Sunday, December 5, 2010

June 4-7 2010 – 4 Days - Rock – Pen – Rock

This is the first of what I hope will be a series of trip logs detailing the various trips and adventures I have undertaken in Algonquin. This particular log details the events as I recall them between Friday June 4 and Monday June 7, 2010.

Some background: It had been almost 10 years since I last set foot in Algonquin Park, maybe more. My last visit was shortly before my grandfather sold his beautiful log cabin and guest house on Smoke Lake. In addition, all the summers of my youth were spent at my parent's cottage in Northwestern Ontario a few hours East of Winnipeg. As such I have always had a soft spot for the rugged beauty of Shield country.

This would be my first camping trip in 5 years, and the first back country canoe trip. I had never portaged or backpacked very far; but from the moment I was invited on this trip, I was very excited. This was my chance to get back to the wilderness that I loved so dearly.

Day 1 – Friday June 4, 2010 – “And So It Begins...”

Friday morning dawned warm and bright. We left Ottawa around 8:30am and made the trek up highway 60 to Whitney, stopping only in Renfrew for a coffee refill at Tim's. After a quick lunch at the Mad Musher in Whitney, and the requisite paperwork, PFDs, and paddles at Opeongo Outfitters, we were headed into the park proper.

The plan was to launch at Rock Lake, paddle south to Pen, and camp for 3 nights before exiting via the same route. A nice, easy trip for a group of fairly inexperienced campers. The weather was calling for the typical mixed bag of spring weather. Sun, clouds, and rain; Warm, fair, and cool – but not cold. The overnight lows would be in the 6-8C range, so the forecast claimed. Beautiful weather, as far as we were concerned. We even entertained the faint hope that the predicted rain would hold off.

Opeongo Outfitters had dropped our canoes off at the launch, so it was just a pretty drive along Hwy 60 until we reached the Rock Lake turnoff and then to the permit office for the last bit of paperwork. The launch itself was moderately busy; a cottage owner in a small motor boat was loading supplies for the weekend, and while we were preparing another pair of campers pulled up and began organizing their gear as well. One of them came over as we were nearly ready to launch and struck up a conversation. They were also headed to Pen Lake, though just for the night. The rest of their trip would take them on a loop through Welcome up through Lake Louisa before returning to the access point. It sounded like an ambitious trip plan for a couple of novices, especially in light of the question he asked next: where on his backpack should he attach his bed roll. Oh dear... Bill offered a few pieces of advice while I finished applying my sunscreen and soon we were set to go. Woohoo!

Rock Lake launch point (access #9), loading our canoes. I'm up front applying sun screen just prior to the aforementioned conversation. Scott (wearing sunglasses) and David are all ready to go at this point. This photo was taken by Bill, the most experienced photographer in our group. Both David and I make our own contributions to the photo records, when we can.

We launched ourselves downriver towards Rock Lake proper. There's a sign on the shore opposite the launch directing you one way to Rock Lake, and the other for Whitefish Lake. How handy! The sky was overcast with occasional sunny breaks, but the temperature agreeable especially for paddling. I soon discovered that just because I was a good paddler 10 years ago didn't mean I was so great at it anymore. But the lake was calm and it was only a relatively short paddle to our destination; under these tranquil conditions, I was able to keep the canoe pointed mostly in a straight line.

Bill surveys the view looking south down Rock Lake as we enter from the Madawaska River. Blue skies ahead!

After about 30-40 minutes of paddling, we were cruising past the mouth of Picto Bay. Unfortunately, we had not looked closely enough at our trusty Algonquin map and did not realize until after the trip that there were pictographs we could have investigated. As it was, the high cliffs lining the shore made for a picturesque photo op.

A great start to the trip!

We navigated our way down the lake and arrived at the 375m portage to Pen Lake. My very first portage – I was excited, but apprehensive. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but I could tell from the sound of falling water that we'd be in for a climb. I didn't relish the idea of having to lug all my gear up that hill, then come back and carry a canoe; being on the overweight and out of shape end of the spectrum didn't help either!

