Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Trip Log: Algonquin Provincial Park: Magnetwan to Ralph Bice Lake - July 5-7, 2017

Already exhausted and a little crabby, we pulled out of the Margaret Lake Access for the Frost Centre at just after 1pm.  We were starving and super thirsty.  Luckily, we weren't far down the road from Dorset, so we stopped at Robinsons for snacks and drinks, then continued our journey north to Huntsville where we topped up the car's gas and got onto Highway 11.

Finding the Kearney Community centre, and the permit office was easy, then we soon found ourselves on dirt roads reminiscent of the road into Achray.  To say the kids were less than pleased was an understatement.  I'm sure if they could have, they would have left me on the side of the road and went home.  Every time Chris saw water, he assumed we were there and told the kids this...and I, having the Jeff's Map for Algonquin on an app on my phone, had to tell them, no, we weren't there yet.

After about thirty minutes (I didn't keep super close track, so it might have been more) we arrived at the access point and everyone jumped out to stretch their legs.  Everyone was pleased to not have a lot of bugs swarming us at the parking area and this trend continued for the portages all the way to Ralph Bice.  There were mosquitoes and black flies, but not anywhere near as bad as they had been on the portage into Three Island Lake.

It didn't take us long to haul all our gear down the short trail to the launch.  We made quick use of the compost toilets before setting off and after a brief moment where I doubted my navigating skills, we rounded the corner for the first portage.

It should be noted that we switched up canoe partners for this trip.  Chris and Squatch took the Scott canoe because it's more stable with Biscuit bouncing around in it, and Bubbie and I took the Swift.

The 135m trail into Hambone Lake was a bit mucky, especially at the other end, but it was easy enough and the kids were in good spirits, running back for a second load of small items like paddles and lifejackets.  We didn't met some people but Biscuit barely paid them any attention until they spoke to him, then he got a bit skittish and hid behind Chris's legs.

Soon enough we were pushing off onto Hambone Lake.  Again, I had a few moments of doubt regarding the direction we were to go.    It was a bit windy, and I had a harder time taking a break from paddling to study the map closely without knowing Chris was there to keep us going at a good pace.

We found the next portage and quickly finished that one as well.  Once we got to the end, before we got into the canoes, I made Chris look at the map.  Ralph Bice is a big lake, and the lady at the permit office warned me it was often very windy, so we should stick to the shore.  I explained to everyone about the sites I'd seen pictures of online, and how if we kept to the right after the put in, we'd come to the beach sites, but that they were further away, and could be more likely to be full.

Chris decided we would stay to the left shore, and everything started out great.  The lake wasn't very wavy, there was a bit of wind but nothing major.  The first few sites were taken, and when Bubbie and I went to check out the next one (it was empty but didn't look very appealing) we turned around and Chris and Squatch were heading across the lake to the far shore.  We weren't sure if we should follow them, or keep going.  Also, because they didn't have a map, they were actually heading back towards the portage instead of on an angle that would get them closer to the campsites.

Furious and a little nervous, we kept going, but all the sites were either taken or very small and dark looking (which may have just been because the sun was sinking low behind that side of the lake, casting the sites into shadow.)  We came around the round island which had one site on it (site was taken) and were immediately in trouble.  The waves were crazy, the windy was throwing us around and I couldn't stop paddling long enough to look at the map and come up with a plan.  We couldn't even see the other canoe across the lake, so we had no idea if the dog had caused them to capsize or if they were sitting on an amazing campsite waiting for us to find them.  To make it even more frustrating, Bubbie had four stable flies biting her ankles and her arms and shoulders were cramping up.

We were close to the big island and the narrow channel.  I figured we could get to a site we saw was empty on the island and at least take a break, even though it meant crossing the lake.  I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned that I haven't ever learned how to stern paddle.  Chris knows how and so we jut paddle with him in stern in me in the bow.  Bubbie has taken her level 1 and 2 canoe certification and knows how to stern paddle as well, unfortunately she's had no experience in strong wind and big waves.

