Thursday, July 20, 2017

Trip Log: Frost Centre: Margaret Lake to Three Island Lake, July 4-5, 2017 (aka The First Hellish Portage We Experienced)

I'm going to get blamed for this trip for years to come, I can tell.  We started out planning to put in at Canoe Lake in Algonquin and go into either Teepee Lake or Little Doe Lake for two nights, but then I got to thinking about how the first portage out of Canoe Lake is so busy.  Biscuit with a lot of strangers?  Hmmm maybe not such a good idea.  So I studied the maps and decided that we could put in at Magnetawan Access and portage in for a few nights on Ralph Bice Lake.  It looked nice, it had good number of available sites still, and I'd seen pictures of some of the sites and they looked like they had actual sand beaches.

I waffled back and forth between doing two nights on one lake or the first on Ralph Bice, then a second night on Little Trout Lake, but in the end, decided to just relax for the day.  When I went to book it, on the day before we intended to go, I was greeted with an error message saying the reservation didn't meet the required window?  I was confused, but a little digging into the regulations revealed that Algonquin's interior requires you book by 9pm two days before your intended arrival.  I'd had no idea!

So I had to regroup again.  We had thought we would go to the Frost Centre on the way back and do an easy night on a little lake, so Chris suggested we just flip it.  Do a night at the Frost centre, then head up to Magnetawan Access.  I went back to the maps, now actually kind of excited because doing it this way meant we were already part way up to the Algonquin Access which should give us a head start for getting to a good site.  Since we would book a Frost Centre site, based on a specific site rather than a lake, there was less rush to get out the door (which turned out to be a good thing, since we were still not fully packed, despite having the whole previous day to find and prepare things.)

I had picked out a few sites that were easy to get to.  No big lakes to cross, no long portages. I had originally thought about a couple of the sites right on St. Nora Lake, but Chris vetoed those, saying he wanted to get at least off the access lake.

The kids tent at Three Island Lake, Frost Centre
I showed him pictures and he really liked the little island site on Three Island Lake.  I warned him the portage was a bit longer than what we had done, but he said he'd be fine.  Since we were taking two canoes, he'd be portaging both while the plan was for me to take both the big packs, while the kids took their packs.

We didn't get much of an early start, but the paddle across Margaret Lake was quick and we pulled up to the portage ready to go.

The first issue was the mud.  After a short but easy climb we got to a section of the trail where the mud was thick, deep and swarming with mosquitoes.  We managed to bushwhack around without much trouble but the bugs followed us along the trail.  After another minute or two, we reached a logging road.  It was at this point that Chris set down the one canoe, in a clearing just off the road and went back to get the yellow pack.  (We quickly realized I couldn't even lift the bigger of our two packs...some rethinking on how we distribute items will have to be done.) Also, we met up with two men who were coming out of Three Island, and Chris wanted to make sure we hadn't blocked off the put in for them.

Shortly after we crossed the road, we came to a stand still.  With mosquitoes and black flies (and deer flies probably) like a cloud around us, the kids and I stared at a whole lot of recently downed trees.  So recent, in fact, the leaves hadn't even started to wilt.   The whole area looked like a tornado had gone through in the past, but there were a lot of really recent, really big trees blocking the trail.  We dropped our packs and scouted around for a sign of where others had went.  Finally, we scooted around a wall made by a trees roots, ducked under a fallen tree, and then climbed over a few...and we were home free...except then the trail went through more mud, a lot of raspberry bushes and a nice big patch of ferns, all of which were havens for even more mosquitoes.  As the lake came into view, the underbrush thinned out and we got a bit of breeze to keep them away but that only thinned them out a little.  Chris came back a minute later with the pack, then headed back for the canoe he'd brought part way in.  We ended up launching it with the kids gear and letting them paddle out onto the lake so they were at least out of the bugs while Chris and I went back for the last items (the second canoe and the food bag)
Biscuit contemplating a swim to escape the bugs

Chris was dripping sweat and blood by the time we got everything into the canoes on Three Island.  He was also cursing a bit.  Nobody was happy, knowing we would be enduring that portage again the next day.  Even the sight of the cute little island site we would be camping on, didn't cheered us up.

Chris and Squatch went for a swim.  Bubbie was going to but then we spotted a leech, so she changed her mind.  I got started on supper.  On a previous trip I had taken a box of Beef Taco hamburger helper and instead of adding hamburger, added peppers, beans, lentils and corn.  This time, I didn't even bother adding the seasoning packet since I'd dried a can of Chili spiced diced tomatoes.  I did add a few tablespoons of nutritional yeast to give it a cheesy texture, but don't tell them!  So basically I bought a box of Hamburger Helper...just for the pasta...might have to rethink that one for future trips...anyway the meal was really good...though there wasn't quite enough since I sort of spilled a little bit on the ground.

Early morning on Three Island Lake
When we arrived at the site, Chris was surprised to see a stack of firewood sitting beside the fire pit.  We got a fire going to help drive off the bugs, though they weren't as bad in the middle of the lake.  Since we hadn't gotten a very early start, the sun was getting low, and once it sank behind the trees, the bugs came out more aggressively, so we doused the fire and settled into bed.  None of us were looking forward to the next day.