The portage itself is quite well worn as it makes a steady but gradual ascent up towards Pen Lake. The low end has a tendency to be muddy, and there is a section near the start where you must navigate a boardwalk. There's a fresh water spring just off to the side of this boardwalk, though we didn't take the time to have a drink while we were there. The upper portion of the portage gets rocky and a little root tangled in places, with occasional muddy patches along the way. On the way back to get the food and canoes, we took a detour over to investigate the waterfall.

Bill provides a shot of the late-spring runoff roaring down to Rock Lake from Pen. Based on the vegetation growing on the rocks, the water level gets much, much higher right after the snow melts.

After a brief bit rest to admire the view, we were off to pick up the canoes. We passed the pair from the launch making their way to the Pen Lake end. We did not see them on our way up with the food barrel and canoes, so they must have had similar ideas about relaxing at the waterfall.

The Pen Lake side of the portage has one of the nicer launches you'll find on an interior portage in Algonquin Park. A floating dock extends out into the sand-bottomed bay far enough to comfortably load a canoe on either side of the dock. This made for a relatively quick load, which was good since another group had materialized behind us and was waiting patiently as we finished up. We pushed off from the busy landing and started our trek down Pen Lake.

The view looking south from between the two islands at the north end of Pen Lake towards our eventual home for 3 nights. There is a man-made barrier formed between the islands whose purpose we could not fathom as the islands were navigable on either side. Note the canoe-sized gap in the rocks that we could just barely squeeze our boats through, just right of center.

We had designs on staying on an island campsite at the north end of the lake that Bill and Scott had stayed on the previous year. However as we approached the islands it became readily apparent the site we wanted was occupied by a sizable group consisting of 6 or 8 people. We decided to head along the eastern shore of the lake, knowing we would come across a significant number of campsites on that side if we paddled far enough.

The first campsite we set foot on was located just south of the portage to Night Lake. Fronted by a generous pebble and sand beach that stretched an appreciable distance in both directions, it was quite roomy and seemed reasonably sheltered on the inside. There were lots of tenting opportunities, a nice kitchen, beautiful open pine and spruce forest to the south and more typical maple and deciduous to the north. We decided to make our home for the next few days here. We had left the Rock Lake launch at around 2:45pm, and it was just approaching 5:15pm as we pulled on shore. Certainly not the fastest trek, but not bad for a bunch of newbies!

A shot of the front of our campsite from the beach.

We set about readying camp, erecting tents, assembling our kitchen area, and hanging our food barrel. Well, trying to hang our food barrel anyways! There didn't seem to be any good locations within a reasonable distance of our camp. It took us a couple of hours to get the darned thing hung!

About halfway into the overly long process, just when we were beginning to question the necessity of hanging the barrel at all we were jolted back to reality by the sound of our barrel suddenly toppling over! We turned around to discover a rather well-fed looking raccoon (not a bear cub as the more reactionary of us initially proclaimed) attempting to best the locking mechanism. He seemed unperturbed and perhaps a little bit annoyed at our cajoling of him to get away from his mother lode. Eventually we did send him scurrying away down the beach towards the portage. I managed to snap a few photos but the low light, no flash, and a moving target made for some 'bigfoot' quality images.

After this surprising and practical demonstration of why you must secure your food while camping, we finally did succeed in finding a suitable spot to string up the barrel. Unfortunately it was located directly between camp and the thunderbox, but our reasoning was that we probably wouldn't need the thunderbox if we encountered a bear that close to camp – more like an extra set of pants!

Scott and David pose with our successfully raccoon-proofed barrel. (Photo courtesy of Bill)

It was around this time our 'friends' from the launch happened by, paddling up the shore and looking for our camp. What could they want now? “Do you have a cell phone we could borrow and send a quick text message on?” Oh boy. There are no words (at least no polite ones) to describe our thinking at this precise moment. Apparently they had promised their wives that they would call every night and let them know they were okay. In addition to that, they had managed to drop the cell phone they had brought with them over a cliff and had not been able to recover it! They were in luck; Scott had brought his phone with him and strangely enough there was cell coverage..