We made it halfway across to the island when Chris came around the corner, with just Biscuit in the canoe (my heart stopped for a moment, I'm not afraid to admit) and he told us that Squatch was at a great campsite waiting for us.  The next several minutes were dicy but we eventually made it to our home for two nights.  Bubbie was crying because her shoulders were so cramped, I was furious and somehow, Chris made it sound like us getting separated was because I had misunderstood.

After everyone calmed down, we got the tents set up and set about doing camp chores.  Chris had an incident while trying to hang the bear rope for the food which ended up being an ordeal that lasted a few hours.  I had bought a small dry sack to use for our ropes with the intent that for hanging the food, he would put a rock or something into the bag and use it to through over the tree branch rather than trying to tie a rock or stick to the rope. Since there was a piece of rope already over a perfect branch, he figured he'd use that and didn't take our ropes out of the bag, and instead used them as weight.  The rope fell off the branch, so he tied it to the bag and threw it back over...but the bag got stuck in the fork of a smaller branch and wouldn't come loose.  Now we couldn't even use a different rope because all the rope we had brought had been in the bag and the mosquitoes were out in force.  After an hour or so of trying to shake the bag loose, I was looking for something in the pack and found a brand new rope, still in it's plastic packaging.  We ended up using it to hang the food, and then we could work on retrieving the bag the next day, when the bugs weren't so bad.
playing "rock darts" at Ralph Bice Lake

Dinner had been made while this was happening.  We had set up the Eureka VCS16 bug shelter for the first time and we all sat in there to eat.  The kids had ramen (I'd left the store bought, camping meal Bubbie had picked out on the dining room table) while Chris and I had a greek rice and vegetable pilaf I'd made as an experiment.  It turned out really well, but I have a few changes and additions to make then I'll post the recipe.

We cleaned up and sat around the fire until the bugs got too bad, then headed to bed.

The next morning we all slept in.  I got up at one point (I didn't have my watch and my phone was powered down so I don't know what time it was) to let Biscuit out to pee, then we went back to bed.

The shallow, sandy bay at our site
Once everyone was up, I got out the stove and put on water to boil for coffee and hot chocolate, then started to make oatmeal.  By the time we were finished, it was almost noon.  By  the time we were cleaned up, it was time for lunch, but none of us really wanted the naan bread and peanut butter, so we snacked on granola bars and trail mix.

Chris managed to unstick the bag of rope, and he used two of the pieces to make targets on the ground, then he and Squatch spent the majority of the day playing "rock darts."  We followed the trail along the shore and checked out the beach, and realized the bay at our site was a shallow sandy haven that was perfect for just sitting in the water.  We were also able to wade across and check out the next campsite.  It was a little rough looking, with lots of downed trees but there were a few spots with nice views and they had a more direct access to the beach.

Dinner that night was a chilli recipe I'd made a few times in the Instantpot.  The kids liked it so I made a batch and dehydrated it a week or so before hand.  I also pre-cooked and dried some brown rice and then mixed them together and rehydrated it.  The corn never seems to come back very well, but it was tasty, especially with some hot sauce.

The weather forecast was calling for rain for the following day, and the lake had been so windy all day we hadn't been able to do any paddling.  We decided we would go to bed early so we could get up and get on the water before it got really bad.  Actually, at that point we were just hoping the wind and waves calmed down enough over night that we wouldn't be paddling in conditions like we'd been seeing all day.

rehydrated chilli and rice
I don't know what time we all went to bed, just that it was super early (we were guessing about 7:30.)  We were tired anyway, so it wasn't a big deal.  We had slept the previous night with the vestibule open and just hanging loose against the tent, but since it might rain over night, we zipped it up this time.

