Trip to Achray

September 6-12, 2021 - by Wanda Spruyt

(a.k.a "tentsterforever" on the forum)

It was another mother and daughter fall canoe trip. After so many trips over the years, and always forgetting something, we decided this was not going to happen again. This time the planning would be meticulous. Lists were made and double checked and we agreed we had packed everything.

We had more time off this year than in years past, and we decided to go do a trip from the Achray access point. We'd never been there before. It's quite a long drive, so a stop was made in Haliburton to sleep over at my daughter's in-laws, waiting out the long weekend before heading in on Monday morning. Driving all the back roads from Haliburton towards Achray was a delight, very few cars on the road, very scenic, and a beautiful sunny and warm day. We passed lovely small villages, and stopped in one for a coffee, and yes, then we realized we had a problem. The day before we had bought some fresh foods in the cottage town for the drive, and a fresh dinner in case paddling took long. In the morning we double checked. Yes, Joyce had taken the carton box out of the fridge at the cottage, the carton box with some cheese, and crackers and a few sausages for roasting. I assumed she had added the just bought fresh meals to that box. When I asked about it at the coffee break, we realized that NOPE. That food was still in the fridge. Sigh. So much for not forgetting anything.

We had read on the website that the outfitters on the Barron canyon road had sandwiches available for purchase, and wondered if we could risk driving on. But we weren't sure if that would be the case on a holiday Monday. So we hastily made a side trip to Barry's Bay, where thankfully the grocery store was open and we restocked. Onward we went. We drove through the small town of Maple Leaf and then Alice, where Joyce noticed on her map-thingy in the car that you could take a side road up to the outfitters. No idea what kind of road this would be, but we are always up for an adventure. So we turned off, drove past an enormously cluttered lawn with a crooked house on it, and where a group of people were drinking beer on the lawn at 10 am. They waved at us as if we were long lost family and we waved back equally enthusiastically, laughing at this. After a while the side road took a sharp turn, and split. The turnoff we needed turned out not to be accessible. We drove around the next corner and promptly ended up back on the main road, only a few hundred feet from where we had turned on to the side road. We were laughing, jeez, not much of an adventure.

In good time we made it to the outfitter on the Barron Canyon road to pick up our canoe, and found it had been a good move to stop to buy lunch and dinner in Barrys Bay, the only thing available at the little store was ice cream. We wondered at the lack of people, there was no one at the outfitters, and loading up only took a few minutes. Now eager to get on the water, we drove the gravel road which was in remarkable good shape, to the access point. We unloaded and had lunch at a picnic table at the beach, enjoying the flotillas of canoes and people coming in. We had bought a bag of wood realizing that most sites would likely be picked clean. There was a stiff breeze blowing and a headwind right from the get-go.

Unloading at Achray . . . Full-size image

Halfway across we noticed a small black cloud coming over the horizon, which grew so fast that we realized we'd better get off the water. The wind really picked up and we were now battling white caps, and headwind, but the waves were going in all directions, making the paddling on Grand Lake really hard. We bobbed and got thrown left and right before we reached the shore, but didn't dump. The canoe we had was a featherweight prospector, actually quite wide in the middle, and as stable as you can get it. The shower broke and a pelting rain hit us. We realized we had landed on the shore with campsites all the way to the large beach area. The sites all looked empty and did not get any afternoon sun, so when it stopped raining we decided to carry on and see what the sites closer to the mouth of Carcajou Bay would look like.

We paddled into Carcajou Bay, which we knew was booked solid for that night. But that didn't matter, as we were only wondering what it all looked like. We rounded a corner and saw a slab of stone at the lakes edge coming into view on our left. We were curious and ogled the spot wondering if it would be a site. was. But it was taken. All the while we were paddling automatically without paying much attention. Then there was an enormous loud crunch, which scared the daylights out of us. We'd got ourselves impaled on a boulder in the river. Darn! That's what you get when your eyes are elsewhere. We were really stuck and leaning to one side. We were fully loaded and worried the rock point would push through the canoe bottom. We tried carefully to wiggle ourselves loose. No luck. The water was too deep for getting out and we were not that close to shore. With no other good solution at hand other then swim, Joyce got out of the canoe in her socks, balancing on the slippery 15 cm top of the very large underwater boulder and managed to dislodge us. With our hearts in our throats we wondered if the bottom had cracked. We did not flood, but there was water in the canoe, although we hoped some of that was from getting in and out and the continuing spotty showers.

