Rain, Moose and Mosquitoes. The story of two sisters and their paddle through Algonquin Park

In February of 2013 My sister Deanna and I went on our first trip together. We went to Cuba, and had such an amazing time. Around the one year anniversary of that trip, we decided to go on vacation together again. It was decided pretty quickly that we would pack up and head to Algonquin Park for a couple of days.

I always like to say that I ‘grew up in a tent’. A lot of my memories from when I was a kid, are of camping. Even at a very young age, we were doing multi-week camping trips in the Adirondacks, and Smoky Mountains. My sister and I hadn’t been camping together in what has to more than 15 years, up until last year when we camped with friends. Prior to prepping for the trip, her and I had only ever been in a canoe together one time. It was on a family trip to Point Pelee Ontario, and my parents pretended to try and tip the canoe. Traumatized,  I wouldn’t get into a canoe again until I started dating my now husband, 9 years ago. Now I rather enjoy an easy paddle (you won’t see me tackling any rapids!) and even more avid camper.

So in January, Deanna and I began the planning stages of our trip, which really consisted of me staring at map for endless hours.
“I want to go super far into the backcountry” Deanna said at one point.
“Are you prepared to portage lots?” I asked. That was met with an emphatic no. Not that I blamed her. I only had a 300 meter portage under my belt.

The route I chose for us seemed easy enough. If maybe a little ambitious for beginners. However, I’m all about the experience, just go for it! But be smart and responsible. Know your shit! And read the labels!! (That piece of advice is all in hindsight. I’ll explain this later) You can come out of an experience stronger. I found this out after her and I went skydiving in Cuba.

We would launch at Canoe Lake, and paddle 14.5 kilometers to Tom Thomson Lake. We would cross the same 300 meter portage I did a few years prior. It would be the farthest in we could travel with minimal portaging. Image

We knew that we’d have to get in some practice paddling. I only paddle with my husband, and as I mentioned, Deanna and I hadn’t been in a canoe together since we were kids, and I hadn’t paddled at all the year before.  Well a long cold winter prevented us from hitting the water and we didn’t get out until a month before our trip.

This became a bit of a turning point for me. Where I started to question whether or not this was something that we could actually achieve. That day we took the canoe out, we totally sucked at paddling together. I thought we were in over our heads. So did my husband and our parents. All those fears would be proven wrong. Though they would certainly be tested.

Thursday June 12th, 2014

We left from Hamilton pumped up at around 4:30 in the evening and made pretty good time getting to the park.  We were barely in the park boundary when we came across our first moose. When I say first, I mean first EVER!I had been to the park on two other occasions without seeing moose, so it was great that we finally got to see one for the first time. It wouldn’t be our last either.

This was also when we and the mosquitoes got our first taste of each other. I made the mistake of opening the window for a picture and we were instantly swarmed!

We rolled into a completely empty and completely wet Tea Lake campground at around 9:30pm. It had rained briefly but hard on the drive down, but as we started setting up it began to drizzle again. I had unrolled the tent when I realized I’d brought the smallest of our 3 tents. Its basically a glorified one person tent. I had also never set it up before. After fighting the tent, rain, humidity and bugs, we got the tent set up, and we crawled in for the night. Image

Friday June 13th 2014

At midnight the rain really started coming down. At around 2:00 am we woke to the sound of the tarp blowing around, pounding rain and a really wet tent. I decided to brave it to fix the tarp. My Tilley Hat and Helley Hansen coat kept my top half mostly dry, but my bottom half got completely soaked. I stripped down and climbed back in for the night but we wouldn’t sleep much.

By 5:30 in the morning the rain was still pouring down on us, so we said screw it, and dismantled camp. The portage store at Canoe Lake wouldn’t open until 8:00 so we decided that we would just drive across highway 60 and see the park rather than drown in our campsite.

It was on this drive that the rain would finally stop, and we would get to see moose number 2!

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We got back to the Canoe Lake portage store shortly after they opened. Deanna had breakfast at the restaurant, while I think I was too excited to eat.

After breakfast we collected our rental gear,  which included a much larger tent. We were also pleased to find out that we were being given a brand new canoe. We christened her Winona, and proceeded to take her on her maiden voyage.

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With overcast skies but our spirits high wet set off on Canoe Lake. I had paddled across here with my husband in 2012. It was a lot calmer, and had a lot less people than the last time I had paddled it. It felt good to be in familiar territory, but we were buzzing from the idea of exploring an area new to us. Making a part of the park our own for a few days.

(Deanna pictured below)

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We arrived at the 300m Joe Lake portage in what felt like pretty good time.