I woke early.  I'm not sure what time exactly, but Biscuit figured it was time to get up, so I crawled out of the tent with him, taking along the cameras.  The lake was glass and there was a little bit of wispy fog dancing along it's surface.  I love mornings like this, and it kind of bums be out that everyone else sleeps through this beautiful time of day.  I'm pretty much always alone, waiting for everyone else to pop their heads out of the tents.

I watched a few loons circle the island, and a few birds flit around the trees above me.  It was relaxing, and yet  I was anxious too.  I knew once everyone else got up, we'd be heading back to that portage, and it was already getting hot.

This is the third island, where a campsite used to be
We opted not to make breakfast, though the option of granola bars was there for everyone.  Since we were heading to the Magnetawan Access in Algonquin for two nights, I wanted to get an early start and I knew if we waited until I made breakfast and cleaned up, we would be very late getting there.

So we packed up and headed back onto the water.  The trip back was just as miserable as the trip in had been.  Poor Chris had to make three trips, I made two.  After the first trip, I loaded the kids and a few of the packs into the canoe and told them to paddle out a bit like they had on the way in.  This kept them out of the bugs but it also left them sitting in the hot sun.  Chris had thought it would be a good idea to put one of the rain coats on, since the sleeves are elastic, and bugs wouldn't be crawling up his arms.  It worked, but by the time he got back with his third load, he was sweating so much it literally looked like he'd just poured a bottle of water down his shirt.  It was kind of scary and I was a bit worried about him.   We loaded up quickly and headed for the car where there were two bottles of sports drink (which were miraculously cold...)

We all agreed the site was cool but we wouldn't be coming back again until the portage was cleared and the bugs had died off.

The following week, Chris and I were driving back from Dorset and noticed a great deal of fresh blowdown in the area just north of Margaret Lake.  My parents had told us that a few days after this trip, they got a really bad storm, so we weren't sure when these trees feel, in the same storm that knocked trees across the portage, or the storm a few days later.  Either way, the area got hit pretty good with wind lately, so hopefully the people responsible for maintaining the routes will be out clearing the trails soon.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Trip Log: Algonquin Provincial Park, Mew Lake, March 13-14, 2017

I hate admitting to have given up.  For a while, I considered writing this trip log as if we had stayed the second night, but I hate the thought of lying even more, so here it is, we wussed out and headed home a day early.

There were multiple reasons for this, but I'll get to that later in the trip report.

We arrived at the West Gate at 4:30pm, half an hour after they closed.  I knew they were closed but I suggested to Chris we stop in and see if there were further instructions posted for people with reservations arriving late.  As I was reading the sheet on getting self serve permits for people without reservations, the woman working the gate house saw me and let me in.  Bonus!  This meant we wouldn't have to drive back out and pick up the permit in the morning.

Not long after we arrived at Mew Lake.  I had promised everyone I hadn't picked a site that was right at the bathrooms, but when we got there, the site we had, was pretty much right across the road from the comfort station.  I swear, when I was booking it, it looked further down the road...  Anyway, the kids hid in the car while we got the electric fire place going, but everything in the Boler was cold because we had been getting temps of -21 for the past several days at home.  The cushions that make up the larger bed actually had ice under them and were frozen to the fibreglass.  It looks like this spring we are going to have to do a lot of work on the little camper, because water is clearly getting in somewhere.

We have two pieces of an old 2 inch thick foam mattress topper that Chris and I put on our bed to make it a bit bigger since I tend to fall off the outside edge a lot, especially with the dog.  Normally we can roll them up and stuff them in the compartments under our bed, but they were so frozen stiff (and a bit wet in a few spots) that they wouldn't roll, so we ended up having to store them in the car while the bed was set up as a table.  While we were setting up though, Chris put them on the roof of the car.  Yeah, we are the super classy campers...

Also the super unprepared campers.  I realized the morning we left that I must have donated my old winter coat or tossed it.  This left me with a not-warm-at-all pea coat, or a bush jacket.  I chose the bush jacket because it at least could close up higher on my chest.  So yeah, there we are surrounded by people in nice, warm parkas and I'm wearing a bush jacket I got on sale at Giant Tiger.

We got the kids into the trailer, but the fireplace was really struggling to warm the place up.  It was -21 according to the weather report posted in the laundry room.  Thankfully there was no wind, as the trailer is less than perfect when it comes to drafts.

While everyone else sat in the relative warmth of the Boler, I braved the cold and made dinner, sloppy joes and instant mashed potatoes.  Normally, we would butter and toast buns in a frying pan, but with only two burners, and it being so cold, I knew I couldn't toast enough for us all in one batch.  Since we wanted to all eat together, we settled on mashed potato.  The kids were't impressed with them though.  Also, we could have made the sloppy joes with toast.  Chris had the idea of bringing our toaster oven from home.   We figured if it worked out well enough, we'd buy a little one that was just for in the Boler.

