Back-to-back Burnt Island / Opeongo Trip - Wanda Spruyt
(August, 2022)

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For me, this was another back-to-back trip at the end of August. The first 4 days (to Burnt Island Lake) were to be with Joyce. Then 4 more days by myself to Opeongo’s south arm and beyond. Several times in the past, we had only sped through Opeongo on the water taxi. This would give me a chance to see campsites up close and to paddle as far as I wanted into the rest of Opeongo.

I drove from home to Dwight on a Sunday and stayed in the area for the night, as we wanted to have a reasonably early start on Monday morning. Joyce was coming in from another direction and would join me at Canoe Lake on the Monday morning. In all of our years of trips, neither of us had made it to the Joe Lakes or to Burnt Island Lake.

The morning was sunny and warm. By 8 am, I was at the Canoe Lake beach to drop off the packed equipment and to go and get the rental canoe. We had rented an H2O, for its light weight and to be able to handle portages easily. We couldn’t wait to try it out. We were not too sure how to handle the long-term parking lot, so we decided to leave a copy of the permit in the vehicle windows in case we got checked. We noticed hardly anyone had done the same. We normally camp much later in the season but that was not an option this year. As well, with a young child at home, Joyce was only able to stay a short time this trip. This also meant we would be sticking closer to access lakes, as doing portages takes me a bit longer, not being as quick as I once was. We understood the implications of that, and decided to deal with whatever we would face and still have a good time.

Joyce arrived within 15 minutes, and off we went. The canoe paddled easily. And, and the totally calm water was nice to experience for once! Too many times on previous trips, it had been head wind/cold/whitecaps/snow.

We seemed to arrive first to the '401' (Joe Lake) portage although many other canoes had left around the same time we had. We cleared the portage quickly, for the first time. The Joe Lake campsites were supposed to be all booked, but we saw plenty of empty sites, some nicer than others. As Drew had mentioned in a previous trop-report, one of the shorter portages was avoidable by using the creek if there was enough water. There was enough, although it was tricky to get across the razor sharp rock across the width right at the start of the creek, along with sunken trees under the water.

There had been warnings for showers and heavy rain for the day. Joyce and I had dressed for getting wet and drying-up quickly, rather than having to pull on rain gear. Not 2 seconds into the creek and the heavens opened up, with a shower so intense we were sopping wet within seconds. It was warm, so no problem. Paddling onwards to the longest portage for us (the 435 meter into Burnt Island), more canoes were already on the lake and paddling towards the portage as well. We first took the lighter stuff across, which meant that I had the food bag, paddles, lifejackets, etc and Joyce had the canoe. Then we went back for the 2 large packs.

Halfway back, I saw a sight I won’t soon forget, 2 young men were carrying our packs! And did so with pleasure. What a dream! We thanked them many times, what a treat that was. They were heading out that day. Once into Burnt Island, the first thing you see is a large island. It was open, and looked interesting. But due to the constant stream of canoes, we thought it would be a noisy spot to listen to clunking canoes from early morning to late at night. We passed it by. As there was no one behind us on the portage, we leisurely paddled up the east side, checking out every site we passed. We saw many ‘holes in the forest’, meaning the sites were in our opinion quite poor. Some had a very steep grade with little-to-no flat spots on which to put up a tent .. Mt Everest-like campsites. We wondered how you’d cling to the slope and not fall out of your tent.

As we happily paddled on, we came around to some south-facing sites, the island site, and the one right beside it. The island site was taken, so we grabbed the wonderfully open site directly east of it. It was ringed with large pines and only separated from the island by 4 ft of shallow water (PCI site 28). We had a view all the way back to the first island in front of the portage to the southwest, and on the other side of the site we could see towards Sunbeam Bay (the name picked by us because the portage to Sunbeam Lake was in there), although we could not see far into the bay.

It had taken us just about 5 hours from Canoe Lake to our campsite, double carrying the portages and stopping for a quick lunch. Realizing a storm was setting up, we sped to hang the tarp first, so everything else would be dry. We had it up within 5 minutes.