We bid the duo adieu and wished them luck (they'd need it, at this rate) and quickly set about making ourselves dinner as it was starting to get dark. I tasked myself with making a fire while Bill and Scott readied their camp stoves. Soon we were dining on freeze dried chili con “carne”.

We spent a cool, lazy evening chatting around the fire before deciding to retire around midnight, tired from the day's exertions. I was feeling particularly drained. Attributing my lethargy and a scratchy throat to dehydration and perhaps allergies, I made a point of consuming extra water before bed, a decision both my tent-mate Bill and I regretted several times through the night. Sorry Bill!

Day 2 – Saturday June 5, 2010 - “A Walk in the Park”

I spent a fitful night having to answer the call of nature an unusual number of times. Besides that, I was finding the experience of sleeping on the ground uncomfortable, particularly for my back and neck, and had acquired a runny nose that I was at this point attributing to allergies. Eventually the tent became just plain claustrophobic. By around 6:30 or 7am I'd given up trying to get any more sleep, got dressed, and began to quietly explore around our camp.

While not the nicest campsite I've had the pleasure of staying at, it did have some niceties. A good grouping of log benches around the firepit, generous table space for cooking in the kitchen area, and a nice spacious area with open, mature forest all around. The main drawback seemed to be that it wasn't the most sheltered site as there weren't many low bushes to help break the wind at ground level if it was blowing in off the lake. Also there was a distressing amount of vandalized trees on the sites with large patches of bark hacked off by hatchets, names, initials, and dates carved into the wood beneath. It is despicable that anyone would engage in such wanton destruction. The vandalism had ostensibly claimed a venerable white birch that had fallen in the site near where our tent was set up.

Here you can see the benches surrounding the fire pit on the right, the kitchen area, and Bill's tent. Scott and David's tent is located out of frame to the left, and the open forest extends a good 30-50m behind where I took this photo, giving you a sense of just how open this campsite was. It could easily accommodate a much larger group of people. You can also see how damaged and scarred some of the trees on the site were owing to inconsiderate campers that came before.

Another view from the front of the campsite also shows the damage to the trees including the fallen white birch. (Photo courtesy of Bill)

I figured with me up and about it would only be a matter of time until the others joined me. Well, an hour passed; then two. Finally at around 9:30am the others started stirring in their tents. By this point I'd walked the extent of the beach on both directions, sat on the beach contemplating the morning, sat in the campsite contemplating making noise to wake the others, and wandered around feeling increasingly poor owing to what I properly identified as a head cold brewing in my sinuses. Of all the weekends to get sick - at least it was a lot more scenic than being cooped up in my apartment.

We had a late breakfast of warm oatmeal to stave off the cool spring morning, and hatched a plan for the day – we would walk the portage to Night Lake and have lunch at the far end. After cleaning up from breakfast, e walked up the beach to where the portage landing was and encountered the large group from the island campsite we had originally planned for. They were on their way out to Whitney after having spent the better part of a week in the park. Lucky guys! We rambled up the trail ahead of them, taking our time, and were overtaken at various stages by different parts of the group. We dallied enough admiring the spring foliage and fungi that we'd only reached the end of the portage a few minutes prior to them completing their double carry.

While the rest of the walk wasn't particularly photogenic, this Pink Lady Slipper orchid flower warranted a couple minutes of admiration and a brief photo shoot. (Photo courtesy of Bill)

We ate a relaxed if somewhat buggy lunch on the swampy shores of Night Lake. Scott lost one of his sandwiches to the swamp attempting to swat a bug with his sandwich hand. (No, Scott, you won't live that down any time soon, sorry :) ) Back at camp, we wandered down the shore a ways along the series of sandy beaches that stretch along the shore, having to scramble over some boulder and bedrock intrusions along the way. We nearly made it as far as the next campsite to the south of us before the easily navigable shoreline ran out. On this particular end of the beach there was fresh evidence of beaver – fresh leafy branches stripped of their nutritious bark lay scattered about. There were also fresh moose tracks in the sand from the last day or so – a yearling, we surmised, based on the (relatively) small size.

