Autumn in Algonqin: The Year's Last, Loveliest Smile
Paddle's gentle touch,
The year's last, loveliest smile,
Scarlet tears swirl by.
Without a doubt, the EGL Fall 2014 Hang in Algonquin goes down in the books as the benchmark for a great canoe trip.
There was a sense that something was going to be different this trip. Late Thursday afternoon I was on my way to do a little grocery shopping for the trip when my cell-phone chimed. Looking at the name, I just shook my head in amazement. Somehow Ggreaves had managed to get a signal and inform me that the Thursday group had arrived, last fall's island site was occupied and that they had taken the site directly beside the Night Lake Portage on the eastern shore of Pen. Years ago, canoe tripping meant hanging up the sign "gone fishing" and leaving the world behind; family, friends and work were all put on hold until you walked back through the door. That evening, as I was packing my gear, my Fallkniven S1 slipped out of its sheath and landed hilt-side down, thankfully, on the top of my foot. An hour in Emergency and two stitches later I was out of the hospital finishing my packing. Scattered patches of fog hung in the still, low valleys along Highway 11 that runs from Toronto past Algonquin towards North Bay. At one point, just south of Huntsville, the fog was so thick it was barely possible to see beyond the shoulder of the highway. But as quickly as it came we passed out of it like through a curtain and ahead were bright blue skies and the colours of autumn. All things considered, the trip hadn't even started yet and already it had proven interesting.
Jiblets on the drive up
After the drive east on Highway 60 and another short stretch on the gravel Rock Lake Road, Gilbert and I pulled in at the Ranger Station. There waiting for us were Kasuko, Dant8ro, Ryvr, Cruiser51, Bubba and Quiet. Chenvre was on his way in from Ottawa and would be arriving shortly. As for the rest of the group, two canoes had already headed in the day before carrying Old Boot and Iguana in one and Ggreaves and Entropy in the other.
Quiet ready to go
Highboy ready to go
To be honest, organizing paddling partners was pretty straightforward. Jiblets, whose canoe was a little too large to easily solo, would stern with Bubba at the bow. Chenvre would be teaming up with Kasuko, a brave undertaking on both their parts as the last time they paddled together they found themselves somewhat damp after a minor maritime mishap. As for the rest of us; Ryvr, Dant8ro, Quiet, Cruiser51 and I would be paddling solo. While any canoe is a lovely thing, and never more so than when it's loaded with all the gear necessary for a jaunt in the Park, Cruiser's handmade cedar strip canoe was a work of art and drew much deserved praise from all around. Based on the Bear Mountain 15' Freedom design, Cruiser had built himself and you couldn't but admire his excellent workmanship and attention to detail. If you ask me, every beautiful canoe makes the world a slightly better place.
Cruiser and Ryvr ready to go
Cruiser's beautiful woodstrip canoe
Ryvr getting the feel of his rental canoe
Once the cars were parked we pushed off the docks as a group and paddled our way along a small section of slow flowing river out to the main body of Rock Lake. We were greeted with hillsides painted with vibrant yellows, oranges, golds, reds and dark greens. I have rarely seen the Park so beautiful. Dominating the landscape is Booth's Rock, a series of high cliffs that rise up on the eastern shore and named after John Rudolophus Booth, one of Canada's most successful self-made lumber and railway barons of the 19th century. Of his many accomplishments was the construction of a railway from the Georgian bay, through the lands that would later become Algonquin, down to Ottawa, where he had the secured the contract for supplying lumber for the construction of the Canadian Parliament buildings. Working all day with the crews only to return to continue working late into the night managing the business of his empire, John Booth was a fascinating character. In fact, many of the Algonquin thoroughfares, be they road or trail, follow the same railway tracks that Booth created over one hundred years earlier. It's a clear reminder of the tenuous relationship between industry and the landscape that has become synonymous with Canada. (for more information http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Rudolphus_Booth). Actually it was high atop those cliffs, overlooking the beauty of Rock Lake and the surrounding forests that I almost proposed to my wife, but the perfect moment eluded me I descended sheepishly down again.
