Feed the Flies!

Another EGL trip to Algonquin. Despite voracious mosquitoes and blackflies and incessant headwinds, it was a glorious weekend; perfect weather and great company, excellent food; you can't ask for much more.

From the onset, it was going to be a laid back weekend. Instead of the usual early morning dash to get on the water as early as possible, Bubba, Iguana, Jiblets, Keg, Quiet, and I agreed to meet up at the Family Place restaurant in Huntsville for a nice, late morning breakfast before picking up our rental canoes from Algonquin Outfitters at 10 am. We'd be renting three canoes, a tandem for Keg and Bubba, a 15' Keewaydin solo for Jiblets and a 16' solo Shearwater for myself. On a lark, Jiblets and I also took a pair of double bladed kayak paddles. It turned out to be one of the best decisions we made all weekend. With Iguana and Quiet paddling their own canoes, we'd have a small flotilla of five canoes heading into the park.

It was around 11am when we pulled into the Algonquin Park Ranger Station at Kearney on Algonquin's western border to pick up our permits, and close to 12 when we finally pulled into the Magnetewan Lake Access Point's parking lot. Our canoes were in the water shortly afterwards.

Our route wasn't too arduous; we'd be paddling roughly 10 km / 6 miles over four lakes joined by three easy portages totalling a little over 800m / 1/2 miles; literally a walk in the park. On our way out we were hoping to run across 8008r and Toots who were also planning on being in the park that weekend, but it wasn’t until we got back that we learned that they had changed their plans and camped in a totally different section of the park. Too bad, it would have been nice to see them again.

From the docks at the access point, it's two short paddles and two short portages to Ralph Bice Lake, by far the largest lake of the trip. Just beyond the portage I looked down into the water and saw half a dozen nice sized lake trout just milling about the bottom. I was tempted to break out my fishing rod, but couldn’t be bothered. At least it was an encouraging sign! A little way ahead I saw some paddlers rafted together consulting their maps. Although the two in the canoe were fairly non-descript, it was the paddle boarder that caught my attention. This soon after ice-out, the water is cold, especially on large lakes like Ralph Bice and I couldn't imagine this chap not capsizing at least once crossed the lake. With all of his gear lashed to the top of his paddleboard, I didn't know how he'd planned on righting himself if he did flip. Just a few weeks earlier, two souls were lost on Opeongo, the largest of the park's lakes. Some people just don't think things through too carefully.

We pushed our way east along the south shore into moderate headwinds. At about the halfway mark we stopped for a short lunch in the lee of a lovely little peninsula campsite that jutted into the main lake. With sandy beaches and a fantastic view, it was definitely a site to return to with the kids.

By the time we reached the eastern end of Ralph Bice, I'm sure we were all glad to see the portage ahead. It had been a long paddle. Jiblets managed to put his fishing rod to good effect and hauled in a respectable lake trout. First of the trip!

After the last portage of the day, we pushed off into Little Trout. Back in Huntsville, one of the sales staff at Algonquin Outfitters gave us some good advice about the lake and had recommended the lone campsite on the north island just out from the portage. I had camped on the lake several times before, and knew the site; some college kids had camped there during our fall hang of 2012. It was a good choice as it featured a large rock shelf facing west, and what we soon discovered was a really nice log seating arrangement, complete with table and backrests.

Photo Courtesy of Iguana

It wasn't long before hammocks were up and camp was squared away. Firewood was collected and processed and soon afterwards dinner was being prepared; grilled lamb, sausages and dehydrated meals including some exotic sounding Kung Fu Chicken. The main feature of dinner, of course, was Jiblet's steamed lake trout with rice. Wrapped in parchment paper and foil and placed on the grate, it was simple and delicious. One of the best new toys was Quiet's new 180 Tack folding wood firebox/stove. It's simple design and wide fuel access made maintaining a respectable fire look easy. Definitely a solid piece of gear. We had all had a long day, Bubba had been up since 3am that morning, so all we could think of was crawling into our hammocks and passing out.

Photo Courtesy of Iguana

Saturday started beautifully, with the sun shining hot under a cloudless sky. After a lazy start Jiblets, Iguana, Quiet and I took our canoes and went for a paddle, Jiblets and myself to fish, Quiet to explore and take photographs and Iguana to just relax and paddle quietly about. There were a few other paddlers on the lake, a young couple over here, someone fishing over there and a few people just passing through. I didn't really expect to catch anything, calm water at midday under bright skies has never been very productive in the past, so it wasn't much of a surprise that we came back empty handed. Keg had found a nice shady spot high on the rock outcropping and had taken advantage of the quiet time to get some reading done. All in all it was a nice relaxing afternoon. Just what the doctor ordered.

