Sept. 3 - 8, 2019 Algonquin Park Interior Canoe Trip

by Randy Born

Lakes visited: Rock,Pen,Clydegale,Welcome and Gem Lakes

Day 1

This year somehow we didn't even think about a May canoe trip, as there were too many conflicting activities on my schedule. Robert had been bugging me most of the summer about a late summer trip and the only free time I could find was after the September long weekend. We agreed that this would be ideal, as the crowds would be less, the bugs should be gone, and decent temperatures should be the order of the day.

Rob met me at my cottage Tuesday morning. We soon had his SUV loaded with our gear and were on the road to Algonquin before 10 am. We did quick stop in Barrys Bay at the MAD outdoors store to get a few last minute items and then we were on the road again.

The day was overcast and threatening to rain for the remainder of the drive. But we hoped it wouldn't rain until we had set up camp on Pen Lake. We had to stop at Openogo Outfitters in Whitney to get a canoe. They told us that if hurried we could meet their driver at the access point and get our canoe there, rather than loading one onto the car and transporting it to our start point. We picked up our 'senior' rate trip permit at the Rock Lake office, then left quickly. We found the driver patiently waiting, apparently having got a call from the store. We'd chosen and paid for a standard weight Kevlar at the store. However, the driver said there were none available and instead gave us a light weight Kevlar. This we figured would be a great deal and lighter for sure on the portages. Little did we know this was not to be that good of a deal.

The water level was really low at the access point. But we were able to still easily launch our canoe and soon it was filled to the brim with gear. We could have eliminated more gear from the load but the planned base camp was a short portage after the end of Rock Lake and we choose to bring a few extras.

Fully loaded, we were soon paddling the creek into Rock Lake. Memories of a previous disastrous spring trip paddling up this same creek came to the forefront of my mind quickly. Thankfully we had learned a lot about canoe tripping in the past 40 years. Knowing that we had a proper sized canoe and that it was not overloaded allowed me to put my mind at rest about capsizing in rough water. I started anticipating the great times ahead. Half way down the creek, it started to sprinkle lightly. We had our rain gear handy but as it was a short lived sprinkle, we carried on expecting the wind would dry us off quickly. Just before the opening into the lake proper it started again to rain and this time it was a serious down-pour. Fortunately we were close to a sand bar, which allowed us to easily stop, get out of the canoe and don our rain pants and jackets before getting soaked. The paddle across Rock Lake was uneventful except for the rain which stopped just as we were entering the narrows at the south end of the lake.

Rock Lake takeout at the portage to Pen Lake.

At the portage from Rock Lake to Pen Lake, two or three other canoes were in the process of loading and exiting. That made it difficult for us to find a decent spot to come ashore and unload. We waited until they'd left, enjoying the sun that had mysteriously appeared. Once they left, we easily came ashore and unloaded. Our pile of gear was quite obviously overkill, but it was a short portage. It only took us three carries to get it to the end.

Ready to head across the portage.

An awesome dock on Pen Lake greeted us. It was the launch-point from which we easily reloaded all the gear into the canoe. The sun had disappeared behind some ugly clouds, so we kept our rain gear handy. However, it proved to be an enjoyable dry paddle down Pen Lake.

We wanted a campsite on the west side of the lake near the portage to Welcome Lake. The first campsite we found was depressing and not up to our wants. So we carried on to check out other campsites further down the lake.

We planned to be here for five nights so we wanted the best campsite possible. The second campsite was possibly OK, but Robert said, "Lets check out the next one a tad farther down the lake." All the sites on the west side were soon found lacking the features we desired and we decided to check out the campsites on the east side of the lake.

We quickly ruled out these east side campsites and decided that the west side campsites that we'd earlier visited warranted a second look. Just as we were landing at the second campsite that we had earlier checked out, it started to rain lightly. Landing quickly, we then donned our rain jackets and did a second checkout of the site. It then started to rain harder and we agreed to make it base camp and unloaded quickly.