Pictograph cliffs, Rock Lake
Following the western shore, we rounded the headland and came to the another series of high cliffs, this time rising straight up out of the water and continuing up for another hundred feet. While beautiful in and of themselves, these cliffs are also of particular interest because they are reputed to hold aboriginal pictographs. I say "reputed", because all of my previous searches for them had been in vain. But persistence paid off at last! Close to the southern end of the cliffs, just a few feet above the waterline they had lain hidden all these years, with colours so subdued that it was no surprise I had missed them before. I'll leave the socio-religious interpretation to the archeologists, but to me it looks like a famished beaver.
Pictographs, Rock Lake
About a kilometer from the cliffs the main lake turns south and narrows to a channel that extends south for a couple of kilometers to the 375m Rock/Pen portage. Along the channel on the left, more cliffs would appear between the trees while on the right gently rolling hills followed beside us. Up ahead a prominent hill stood out and at its base the channel ended and a lively river splashed noisily into the lake. A low shelf of smooth rock marked the landing for the portage on the right. Because some of us had straggled behind looking for pictographs, most of the group had already gone down the portage. Only Kasuko and Chenvre were there waiting, and with them two others.
These two strangers had been waiting by the shore, anxiously looking back up the channel. They were part of a group of three canoes and apparently one of the canoes was long overdue at the portage, likely they had paddled down the wrong channel and become lost. Worried about not being able to find a campsite for the night, the third canoe had gone on ahead to Pen. They were obviously worried so I asked about the skill level of the errant paddlers. They assured us that they were experienced trippers but the problem was that they had no food. All of it was packed away in the other canoes. They were struggling with the dilemma of whether they stay or they go on ahead? Rock Lake is a big lake and going all the way back up the channel trying to find a lost canoe could take hours. If the lost canoers were novices then going back would be certainly be appropriate, but as they were experienced, my hunch was that they'd find the portage eventually and join their friend when they could. Personally I would have waited around for a while, as they were, but then continue on in to find where the third canoe had set up camp. Only then would I have returned to guide the lost canoe back to camp, especially if it was starting to get dark. The key lesson is for every canoe to have a map, a compass (or GPS) and enough gear and provisions to be self-sufficient, at least for a day. Mishaps do occur and even the best navigators get lost occasionally. What became of them I never did learn, but I like to think that they managed to meet up in the end.
Back at the portage the last of our group had pulled up. Kasuko kindly offered to carry the group food pack across the portage, a good thing too because it was weighted down with all of the ingredients for two group dinners. His help was definitely appreciated. I changed into my running shoes, shouldered my pack and threw my canoe over my head. The portage was only a short 375m one with only one short hill just a little way in and then a short but steep incline as it drops to the lake on the far side. Well-maintained boardwalks spanned the boggiest areas and before long I was descending down the last slope out into the sunlight where a wooden dock stretched into the water and I canoes were scattered everywhere. The rest of the group had taken the opportunity to have a bit of lunch as they waited for us to show up. With a sigh, I dropped my pack, dug out a handful of raisins and a peanut butter wrap and joined them.
Lunch complete, we pushed off to find our friends. Ryvr and I took point and paddled towards the channel that connects the north bay to the main lake. Off to the right lay the "island" campsite that we had stayed on the autumn before. The "island" was actually peninsula connected by an ismuth of scrub covered sand. But it was close enough. Coming out into the main lake we had to navigate through some huge erratics which rose up to just under the surface, like terrors from the depths eager to claim the unwary. Flecks of red, green and white showed how often they had managed to snare passing canoes. It was on one of these that my daughters and I put a major gouge into the bottom of my canoe only a couple of years earlier.
Southern Pen Lake
Up ahead on the left we saw movement on the shore where the Night Lake portage comes down to the lake. I hollered out what should certainly become the official Hammock Forums greeting "WHOOO BUDDY" and immediately get a distant "whooo buddy" in response. Ryvr, who's paddling beside me, decided that this was the time to see how fast his rented Keewatin could go, so with paddles digging deeply, the race was on. It was a good one and pretty close for a while, but in the end Ryvr managed an unexpected burst of speed and glided to shore a few lengths ahead of me. Young whippersnapper.