After dinner was cleaned up, we started to play a game of Sequence when Squatch started to get a stomach ache.  I walked over to the comfort station with him and waited for him to finish.  We picked up the game again, and a few minutes later, again, he got bad stomach cramps.  So again, I walked him over and this time waited in the laundry room.  I'd be able to hear if anyone flushed and could pop my head out to see if it was him, but otherwise I'd stay warm.  While I was there, I saw the Environment Canada weather report and saw that the next day was supposed to be just as cold but very windy on top of it.  My stomach dropped.  When I'd booked the trip, a few days before we'd left, I had checked the weather.  At home. we'd been getting a lot of days of -20 and strong winds, but the reports for Algonquin looked a lot nicer, closer to -11 and sunny.  I had a feeling nobody was going to be happy the next day.

After the second bathroom trip, we got back and the game was packed up and Chris was setting up the beds.  This is such a chore, and involves a lot of shuffling, frustration and complaining.  Eventually we all got into bed and everyone read for a little bit, then we turned off the lights and called it a night.

Squatch woke up around 4 and got out of bed to check the time, he also told me he was very cold.  I realized he had a t-shirt on and no socks, even though I'd given him a nice dry wool pair after he was in bed so he wouldn't get them wet walking on the Boler floor.  After a brief argument, I got him to put his sweater into his sleeping bag for a minute, then to put it on.  The next morning both kids had said they were cold through the night.  This was the point I started thinking maybe we should head home early.  I knew if they'd been cold when there had been no wind, they'd be miserable with cold wind whipping in through the gaps around the door.

We made our bagels, which had frozen solid over night.  We had to run them through a toast cycle to thaw them enough to cut in half, then toast them  We also had a box of corn pops that we just handed around.  I made coffee and hot chocolate, but the wind was picking up a bit and kept blowing the stove out.  I admit to being a little depressed at this point.  It seemed like nobody was having fun, and we were likely to end up sitting in the trailer all day reading or playing on phones/ipads.  Luckily, Chris got everyone dressed and insisted we do a short hike to the water fall.

There were protests.  Neither of the kids wanted to go outside at all, but we talked them into it, and headed out to the start of the trail.  When we got to the garbage area, I saw some movement and we realized there was a pine martin in the tree.  We spent quite a while taking pictures and then another one showed up.  They chased each other around for a while then scampered off out of sight.

We made our way to the bridge along the backpacking trail, and stopped to photograph a gray jay who was curious about us.  Normally we just head back, but we decided to continue on along the backpacking trail for a little ways.  The kids started to complain a bit, but kept going.  After a few minutes, we came to the rail trail.  I tried to check the map on my phone and the battery, which had been full when we left, died almost instantly.  We ventured to the right for a little ways, then came back and went to the left.  When we went to the left, we came across a sign for the Bike trail with a map, and I realized we were close to the bridge that you would cross if you were taking the Old Railway Bike Trail.  We opted to cross there and head back over the airfield and back to camp.

We decided to head to the visitor centre for lunch, mostly just as a way to warm up.  On the way back to Mew Lake we stopped at the Spruce Bog Board Walk Trail to try feeding the birds.  Squatch wouldn't keep his gloves on, because no birds would land on them, and I was starting to get worried and irritated.  My hands were frozen with gloves on, so I knew his had to be even worse.  We weren't getting many birds anyway, so we headed back to the car and tried a bit more there.

I was trying to get everyone to get back into the car when I looked towards the trail and saw a fox just sitting there watching us.  My first thought was that it was kind of odd behaviour, so I ushered Squatch back down from the snowbank he was standing on.  The fox calmly walked around the car, came within 5 or 6 feet of us and began eating all the birdseed previous visitors had tossed around.

A little cold, but in good spirits, we headed back to the Boler and turned on the fireplace again.  Crackers were handed around and I headed back outside into the cold to make dinner.  I had planned to make a sort of tex mex thing over rice.  Basically it was canned beans, corn, green chilies and tomatoes thrown together into a pot.  Unfortunately, all the canned items were frozen solid.  I was able to scrape most of them out, but that meant that the corn and beans weren't drained and so I had to boil them longer so the meal wasn't all soupy.  With the temps now dropping, and the wind whipping through camp and blowing out the stove every little while, it seemed to take forever to get the food hot, let alone have it boil down a bit.

Eventually, we were all cozy in the trailer eating and I brought up the possibility of going home.  It was around this time that the stove stopped working.  Chris went out and checked the plug and it turned out the switch on the electrical hub had kicked off.  Not a big deal but in the middle of the night?

Nobody argued against going home, but my big concern was that Chris would make fun of me the whole time.  It was about 7pm and already we were cold, even with the fireplace pumping out heat.  So we called it, did a quick lock down of the stray gear, and got back into the car to head home.

