Bonnechere River Trip

Algonquin Park, May 10 to 15, 2005

Day 2

Wednesday May 11, 2005, 6pm
McAskill Lake, Algonquin Park

This is what Nigel called "an easy day." And, truth be told, compared to what we anticipate for the rest of this trip, it was an easy day. Quite possibly the reason why it doesn't feel that way is that I'm out of practice.

We got up incrementally, starting around 7am. At first I thought I'd mis-heard Nigel saying 8am was the wake up time for today, but he wasn't kidding. Of course most of us found it difficult to stay in bed that long.

After our self-serve breakfast, we were packed and on the road, heading toward the Shall Lake put-in at 9:30am.

We got to the Shall Lake/Farm Lake access point around 10am, but between unloading, getting a permit and all that we were heading toward 11am before looking lakeward. All of a sudden, the straps on not-naked John's pack broke. We contemplated options including giving up ("No") or going back to one of Madawaska, Whitney, Barry's Bay to find another pack (the sound of wrinkling noses). In the end we repurposed a canoe strap or two to build a basket of sorts to hold the straps in place.

We were on the water after 11am. Nigel said a few words, sprinkled some tobacco on the water so that the great spirit would not crush us like bugs or send us back to Ottawa, tails between our legs.

Note: when we went, there is no sign indicating the turnoff for the Shall Lake/Farm Lake access point. The road is called "Victoria Street."

And we were off into Farm Lake. It was around 12C, overcast and windy. We passed through Crotch Lake and met our first portage, a 1050 into Shirley Lake.

All today's portages have been quite hospitable. No fallen trees and easily located. There was some grousing about missing, damaged or obscured signs, but this, how shall I say it, seems rather trivial now.

This is an excellent time of year to be tripping. Portages are lined with leaves from fall. The canopy is significantly grey still, though spritzed with the bright green dust of trees coming back to life after a long winter's sleep.

And there are no bugs. Our winnebago hotelier said the black flies don't show up until around May 24. And with the ice gone in early May, Algonquin Park's canoe routes are open. Mind you, the water is dangerously cold, so the swimming will not be everyone's idea of fun. And you can expect temperatures near freezing at night.

From Shirley we went through Ryan Lake (515m), Big Red Lake (230m), Shrew Lake (545m) and then Dove Lake (2355m). We stopped for lunch around 1:45 half way along the portage. You can contemplate these things when there are no bugs.

We're on self serve lunch too, which also makes sense given the hurry-up and go nature of this trip. Everyone just pulls out their food, eats what they want, and we're good to go.

It seems canoe trip food has evolved into some universal truths: dried sausage (for carnivores), tortillas and other flatbreads, and powerbars. But people do eat some wierd shit. Naked John is on some wierd sort of powerbar and salami diet. Scott seems to have discovered carmel coated rice cakes. Nigel actually wraps his cheese in cheese cloth.

My own experiment of packing antipasto in ziplock bags is already going horribly horribly wrong. I had double-bagged sundried tomato, artichoke hearts, olives, pickled eggplant instead of putting them in Nalgene containers, to conserve space and weight. But already the oil is everywhere. And my hands are so greasy after arranging the contents of my sandwich, I can barely slice my cheese. Fortunately, it's no one's problem but my own, and if I hadn't mentionned it here, my tripmates would never have known.

After a 50m portage out of Dove Lake, we found ourselves on McKaskill, which, strangely, had people on it. Apparently a lot of fishing goes on this time of year.

We scraped our way north on McKaskill, into the wind described variously as a stiff breeze and a fearsome gale. On a normal canoe trip, I'd make more of the fact that it was a narsty wind, but again, given what was to come, a little wind is scarcely worth a mention.

We stopped by the McKaskill Lake cabin, which apparently you can hike 10km into and, for $10 a night have a bunk and a wood stove to keep you warm. We kept our sneers and effervescent sense of superiority to ourselves as we chatted with the cabin's occupants.

We've been sparring playfully all evening over what constitutes excess weight on this trip, which Nigel has designated a single pass, lightweight trip. Nigel was taking the piss out of Terry for bringing a thermarest chair, for example. Truth is, we all have our indulgences. And something that for me is essential (camera - 1154g) isn't necessary for others. Nigel has some sort of inflatable pillow. I just use my clothes. Where I have a thermarest chair, Nigel just uses a square of blue insulite foam.

Overall, our portages have gone well. Nigel and I switch loads and positions in the canoe at every one. We're using Nigel's beater canoe which is a tad heavy and feels tippy to me, but we're going to need to be a bit rough on the boats on this trip, so it's just as well we have the boat we do.

I didn't pack well today. My food is too far down and my clothing too buried to extract in a hurry. It was t-shirt weather when we got up, but the temperature dropped by the time we got to Shall Lake, leaving me with no other warmth than my PFD and my rain jacket.

I wore both all day, but still found myself shivering if I was idle for more than a few minutes. I spent most of the day way too cold. Everyone else is wearing rubber boots. I've got these combination water shoes/running shoes and neoprene socks. They worked okay. But it would have worked better if it was warmer. My feet were freezing by the time we put in. Ah well, there's no turning back now.

We took out at around 4pm on a site at the north end of the lake, around the corner from where the Bonnechere empties McKaskill.

It's not the best camp site - it was covered in shredded plastic bags and some group's forgotten gear and drink containers. And some creative thinking had to go into finding three flat-ish tent pads. Nigel and I have scrounged a semi-flat spot at the top of a hill.

Dinner tonight was not-naked John's fettucine alfredo (the guys had salmon out of some sort of vacuum pack) with fresh garlic, parmesan and olives.

I think we're all feeling pretty confident and ready for adventure, though I think people found today's travel to be somewhat arduous. Nigel warned us this was an easy day. I figured, sure, but by distance, the next few days are comparable. How bad could it be? I was thinking Nigel was being overly cautious for moving the car upstream to Basin Depot. It seemed like we were wimping out before we even put our feet in the water.