Down on shore we found a scene straight out of the French Rivera. Iguana was coming out of the water, 76 Highboy was lying stretched out on a towel and Old Boot was relaxing in a camp chair. After a warm welcome, we asked about Ggreaves and they informed us that he was across the lake at the group's second site, a necessity with a group as large as ours. I have to say, it was my first time meeting Old Boot but she certainly had a finely tuned sense of relaxation necessary on these arduous EGL hangs. After the rest of the group pulled up and greetings were exchanged we grabbed our gear and jogged up a short incline to check out the campsite. There was a nice fire pit, a makeshift plywood table nailed between two trees nearby and the usual parallel logs to provided seating. Surrounding that was plenty of space to sprawl, a good thing to with our fourteen people.
Highboy and Ggreaves on Thursday
Old Boot had set up her outfit at the top of the path that led down to the beach, and so that side of the camp officially became designated as the "Ladies Section". To the south or right of the site, set back in the woods a short way, Iguana's and 76Highboy's hammocks already hung. The newcomers fanned out and one by one dropped their gear and got to work turning the span between two trees [in to] home for the weekend. By me were Bubba, Quiet and Jiblets, with Entropy just a little down the slope. Some of the group went over to the second site to balance the numbers. They'd shuttle back and forth between the campsites for most of the weekend.
Ryvr, Cruiser and Quiet relaxing by the fire pit
After setting up camp everyone made their way back to the fire pit to partake in a little well deserved lollygagging. It was good to get a chance to sip some single malt and relax with friends, some of whom, Entropy for example, I hadn't seen in quite a while. He was actually the first Hammock Forums member I had the pleasure of meeting on the drive up to my first Hang where we then met Kasuko and his infamous penny stove. I also met a couple of other chaps, one of which, Shawnh, followed me on our first canoe hang later that fall. It became the first EGL hang.
Chard's and Jiblets' outfits
Early in the afternoon, Iguana announced that he was going to take a stroll down the adjacent Night Lake portage, just to see what was at the other end. It was a while before he returned, no worse for wear. Apparently the trail was a little longer than he had planned but it just meant a nice stroll in the woods was all the nicer.
Chard looking with horror at the amount of crap he brought in
Back on camp however, the afternoon was wearing on and it was time to start thinking about dinner. Now personally, a "traditional" backcountry canoe trip had always meant an "all-for-one and one-for-all" approach to meal planning. Whether it was pancakes for breakfast or spaghetti for dinner, everyone got to enjoy, or at least suffer through, the same meal. Trips were planned at a group level. There'd be one kitchen tarp, one stove, one axe, one saw and one set of pots. Then, not surprisingly, our EGL Hammock Forum Hangs came along and broke that mold. What's different is that we're more a collection of like-minded solo hikers than a boy-scout troop. Picture the film Predators; replace machine guns with Dutch Clips, toothy aliens with toothy black flies and you've got it. Just count the number of solo paddlers in our group; six of the ten canoes were paddled solo, well actually nine canoes and one kayak, but Highboy will be Highboy. Redundancy is the rule and it's not unusual to have as many axes as hammocks, as many saws as trees and as many stoves as there are stars in the sky. Efficient? Absolutely not. But wonderfully individual nonetheless. It's always interesting seeing how different people solve our common challenges in so many creative ways. I suppose that the very fact that we're hammock campers in the first place demonstrates our interest in pushing the boundaries of camping gear and practices, in evolving the craft. I still have friends who shake their heads disapprovingly when I talk about hammock camping! But I digress.
