www.AlgonquinAdventures.com - Algonquin Canoe Trip Log - Ralph Bice Lake Trip

Peter Barkwell's
Ralph Bice Lake Trip
August 21 - 23. 2001


This is the tale of our second ever canoe camping trip. Our first trip was to Crotch Lake and Booth Lake in July 2001.

To follow along, you need to know that:

  1. My wife and I are canoe camping novices, Algonquin interior novices and self taught in both the art of canoeing and the art of back country camping.
  2. These trips are made with our three youngest children who, in 2001, were 8, 7 and 5 years old.
  3. We will provide as much specific practical information about our route as we are able.
  4. We will tell you what lessons we learned, which admittedly will be of more interest to novices than experts.
On this trip we had less time. We wanted a route with portages that both the kids and we could handle. Every portage was a double carry for us given the volume of gear needed to feed and house five. We wanted to spend two nights in one place so that the kids wouldnít feel like they had spent the entire three days in the canoe. So after we did all our reading and research and map gazing, we decided on two nights on Ralph Bice Lake.

By mid-August 2001 there was a total fire ban for the Algonquin interior. We carried two white gas stoves, a 25+ year old Optimus 8R and a brand spanking new Primus Himalaya, so the fire ban didnít affect the menu. However, the news of no campfire and therefore no marshmallows to roast and therefore no Ďsmores was a disappointment to the younger members of the family.

Leading up to this trip we made some equipment additions and changes. Based upon Lesson Four of our first trip, we bought a $10 inflatable dish sink. It worked very well. We also bought two new smaller sleeping bags and two compression sacks. The station wagon of canoes (our Clipper Tripper) can carry 1000 pounds, but volume is an issue. The two new sleeping bags went into one compression sack. Two of the biggest sleeping bags were retired from tripping. The last remaining large sleeping bag also went into a compression sack. All of which made room to carry a few warmer clothes for cooler August nights.

Day One

By the time our trip date rolled around the weather had finally turned to rain. Just what was needed by farms and the forest, but not what you necessarily want for your own personal trip.

Leaving our cabin near Huntsville we made good time to the Access Point office in Kearney. Despite the rain the fire ban was still on. The guy at the office told us it would take an hour to get to Magnetewan Lake. The map says 24.2 km, so he canít be right, can he? Well, it really did take virtually the whole hour to get from the office to the put in.

There's a nice dock to launch from at the put in. As we looked at the lake we realized that the Hambone Lake portage had to be "right there". It is. It seems like you hardly get your paddling rhythm established and boom, youíre at the take out.

The take out is fairly small. A young woman and her dog were just coming out from Hambone when we arrived. You really want to just step aside and wait until the space clears. The 135 meter portage was quick and easy. I carried the food pack and canoe together and this meant one less return trip across the portage for an adult as only one pack had to be left behind. The kids continued to be great on the portage. Especially considering that our youngest carried about 25% of his own body weight on his back.

The put in at the Hambone Lake end is spacious and over a sand beach. Two canoes arrived from Hambone while we were loading. There was room for all of us to work without getting in each otherís way.

A nice paddle through Hambone brings you to the Ralph Bice Lake portage. As we arrived at this take out, a guided group was coming across the other way. Eventually, we had five canoes nosed onto the take out beach. We waited for them to get organized before starting across.

This portage of 295 meters is flat, wide and smooth. However, the put in at the Ralph Bice end is fairly cramped. A board walk starts 20 -25 meters back from the water and leads out into the water. On either side of the boardwalk are rocks of a size and shape that you would not wish to set your canoe on. More of these are in the water near the "dock" end of the boardwalk. My habit is to take the canoe across first and then go back for a pack. Another time going from Hambone to Ralph Bice, I think I'll get the packs over, bring the canoe last and walk it right out into the water before putting it down.

On Ralph Bice two things happened. First, the wind came right down the lake into our faces and second, it started to rain.

We ran into the wind and into waves in the range of 12 -15 inches. The Tripper was a very reassuring canoe to paddle in these conditions. We ran up the north/west shoreline pulling from point to point, that is, from lee shore to lee shore. We took a "huff Ďní puff break" at each lee shore.

We stopped for a lunch break on an unoccupied campsite on one of the points. I'm afraid I canít tell you which one. It had a very awkward landing. The campsite had two nice level areas, one back from the water under some pines and a second one on the northside of the point near the water.

After eating we pushed on. We were aiming for the campsite on the island near the north shore, opposite the David Lake portage. It was unoccupied and we pulled in to make camp.

This site has a wide flat granite "beach", behind that is a further open area and then a smaller area under the first of the trees. Behind that the island rises rapidly. The "thunder box" is top dead center of the island. The path to it is uphill, winding and longer than you think. We ended-up escorting all the kids' trips up to the "thunder box" because of the distance from the main campsite.