We needed to get our gear out of the rain, so we hastily rigged up our tarp and were able to get gear and ourselves out of the downpour. A hot drink was in order to ward off the slight chill I felt coming on. The stove was quickly unpacked and a steaming cup of tea plus a granola bar was a welcome snack.

About 30 minutes later the rain stopped again and we started to erect the tent, prepare a kitchen area and search for campfire wood. The tent setup was a two person job. But once done, I continued with kitchen setup and tarp adjustments, while Robert searched for wood.

Dusk was quickly approaching and soon it would be dark. Further camp improvements would have to wait until the morning. Supper had been planned to be 'Chicken on a Stick' but I wasn't sure we had adequate dry fire wood to fully cook the chicken.

Dreary weather threatened more rain.

Instead of the chicken, we opted for hotdogs and Ramen noodles cooked on the coleman one-burner-stove. The hot food hit the spot. Robert then started the fire, having scoured the nearby forest and collected some semi-dry firewood. While most wood was damp, he did also manage to find a dry dead standing tree. It was helpful in starting a fire in those wet conditions. The fire pit was also under the tarp and Robert was able to coax the larger supply of wetter wood into burning. For the next hour we sat around the campfire, had a couple of drinks and discussed what to do come morning.

We called it an early night at 10:30 pm, mostly because we had run out of firewood. The tent would hopefully be dryer since the wind had picked up and the rain had started again. No sooner had we crawled into our sleeping bags, than the sky filled with thunder and lightning. Thankful that things had gone as well as they had, we drifted off to sleep quickly. However, we were awoken a few times during the night by loud thunder, howling winds, and heavy rain.

Day 2

We awoke early at 6:30 am, to the sounds of howling winds and our tarp thrashing about, having torn free of the guy ropes in three places. Robert made coffee while I fully untied and took down the tarp, folding it up temporarily until we could put it up again. There were white caps on the lake and it was chilly out in the wind. Coffee helped warm us up. I then set about making breakfast, while Robert went in search of more fire wood.

Breakfast was instant oatmeal and eventually toast-with-jam, once Robert found adequate firewood to start a small fire to make toast. More coffee finished off our breakfast and we then discussed the plan for the day. We decided it was too windy and too rough on the lake to go day-tripping. Today would be a camp-day, allowing better set-up of the camp as well as hopefully finding more firewood nearby. I looked after the camp setup, while Robert searched for firewood. By lunch time, all was mostly in order and we had a decent supply of kindling. Lunch was hotdogs, more Ramen noodles, plus some cheese crackers and a fresh pot of tea as well as some cookies. It was still chilly and we were wearing most of our dry clothes. Sleeping bags and mattresses were hung out to air. There wasn't much else that had to be done, so we just had to wait out the weather while we putzed about camp.

Our decent supply of kindling.

Around 4 pm we figured the wind had died down enough to try our luck fishing. We headed out but soon found that the wind was still too strong troll Pen Lake for trout. We decided to head towards Clydegale, figuring the wind at the north end of the lake would be less and as well we could get some decent firewood on the portage. We fished Clydegale until 6 pm and then headed back as we still had to collect some firewood and we had a stiff wind to paddle into in order to get back to camp. Firewood was more abundant on the portage than expected and soon we had a canoe full of firewood. As also expected, there was a head wind and we had our hands full paddling back to base camp.

We landed on the same sandy beach as yesterday, but this time with different results . Robert got out first and there was a crunching sound as he stood up and exited the canoe. Robert held the canoe steady as I walked up the canoe to mid thwart. We then lifted the canoe fully out of the water and turned it upside down to check out the reason for the crunching sounds. We found a rather ugly tear/puncture in the bow of the canoe. "Oh my!" or words maybe not as nice were heard from both of us. But seeing there was nothing to do that night, we decided a drink was in order. I was getting dark so we made and ate supper before we lost all daylight, which was rapidly disappearing.