Entropy searing the beef
Needless to say, I'm still a fan of the big group dinners. Nothing beats a pot of hearty soup or stew and a chunk of bread washed down with a glass of wine. On this evening's menu was a classic beef bourguignon, prepared faithfully according to Julia Child's recipe, served with egg noodles and fresh bread. The biggest challenge was that the beef would require at least three hours of cooking to cook thoroughly and become fork tender and that process simply can't be rushed. We had tried a few years earlier with some Hungarian Goulash, and although the stew was delicious, the meat was decidedly chewy. Not so tonight. Although it was only mid-afternoon, everyone pitched in one way or another to either help prepare the food or collect firewood. Supported by an army of sous chefs and wood collectors, Entropy diligently sautéed a rasher of double-smoked bacon and onions. Setting those aside, he went on to brown six pounds of stewing beef. Once everything was ready, it all went into a 10 litre (2.5 gallon) pot together with a litre of nice Italian red wine, a litre of beef broth and some bay leaves. I was using was the new Campbell's prepared beef broth in 500ml (one pint) tetra packs but the little plastic spout was proving annoying to open. Undeterred, I unfolded the spout, casually held it against a log and chopped the whole dang end off with my axe. Let's see Gordon Ramsey beat that. Two more tetra packs followed the same fate and before long the stew was simmering away happily. At this point it was simply a matter of maintaining a low fire and waiting. After a couple of hours, when the beef was almost ready, several small bags of pearl onions were parboiled, peeled and sautéed whole. Finally a couple of pounds of mushrooms were quartered and sautéed thrown into the stew.
Jiblets took the opportunity to throw a grill over the fire irons and grill some tandoori chicken legs. They were looking rather good but as Jiblets was turning them, one of them managed to roll off the grill and land in the fire. He tried to rescue it with his makeshift chopsticks but the heat was too much for his bare hands. Things were looking pretty grim. Luckily I had been tending the stew with a leather glove on my hand and so I quickly reached in and snatched that piece of chicken before the Fire Gods could claim their offering.
Dant8ro and Old Boot waiting patiently for dinner
Jiblets' chicken reminded me of some spicy Hungarian sausage I had picked up for the trip. One of my favorite ways of eating it is to simply roast it slightly over the fire. After heating it up I sliced it up into pieces and went around offering it to the gang. Poor Old Boot. I love spicy food; my mother all but weaned me on hot sauce. Cruiser's the ranking pepper-head in the group, concocting his own peppery potions; even going so far as to dehydrate drops of a particularly deadly sauce on tiny squares of rice paper; add a couple of dots to your dinner and you'd better have some yogurt nearby. Old Boot on the other hand apparently is the product of a loving family unwilling to subject her to unnecessary hardships. She innocently tried a piece of sausage and was reaching for water shortly afterwards. Apparently eyeballs can sweat after all. Sometimes I forget that not everyone shares my love of hot food.
Jiblets and his improvised chopsticks
Meanwhile Ryvr, Dant8ro and Cruiser were busy preparing their own dinners. It wasn't long however, until the stew was almost ready and it was time to finish it up by adding a couple of bags of broad egg noodles. Ten minutes later everyone was helping themselves to big helpings of stew and a big piece of baguette. The silence spoke volumes. People enjoyed seconds, even thirds when I could force them to, but I had slightly misjudged the quantities and unfortunately there was about two servings left over.
Iguana ripping through the firewood
It seems to be a hallmark of the EGL that ordinary tasks sometimes become hilarious. Standard procedures in Algonquin call for food to be hung from a sturdy tree branch some 15 feet in the air and some 5 or so feet from the tree, protecting the contents from not only marauding bears but a myriad of other persistent little critters that invariably turn up when people start dropping food on the ground. Even following procedures, Entropy's food bag had been chewed into my some little critter. Cruiser was in the process of setting an elaborate system that consisted of a multi-wheel pulley being suspended on a main line between two trees while the working line, the one that was attached to the food bags, hung down to the ground. Essentially forming "T" with one pulley at the top intersection and another at the bottom of the "T" by the food, making the hauling up of the heavy food bags a simple matter. Well, at least that was the plan. Enter Jiblets stage left. After several tosses, including one in which Cruiser was actually able to land his throw bag neatly on top of the target branch, he finally managed to get his main line up and over the branch. The weighted throw bag dangled down on the far side and looking around for help, he spied Jiblets casually looking on. Let me paraphrase the conversation...
"Could you hold this for me?" asks Cruiser.
"Sure" says Jiblets.
"I like this guy" says Cruiser to the gathered onlookers, "he really knows how to follow orders."
A general chuckle from the group and Cruiser turns away to retrieve his throw bag.
