Friday, September 16, 2016

A Short But Good Weekend At Sandbanks

At the beginning of September we decided we should head to Sandbanks for a weekend. Luckily for us the park had just opened up reservations for the Outlet B campground the day before. As a result we managed to get what might be the best site in the entire park.

Perhaps the Best Site in the Park
We arrived in time for a late dinner Friday. We dug out the food and began preparing dinner as the kids played in the sand. The view from the site was great and being outside made the busyness of the first week of school disappear. Summer holidays were least for a couple of days.

We setup the tents and got ready for bed. Just before turning in we spent some time admiring the moon and the stars. One of the nice things about the sun setting earlier is that the kids get to spend a little more time observing the night sky.

This was the first time that we brought two tents. We thought that the kids might like to sleep in a tent while we slept in another tent. They decided it would be better to have a boy's tent and a girl's tent.

Site at Night
Once the kids were asleep I decided to walk to the main beach. The moon was out and was fairly bright. The walk was very pleasant. When I arrived on the beach I only saw one other person. You could hear the waves crashing but the wind had died long ago. Although the crashing waves were quite loud it somehow still seemed very peaceful.

The boys tent was the first to be vacated in the morning. We decided to go for a paddle until the girls were awake. We paddled the Outlet River until we got to Lake Ontario then turned around and made our way back to the site where the girls were playing in the sand. With everyone awake it was time to get the fire going so we could bake cinnamon buns for breakfast. We had intended to bring a cast iron frying pan to bake the buns in but we forgot it at home. Instead we just used the foil pan that the buns were placed in to rise. It worked great. The buns couldn't have turned out any better.

Cinnamon Buns
After breakfast we loaded the family and some toys into the canoe and paddled to the main beach. It was warm and a little cloudy, which made for a great morning to be at the beach. We played on the beach, swam and just enjoyed being outside.

Hard at Work
As the morning wore on, more and more clouds rolled in. We decided to pack up and head back to the site for lunch. As we got into the canoe it started raining a light rain that seemed warm. It didn't seem to matter to anyone that we were getting wet since we were all in our swimsuits. By the time we reached our site it was pouring. We sat in the screen room and watched the rain just come down. It rained on and off for a good part of the afternoon but there were lots of sunny periods mixed in with the rain. We played in the sand when it wasn't raining and played games when it was raining. Around 3:00 (I'm guessing since I don't wear a watch) the sun was back out. The kids were having a blast in the water so I decided to paddle up the Outlet River to East Lake and paddle a bit in East Lake. It was getting late so I headed back to the site. On my way back I could hear, very faintly, thunder in the distance.

Upon arriving at the site we quickly started to put dinner together. The thunder and lightning was now much closer but it looked as though the worst of it was passing to the north of us. We were just on the edge of the cloud bank. We finished cooking our dinner over the fire by which time the thunder and lightning seemed to be constant, but still north of us. It was an amazing show of light and sound. It poured for a bit then stopped. The thunder, dark clouds and rain all seemed to have moved east and it looked as though we had avoided the worst of the storm. As we finished eating the park wardens came by and informed us that there was a tornado watch and that we should seek shelter immediately. This seemed odd given that it looked like the worst had already passed, but I'm not a meteorologist. We got the kids in the van then quickly packed up (it must have been record time) our wet, sandy things and threw them into the van and headed for home.

As we drove north we passed through lots of heavy rain and noticed the signs indicating that high winds had been present. The worst of the damage was definitely in Bloomfield. There were downed trees and the emergency crews were out. We had certainly missed the worst of the storm. It was certainly our slowest drive home from Sandbanks but we were happy to be safe and dry.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Algonquin: Canoe Lake To Burnt Island

We figured we, as a family, were ready for our first back country trip where we didn't just setup camp on one lake and stay there. Canoe Lake in Algonquin seemed like a good place to start. It was meant to be a four day trip but our oldest daughter was sick the day before we were set to leave and the day we were to leave. We shortened the trip by a day but kept the root the same, which meant our first day would be a long one.

We put in at Canoe Lake which was extremely busy on a Saturday afternoon. We had lunch at the access point and I couldn't get over the number of canoes in the water. While we ate, there were never fewer than a dozen canoes visible on the water at once. At one point we were able to count eighteen canoes in the water. There was a time I might have been discouraged by such a large crowd. I might have liked to enjoy the peace and quiet that would come with an empty lake. In recent years my perspective has changed a great deal. I was ecstatic to see so many people. It means that people (and lots of them) are getting out there doing the things that I love doing. We saw young families, university students, couples, seniors all out in canoes and kayaks. Some were out for the first time, others were bringing friends and family out for the first time and still others were on their way to much quieter lakes. Rather than being frustrated at the crowds, I had a huge smile on my face the entire time. I hope more people take some time to explore this great park.

