Mike and Laurie’s 3 Nights On Pen Lake ... Aug. 25 - 28, 2006

This was a trip to show Laurie what tripping is like in Algonquin Park. She'd never done any interior camping before. I picked a simple trip with one portage and in an area I knew was very nice. I decided to go to Pen Lake.

Day 1 - Friday, August 25

With a late start we had our work cut out for us. We didn't get to the Rock Lake access office until after 5 pm. The office was busy with car-campers paying for wood and trying to find better spots to stay at. I kept looking at my watch and was getting mad! “Come on, let’s go!” Finally after getting our permit I asked how busy Pen was. There were 16 sites and 13 were booked! Darn it, I knew then my 3 choice sites would be taken…

We swiftly unloaded the van at the dock. I drove around the interior parking area twice trying to find a spot to park! Finally, I found a tight spot near the out-house. With the canoe loaded, we were off on our trip at 5:45pm. As we paddled down the river that leads to Rock Lake, I made a few suggestions to Laurie to help her paddle better. She soon got the hang of it and was ready to make the distance of Rock Lake. A slight southeast wind made sure we didn't have too easy a job of the paddle!

As we headed down the north bay of Rock Lake, I showed Laurie the campgrounds and cottages along the shores. I pointed out Rose Island and Picto Bay to her . Before Rose Island, we passed another couple in a loaded canoe .. going very slowly and looked like they never tripped before. I figured they must be staying on Rock Lake somewhere, taking there time travelling .. not like us! I was trying to cover as much distance as possible before darkness, but making sure I kept it enjoyable for Laurie.

The weather was clear and warm, 75 f (24c). But with clear skies come cool nights! We passed the portage to Lake Louisa. Laurie noticed canoes being lifted overhead at the start to that portage. An hour after starting out, we approached the portage to Pen Lake. Laurie’s first portage! No one else was at the portage. I looked behind us to see a canoe just coming around the far corner. Could it be that couple we passed?

After pulling up the canoe and strapping on the paddles and lifejackets, I loaded Laurie up with the barrel. She also had to carry the 2 folding chairs. I normally do not bring chairs; but being such an easy trip, why not?. The food barrel was 55lbs. Not all food! I also had some camping gear packed with the food. My canoe pack weighed in at 65 lbs. We made a single carry of this 380m portage. The trail was rocky and wet .. a steady low angle climb to Pen with a few board walks. At the halfway mark I looked back to see Laurie holding onto a tree trying to pull her self up on some rocks. I saw she was having some difficulty, so I took the 2 chairs from her. I was able to steady the canoe with only one hand. I had a full load now! 12 minutes later we were on the wooden dock at Pen Lake.

Laurie was happy that she'd completed her first and only portage. I told her we would come back and explore the falls/rapids later .. no time now! The one campsite on the east side near the rapids was empty. I wanted to go farther down near the Welcome Lake portage. Besides, this site had little privacy, being so close to traffic. After a quick drink, we were on our way towards the two islands on Pen Lake. I was headed towards the east side of the left Island and Laurie said to go straight. I knew between the two islands were rocks that weren't passable.

We passed the site near the portage to Night Lake. My site #3 was taken. We passed the east side sandy point half way down with large pine trees. My site #1 was taken. The next point site along the east side, my #2 choice site was taken. I looked farther down the lake with my binoculars to see all other sites have canoes on shore or visible campfire smoke. We turned around to see the site on the east side we had passed, two south of the large point site, is empty! This site looked bushy from afar. The only other sites open were back at the rapids and across from the point on west side. In my mind. this site sucked .

We checked out the east site…..SCORED! It was sweet .. nice and open inside off the water .. yet with protection and privacy from the west wind. And I love sunsets. It had a nice large rock landing area with rocky/sandy beach. Good swimming!

The thunder box lid was broken off and only half of that left! It was going past 8:00pm and the sunset was at 8:30. I didn't have to get firewood this time. The last party had left a very nice pile of firewood! SCORED again! I always leave wood behind for the next person, just as we needed it for getting to a site so late.

