Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Canoe Trip from Achray to Opalescent

Usually we book our tips last minute. Partly to make sure the kids are healthy and the weather is good, but mostly because we're not usually that organized. This time we booked a trip to the eastern part of Algonquin (Achray) well in advance. As our departure date approached we could see that there was some rain in the forecast. We weren't worried about it but we kept an eye on it (Though I'm not sure why. It's not like keeping an eye on the weather actually changes anything). The day we left the forecast was calling for lots of rain with some rainfall warnings in nearby Pembroke and Petawawa. As we drove north we were hopeful. There were some showers, but mostly it was just cloudy, that is until we were about 30 minutes away. Then the rain started and didn't stop until sometime overnight.

At Achray we donned our rain gear and headed out. Everyone was in great spirits, so it didn't really matter that it was raining. We loaded the boats and headed off on Grand Lake. It was so peaceful. We were the only ones on the lake. In fact we only saw one other boat all day.

The Lake to Ourselves
We blasted through the 50m portage into Stratton Lake and began the long paddle to the other end of the lake. By the time we got to the portage leading into St. Andrews we had been paddling in the rain for about two and a half hours. This kids were soaked to the bone (time for some new rain gear) and were chilled. We hurried through the portage and made our way to the first site on the lake. It was empty so we decided this would be our home for the next two nights.

I don't mind camping in the rain, but it's really difficult to setup in the rain when you're already soaking wet. We setup a tarp and started unloading some gear (tents and dry clothes for the kids) but found it difficult not to get everything wet. Fortunately, the rain let up a bit as we were ready to setup the tents. While we were setting up the tents our son thought he'd try to get the stick stove going. Everything was so wet that it was going to be a challenge getting any kind of fire going. It's a skill we should practice more someday, but late in the day with a bunch of cold bodies didn't seem like the right time. We fired up the stove, cooked some pasta, cleaned up then got into the tents to get away from the bugs. It was quite late by the time we got into the tents. This has a lot to do with the fact that this was our first trip with two boats. We move a lot slower with one adult paddling in each boat than with two in a single boat. I'm sure we'll get faster with practice.

It was an amazing feeling to waken to the sun streaming into the tent on the second day. What a relief. We would be able to hang all of our wet gear out to dry. The morning was a little cool but the sun was quickly warming things up. We slowly had some breakfast and cleaned up. The plan for the day was to head to the 'water slide' to play in the water. We packed a lunch and headed off. We retraced our steps into Stratton Lake and started paddling towards High Falls.

Off to the Water Slide
As we got close there was no question about where to land to get to the water slide. There were about ten boats on the shore. We found a place to squeeze into and followed the trail and the sound of water. We had some lunch then played in the water. I went down the water slide first to see what it would be like for the kids. It was a blast. I sat on a solid, smooth mass of Canadian Shield with water pushing at my back. I pushed off and let the water take me down the slide. At the bottom I hit the wall of water and disappeared under the water, not quite sure when I would resurface. Sure enough I popped up a few seconds later. Our son is a confident enough swimmer that I knew he would feel comfortable and both of our daughters were wearing their PFDs so they would be fine. I waited at the bottom as the two older kids had a turn. The smiles on their faces were priceless. Our youngest daughter wanted to go but was a little frightened. Eventually she was ready so she went down with Sarah. She was so excited when she resurfaced at the bottom. I didn't get any pictures of the water slide but I did get some video that I will post soon.

After sliding for a bit the kids wanted to swim in the lagoon upstream from the slide. I took this opportunity to head down stream to see High Falls. There were far fewer people downstream but High Falls was spectacular. If you visit the area do yourself a favour and hike the extra couple of hundred metres to see the falls.
High Falls

Further Down Stream
Heading Back to the Campsite
We had a lovely paddle back to our site. We decided to skip the portage and run the rapids back into St. Andrews Lake. We made it through and only bumped a couple of rocks on the way down. By the time we made it back to our site it was getting late. We cooked up some pizza (on the fire). What a great day.

Back on St. Andrews Lake

Our Campsite
On the third day we woke up to sun and lots of wind. Thankfully the wind would be in our favour. We had some breakfast and packed up and headed out. The paddle down St. Andrews was a breeze, thanks to the wind. Then came the first long portage of the trip (the first of three for the day). It was a 595m portage into High Falls lake. The kids did great on the portage and we were rewarded with a beautiful water fall near the end of the portage. The very end of the portage was a very steep and rocky decent to the water. Watch your footing!

Waterfall Along the Portage
I was curious to see what High Falls Lake looked like. There had been a fire there a couple of summers ago. I wondered how quickly things had regrown. We had some lunch as we drifted (assisted by the wind) down the lake. We could see where the fire had been. I imagine it would have been a scary place to be during the fire. We could see some signs of damage at the south end of the lake but the damage was much more obvious at the north end near the portage into Ooze Lake.