Ready to Launch From Canoe Lake
After packing away our lunch we headed off. We knew that we'd have to work hard to make up for not arriving on the Friday. but I was really hoping to see the Tom Thomson Cairn since I had never seen it. I knew we were pressed for time but decided to stop anyway. The Cairn was easy to locate due to the totem pole at the site. The kids were able to pick it out from a distance. We stopped and I had a quick peek while the others waited in the canoe.

Tom Thomson Cairn
We continued north towards the portage. As we neared the portage we could see a traffic jam of canoes. We took our time gliding into the portage and by the time we landed the others were on their way. We blasted through the 260m portage without issue. Upon arriving at the other end of the portage we saw more boats and people than we had when we arrived. While many of the others took their time and lingered at the portage, we were quick to get back on the water.

Off He Goes! Looks Like the Girls Are at a Parade.
We enjoyed a beautiful paddle through Joe and Little Joe Lakes. The sun was out, there was a bit of a breeze and there were lots of people enjoying their sites. We skipped the 120m portage along the creek at the north end of the lake. There were a few shallow rocks at the beginning but they were easy enough to avoid.

We made very good time in our paddling. We managed to pass a few groups also headed to Burnt Island Lake. This would prove beneficial later as all the sites on the lake were booked that night and it was getting late. Getting ahead of a few groups would make it easier to find a site.

Along the portage from Little Joe Lake to Baby Joe Lake we met a couple with adult children who were on their first canoe trip. Great to see!

After arriving on Burnt Island Lake we spent some time paddling in and out of different bays looking for a site that was available. We eventually found a vacant site which turned out to be great. It had a nice spot for landing the canoe, a good swimming spot and was quite flat. The only downside is that there was another site very close by. It started drizzling shortly after we arrived so we set up the tent and the rain stopped. After a tough day of paddling we were all very hungry which made our simple pita pizzas seem extra delicious. The kids had a great time playing on the spacious site. As we settled in for the night it began to rain a little. The pitter patter of rain drop on the tent made for a great sound track to fall asleep to.

Home For the Night

Favourite Camp 'Chore': Tending the Stick Stove
Playing Outside
The next day was a little cool and quite windy. We had a leisurely breakfast and took our time getting ready to go. As we were leaving our site the kids noticed a very small island with what looked like a single tree. They wondered if this small island was in fact Burnt Island, that had burned at one time leaving a lone dead tree. They wanted to check it out so our first order of business was to paddle the short distance to the island.
Little Island on Burnt Island Lake
We had a quick peek then turned around started paddling into a very strong headwind. It was at this point in the trip that I appreciated the fact that we had travelled in one canoe rather than two. On our way to the portage to Little Doe Lake we noticed about 10 canoes heading in the same direction. The portage was quite busy, but everyone else seemed to be going to the Joe Lakes, leaving us on our own to get to Little Doe. We covered the 1340m portage much quicker than I though we would. A good sign for future trips. As we loaded up the canoe on Little Doe it was a little misty. We thought it might rain but before long it started clearing up. We paddled past a couple of sites that looked okay and thought we could come back to them if we didn't find anything else. Before long we came upon what looked like a great site. It was a little tough to get the canoe out of the water but other than that the site was great.

We setup our site, went for a swim, did some paddling as well as some relaxing. It was a great day.

Touring Around
Campsite on Little Doe Lake
The soundtrack that we fell asleep to on this night consisted of barred owls hooting back and forth to one another.

Looking Out Over Little Doe
I was hoping to go for a swim on our last day before leaving the site but it was quite cool in the morning. The swim would have to wait. We had breakfast and packed up. We decided it would be fun to paddle into Tom Thomson Lake just to see it. We paddled up the short creek from Little Doe to Tom Thomson. We hoped we might see a moose, but we did not. Tom Thomson was a beautiful lake. It would be a good lake to camp on for a future trip.

Lots of Lily Pads
Beaver Dam En Route to Tom Thomson
Friendly Loon
Eventually we decided we should start making our way back to Canoe Lake. We paddled down the Little Oxtongue River to Teepee Lake. We noticed that we seemed to be paddling slower today than we had on the other days. Were we just tired and suffering from sore muscles? Perhaps. Is it possible we were subconsciously paddling slowly in order to extend our stay in the park? Perhaps. Either way it was a great paddle. As we paddled we noticed that the wind had died entirely. We decided to find a campsite on Joe Lake where we could stop for lunch. We found a vacant site across from Joe Island and unloaded our lunch. The site had a ton of garbage in the fire pit. I was pleased to hear the kids ask "Why would anyone leave all this garbage here". We had bagels for lunch. I finished quickly and went for a swim while the kids were finishing their lunch. They decided that they didn't want to swim so we cleaned up the site and pressed on.

The paddle across Canoe Lake was interesting. There still wasn't any wind and the lake was as flat as glass. It was beautiful and there were far fewer boats on the water than when we had left. What a great way to end the trip. When we arrived at the access point we discovered that it was 4:30, which was much later than we had anticipated. We loaded our stuff up and headed for home. Before we got to Highway 60 the kids were asking if we could come back. A good sign that we had a successful trip.