All in all, I don't regret going, nor do I regret leaving early.  The trip proved to be a valuable learning experience for us.  We now know that the Boler needs a bit of work done before we can comfortably camp in very cold weather.   But we saw lots of wildlife, and had a good time.  We were able to leave on a good note rather than in the morning when everyone had spent a miserable night, which would have left us all with a negative impression of the trip.  Now, when we look back we will remember that, yes it was really cold, but we saw two pine martin, a fox and had a great time.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Trip Log: Algonquin Provincial Park: Cache Lake to Little Island Lake, August 24-25, 2016

I have to ask, are there any other campers out there who are as bad at planning a trip as us?  The morning of this trip, we had packed up our Boler from 2 nights at Oastler Lake Provincial Park, and then taken the kids to my parents house.  The plan (if you can call it that) was for Chris and I to head out for one or two nights of canoe camping.

Now, the problem with not planning ahead for a canoe trip in the summer in Algonquin is that you end up with very few lakes that you can get to with a late start, that still have sites available.  At first we'd thought maybe we'd put in at Canoe Lake and head up to Little Doe, but when we got to my parents to recheck availability, Little Doe was booked up.

So we set out, having decided to skip Algonquin and head to the Frost Centre.  It would be a shorter drive, and we could pick a site and be assured we were getting something decent (or as sure as you can be from the pictures on the reservations website.)

The whole drive up, I was reevaluating, and as we pulled into the office for the Haliburton Water Trails, I suddenly decided I'd much rather go to Algonquin.  My reasons were mostly due to our planned destination in the Frost Centre, Nunikani Lake.  My Mum had paddled there in high school as part of the school's outer's club, and had loved it.  It had always been on my list of places to go, but with Biscuit being so nutty in the canoe, and knowing we'd have to cross Big Hawk Lake, which was a pretty big lake but also well populated with cottages, the idea of struggling on a long paddle, on a windy day...with didn't appeal to me at all.  We were already getting a late start, and forecast of rain, I think we made the right call.

So we settled on Little Island Lake, via Cache Lake.  We set out under gloomy skies, at about 5pm.

The paddle in was nice.  There was a bit of wind but nothing we couldn't handle.  I take the brunt of Biscuit's enthusiasm as he likes to put his front paws up on my seat and peer over my shoulder.  When the wind is in his face, it's like he's going for a ride in a really slow car.  Of course this hinders my paddling a bit, and when he bites at the water I end up with a soaked back, but we haven't been able to get him to just sit calmly in the canoe.  For a while, we thought if we took him out enough he'd get more calm but after 3 years of car rides, he still goes crazy every time, so I'm not holding out hope things will change on their own in the canoe either.

Paddling past the island campsite on Tanamakoon, we saw a father and three young girls fishing.  All the other sites on this end of the lake looked to be taken, but we were headed further in, and so kept on, past Camp Tanamakoon, through the narrows and around the corner to our first portage.  It was a short one, only 120m, and had a nice sandy landing with only a few rocks to watch out for.  There was a short hill then the rest of the trail was level.  Chris carried the canoe while I carried the lighter pack and all the loose items (paddles, camera stuff, solar panel) then he came back for the bigger pack.  I admit I felt bad about that.  The plan was for him to carry the canoe and the light pack while I carried the big one so we wouldn't have to do multiple trips.  I'll have to get into better shape over the winter, because I could barely lift the big pack out of the canoe!

At the end of the trail, Chris got a little concerned.  "This is the lake?"  I forget sometimes that he doesn't spend as much time looking over maps as I do.  Not only that, he was driving and listening to me rattle off possibilities and so it would be easy for him to jumble up all the "portage into this lake" stuff I was saying.

At the portage - Sheriff Pond to Little Island Lake
After I assured him that Sheriff Pond wasn't our destination for the night, we loaded up and headed out for the very short crossing.  The next portage was directly across the pond, and it was easy to find given the trail cut through lily pads.  Unfortunately the take out was not fun.  First you paddle around a fallen log, presenting you with two possible places to put the canoe, separated by another fallen log.  Both are riddled with rocks, and surrounded by black, stinky mud.  Biscuit tried to hop onto the log and ended up getting muddy right away.  As Chris and I were trying to figure out the best way to get to dry land without sinking to our knees in muck, Biscuit kept hopping in and out of the canoe and got absolutely everything we owned streaked with black.

Chris finally got him to shore and tied him to a tree, so we could unload the canoe.

The trail wasn't tougher than the first portage.  It wasn't bad, but it starts with a fairly steep hill, then keeps going at a lower grade.  For someone who isn't in great shape, it involved a fair few stops to catch my breath, where as Chris just powered through it without so much as a gasp.

Little Island Lake has two options for putting your canoe back in the water.  When the trail branches, if you go straight, you'll come to the official put in (where the sign is.)  This is a nice sandy beach, but there are several big rocks to watch for.  The unofficial put in, takes the short trail to the left and has a sandy area next to an old log jam.  The climb down is a little big steeper, but there are no rocks to contend with.

Being at our destination lake, with the sun quickly setting and the skies looking like they might open up at any minute, we were pretty eager to make camp.  The mainland site was taken, so we paddled around the island, knowing there should be at least 2 sites available.  From the put in we went to the right, and the first island site we came to was available but involved climbing up an incredibly steep hill.  I wouldn't even call it a hill, it was an almost perfectly vertical climb up a pine needle covered dirt wall.  We couldn't see the site itself very well, though it looked like there was a decent clearing.  We moved on, and saw that the next site looked nice, but was already taken.

