Surprise, surprise! Meeting friends - new & old
I had the most awful sleep, actually I don't even think I could call it sleep. Something, probably a vole or some sort of small rodent kept scurrying around, right beneath my hammock all night long it seemed. The infrequent 'crinkling' sound of the leaf litter by the small animal kept me from sleeping solidly.
Sigh… I really dislike being such a light sleeper, it is a curse! I got up around 6:30am, packing everything up except for my stove and food. I made oatmeal of course along with tea instead of coffee for once.
Looking out over Tarn Lake was a real pleasure as the lake was bathed in heavy morning mist. This was an unexpected treat I thought, as this would make the forest walk a fragrant one. I inhaled the heavy moisture laden air, savouring the moment, finishing my tea and then began final preparations for departure.
By 7:20am I was all packed up and hauling the canoe pack onto my shoulders as I started my journey up the mountain. In the morning light of the covered forest it almost felt like I was walking the portage at dusk again, but as I reached the top of my long climb the mist had lifted and the sun began to shine through the forest canopy.
If you enjoy a really good long walk through the forest, then this portage is for you. It certainly has its vertical challenges coming up from Tarn Lake however, once the trail levels off there lots of beautiful forest to admire. Most of the forest along the height of the trail is typically deciduous, however there are some softwoods mixed in, including a few large white pines.
Just after 8:00am I reached the canoe and day-pack... As expected, both were still there and I congratulated myself on my resourcefulness the night before. I dropped the canoe pack, picking up the day-pack and canoe and started my journey down the last portion of the trail to St.Andrews Lake. I figured it would be pretty easy as I didn't have far to go now; Drop the canoe at the lake and return for the pack, complete the carry and launch onto St.Andrews. Easy huh? Ummm... Nope.
As the trail began to descend the steepness of the trail became quite sharp as well the terrain became quite dangerous. A few streams and possibly a spring Criss-crossed the trail as it descended steeply. The intervening flow made for a muddy & very slippery trek. I was slowed down to taking one step at a time. At one point a rock I stepped on gave way as it slipped down the slope I was navigating.
It really was quite steep and treacherous and after about 700m of the mountain goat-like path, I finally hit shallower descents; the streams were gone and the ground much more firm and dry. The trail took a dip before a small climb up to the intersecting abandoned rail-bed. Examining the GPS track (In Google Earth) from my spot device as I write this trip-log; I have found that the slope heading up from Tarn Lake had a maximum grade of 26.3%. So, yes some might say it was a steep climb however, the descent and subsequent return climb for the canoe had a slope of 37.4% maximum grade. Quite the monster!
After crossing the rail-bed the trail enters a campsite that sits very high above the water and with the canoe on my head, I mistakenly followed the trail to the thunder-box. Growing more fatigued by the second, I followed a faint trail down a steep slope to the water's edge. This was not the portage or campsite put-in, but I didn't care, I was exhausted. I had to get the canoe off my shoulders. The shoreline was very rocky and with my last bit of strength, I carefully and in a very agonizingly slow manner perched the canoe on the rocks. I crumbled onto the uncomfortable rocks like a sack of potatoes.
The return climb up the steep slope was not fun at all. Twice I had to pause to catch my breath as the climb had winded me, coupled with the rocky, muddy terrain, my legs were getting shaky as well. So much for the "If you enjoy a really good long walk through the forest" remark I made earlier, eh?
After I finally conquered the steep climb and found my way onto the more friendly trail, the forest lit up beautifully with the sunlight penetrating the forest canopy from my left. What was really neat was a large flock of birds that numbered in the hundreds flew through the forest across the portage. I paused watching the spectacle for several minutes. I had never seen such a large flock of birds in Algonquin Park while in the forest. They were large birds and if I was back in the city I would say they were starlings but up in The Park, I've no idea what they were.
At last I reached the canoe-pack and made my way back down the trail to St.Andrews Lake one last time. On my way down, I slipped and fell back, landing on the canoe-pack as more rocks gave way and I slid down about a metre, maybe more. Further down the steep descent a big rock gave way and I suddenly found myself in the middle of a miniature landslide. I hopped across more rocks and onto firmer ground. The trail really was something else!
Finally, I completed the carry-over and I launched onto a sunny St.Andrews Lake at 10:02am. Oh, it felt so gooood to get past that insanely steep descent to the lake and to be back on the water. Already I could hear and see the first signs of civilization; A campsite on an opposing shoreline came alive with the sounds of children, the sight of campfire smoke and of a canoe being launched. I was only a few lakes away from the access point and when I had booked my trip, St.Andrews was booked solid, I had to take Stratton Lake, with me getting the very last reservable campsite on the lake.
The weather was beautiful, the lake a virtual painting in front of me. I savoured the paddle for as quiet and calm as it was, I knew this was my last moment of solitude. Once I hit Stratton Lake, it would be canoe after canoe after canoe, it was a friday after all in August... People would be flocking to The Park. Can't say I blame them.
I arrived at the very rocky take-out for the short carry-over into Stratton Lake. The 45m trail (GPS 80m) is an easy one with the landings at both ends being quite rocky. The put-in to Stratton is at a smooth rock landing that also has a current as the narrows through which the end of the lake passes by the portage, cascades down rapids into St. Andrews Lake. I would imagine in the spring one has to be mindful of the current while launching.
I put-in at 10:31am and paddling up through some narrows, arrived a few minutes later onto beautiful Stratton Lake. Looking up Stratton Lake I could see the hill-line of Grand Lake beyond. Though I didn't know it yet, in the distance were two people in a canoe coming down the lake, looking for me. With the map in front of me, I paddled up the lake that I had passed through once before, though the lake was still very unfamiliar to me.