We decided to get off the water quickly and headed for the first available site to inspect the bottom of the canoe, all the while hoping we wouldn't sink. With a sigh of relief we realized, after a careful inspection, that there were no holes or cracks, so we decided to carry on. We had lots of time, and decided to site-shop for the fun of it, and concluded Carcajou Bay sites were small and uneven. In some cases we were hard pushed to find 2 level tent pads. None were sites we loved. So we happily paddled back to Grand Lake where the site we'd hoped for turned out to be a 'no camping' signed site.

Ok, then back to the beach looking area. We erroneously thought the beach area would have sites. It didn't. Had we studied the map a bit closer we would have seen that. So, we ended up picking a site close to where we had hastily landed when the shower hit earlier that afternoon. No matter, we were happy, saw lots and were quite tired from paddling with all that wind. While pitching the tents I got another very unwelcome surprise. Just as I staked out the front of my MEC TGV2 (about 5 yrs old) and looked up at my handy work, both triangle windows on each site of the entrance let go simultaneously. Now I was looking at 2 good size holes. Some unprintable exclamations followed. GRRRR! The fixit-bag had to be located and an attempt was made to tape them back in. This was reasonably successful and would last the trip, but another more permanent solution will have to be found. I will probably sew them back in this winter, as otherwise there's nothing wrong with the tent. By now I was getting grumpy, we'd had a long day. Having a fresh meal for dinner helped, and the campfire was a real hit. We went to bed watching a star filled sky and a day full of plans for tomorrow.

Unfortunately, when we were setting up, Joyce could clearly hear logging machines, chainsaws etc, and this started up again before 7 am the next morning. It was very annoying. Later we double checked with a warden, and yes, heavy logging was taking place north of Carcajou Bay although quite far away.

Tuesday morning arrived bright, sunny and warm, we left after breakfast but did not pack up, paddled back to the Achray access point on a still Grand Lake, and drove with the canoe to the Brigham access point to paddle Barron Canyon.

Brigham Access . . . Full-size image

It was a steep path from the parking lot down to Brigham access point, right trough a nice campsite. Not a spot to camp though, you'd have company all day long passing through.

The input was quite slippery wet clay, so it took a bit of doing before we paddled out into the river, with all the fall downs along the shores it gave us the feeling it was remote. Which of course it isn't, and there were plenty of people paddling around by noon.

Looking Up . . . Full-size image

Canyon Cliff . . . Full-size image

It was stunningly beautiful. There were other people there but they had paddled up from elsewhere. We had a hot lunch of chili (out of a thermos) and naan on the first campsite on the river after the canyon, then slowly paddling back thoroughly impressed with the canyon, and returned to our Grand Lake campsite, cooked dinner and listened to some more of the annoying logging noises, although they stopped around 6pm.

Wednesday morning we packed up and paddled out to the creek that would take us to Stratton Lake where we would base camp for the rest of our trip. Now that creek turned out to be a lesson in navigating! We had not read anything untoward about it in any of the trip logs we like reading. It is a very shallow creek, with rocks hiding just under the water. We managed to float slowly through it, but it took a while, only hitting rocks once but able to continue. We could have lined across the side of the creek, but our rope was packed away.

As we were paddling by the campsites on Stratton Lake we saw with surprise that none were taken, and wondered how it was possible that the reservations page online had shown it to be booked , but there was no one. Joyce had been using the 'ScoutSite' before we left and had known how many permits were available for the day and thereby deciding that we would go into Stratton. There was only a few still bookable. We happily paddled on in the warm sunshine looking for a fantastic site. There was no one on the lake behind us, so we had time to really search. Then we saw it, from a distance, a large beach site. The site is at the mouth of the creek to St. Andrews. We tend to like open rocky sites with beaches . (Last year we paid dearly for that due to a couple of really cold windy days) but we just couldn't resist then, and couldn't resist this one now.

This is a lovely site with lots of rock outcroppings and a big sandy beach. About 3 level tent pads are set further back, and we knew we had hit a good one and claimed it. It looked out over the whole lake.

We made a run for the lake and swam for quite some time, then cooked supper. By the end of the afternoon many canoes had gone into the creek to St.Andrews Lake, no canoes came to stay on Stratton.

For lunch and dinner we like the Happy Yak meals. The soups are fantastic. But we always start with adding half the water that's recommended, and add more if necessary while its cooking. We find the meals very tasty and enough for 2 good eaters. At night we roasted sausages over the fire for a snack. Having brought 2 more bags of firewood was a real good move, as there was little to no wood anywhere. The skies were full of stars and we stayed up for quite some time, it stayed wonderfully warm that evening.