It was at this portage that we met a pair of guys around our age who were spending the weekend fishing on Joe Lake. They were kind enough to take this picture for us. We would run into these guys again at the exact same spot on our return journey.

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We also met a group of older gentleman portaging their motor boat. They joked how we were there in time to help them carry their gear. They were headed much farther in and had the gear to show for it. One of those men is behind me in this picture.

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First time I ever carried a canoe by myself by the way. Was feeling pretty proud about that until I couldn’t carry it on the trip home.

Next we headed into Joe Lake. As I mentioned before Nick and I had been this far two years prior. We visited this lake after having spent a week paddling Opeongo.

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By now Deanna and I had a pretty good rhythm going. We were getting used to paddling together and it was becoming much easier than I had anticipated. We’d feel like seasoned pros by the end of the trip.

It wasn’t long before we left the grey skies of Joe Lake behind. We entered Tepee Lake and started to see bits of blue sky breaking through. By the time we had passed Camp Arowhon it was blue skies and puffy clouds.

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I’m not sure what time we stopped, but we found a camp site on a point and took our first break.

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It was when we stopped here, we noticed ten canoes full of young twenty year olds from Camp Arowhon catching up to us. We wish we’d kept paddling. They were the most loud and obnoxious people I’ve ever encountered while camping. They had no respect for the serenity of the environment and they definitely ruined what was supposed to be a quiet relaxing paddle.

We left from our break and got caught up in the group. They eventually stopped and we quickly paddled on tying to put some distance between us.

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It was at the mouth of Fawn Lake that we would have sighting of moose number three. And so would the group of campers who had caught up to us at that moment and begin screaming out to each other “MOOSE MOOSE!” We silently prayed they’d be eaten by bears.

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We managed to leave the group behind for a while, and paddle the last stretch before entering Tom Thomson Lake. The paddle through Fawn Lake would prove to be the smallest and prettiest lake I had paddled on yet. It was almost magical.

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We were now approaching the beaver dam. I knew we could cross it, others had done it, but I didn’t know what to expect.

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As we got closer we saw that it wasn’t much of a dam that was left. On the far right there was an opening just big enough to paddle through. We decided to give it a try.

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It was tough! We had to manoeuvre around logs, fight the current and go head on into the wind, but we made through. We cheered!

Welcome to Tom Thomson Lake.

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The wind we realized was quite a bit stronger now that we were on a larger body of water. We stopped at the first campsite on the lake, and decided to wait it out to see if it would calm. We checked the time. 3:00 pm. We’d made the paddle in 5 hours. About as long as we thought it would take us at the most. My husband said that we probably wouldn’t make it until 6:00, so was pretty impressed when I told him our time.

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We decided that lunch was finally in order so I unpacked our supplies. I prepped the stove and it wouldn’t light. I figured the can was empty so I unpacked the new fuel. As I screwed it on there was a popping noise and all of a sudden fuel comes spraying out of the canister. I was a little startled, but I washed my hands and tried again. I thought maybe I left the valve open. Same results. By this time I’m a little freaked out, and decide that I no longer want to play around with it, and that we’re going to have to rely on fire to boil our water. Since we declined to bring any wood, we had to forage.

We found barely enough wood for a single fire. We decided to wait until closer to dinner time to eat. In the mean time, we’d set up camp.

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It took us a while to set up camp. The wind kept blowing everything around and it was a struggle to keep things in place.

We decided now was the time to eat. Thankfully I was smart enough to bring fire starters so we were able to get our fire burning in no time. Once the noodles were cooked, we couldn’t find our sporks to eat them with, so we fashioned spoons out of an empty water bottle we had in the canoe.

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The skies became grey again as the sun set on our first full day in the park.

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Saturday June 14th

6:30 am. We woke quite early, but we both slept quite well. We saw that the waters were calm so we packed up camp and hit the water.

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Our goal was to paddle around the entire lake checking every campsite for firewood before settling on a campsite.

We wouldn’t find anything useable until the last campsite before heading back the way we came.

We hit the jackpot.

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Considering all other wood we found was soaking wet, all the wood cut off this tree were completely dry, and we had enough to supply us for the rest of the weekend.

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We also won the site lottery as well. We were on a point next to a marsh, and had a view of all Tom Thomson Lake.

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After setting up camp, and gathering some fire wood we decided to head out for an evening paddle. Try a little fishing too. We were getting ready to launch but we were stuck on a log. I kept wiggling back and fourth to work us loose when we tipped. Thankfully we were only in two feet of water but we both sustained a pretty serious bruise as a result. But wet and sore we paddled on.

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As we came around the little island by our campsite we noticed a loon was nesting there.

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The view of our campsite from the lake.

