Friday, September 2, 2016

Trip Log: Algonquin Provincial Park: Cache Lake to Little Island Lake, August 24-25, 2016

I have to ask, are there any other campers out there who are as bad at planning a trip as us?  The morning of this trip, we had packed up our Boler from 2 nights at Oastler Lake Provincial Park, and then taken the kids to my parents house.  The plan (if you can call it that) was for Chris and I to head out for one or two nights of canoe camping.

Now, the problem with not planning ahead for a canoe trip in the summer in Algonquin is that you end up with very few lakes that you can get to with a late start, that still have sites available.  At first we'd thought maybe we'd put in at Canoe Lake and head up to Little Doe, but when we got to my parents to recheck availability, Little Doe was booked up.

So we set out, having decided to skip Algonquin and head to the Frost Centre.  It would be a shorter drive, and we could pick a site and be assured we were getting something decent (or as sure as you can be from the pictures on the reservations website.)

The whole drive up, I was reevaluating, and as we pulled into the office for the Haliburton Water Trails, I suddenly decided I'd much rather go to Algonquin.  My reasons were mostly due to our planned destination in the Frost Centre, Nunikani Lake.  My Mum had paddled there in high school as part of the school's outer's club, and had loved it.  It had always been on my list of places to go, but with Biscuit being so nutty in the canoe, and knowing we'd have to cross Big Hawk Lake, which was a pretty big lake but also well populated with cottages, the idea of struggling on a long paddle, on a windy day...with didn't appeal to me at all.  We were already getting a late start, and forecast of rain, I think we made the right call.

So we settled on Little Island Lake, via Cache Lake.  We set out under gloomy skies, at about 5pm.

The paddle in was nice.  There was a bit of wind but nothing we couldn't handle.  I take the brunt of Biscuit's enthusiasm as he likes to put his front paws up on my seat and peer over my shoulder.  When the wind is in his face, it's like he's going for a ride in a really slow car.  Of course this hinders my paddling a bit, and when he bites at the water I end up with a soaked back, but we haven't been able to get him to just sit calmly in the canoe.  For a while, we thought if we took him out enough he'd get more calm but after 3 years of car rides, he still goes crazy every time, so I'm not holding out hope things will change on their own in the canoe either.

Paddling past the island campsite on Tanamakoon, we saw a father and three young girls fishing.  All the other sites on this end of the lake looked to be taken, but we were headed further in, and so kept on, past Camp Tanamakoon, through the narrows and around the corner to our first portage.  It was a short one, only 120m, and had a nice sandy landing with only a few rocks to watch out for.  There was a short hill then the rest of the trail was level.  Chris carried the canoe while I carried the lighter pack and all the loose items (paddles, camera stuff, solar panel) then he came back for the bigger pack.  I admit I felt bad about that.  The plan was for him to carry the canoe and the light pack while I carried the big one so we wouldn't have to do multiple trips.  I'll have to get into better shape over the winter, because I could barely lift the big pack out of the canoe!

At the end of the trail, Chris got a little concerned.  "This is the lake?"  I forget sometimes that he doesn't spend as much time looking over maps as I do.  Not only that, he was driving and listening to me rattle off possibilities and so it would be easy for him to jumble up all the "portage into this lake" stuff I was saying.

At the portage - Sheriff Pond to Little Island Lake
After I assured him that Sheriff Pond wasn't our destination for the night, we loaded up and headed out for the very short crossing.  The next portage was directly across the pond, and it was easy to find given the trail cut through lily pads.  Unfortunately the take out was not fun.  First you paddle around a fallen log, presenting you with two possible places to put the canoe, separated by another fallen log.  Both are riddled with rocks, and surrounded by black, stinky mud.  Biscuit tried to hop onto the log and ended up getting muddy right away.  As Chris and I were trying to figure out the best way to get to dry land without sinking to our knees in muck, Biscuit kept hopping in and out of the canoe and got absolutely everything we owned streaked with black.

Chris finally got him to shore and tied him to a tree, so we could unload the canoe.

The trail wasn't tougher than the first portage.  It wasn't bad, but it starts with a fairly steep hill, then keeps going at a lower grade.  For someone who isn't in great shape, it involved a fair few stops to catch my breath, where as Chris just powered through it without so much as a gasp.

Little Island Lake has two options for putting your canoe back in the water.  When the trail branches, if you go straight, you'll come to the official put in (where the sign is.)  This is a nice sandy beach, but there are several big rocks to watch for.  The unofficial put in, takes the short trail to the left and has a sandy area next to an old log jam.  The climb down is a little big steeper, but there are no rocks to contend with.

