended up heading up to Algonquin on July 14 for 3 nights. Our plan was to stay on Pen Lake for the first two nights and to stay the last night on Rock Lake.

Day 1

We departed from Toronto after 7am, an hour later than I had hoped and were slowed by some rush hour traffic along the 401. The weather looked promising on the way up, the sun was out and the temperature was comfortable. We arrived at Algonquin Outfitters around 11am to pick up our gear. We had rented a canoe and outfitting equipment package as we only had car camping equipment (I managed to borrow a barrel from a coworker). It took us another hour to drive to the Rock Lake access point. By the time we organized our gear into the canoe and set off on our trip it was nearly 1pm.

Somebody had commented that we were light packers...I didn't think so! The canoe pack was ginormous! The food barrel was bigger than we needed for 4 days and we had stools and day packs to lug along.

It took us about 30 minutes or so to figure out how to canoe again. We zig-zagged our way down the Madawaska and into Rock Lake until we eventually figured out how to coordinate ourselves. We must've been a sight for the folks with cottages along Rock Lake!

We reached the portage to Lake Louisa about an hour later...luckily I realized we stopped at the wrong portage when I saw the sign (Note to self: always look at the map!). We continued on and arrived at the proper take-out by 2:45pm. We double carried our equipment. I was in charge of the canoe. I needed a bit of help from my sister to help me get the canoe up on my shoulders.

Even though we rented a Kipawa, which was one of the lighter canoes available to rent, it's hard to portage a canoe when you're only 5'4! I couldn't see well in front of me and kept hitting the ground with the stern. My shoulders did not like the wood yoke and I felt like I was going to lose the boat when the wind shifted. My sister took care of the pack on the first trip. On our way back to grab the food barrel and the day packs, we stopped to check out the falls. We also spotted the pipe with the spring water but didn't fill up our bottles as it was already holding water. I think we spent about 40 minutes on the portage in total.

Our plan once we hit Pen Lake was simple, try to find a site on the eastern shore as far south as we can. I had asked if Pen was full when we picked up the permit and it wasn't, so I knew that we should have options for a site. The first site right by the portage was empty, but we had a plan and stuck with it. As we paddled further and further south, we saw all the happy people swimming or relaxing on their site on the eastern shore. The first two sites on the western shore, however, were empty. It was no surprise; the sites were really closed in and looked like it would be very buggy. My sister is some sort of mecca for biting insects, so we kept paddling. It was already 5pm and we still didn't have our site! I was starting to worry, since it seemed like all the sites on the eastern shore were taken. We decided to try our luck and see if anybody had taken the site by the mouth of the Galipo (I read that it was one of the nicer sites on the western shore).

At first it looked like we had found our home for two nights, but as we approached, I noticed the beige coloured canoe flipped up on the beach. Bah! Who makes canoes in neutrals?! They're so hard to spot from a distance! Now I was really starting to fret. If the last two sites at the southern end were taken or less than impressive, then we'd have to make a really tough call, settle or paddle back to the closed in sites further north. With that in mind, we pressed on. The next site wasn't too far from the site by Galipo, I saw the sign clear as day and it didn't look occupied. Hurray! We paddled a little bit faster. As we neared the site, I thought I saw a canoe flipped over on the beach. It was beige coloured (not again!). I decided to take my camera out to zoom in on it (Note to self: bring binoculars next time) and realized it was a rock! Yes!

We landed at the site. It was 5:15pm. The shape that I thought was a canoe was really a rocky point. There was a tiny sand beach just wide enough for us to park our canoe.

I had my sister check the site to make sure the site really was vacant and that the occupants weren't out paddling. From our vantage point, we couldn't make out the site, since there was some tree cover and the site itself is elevated from the water. My sister came back, the site was empty and she said it looked quite nice! So we grabbed all our gear and lugged it up the rock. Since the site was on a point, it was long and narrow. The kitchen/fire pit was at the front of the site with several small tent pads behind it. The thunder box was located off to the side at the back of the site. It was surprisingly clean (cleaner than some comfort stations I've been in)! I was expecting it to smell but there was just a slight compost smell. Somebody had also left behind a half roll of toilet paper! How convenient!

We put the tent up and found a place for the tarp. There was some wood leftover from the previous campers. The previous campers were a little bit sloppy. They didnít completely burn off food scraps so there were still egg shells in the fire pit. They had also spilled some salsa or tomato sauce on the make-shift shelf that we were planning to use as our prep table. But the flies that were gathering there changed our minds. I tried to clean off the mess but the flies still lingered. Luckily there was also a rock table by the log benches so we used that and the top of the food barrel to prep our food. It was at this point that I realized I had left the water purification tabs in the car along with our lantern and playing cards! I had thought I thrown the stuff-sack that they were in into the food barrel, but clearly I didnít!

Luckily we our rental package came with a stove. We set that up to boil water in a pot while I cooked the steaks and veggies over the fire. For some reason, while I was eating dinner, the stove we had rented warped! The legs bent and we lost the pot of water! Nothing was going as planned that day at all! We were tired and didnít want to deal with it at the moment. We still had some water left in our bottles; it would be enough to last through the evening until we had to make breakfast. So we did the dishes and sat out on the rocky point. The point faced northwest so we had a lovely seat to watch the sun set. The colours were marvellous that night!

