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Canoe trip to Lake Opeongo, Algonquin Park, Ontario, Canada 17-20 Jul 2004

Joseph Mack

jmack (at) wm7d (dot) net,

v1.2 Sep 2009, v1.1, May 2005, released under GPL


Canoeing in Lake Opeongo, Algonquin Park, Ontario.

Table of Contents

1. On doing a solo trip
2. Getting there
2.1. Budget Car Rental
2.2. Mountain Equipment Cooperative: butane fuel
2.3. Youth Hostel, Maynooth, Ontario
2.4. Reservations in the park: Park Ontario
2.5. Algonquin Outfitters: Canoe Rental
3. On My Way
3.1. Ottawa to Algonquin via Maynooth
3.2. Arriving at the Lake
4. Paddling in a large, deep, windy lake with lots of power boats
4.1. The Wind
4.2. The Other Visitors to the Lake
4.3. Motor Boats
5. The lake water is red-brown
6. Choosing a Campsite
7. Daily Log
7.1. Camp 1: East Side of Northern end of South Arm
7.2. Paddling to the North Arm
7.3. Camp 2: East Side of North Arm, opposite Hailstorm Creek
7.4. East Arm
7.5. Camp 3: East Side of Southern end of South Arm
8. Fauna
8.1. Wolves
8.2. Birds
8.3. Turtles
8.4. Moose, Beaver, Geese, Herons and Hailstorm Creek
9. Canoe or Kayak: Rent or Buy?
10. Educational Books, Vistor's Centers and Exhibits
11. Musee de Bucherons
12. Guitarist Julian Geisterfer at Byward Market, Ottawa (and update 2009)

1. On doing a solo trip

Last year Ratz and I canoed together in Algonquin Park ( before the Ottawa Linux Symposium (OLS) ( This year Ratz wasn't coming. Should I canoe solo or should I do something else? All my training in Scouts (Australia) said never to go alone: you should always go in threes, one to stay with an injured person and another to go for help. I was happy enough to do a trip with only two. I'd only ever done one solo trip in Australia, where I'd been careful climbing down through the cliffs of Mt Colong by myself. I'd done another solo trip in McKinley Park in Alaska, where on asking if this was a good idea, the ranger replied

"We grant every man his God-given right to be eaten by a bear."

What to do? I eventually decided to go by myself and to be careful not to do anything adventurous. On closer inspection, trips where things go wrong, are the results of poor judgement or planning and aren't terribly interesting to hear about. There was no need to have one of these.

Last year Ratz arrived from Switzerland in Ottawa at nightfall, following an epic involving all the forms of transport known to modern man. We stayed that night at the Ottawa Jail (the Youth Hostel) and headed out early the next morning, arriving at Algonquin about mid-day and at our campsite at nightfall.

This time, not having to wait for Ratz's arrival, I would be in Ottawa at midday. A quick search of the internet found a youth hostel in Maynooth, at the edge of Algonquin Park. I arranged to to stay there the first night, giving me a full day of canoeing the first day.

Sep 2009: in subsequent years, the plane trips from USA in summer were so unreliable, that the same ticket had me arriving in Ottawa at midnight without my bags, delaying my canoe trip by 24hrs. This was one of the reasons I stopped coming on this trip.

I wanted to go somewhere different to last year, even though last year's trip to Rock, Pen and Clydegale Lake still looked the best place to go. The first lake (Rock) had been directly accessable from the road and the shores were dotted with summer cottages and the lake with (admittedly low) power boats - it wasn't a wilderness experience. Once you were over the first portage into Pen lake, you left the houses and power boats behind and you were into wilderness. One possibility this year was a trip along Canoe and Teepee lake, but the shore was lined with houses, with a summer camp for kids at the end. I couldn't imagine this being a wilderness trip. There also would be more portaging than I was prepared to deal with on a solo trip.

A few weeks previous to booking the trip, I'd read an article in the Travel section of the Sunday NYT about canoeing in Opeongo L., the biggest lake in the park. The article made Opeongo L. sound the idyllic wilderness trip. I was a little suspicious, when one of the photos was shot from above treetop height, looking down onto a pair of canoeists paddling in mist below. Since the author didn't include a helicopter flight in their writeup, I assume the photo wasn't from their trip, but there was no disclosure. After my trip, I now regard this article as a shill from someone with a vested interest.

2. Getting there

2.1. Budget Car Rental

Budget (613)-729-6666 (then after the computer answers, press 1)
cnr Sommerset and Kent
About CD$200 for 3 days.

You need evidence of US insurance if you're going to decline the rental company's insurance. This is a card from your US insurance company showing that you have US insurance and is only a matter of a phone call to your local agent. You don't need to present it to the rental company (you just decline their coverage), but you will need to present it if you have an accident.

I used Budget last year and it worked out quite well for price and convenience. Their office is close to the Youth Hostel on Nicholas St, Ottawa, where I'd be staying on my return. After two consecutive phone calls to Budget asking slightly different questions, by dumb luck I found that the car was $100 more if you picked up at the airport. I arranged for them to pick me up (and later drop me back) at the Ottawa Jail (the youth hostel).

At the Ottawa Airport I had a hard time navigating. It took a while before I found that the old terminal, with its unique architecture has been decommissioned and instead I was in a brand new standard issue airport McTerminal that could have been anywhere in the world. After converting my money to Cn$, I bought a return bus ticket (4 tickets, for Cn$3.80 - you need 2 tickets each way, you get some sort of bargain if you buy a return at the airport - the people at the Information Booth will fill you in on the details) and caught a #97 bus to Ottawa. As you get on the bus (in the front) and after inserting your 2 ticket stubs, you need to pick up a transfer ticket, even though you're not transferring; it's your receipt that you've paid - most of the locals have permanent travel tickets and if you're a tourist without a receipt, you'll be the only one on the bus who can't show that you've paid.

The bus drops you off at the Mackenzie King bridge [1] at the edge of downtown. The Mackenzie King bridge is about 100m from the Ottawa Jail. There I phoned Budget and a few minutes later was picked up. It turns out, not very much further on past the jail and the Mackenzie Bridge, the #97 bus crosses Kent St, where I expect you could get off and walk about 6 large blocks south to the Budget office (I don't know if the bus fare is more past the Mackenzie King bridge, but the people at the Airport will know), saving you a pickup at the hostel by Budget.

Last year, on my return, I first dropped my gear off and registered at the Ottawa Youth Hostel, before driving the car back to the rental office through Ottawa's maze of one-way streets, and then walking back to the Youth Hostel. This year, instead I returned the car to the rental company, and they drove me and my gear to the Hostel.

It's about 800km to Algonquin Park and back (about 3hrs to Maynooth and about 4hrs back from Algonquin) and I made it on one tank of gas/petrol in a compact car. Before leaving the Budget office on the outbound direction, get directions to Rte 417 (the road to Algonquin, it's only a few blocks from the rental place, but you need to know how to get there), how to recognise the exit on the way back (it's the Kent St exit), and where to fill up on gas before returning the car (it's only a few blocks from the rental office and near the Kent St exit from the freeway - however after 3pm you can't make certain turns, so make sure you get directions that work before and after 3pm).

2.2. Mountain Equipment Cooperative: butane fuel

Mountain Equipment Co-op
366 Richmond Rd
(directions are on the webpage).

Since you can't bring sealed cans of propane/butane fuel on planes (but you can bring hydrocarbon pressurised cans of bug spray, or shaving cream), I had to buy my fuel after arrival. Last year, we'd hoped to pick it up at the canoe rental store, but they didn't have any and we had a cold food only trip (which wasn't a great problem).

This year I decided to put some effort into finding fuel. Before I left I checked with Algonquin Outfitters, the canoe rental company at Opeongo L., who didn't have any Primus fuel either. (Later on arrival I found Algonquin Outfitters would "rent" you a can of fuel and a burner, but I can't imagine you get much back for the empty can of fuel). No problem I thought, I'll ship the fuel to the hostel at Maynooth and arranged for the hostel to accept it for me. I wasn't surprised to find that the US Postal Service doesn't ship fuel, but I expected Fedex would do it. They would, but post-9/11, camping fuel is a dangerous good, (along with amateur rocket motors), and while it will cost you $2 for shipping, there will be a $100 surcharge for the dangerous good. I could see myself heading for another cold trip. Some searching on the internet found a camping supply store in Ottawa, which had Primus stove fuel and which I'd pass on the way out of Ottawa to Algonquin. It cost $5 to join the cooperative, nothing in the overall cost of the trip.

At the Budget Rental office, I showed the map from the MEC website, and got directions (about 3 exits along 417 from Budget) and there picked up the Primus fuel. MEC was a nice clean looking new store with lots of wood panelling (rather than sheetrock) and helpful staff. It looked much like REI in USA. I could have picked up all my dehydrated dinners there, if I didn't already have them.

2.3. Youth Hostel, Maynooth, Ontario

This hostel is just south of Algonquin Park and a good start for your first day paddling.