The third site was empty, and we decided to take it.  It was a nice site, with a large open area and a few nice sheltered spots for the tent.  It even had a table which had seen better days.  If it had been better weather, we probably would have swam.  Chris did consider it but it was getting dark, and we had to get camp set up and start dinner.

We set up the tent beneath the cover of two big cedar trees.  Biscuit is getting better at not walking all over the tent as we try and set it up, but it still has a few muddy paw prints on it.  We were actually hoping it would rain a bit so we could see how well the new MEC Camper 4 holds up in bad weather.

Stew rehydrating
With darkness closing in, and not wanting to clean up in pitch black, I didn't let the food sit as long as it should have.  I'd made a stew with beans, butternut squash and corn, and it was still fine, but a few of the squash pieces were a little chewy.  I'll be honest though, I couldn't taste a darn thing.  As much as I really wanted to be canoe camping, there was a part of me that wished Chris had agreed to just set up at a campground for a night or two because I really felt like crap.  Summer colds are such a pain.

After cleaning up, Chris got a bear rope hung and secured our food and then scouted for wood  Surprisingly, for an island campsite, he was able to find a decent number of small branches on the ground and using 2 of my precious tissues as starter, we enjoyed a brief fire before turning in.

I didn't sleep much.  Part of this was because of my cold.  By the time we went to bed, I was down to 3 tissues and I was trying to conserve them.  The toilet paper we'd brought had been a small, partial roll, so it wouldn't last long either, and I didn't want to use it up incase we needed it for it's normal purpose.  So between not being able to breath, and listening for night life, I mostly tossed and turned all night.  On the plus side, Biscuit was refreshingly calm.  Usually he paces and sucks on our sleeping bags until they are a slobbery mess, but he slept quite well on the bed of clothes Chris made for him, though at some point he got up and flopped across our feet.

It was a warm night.  I spent most of it on top of my sleeping bag, especially once I had a furry foot warmer.

By morning, we hadn't had the expected rain or storms.  Part of me was grateful we weren't packing up a wet tent, and part of me was a little sad we hadn't really put the it more fully to the test.

Chris got up and retrieved the food bag.  Poor Biscuit went with him and ended up stepping on a sand wasp nest.  He got stung a few times and ran right back to the tent where he licked his wounds.  I put on water for coffee and we ended up eating just apples and some fig bars rather than making up oatmeal.  It didn't take us long to break camp and head back out on the water.

As we rounded the island, we decided to check out the last island site and were surprised it was empty.  It didn't look bad, but we liked ours better.  We could see people at both parts of the portage, and decided to hold back and let them get on the water before we got too close.  One group looked to be day trippers in three canoes, possibly from the lodge on Cache Lake.  The other was a family with two canoes and 3 or 4 little girls.

Before we left, I had decided to use the day pack I'd brought along to carry all the little items, leaving us with a much easy portage.  During our packing, we had thought we'd do two nights and spend a day exploring, so I'd brought my new little MEC day pack.  I stowed the goPro and the solar panel in it and that made a huge difference.  Now we had three packs, the paddles and a Pelican case.  I was able to carry the two smaller packs and the camera, Chris carried the big pack and then went back for the canoe where he'd lashed the paddles.  Not only was it much easier not having my hands full of little items, it meant less to worry about losing at the start or end of a portage.  Now if only we could get the weight of the big pack down...

We also got smart about loading and unloading the boat.  At the muddy end of the trail at Sheriff Pond, Chris got the canoe in place, then I brought him the packs.  Since Biscuit follows Chris like a shadow, he stayed in the canoe and didn't once jump out.  This made the process so much less stressful and we were quickly on our way again.

We didn't run into anyone on the way out, and after a brief tour of the back part of Tanamakoon, we headed back to the car. Both of us were tired and starving, and Chris really wanted to swim so we went east and stopped at the Two River's Store for snacks and cold drinks (which weren't really cold at all) and then to the Two River's Picnic Area to swim.

All in all, a good, albeit brief trip.  We learned a few things and came up with some ideas for lightening our load a bit more.  We'd brought our cold weather sleeping bags, which aren't any bigger than our normal bags, but they are a bit heavier.  I just didn't want to risk being wet and cold all night again like on our trip to Tanamakoon, and since it was calling for rain...

We plan to make a smaller mess kit for when it's just the two of us as well.  Also, we took far too much food, again because we had originally thought we'd be going for two nights.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Trip Log: Oastler Lake Provincial Park - August 22-24, 2016

Sunday night before our vacation started, we still hadn't decided what we were going to do.  I wanted to do a longer back country trip, the kids suddenly decided they were afraid of canoe camping, and wanted to just relax in the Boler, and Chris seemed to have no opinion on the subject at all.

After scoping out all the possible trips we could do in Algonquin where we could stay on an access lake, or only one portage in, we quickly realized there weren't a lot of sites available that met those requirements, or the portage would be a long one, at which the kids again put their foot down.