"Follow orders indeed!" Jiblets thinks to himself. Without a moment's pause a michievous grin crosses his face and he lets go of the rope. It goes racing up into the trees and up and over the branch. Cruiser spins around with an expression of shocked disbelief on his face that was priceless. Morale of the story: Don't make wisecracks about the help, especially when that help is Jiblets.
After dinner, the group made their way down to the lake to enjoy the cloudless night sky. In a little while the Milky Way rose up out of the eastern forest and stretched across the sky. The second to last star of the four stars of the handle on the big dipper (or was that three?) drew a bit of attention as we tried to spot stars. I pulled out my smart phone to start up my astronomy app when I noticed I had a couple bars of signal. On a lark I texted my elder daughter and was very surprised when my phone rang a few minutes later. Even though the volume was on low, the ring was deafening. It was like taking a call in the middle of a cinema, but magnified ten-fold by the silence. Sorry for shattering the moment everyone.
Down by the lake the mood was great. If anyone's ever met Ryvr, they wouldn't soon forget it. A big, fun loving extrovert with a hearty laugh and a flair for haute cuisine, Ryvr's got a ribald sense of humor that leaves everyone in stitches. I wish I could recall the exact conversation but at one point something was said that was usually reserved for those fraternal times when ladies weren't present. Nonplussed, and with much grace, Old Boot said something like "Oh, that's ok, there's not much you could say that would shock me." I gave Ryvr 15 minutes. It took him 20. He must have been distracted by the night sky.
Saturday night was a special in more than one way; Highboy was celebrating a birthday. Although many miles from family, he was, at least, amongst friends. He stayed up late that night, carrying on the celebration, but one by one people excused themselves to retire to their hammocks. For most of the Friday crew it had been a very long day with little or no sleep the night before and the hammocks beckoned.
It was early dawn when I first woke up and the forest had just begun to take on colour. I could hear people quietly snoring nearby and some voices down by the fire pit. I pulled my top quilt up, rolled over and went back to snooze a little longer, a rare luxury when my younger daughter's favorite pastime is waking up her father on weekends. I got up a little while later, pulled on my shorts and my heavy wool bush shirt and wandered down to get breakfast. Most of the crew was up and about. Jiblets and Dant8ro had strapped a 2QZQ Tree table to the tree that anchored one side of our kitchen table and had fired up Dant8ro's MS Core woodstove for its christening burn. I was impressed. It burned hot and made short work of boiling up the morning's water. Breakfast was a simple pack of oatmeal and a tall mug of instant espresso.
Dant8ro's MS Core
MS Core's Dant8ro
Beside the fire pit stood the remains of what must have been once a tall pine. Now all that remained was a slightly rotted stump some two meters high, already much chopped at. Dant8tro took out his saw and lopped off the top section, narrowly missing Cruiser in the process. Jiblets, unimpressed with the less than perfectly horizontal cut too his turn at trimming off the remains of the stump, ultimately producing a disc-like cross-section of the tree. Inspiration expresses itself in many ways. This time Jiblets and Dant8ro were determined to use that disc to make a shelf on that stump and it actually turned out pretty well. At one point midway through the construction, Ggreaves tried to use the stump to set up his stove and prepare some food. I think the sawdust drove him away.
Jiblets and Dant8ro leveling stump as Entropy watches on
Quiet had also set up his Titanium Goat wood stove complete with stove pipe. It was normally part of his winter camping kit, but I think he felt that it needed some long overdue burn-time. Not too heavy to pack in, it collapsed down into a fairly compact package. He was even kind enough to boil up some water for me. Throw a canvas tent over that and you've got yourself an all weather camping outfit.
Old Boot, Jiblets, Highboy and Ggreaves hat
The morning was turning into a beautiful day, sunny skies and little to no wind. Ggreaves and Iguana had already taken a canoe and headed back to do a day trip to the top of Booth's Rock. In this part of Ontario, the trout fishing season ends at the end of September, so this would be my last chance to do some open water fishing until next spring. I had even packed in a portable fish finder but unfortunately forgot to repair a wire that came loose after the last time I used it. Chowder was on the menu tonight and I thought a little fresh fish would make a nice addition. It was about 10am when I pushed off from shore, only to find bubba quietly sitting on the shore having breakfast and enjoying the view. Jiblets and Entropy launched a little afterwards. Our plan was to troll the south along the western shore down as far as the Galipo River. Personally I wasn't expecting much action on the main lake. The waters still held their summer warmth and I knew that the sunny weather and calm water would generally force trout down to more comfortable depths. Without my sonar I couldn't tell the depth so I didn't put on any additional weight on my line. Casting my line out behind me I paddled south until out of the depths I could start to weeds. I quickened my pace to keep my spoon high and avoid snags, but eventually they became so dense that I just gave up and reeled my lure in.