Scott declared he was going for a swim and a bath and the rest of us agreed with his line of thinking. Into the water three of us went. Bill, a wiser man than the rest of us, opted for a bird bath while the rest of us plunged into the chilly spring water. Due to the early melt and unseasonably warm weather in previous weeks, the water wasn't excruciatingly cold. The initial process of getting in was fairly unpleasant, and a steady wind from the west made drying off rather chilly as well.

The weather that day was another mixed bag, with a predicted cold front blowing in that night with cool 5C temperatures and rain overnight. Noticing some showers threatening on the horizon, we all dried off, got changed, and piled into Bill's MEC Tarn 3 tent to play some cards and kill some time. A few crushing defeats at Euchre later, Bill and I kicked them out in favour of stretching out and have a nap before dinner.

A shot of the generous beach in front of our campsite, complete with bench and illegal fire pit. The beach extends several hundreds of meters in both directions.

Dinner was another store-bought freeze-dried concoction involving some manner of curry – again spiced up with some curry powder packed in. 'Bandit' returned again as we were getting ready to prepare the food, being so brazen as to stand across the firepit from me and chew on some of the newspaper we'd brought as fire starter. He left, disgruntled, after determining that I might actually come to his side of the fire ring without food to share with him.

The evening was spent conversing around another warm fire to keep the chill and the bugs at bay. Bedtime was called perhaps a little bit earlier this night. My cold had worsened and I was operating in a haze by this point. Not good, but I was comforted by the knowledge it was a short journey back to the cars should I genuinely need it. The night was another restless one owing to my cold and my back which was getting quite sore and immobile from sleeping on the ground.

Day 3 – Sunday June 6 2010 - “Always Remember to Test Your Gear”

I was up early again this morning. The showers from overnight had turned into a steady drizzle and the predicted 5C overnight low had materialized into something much less pleasant than it looked on paper. The wind at least had died down. Again, the claustrophibia in the tent set in, and with my sinuses draining down my throat I wasn't going to get back to sleep any time soon. Out of the tent and into my rain gear – I'm sure Bill was wishing for a different tent-mate at this point given the amount of noise my sleep-deprived, clumsy, coughing self was making as I extracted my rain jacket and pants.

A similar pattern emerged from the previous day – my hopes that retiring earlier would coax the other from their tents sooner rather than later never materialized. I never checked the time, but I would estimate I was up and about by at least 6:30am, and again it wasn't until 8:30 or 9am that anyone joined me. I decided to follow a trail up through the bush behind our campsite to help stay warm. Up a bit of a rise, the trail more or less petered out in a somewhat swampy glen. I stopped when it became obvious I was following an animal trail of some sort that would take me through muck and mire. Turning around, I felt a sinking feeling; a mere 150m (if that) out of camp and I couldn't tell what direction I had come.

I took a few moments to try and orient myself, knowing better than to let panic set in. I knew I was bounded by the lake to the west and portage to the north, and knowing that I was still close enough to camp that my safety whistle would likely rouse the others with little difficulty, I wasn't terribly concerned. Still, getting lost so easily had set my adrenaline pumping. I finally picked up a landmark I recognized – a large glacial erratic I had walked past on my way out of camp. Crisis averted, and lesson learned: don't go wandering out of camp off the beaten path without letting others know and take some means of navigation with you when you do!

Mollified by my experience, I sat down in front of the fire ring on a bench to perhaps dream a nice, warm roaring fire into existence. I was tempted to try and start one, but we had only brought a little wood with us and the only wood found near camp was all quite damp and unsuitable for burning. It was now I realized I had another problem creeping up on me – my waterproof pants weren't. The pants were inherited some years ago as hand-me-downs, and never worn or tested in the interim. Next lesson: Test your gear!