HI-South Algonquin
32990 Highway 62 North
PO Box 233
Maynooth, Ont, K0L 2S0
$30 for a single occupancy room

From Ottawa: follow 417W, then 60W, into Barry's Bay, L on county Rd 62 (the main intersection in Barry's Bay) to Maynooth (200 people), biggest building in town (on the left as you go in).

Over the phone, Tom, the proprietor of the Maynooth Hostel gave me directions ("the town is small and we're on the left and the biggest building in town"). He also warned me that not much was available in town, so I prepared to bring everything I needed and to have dinner on the way.

2.4. Reservations in the park: Park Ontario

These people give you the camping permits. For busy times of the year, you need to book ahead. Busy time is Jul-Sep i.e. when it's not freezing, but after mosquitoe season. You'll be allocated a campsite in an area of your choice for each night. The actual campsite you'll choose when you arrive. If you're the first into the area for the day, you take your pick. If you're the last, you'll get the last campsite (worse things could happen).

About $35Cn for 3 nights camping (a bargain)

2.5. Algonquin Outfitters: Canoe Rental

There seems to be different nomenclatures for canoes. The one I grew up with is that canoes are all the boats you paddle: thus there are kayaks and canadians. In N.A. canadians are called canoes. I'm using the N.A. convention here.

If you're paddling in Opeongo Lake and need to rent a canoe, these are the only people on the lake. Opeongo Outfitters, which we rented from last year, are just outside the park on the way in from Ottawa. This year I decided to rent from the people on the lake at my put-in point.

Algonquin Outfitters
About $150 Can for 3.5 days

Algonquin Outfitters arranged to bring in a light (30lb) single person canoe. That was encouraging - light canoes seem to be hard to find. A light canoe would allow me, by myself, to portage to other areas off Opeongo Lake. I planned on camping at the north end of the lake, again setting up and leaving all the gear in one spot like we did last year, and travelling light with little, if anything, in the canoe. (This didn't work out, but more about this later.) The person at the end of the phone said they had a large horsepower water taxi (forget the number of horses quoted) that would whisk me to the other end of the lake if I wanted, in a tone expecting that I would be delighted to have such a convenience. I said that travelling by water taxi wasn't why I was coming to the lake. It occured to me that I might have to listen to water taxis during my trip.

3. On My Way

3.1. Ottawa to Algonquin via Maynooth

After picking up the fuel from MEC, the trip from Ottawa was much the same as last year, intermittant rain. The bottom of the cummulus clouds are half the elevation of the clouds in North Carolina. I guess this is what happens as you head towards the poles. Ominous black clouds would loom ahead, that anywhere else would portend torrential rain, but you'd pass underneath with only a shower of rain, to emerge soon enough on the other side into sun, and then into rain again.

By nightfall, there was lightning and thunder and rain in torrents. The radio said not to swim in the water for the next 24-48 hrs; the rain was washing bear poop etc into the water and stirring up the sediment at the bottom of the lakes. You (horrors) would be swimming in bacteria. (What I thought, about humans shedding hepatitis viruses into the watershed from their poop? - human diseases are much worse.)

I passed through Renfrew, and had lunch at the same Subway that Ratz and I visited last year (they didn't remember me).

I needed essential supplies, like disposable cameras. After an earlier trip with cameras and fast film and having the choice of every roll of film checked at every airport on the way or having my film fogged by the X-ray machines (as happened), I decided this time to buy disposable cameras in Canada and have the film developed before I returned. The subway people said that they were at the GiantTiger just down the block. You see the results in this posting - all the cameras, developing and photos on CD for the trip cost $25Can. Why I ever bought several 35mm cameras and kgs of telephotos lenses I can't imagine - they didn't survive 9/11.

Other essential supplies included beer. This you buy at "The Beer Store" on the way into town. The Canadian wholesale style of selling beer, where the beer comes out on a roller slide from the warehouse, and which flummoxed me last year, was now no obstacle for the seasoned traveller. I was cool - I bet they thought I was a local. This time they had Sleeman's Honey Brown Ale and I was set for the trip.

At the Subway, while eating my lunch (and dinner, since I wasn't expecting food in Maynooth), I looked out onto the gas station sign, that last year exhorted passers-by to check up on their car air-conditioners. This year's special was "beat the spring rush, get your car serviced...". It being mid July, he was 9 months early (or maybe this was spring in Canada). The Canadians, with their cold winters, have to plan ahead. The sign was on the sidewalk in a metal frame. I assume you can't put up signs blocking in the middle of the sidewalk unless they're portable. This sign was portable, but didn't look like it had moved in a while.

More interestingly, a boulder about 2m in diameter was just outside the Subway. It was a sandwich of a black layer (Canadian Shield of granite and gneiss) between two white glassy layers (marble from the limestone).

Figure 1. Rock at Renfrew, outside the Subway

Rock at Renfrew, at the junction of the Canadian Shield on the inland side, and the rocks to the east.

Rock at Renfrew, at junction of the Canadian Shield (inland) and the rocks to the east. The red car is my rental car. Note the wet pavement.

I'd missed this last year, despite it being in clear view, just out the window. Presumably Renfrew was at the border between the Canadian shield to the west which makes up Algonquin Park and the sedimentary rocks to the east. I initially assumed the marble was from the grey limestone that makes the river escarpment in Ottawa. After looking up a few web pages on "Ottawa limestone" I find that the marble here is pre-cambrian, whereas the Ottawa R. escarpement limestone is Ordovician.

The people at the Subway counter knew all about this rock. The street had been dug up to put in sewerage and phone lines about 4 yrs earlier, and had been found to be full of rocks like this, the largest of which had cracked the back of the flat bed which tried to haul it away. This one had been left on the side of the road as a souvenir (for passers-by like me), and presumably not to tempt the gods of truck cracking. They told me to take a photo of it with the Subway in the background. Here's a view from the other side.

Figure 2. Rock at Renfrew another view

Rock at Renfrew, at junction of the Canadian Shield on the inland side, and the Ottawa limestone.

Rock at Renfrew.

For comparison, here's the Ordovician limestone back at Ottawa (below Parliament House on the Ottawa river).

Figure 3. Limestone 100km (or so) to the east at the Ottawa River in Ottawa.

Limestone 100km or so to the east at the Ottawa River in Ottawa.

The limestone here is layered with gaps between each layer (like with filo dough) and the top/bottoms of each layer are lumpy, as if each layer had been beaten with a hammer before the next layer was laid down. Maybe there was a layer of mud and pebbles between each layer of limestone. (Sep 2009, maybe this is marl.)

Figure 4. Another view of the limestone 100km (or so) to the east at the Ottawa River in Ottawa.

Another view of the limestone 100km or so to the east at the Ottawa River in Ottawa.

At Maynooth, Tom greeted me at the hostel. From the front of the hostel and then from the first story back-deck he showed me the sights of town: several shops, a town library, and in the Hostel building, an open restaurant and bar. Remarking on the open restaurant and that on his advice I'd already eaten, Tom said "well you don't exactly know when it's going to be open".

I can't imagine living in cold. One year, I drove across Canada in Dec, some of it at -40C and I felt as if I'd last only minutes outside my car. I've talked to geologists who camp out through the winter in Alaska, who don't seem to find the cold any bother. I've read a book by a person who snowshoed across Baffin Is. in winter - one of the photos is of his thermometer at -67C. Being a warm weather person and seeing no way I could survive a winter here, I was interested in how the locals did it. Tom was born here and not only survives winter - he likes it. They get about 3m of snow, but never have more than 1m standing at a time. The roads are continually plowed so you never get snowed in. Of course at -30C you don't expect to keep the barroom at room temperature - you just try to keep the pipes from freezing. Tom goes backpacking in winter. Walking around, camping and admiring the scenery at these temperatures is beyond anything I can comprehend. It sounds closer to living in a space-suit on the moon or mars than anything terrestrial I know, but to the locals it seems as normal as slapping on sunscreen does to me.

Unlike Australia, much of Canada is covered in water (lakes). In winter every molecule of water and ground are frozen solid for 30cm down. It's much easier to move around on the ice and solid ground of winter, than in the water and soggy ground of the rest of the year. In fact winter is the busiest time of year; most of the logging happens in winter. Winter is the time to travel (from "Where is Here?", Alan Morantz, Penguin Canada, 2002, ISBN 0-14-301351-3, p5)

In the Arctic, there are three prevailing "seasons". There is winter, the best and safest time to travel, when bodies of water are frozen and the greatest distances are covered. There is summer, when travel on often-soggy land is more difficult and risky; you zigzag and turn like a mouse testing the corridors of a maze. Travel is often by sea, which is a much riskier venture that requires knowledge of where the shallows are at various times of the season. And there are transition seasons, the most perilous times, when the land is thawed, when the sea is rubbery, and the rivers partially frozen. The greatest risk of hypothermia is during this time. It should be no surprise that the Inuktitut word for weather and knowledge is the same: sila.