Sutton Lake Sunset . . . Full-size image

On Thursday morning we bummed around. There was a misty rain, so we read some, had lunch, and watched more canoes aiming right for the creek. The sun came out and we then decided to go see St Andrews Lake and hike around a bit along the portage trail (550m). St. Andrews was supposed to be fully booked, and having seen so many canoes we didn't doubt it, but we wanted to go anyway. The creek was a minefield of just under the water boulders, some with razor sharp edges on top. Care was taken not to hit any, and we portaged the short path into St.Andrews. We paddled around, totally stunned by the fact there was no one on St. Andrews. No sites were taken. What the heck??? Where did all those canoes go from the last couple of days?? Stopping at all the sites out of curiosity there were many real nice ones, and some big ones too. We had a look at the last site with the stone couches from the water, but there was no easy access to it, and we saw that finding tent spots was difficult with the slope behind it, so we paddled on to the portage. This goes into a bay full of humongous logs which rise partly above the water and have been painted white on top and again care had to be taken not to hit anything. One of the logs had some moss and a twig growing out of it, what a spot to grow! We stopped at the last campsite, only a few meters across from a beaver dam and at the portage to High Falls Lake. We checked the site out, but didn't care to much for it. It didn't look heavily used and you would have constant traffic coming to the portage on your door step in the summer months.

The creek to St.Andrews Lake. . . Full-size image

A St Andrews log with plants on top . . . Full-size image

Looking back into St.Andrews . . . Full-size image

From St. Andrews to High Falls Lake . . . Full-size image

Falls along the portage . . . Full-size image

Further down the falls . . . Full-size image

Looking back at the falls . . . Full-size image

We paddled back the same way we came, had a coffee and relaxed in the sun for a bit. We then decided we had time to go to the slide area , since it was only a short paddle away.

Relaxing in the sun . . . Full-size image

A real scenic area . . . Full-size image

The water slide . . . Full-size image

Log jam . . . Full-size image

It was warm, and there was only one other couple there, so we spent some time hiking around in and around the area. We paddled back to our campsite actually later then we had anticipated, but enjoyed our outing immensely. Another beautiful night descended on us.

Evening campfire . . . Full-size image

Another beautiful night . . . Full-size image

We realized after a while that a real noisy party had arrived at some point that afternoon, in the bay that leads to the slides. A party of young men that was hooting and hollering. Some of the language was clearly overheard, although not repeatable.

The following morning the young men paddled really slow by our site, and greeted us with a 'hello', I recognized one of the voices from last night. I returned the greeting, then mentioned that they sure had a loud (and late) party the evening before and did they realize that not everyone on the lake might be in party mode. They were very taken aback by that, said they didn't realize it would carry so far over the water. They apologized, which was nice.

Friday we wanted to go to high falls, over the portage from St. Andrews. After breakfast and coffee, and sunning ourselves on the beach, off we went. Arriving at St.Andrews we noticed that now a couple of sites were occupied, but it was not full. We paddled over to the portage (550m) leaving the canoe stored out of the way on the side of the landing.

Halfway down the portage there is a really nice waterfall.

A really nice waterfall . . . Full-size image

Resting along the way . . . Full-size image

The hiking path to High Falls is at the end of the portage and is indicated by a few ribbons. It's a very narrow path, but easy to see, and certainly very rooty and rocky. Joyce took a step forward, then gave a startled yell and jumped sideways, just missing a good size snake. As it was slithering around, a chipmunk came running up and jumped on the log where the snake was. The snake reached out and up and the chipmunk reached down to the snake. Neither did anything other than just about touch noses. And I just missed taking a pic of that by a second.

Up jumped the chipmunk . . . Full-size image

Along came the snake . . . Full-size image

The portage is reasonably easy, but the last bit down to the water is very very steep. I wouldn't want to do that in the opposite direction. We hiked on towards the falls, enjoying every minute of it. With the sun out, no bugs to be found and a comfortable temperature, there wasn't anything else that could have improved it. Besides a couple that was portaging, we met no one.

High Falls . . . Full-size image

Back at the portage on the St.Andrews Lake side . . . Full-size image

High Falls was a fantastic experience, a very beautiful hike. There was no one else anywhere to be seen, and we enjoyed staying for a while. We went back to the campsite for coffee, dinner and a last swim. Tomorrow it would all come to an end, way too quickly like always.

That evening we had the most spectacular sunset.

The most spectacular sunset. . . . Full-size image

What a stunning last evening on our trip.

We had to paddle out on Saturday morning, and noticed now that all the sites on Stratton were taken. It looked to be a busy weekend. We drove back to Haliburton, going out for dinner there, and once more spending the night at the cottage before heading home on Sunday.