We stayed out until the sun went down and the bugs came out. Then we got ready to hit the hay. Despite leaving the lantern behind in the car, we had extra flashlights that we could use so that wasnít too big of a deal. It mustíve been 10pm when we went to bed but I didnít actually fall asleep until after midnight! I was tired but between the call of the bullfrog (which sounded like it was right beside our site in the marshy area) the loons and a barred owl, there was enough noise to keep me awake. I thought it was supposed to be peaceful at night, but I guess Mother Nature decided it wanted a concert that night.

Day 2

We woke to some light rain the next morning. It was almost 8am! I never sleep in this late when Iím camping! Iím normally up around 5:30am (Iím a light sleeper, my day starts when the birds start singing) but I guess I was really tired! We lounged around a bit until the rain stopped. It didnít rain too hard since the ground was only a bit damp. The first order of business after brushing our teeth was getting some water. We filled up the pot and I proceeded to boil the water over the fire. Boiling water over an open flame is a lot harder than it looks. Itís hard keeping the heat constant under the grill. I gave up and decided to try the stove. I had my sister steady the pot on the stove while I cooked breakfast. We managed to boil some water for tea, then the stove died and I had to resort back to boiling another pot of water to fill our bottles over the fire. The water tasted smoky and we ended up calling it BBQ water the rest of the trip.

After breakfast we went on a day trip. We were going to day trip on the Galipo to check out the falls there but the water was low and we didnít feel like getting stuck in the mud. My sister also didnít want to deal with the bugs as she had gotten bit sometime in the night on the forehead which caused some swelling around her eye. We decided to check out the falls by Clydegale and hiked the portage there (we can hear them and the falls on the Galipo from our site). We left our canoe at the take out and hiked the portage to look at Clydegale Lake. My sister decided she wanted to paddle the lake so we went back for the canoe. I tried to portage but my shoulders felt bruised from the day before! I couldnít keep the yoke on my shoulders. My sister decided to try and only lasted half the portage.

We then cheated and grabbed the canoe by the handles and carried it to the put in. We paddled around for a bit, exploring and looking at the water lilies. Unfortunately we didnít see any wildlife on Clydegale. The wind was picking up and it looked like it a storm was coming so we decided to head back to our site.

We napped for a bit until it was time to start dinner. I went out on the point to look at the sky to see if any storms were coming. The last thing I wanted to do was start the fire and have it doused by a storm. While I was standing on the point, I saw this large bird fly from the island and head towards my direction. At first I thought it was a raven, but then I noticed the white head and realized it was a bald eagle! It flew by, grabbed a fish from the water and took it down to the end of the lake. That was cool! I wish I had my camera on me at that moment! After dinner, we sat out on the rocky point again.

This time, there was no breeze so the bugs were out in full force. There wasnít much of a sunset either.

A beaver paddled by our site and headed towards the Galipo. It came back an hour later and I swear it looked at us funny. We watched the stars come out and saw some lightning off in the distance. It looked like Rock Lake was getting hit by a storm. We got tired of the bugs and it was starting to get cold so we hit the hay.

Day 3

I again woke up at 8am. I seem to be missing the sun rises. I slept a lot better that night since all the wildlife decided to be silent. We were on our way to Rock Lake by 10:30am. There was a group of 3 canoes that just appeared from the Clydegale portage and looked to be heading to Rock Lake so we paddled as fast as we could. The weather was pretty lousy; it was overcast and windy and looked like it could rain on us any minute. We managed to reach the take-out at the same time as the group of canoes. We didnít stop to look at the waterfall this time, although we still ended up double carrying. We also got rid of our BBQ water and filled our bottles from the spring. The water was so sweet and refreshing!

The group that arrived with us were having lunch at the put in. We decided to skip lunch and take off. The weather was still overcast and we wanted to beat them to a site. I had spoken to them earlier and they had mentioned they were going to stay at Rock Lake as well. We battled the wind and managed to find a nice site on the east shore with a nice rocky landing by 1:30pm. The wind had really picked up and it looked like we were in for a major storm. We set up our tent quickly.

The site was really interesting. There was a giant rock wall by the fire pit with trees growing on it. The roots were incredible Ė they followed the cracks in the rocks. After we set up, we sat out on the rock shelf to snack and watch the waves on the lake.

The sites around us were slowly being taken. The group that we saw earlier on Pen Lake arrived an hour later. Unfortunately for them the sites around us were gone at this point, so they had to paddle further east to find a site. The wind had not let down but at least it wasnít raining! That night was cold and windy. We had a big fire after dinner. I realized it was warmer out by the shore so we put out the fire and sat out on the rocks until the stars came out. It was a cold night. Unfortunately, I didnít bring anything warm. I only had a light jogging sweater. I slept with all my clothes on but still felt the chill.

Day 4

On our last day, we packed up our gear and set off by 10:30am. We had to return our gear and wanted to beat the rush hour traffic on our way home. We paddled by the grounds of the Barclay-Boothís estate and took some pictures off shore. The water was quite choppy as there was a good breeze blowing (the wind always seems to blow in your face, no matter what direction you go) but the sun was out and the weather was warm!

It was quite the contrast from the last two days. We made a detour to the Visitor Centre on our way out to pick up some souvenirs. As we were driving back towards the West Gate, my sister was lamenting on the fact that we never got to see a moose. I told her we had seen moose before but according to her, itís not Algonquin until you see a moose. Luckily, we managed to spot a young bull on the side of Highway 60 so that cheered us up.

It was a great first trip despite all the minor setbacks. We managed to cope without the items that I forgot and definitely learned a lot for the next time. We want to try another route next time, but this time I might invest in some gear. That way, I can at least check my equipment before I take it out in the field.