Finally we decided to do two nights of Boler camping, then leave the kids to visit my parents, and Chris and I would do two nights of canoe camping...again, not having an actual destination in mind.  At about midnight, we decided to check out Oastler Lake Provincial Park, since there was one waterfront site available and it wasn't ridiculously far to drive (read previous trip logs to hear more about our misadventures towing the Boler over longer distances.)

Packing for two trips, with radically different needs was a bit of a struggle but we were out of the driveway by about 1:30pm, surprisingly in good spirits.  This whole last minute packing for a trip always makes me crabby but I managed to stay up beat this time.  We weren't in a big rush, we had a site booked, and we would be exploring a new park.  All good things.

There was a few minutes of concern as we went through Bala.  There is a place where you turn left and immediately go over some railroad tracks.  In the gap between the tracks, the road has sunk and the trailer hitch bottomed out and sounded like it might have been damaged.  Chris got out and checked it out and all was fine.  This, coincidently, is where the whole hitch ripped off the frame on one side on our aborted trip to Grundy Lake last year.  Once we made it past the little park by the police station, where we'd stopped before and realized the state of the hitch, we all relaxed a little bit.

table with a view: Oastler Lake Provincial Park
We arrived at the site just before dinner time.  Our first impression was that the site was very small and not very private, but what it lacked in those areas, it made up for in scenic views.  We parked the Boler just at the edge of a meter high cliff where a picnic table was perched.  Down the hill was our own little slice of waterfront, where we could launch a canoe or go swimming.  Unfortunately, the whole time we were there it was extremely windy, so we didn't even take the canoe off the roof of the car.

Dinner that night was veggie burgers and salad, which we ate on our table with a view.  The sunset wasn't spectacular, but the stars were bright and many.  After the kids went to bed, Chris and I went down and just enjoyed the peace...I saw a shooting star.

Unfortunately, peace at Oastler Lake is a fleeting thing.  While the campground was surprisingly quiet given how close together the sites were, the trains going by all day and night was anything but tranquil.  For Chris, who had lived for a few months in a town where trains went by that frequently, it was extremely annoying.  For me and the kids, it was kind of a novelty...that made it hard to get a good night's sleep.

Oastler lake has no hiking trails, and with the wind up, we didn't feel like canoeing so we pretty much just relaxed all the next day.  Chris took a nap, played ukulele, and the kids read and drew.  I woke up that morning with a doozy of a cold, so I was quite content to lay in a chair with my feet up and just do nothing.  That worked for a while, but we somehow are down to only two chairs...and guess who also really likes to sit in them and relax...

Can you tell who has pull in this family?
We did walk around the campground and checked out the park.  I took Squatch to the beach, then shortly after we got back, Chris took both kids down for a swim. We saw a water snake sunning itself on the rocks at our site.  I tried to take a picture but it got into the water and then kept poking it's head up at us before swimming away.  It was just one of those trips where you don't do anything...and it was awesome.  In fact, we were so lazy, we ended up driving into Parry Sound for dinner rather than cook.  Okay, part of the reason for this was that in our frenzy of packing, I didn't realized I'd brought pasta for both lunch and dinner.
water snake just off shore at our site

 We actually contemplated staying for another day, but in the end, Chris and I decided we did want to go canoe camping, and so the next morning, after coffee and bagels, we packed up and headed to my parents house to drop off the kids and the Boler.

Our feelings on this trip were a bit mixed.  The park itself was nice, though the sites were small and lacking in privacy.  The trains kept everyone from sleeping, but then again, so did Biscuit.  The comfort stations were great, and there really isn't anywhere that you aren't close to them (maybe the river side lots?)

Some of the river side lots were better for privacy, but calling the little creek a river was stretching it a bit.

I think, over all it was a good trip.  And I think I could convince Chris to go back again, provided he got some ear plugs.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Day Trip: High Falls Trail - Southern Algonquin Park, July 4, 2016

There's a lot of information out there on Algonquin's hiking trails, most of which covers the interpretive trails along the Highway 60 Corridore.  We've done a good chunk of those trails, but not many of the others...come to think of it, we hadn't done any of them before now.  Our trip to Achray a few years back had been too buggy for Mum who has bad reactions to all types of bug bites so we ended up not doing any trails.

My brother, Jeremy's visit had to include some kind of trip to Algonquin.  While he wasn't all that keen on camping, a day trip with good photography opportunities was okay.

The plan was to do the High Falls Trail, near the Kingscote Lake access because neither he, nor my parents had been there before.  The trail is fairly short (about 2km each way) and we hoped it wouldn't be very busy.  We packed a picnic and headed out.

Chris and I had taken the kids to Kingscote for a few nights of camping, so we knew generally where we were going, and finding the parking area for the trail head was pretty easy.  With several pounds of camera gear weighing us down, we got started.

High Falls in Southern Algonquin
The majority of the trail is very easy.  It's flat, not many rocks or roots to trip you up, and is pretty shady.  Once you get to where the trail approaches the river though, things change.  Watch your footing for sure.