We had a little difficulty picking out two level spots for our tents. We couldn't manage our previous door to door arrangement.

The "kitchen" on this site is awkward, partly because the "table" was high, partly because the ground around it is so uneven and partly because the "table" is small.

The swimming is good here. The bottom drops off fairly quickly. The site is open enough that children can be supervised in the water from a distance. But, with the way the bottom drops off, you donít want that to be at too much of a distance.

Night One

After supper and getting the kids to bed the skies opened and it poured rain. Really poured. We strung up our fly (home made by my talented wife) and tried sitting under it for a while. We had to keep pushing up the areas where the water pooled on top of the fly. The rain came down so hard that if you stood up under the fly you could feel a fine spray of water that was being driven straight through.

Sometime along there, we discovered that our older Outbound tent was taking on water. Our youngest kept rolling down hill into the sidewall and into the water. We moved the older two kids to the larger Eureka and decided to put one adult in each tent.

When I gave it up and crept into the Eureka I'd no sooner turned out my light than a drop of water hit me in the face. I tried to ignore it, but a few minutes later another one hit. I turned on the light and discovered that the fly was touching the mesh above my head, causing the leak. Back I went, into the rain to re-tighten the fly. After that, those of us in the Eureka were dry all night.

Over in the Outbound, the water continued to come in. The captain all but ordered the women and children into the lifeboats. Ok, I exaggerate, but water came in, some through the floor and some through one of the doors as the fly only has "eyebrows" over the doors.

Lesson One: - Always re-tighten the fly on the Eureka after it has rained for a bit. Actually I subsequently read this same advice about our model of Eureka (Apex 4XT) on an internet gear review site.

Lesson Two: - The Outbound doesnít owe us anything after so many years. Even if we beat the leaking problem it is barely big enough for two. It will be replaced for 2002 by a slightly larger tent with a full coverage fly and a good sized vestibule. It will then have an honourable retirement as a "backyard tent".

Lesson Three: - One adult in each tent has a re-assuring effect on the kids that has a definite benefit on the sleep disruption front.

Day Two

The day dawned cloudy and windy but developed into sunny, warm and pleasant.

Then, there was the great camera episode. When packing, I'd turned on the camera and read "3" on the LCD panel, plenty of film, so I packed it. When my wife opened it to record the campsite for posterity the LCD panel read "E", as in empty. I pleaded temporary dyslexia, but Iím not sure Iím forgiven yet.

Lesson Four: - Always remember the First Rule of Travel Photography. "Figure out the maximum amount of film you will need - and then pack twice as much." Obeying that rule would have meant packing extra film and even if the camera had still tricked me, we would have had film.

We took a paddle around the two islands on the other side of the lake. There are four campsites between them, all of which looked nice from the water. One was vacant, the one of the south end of the eastern island, so we landed. It was a nice large site. However, someone had left the site littered with discarded fruit, vegetables and eggshells. Might as well have sent out invitations to every camp marauding animal around.

The balance of the day was spent back at camp, swimming and lounging.

Night Two

Just at dusk I had my first ever experience with "no-see-ums". Ouch. Ouch again. And, you know what? You canít see um.

Overnight the wind died down. I woke up at one point to utter silence. No noise from anywhere. A silence so complete it made my ears feel funny.

Lesson Five: - When we're done sitting in them for the night we have been unfolding the "Lounge Lizards" and using them for sleeping pads for the two younger children. They turned out to be too narrow. The kids couldn't stay on them. Two more closed-cell blue pads will have to be wedged into the station wagon of canoes come 2002.

Day Three

We discovered another feature of the site. The open side faced almost directly at the morning sun. Early light and early heat, nice if it's been cool overnight. Maybe a bit too much in mid-July?

This was our travel out day. Naturally, the wind shifted 180 degrees so that we could paddle into it on the way out the same way we paddled into it on the way in. Again, we dodged from lee shore to lee shore as we worked back up the lake.

On Hambone Lake we found ourselves very close to a adult loon with two loonlings. Forty-four years of summer vacations on a lake which always has a pair of loons, and yet this was my first ever sighting of loonlings. The kids were especially thrilled.

Back at the take out we watched a group load up a rental canoe with a cooler, hand luggage and a bag of firewood bought at a store. As they set out across the lake, one of them got instructions on how to hold her paddle from another group arriving at the dock.

It was enough to make us novices almost feel like old pros.

This trip is a fairly easy one to take with kids. We did find the portages and waterways more crowded than we found Crotch Lake-Booth Lake in July. The fire ban meant we had to haul out all of the trash we would usually burn up.

Lesson Six: - This trip, plus an abortive attempt to take a day paddle on Smoke Lake Thanksgiving weekend, convinced us that we require proper rain suits all Ďround for 2002.

Next adventure - four nights, five days in a yurt at Mew Lake in February. And, we're already gazing at the canoe route map for next summer.

Peter and Chris Barkwell