A wiser man, less addled by the effects of sleep deprivation, hunger, and a head cold would have wisely proceeded to return to the warm, dry safety of the tent. I stupidly sat out in the cold, letting the water seep through my so-called rain pants and into my jeans. I had brought jeans as my cold weather gear, making the foolish assumption that it would either be wet or cold, but never both. Cotton is a fantastic insulator while dry. However, once wet, it becomes a giant heat sink, sucking the heat right out of you in a very efficient manner. Aware of the dangers of hypothermia but apparently unwilling to avoid the risk altogether, I contented myself with wandering restlessly around camp until the others emerged around mid-morning.

The humidity was up to around 100% by this point and, as we soon discovered, high enough to cause the striker for our waterproof matches to disintegrate. I smugly produced a cigarette lighter I had brought for just such a contingency. I got it lit, but before we could light our stoves a large drop of water landed square on the lighter, extinguishing it and wetting the flint. Try as we might, we could not get the wet flint to spark and ignite the lighter fluid, d'oh! Down to our last striker and getting desperate, we did finally manage to get the stoves going. The next 10 minutes or so were spent huddled around the heat sources while boiling water for oatmeal, marveling at how one's fingers turn from blue to pink when proper heating in restored.

Over breakfast our thoughts turned towards the pair of newbie campers, who by their trip plan should have been on Lake Louisa that morning. As a group, we found ourselves less prepared for such miserable weather than we thought we were. We were genuinely concerned for the other fellows, and made a decision to follow up with the permit office regarding them on our way out – just in case.

With food in my belly, my good senses returned and I quickly adjourned to the tent to get out of the cold, wet, uncomfortable clothes I was wearing and into a warm, dry sleeping bag. Shortly, the others decided to crowd into the tent for some cards again and my luck at euchre continued its fantastically bad streak. The remainder of the morning was spent napping and waiting for the rain to let up.

Shortly before noon the rain did finally cease, and Scott hatched the idea of a canoe trip down the lake to warm ourselves up. The temperature was rising to a more comfortable late spring level by this point and in spite of being quite achy, stiff, and miserable from my illness, I agreed to this plan. We traveled to the Galipo River portage at the south end of Pen Lake, the wind at our backs aiding our progress. This is a pretty area with a shallow marshy stream leading up to the portage itself. The portage is short (355m) and steep, climbing 19m to a very marshy area with a very mucky launch. Again we ate lunch at the end of the portage, the wind keeping the bugs mostly at bay. Along the way we stopped to take pictures of the rather impressive gorge the Galipo passes through on its way down to Pen Lake. It was quite a pretty spot, and with all the fresh growth of moss and plant life looked to be out of a fairy tale. We spent a goodly time admiring the scenery and discovering some interesting plant-life at the top of the portage as well – small, carnivorous Sundew plants covered much of the portage landing leading up to the trail.

A shot upriver as the portage comes into view. (Courtesy of Bill)

David takes in the pretty surroundings as the Galipo River makes its descent to Pen Lake. (Courtesy of Bill)

Another shot showing the upper portion of the falls. (Courtesy of Bill)

The tangled logjam at the top of the portage. (Courtesy of Bill)

A view across the mighty Galipo River valley to the 2.3km portage to Welcome Lake. (Courtesy of Bill)

One of the patches of Sundew that was covering the upper end of the portage. (Courtesy of Bill)

The cloudy sky had mostly broken up at this point, and the wind had done nothing but intensify, now that we were at the far end of the lake with several kilometers between us and camp. Nothing doing, we had to get back to camp. At least the temperature had climbed to quite a comfortable level by this point – no need for jackets, even with the wind! We set off down the river and were greeted by a rather uninviting vista of a whitecap laden lake between us and our destination. We fought our way into the wind, crossing to the far shore where we hoped to find some shelter from the northerly gusts. There was little shelter to be had as the contour of the lake seemed to funnel the wind along it, but the occasional eddies where the intensity died down were appreciated. Bill and I outpaced Scott and David by small degree, and by the time we reached the last sheltered point before a bay crossing to our campsite, we were ready for a rest and gladly took one at the campsite the point housed, waiting for the other two to catch up.