There's lots of odd rock formations to photograph, as well as the falls.  Jeremy's new model of iPhone lets you do slow motion video, then set it as your lock screen.  When he holds his finger on the screen, it plays the video.  Mine doesn't do that, but it does let me take slow motion video.
High Falls itself is lovely but stopping to take pictures ended up being very buggy, so we didn't stay as long as we would have liked.  Once back at the cars, we headed to the Kingscote Lake access and had a picnic.  There were no other cars in the parking lot, and nobody at any of the walk in sites.  It being so close to Canada Day we had expected at least some people to be around.

After lunch, we stopped at the Pine Grove Point Campground for ice cream and cold drinks.  Just a nice relaxing day in Algonquin.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Trip Log: Six Mile Lake Provincial Park, August 12-14, 2015

I can't believe I didn't write up this trip log when we first got back!  This was a doozy, not because the actual trip was memorable, but because of the chaos that led to us going here rather than to Grundy Lake as we had planned.

As I recall now (a year later) we had planned to spend 3 nights at Grundy Lake.  We loaded up the boler and headed out.  Just past Bala, we noticed the Boler was bouncing a little more than usual so we pulled into a little park (right beside a police station) and Chris looked under the car.  The passenger side of the trailer hitch had snapped off of the frame.  There was no way we could continue like this, so we called my parents, and got them to meet us in Gravenhurst.  Chris tied the hitch to the frame with an extra tie down strap.  He was convinced it was good to go and we could keep going.

We made it to the Canadian Tire in Gravenhurst with no problems.  Mum and dad were going to lend us their tent.  We took the extra foam mattress that we put on our bed, then picked up a few pool floats that are full length for the kids to sleep on.  After an hour or so, Mum and Dad showed up, and we ended up having to pick up an adaptor or something so the trailer could be hooked up to the truck's electrical (I think his maybe wasn't long enough?)

And out we go, expecting to get there late but still planning to head to Grundy Lake.

At EXACTLY the same spot where we pulled over to check out the problem, the phone rang.  The Boler had blown a tire and Mum and Dad were stranded on the side of the road (between Bracebridge and Carnarvon...not exactly anywhere with help nearby.) so we turned back around, stopped in Gravenhurst again to pick up a spare tire as well as a pump incase the spare could be used...then we could take the new tire back.  I called Grundy Lake and cancelled the reservation (losing 90% of the fee I think)

We find them and begin the task of changing the tire.  We got the old spare from the back of the Boler on, and everyone is sure it's ok (except me, cause I can hear it hissing) and we head out, stopping 2 more times to put more air in the tire.  We ended up camping that night in the driveway at Mum and Dad's house.  The next morning, we headed to Six Mile Lake.  (BTW, the trip ended up costing us about $1000 between new tires (both tires were really bad and had to be replaced) a new trailer hitch, lost fees, and the fees for the two nights at Six Mile.  And that doesn't include gas and groceries.

It should also be noted that had we kept going with the hitch tied to the frame, the tire likely would have blown when we were on Highway 69 and going at much higher speeds than Dad would have been driving down a dark country road.

After all that, the two nights at Six Mile Lake seemed pretty tame.  We went out for a paddle on the lake, checked out some cool cottages and just relaxed.  There are a few nice beaches as Six Mile Lake.  At the day use area we saw a very large garter snake at the waters edge as we were landing the canoe.  We left it alone but there were two boys who were determined to catch it in a bucket and take it back to camp.  They managed to catch it, much to their parents horror, and were made to release it right away.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Trip Log: Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands Provincial Park: July 8-9, 2015

I'll admit, I was kind of dreading this trip.  The kids and Chris love the site we had before on Fishog Lake but the paddle across Head Lake can be a pain, and the portage is hard on the knees.  We were also terribly disorganized, it being our first canoe trip of the year, and I was already cranky before we left home after having so much trouble finding things.

Head Lake was calm and we made good time.  We didn't even get dive bombed by gulls.  We did, however, have an issue once we got onto the river.  Biscuit was surprisingly calm after the first few minutes, then all of a sudden Chris asks why the dog has a third testicle.  Before I could say what?  he yells that the dog has poop hanging from his butt that he's trying not to release.  Unfortunately, he couldn't quite hold it and ended up pooping a little in the canoe.  I could already tell it was going to be an interesting trip.

Just realized how this could look bad...
We didn't arrive on Fishog until probably 5pm, and saw quickly that the site across the lake from the one we wanted had a tent on it.  I also saw a canoe rounding the point and thought we were going to lose our site.  I was dreading dealing with the others being upset and getting blamed for it because it had taken so long to get ready.   The other canoe had moved on and our site was empty, much to everyone's relief.

As I was unloading the canoe, I heard a big splash and realized Chris had just jumped in the lake.  Squatch quickly followed.

Still kind of grumpy from earlier, I set about getting organized.  We were too late for the lunch I'd planned, we decided to snack and make dinner.   Bubbie and I went out in the canoe to pump water, and paddled to the next point where we saw a father and son setting up.  I  guessed that they were the canoe I saw rounding the point as we first arrived.

