Al LeBlanc's Barron River, May 2002 Algonquin Trip

This was the first of what we plan to be annual canoe trips into the Algonquin interior. We hope to keep doing annual trips until the day I can't do them. I'm in my early 50's, so I have a few years of good tripping ahead. I've been to Algonquin Park many many times in the past. Since I live in Ottawa, most of my camping was done in the eastern campsites on the Highway 60 corridor. I've had one canoe trip into Booth Lake with members of my hockey team in 1980 and we had a great time. I'm glad that I'm back at it.

Our 2002 trip route was planned by myself since I have the time to do this. So I take the blame for the poor design of this first trip. We had two canoes and we were self sufficient .. meaning that each canoe had it's own tent, food etc. in case one had to cancel for any reason. The second canoe consisted of my brother Roger and his friend Bob. My friend Dan was with me in my 17' cedar strip Prospector/Chestnut I had built in 1995. Our plan was to put into the Barron River at Squirrel Rapids, do the P420, P440 and P100 and stay on Brigham L. for two nights. We were then going to trip to Stratton L. for another two day stay and .. get ready to laugh .. we were going to trip all the way back out the same way we came in on day 5 to go home. Well, it looked good on paper eh! Remember it's our 1st trip. It turned out to be a very good trip, as you will see. Here is how it went ...

Day 1 - We checked in at Accesspoint 20 and asked directions to Squirrel Rapids and off we went. We overshot the obscure little parking lot by about 5 Km and doubled back. While loading our gear into the canoes I broke the tip off my ultra light fishing rod. It was sticking out of my pack a few inches and it snapped on the gunnel of the canoe when I dropped the pack into the canoe. Not to worry, I could still use the rod but we weren't really on a fishing trip any ways. Off we went up the Barron R. and into the Barron Canyon. What fantastic scenery!

That's Roger and Bob ahead of us. We met one canoe with two women coming
in the opposite direction. Other than that we were alone on the river.

The portages P420, P440 were a wake up call. Big time! Even the P100 gave us some thought since we were all new at this. We found that double tripping was the best for us and we tried all kinds of methods. We arrived at Brigham Lake late in the afternoon and set up camp. The eastern campsite on the north shore of Brigham suited two 3-man tents very well. We set up camp and I made another mistake. I should have known better since I have tented plenty in my life but I spread the ground sheet larger than the base of the tent and you guessed it, it rained that night. The ground sheet acted as a catch basin and directed some water between it and the tent. My buddy Dan was uphill and he got a little wet. Not too bad though. We were lucky that it was sunny the next morning and we could dry things out. Bob' stove wasn't so lucky though. His stove was forgotten out in the rain and it wouldn't fire up the next morning but luckily we had another stove to fire up and cook breakfast.

Here's a pic of Brigham Lake on an early Friday morning in mid-May.

Day 2 - We started with cooking breakfast on a one-burner stove, drying out our tent and sleeping bag and lots of discussion on re-planning our trip. Lots and lots of discussion. Thank gawd my friends are not violent because they could have torn me into pieces for designing a trip that brought us out from Stratton to Squirrel in one day. We just couldn't do it. It was over 3 km and none of it was a cart path. You experienced trippers probably see the solution to our problem and have a couple in mind right now but I'll get to our solution in a minute.

We had a free day on Brigham so we decided to pack a lunch and trip the P730 to Opalescent and Cork Lakes. These portages are very hilly and rocky with exposed roots. I am glad we only had our canoes and a daypack. Opalescent is a very nice lake and we discovered a campsite we labelled the Tashma(sp) Hall. It's the site on the south shore in the middle section of the lake. It has a huge fireplace with huge stone couches. I don't know who constructed it or how they constructed this thing. It was enormous! Fantastic camp site to whoever did it.