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We paddled back to camp and changed into some warm dry clothes and put on a fire. We cooked our lunch of freeze dried pasta, and Deanna finished her meal off with a freeze dried ice cream bar.

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After lunch we crawled into the tent to avoid the masses of Mosquitos. I was told ahead of time that they were just awful and were they ever!

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We fell asleep, only to wake up after 10:00. We hadn’t had dinner so we got up and stared a fire and cooked our meal. We stayed up for a few hours before retiring back to bed.

Sunday June 15th

When we woke up Sunday morning we knew we were in for a good day.

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After breakfast we decided to head our for a day paddle. We planned on doing a series of portages to a small lake, but there were so many downed logs at the start that we didn’t feel comfortable navigating it with our paddling skills. So we decided to paddle back towards the beaver dam and take a paddle around Little Doe Lake. We bundled up some fire wood in a tarp to take with us incase we wanted to have lunch, and pushed off.

We found exiting the beaver dam to be quite a bit easier than entering it.

Little Doe Lake

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This was a small, very pretty lake. Almost immediately we found this awesome campsite on a point that was just calling us to come hang out so we pulled up the canoe and relaxed.

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We must have really enjoyed ourselves because we checked the time and 2-3 hours had past. Deanna had begun to wonder whether or not we’d been abducted.

So we grabbed our gear and paddled on.

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We decided we’d had our fill of paddling for the time being and made our way back to the camp site.

When it came time to paddle back through the beaver dam, we ended up getting stuck. After a minute or two of prodding, pushing and aggressive paddling we managed to free ourselves. We cheered rather loudly in celebration and then noticed we had disturbed a young moose that was feeding in the marsh.

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He was curious of our presence but didn’t seem too bothered by us. Even as we paddled quite close he continued what he was doing. Occasionally looking our way.

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Tom Thomson lake this day was as smooth as glass. Barely a breeze. We often found ourself just sitting in the canoe on the calm water. Listening. Looking. Enjoying.

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We returned to our campsite to find it surprisingly mosquito free. We enjoyed not having to wear our bug netting.

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As the sun began to set on our last night in the park, we thought we ought to get in the canoe to enjoy the view. Mama loon and her chick decided to join us.

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Monday June 16th

My morning didn’t start well. I woke with an upset stomach and irritated gut. I had made three trips to the thunderbox, before emptying my stomach onto the ground in front of me. Once that happened I felt quite a bit better, and could help Deanna pack up camp. It also started to rain.

It was probably around 6:30 am when we pushed off and made our way home. For 11.5 kilometres we paddled in the pouring rain. This was the only picture I took on the paddle home.

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That looks just like a wee mizzle but I assure you. It was raining. Hard.

Shortly after taking this picture we had our fifth and final moose sighting. He was the biggest of the ones we’d seen and he was in the same marsh where we had seen the first moose.

I didn’t truly realize how cold and wet I was until it came time to do the Joe Lake portage. My pants were so soggy they were falling down, and then I started shivering. I was so cold, tired, and sore I couldn’t carry the canoe all the way. I made it half way before hollering for my sister to help me.

The rain stopped when we started on Canoe Lake. We had plans to try and look for the old cemetery and the resting place of Tom Thomson but we decided we were better off getting warm and dry as quick as possible.

The lake decided to hinder those plans. We went from calm paddling to “don’t stop paddling!” The winds had picked up dramatically. I was having flashbacks to my trip up Lake Opeongo. Fighting winds so strong you didn’t feel like paddling got you anywhere. This wasn’t quite that bad, but exhausting none the less.

We reached the dock at Canoe Lake before noon. We were surprised at how early in the day it was. So we showered up, which is always a glorious feeling, packed up the car and headed to the visitors centre for a hot lunch.

Even with the concerns I had about completing the trip before we left, we both agreed that we could’ve gone a little farther and stayed a little longer.

Once we returned home and I regaled Nick with our stories, he asked to see the stove. He screwed it on without any thing more than a puff of air and it worked fine. Turns out I just had to keep screwing it on quickly.

Also. The water situation. We realized we couldn’t get filtered water from the bottle we bought, out, to fill a pot to boil. So we picked up those drops. As impressed as we were with how good the lake water tasted, I realized a week later, that our bottle was to filter tap water…..not. lake. water. so let’s just say I’ve been paying close attention for symptoms of *Beaver Fever

*not to be confused with Bieber Fever.

Now, two weeks after the trip Deanna is feeling the pull of the park. It’s what I told her would happen.

For me, Algonquin is always tugging at my soul. Once you’ve visited the park, she always calls you back.

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2 thoughts on “Rain, Moose and Mosquitoes. The story of two sisters and their paddle through Algonquin Park

  1. Pingback: Not all Mancampers have beards | ManCamping.ca

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