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tripping intermediate paddlers 5 days
Algonquin Park, south
Tuesday, July 8, 2003 to Saturday, July 12, 2003
length: 22.0km, 5 days
difficulty: intermediate

organizer: Outing Club of East York
participants: Karonne Lansel,

There's no whitewater on this trip but it's rated for intermediate canoeists due to the amount of portaging involved: a total of 6 km., which comes to 18 km. as a double carry. We spent more time portaging than paddling, and most people just aren't up for that. It could be done as a 2-day trip, if you're strong enough and the weather co-operates. But here's our story.

Tuesday, July 8: Some members of our group had gone up on the weekend and camped in the park, but some of us couldn't leave home till Tuesday morning. Drove up in 4 hours, including a stop for lunch at the Craftsman restaurant in Paudash. Our group of 8 people, 4 canoes put in at Kingscote Lake access point at 1pm, for an idyllic paddle across the lake: blue skies & sunshine, and mirror-flat water reflecting the Algonquin landscape. That lasted about 15 minutes. Suddenly a huge wind bore down on the lake and within 30 seconds we were surfing on whitecaps, struggling to avoid capsizing in the gusty crosswinds. After a short but exciting paddle, we made it to our first campsite, near the first portage trail. It was a nice site and the group was in high spirits for our first night. We lit a fire in the firepit, and after a few minutes an enormous garter snake decided it was getting too hot in there, and slithered out between our feet.

Wednesday, July 9: After a yummy breakfast of pancakes and bacon, we paddled the few metres to the first portage trail. 1300m portage into Big Rock Lake, 15 min. paddle across, 660m portage into Byers Lake, paddle 1 1/2 hrs. across lake, up York R., and into Branch Lake, then portage 900m into Scorch Lake, and across to our campsite at the other end. The portage trails were in pretty good condition, with some steep sections. I actually felt great at the end of the day after all that hard labour! Nice weather today but we didn't notice because we spent most of the day portaging. Had a nice swim to cool off. One guy got a leech on his foot, tore it off and bled profusely for half an hour. Then the bugs arrived: hordes of mosquitoes, black flies, deer flies, horse flies, and even wasps. They never seemed to leave us alone for the rest of the trip.

Thursday, July 10: Designated layover day. Gray and cool enough that no one wanted to swim (or was it the memory of that leech?), but some people went hiking. We found an old logging road that leads out to the highway and to the Algonquin Ecolodge. Some of us had stayed there last winter and skied their trails, including the logging road. Went for a "stealth paddle" in the evening and followed a muskrat around as it grazed on water lilies. Each time it stopped to eat, its tail would stick straight up out of the water! Two people saw a woodlands elk on their hike. Then later in the evening, a huge snapping turtle swam by our campsite, craning its head up to look at us, and with its tail sticking straight up out of the water, just like that muskrat! After that, for sure nobody wanted to go for a swim! Anyway, the weather was deteriorating and by 9pm it started to rain and continued all night, so it was early to bed.

Friday, July 11: We had planned to move on today, but the weather was relentlessly stormy, with high winds, heavy rain and some thunder, and so the decision was made to sit tight for another day. Now we're bored because we've already had a layover day and we'd rather be moving on. The rain and wind continued all day and night. Not fun.

Saturday, July 12: Still dark and raining, but the wind had calmed considerably in the early morning, so we made our decision to get out of here while we had a chance. Paddled across Scorch Lake and did the 900m portage in the other direction, then followed the York River south to our take-out at Pine Grove Campground on Benoir Lake. En route we did 6 portages and a couple of complicated liftovers. And we saw a moose. The rain continued pretty much all day, but not as heavy as before. The portage trails were slick, the put-ins and take-outs were swampy muck up to the ankles, knees, or waist. And the bugs... need I say more! People were tired, frustrated and demoralized, and the joking camaraderie of Tuesday evening was but a distant memory. As our final take-out became visible across Benoir Lake, a few of us rallied for a sprint to the finish - my canoe won, naturally!

So it was 5pm when we took out, and after a long hard day we still had the drive home ahead of us. Then someone's car wouldn't start, so we all waited a couple more hours to see if we could help. In the end, their car had to be towed to Bancroft for repairs the next day, and they had to get a motel. Meanwhile the rest of us set off on the long drive home, grateful that although it was still raining, at least we were dry in the car and would sleep in our own beds tonight. Arrived home just after midnight, and by the time we unloaded the wet gear and cleaned up enough to get into bed, it was 2am.

Okay, it wasn't so much a canoe trip as a canoe-hike. And an interesting study in group dynamics under changing circumstances. But the good news is we didn't see anyone else the whole time we were out there. We had that corner of the park absolutely to ourselves - yeah, I know - who'd want it? I have to say, though, the prettiest scenery and the most enjoyable paddling came after our our last portage, on the York River approaching Benoir Lake. I'd like to start there and paddle further down the York River. That'll be for another time.

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