No sooner had we set up the tarp, the skies opened up again. We managed to set up the tent under the tarp, grab the ground sheet under it, and run with the whole thing to the highest and reasonably flat spot on the site. We plunked it down, making sure no groundsheet was sticking out anywhere to catch rain. We used 4 pins to stake out the fly and front entrance. We had it done in seconds. Thankfully, we both have a large fly so the entrance has room for packs we can unpack from the inside of the tent and not get anything wet. We setup Joyce's tent under the tarp, the same way. Towards dinner time, the sun came out off-and-on. We had dinner and coffee, but shortly after that it decided to really start raining as darkness fell. And man, did we have rain. It pounded down so hard that mud splattered a foot underneath the fly (which was almost to the ground) and on the inside of the tent (not mesh, but a silnylon).

It poured all night, A river started forming on the knoll where my tent was. It ran down right from the back, underneath my tent to the front and down to the lake. Joyce's tent had a barrier of needles and muck at the backside, which diverted some of the water to a low spot. But much of it did the same as mine, running right underneath the tent like a river to the front and down the site. To our total surprise we woke up with everything inside the tents still dry as a cork. Yayyyyy!

For meals, we usually bring dehydrated foods, some from our own pantry, and some were 'Happy Yak' meals. We find the Happy Yaks of excellent quality. They’re to our taste and there’s always plenty of it in the 2-person-size offerings.

We are both good eaters, and Happy Yak meals contains enough food to fill us both. However, I’ve changed the way we prepare them. We dislike adding boiling water to the packages and then waiting. The rice and pasta seem to stay mighty crispy that way. So, I take ¾ of the recommended amount of water, bring to a boil on my stove, add the food and cook until the consistency we like. Their pasta meals take longer than what the bag tells you. And if you ever have meals with dried potato slices of any brand name, it takes a half day of soaking before you boil them and they then become eatable .. at least in my opinion.

We decided to paddle some of Burnt Island Lake the following day, as well as to try to find some firewood. We had already come to the conclusion that it might be impossible due to the heavy use of the sites on the lake. We stopped at the island across from the back of our site and collected what we could. We then continued on around the bay that has sites 21, and 22 (PCI map) etc, and those were gorgeous sites, but were taken so we couldn’t visit them. There were lots of dead trees along the edges of the lake, so we managed to find stone hard, dried cedar and pine driftwood and continued to load the canoe. We paddled across to Sunbeam Bay, where sites 1, 2 etc. (PCI map) are located and stopped at the point site collecting wood around the island across from us.

Burnt Island Lake Campsite 1

The point on which campsite 1 is located is small. You could put 2 tents there but that’s about it. We had lunch there and checked the site out. We had collected enough wood, so we returned to our site. Almost there, we heard a low flying helicopter, which went all the way down below the tree line in Sunbeam Bay, just out of sight from us. It then came back up after about 10-15 minutes and kept circling for some time in the area. It seemed to be searching for something or someone. After a good half hour it left the area. We wondered what had happened and hoped someone was not badly hurt. A swim in the bay in front of our site completed the day.

A small search plane returned in the morning and searched for a while. Then in the afternoon, quite a large plane did also, which is always concerning. We had a fun day anyway, as it was Joyces birthday. I tried to think of something a little bit special, which is hard as it has to be carried in, and sushi, which we both love, wouldn’t have survived the trip .. at least not without walking away on its own. So, this mom thought of the future, and decided on bringing balloons, take pics and add them to the trip book. My new little grandbaby is too small to come along this year, so I decided that balloons were it, as that hopefully would bring giggles in years to come when he’s old enough to understand and read trip reports, which I have made into books over the years.

Real LED lights gave 12 hours of 'ghost balloons'. They could be seen from quite a ways away, and the lake was nearly full with campers. We hung them on the edge of our site and enjoyed the warm evening, while the lit up balloons danced in the breeze. We had a small campfire and a nice drink to boot. This created a really neat atmosphere, so we sat out for a long time, watching the stars appear and get brighter as time went on. It was dead quiet, even with the majority of the sites occupied. A group of young men had had their music playing at concert decibel levels, across the lake, throughout the day. For the life of me I couldn’t call it music. Thankfully we didn’t hear it through the evening or night.