We put up our tent, far away from the fire pit but on a nice and flat area. Next, while I was starting the fire, Laurie noticed a canoe float on by. It was the couple we passed on Rock Lake! It was now getting dark. I thought of asking them to join us. However, being our first night, I really didn't want the company. As it turned out, bumping into them the next day, they had paddled right to the end of Pen Lake to find no open sites. Another campsite couple called them in from the darkness. I was glad to hear this and felt bad I hadn't called out to them myself. The night got quite cool with clear skies. We changed to some warmer clothes and sat by the warming fire and watched the stars. We had some pizza that was left-over from Huntsville before he hit the park. At 10:00 pm we turned in for the night.

Day 2 - Saturday, Aug. 26

The night was cold for Laurie (a tad for me also) at 45 f. I'd also tossed and turned. I'd woke up many times with cold air rushing into my summer sleeping bag. We got up around 7:00am and made a fire to warm up. I made some coffee and we sat by the lake to watch the mist lift off.

I cooked up blueberry pancakes for breakfast. The day was clear so far, but the weather forecast was calling for rain later in the day and the next day. I decided to go to Welcome Lake for a day trip. With some food in the daypack, we headed across the lake. We passed the large island to the opening where the portage is to Galipo River. The water was low and we slid across the sand creek bottom at a few places before the portage.

We got out at the north side of the creek and crossed the rocky river bed. This seemed to be what most travellers were doing here. With Laurie in tow, we walked up the 300m portage. I told her about the beautiful waterfalls here. At the end of the portage, we went back to take pictures of the falls.

Going down the Galipo River was slow going with little water. The water level was down about a foot from normal levels. I pulled the canoe down the creek in many sections. Laurie stayed in the canoe and enjoyed the ride! I had water sandals on and actually enjoy this kind of tripping. I was shocked with the first foot soaking though….COLD! The water here must have a natural spring feeding it, because it was so much colder then normal. Water temp on Pen is 72 F .. not here in this river!

The 1870 m portage to Welcome Lake was pleasant with nice cool weather and only a daypack and canoe to carry. This portage is pretty easy. It does go around a pond at the half way mark. It's a little rocky and has a few boardwalks. Bugs could be bad here; but not this time of year. We never had any bug problems to speak of. We stopped halfway for a quick snack and drink. A nice young solo dude was also going to Welcome Lake. He had 2 dogs, 2 packs and a cedar canoe!

It took us 45 minutes to make the portage. We took some pictures on the shore of Welcome at the river and headed off to a beach campsite towards Harry Lake on the north side. No one was there, so we spent our afternoon on the beach here. It's a niice site with sand all around .. grassy area for a tent and plenty of wooded shelves that people have erected. We did not swim here. An east wind was making it too cool for a swim, but it was warm enough to lay on the beach and soak up some rays.

The clouds started to roll in. After a few hours, we headed back to Pen Lake. The young couple we'd seen coming in late the day before was at the end of the portage, having a lunch before they headed to Harry Lake. The solo guy was gone by this time. Laurie wore the daypack on our way back through the portage. This time, we completed the portage in 30 minutes and made our way back to Pen Lake.

I decided to put up a tarp near our fire pit and sitting area incase the rain cames…which it did! We went for a swim after. Laurie was in and out in no time! Not pool temps .. that’s for sure! After a rest in our hammocks, I started a fire. Our dinner was steak and potatoes. The night was warmer (65 F) with the clouds covering the sky. I made some popcorn later and we had some drinks. With the loons making their calls, the night was perfect. Again, 10:00 pm we turn in. With the cloud cover, no stars were seen.

Day 3 - Sunday Aug. 27

Rain! It was warm sleeping through the night. But the rain came down hard and steady from midnight until 7:00 am. I got up at 6:00 am and put another tarp up closer to the fire pit to help with the blowing rain. It slowed down to a drizzle. We took our time this wet morning .. bacon sandwiches and blueberry bannock for breakfast. White and dark clouds drifted by with on and off rain. We decided to put on rain gear and head out for a paddle.

We headed west across the lake and the plan was to follow the west shore and go north towards Rock Lake hoping to see some wildlife. Halfway across, I spotted something dark in the marsh across from out campsite. It was a cow moose and her two calves! We got closer to take some pictures. She was nervous with her two calves away from her side. They got together and walked slowly out of the water and back into the forest. Laurie’s first moose encounter!

We headed down the lake as planned. We stopped at some campsites along the way as people had left already. We had gone down to the campsite beside the portage to Night Lake. We stopped here for a rest and looked around. The tent area was dry and fire pit was warm, but no extra wood for the next customer. I had stayed on this site last fall. It has a very nice with a pebble beach. The rain had ended by now with sunny breaks. We headed back to base camp for lunch. After lunch and a rest, I looked across the lake where the moose had been earlier. They had come back out to feed.