I settled in at the bar and being the only customer had a few quiet Sleeman honey browns, then moved over to the restaurant for a nice dinner. Apparently it's the best restaurant around and some people in the next town had come for a night out. There was a nice polite Canadian couple on one side of me, and as it happened a loudmouthed overweight american tourist on the other side. The american wasn't being mean; he just didn't understand that strangers didnn't want to hear the story of his life unbidden. I had been in the country only 6hrs and already was confronted with the stereotypes of Canadians and Americans.

When I lived in Maryland, a cold spell one year killed all my rose bushes, and killed stock in a nearby town. The Canadians kept horses. I asked how the horses survived winter and why did the stock have so much trouble in Maryland?

"Oh they love it. They don't even go into the barn to get out of the cold (and wind). The real problem in winter is getting water to the stock. Our horses drink from a trough. There's a river flowing through the property (under the ice), but the horses don't know to drink from it. You have to give them fresh water every day."

So the stock in Maryland had probably died of thirst. I didn't find out what happened to the water trough; did it eventually fill up with solid ice?

Figure 5. Barn Swallows at HI-South, Maynooth, Ontario

Barn Swallows at HI-South, Maynooth, Ontario

The Canadians pointed out the family of barn swallows just outside the restaurant. There were at least 3 babies, on the point of overflowing the mud nest. The adults sat on the wall behind us as I took the photo and didn't approach the nest till we left.

3.2. Arriving at the Lake

On arrival I picked up my camping permits at the ranger station. I read and signed a form saying that I wouldn't take any metal or glass containers into the Park. There was nothing about alcohol. I must have signed the same form last year, but in the intervening period, I've not understood how Ratz knew that I could bring beer into the park as long as it was in plastic bottles (he understood the form).

After signing, I was given a plastic bag for my garbage and told to take it with me out of the Park when I left (and not to leave it in a Park garbage can). It all sounded reasonable.

I went to pick up my canoe. Last year at Opeongo Outfitters I was the only client in the building, a promising start for a wilderness trip, if not for the balance books of the Outfitter. The canoe checkout at Algonquin Outfitters was as busy as a ski resort rental shop. The T-shirt on one of the employees said "Est. 1961". They're printing money.

The 30lb single person canoe I was renting had been left sitting in grass, rather than on a rack and had dozens of earwigs crawling around the bottom. I rolled the canoe over and thumped its bottom to dislodge them. A few seconds after rolling it back, the bottom was covered in earwigs again. They were coming from the gunwhales, but I hadn't figured this out yet. I rolled and thumped the canoe about 10 times, before the earwig count started to drop. Somewhere in here I was handed the portage yoke. It was not build-in like on other canoes - you had to figure out the balance point then screw it in with clamps. Once setup, large bolt ends poked out of the yoke. Despite 30yrs of working with equipment, chemicals and biologicals, that can kill you, and training to not approach a new situation until you fully understand the safety considerations, I assumed that the bolt ends had been checked out by the outfitter - they hadn't.

After the earwigs appeared to be under control, a quick test paddle of the canoe showed that

  • on the first stroke, the bolt-end tore the back of my hand and blood dripped off my hand. I could see no way I reliably stroke without hitting my hand at least once more in the next 4 days (I could see doing it dozens of times). The helpful employee told me that I wasn't supposed to put the yoke on until I was ready to use it (so how come they didn't tell me to take it off after they'd shown me how to put it on?). So it was my fault I'd ripped the back of my hand open.
  • the seat was near the middle of the canoe. You had to lean out of the boat to put your paddle in the water, not something you want to do for days on end and not a good position to put any power into the water. Being in the middle, your stroke turned you in circles - you may as well have been paddling a saucer.

Looking at the bottom of the boat I saw it was full of earwigs again and found that dozens of grubs (larvae) were attached to the gunwales. The boat would be raining earwigs for days yet and wasn't viable for anything.

Deciding to forgo any portaging (which I probably wouldn't be doing anyhow) I asked for a regular 45 lb 2-man canoe. The problem there was that there was no painter (rope) at either end of the canoe. You need this so that the boat doesn't get away from you while you get in and out on landing. No problem, the safety kit (not part of the rental price, but a required extra), had a rope, presumably for this purpose. I whipped it out and tied it to one end of the canoe. The safety kit included an orange plastic whistle - I already had one, but I was required to rent theirs as well. No problem - I clipped theirs to my shirt. The helpful employee rushed over to tell me that I wasn't allowed to take the rope or the whistle out of the safety kit. According to the outfitter, the safety items would be most helpful in the boat if I unexpectedly found myself in the water. "Well OK" I asked, "how do I dock the boat in choppy water at a slippery slopping rock?". His answer was to stand on the flat dock and lift one end of the canoe 10cm out of the glass smooth water onto the dock.

The Opeongo Outfitters weren't people to ask advice and I was glad to be gone. I paddled off with the orange rope tied to the bow and drapped back over my gear to my feet at the stern.

Figure 6. Departing South end Opeongo Lake

Departing South end Opeongo Lake

Note safety line doubling as bow painter rather than being stowed in container.

4. Paddling in a large, deep, windy lake with lots of power boats

4.1. The Wind

Last year was my first time paddling on a large body of deep (more than waist high) water. My previous experience has been on fast moving water where the issue is when you'd roll the boat, not if. Last year looking across the deep water to the shore on the other side, I took the shortest distance, not stopping till I reached the other side. This year I realised that I wasn't going to roll the boat and the flat water of a deep wide lake wasn't a concern. I was happy to sit out in the middle of a 2km wide lake and admire the view without a thought for Davey Jones's locker way below me.

The problem this year, paddling alone, in a two man canoe, on a big lake, was wind. The prevailing wind is from the NW, but the prevailing wind didn't prevail, and, as for last year with Ratz, the wind was against me on the way out and against me on the way back in. Some of the waves had white caps and the wind was stiff enough for sailing. The waterproof map you buy, after you've signed up for your route, says that near metre high waves are possible. 10-20cm was the norm for me. It was always windy in the afternoon and till after dark. The mornings were generally still. You may notice that all the water in the photos is flat: in wind I was too busy handling the canoe to take photos.

Paddling in wind in a 2 man canoe is just a matter of keeping the canoe into the wind. Paddling by yourself in wind is a bit of a chore (I should have been in a kayak). It took me 3 days of my 4 day trip to find out how to do it.

  • No wind: one person in stern, no gear:

    If you sit in the stern seat of an empty canoe, then the bow sits up out of the water. Although the canoe is light and easy to move forward, you find with no weight up front the boat yaws with each stroke, and it's almost impossible to paddle in a straight line with a J-stroke. You can't just go off in an empty canoe by yourself; you need ballast up front. When 2 people are in the canoe, the bow person serves as the ballast.

  • In wind: one person in the stern, full gear.

    the bow turns downwind (the opposite of what I wanted). I had expected that my body would act as a sail (or poop deck) and blow the stern to the downwind position, with the boat facing into the wind. I spent much of the trip figuring out how to paddle into the wind.

    the stable configuration of the boat in wind is across the wind (e.g. if you drop a leaf of paper, it will spend most of the time floating down horizontally, rather than diving vertically). At least on this lake, you need to be able to head into the wind. Turning a canoe in the wind is like coming about in a sailboat; you can't stay facing the wind - the wind catches the canoe turning it across the wind and you wind up paddling across the wind, no matter which direction you attempt to paddle.

    Figure 7. Paddling into the wind with one person in the canoe at the stern

    Paddling into the wind with one person in the canoe at the stern

    You will turn one way or another across the wind and you cannot recover. This problem terminated my first day's paddling early. I could only paddle across the wind. Since the wind was coming from where I was headed, I wasn't going anywhere and I had to head for the shore and camp for the night.

  • I had an afternoon in camp and night to think about the problem. On the 2nd morning in mild wind I came up with this solution.

    In wind, paddling from bow seat, gear pushed towards stern.

    In a single person kayak, you sit in the middle, not at an end. Sitting in the stern of a canoe, my body constituted most of the mass of the boat and the wind blowing on the boat rotated it about the pivot point of my body. I moved to the bow seat (3/4 up the boat rather than the stern seat which is right at the end) and sat facing into the middle of the boat. Now the gunwhales were further out and I couldn't paddle with the paddle in the air anymore - I had to run the shaft of the paddle along the gunwhales. This is somewhat grubby paddling technique, with the boat rocking with each stroke as the shaft hit the gunwhales. However there was no-one else in the boat to be disturbed by the jolt. I pushed my gear as far up the other end as possible under the stern seat, (making that end lower in the water), while keeping it all below the gunwhales (out of the wind). With this arrangement you're paddling the boat in opposite direction to normal, with the now empty stern seat leading. Despite my new theory, the boat still steered facing downwind. Making a square rigger which would swing into the wind and ride out a storm without sails, was a more difficult proposition than I thought. However the turning moment of the wind was smaller and I could now keep the canoe into the wind, if I was already facing into the wind. I never found a way of making the boat steer in the wind by itself.