Throughout our trip we saw and spoke with many people, often late in the day. Some were exhausted trying to find a good site, with no open sites within view or anywhere close for that matter. We did our best to direct some travelers to anything we knew was still open, as we paddled around quite a bit every day. For us this was a first. We have not yet had an issue finding a good site, although we usually travel later in the season. When half of Burnt Island Lake up to Caroline Island is full, its actually quite a long paddle from the portage to find an open site, especially when the majority have already travelled over four hours from Canoe Lake, wanting to camp ASAP.

On Thursday morning, we had to head back. It was quiet on the portages, until we came to the Joe Lake - Canoe Lake ‘401’ portage. Whole flotillas were arriving at the same time, sometimes 4 to 6 canoes at once. We watched in amazement, and tried to get out quickly. You actually don’t need a map if you’re a first timer coming from canoe lake. You could follow the continuous line of canoes. It was one long stream. I would estimate we saw more then 30 people at the same portage all at once.

We got back without a problem, unloaded on the canoe lake beach, and then went for lunch at the restaurant. Joyce was headed back to the Haliburton area. I was going on to Opeongo south arm for a few more days. Chatting away, we walked back to the parking lot after lunch.

Grandmothers are allowed to have bleeps in their memory. Because, as I got into my van, I drove off, only to remember 2 minutes later that if you wanna go camping you actually have to go pickup your camping equipment off the beach of Canoe Lake.

By the time I made I made it to Opeongo, got my pack boat, got it loaded and paddled off, it was running towards late afternoon, and now what we had observed on Burnt Island Lake, became reality for me on Opeongo! All the close-by campsites were taken. The ones left to pick from were 'Mt.Everest' sites. So I paddled on a bit, but I was really tired from the busy day. I noticed Blueberry Island coming up on my left. There was no canoe in front, so I crossed the lake to see and yes, it was open. Not wanting to go any further, I decided I was staying, although there was a short but steep path up to the site. It was quite open on top, and my decision was made to stay, even though there was no seating whatsoever around the firepit.

Unloading my canoe, I must have made a funny move, because as I grabbed my heavy pack to set it on the roots of the tree at the waters edge 3 feet above me, I suffered a severe muscle spasm that locked all my muscles in one leg and my back. This was horrendously painful and I was unable to move. After about a half hour, it seemed to loosen a bit. But standing in the shallow water and the wind, I was also getting cold. I inched my way up, and thanked the heavens for the person (s) that left behind a ‘kitchen’ and 2 bags of wood, chopped into pieces.

With all my heart, I thank you. In the next few hours, I slowly set up my tent, got the split wood under my tent fly to keep it dry, and cooked supper standing up at the rigged kitchen. The setup was helpful to my very painful back and I able to stay at the site and stay to the end of my trip. I didn’t have a fire that night, because it started raining softly and did so all night. Meds had taken care of loosing up my muscles enough so I was able to move around, although painfully.

The next day, the sun was out and it looked like it was gonna be a beauty. The island has 3 really good tent sites, but the best one of all is on top of the hill. It's a beautiful grassy area big enough for a good size tent, with a view over most of the south arm. However it has been ruined…. of all places to put it, they put the thunderbox there!

The lookout from the thunderbox

My plan for the day was to see if I could paddle Costello Creek, and see if there was any wildlife. It is a beautiful paddle. The creek is wide and deep, and, not a beaver dam in it. A blue heron couldn’t be bothered by me and kept on fishing. The water lilies were all open, and it was warm and sunny. It doesn’t get much better than that.

There was no one in the creek, so I floated leisurely, enjoying the piece and quiet in such a busy area of the park.

On my way back, a family of river otters made quite the fuss with their huffing, but were too quick to let me get a good picture of them. I also noted that on the floating mats, lots of sundew plants were starting to make an appearance. So did the swamp cotton.