My map was back at camp, so I paddled further along the shore looking for the opening to the Galipo River where I knew brook trout could be found. On the way I managed to take a few pictures of one of the Park's Great Blue Herons. I got within about one hundred feet before it spread its wings and flew beyond the high shrubs along the shore. Jiblets and Entropy paddled up and reported that they had had similar luck. Entropy took out his GPS and took bearing on the mouth of the Galipo, just beneath the prominent hill at the southeast end of the lake.
Great Blue Heron
So late in the season, the water levels were quite low and we scraped several times along the sandy bottom of the river mouth before we entered the winding creek and put a pair of small beaver dams behind us. As we worked our way against the current the forest started to close in on us until at last we reached a small pool below a rock garden over which the Galipo was noisily flowing. On the right, a little back from the portage was a clearing in the brush and Jiblets and Entropy pulled their canoe up onto there. I continued a little way further and landed on the left side by the portage proper. The mouth of the Galipo River has to be one of the most awkward portage landings in the park. The field of rocks left nowhere to land a canoe safely so I just steered Lipstick (my canoe) between a pair of large rocks and pulled her a little out of the water. Eager to do a little fishing, I grabbed my little tackle box and my fishing rod and started down the portage trail.
A few years ago I had passed the same way with some friends from the office and we had discovered a wonderful little fishing hole along the way. Not far up the trail the Galipo tumbled a few meters into a broad, deep pool that emptied into a swift before rounding the bend back towards the portage. Tying on a tiny gold and orange Panther Martin spinner I made a couple of exploratory casts. At first I got a couple of following flashes but it wasn't long before I got a solid hit. Excited I pull out a small bookie, no less beautiful for its small size. I would have thrown it back but it was deeply hooked, so it put it on the shore behind me. After a couple of more fruitless casts over the top of the deep pool I switched my lure to a slightly larger and heavier black spinner, all the better to get down and ply the depths of the pool. As Jiblets and Entropy came up the trail behind me I pulled in another, larger speck. By this time Jiblets had tied on one of his home-salted smelts and landed a nice female bookie, the largest of the day. After losing my spinner to a log deep in the pool, I asked Jiblets if I could try one of his smelts. I tied on a jig, threaded on a smelt and cast out towards the foam where the river plunged into the pool. I moment later I was pulling in my day's best trout, a male bookie just a little smaller than Jiblets but in full fall colour. Absolutely beautiful. The three of us fished that pool and the little swift below it for the better part of two hours until a couple of other anglers came up eager to try their luck. We took some pictures and chatted for a while. We gathered our belongings and our catch, and then walked back down the trail to the canoes.
While we were fishing another group had landed and I guess that my canoe was blocking the portage because I found that it had been placed carefully up out of the way by the edge of the rocks. Beside it were a couple of canoes and some very nice trippers. One old chap, after he had buckled a pack onto his back, boasted that he had just had knee replacement surgery a couple of months earlier and that this was his first trip. Tough old bugger! I waited for them to pass and then threw my gear into the canoe. I carried it out to the rocks, carefully launched and then followed Jiblets and Entropy down the creek. This time we were travelling with the current and it wasn't long before we were back out on the main lake. Back at the pool the two fishermen had mentioned a deep spot back out on the lake near to the river mouth so Jiblets headed off in that direction while I began my long paddle back to camp. I was hungry and thinking about lunch. Once out over deep water I once again threw out my line and slow trolled back to camp. I think I got one hit along the way, but I didn't catch another fish for rest of the day.