    Sitting in the bow seat, I found that the slide was stuck - you couldn't move it while sitting on it. You needed to get up, push the seat to the new position and sit down again. I should have been able to flick or slide the seat to the required position, when getting in an out of the canoe or when reaching for the map. Thinking the clamps on the slide were tight, I reached down to loosen them, only to find they were loose already. Algonquin Outfitters had struck again.

    Figure 8. Paddling into the wind with one person in the canoe at the bow, facing the stern, gear pushed to the stern

    Paddling into the wind with one person in the canoe at the bow, facing the stern, gear pushed to the stern

    Initially using this back-to-front method, I paddled about 15 deg offset to the wind, with the wind exactly compensating for the turning moment of the straight paddling stroke on the lee side of the boat. This required the wind to be constant (which it was mostly), but you had to paddle flat-out to stay on the edge of the wind. You don't get a break - if you stop paddling, the boat turns across the wind, and you can't recover.

    To start a lake crossing, you line the boat up in a sheltered spot (e.g. around a protected corner of shore) and then strike out across the lake. Coming around the protected corner, you would be blown sideways and it would take a few attempts before you were lined up. Crossing the bay at the top of the South Arm took 90mins: A sudden gust (or if you got tired and stopped paddling) could flick the canoe 90deg to the wind and all you'd only be able to paddle across the wind to the nearest shore. In the middle of a lake, this could be a long way and take you out of your way.

    I paddled this way from the 2nd morning to half way through the 3rd day, when presented with a strong wind and crossing the bay at the top of the South Arm again, I discovered a better method.

  • A minor unsuccessful variation on the above system, was to turn around in the bow seat and face the end of the boat (rather than the middle) and paddle as if I was the bow man in a two man canoe, with my gear following behind in the otherwise empty stern. (This felt like sitting on a bicycle facing backwards.)

    Figure 9. Paddling into the wind with one person in the canoe at the bow, facing the bow, gear pushed to the stern

Paddling into the wind with one person in the canoe at the bow, 
facing the bow, gear pushed to the stern

    Paddling was easier, since the paddle was going into the water closer to the the center line of the boat and the boat faced into the wind. However because the gunwhales diverged (rather than converged) behind you, the stroke was not parallel with the keel of the boat, causing the boat to steer in circles. You had to change sides every couple of strokes. Steering control was poor, with the stern fishtailing in large overshoots. Any correction would continue past the wind line and the boat would steer in a circle for many strokes after I'd changed sides with my paddle. This method was unusable for long stretches, but would give me an extra option if I got blown sideways by the wind. I didn't test whether I could turn the boat 180 deg this way, but I was going to try it if I got caught again.

  • On the 3rd day in the middle of the 90min crossing of the bay at the north end of the south arm, in the strongest wind of the trip, I accidently found the best method - to head almost directly into the wind (8 deg off the wind rather than 15deg). Heading closer to the wind required a mild J-stroke to keep the boat headed straight, but gave me more margin of control. Now I was in little danger of being turned around by the wind. I didn't need to paddle so hard - I could even have a rest, although restarting the boat while it was going backwards in a strong wind was hard. If I wanted a rest it was easier to paddle slowly and keep the boat moving, than to stop and restart. I still needed all my gear up front as ballast, to keep the nose down and reduce the turning at the beginning of the stroke.

    Figure 10. Paddling into the wind with one person in the canoe at the bow, facing the stern, gear pushed to the stern, 8 deg off the wind, using a J-stroke to compensate for the reduced offset to the wind.

Paddling into the wind with one person in the canoe at the bow, 
facing the stern, gear pushed to the stern, 8 deg off the wind, using
a J-stroke to compensate for the reduced offset (from 15 deg to 8 deg) to the wind.

The result of not being able to steer into the wind (at least, before the 3rd day, reliably) was that I couldn't control where I went. If the wind came up, I couldn't guarantee being able to return to my camp site. At best I could only paddle 15 deg away from the wind or across the wind. I abandonned my original plan of staying at the same campsite each night, and took all my gear with me each day.

4.2. The Other Visitors to the Lake

The people who come to Opeongo Lake aren't your average wilderness seeker.

Some seem to enjoy letting others know they're there, yelling loudly across the lake or letting off guns in the evening (maybe they were just fireworks being exploded one at a time). People talk loudly on their cell phones as you paddle 100m offshore past their campsite. If I had a cell phone, I may have brought it with me, but I wouldn't have talked so that the people in the middle of the lake could hear.

Some large groups have enough gear to last a winter. I wondered how many trips they needed to bring it all in. Ernest Hemingway, in his trips to Africa, even with all his porters, had less gear. Few people seem to be doing minimal trips like mine.

Some parties were older couples in a low power motor boat, who presumably came for a few days of quiet fishing.

One couple had a magnificent home-built wooden canoe weighing only 60lbs (a fibreglass canoe of the same size weighs 45lbs). The varnished planking looked like the deck of a ChrisCraft speedboat. They told me they stepped out first to guide the boat in and were careful not to run it onto rocks when landing.

When you get to an empty campsite, they're neat, tidy and clean. People don't leave trash and there's no hordes of ants, as would happen if people had left food or trash. Some campsites have log seats and picnic tables, that people must have brought in. Presumably people come back to the same site over and over and they upgrade the site each time they come. Evidently some people think a lot of the lake and put time into making and keeping it nice.

4.3. Motor Boats

Sound propagates with 2π rather than 4π geometry over flat reflecting water and voices can be heard across the lake, when over the same distance in the woods, you wouldn't hear a sound.

Last year, motor boats had been present at Rock Lake, but once beyond the first portage, there were no motorboats and you felt like you were in wilderness.

This year, the trip was on Openogo Lake, all of which was accessable to power boats of unlimited power. With minimal requirements for a muffler, the noise from a powerboat is more than from a car of the same horsepower. You can hear the boats till they're over the horizon. If you're in the East Arm you can hear the motorboats in the North Arm. They're out at 7am and rarely are you out of hearing range of a motorboat.

A wilderness experience this is not: It's closer to a NASCAR oval or the local recreation lake with motor boats fanging around. The only thing missing is the water skiers and jet skis.

You'd never guess that this was the place described in the idyllic travel article in the NYT. About half of the motor boats are the water taxis from our friends at Algonquin Outfitters, with racks for 6 canoes, but only ever carrying one, delivering canoers to the other end of the lake, where nature lovers start their unique wilderness experience, after waking you up. The only place where motorboats aren't allowed is in Hailstorm creek. Officially this is for the protection of fauna, but since they don't get any respect anywhere else in the lake, I wouldn't be surprised if it's to save the rangers having to rescue people whose propellors get fouled in the reeds.

A notice in the back of the map says "motor boats are discouraged". On my return to the Parks Ontario station, I mentioned that the noise from power boats was more intrusive than I'd expected (or would have hoped in an area being promoted as a wilderness for canoeing). The ranger had no idea that motorboats were discouraged, so I showed her the back of the map. In response she expansively showed me the Algonquin Park map, coloured to show the regions where motorboats aren't allowed. They aren't allowed where a portage is required. Portaging a powerboat is a feat that even the most ardent powerboat enthusiast has not yet considered. Since this rule is never activated, Parks Ontario places no restrictions on motorboats: they aren't restricted by horsepower or noise level, or discouraged in any way. Hydroplanes and cigarette boats are quite compatible with the wilderness plan for the Park. The ranger did conceed that the injunction on the map was a little misleading. She would fix this by getting the map changed.

One would hope the that that the noise and power boat rules were formulated after public enquiry and with the idea of minimising the impact on the wilderness experience of the lake. Since this is not a theme park, I would expect Parks Ontario have set noise restrictions, but there appear to be none. Presumably fishermen who want a small mouthed bass from the remote reaches of the North Arm, can make it there and back in a day with a small putt-putt motor. Algonguin Outfitters should be required to muffle their boat engines to the same level as a car. Wilderness seekers don't have to be whisked noisily one party at a time, to the end of the lake in minutes, when a 2hr trip would have the added advantage of allowing a little attitude adjustment. On my return I met a party who had just fanged in from their mid-lake island retreat, to take their daily shower. These people could learn to swim or wash in a lake.

The main beneficiary of the lack of noise and boat rules would appear to be Algonquin Outfitters, who boast of the power of their boats and the speed with which they can deliver you to the end of the lake. One would hope that they would instead boast of their leading role in keeping the lake a wilderness by adopting quiet engines, but they have no such sensitivities. At the rate they're renting out canoes, they could cover the cost of the neccessary modifications in a few hours. I expect that Algonquin Outfitters are well entrenched, are making lots of money and have influence to keep it this way. These boats should go make noise on recreation lakes. It's not like Canada is short of lakes.