We walked the P730 to Cork without the canoes and ate our lunch on the smooth rock at the put-in. This is mainly a down hill portage some of it over flat rock. My wife's ancestors are from County Cork in Ireland so I had a moment thinking about that and our recent trip to Ireland. There was moose poop all over the place and bear-scat near by. Up to this time we hadn't seen any large animals or small ones either. That had us wondering a little .. like .. wasn't this Algonquin Park. Where are the animals?

Day 3 - We froze in the night. We later found out that the temp went to -7C in Pembroke that night. I had my -5C rated mummy shaped sleeping bag zipped and the hood tied over my head. Only a small hole was open to the outside world. I slept in my underwear. DUH! Never again in May will I do that! It was really funny that I could feel the cool air rushing into my little cocoon where the hole was. If I turned my head I could feel the cool air (cold air) coming into the new location. I had to keep moving this spot so my brain (if I have one) wouldn't freeze. If I had just wore a T-shirt I would have been comfortable. Dan was OK in his mummy bag but he didn't like the tight feeling. For our next trip in 2003 trip he purchased two small rectangular bags and zippered them together.

Day 3 was planned to be our trip to Stratton via many portages. But we had a solution and I have to confess it was driven by the need for more booze. You see, we drank a little (2L) of Chevis mixed with a teeny weenie bit of ginger ale and it looked like we wouldn't have enough for the rest of the trip. So this is what we decided to do. We would send Dan and Roger back to the vehicles. They would head to Pembroke and pick up some more booze and meet Bob and I at the P200 a little further up river. Bob was very cleaver in noticing that this P200 was to an access point but it's not "that" clear on the map. So we loaded all the gear in one canoe and sent the other canoe back to pick up the trucks and booze and meet us at the P200. Our plan worked out well except I think Bob and I got the raw end of the deal since the P200 is almost vertical and we had to lug all the gear up the hill and we had to wait 2 to 3 hours for Dan and Roger to get back. I now bring a 3 point stool on my trips. A guy really needs somewhere to plant his butt. You know something, I can't remember if they got any more booze. I've totally forgotten. I must have fried some brain cells the night before. We were so eaten by black flies and tired while waiting that we just loaded up the truck and headed for Achray. At Grand L. we put-in and headed for Stratton L. So, you see we did our 1st ever trip into Algonquin by chewing at both ends of the stick if you see what I mean. It worked!

Paddling into Stratton Lake, Dan and I saw a doe with her fawn the near shore line. They were just west of the first campsite on Stratton. We didn't get good photos but it was the 1st large wild life we saw. Bob and Roger were ahead of us and missed the deer. The fawn couldn't have been more than a week old. Even less than a week old. Fantastic!

At Stratton Lake we set up camp at the first site on the north west shore. It is a nice site but nothing special. I was beginning to learn that all campsites have a fire grate or two. We will leave our grates at home from now on.

Here are the boys at our Stratton home for two days.

That's me on the right saying, "when is that camera going to shoot?" hehe. You might notice the head nets and our pant legs tucked into our socks. It was Bob who suggested that we purchase these nets while on the trip from Ottawa to Squirrel Rapids. Man oh man, am I EVER glad we did. The black flies were ready to carry us away. The small "V" area of my T-shirt left my neck exposed and I had a patch of black fly bites that itched for 2 weeks. The little buggers are tormenting!

Day 4 - This was a day trip to High Falls. We canoed down (up - whatever) to the point where the foot trail comes closest to the lake. It was very windy that day so we thought this would be the easiest. We took the foot trail to High Falls and explored. There were no other soles around except one couple we met hiking their way out. They had asked us where the falls were. We wondered how they missed them. We didn't know for sure and were confused since they were coming from that direction. Apparently they set out from Achray taking the loop clockwise and missed the turn to the falls. We couldn't help them because we didn't figure out their mistake until much later. We had a great time at High Falls but it was cool and windy. There are many photos of the falls on this web site so I won't add one here.