We quickly got back into the canoe and made our way towards them. This time they did not leave. We watched them eat for over 30 minutes. The cow was used to us now and knew we were no threat. From here we headed towards the Clydegale Lake portage. We stopped again at a few campsites along the way. Just before the portage on the west side is a site on a point with a huge tree knocked down. This huge root system exposed now serves as privacy and wind protection from the north. Pretty cool! Nice site. I would like to camp here if I came back. It has a nice rock face to jump into deep water and also some shallow beach action at the landing.

We headed off to the portage to Clydegale. As we entered the narrows, we noticed a yucky film on the water. A northwest wind was pushing whatever it was right to this end of the lake. I did not take much more notice until after. We walked the short 275 m portage and crossed over to the rapids where a dam used to be. We followed the river down into a deep crevasse. On the return and getting back into the canoe I looked at the scum again….yuck!

When we got back to our camp site, we noticed our neighbors had left late, at 4:00 pm (supposed to be off by 2:00 pm).We checked out the point site .. the #2 site that I'd wanted. It was a very nice site, but not worth making the move for one night. When we got back to our landing, I tuned over the canoe and could not believe the layer of OIL that was on my canoe. Laurie’s paddle was also covered! Yuck. I got a paper towel and wiped off the film. I took some pictures to show someone at the office on the way out. No boats are allowed on Pen Lake, except for what the rangers use. So where did the oil come from? Years of build up perhaps, and then all being gathered by the wind?

The temperature was now 72 F at 5:00 pm. We went for a swim to freshen up. The water and air were a little too cool to really enjoy the swim. But afterwards, it was nice in the sun. We had spaghetti for supper. We sat on our chairs, out in front of our campsite facing the water. We were eating with the moose across the lake. It can’t get better then this I thought. At 8:30 pm I got a fire started and we enjoyed some drinks and popcorn I cooked over the cook stove. The stars were out in full force. It was still warmish out at 65 F. We sat against a rock out front and watched the stars until 10:00 pm. Then, time for bed.

Day 4 - Monday Aug. 28 (Departure)

It had been a very quiet night with no wind at all. I got up at 5:00 am and made a fire to warm us up and dry us out on this very foggy cool (55 F) morning.

I continued to use a head lamp until sunrise. At 6:00 am, Laurie came out of the tent and tended the fire. She was happy that I'd made one! I made some bacon and oatmeal for breakfast. At about 7:00, we started to take down the tent and break camp. By 8:00 am we were loaded up and ready to paddle out.

I decided to go across the lake to see if the moose were out. Problem was, we still couldn't see more than 20 feet! The fog was so thick. We started across and I tried to keep going straight towards the opposite side. Laurie did not like not seeing where we were headed and questioned my navigation abilities. After 5 minutes or so, I was starting to wonder myself and was looking for my compass.

I looked up and then I could see some trees. We were right on course. No moose were out this morning. We headed towards the Rock Lake portage. We enjoyed the fog lifting off the water as we paddled along on this beautiful morning.

Before we reached the portage, we passed a solo canoeist near the islands. He put up his hand to signal to us to slow down and not disturb the large heron he was looking at. We slowly passed by farther away and were on the portage by 9:30 am. We made a side trip to explore the beautiful rapids along the portage and check out the campsite nearby. If I was on Pen Lake for awhile and had my kids with me to entertain, this would be the site to stay at. The kids can spend countless hours playing and exploring the rapids. I suppose if the water levels are high, this would be dangerous but the levels are low this time of year. After 30 minutes we headed toward the portage. We had no problems on the portage and were on our way on Rock Lake by 10:15 am.

Wind was no factor at all on Rock Lake. A ranger with two kids passed us in a boat as we got going. Shoot, I forgot to tell him about the scum on the water! Darn it! We were back at the access point by 11:15 am. As we unloaded the canoe on the dock, I watched many canoe-couples starting there trips and wished we were going the other way!

I stopped at the access office and told the girl working there about the oil film on Pen Lake. She made a note of it and said she'd ask a ranger to investigate it.

We had a great trip and Laurie said she enjoyed the trip tremendously and would like to come back. Hooked and landed! One more person in love with the park.


Mike and Laurie Burns