5. The lake water is red-brown

The lake water was a red-brown, the color of tea. Visibility was about 1m. I didn't know what the color was about, but was glad I'd brought my own liquids. A few weeks later I was on the coast of Maine, looking at reasonably clear sea water, the day after heavy rain. Beside me was a small creek coming out of a pine forest, the water of the same red-brown color, running into the clear sea. As uninviting as it looked, I believe the color is just phenols from the dead pine needles and quite safe to drink. I was a phytochemist for 10yrs and have seen plenty of this red-brown coloration in the lab but I'd never seen it in a body of natural water before and initially didn't recognise it.

6. Choosing a Campsite

In a set of lakes running N-S, you can camp on the west or the east side. With the prevailing wind coming from the NW, to avoid the wind you would paddle and camp on the W side of the lake. I found the wind coming from the N (on the way in) or from the S (on the way back). I would get the wind no matter where I paddled. Other parameters in choosing the campsite then would be whether you wanted a view of sunset or sunrise. With my trip starting at the new moon, I chose the east side of the lake to watch the new moon at sunset.

My trip the year before had been pleasantly cool (and overcast with intermittant rain), pretty much as I had expected for Canada and was relief from the relentless heat of North Carolina's summer. This year I prepared for cool again, but was it was fine and warm, at least warm enough that I had to sleep on top of my sleeping bag rather than in it. Canada was the last place I expected to be hot. It was past mosquitoe season and I was sleeping in a zippered tent. The occassional buzzing reminded me that a few mosquitoes had joined me inside and I finished them off with bug spray. My mind drifted back to a summer hike 40yrs previously, when 3 of us spend a miserable night next to a mosquitoe infested swamp in a hot open tent without any bug spray.

7. Daily Log

7.1. Camp 1: East Side of Northern end of South Arm

Even though I'd figured out in the first afternoon that I had to paddle from the bow seat facing the middle, I was still blown out of the wind a few times. Not getting anywhere except sideways and being exhausted by the attempt, I pulled into shore a lot earlier in the afternoon than I would have liked, and setup camp not far from my start.

The presumably normal point for stepping out of the water, a flat rock platform, was being pounded by waves. Rather than dash the canoe on the rocks, as Algonquin outfitters would have me do, I tied up to a tree around the corner under a wet rock face, using the proscribed painter from the safety kit. After landing my gear, I hauled the canoe up the slope to dry ground.

Figure 11. First campsite, on eastern side of South Arm of Opeongo Lake.

First campsite, on eastern side of South Arm of Opeongo Lake.

The campsite is about 10m above the water up a steep rock. Note the shelf built between trees on the right hand side of the picture. Many campsites have such additions, presumably made by returning visitors. From the shadows, this is mid afternoon, quite early for me to camp.

Figure 12. Mushroom at first campsite (in shaded forest, needed flash)

Mushroom at first campsite. This was in shaded forest and needed the flash.

7.2. Paddling to the North Arm

Next morning the weather was fine again, with a bit of a blow.

Figure 13. Looking at entrance to the North Arm of Opeongo Lake from first campsite in the south arm

Looking at entrance to the North Arm of Opeongo Lake from first campsite in the south arm

The 2nd day was through this gap into the North Arm and into Hailstorm Creek. The hills on the right of the above photo are on the left of the next photo.

Figure 14. Looking at entrance to the East Arm of Opeongo Lake from first campsite in the south arm

Looking at entrance to the East Arm of Opeongo Lake from first campsite in the south arm

The 3rd day would be coming out of the North Arm, going up into the East arm (entrance in centre of image) then back out again, back across the water here and then back to near the bottom of the south arm (behind me).

Figure 15. Closer to the entrance to the North Arm

Closer to the entrance to the North Arm

I'm not sure where I took this from. It must have been from closer to the entrance to the north arm (since I didn't have a telephoto lens) but it looks like I was at a high point (which here means about 10m or so) and I must have got out of the canoe on an island to do it. Note the water was calm in mid morning when this was taken.

Figure 16. Entrance to North Arm

Entrance to North Arm

Entrance to North Arm - note the distinctive tree leaning over the water on the left side.

In a lot of ways the map wasn't terribly helpful. On water, being always at the same elevation and seeing hills only from the side, I was navigating in 2-D. I'm used to walking up and down mountains and being able to look into valleys, where you navigate in 3-D. By the wonders of parallax, while sitting on water, I couldn't differentiate an island from the mainland behind it. Looking along the shore to a distant group of trees behind a nearer group, the land in between could be any of

  • a cove
  • a body of water making the nearer group an island
  • one continuous piece of land

I couldn't confirm that I was paddling beside an island till I got to the end of it.

Some islands (the small ones) aren't on the map. Not being a great navigator, I somehow decided that the reverse was also true: that I would pass by small islands on the map without noticing them. This was completely wrong - a small island on the map was quite obvious on the water.

On the map, the entrance to the north arm of the lake is through a narrow (several 100m) gap, called the West Narrows, which then opens into a broad expanse of water. The physical entrance to the north arm (photo above) has trees leaning into the lake on one side (Fish Is, I think, writing this up 9months later), making a dramatic gap. Unfortunately the gap I saw and the gap on the map aren't the same - they're separated by a 1km bay of islands. Thus after going through the physical gap, instead of being in open water, I was surrounded by islands which I had previously seen as part of the mainland.

I was completely flummoxed and didn't have any idea where I was, or how I could have suddenly found myself in a maze of islands, whose connection (or otherwise) to the mainland I couldn't discern from my vantage point. Not knowing where all these islands has suddenly come from, initially I had no idea even how begin to figure out where I was, other than a pointless backtracking. After some headscratching I realised I needed more info (e.g. a couple of different views of the place) and went for a bit of a paddle around. As it was starting to dawn on me where I was, I came across a camper who straightened me out. I would not liked to have arrived in this bay in fog.

Figure 17. Bird on rock in bay of islands at entrance to North Arm

Bird on rock in bay of islands at entrance to North Arm

Bird (probably a gull) on rock in the bay of islands at the entrance to the north arm of the lake. The bird was sitting on the rock and I drifted towards him, trying to get a close photo.

Figure 18. Loons in bay of islands at entrance to North Arm

Loons in bay of islands at entrance to North Arm

Figure 19. tree living in crack in rock

tree living in crack in rock

7.3. Camp 2: East Side of North Arm, opposite Hailstorm Creek

On this 2nd day, I was heading for Hailstorm Creek, in the north arm of the lake. There I was most likely to see a moose (we'd seen several last year without even trying, on the Penn, Rock and Clydegale Lake trip). I already knew from the ranger that the camp sites around Hailstorm Creek were all alloted for today. If I was the last one into the area, I would have to do a 2hr exhaustive search in a stiff breeze of the north arm, to find the last campsite. The north arm wasn't all that big and I took a chance that I'd be able to get back across it no matter what the wind and return to my chosen campsite. So about midday, after checking out two other sites, I picked a campsite opposite Hailstorm creek (near Tadpole Lake), setup my tent and spent the afternoon in Hailstorm Creek.

Even though Hailstorm Creek was relatively sheltered, the wind picked up and made paddling hard. While out in the main lake, there was some chance of someone seeing me if I got into trouble, here I as on my own and I decided discretion was the better part of valour and didn't go the whole way down the creek. On exiting Hailstorm Creek, I paddled back across the north arm in a breeze as stiff as I could handle.

I was glad I didn't have to compete for a campsite that afternoon. I did watch two parties come past looking for an open campsite. The first party was 3 canoe loads of teenage girls (4 to a boat, somewhat overloaded in my mind) speaking Valley Girl ("for sure"), completely unaware of their surroundings ("he did!", "really?!") and an accompanying female adult bravely trying to show them something of the outdoors, seemingly with little success. The adult was clearly interested in being invited to share the large empty space surrounding my tent, but I hadn't come this far to have my evening's tranquility broken. I directed them to an unoccupied campsite 200m away and wished them well (their canoes were there the next morning so presumably they made it OK). The wind kept picking up and still later a party came by with their boats pitching and crashing into each wave.

After 4 days rocking in a canoe, as I'm starting to write this the first night back, I still feel the motion of the canoe under me, and my balance seems to think I'm still in a canoe. I remember I had the same feeling after my first day in a rowboat when I was a kid.

Figure 20. Looking to Hailstorm Creek from the campsite near sunset after the wind died down.

Looking to Hailstorm Creek from the campsite near sunset after the wind died down.

Figure 21. Sunset over Hailstorm Creek.

Sunset over Hailstorm Creek.

7.4. East Arm

Next day, I exited the North Arm via the bay of islands, seeing familiar places.

Figure 22. Island in the bay that from a distance looked like a 4 masted ship.

Island in the bay that from a distance looked like a 4 masted ship.

From a distance, and most of the previous day, this island looked like a 4 masted ship. Up close it was just an island with some dead trees.

Figure 23. Tree growing in crack in rock again.

Tree growing in crack in rock again.

I then paddled around into the east arm. That night I needed to be at the southern end of Opeongo Lake lake for an early exit the next day, so I couldn't spend a long time in the East Arm. While the photos above show blue sky in the early morning, by midday, the sky was full of small cumulus at about half the altitude they seemed to be in North Carolina. Is this what happens as you head to the poles? The clouds directly above the eastern arm of the lake seemed to be lower than those over the land on either side. I didn't know this happened - was I imagining it?