We might have been in the tent for ten minutes before we heard a crash.  Thinking it was our food bag, I crawled back out and saw that, no, the food was still high in the air.  There was nothing nearby,  no fallen trees that we could see, or animals.  I went back to the tent and spent the next hour or so hyper aware of every sound.   Truth was, we couldn't hear much other than the wind and the sound of the waves pounding against the rocks on the shore.  Every few minutes we would hear a popping sound, which was the waves and the logs over at the beach doing some crazy stuff.

At about the exact moment the sun dipped below the horizon, the wind stopped and the waves settled into a gentle lapping sound. The night was blissfully quiet and I actually managed to sleep.

Biscuit enjoying a breeze on Ralph Bice Lake
I was up early with Biscuit pawing at my sleeping bag.  It had rained a little bit earlier in the morning, but it seemed to have stopped for a while.  I took Biscuit out then crawled back into the sleeping bag and powered up my phone so I could check the time.  It was 7:15.  The lake was still calm (not glassy by any means) and the wind only picked up every little while for a few seconds at a time.  I wanted to get everyone up and get going, worried the wind would start up and stay gusty, but I also didn't want everyone to be all cranky so I held off for a bit.

Chris got up not long after I went back into the tent, so we got the kids up and started packing up.  It didn't take as long as we'd thought and we were back on the water, all of us hungry but eager to enjoy bagels from Tim Horton's in Huntsville.  The paddle back down Ralph Bice was slow.  The wind and waves were just enough to make it frustrating.  Bubbie and I had left first, hoping to get a head start so Biscuit wouldn't be as much of a bother.  He is at his worst when the canoes are within a close distance.  He barks and paws at the water trying to get closer to the second canoe so he can jump back and forth.  Chris and Squatch caught up easily thought.  Bubbie's shoulders were still sore and at one point she asked if we could switch sides.  I realized then how utterly useless I am paddling on the left.  My arm started cramping in about 5 minutes and I had no power to my strokes at all.  Something to work on.

When we got to the portage to Hambone, we took a few pictures with the portage sign and continued on our way.  We met a couple heading in, and spent a few moments talking to them.  They were heading into Little Trout Lake for the weekend.  They had been there before and enjoyed it a lot.

We made quick work of the portage and then the quick paddle down Hambone.  As we approached the portage to Hambone we saw people at the put in and so decided to hold back until they were finished so we wouldn't have to worry about Biscuit.  As we got closer we saw it was an older couple and their daughter who was probably in her early twenties.  Their canoe was so packed full there was barely room for them to sit.  The daughter sat at the very front, on the floor, facing her mother who was in the bow seat.  The father had a bit of a struggle getting in, but finally they pushed off and we unloaded.

When I got to the other end of the 135m portage, I heard voices.  Since the portage is so close to the launch, I wasn't sure if they were just around the corner, about to land any second, or still at the dock, loading up.  I ran back to let Chris know, totally forgetting to take the dog's leash with me.  Thankfully, the group of canoes wandered off towards the other side of the lake, and didn't head towards the portage until we were loaded up and on the water.  I'm not sure if they were lost, or exploring a bit.

We got back to the car, tired, sore and dirty but in much better spirits than when we had arrived.    It was just after 11, so we made pretty good time.  Other than the little hiccup when we got separated on Ralph Bice, we had a relaxing and successful trip.  The kids enjoyed everything, we had a nice site, the experimental meals I'd brought turned out well.  The only issues we had with food was that I hadn't brought much for lunch (or anything, figuring we would just snack on granola bars and trail mix) but I had also planned for us to explore a bit on the second day, so being kind of wind bound through me off a bit.  Also, I need to come up with a breakfast that is quick and easy, but isn't oatmeal.  For one thing, I can't stand instant oats, the texture of them makes me gag.  Second, oatmeal is kind of a pain to clean up, especially out of the bowls that came with our pot set.

Our order at Timmies might have been a little shocking.  The poor girl on drive thru sounded a little panicked, but we were all hungry and poor Biscuit hadn't had Timbits in a few days!

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