Within fifteen minutes a red canoe with two people dressed in white approached and we passed each other within 20 meters, there was a pause and then an uncertain voice softly called out, "Markus?" I replied "Bob... Diana?" Indeed it was. I had given my spot tracking web page to friends and family before I departed on the trip. Among the group of people I had given the information to, were Bob & Diana McElroy. Two people that have I corresponded with occasionally via email and online forum.
I had leaned that trick from another forum member; Often, when I am at work and cannot be in The Park, I find it a pleasant diversion to 'follow' a fellow paddler, tracking them live as they paddle The Park, imagining their journey in my mind's eye. I find the "Spot' tracking feature a neat tool. I think they both enjoyed observing my progress through The Park's interior over to the east side.
The McElroy's to me were 'famous' in my mind, for here were two souls that have been going to The Park since the time of my birth and they knew much about The Park, especially the East side. Bob & Diana have an excellent web site that journals their trips into Algonquin Park as well as the Northern Renfrew County area. The articles available online, especially the ones that detail geology and flora of the region are heavy on science; A fascinating read. We chatted for a few minutes then I asked where a good campsite might be located so that I could establish my camp, enabling us to talk further.
Following Diana's lead we paddled not too far, up to a campsite about a third of the way up the lake. The campsite was on a point, the shoreline loaded with rock. Getting out at weedy/sandy landing, I lifted my canoe up and onto the rocks along the campsite's southern shoreline. It was just after 11:00am.
The weather was gorgeous and for the next four and half hours we chatted about all things Algonquin. Both Bob & Diana fed me what to them might be considered a snack, but to me it was treasure. Diana gave me some tangerines to eat; fresh fruit. I didn't know I craved it till I tasted it. It was so good to taste real fruit again. Bob handed me some of his gorp and also some m & m chocolate candy. The latter was amazing, I hadn't realized how such a simple pleasure as chocolate could be sorely missed. Each m & m was a fantastic treat that I savoured each at a time. I was like a starving man who woke up in a grocery store; Everything that was given to me was eaten and with much appreciation.
It was really great to put faces on the people that I had only met online and am glad to have come to have know The McElroys in person. Thanks to Bob & Diana for coming out, it was lots of fun (I really enjoyed our brief time together) and I only wish we had more time to share that day. Just after 4:00pm Bob & Diana left, paddling away up the lake in the bright afternoon sunshine.
Alone again, I finally got off my behind and set-up my hammock and organized my cookware. I had decided that I was going to have more pasta and chicken; I was tired of chilli. The campsite was a marvel to behold; Wide and open and flat, the campsite had many trees tastefully arranged in such a way that I dubbed the campsite "King Arthurs Court". There were also many outcroppings of rock that provided natural sitting areas. The fire-pit itself was a massive artwork of stone, surrounded on two sides by log benches.
By 6:30pm I had decided to make dinner and looking out onto the Lake I noticed a solo paddler approach, trying to look at me in the blinding sunlight. "Markus?" I couldn't believe it, "RACOON!"
Bob & Diana had said that they had seen some mention (Online) of my friend "Racoon" possibly coming in to meet up with me, but I was unsure and was glad to see Racoon as he explained his situation quickly; He was camped at the other end of the lake on the best campsite there was. Before I could say anything though, Racoon said that he'd break his camp and then come back and join me in an hour. I was both amazed and excited.
By 7:30pm Racoon landed at my campsite as I helped him unload his gear. I had gathered firewood and as Racoon set-up his hammock, I got a campfire going. Just before 8:00pm, the sun set as Racoon handed me a salad to eat as he produced steaks to cook over the campfire! Along with the steaks, Racoon served potatoes and carrots along with red wine! I was flabbergasted. Racoon didn't stop there for next he produced a cigarillo to go with the after-dinner sipping of the remaining wine and a chocolate bar for dessert! AWESOME!
Racoon related his story of his day on Stratton Lake and its all because of the red canoe. Racoon told me that he had arrived early on the lake, setting up camp and making his way to the portage from Tarn at 11:00am. We had missed each other on Stratton Lake. Racoon had also walked the portage for some distance looking for me, twice. He had gone back in the early afternoon, looking for me again, walking further along the portage, even climbing the steep climb up the trail, where he spotted the fresh slip marks in the mud. Racoon knew we had missed each other then set about paddling Stratton Lake looking for me. I had neglected to inform Racoon along with Bob & Diana that I would be in a red canoe (Mine was a familiar white coloured canoe).
Racoon had spent most of the day looking for me, paddling Stratton Lake twice and even St. Andrews. So it wasn't until 6:30pm (He was still searching!) That Racoon had found me. Incredible guy! After dinner was the usual campfire talk as I related my trip of the last two weeks. Before bed we hung up our food packs on an official food hanging line that was located about 40m from the fire-pit, behind the campsite.
I had heard (But never seen) of the food hanging lines of Stratton Lake. Supposedly, the area was well known for prowling bears. To keep the campers and bears safe, The Park had set-up food hanging lines for campers to safely hang their food from on every campsite on the lake. The device was quite simple actually; A steel cable rigged between to large hemlock trees approximately 25 feet above the ground. All's one had to do was through their food bag line over the steel cable and haul their cache into the air, tying off their line to another tree, leaving the food cache free and clear of any bear prowling on the ground.
I nodded my head in approval at the food hanging line, besides keeping food from bears (And preventing them from becoming habituated to humans and their food), the line also eliminated the need for other trees from becoming food hanging sources, thereby reducing human impact on them. I like the idea as being a good one, it was simple and it made sense.
Around 11:00pm I went to bed, climbing into my hammock, boy did I feel good, it had been a great day; Getting past that silly portage, meeting Bob & Diana and my friend Racoon coming out to feed me a glorious meal! I drifted off to a peaceful sleep.
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