Sep 2009: On a later plane trip I flew over a large lake and saw that the clouds over the water were obviously lower.

Once in the east arm the wind started to blow strongly, from the south (the opposite direction to the day before). Going into the East Arm the wind was with me, but being quite strong I would have to allow plenty of time to paddle against it coming back. I didn't take any photos and just paddled up the west side of Opeongo Is to Cape Breton Is and after looking to the eastern side of the arm, I turned around. I then crossed the large bay at the top of Opeongo Lake into the wind. This was where I found I could paddle about 8deg off the wind and compensate with some J-stroke.

7.5. Camp 3: East Side of Southern end of South Arm

Although the wind blew from mid-morning till I reached camp that evening, it blew steadily and it was just a matter of keeping paddling and before long I had some good distance under my belt. I paddled around the eastern side of Englehart Is, hoping to avoid the wind coming from the south, but it didn't make much difference. I camped on the eastern shore near Welsley Is.

Figure 24. Sunset from 3rd campsite.

Sunset from 3rd campsite.

Canoe in foreground.

I saw the new moon this night looking through the clouds. I had been watching for the new moon at sunset each night, not being sure which evening I would first see it.

The next morning I paddled out to the ranger station and dropped off my rental canoe.

8. Fauna

8.1. Wolves

I heard wolves howling about 6 times the first night (they woke me up each time).

8.2. Birds

There were birds at only one campsite, opposite Hailstorm Creek, in the north arm. There were no birds at either of the two campsites in the south arm (the end with road access). How you get rid of birds, so that you don't see a single one for hours (and in a Park), I don't know, but you have to wonder what has happened. I didn't see or hear a loon the first day (down near the entrance). Last year and the 2nd night this year, they were everywhere and calling all night.

  • belted kingfisher flying past.
  • tree birds:

    • red-breasted nuthatch: (I've only seen the white-breasted nuthatch in North Carolina).
    • dozens of chickadees hopping along branches looking for insects. There are black capped and carolina versions of the chickadee. It's difficult to differentiate them by appearance and (according to the book) they are best differentiated by their call. Instead of calling chickadee-dee-dee their call was "eeep" and not one of the two allowed calls. I later saw the same "eeep"'ing chickadees by the Ottawa R. in Ottawa. According to the Algonquin 2005 calendar, they stay the whole winter through.
    • downy woodpecker
  • waterbirds: loons, cormorants, sea gulls

    I didn't think anything about the cormorants (double crested), after all they are found on the coast of Maine, not too far away. On reading at the visitor's center [2], the cormorants are actually from a population that summers in lakes in central Canada (originally Lake of the Woods, on the Manitoba border), disjunct with the coastal population (which is quite happy there), and are moving east, first to the Great Lakes, and now to lakes in Ontario, and are following the introduction of a fish for sport fishing (alewife and rainbow smelt) and the overfishing of the Lake Trout which would normally have eaten them. The are not native to the area and are only in Algonquin because of this fish. The first recorded sighting of a cormorant in Algonquin was in 1954 and the first nesting attempt was in 2002 (on an island in Opeongo Lake). Cormorants don't take any of the native trout at Lake Opeongo (which live too deep), but they do take the introduced shallow water fish (e.g. smallmouth bass). About 80 cormorants are now competing for food in Lake Opeongo with about 100 breeding loons and 50 non-breeding loons.

  • wading/shorebird: I saw some wading shore bird about the size of a sanderling hopping away from me, and couldn't dentify it. Several blue herons.
  • raptors:

    I saw a northern harrier (identified by color and size) being dive bombed and chased off by a pair of redwinged blackbirds.

    An osprey was fishing off my campsite opposite Hailstorm Creek, and I later saw an osprey in a nest high in the top of a dead tree, taller than all the other live trees.

8.3. Turtles

A turtle appears as a stick poking out of the water that bobs up and down with the water. Both I saw were in the water close to islands. The had clawed feet: I believe these are called terrapins (tortoises have stumpy feet and live on land, turtles have fins and live in the ocean). I was quietly watching one of these when a power boat cruised past, the wake thumping the canoe up and down on the rocks under me. I had to get away before the wake cracked the fibreglass canoe. I didn't see the turtle again.

On asking at the Ranger station on my return, this is likely to be a snapping turtle, and most of them are known and tagged.

8.4. Moose, Beaver, Geese, Herons and Hailstorm Creek

Hailstorm Creek is offlimits to motor boats but from the amount of vegetation in the creek, the restriction could be to save the rangers rescueing people in motorboats with fouled propellors.

Figure 25. Hailstorm creek

Hailstorm Creek.

Hailstorm Creek. Even in the relatively open water, there are many many plants to paddle through (they don't slow you down much). One of the common floating plants, the bullhead lily, has a bright yellow and red-orange flower (it's the picture for July 2005 in the Algonquin Park calendar). Beavers like eating its roots. They were too small (5cm) to photograph with the camera I had. All the photos I found on the internet were of yellow only flowers and without the red-orange central region. The nearest I came to the color is Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium ( but the flower doesn't look much like the one in the Algonquin 2005 calendar, which I remember when I bought it looked like the plant.

Hailstorm Creek is where you hope to see moose. I didn't see a one. Neither did another party camped just outside the entrance on the west side of the North Arm. I saw more moose last year in Pen lake but then we had two pairs of eyes. Most of my time was managing the canoe in the wind, and I didn't spend much time scanning the edge of the woods for moose. There could be dozens in there for all I know.

Most of the flat area between the hills is floating plants rather than aluvium (sand or mud). It looks solid, until you poke it with a paddle, when it sinks and then bobs back up again. This stuff extends for 100's of m. out from the hills. Some parts of it smells as if the reduction potential is at the reduced end.

Figure 26. Beaver Lodge, Hailstorm Creek

beaver lodge, Hailstorm Creek

There were several beaver lodges. The beavers in the water swam away from me as I approached, but kept an eye on me as they swam away. The flat, lighter green region in the midground is all floating. The darker green hills (20m or so in height) in the background, are solid rock.

Sep 2009: Surprisingly considering that I'm not a photographer and I was using a disposable camera, I've been contacted by two people about using this photo; one as a background for a children's TV show, and the other as the cover for a box for a children's educational toy. I gave both people permission to use the photo, but haven't heard back from either about what they did with it.

Blue Heron: saw a few of these.

Canada Geese: Where I live (North Carolina) is populated with non-migratory canada geese, which tolerate humans to about 2m away and make no attempt to hide on your approach, I only saw one family of Canada geese in the park and they were in Hailstorm creek. Having spotted them first, I approached driven by the wind (and not otherwise making any movements) whereupon the adults shooed the goslings into the reeds. Then quite close by, the adult male appeared poking his head and neck out of the reeds and eyeballed me, while the goslings and mother stood motionless about 10m behind him in the reeds, although still visible through the green and brown reeds with their black and white markings. When I didn't move, he hurried back and joined the family in the rear.

I didn't understand what the male goose was doing till I told the story to my partner on my return. She rolled her eyes: "he's being a decoy". I'd never heard of this and put it on my list of unassimilated information. Only a few days later I got a demonstration of the adult male playing decoy when I was walking along the path at the edge of a local lake. I heard a whole lot of murmurings and rushing about in the reeds, then suddenly out infront of me leapt an adult male duck. Distracted from the continuing noise in the reeds, I followed the duck, who walked away from the murmurings, about 3m infront of me, every few seconds turning around to quack at me. Seeing nothing much of interest in following the male duck, I turned back to the continuing murmuring in the reeds, when the male duck rushed at me quacking and then turned to walk in original direction away from the noise. When I didn't follow him, he abandonned his show and dived into the reeds. A few seconds later about half a dozen ducklings and the parents burst out of the reeds and rushed across the path and plunged into the lake swimming away from me. Now if they hadn't made a sound as I walked past, I wouldn't have even known they were there in the first place.

Being a moose isn't always fun. From the visitor's center at the end of the trip, I find that moose came over the land bridge with the native americans. (From something else I read, the deer came over at the same time). Deer ticks don't bother deer a whole lot, but greatly bother moose. Apparently deer have had evolutionary time to adjust to the ticks, but moose haven't. If the moose and the deer all came from Siberia at the same time and presumably brought the deer ticks with them, they've both had the same time to adjust to the ticks, (and presumably had them in Siberia too), so there's a missing piece of information here. A moose can have upto 100,000 deer ticks on it, which after engorging, are grape sized. The moose in a frenzy, trying to rid itself of the ticks, will scrape off its insulating hair, killing the moose in winter. As well the ticks carry a brain worm, which passes through a snail in another part of its lifecycle, before burying itself in the spinal cord and brain of the moose. From there, eggs pass out in the faeces of the moose, while the moose dies of a mad-cow like disease. The result of this is that wherever the deer choose to be, there are no moose. The deer go with a particular type of tree (which I forget), so moose are found where these trees aren't.

