A bit of paddling, a bit of portaging and a bottle of Ardbeg
I recently spent 4 spectacular days in Algonquin Provincial Park (about 4 hours north of Toronto).
It was somehow my first venture into the park in all the years I’ve lived in Toronto and it was well overdue! The park is beyond amazing and the lakes we chose were perfect, still and felt like they belonged to us!
Throughout the entire trip I couldn’t get over just how pristine the park was. How pure. How gorgeous. I’ve always adored camping and my nature love has only magnified with the time I’ve spent living the big city life.
I left the planing of the trip to Dave and he outdid himself, putting together the perfect combination of paddling and portaging that allowed us to explore a different lake each day, enjoy a new spectacular campsites each night and still have some time to relax and bask in our surroundings. Well done Dave!
The trip officially started Thursday night with the long drive up to the park and an overnight stay in one of the drive up campsites but the real adventure started the next day. Combined, Dave and I had most of the gear we needed but we were missing once very important item – the canoe. So Opeongo Outfitter’s hooked us up with a very nice, lightweight Kevlar option. They also gave us a lift up Opeongo Lake (which is the largest lake in Algonquin and probably would have taken us 2 days to canoe the length of) via water taxi. This was a bit of an expensive indulgence ($90 each way!) but allowed us to sneak off almost immediately from civilization and into the back-country and the flawless lakes on offer there.
The sneaking off did involve an 1800 m portage and the flawless lake waiting for us at the end of it was called Redrock .
Eighteen Hundred Metres – No big deal right?
Ha! Laden down with 4 days worth of food and over a litre of water each it was sweaty, hard work in 30 degree heat. The air was thick with mosquitoes and the ground wasn’t exactly flat but we eventually made it and were immediately rewarded for our efforts by our first glimpse of the mirror calm water that would be our playground for the day (as well as our first whisky shot of the trip). At first glance, we didn’t see any other paddlers out on the lake and soon discovered that the lake was completely deserted. We literally had the entire place to ourselves! Our own private lake. It was pretty magical.
So, we made camp on a little island and then I did the only rational thing I could do: I tore off my clothes and dove into the dazzling depths. The world was my oyster and I was going to enjoy everything it gave me! It was pretty liberating to be able to climb out of the water buck naked in broad daylight and stand looking out into the captivating wilderness, not a care in the world and with no thoughts of modesty.
And then it was time to dig into the scotch.
The next day was our big day with 3 lakes and 2 portages to overcome before we found home. Dave set an 8 am alarm so we could be up early and exploring. I woke up before it and dozed lazily for a while feeling happy that it was still so early and very content in my cozy tent cocoon (their is something so safe/comforting about a tent). Eventually, Dave woke up too so I asked what time it was and it was already 9:30 am! Well, so much for that!
Luckily, we weren’t in a rush so it was all good. We had an leisurely breakfast of instant oatmeal and tea before breaking camp and setting off to look for the first portage of the day – 1300 m into Happy Isle.
The portage opened up into a beautiful sandy put in. Feeling emboldened by the fact that we hadn’t seen a single soul for over 24 hours we went for another quick skinny dip before having our celebratory “we did the portage” mouthful of Ardbeg and continuing up the lake. Within minutes of paddling I spotted an inhabited campsite. After that we noticed people all over the place (apparently Happy Isle is a much more happening place than Redrock)! Good thing I hadn’t be aware of this just a few minutes earlier when I’d been frolicking in the nude!
The last portage of the day was a short 300 m walk that brought us to Merchant Lake. After the 2 prior portages this one was a breeze and took less than 10 minutes!
Merchant Lake was another beauty. We paddled all along the left hand side of the lake passing a few empty sites. Dave had wanted to stay at the site that was the furthest away. I preferred one of the 2 sites a bit closer (at this point I was getting tired and my shoulders were aching). It became apparent from a long way off that the first prospective option was already occupied. Things were looking good for the next one until we were only a few minutes away and then Dave spotted a canoe in the bushes. Well, it looked like we were heading across the lake to the farthest site possible after all! The silver lining was that this site appeared to have a beach (which wasn’t common). Catching sight of this definitely caused my spirits to soar.
As we crossed the length of the water we both had our fingers crossed that we wouldn’t be forced to canoe all the way back to the first empty site we’d passed. As we neared the shoreline the site appeared abandoned. Despite this, I couldn’t shake the fear that a person would pop into view at any moment and ruin everything! In the end though it was empty and it was a really a stroke of luck that we’d been forced to venture so far; the site was an incredible place to stay for the night.
The next day we set out to find a waterfall Dave had seen on his map that was towards the portage we’d come in on. The waterfall ended up being just a trickle (we’ve had almost no rain all summer). After that bust we finished the lap of the lake we’d started the previous day and portaged back into Happy Isle for our final night.
Our campsite was on an island in the middle of the lake and was unique from the rest as it was up on a big hill. The view from the top was breathtaking and gave us the ideal vantage point for star gazing. But the space didn’t offer much in the way of wood (at least not without the saw we opted not to bring!) so we got into our canoe and went foraging for driftwood along the shoreline. We didn’t have to go far before we hit the motherload and filled our canoe up so completely there was barely any room for us! Our campfire was impressive that night and later we even saw some shooting stars! Not a bad way to spend our last night!
Come the following morning I was not ready to say goodbye but we had a water taxi booked for 10:30 AM and we were still about 30 minute paddle and a 2k portage away from the pick up, so it was time to get going! By this point we were old portage pros and we smashed it out in less than 30 minute (it helped that our bags were significantly more manageable now that we’d gobbled up all our food). Our incredible speed was actually a really good thing too because, of course, we under estimated the time it would take to break camp (to be fair, we weren’t exactly rushing) and we ended up making it to the dock to meet our taxi at exactly 10:29 – Nailed it.
Thank you for reading!
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