Preparing the hamburgers.

Chicken-on-a-stick would again wait till another day, because the hamburgers were fully thawed out and needed to be cooked. Robert soon had a good bed of coals and I set about cooking the hamburgers over the coals using our folding toaster. After supper, we had tea and cookies followed by a few hours chatting around the campfire involving a couple of drinks to help pass the time.

Day 3

Thursday morning we awoke at 7 am. The wind had virtually disappeared and we had to figure out what to do about the tear in the canoe, that obviously would leak profusely.

The tear in the kevlar hull.

We discussed possibly finding some spruce sap and maybe fashioning a patch of some sorts with the sap as glue. Robert thought maybe he could keep his foot on the tear and keep the intake of water below my expected bailing rate. Then I remembered that Robert had brought my hip pack that I thought I had lost but had been left in Roberts pack from a previous trip. Checking the hip pack, I was elated to find about 2 feet of duct-tape wrapped around a pencil. We were able to tape the tear inside and out and quickly tested the repair for obvious leaks.

All was good and we quickly decided that we needed to go back to Whitney and get another canoe while the repair lasted. We lost a day of fishing due to this unplanned canoe exchange but we did also manage to have an awesome lunch at the Whitney gas bar. Needless to say, we did not take a 'Light Weight Kevlar' canoe this time, but instead stayed with our original 'Standard Kevlar'

An awesome lunch at the Whitney gas bar.

We managed to get back to camp just past 6 pm. The wind had shifted from southwardly to northwardly during the afternoon, making for an into-the-wind paddle both ways (to and from town). Needless to say, we had no time to troll when returning and thankfully got back to camp before dark, albeit tired and hungry.

Chicken on the Stick was on the menu. It was a superb meal, along with some Basmati 'boil in the bag' rice. Once again, tea and cookies finished off the meal and then we had another great campfire night.

Plans for the next day were made and an earlier start was decided, since we planned to fish Welcome, Harry and Rence .. hoping to bring back a decent trout for tomorrow's supper.

Loons swimming by during supper.

A few loons swam by in front of our campsite during supper. The sky was clear with little wind but there was a definite chill in the air, so lights out by 11 pm was the order of the day.

Day 4

Friday morning we awoke around 7 am. There was no wind to speak of. But the clouds were mean looking and the weather was still chilly. After a quick breakfast of instant porridge and toast with jam, we headed out toward the Welcome Lake portage with our rain gear handy. We easily found the inlet that leads eventually to the start of the portage.

However, this is where the problems started. Water levels were extremely low this year and we could not paddle the canoe up the inlet. We beached and decided that we could track the empty canoe most places. So Robert took off his boots and trousers to wade as required.

Tracking the empty canoe in the shallows.

I was able to walk along the side of the inlet in most places. Finally we had deep enough water to continue paddling. Robert then got dressed and discovered that he only had one boot! "Oooops" .. maybe it was left on shore when he undressed. I back tracked to the place where we started tracking the canoe and thankfully it was there.

The lost boot was where we'd started tracking the canoe.

What should have been an easy 10-15 minute paddle turned into 2 hours and we still had to start the portage. But at least with Robert having two boots again, we could still do the portage. The portage went well and soon we were fishing Welcome Lake. Quickly the weather changed. The wind picked up and it started to rain. We were near the north shore, quickly beached, donned our rain gear and tried to take cover under some tall trees.

It rained for the better part of two hours while we waited it out. During the rain I made lunch, hotdogs and Ramen noodle again. And then more tea and cookies. Robert even managed to have a sitting power nap while lunch was being cooked.

After lunch, more like "Lupper" since it was now 4:30 pm, we decided to head back as we still had about 2 hours plus of portaging and tracking before getting back into the part of Pen Lake where we could actually paddle. The wind thankfully was at our back once we reached Pen Lake and we were quickly home. We got back to camp going on 6:30 pm and we ate Kraft Dinner plus a few sticks of Pepperoni, as well as tea and cookies.