Since the deer displace moose, factors that affect deer population, like wolves, affect moose. Algonquin is one of the few parks which still has wolves. Without wolves, the deer population explodes, eliminating moose via the brain worm. If you want moose, you need wolves. Deer were introduced for sport to Anticosti Is in the St. Lawrence in the 1800's. Without wolves, the deer population increased (to 120,000), stripping the island of vegetation, converting balsam forests to white spruce (which the deer don't eat) thus eliminating the bears and many small animals. The current control method is humans with rifles [3]. No-one has thought of introducing wolves.

Sep 2009: After introducing deer on Nantucket about 1920, the deer population has increased to a level that deer ticks are bothering humans. A proposed solution is humans with rifles. No-one is considering introducing wolves here either.

Moose are at their southern limit at Algonquin. With their heavy fur coat (even the summer version), they have trouble staying cool in summer. In winter, they are quite comfortable at -30 or -40 deg C, without needing to shiver - their thin legs loose little heat.

Until the 60's deer were the park's dominant large mammal. After that moose took over [4]. During WWI, deer were so abundant in the park that they were hunted to alleviate a meat shortage in Toronto [5]. The logging and fire suppression created forest conditions more like that of the original Algonquin forest, where deer did not prosper [6] - deer were rare or absent before the 1800s. The thick forests then blocked off the light needed for the plants the deer ate. The moose like the slightly salty puddles that form on the road side in the spring as a result of the winter sanding operations [7] which results in one or two dozen car-moose collisions each year.

Spring is a difficult time for large animals - moose crash through the thin ice in deep water and then aren't able to climb up on the thin crust to get out. Bloated moose bodies are found in lakes by rangers in the spring. You'd think that animals would be wary of thin or creaking ice, but apparently not (I've heard stories that horses won't go out on thin ice). Deer with their hooves, aren't able to climb out of even shallow water onto slippery wet ice at the edge of the lake, and are attacked by wolves [8].

9. Canoe or Kayak: Rent or Buy?

If you want to kayak/canoe at any distance from home and you don't do a lot of canoeing, you have to rent. Otherwise you have to watch a kayak on the roof of your car. Kayaks have a high vapour pressure, if notices on the message board outside the canoe shop in Bar Harbour (Maine, USA) are any indication - they just disappear off your roofrack the minute you turn around.

The problem is that a sea kayak is 17' long and you can't stick it in your car. Well why not? In my youth I rowed in shells, 60' long, all of which came apart in sections, held together with bolts and wingnuts, for transporting on car roof racks. A sea kayak can be assembled from transportable sections which could fit inside a station wagon. Why isn't a sea kayak built in sections? The body only needs to be long enough to hold your feet, the steering gear and the seat. The stern section is just floatation and storage.

Renting a canoe is expensive. The canoe rented for $150 for 4 days and costs U$350-1500 new. The car rented for $150 for 5 days and costs 20k$ new. Both are sold at the end of the first year for about 1/2 to 2/3 the original price. The car requires maintenance, while the canoe does not. I know a canoe sits idle for a longer time between rentals, while car keys are handed over to the next customer as you sign back in, but still I can't imagine this accounts for the whole price difference. I am not an economist, so I looked for an explanation for why, relatively, canoes are so expensive to rent. The answer, from a business person, is that it's what the market will bear.

Assuming the rental canoes are on the low end of the price range, then I'm buying a canoe every 2 trips. It would be better to buy a $350 canoe and leave it on the dock at the end of the trip with a sign saying

"Free canoe, treat it nicely and leave it for the next person.
If you're the last person for the season (i.e. the lake is 
freezing over) you can take it home."

At least this way you could get 10 trips out of one U$350 canoe and you'd be ahead by a factor of 5.

I wanted a kayak (they're less work to paddle, so you can go further, and they're better in cross-winds), but I found in the Algonquin Park area that you can't rent kayaks for a short (e.g. 4 day) trip. All you can rent is a single day kayak, which carry no gear at all. Anyone coming to Algonquin is coming for more than one day, so the one day kayaks must be for the people at the commercial campsites. It's not like kayaks for short trips are hard to find - plenty of people will sell them to you.

From my experience of their service and canoe knowledge, Algonquin Outfitters should be out of business by now. On my return, I looked around for anyone else for info on my next trip. I called MEC to find to my surprise that not only did they have multi-day sea kayaks for rent, but they lots of free advice on follow up trips. e.g. a kayak trip on the upper Ottawa River.

They explained the sea kayak problem. Kayaks aren't suited for portage (the distinguishing feature of Canadian canoeing).

  • kayaks are heavy (75lbs) and take about 90mins to pack/unpack at each end
  • canoes are lighter (45lbs) and can be packed/unpacked in a minute or two

Being alone, I'd avoided portaging, but clearly if you wanted to cover the Park, sooner or later you'd have to bight the bullet and start portaging in a big way. If you're in wind or you don't need to portage, or you're by yourself, then it's a no-brainer - you take a kayak. However Canadians have a tradition of canoeing and when they think of paddling on lakes, they think of canoes. Maybe if I'd picked a trip on the sea coast where the Innuit lived, then only kayaks would have been available.

Other societies with no tradition of lake paddling (e.g. New Zealand) have gone to kayaks straight away for tourists. Here are some photos from an Australian friend kayaking in NZ.

Figure 27. Sea kayaking on Okarito Lagoon in New Zealand (note the snow on the peaks)

Sea kayaking on Okarito Lagoon in New Zealand. Nnote the snow on the peaks.

Figure 28. heading inshore

heading inshore

I then realised what had gone wrong with Algonquin Outfitters. They aren't catering to the wilderness tripper like myself. Their customers are the people who I saw renting canoes when I arrived and I now realised that I never saw again. These customers weren't on the lake with me - presumably they were in commercial campsites (e.g. at Rock Lake) and wanted canoes to paddle for an hour or two a day. Their other customers are the people who want a water taxi to the end of the lake to start their real trip and who after traversing Opeongo Lake often enough, don't want to take 2 days out of their vacation to traverse it twice more. Algonquin Outfitters aren't catering to people on a wilderness trip on Opeongo lake itself and if by mistake you blunder in from parts afar with that in mind, they do their best to make sure you find a more suitable outfitter for your next trip.

10. Educational Books, Vistor's Centers and Exhibits

Last year at the Rock Lake Parks Ontario ranger station, there weren't any books on the park. I remember the ranger saying that said such things didn't exist (I was confused about what you were allowed to do with beer back then too, so I may not have correctly remembered the situation with books either). All I could do was buy a pamphlet on wolf howling. We didn't have time last year to stop at the visitor centre, wanting to get back to Ottawa to register for the conference.

The ranger station at Opeongo Lake this year had lots of books about the Park. The ranger encouraged me to check out the visitor's center, where I was promised even more books. There I found sufficient books on Algonquin Park, the history, flora and fauna, logging... to keep me reading till next year. I remarked to this year's ranger, that I'd been told by last year's ranger, that no such books existed. Nope this was impossible, the ranger would never have told me such a thing, since it wasn't true.

11. Musee de Bucherons

The people at the Visitor's centre suggested I visit the Musee de Bucherons (Lumberjack museum for everyone else). I'd passed this by last year presuming it just to be a bunch of axes and old photos hanging on a wall. It was much better than that: There was a place to buy books about life as a lumberjack in boreal Canada. (I spent more on books on this trip than for the canoe rental. I can just imagine the reaction of my lucky 9yr old game-cube playing son on being dragged through all this neat "educational" stuff.)

The museum has a 1.3km trail of exhibits (some are reconstructions, some real). In the 1800's, half of the adult males in Canada were involved in year round logging, living their whole life away from cities in camps like those on exhibit here [9]. It doesn't take long to realise how the lumberjack and the great white north is burned into the Canadian psyche, in the way that the cowboy is in USA.

Figure 29. Lumberjack hut (reconstuction)

Lumberjack hut, a reconstuction.

As someone who can't abide cold, I could only wonder at the fortitude of people living at -30C, who slept 52 to a hut,, 2 to a lice-infested bunk, leaving before dawn, working all day to return in dark, and who never showered.

Figure 30. Lumberjack hut inside

Lumberjack hut inside

The big interest in Canada's trees started in 1808 when Napoleon cut off England's access to the forests of Europe, which were needed to build ships, to conquer Napoleon.

At night there's no rest either, you haul water, a barrel at a time, from below the frozen ice on the lake, into a water sled and then haul off the sled to ice the roads for the log hauling sleds next day. From the pictures of piles of logs from those days, England must have been building a lot of ships.

Figure 31. Water sled

Water sled

Figure 32. Loading a log sled

Loading a log sled

The machine at the top of the hill is a brake to hold the sled on downhills (the horses you see are fibreglass).

Figure 33. Sled brake

Sled brake

To better fit the logs into the ship's holds for the journey to Europe, a tree was squared off by handaxe, leaving upto 60% of the tree in chips on the forest floor. But what the hell, there were plenty of trees and lumberjacks were cheap.