Burnt Tree Overhanging the Water

North End of High Falls Lake
After lunch we finished paddling High Falls Lake and completed the 330m portage into Ooze Lake. The portage was uneventful and Ooze Lake looks much like you might expect it. It was a short paddle across Ooze to the 640m portage into Opalescent (our destination). The 640m portage was a tough one for us. It was late in the day and we were getting tired. At the beginning of the portage our 4 year old broke down in tears. She didn't want to go any further. When I asked if she was tired she replied "No...My feet are tired". Given how well she had done and that we needed to get going, I piggybacked her halfway across the portage. I set her down where she had a rest with the other kids while I went back to get the canoe. By the time I made it back to the halfway point the kids were still there resting. I stopped and chatted with them, then went back for our packs. Thankfully they had moved on when I got back. The portage was long but we made it through. The kids seemed to be enjoying themselves when I finally made it to the end. It started to sprinkle as we finished the portage. We got into the canoes and began searching for a site. We chose the site on the south end of the lake. It was a really nice site. The only drawback was that there was another site (not marked on the map) less than 20m away. We speculated that perhaps the other site had been decommissioned but the sign hadn't been removed(?). We thought this because we were unable to locate the thunderbox.

Setting up in the rain was a little easier this time. It had only been raining lightly and we weren't completely soaked.

Opalescent Lake

Looking South On Opalescent
We cooked up some rice, vegetables and cheese for dinner and had a delicious grasshopper pie for dessert. By the time we finished eating the rain had stopped so we did a little fishing. Our son caught a couple of small bass. We were all tired so we headed for bed early. This was a tough day for us but everyone was in good spirits by the end of the day.

The plan for day four was to do a day trip to the Barron Canyon. The girls, however, were insistent on staying put for the day. Sarah said that she would be happy to stay with them if our son and I wanted to go to the canyon. Our son thought long and hard about what he wanted to do and eventually decided to stay at the site. It was probably a good decision by all, given that the following day we would need to retrace our steps all the way back to the access point.


Swim Time
While the others hung around the site, I decided that I would head to the Barron Canyon. I battled a tough head wind to get to the 750m portage into Brigham Lake. It was such a peaceful portage. I was in the woods all by myself. I paddled across the lake to the 100m portage. I thought the rapids might be runnable, but figured it was probably faster to portage than to scout the rapids then run them. Next came a 440m portage, the first part of which was not runnable. The second part looked doable. There was even a spot where people obviously put their canoes in. I decided to finish up the portage instead. I figured taking unnecessary risks when you're by yourself, in the middle of nowhere wasn't worth it.

Once I completed the portage I was leisurely moving along the Barron River taking in the amazing sights of the canyon. Unfortunately, the battery for one of my cameras died and the other was giving communication errors between the lens and the body. I didn't get as many pictures as I had hoped but did manage to get some.

The Barron River

As I paddled along I could hear water rushing. There was a waterfall flowing into the canyon. I made for the shore, pulled the canoe up and realized I was thigh high in poison ivy. Thankfully I was wearing pants. I should have landed about 30m upstream to avoid the poison ivy.

Waterfall into the Barron Canyon
The canyon was quite busy, but it was hard to notice because of the sheer size and beauty of it all. Mother Nature sure is a beautiful artist.

After paddling through the canyon I figured I should turn around and make my way back to the rest of the family. Upon my arrival the girls were lying in a hammock while Sarah read a book out loud. They had a good restful day.

Hangin' Around

Our final day was all about retracing our path back to the access point at Achray. We left our site a little after 9:00. We had the three long portages to do, but everyone had fresh legs so we blasted through them. We had lunch in the canoe on St. Andrews Lake with the wind pushing us in the right direction.

St. Andrews Lake
With the three big portages out of the way, the rest of the trip should be fine. The girls spent much of the time playing and making up games and stories as I paddled along. They were happy, as was I. Stratton Lake is a long lake and it took us a long time to paddle it, but eventually we made it to the portage.

Stratton Lake
We completed the portage and before we had finished paddling the small creek that leads to Grand Lake we knew that the strong wind would be in our faces. We paddled and paddled against the head wind. The wind was strong enough that as we neared the end we didn't hear that a float plane had landed behind us and was making its way to the dock we were headed for. The plane dropped of a crew (of what I assume were maintenance workers) and a canoe, then headed out again.

Grand Lake

Float Plane
It was an incredible trip. We had a great time connecting with nature and to each other. The rain on the first day was a bit of a downer but the rest of the trip was great. The only other negative part of the trip were the bugs. They were really bad. At one point we counted 39 bug bites on our youngest daughter. Everything else more than made up for these two negatives. 

If we were to do the trip again I would add an extra day so that there could be a rest day at Opalescent Lake as well as a trip to the Barron Canyon or I would pay the $55 to have our car shuttled from Achray to Squirrel Rapids. This would allow us to paddle the Barron River on our way out of the park.

Rather than scratching the itch to get out there, this trip has only made the itch worse. I wonder when we can sneak in another trip?


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