Overall it was not a bad day in spite of the boot mishap and rain, mostly because we were able to get in some fishing which is one of the reasons we came to the park. We discussed the days events around the fire again and had a few laughs and a couple of drinks.

We decided that tomorrow we would try Gem Lake because so far we had we had been skunked and Gem was a stocked lake that might yield results. Lights-out was early again ( 10:30 pm) and we went to sleep easily without the noise of rain or wind to keep us awake.

Day 5

Up at 7 am , our breakfast was a leisurely event as we didn't have far to go. The luxury of a third coffee was awesome and then we loaded the canoe with gear for a day trip to Gem Lake.

Finding the portage landing was tricky on account of there being no sign. And then once found, the landing was difficult. We managed to move about 7 logs/dead-heads that were blocking the landing and soon had our canoe on dry land.

The portage was rather over grown and difficult to ascertain where it actually went. We decided to do a dry run without canoe in order to ensure we were not going the wrong way. After about 300 meters of false-starts and dead-ends, we were sure we'd found the actual portage. We back tracked, marking the way and soon were on our way to Gem Lake with canoe and day-gear. Upon reaching Gem, we launched the canoe about 50 metres past the official launch spot due to low water and oodles of muck.

We started paddling Gem Lake and as we turned the corner we saw a couple that were fishing from shore. We chatted briefly and then proceeded to troll the lake in hopes of catching some trout. We noticed that the shore couple appeared to be catching something. When they left, we went to shore and stretched our legs.

A brief passing shower had us don rain gear but soon I was bobber fishing while cooking lunch. Yup .. hotdogs and Ramen noodles again and as well tea and cookies. During lunch cooking my bobber started dancing and soon I had a small 12 inch speckle.

Small speckled trout of Gem Lake.

At least we weren't skunked anymore but I decided the release the small speck. I managed to catch a few more similar specks which I also released. It was getting late, around 4:30 pm, so we packed up and headed home. It was an easier carry out, probably because we knew the route. We were quickly on the water and ready to go.

Dry wood for our last camp fire.

We spotted some drift wood on shore about 20 metres left of the portage so we headed over and collected a stash of dry wood for our last camp fire. We got back to camp at 5:30 pm and as the evening meal was to be a store-bought dehydrated 'Beef Stew', we had time for a pre dinner cocktail to celebrate not being skunked.

The 'Beef Stew' was a just-add-boiling-water type of meal. So the supper preparation was quick and easy. The evening sky was quite overcast. But we had an interesting sunset as we were eating supper.

Sunset at supper-time.

Taste wise, the stew was so-so. I am sure I can make a better tasting meal myself at home with my hydrator. But the convenience of these commercial meals may see me use these types or meals in the future in lieu of or in addition to home made meals.

Store-bought dehydrated 'Beef Stew'.

Day 6

We awoke again at 7 am and ate another leisurely-paced breakfast. Porridge and toast with jam plus a few cups of coffee were consumed and then we had to break camp. We were able to better pack everything since the food pack had extra space and this made the portage back to Rock Lake just a double.

The paddle out was into a head wind but we made good time and soon had the gear into Robert's vehicle and the canoe loaded onto the car for return to the 'OO' store. At the store we had to discuss our earlier damage with Jimmy who was not available when we had exchanged canoes a few days earlier. The discussion was quick and easy. Jimmy told us our honesty as well as the fact that we had been doing business with his company for many years/decades helped him easily decide on the damage cost. The damage fee of $100 he decided on was very reasonable and we gladly paid the extra cost.

The return drive back to my cottage was uneventful and we were soon saying good bye to each other, as Robert wanted to head home and I was staying at the cottage.

All in all, it was a great trip and hopefully more trips are still in our years ahead, despite portages somehow seemingly appearing longer and the packs heavier this year.