Day 5 - The day to head home but one of the most interesting and memorable days of Dan's life and my life occurred that day. Roger and Bob had finished packing about and hour earlier and had left for Achray. Dan and I set out from the campsite heading for the river connecting Stratton to Grand. Looking at the map it's a diagonal direction. We had gone about 200M and were about 100M from shore when we heard a loud noise at the same spot where we saw the deer 2 days ago. Only this wasn't a deer making the noise. It was a black bear making charges at a moose calf. The calf was only days old I would guess. "Holly s&^t" we said and turned the canoe towards the shore to get closer. The calf's mother was there and it was charging back at the bear who would then turn and run into a nearby thicket. You could see the cow charge and put on its breaks (you know - flying full tilt at the bear then extending both front legs out and breaking to a stop). We saw 3 charges and retreats like this and all this time we were paddling closer to the action. Then the bear saw us and headed into the bush with a thundering crashing noise. It later struck us that this bear was right next to our campsite and we didn't know it. We were safe in our canoe 50M from shore. While I kept the canoe stable in the stiff breeze Dan whipped out his camera and took some shots.

Unfortunately we didn't get any photos of the bear but here's the moose cow and calf.

They we heading up the shore towards the train treacle at the head of Stratton. While we followed them the bear came back to the spot where we 1st saw him. He/she stood tall on it's hind legs but still with it's front feet on the ground took a good look at us then headed crashing back into the bush. We never saw the bear again. We followed the moose along the shore. The cow entered the water and the calf followed. The calf stopped to take a leak. Very cute, just like a puppy. By the time we got to the treacle we had seen enough and we wanted to get on our way so we were hoping that the moose would take to the abandoned tracks and go on their merry way. Well, the cow had other intentions. She stayed in the water and began swimming up the river heading to Grand L. We had to follow at a respectful distance. At one point about 50M past the trecel the current is very strong and the river is deep. The calf was still swimming but not making any progress. We were about 50M behind but we dropped back further to give them all the room they needed. The calf was struggling here and we could see its head getting lower and lower in the water. It was loosing strength and we were concerned. Slowly the calf drifted to the left shoreline and got hold of the river bottom and rested. It soon began walking up the shoreline. The mother was on the opposite shore and came over 3 times to coax it to cross but the calf wouldn't follow her. About way to the P30 the moose rested on the left shore. We were still a good distance behind and keeping quiet but paddling sternly against the current to remain in one spot. Eventually the cow convinced the calf to cross and they began making their way up river again. At the P30 they disappeared into the bush. We were a little nervous portaging at the P30 but we had no reason to be.

We thought we had seen the last of the moose but not so. If you look at the map you will see that the river makes a bend to the left forming a point of land at Grand L. Just as we were entering Grand guess who is coming down the shore towards us? You're guessing right, our friends the cow and it's young calf. Proud as peacocks. We passed very close to each other and the cow gave us a look that sort of said, thanks for chasing that bear away (I think the bear left because it saw humans - I hope). So that was the end of the large animals but it was plenty for us. I don't think I will ever see something like that again.

Our trip across Grand was eventful only because a good wind was blowing and we had to decide weather to cut straight to Achray and brave the high seas or follow the shoreline. Since the canoe rode well and is very stable even when loaded we decided to chance it. It was hard work and a little scary at times but we made it across. I couldn't help looking around at the scenery and thinking I was in the middle of a painting.

Illustration: Tom Thomson's 'The Jack Pine' (1916) shows the view looking across Grand Lake. We were crossing from left to right through this scene.

On the road out we passed a car that had stopped and they looked like they had spotted something in the bush. They said it was a bear. "Oh Ya" we thought, "we saw our bear" and home we went. We stopped at the Ranger cabin on the way out. The ranger told us that it was common for bear to go after moose and deer calf and the after birth from the delivery. This spot on Stratton may be a birthing spot (I don't know for sure) since we saw a very young fawn and doe at the same spot. You might want to check it out in early- to mid-May.

Writing and photography by Alvin LeBlanc