Lake Opeongo(IN) - Merchant L - Big Trout L - Hogan L - Big Crow L- Lake Lavieille - Dickson L - Lake Opeongo(OUT)
Day 1 - Fri. September 9th
This was a 22 day trip with my girlfriend, Joan.
Both of us love Algonquin Park so much, that if we had our way, we'd be nomads in The Park, on a never-ending journey. Life such as it is, we had to settle for 22 days instead. Our route, could be covered nine, perhaps 10 days, however we planned to move in a glacial manner, we wanted to relax and enjoy ourselves thoroughly on this trip. Although I had brought a fishing rod along, fisherman would do well to turn away now(if fishing info is all you are looking for), as this rather long trip-log, contains no fishing information.
It was a fine warm and sunny Friday morning when we arrived just after 8am at the docks of Access#11, Lake Opeongo. I had previously reserved a spot on a shuttle with Opeongo Outfitters. Jeffrey, our driver, was there waiting for us, as we unloaded our gear. We had made our appointment with Jeffrey for 8:30am that morning; we were both early, a great way to start off the day!
Mark at the helm: Look Ma, no paddles!
Jeffrery shuttles us up Lake Opeongo, as Joan takes in the scenery
The plan was to shuttle up to the portage to Happy Isle Lake, then onwards to Merchant Lake for our first few nights in The Park. Jeffrey, playing host for our short ride up to the portage asked us if we had been to Algonquin before. Both Joan and I replied that we had, many times in fact. Nevertheless, Jeffrey continued to play host, pointing out Bates Island, Windy point, talk of tent selection while avoiding dead trees, etc. I was even allowed to take the wheel(momentarily) of the motorboat for a quick photo-op. The service from Opeongo Outfitters was A+. By 9:30am, Jeffrey had dropped us off and was on his way, and we were alone at the trail head to Happy Isle Lake, which was 2180 meters away. It was about 10am by the time we were loaded up and ready to hit the trail. We were double portaging as we had heavy packs, loaded with gear and about 10 days worth of food. We had arranged to meet up with a few friends from the algonquinadventures.com web site("AA'ers" we like to call them), to re-supply us with more food on day nine of our trip, thus were able to lighten our load on the trails. I was designated to carry the large food barrel as it was the heaviest pack of the trip.
Passing the campsite on "Windy Point"
Neither Joan nor I had been on the portage to Happy Isle or Merchant Lake for that matter. Travelling along the trail was a pleasant surprise, it was well worn with easy footing for the most part, leading us through upland hardwood forests. Elevation changes were minor, with all being long drawn out ascents/descents, I cannot remember any steep climbs, and all the boardwalks were in excellent condition. By 10:45am we had arrived at a gloomy looking Happy Isle Lake. The sky had become overcast, and the winds were picking up strength. We took a short five minute break and turned around and headed back down the trail. I had brought my camera along, but not my camera bag(left with the gear at Happy Isle Lake). This is something that I never do, and for some reason I did it that day, and I almost regretted it, for not 10 minutes down the trail, it began to pour rain in the forest. Joan ran lightly along the trail, with me close behind, hiding my camera under my t-shirt. Why people run in the rain is silly when you think about it. It is not like anyone can outrun the raindrops, and by the time you find shelter under a dense stand of trees it is usually too late. The rain lasted about 10 minutes, Joan and I were both soaked, my camera was very lucky, it was damp, nothing more. It would've been horrible to have a malfunctioning camera on day one of a long trip!
Photogenic mushrooms graced the 2180m portage landing
The portage signage was clearly visible
It was sometime after 12 pm when we arrived back at Happy Isle Lake, with our 2nd load. We loaded up the canoe, and took a break. Another party of 4 guys arrived, carrying heavy coolers, one guy breathing like a horse during a race. Too much beer, I guess! We tired quickly of their obnoxious company(four guys and beer, I understand completely!)and set off onto the windy lake. The sky was breaking up, but the winds were getting even stronger. Usually under such conditions, I would've kept close to shore, this time though we headed straight up the middle of the lake, I wanted to head to the island in the middle of the lake, there was a plaque there that I wanted both Joan & I to see; a tragedy that had struck some people back in the early 1930's, and a plaque was left behind as a reminder and memoir of that terrible day. Despite the tragedy of it all, it is a piece of history in The Park, and the campsite on which it was associated with, was a nice one, both rugged, and remote feeling.