The beach was a bit of a warzone as we arrived - two seagulls were engaged in a noisy standoff with a turkey vulture over a dead fish that had washed up on the beach. Much squawking and fuss was made until they noticed much larger predators (us) looming just off shore. We left the fish be, but that wasn't the only carnage littering the beach – hundreds of broken shells were scattered in loose piles, presumably the work of an otter or two. Small footprints washed out by the rain earlier were visible but gave us little help in identifying the creatures. Several dug up turtles nests were also present, some appearing to have hatched successfully, others clearly having suffered the same fate as the clams.
5-10 minutes later Scott and David caught up with us, by which point we had explored the campsite thoroughly. It was an interesting site, beaches on both the wind and leeward side, with a sharp rise of land separating the two sides. There appeared to be a fire pit on each side of the hill, but the kitchen and tenting areas were located behind some sheltering bushes on the north side. It would make a nice spot to camp on a future trip.

After David and Scott had got a chance to rest, we set off across the final stretch. With our camp in sight it became a race, with the lanky arms of Scott and David winning out over the more compact power of Bill and myself. Also, I was still quite sick (that's my excuse for losing, anyways). Upon arrival at camp, we decided to take advantage of the warm late afternoon sun hitting our camp and take another swim. We stayed in the water somewhat longer this time thanks to the warmer temperature, then let ourselves dry in the stiff breeze and warm, but fading sun. We explored the open forests and beach once more, discovering more moose tracks – fresh ones even, pressed into the sand since it had stopped raining this morning. We concluded it was the same yearling that had made the ones we spotted the previous day. We had yet to catch a glimpse of the creature but it was obviously undeterred by our presence in the area.

Dinner was made, a third night of freeze-dried something – beef stroganoff this time, aided in palatability by some black pepper. Bandit returned after we had done dishes and was rewarded with a freshly filled greywater pit with some campsuds flavoured beef stroganoff leavings. We finally got a proper picture of the scamp as he helped himself to our leftovers. Since he always arrived from the south and departed to the north, we surmised this campsite, the one to the south of us, and the portage landing to the north were all part of his usual foraging circuit, living well off the excess of careless campers.

'Bandit' maintaining his figure at our greywater pit after supper.

A silhouetted view of the portly Procyonid as he crossed our camp.

We spent the evening making some hot cocoa and squaring away our gear in anticipation of leaving the next morning. The mood was perhaps a bit sullen that the trip was drawing to a close, but we were determined to milk every last minute of the trip for all we could. Mother nature decided to atone for her inhospitality that day and gave us a glorious, clear sunset across the now calm lake.

Sunset on Pen Lake. Note the sun dog visible to the right – a lingering sign of the earlier chill.

I don't recall much about that night, save for Bill sharing some whiskey and chocolate around the sky clouding over just enough that the stars shining in the night were only a tease. My cold had kicked into overdrive and with very stiff back I was drawn quicker than the rest towards my sleeping bag. I was in bed by 10:30pm and the others followed shortly after by 11 or 11:30pm. We would break camp in the morning and paddle out. For all the hardship that this trip had brought me, and for all my longing for my warm, comfortable bed at home, I didn't want my time in the park to end. The summer was yet young and I decided at this point that I had to return a few more times before winter set in.

Day 4 – Monday June 7 2010 - “Homeward Bound”

For once, I actually slept half decently. But only half – the constant discharge of my sinuses down my throat and the steady encroachment of phlegm in my chest limiting any benefits of a decent night's rest. This really was a miserable cold. I awoke to complaints from my tenting partner, Bill, that his throat was scratchy and he head a headache – the hallmarks of my illness just before it set in. Sometimes I wonder if his decision to acquire a hammock for his next trip was entirely my fault (maybe I don't have to wonder at all). :)

Conversation as breakfast was made turned towards the sound of something large-sounding wandering in and around camp during the night. Initially we dismissed them as unusually loud mice or squirrels rustling in the bushes. However as I wandered towards the thunderbox, my gaze turned downwards towards a disturbed area on the ground that hadn't been there the night before. Closer investigation yielded a real surprise – moose tracks! The tracks seemed to come right through our camp and stop short a mere 2 feet from Bill's tent. The hoof prints dug in as if coming to an abrupt halt, surprised by the unexpected obstacle in his intended path. They then wandered around camp in a circuitous route that eventually led up the trail I had nearly gotten lost on earlier.