A stiff north wind had picked up as I paddled into the swampy area at the start of Opeongo. As I approached, I heard a frustrated stream of some very salty words coming out of the reeds and floating mats. Two young girls in a Grumman canoe were getting very upset. They had never paddled before, and the wind had blown them from the docks and into the swamp. They were hitting the water with their paddles like you would hit a piñata, and yelling at each other. They were not going anywhere, so I offered to get them back on the right track with a few pointers. One was willing. The other one was not and very spicy with it. So when she snapped at me that “See, it doesn’t work. What you say”, I offered the only comment I could think of, which was, "If you don’t want to make it work that’s up to you. Have a great time spending the night in the swamp.”. That seemed to help! As I paddled on after a few minutes, I looked back a few times to see that eventually they did make it back to the docks.

On Friday the lake started filling up fast. The water taxis were buzzing frequently, and all manner of watercraft showed up on the lake. Seadoos with 'bananas' towed behind them that held some children. A 'lily pad' was floating just off one of the campsites that had a motorboat. A 'war canoe' with 10 older paddlers, seated in pairs, came by my campsite going for one thing: paddle all of Opeongo. They said that none were able to paddle alone anymore, but together they could. Behind the enormous canoe, they were pulling a very large blown up swan, and behind that a blown up chair with a head rest. In case someone needed a rest. What a fun thing to do! All this activity provided lots of entertainment. Later on, I went out towards Bates Island and beyond to see what the sites that way looked like. Bates island is so overused and abused that I think they should close it to camping all together. And again I noticed that many more south arm campsites have steep slopes.

The narrows & beach site on my left

Coming back later that afternoon and having a coffee, I took notice of the sites beside my Blueberry Island, which had been open until now. One was a hole in the forest, and the other a steep sandy slope with a firepit at the lake side. Both were now taken. The larger site had four canoes with young boys, and two leaders. That campsite had barely 1 flat tent spot. I wondered where they put the rest. Later on. I noticed the tents looked like they were nailed to the slopes. How anyone could sleep under such an angle was a mystery to me. It was great fun to listen to two youngsters who had forgotten to bring anything to roast over the campfire. They were so relieved when their leader surprised them with hotdogs he had packed. I smiled to myself, thinking the leader had run into this before and knew that saving the day with hotdogs was going to be appreciated.

Saturday was another sunny and warm day. Lots of people were around and about. Many paddlers came to the small island just a short distance from me. Unbelievably, it is a campsite. There's only a couple of trees and somewhere a thunderbox, I presume. But with only a few shrubs, it has no privacy. Most people came to use it as a beach for the afternoon and stayed a few hours. No one camped on it. As I was swimming near my island, I saw a young couple looking about and seemingly not knowing what to do. They spotted me and paddled up. They asked if I knew where all the other islands were. Not sure what they were looking for, I asked them. They had heard from friends that you could come to Algonquin and camp on these islands in Opeongo. They had jumped in the car, borrowed a tent, rented a canoe and here they were. They did not have a map, or any idea on how large Opeongo is. I swam to my site and showed them my map. They looked at it a bit, but did not seem to know what to do. They said thanks and off they went. As the south arm was fully booked and it was getting late, I wonder what they ended up doing, and even if they had a permit.

On Sunday morning the lake started emptying out, and by 3 pm you would think you were far from anywhere. It was dead quiet, most of the sites were empty as I paddled around looking at the different sites. No boats of any kind, not even water taxis passed me. By now it was late morning and I decided to paddle on towards Hailstorm Creek, eating lunch at Windy Point.

Back in time for dinner, I decided to make pancakes. I had pancake mix, an old bun, and bacon. The pancakes did not go well. My stove is one that can simmer, and I do have a nonstick frying pan as well. I've made pancakes many times in the past and it always works fine. Not this time. I have no idea what I forgot to add, or added too much of. They were not edible. Not even drenched in syrup. They were blobs of doughy sticky lumps. So dinner was a bit minimal, with only bacon and a leftover toasted bun. Ah well! I used the last of my firewood and sat watching the beautiful starry sky until my neck couldn’t take it anymore. It was a lovely relaxing trip. The paddling distances were not that far, and the portages were easy. Sadly it was over.

For breakfast on Monday morning I had cereal and milk and coffee. Packing up after that was easy and so was the paddle back. Joyce and I had known from the start that we would not have solitude and that there would be loads of people and noise. But we'd been were determined to have a good time anyway. And we did!

Next time I hope to have my grandson along. I can’t wait!