Figure 34. Hand trimming a tree (1st stage on R, 2nd stage on L)

Hand trimming a tree. 1st stage on R, 2nd stage on L.

Figure 35. We're not done yet, roll it over and start again.

We're not done yet, roll it over and start again.

To move logs across a lake, they were hauled by rope. At the other end of the rope was a horse, turning a capstan.

Figure 36. Horse turning a capstan.

Horse turning a capstan.

The horse was eventually replaced by an amphibious boat (called an alligator), which hauled the logs across each lake.

Figure 37. Alligator (log hauling boat).

Alligator - the log hauling boat.

The squared logs were stored till spring for the river drive. In films I saw as a kid, lumberjacks stood on the logs, guiding them down wide rivers (a river drive). The problem with this depiction, is that most rivers are small enough that you can't float a matchbox. You can only float the logs down river in the spring thaw and after raising the water level in every lake with a dam. The dam wall has a chute, through which the lumberjacks pushed the logs downstream. The water flow in the rivers below is increased by lowering a log in the sluice gate. The lumberjacks stood in the cold spring thaw water to their waists, to free up the frequent logjams. This was dangerous work, with people dying from the cold or being crushed under the avalanche of logs when the logjam broke. From the pictures at the museum, large rivers with torrents of water carried thousands of squared off logs to the Ottawa River, where they were tied into large rafts for their trip down the rapids of the Ottawa and St Lawrence Rivers.

Figure 38. Dam which made the lake at the museum.

Dam which made the lake at the museum.

Figure 39. Sluice below the dam

Sluice below the dam

Wood production peaked in the 1860's when Europe's interest in Canadian wood lessened and the US took over as the major market for Canadian wood. In the 1870's the (two man) cross cut saw was invented, replacing the axe for felling trees. This was later (1940's) replaced by the (two man) chain saw and then after all the big trees were removed, the single man chain saw. The river drive was replaced by the railroad, allowing the saw mills to move closer to the site of the cutting and the railroad was replaced by the truck (called timber jinker in Australia). I saw a movie of a 4m chop saw cut 6 trees to length in 2 secs for loading onto a truck.

I looked for an exhibit on biting insects, but it wasn't neccessary; mother nature already had one running. Here's a more easily photographed example of wildlife.

Figure 40. Obvious heron near edge of lake.

Obvious heron near edge of lake.

The Park was initially setup in the 1890s to preserve the logging by preventing settlement, which is accompanied by clearing of the forests and forest fires. Timber companies, with leases outside the initially proposed area, successfully requested inclusion of their leases into the park. By 1938, the park administration noted the conflicts between the loggers and the people who came to visit the wilderness. In 1940, logging was stopped near the edge of lakes, on islands and on portages. The problem came to a head in the 1960's with the heightened interest by the public in conservation and preservation of wilderness areas (all those hippies doing drugs). A public enquiry produced the "Master Plan for Algonquin Park" (revised every decade or so). A govt entity in now the only one allowed to log the forest, replacing about 20 companies that originally did the logging (tell George Bush). I don't know whether the original companies are subcontractors or not.

I wasn't aware of the logging even after two trips, and neither was most of the public, who found out about it during the above public enquiry. Logging now goes to within 30m of the lake edge in winter and 1.6km in summer (presumably so that canoeists don't notice it). Logging trucks aren't allowed to operate at night in the summer. The logging plan maximizes the output of wood (trees are cut before they're mature). Unfortunately this cutting, about half way through the life of the tree, short circuits the ecological cycle. The tree would normally stop growing, die, fallover and rot. Birds and animals need partially dead trees to build nests in, and lots of life forms live on dead wood.

The logging plan as presented by the museum is all "Mom and apple pie". They aren't making available any books by detractors of the plan, so I don't know if there's another side to it or not. Maybe they are doing great work. One would hope so. All they have to do from here is to require functional mufflers on power boats.

Each year Algonquin Park produces 733,000m3 of lumber from about 12 areas totalling 2% of the park. In the wet western high area, mostly sugar maples (the leaf is on the Canadian flag), the seedlings can grow in the shade of the taller plants. Tree management keeps the ground shaded to prevent growth of the less valuable aspen and white birch, by selectively removing trees every 20yrs to keep an even spacing of trees (trees are removed if they are close to another tree). This allows the remaing trees to double in wood content every 20yrs. Apparently this produces a population of trees with random ages, although it's not clear how. In the drier eastern area, mostly red and white pines, the seedlings require sunlight to grow and trees are cut in 20 year successions, starting at 80yrs, the last trees going at 140yrs, leaving all trees synchronised in 20yr groups.

It sounds better than where I come from (Australia). There we don't have any pines (softwood) for lumber: all our native forests are hardwood. However New Zealand, just 2000km across the Tasman ocean and one of our big trading partners, has native forests of only softwood (i.e. pines). Faced with the choice of growing pine trees which don't fit in with the ecology of Australia (they're a desert to Australia's flora and fauna) or buying the pine wood from New Zealand, what do you think Australia does? (hint: Australia, along with the US, is the only country that didn't sign the Kyoto treaty). You never know, we might have to go to war against New Zealand, so we clearcut our native hardwood forests and put in forests of pine trees, all lined up in rows like soldiers on parade. After 30yrs, the lot is clear felled by two bulldozers pulling a chain between them, leaving what looks like the surface of the moon, and the cycle starts again. A little bit of the Algonquin plan would be nice.

12. Guitarist Julian Geisterfer at Byward Market, Ottawa (and update 2009)

Back in Ottawa, I spend most of my spare time at the Byward Market, an area a couple of blocks from downtown, with restaurants, street side stalls and buskers. It's a very pleasant environment and with the weather in summer and the long daylight hours, you can have a few beers and a pleasant dinner outside, while typing your reports, for not very much money at all.

One night I heard a guitarist playing pleasant melodies somewhat in the style of Jerry Garcia with a bit of Eric Clapton thrown in. To my amazement it was a 12yr old kid accompanied by his father playing rythm guitar. The kid had a cheery demeanour and was having fun. He seemed not at all to be caught up in any pretentiousness (I only hope he can stay that way). A large crowd gathered around and people were taking his photo or having their photo taken next to him (adult groupies). The guitarist who'd just been playing there stayed to applaud. Not wanting the family 1000miles away to miss out, I called them up from a pay phone nearby and held up the handset so they could hear him. I was at the Market all week, but I never saw him again (he probably had to do homework).

Figure 41. Julian Geisterfer, guitarist at Byward Market.

Guitarist Julian Geisterfer, and father Michael at Byward Market.

Expect to hear more from this kid (in about 10yrs time) when this internet photo will be celebrated as part of his history.

Update Sep 2009: I didn't know when or if I'd ever hear about the guitarist again, but then one day I was delighted to find in my inbox, e-mail from the father, Michael Geisterfer, who had contacted me after one of his friends spotted the photo above. The guitarist is Julian Geistefer (11yrs old at the time) who appears in several places on the internet (according to Google) and has a piece on YouTube. Michael sent me Julian's CD from 2006 - "Dancing in the Shadows", which has some of the same Blues that Julian was playing at Byward, as well as some classical guitar pieces (e.g. Pachelbel's Canon, with modifications by Julian in the middle). Blues is normally serious and Pachelbel's Canon is usually sombre, but in Julian's hands both are fun. Julian is a full time student at the Ottawa Conservatory and is planning on a career in music. I wish him great success.

[1] named after William Lyon Mackenzie King, the Prime Minister of Canada through the depression and WWII. King is mostly remembered for what he didn't do. Here's a quote by Bill Stephenson ("Intrepid's Last Case", William Stephenson, Villard Books, 1983, ISBN 0-394-53430-1, footnote on p91)

History will pronounce the record of [King's] achievements in the field of statesmanship singularly barren and see the opportunities which he missed towering in magnitude above his meagre accomplishments.

The book (Foreword, page X) chronicles the

appalling ineptitude of the Canadian government and its eccentric prime minister, Mackenzie King, in handling the [defection of the Russian cipher clerk Igor Gouzenko]

Of course ineptitude of such magnitude is valued by not only the Russians - Canadian's liked it too. A more official version of King's accomplishments are at Mackenzie King-Biography-First Amongst Equals (

[2] The Raven, vol 45, no 1, 22 Apr 2004

[3] Raven Aug 1, 2002, Vol 43, No 7

[4] The Raven talks about Deer and Moose, from July 1, 1964, vol 5 No 2.

[5] Raven Jun 30, 1971, Vol 12, No 3.

[6] Raven Jul 31, 1974, Vol 15, No 7.

[7] Raven Apr 29, 1981, Vol 22, No 1

[8] Raven Aug 1, 2002 Vol 43, No 7

[9] info here is culled from signs around the trail and from the video (which I took home with me) "Algonquin Logging Museum, Video Highlights" (C) 1997 Friends of Algonquin Park

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