We were a little shocked by just how close such a large creature had come to our camp, and spent breakfast discussing such cheerful topics as human mortality and how soft and squishy a human body would be the majority of large creatures in the bush. Reluctantly, we cleaned up our final meal for this trip and packed our gear, getting ready for the short journey back to the launch. By 11:15am we were on our way, paddling into a steady but manageable north wind under partially cloudy skies, and by 12:30pm we were snacking on Clif Bars and apples at the bottom of the Rock Lake portage.

Pen Lake, looking north past the easternmost of the two islands in the north part of the lake.

A group shot at the Rock Lake end of the portage.

Upon reaching Rock Lake, the wind began to whip up, much stronger than it had even been the day before whilst traveling up Pen Lake. We griped loudly at the weather gods and leaned into the task ahead, making slow progress against the wind. My poor j-stroke technique showed through on a couple of occasions as I struggled to keep us pointed into the wind. Sudden, unexpected gusts nearly turned us sideways in the water on several occasions. A pair elderly of cottagers sat on their front lawn as we fought our way up the lake only 10 meters offshore, getting a bit of a gong show as I nearly lost control of our direction right in front of them. It struck me that they were the first people we'd seen since the group on the portage Saturday, and we exchanged a friendly wave between gusts of wind.

At long last we made it to the sheltered mouth of the Madawaska and dallied our way upriver to the launch point where our much less strenuous mode of transportation awaited. We remembered to check with the permit office about the two inexperienced campers that we had been concerned about, but unsurprisingly the staff member wasn't able to provide us with any insight. We started making our way back towards Whitney for an overdue lunch. We had lamented at the general lack of wildlife sightings this weekend – a few loons, a handful of mergansers, a raccoon, a vulture, some seagulls, a mouse in our kitchen, and a large snapping turtle that tumbled awkwardly into the water from the rock he was sunning himself on, on our way up Pen Lake that day. A reasonable mix, but we were hoping for something more exciting, like a bird of prey, or to hear the wolves howling, or to spot a bear or moose (especially after that morning!).

Luck was with us as we crested a hill and a smattering of cars clustered in the valley below. A large bull was putting on a display munching on the weedy grasses in a swamp off the side of the road. We hopped out to observe from a safe 100ft or so with a nice half-ton truck between us and him. Other gawkers less wary of the size and unpredictability of wild animals sat on the edge of the highway a mere 50ft away. We didn't loiter for long; chasing fantasies of hot food at the Mad Musher in Whitney and the comforts of home in Ottawa, we snapped a few pictures of the majestic bull for posterity.

My coughing fits attracted his attention long enough for Bill to snap a photo with his head up. (Courtesy of Bill)

Realizing he has an audience, the bull works his good side for the cameras. (Courtesy of Bill)


Regarding the two novice campers, we assume they made it out alright since we didn't see anything in the news. Scott turned on his phone when he reached the city to discover a series of increasingly concerned text messages from the fellows' wives wondering if they were okay. I hope they learned some valuable lessons out there – I know we did!

So ends my inaugural trip into Algonquin's back country. I hope you enjoyed reading. Please check back for more trip logs coming in the near future!


  1. That's a nice trip. If you do that trip again, make the jump down to Clydegale (below Pen). It's worth a night's stay there. If you get onto Clydegale, travel to the south end where the Madawaska River enters. I have seen Moose and bear at that end of the lake on every trip. One of the best sites is back at teh north end, just after the portage. Great trip report.

  2. Beautiful trip report thanks for sharing!