Ilona and I decided to go on a 6 day canoe trip through algonquin park in the form of a loop that would eventually (we hoped) bring us back to our car. Our route was pretty simple, and only had a bit of back tracking due to booking it so late. Here’s a slide show and itinerary of our trip, click on any photo in the slide show to read the write up for it.
Day 1 – Leave Grand Lake, set up Camp on Stratton Lake
Day 2 – Leave Stratton, head to St Andrews, then to Marie Lake
Day 3 – Leave Marie lake, back to St Andrews, then to High falls Lake, then through the cascades, arriving eventually at Brigham Lake
Day 4 – Leave Brigham, heading to Opalescent, then ooze lake, then High falls
Day 5 – Leave Highfalls, to St Andrews, then to Stratton
Day 6 – Leave Stratton, to Grand Lake, back to the car.
6km (1 way) Unfortunately we always had to do 2 trips, which resulted in 12km of portaging with stuff on our back, and 6km of walking back for the 2nd trip.
Day 1 – We headed over to my parents house at 6am to pick up the canoe and get on the road, it was a Friday, so we were in a bit of a rush to get their early in order to secure a campsite on the very popular Stratton lake. Fortunately everything went as planned and we arrived at the park by 9am. At the front gate, the kid serving us took our itinerary, then smirked and said “Marie Lake eh? that’s a good portage! straight up hill!” we thought he was joking.. We got to the Achray campgrounds at Grand lake and unloaded our gear into the canoe, parked the car, and headed out. 6 days, just the 2 of us. We got to Stratton lake fairly quickly with only a short 50m portage, I had 2 campsites in mind that I would like to get, and fortunately for us, right when we arrived another group was just vacating the one I prefered. We snagged it, set up camp, did some swimming then had the usual 2 hour afternoon nap that is common on camping trips That night Ilona made steak and shrimp over the fire, so amazing. We also cracked our first of 3 boxes of wine.
Day 2 – We woke up early, just after the sun was up, 7am to be exact, and made some breakfast. We had bacon and eggs, the problem with making bacon, is you’re stuck with all the bacon grease, which is the biggest pain in the ass to clean up. Note to self, as delicious as it is, it’s not coming on the next trip. We eventually got cleaned up, tore down camp, then headed out. We paddled the rest of the lake, had a short portage (75m) to St Andrews, then paddled that lake to the portage to Marie Lake. When we got to this portage, it was 750m, and appeared to be rather steep. We set off on our first of 2 trips with our back packs, it started out steep then leveled off, just when we thought everything was not that bad, we turned the corner to a huge hill. Overall this was the toughest portage I’ve ever done, and I was starting to doubt being able to carry the canoe over. Our 2nd trip with the canoe and ilona with the food barrel, was actually not that bad, you’d be surprised what you can climb over with a canoe on your shoulders, the fact that you can’t see more than 3 feet in front of you soothes the nerves. Once at the lake, we had our choice of 1 camp site, so we took it there was a group just packing up so we pulled a shore and waited for them to finish up. We set up the tent, collected some wood, and then went fishing. We didn’t even get a bite. That night ilona made one of our freezer dried meals, it was actually pretty good, after that huge portage, I’m pretty sure anything would taste good though. We didn’t make it past 9pm and we were in bed fast asleep, not after seeing a beautiful sunset though.
Day 3 – This was going to be the big day, the portage back to St Andrews (750m), 2 550m portages, a 285m, a 345m, a 200m and a short 15m, really enough to tire us out. Luckily we got up at 6:00am (we both had to pee, and were afraid to get up alone haha) so we had breakfast real quick then headed out by 7am. We started the brutal portage (all downhill this time) which was less strenuous but more tricky for foot placement. Once we finished that, we paddled about 200m before we faced the 550m highfalls portage. This route has seen so many people they might as well pave it, it was well worn through, the portage was quick and easy. We paddled high falls, a beautiful lake, and started on the cascades section. This was the frustrating part of the trip, you do a 550m portage, get to the other side, and literally paddle 5m across a stream, then do another portage, so load everything back in, then take it out, walk 15m portage, then put it all back in again!! The cascades was such a nice section though, small streams of calm water, then rapids that you portaged around. Ilona liked this part of the trip the most. After a few more portages we were finally at Brigham lake, it was close to 6pm and we picked our campsite right on the portage route that we’d be taking the next morning. We did almost 11km’s of portaging this day alone! We made some curry for dinner (freeze dried of course), and took turns having a shower in the river, again we were both passed out by 9pm.
Day 4 – This was a pretty short day, we were going to do a 700m portage to Opalescent lake, canoe across it, then do 2 more portages of 600 and 300m to ooze lake then high falls. When we got to Opalescent we saw the nicest camp site, the lake itself is stunning and definitely on my list of places to stay on the next trip, it’s a big lake, with hills on both sides and nice camp sites. The portages went smoothly, by this time we’d mastered them, and had everything sorted out. Once at highfalls we set up camp in a cool site where our tent was way up above the common area. We decided to go adventuring from high falls lake, and found a series of streams that brought us to almost the base of the real high falls. ilona was pretty excited having never been there before, so we tied up the canoe and trecked through the woods, we made it to the swimming area at high falls which consists of a nice pool, warm water, and a natural water slide about 40feet long that you can slide down (on the rocks!) into the rapids. We had a quick swim, tried out the slide, then headed back to camp for dinner, and again bed by 9pm.
Day 5 – Another short day, we headed back to St Andrews lake, then to Stratton lake, and by some stroke of luck, got the best camp site on the lake, right on the peninsula opposite the st andrews portage entrance. We set up camp on this enormous site (you could have 5+ tents there), made some lunch and then headed over to the rapids to go swimming. We spent about 3 hours in the sun swimming and reading, before heading back for dinner. We ate the last of our dried food that night, I was really looking forward to some dairy and fresh meat! The wind started to pick up, which was a little bit nerving, considering it would most likely be against us on our paddle up the long stratton lake the next morning. Again we were in bed by 9pm.
Day 6 – Neither of us slept that well that night, despite having our first flat sleeping area in a while. It was really windy all night, and it hadn’t let up at all by morning, I was getting a little worried about the paddle we would be facing that morning. We packed up our gear in record time that morning, having perfected it over the previous 5 days, ate a hearty oatmeal breakfast and got the canoe ready. The first stretch was not too bad, but once we hit the larger part of stratton lake, it became apparent that the wind was going to be more than a nuissance, the waves were capping, and the wind was blowing directly in our faces, we stayed close to shore, and cut across little bays as we could, we made it to the end in one piece without a tip. After the portage to grand lake, we started heading up the stream, it was definitely not a good sign when we saw waves in the stream, once we hit grand lake, the waves were huge, we started to paddle in them and were getting tossed around so much. We decided to pull up onto shore and rethink the plan. we started to walk along the shore as much as we could to cut some of the travel out of the middle of the lake. When we ran out of beach, we tied everything into the canoe, put our valuables in the water proof food barrel, tied that in, and started paddling. The waves were insane, I was scared, ilona was terrified, but we just paddled as hard as we could for the better part of an hour to traverse roughly 250m of lake. Somehow our 15′ canoe made it to the other side in tact with the 2 of us, wet, tired but alive. We packed up the car, and headed home, not before stopping and downing (in under 20 minutes) 2 beers, a pizza and an appetizer at Boston Pizza in Pembroke.