Ominous sky: The landing at Happy Isle Lake,
was much nicer than the weather
We continued on, rounding the island and heading for the portage to Merchant Lake. The wind became unbelievable, it roared down the lake, and it was a very tiresome paddle, it took us almost an hour to reach the portage from the island. We were exhausted by the time we began to unload for the short carry-over to Merchant Lake. I arrived first with my first load at the lake. It was windy here too, and there was a soloist sitting there in his canoe, a shearwater, a rental. He was a much older fellow than myself, and he was just sitting there in his canoe, looking confused. I greeted the fellow, asking him if he needed any assistance. The fellow mentioned that he was fine, and he was wondering how to get out of his canoe, without getting his feet wet. I mentally rolled my eyes, come on, it was early September, the water was warm, and I'd rather be sticking my feet in Algonquins' waters than any chlorine infested pool! Maybe it was a medical condition, I don't know, but I have seen far too many people in The Park, afraid to get their feet wet(either their bare feet or wearing improper footwear), it is quite silly actually; to visit Algonquin is to embrace nature, only then to tippy-toe across it's waters seems absurd!
Along the trail to Happy Isle Lake
I chatted with the fellow for a few moments, then Joan arrived. I bid the fellow farewell, then Joan and I headed back for our second pass. On our way back, we crossed paths with the soloist, nodded, and kept going, finishing our trail a few minutes later. I don't remember much about the trail. It was short, being only 340m in length, and that it climbed a little bit. This would seem to be accurate, as there is a difference of 4 meters in elevation between the two lakes, with Merchant Lake being higher in elevation at 433m above sea level. We loaded up and pushed off onto the lake. It was past three O'clock, Joan was tired(we had been awake since 3am), she wanted us to grab the first site, set-up camp, eat and relax. Well, the lake made the decision simple, with the winds coming from the west, we had no desire to battle our way over to the west shoreline. There was a campsite just a few minutes east of us, and we headed that way, with the wind at our backs. Within 10 minutes, we landed at the campsite, it was vacant! It was also spacious and blocked much of the wind from the lake, it was home for the next two nights.
The memorial plaque on Happy Isle Lake
Our dinner that night was marinated chicken cooked over the fire with chicken flavoured rice and veggies. It was delicious, and we had to eat part of our meal in our tent(yes I know, big "no-no"), as it had begun to rain as a thunderstorm hit the lake. It poured for well over an hour, with lots of thunder and some lightning. I had watched the storm approach from the point on our campsite, as Joan prepared the meal before hand. I did not record any temperatures that day, but it was a warm day, with it raining twice on us. We had a good sleep that night, with another storm moving thru, during the night hours.
Day 2 - Sat. September 9th
Winds calming by early evening
Merchant Lake: Our campsite landing
Note: A nearby campsite, can be seen beyond our campsite
It was a grey, windy day, and Joan didn't feel like going out on the water and neither did I, so we hung around camp all day. It was so windy out on the lake, that I felt uncomfortable about going out on my own. I had wanted to paddle just around the corner to Chickaree Lake, and fish and photograph the area. I decided to stay on-shore instead. I went off into the forest to explore a little bit. The forest was typical of September, damp & fragrant, with lots of fall fungi. I was at home with my camera as I trudged through the underbrush, looking for mushrooms to photograph. I also tried fishing from shore to no avail, and gave up after 30 minutes, it was too windy anyways. Breakfast that morning consisted of delicious toasted bagels, with bacon & eggs, topped off with fresh tomatoes and melted cheddar cheese.
Our campsite and fire-pit on Merchant Lake
September Fungi: Lots of mushrooms populated the surrounding forest
Both Joan & I took turns collecting firewood and just basically had a lazy day around camp. By early evening, as Joan was cooking dinner on the fire, the winds died down. Joan had brought fresh pork loin along for our second interior meal, and boy was it good! This was served along with rice and bagged salad with dressing. The sky started to clear up to the north of us as the sun went down, and this made for some very beautiful hues as the sun set. It was a great evening spent by the fire, as the air grew still, the forest became quiet, then the moon came out and cast a new light on the dark forest behind us. It was almost surreal. We headed into the tent around 10pm, as we wanted to get up early, the next day we were moving onto Big Trout Lake. Joan had concerns about her knees, as she had experienced inflammation in both her knee ligaments, from our first day's travel across the Happy Isle portage. Her knees were still somewhat sore, and I hoped that come the morrow, her kness would be in better shape for more hiking.
Sunset on our second night on Merchant Lake
Joan sits by the fire, enjoying it's primal effect
Moon over Merchant Lake