Ggreaves and Bubba
Pulling back up on our campsite's beach, I showed the group our catch, hung them on a tree while I had lunch and then took them far down to the beach to be cleaned. I gutted them all but left Jiblets' otherwise untouched. I know he likes his trout steamed, but my mind was set on lightly floured trout fried to perfection in a pan of hot butter and oil. Simple and delicious. Kasuko was interested in watching the filleting process so I did my best to not butcher them too much. On small to medium fish I just make one pass along the spin on each side of the spine, carefully fillet out the rib bones and then take off the skin. No muss, not much fuss. In the end of it we had four lovely fillets ready for the pan. The little one could be fried whole. When Jiblets and Entropy got back Jiblets graciously let his be filleted and fried up as well. We had enough for everyone.
Ggreaves and Iguana paddled in and told us about their rewarding, albeit exhausting hike. Following the route the wrong way, or rather against the flow, in typical EGL style, they managed to make it to the top of the cliffs we had seen the morning before. The only problem was that they had underestimated their water supply and had come back to camp a tad thirsty. Nothing a gallon of filtered water between them couldn't fix. On the whole, it sounded like a fun excursion.
Old Boot's tree shelf and pot combo
Dant8ro, Ryvr and Cruiser also had a little fun. They have a history that goes back long before the EGL, so it's not surprising that there's more than a little good natured ribbing going on between them. On this occasion Ryvr and Cruiser were carrying on with their favorite pass time, trying to elicit a profane response from Dant8ro. But with the stalwart stoicism of a Palace guard, Dant8ro just sat there calmly smiling. I suspect, however, that deep below that steadfast countenance, devious plots of retribution were being hatched. Glad I was being nice to him.
Ryvr going to town on splitting firewood
We relaxed around the fire or down by the beach for the rest of the day. Finally, as the afternoon was wearing on, I thought it might be time to get dinner started. One minute there were fourteen campers in various states comfortable relaxation around the site. I made a comment as to whether anyone wanted to help get some wood for dinner and [everyone up jumped] and started lending a hand. From zero to sixty in two seconds flat. Not more than five minutes later we heard a large crash in the forest behind us and someone was calling for an axe. I grabbed mine and headed into the brush. Ryvr and Quiet had taken the firewood collection to heart and downed a lovely thirty foot dead standing hardwood that had to be 25 cm (ten inches) at the base. There was very little limbing to do and so they cut it into quarters, they placed one on my shoulder and I staggered back to camp. That was one solid piece of wood. Back at camp more wood was being pulled in and within an hour there was half a cord of wood neatly chopped and piled behind the fire pit, more than enough for several days. The campers who followed us would be very grateful.
Highboy and Iguana sweating the onions and bacon for the chowder
Soup was a simple chowder. Bubba took to peeling and dicing the potatoes, a task made easier this year because I remembered to bring the peeler this time. The onions and bacon were sweated down by Iguana who lent a hand as lead chef, and once these were done they were transferred to the big pot together with the clams and two Campbell's cream base and the diced potatoes. Simmering only took an hour and while that was happening, the trout fillets were floured and passed over to Ryvr for a professional frying. So dinner was an appetizer of fresh fried brook trout followed by some delicious New England Clam Chowder. Now for those of you who aren't familiar with the proper pronunciation it's "CHOW-DA!" Say it right! Judging by the empty pot, I'd say it was a hit. Funny thing though. As I was finishing preparing the pot I looked up and around at the group and fully two dozen sets of eyes were focused on the fire. I couldn't but help being reminded of a similar night long, long ago when as a boy scout I shone my flashlight into the trees around our camp and saw nothing but hundreds of tiny little eyes staring back at me. Now raccoons were replaced by quiet hangers, but the hungry look was still there! A little unnerving but definitely funny. The fire was built up and while some people sat around the fire chatting, others would wander down to the lake and enjoy the stars. We talked and shared some of the finer spirits as I enjoying my favorite A'Bunadh single malt. I even went so far as to light some ablaze, the blue flames dancing delicately around the metal rim. It was a nice way to wind up a good trip.
Morning dawned and unfortunately it was time to break camp. Some were up early and had managed to be fully packed before others had even woken up. Ryvr, always the early-bird, paddled over to the other site to make sure that those late sleepers were up and packing. We agreed that we all wanted to leave at roughly the same time and we knew that left to their own devices, it could be well into the afternoon before some of them woke up over there.