 I started cooking while Chris and Squatch set up the tent.  As I was cooking, I couldn't shake my bad mood.  I think it had to do with the fact we had another trip planned for right after we got back and then the kids would be at my parents for a week, while Chris and I stopped on the way home to do another canoe trip.  All I kept thinking about was all the stuff I had to get ready for the second trip, third trip and the kids stay, and Chris mentioning he'd rather work and us skip our night of camping alone.

I mentioned to Bubbie and she agreed us staying 2 nights here was going to mean a huge hassle and as we ate, spaghetti with Italian seasoned bannock, we talked Chris into cutting it to one night.  I felt a bit better after that.

As I was cleaning up, Chris went to hang the rope for the food barrel, and Squatch fished from shore.  He caught a good sized small mouth bass.  I didn't get a picture, unfortunately.  After that he kept snagging on rocks so Bubbie and I would have to go out and rescue his lure.  This happened about every 5 minutes so finally Chris took him and Bubbie and the dog out to fish in the canoe.  They didn't catch anything.

Biscuit doesn't like the water, but he loves the canoe. The kids kept throwing a tennis ball for him, just far enough into the water that he'd have to go to his belly to get it.  He managed it sometimes, but sometimes it went to far and he refused to get it.  But Bubbie took the canoe out once and he ran out to chest depth and jumped in with her.  At some point, Chris tried to toss Biscuit into water a little deeper than his chest and after that, if Chris went near the water, Biscuit hid under the little table where we were cooking.  He also tried to get under the tent fly like he had at Kingscote last year but the fly on the bigger tent wasn't really effective for him to use as cover.

Chris got a fire going, but there wasn't much wood around.  He found a few dead, fallen trees but they were punky and damp from all the rain we'd been getting.  The fire was just enough to roast  a few marshmallows then the bugs came out in swarms so we doused it and headed into the tent.  Squatch and I spent a while playing a game on my phone while we all listened to a loon, some bull frogs and a whipporwhil.

The mosquitoes buzzing around the outside of the tent was overwhelming, and I think we all felt a little trapped knowing if we went out we'd be attacked.  Biscuit wasn't happy at all, and paced most of the night.  After a while the buzzing faded and the night was very quiet.  The frogs, loon and whipporwil only made noise every little while, but there were no other night sounds, no crickets, no small animals rustling in the bushes.  It was a little unnerving.  I occasionally heard voices across the lake, but for the most part it reminded me of a horror movie where there's a terrifying monster and all the natural sounds of the forest stop because nature knows there is a dangerous predator near by.

As usual, the kids talked in their sleep and both managed to get themselves turned around in the tent.  At one point, Bubbie was sideways with her head near my butt.  I was just about to wake her up and get her back on her sleep pad when she nudged me then started punching my bum as hard as she could.  Between that and Squatch flopping around and smacking me with his arms, I didn't get much sleep.

Biscuit got me up shortly before sun rise so he could pee.  Then we all went back to sleep.  I finally got up around 9 and the kids and Chris soon followed.  Bubbie and I paddled out to pump some water and decided to go across the lake to see if there really was someone at the site there.  It had looked like the top of a tent was visible as we arrived the previous day but sometimes shadows can play tricks on you.  There was someone there, and from the other side of the point we could clearly see the tent, screen tent, canoe and a man sitting safe from the bugs drinking his morning coffee.

Sunset on Fishog Lake
We had oatmeal and coffee, cleaned up and went for a paddle to see the next lake in.  Biscuit again made a nuisance of himself, but settled down after a few minutes.  We crossed Fishog and went through a bit of marshy area before coming to the 40m portage into Round Lake.  The plan was to go to the campsite there and have a picnic lunch.  The site was dismal.  It was just a small clearing with a fire pit, I don't even know where you'd put a tent.  There were a half dozen or so fishing boats cached there, and a good pile of fish remains.  We sat at the dock, ate, checked out the waterfall, then headed back to pack up.
The kids enjoying the sunset

Chris started getting all the gear in the tent packed up while I made lunch.  I figured the more food we ate the lighter the barrel would be so the kids had Mr. Noodles with beef jerky and vegetables and I rehydrated some hummus to eat with crackers for Chris and I.  Somehow, the barrel ended up being just as full as it had been and just as heavy.

It was about 4:30 by the time we left and a bit of a breeze had picked up.  We pushed off from shore, hoping we wouldn't be dealing with a rough Head Lake.

Cottagers were out on Fishog, tubing and having a good time.  Its a nice area to have a cottage, the kind of area I'd want for a cottage.  Don't get me wrong, there are a lot more beautiful lakes but most of them are lined with cottage after cottage and the lakes can get noisy with all the boat traffic.  I'd much rather have a cottage on a quiet lake.

The paddle back across Head Lake was a little rough.  Not nearly as bad as last year's trip, but there were still some good sized waves to contend with.  We made it back in decent time and headed home to reorganize our gear for a car camping trip in Algonquin Park.