Being at our destination lake, with the sun quickly setting and the skies looking like they might open up at any minute, we were pretty eager to make camp.  The mainland site was taken, so we paddled around the island, knowing there should be at least 2 sites available.  From the put in we went to the right, and the first island site we came to was available but involved climbing up an incredibly steep hill.  I wouldn't even call it a hill, it was an almost perfectly vertical climb up a pine needle covered dirt wall.  We couldn't see the site itself very well, though it looked like there was a decent clearing.  We moved on, and saw that the next site looked nice, but was already taken.

The third site was empty, and we decided to take it.  It was a nice site, with a large open area and a few nice sheltered spots for the tent.  It even had a table which had seen better days.  If it had been better weather, we probably would have swam.  Chris did consider it but it was getting dark, and we had to get camp set up and start dinner.

We set up the tent beneath the cover of two big cedar trees.  Biscuit is getting better at not walking all over the tent as we try and set it up, but it still has a few muddy paw prints on it.  We were actually hoping it would rain a bit so we could see how well the new MEC Camper 4 holds up in bad weather.

Stew rehydrating
With darkness closing in, and not wanting to clean up in pitch black, I didn't let the food sit as long as it should have.  I'd made a stew with beans, butternut squash and corn, and it was still fine, but a few of the squash pieces were a little chewy.  I'll be honest though, I couldn't taste a darn thing.  As much as I really wanted to be canoe camping, there was a part of me that wished Chris had agreed to just set up at a campground for a night or two because I really felt like crap.  Summer colds are such a pain.

After cleaning up, Chris got a bear rope hung and secured our food and then scouted for wood  Surprisingly, for an island campsite, he was able to find a decent number of small branches on the ground and using 2 of my precious tissues as starter, we enjoyed a brief fire before turning in.

I didn't sleep much.  Part of this was because of my cold.  By the time we went to bed, I was down to 3 tissues and I was trying to conserve them.  The toilet paper we'd brought had been a small, partial roll, so it wouldn't last long either, and I didn't want to use it up incase we needed it for it's normal purpose.  So between not being able to breath, and listening for night life, I mostly tossed and turned all night.  On the plus side, Biscuit was refreshingly calm.  Usually he paces and sucks on our sleeping bags until they are a slobbery mess, but he slept quite well on the bed of clothes Chris made for him, though at some point he got up and flopped across our feet.

It was a warm night.  I spent most of it on top of my sleeping bag, especially once I had a furry foot warmer.

By morning, we hadn't had the expected rain or storms.  Part of me was grateful we weren't packing up a wet tent, and part of me was a little sad we hadn't really put the it more fully to the test.

Chris got up and retrieved the food bag.  Poor Biscuit went with him and ended up stepping on a sand wasp nest.  He got stung a few times and ran right back to the tent where he licked his wounds.  I put on water for coffee and we ended up eating just apples and some fig bars rather than making up oatmeal.  It didn't take us long to break camp and head back out on the water.

As we rounded the island, we decided to check out the last island site and were surprised it was empty.  It didn't look bad, but we liked ours better.  We could see people at both parts of the portage, and decided to hold back and let them get on the water before we got too close.  One group looked to be day trippers in three canoes, possibly from the lodge on Cache Lake.  The other was a family with two canoes and 3 or 4 little girls.

Before we left, I had decided to use the day pack I'd brought along to carry all the little items, leaving us with a much easy portage.  During our packing, we had thought we'd do two nights and spend a day exploring, so I'd brought my new little MEC day pack.  I stowed the goPro and the solar panel in it and that made a huge difference.  Now we had three packs, the paddles and a Pelican case.  I was able to carry the two smaller packs and the camera, Chris carried the big pack and then went back for the canoe where he'd lashed the paddles.  Not only was it much easier not having my hands full of little items, it meant less to worry about losing at the start or end of a portage.  Now if only we could get the weight of the big pack down...

We also got smart about loading and unloading the boat.  At the muddy end of the trail at Sheriff Pond, Chris got the canoe in place, then I brought him the packs.  Since Biscuit follows Chris like a shadow, he stayed in the canoe and didn't once jump out.  This made the process so much less stressful and we were quickly on our way again.

We didn't run into anyone on the way out, and after a brief tour of the back part of Tanamakoon, we headed back to the car. Both of us were tired and starving, and Chris really wanted to swim so we went east and stopped at the Two River's Store for snacks and cold drinks (which weren't really cold at all) and then to the Two River's Picnic Area to swim.

All in all, a good, albeit brief trip.  We learned a few things and came up with some ideas for lightening our load a bit more.  We'd brought our cold weather sleeping bags, which aren't any bigger than our normal bags, but they are a bit heavier.  I just didn't want to risk being wet and cold all night again like on our trip to Tanamakoon, and since it was calling for rain...

We plan to make a smaller mess kit for when it's just the two of us as well.  Also, we took far too much food, again because we had originally thought we'd be going for two nights.

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