One unusual thing happened. As Iguana was out scouring the island for firewood, he stumbled upon a little sealed PVC tube with writing on the side. Apparantly a family had placed a "time capsule" here on the island with the intention of coming back in 2010 to check on it. After bringing it to camp for inspection we did put it carefully back. Hopefully future campers will treat it with equal respect and that family will have that momento to look forward to finding again and again for decades to come.

Photo Courtesy of Iguana

After a late lunch, a swim and some more quality time lounging around camp it was time to start thinking about dinner. New England clam chowder was on the menu and some fresh lake trout would have been a welcome addition. I pushed my canoe back into the water to try my luck at the western end of the lake behind our little island. I managed to fool one healthy little brook trout with small gold and orange spoon, but lost it at the canoe. That wasn't going to be the last time I regretted my decision to lighten my load by leaving my net at home. I eventually returned emptyhanded back to camp.

Photo Courtesy of Iguana

Our final dinner Saturday night came together in classic EGL tradition. Preparation was a group effort, but thanks definitely go out to Bubba for chopping and dicing the onions, celery and potatoes. Personally I think he just relishes the knifework. It took some time to bring the large pot of chowder to a slow boil, but I wanted to avoid scorching the bottom of the thin stainless steel pot. Eventuallly dinner was served with a toasted whole grain baguette. The soup was awesome! The white wine, sausage and bacon made all the difference.

Photo Courtesy of Iguana

We finished the night lounging around the fire. Iguana and I managed to catch the setting of the thin waxing moon on the west horizon and a couple of us went out to enjoy the stars and discuss the meaning of life and the universe, you know, the normal things, before turning in.

Sunday morning started early. We were packed and on the water at a little after 9am. Checking the ripples on the water moving from west to east, it was obvious that the wind had changed direction overnight and that we'd have to battle headwinds on the way out. Pushing out into Ralph Bice after our first portage, the winds became more fierce. I broke out my kayak paddle, threw out my fishing line and paddled west. Up ahead I could see Iguana, paddling his tandem Grumman solo out of the bay and onto the main lake. He was all but stopped in his tracks as he came out of the sheltered bay and faced the powerful headwinds coming off of the main lake. I've got to give him credit, he just bent to the task and slowly disappeared around the bend.

I had a notion of trolling along the north shore of Ralph Bice, so Jiblets and I broke from the main group struck out on our own. At least I think Jiblets came along, I was so busy looking forward that I never saw him. The north shore was a little out of the way, but with our kayak paddles, I wasn't too worried. Always a purist, I normally scorned kayak paddles in favour of the traditional canoe paddle, but I have to admit I was very impressed with how effective they were in making light work of paddling a well trimmed canoe into the wind. Crossing to the north side in strong winds and moderately heavy seas didn't worry me too much; the Swift Shearwater handled the conditions very well, but it was the large line of reefs that loomed up out of the depths to just below the surface that got me concerned. I didn't relish the idea of running aground or trying to work free a snagged lure as my canoe turned broadside to the wind and bounced around on those dark, cold swells. Up ahead the large rock I noticed on the way in now had waves breaking against it, but it wasn't until I got closer that I saw that it was surrounded by smaller waves breaking on rocks just below the surface. On a placid day, it would be fun to explore the area, in this weather it would be folly. I turned to cross the lake back to the southern shore.

Far ahead Keg and Bubba pulled in for lunch at the same campsite we had stopped at on the way in. Soon they were joined by Iguana who had just powered his way up the lake. I was next to land, followed by Jiblets and finally Quiet bringing up the rear. After a breather and a group photo, we hit the water again for our last push home. I threw out my line with the intention of trolling up the shoreline to our next portage. It wasn't long however before I felt a solid hit on my line. After a short fight I landed first one laker, then another and then another, each larger than the last. Each time I'd be blown back down the lake, bobbing up and down on the swell, so by the time I finally reached the portage, the rest of the gang had already gone on ahead. Only Jiblets was in sight and soon even he disappeared down the trail just as I was pulling up.

Another lake and other portage and we had our last short lake in sight. A very short paddle later and the sand was grinding under my canoe as I pulled in beside the Access Point docks. Everyone had already taken their gear up to the car park and were in various stages of getting ready to depart. I filled a large dry bag with lake water and put the fish inside, we'd get some ice on the way out.

Bubba, Keg, Iguana and Quiet finished loading up their gear and started off a little ahead of Jiblets and myself. We agreed to rendezvous in Huntsville to return the canoes and then grab a quick lunch at Harveys. Jiblets and I secured our canoes to his rock solid homemade roof rack, went for a quick swim and then pulled out of the parking lot leaving Algonquin behind. Another great trip was over.