Ryvr, Dant8ro and Cruiser, Jiblets and Bubba had all left early. Jiblets would be waiting for me but the others had a long drive ahead of them and wanted to get an early start. The rest of group had our canoes lined up along the shore, but it wasn't until Chenvre and Kasuko started loading their canoe that everyone pushed off shore. Quiet and I stayed back a while, finishing our coffee and chatting until finally, after taking in the scenery once last time we launched our canoes and followed everyone north. At the portage we once again met Kasuko and Chenvre, but this time it was Chenvre who offered to carry the now much lighter food pack. After a short snack at the end of the portage we bent our paddles and continued north into Rock Lake where we turned aside to show them the pictographs. I was impressed with Kasuko. Just a couple of years earlier he ventured out on his first canoe trip ever on our second EGL canoe hang. It was his first experience at canoeing or even camping in Algonquin, the complete novice. Fast forward a couple of years and there he was, paddling strongly in the bow of Chenvre's canoe. Makes an old man proud it does.
Quiet paddling out
We paddled the last leg of the trip to the north end of Rock Lake and entered the narrow channel again. Paddling around a few bends we finally saw the access point, the docks already crowded with other canoes coming and going. We loaded the vehicles, secured the canoes to the roofs and drove away leaving nothing but a dusty trail behind us and many good memories. Another fine trip done.
One of the fine traditions we have is to end our trips with a visit to a local restaurant and have a farewell lunch. One of our favorite haunts is the Portage Store on Canoe Lake. With a bustling outfitter below and a well-stocked gift shop behind, the Portage Store Restaurant overlooks the southern bay of Canoe Lake, by far the busiest access point in the park. On such a busy weekend we were very lucky to get the best table in the house, in the far corner of the restaurant overlooking the docks. Ring-side seats for the best show in town. It's too bad the other guys couldn't join us. Bubba does love this spot but he, Ryvr, Dant8ro and Cruiser were already on the long road home. Beneath us a steady stream of day trippers were out to get a taste of the beauty of Algonquin in the fall. Portage store staff were busy carrying canoes to and from the dock as people awkwardly put on or removed off life jackets. With amusement we watch the antics below; one woman so eager to get off the canoe that she did a long legged yoga stretch onto the dock, reaching out with one foot until she was able to drag the canoe around and hop out. Low points on style but she definitely stuck the dismount. Another couple were sitting face to face in the canoe jerking their way away from the docks. One pretty lady stood with life jacket on and paddle in hand while wearing an ankle length dress. To our horror we watched as one lady came out onto the docks with an infant in a stroller. We let out a collective sigh of relief when she finally turned and walked back to shore. But winner of the prize in the most ludicrous category was a the "package" adjusting, hair tossing fellow in green pants who spent a good twenty minutes strutting back and forth as his adoring girlfriend videoed him. Most impressive was that he actually managed to change his outfit sometime during the shoot. Runner-up went to his stocky brother who was copying his brother stride for stride. If only they had looked up, they would have seen eight pairs of eyes crying with laughter. But in the end, even with the show, it was nice seeing people from every walk of life and corner of the globe taking the time to appreciate something we've enjoyed for years.
Backcountry paddlers stepping carefully around swarms of carefree day trippers. Those heading into the backcountry would scamper excitedly around their canoes with their freshly scrubbed clothes, gear and faces, checking to make sure each pack was carefully in their canoe. Those returning would glide heavily to the wooden docks, their movements a little stiffer, their gear a little rougher. Cups and shoes dangle from straps of their packs and beards have replaced clean-shaven faces. When they pass each other sometimes there's a good natured nod or a few words of encouragement. Sometimes it's just the thousand yard stare. But in the end, we're all in the same great fraternity. From fledgling paddler to grizzled tripper; we're canoers and we're proud of it.
Left front to back: Kasuko, Quiet, Entropy, Ggreaves
Right front to back: Old Boot, Jiblets, Iguana, Chard
Missing: Bubba, Chenvre, Dant8ro, Ryvr, Cruiser, Highboy
Chard and Lipstick