July 30, 2010 - Day 1
Making our way to McCraney Lake

This was a 4 night stay on McCraney Lake on the West side of Algonquin Park. I was to paddle in with my friend "Mike B" in his canoe. The following night a fellow friend "Sean" was to paddle in solo and join us for two nights.

We arrived at the permit office in Kearney shortly after 6am, the Park employee there already issuing permits to a party in line before us. While waiting our turn, another party showed up as well, an early and busy start to the long weekend.

Once we acquired our permit, we drove the 20 odd kilometres to the launch point; access#4 Rain Lake. The road in was in good shape, probably because of the dry winter and spring. There were a few washboard sections, but it wasn't my vehicle we were driving in, so I sat back and enjoyed the ride. There is active logging in the area, so when travelling this road you have to keep your eyes open! Hard to do with the rising July sun blazing in your face. Many times we had to slow down almost to a crawl as Mike(and me) were blinded by the sun.

We arrived at the access point at 7am, to a group of four men, who were busy loading up. I was astonished as the amount of 'gear' the guys had: Coolers, Rubbermaid containers, several cases of canned pop (Illegal), cots (Couldn't believe that one) and lots of other bulky stuff. I asked where they were headed (A cottage, I thought jokingly); Casey Lake was the answer. Nearly a 1.3km portage was needed for these guys to access Casey Lake, the trail climbing nearly 70m over the course of roughly one kilometre, before descending the last 200+ meters to the lake. We figured quadruple portaging would be needed. Mike having camped there a few months earlier offered advice on which campsite to camp on and those to avoid.

Rain Lake mist
It was a beautiful morning to start a trip into Algonquin Park’s interior


Rain Lake mist
Mike’s home-built Winisk canoe, ready to journey Rain Lake and beyond

Mike and I were quite the opposite, we had a pack each plus the canoe. An additional daypack , my camera bag and two canoe seats, that was it. We had nearly an 1800m portage and we were single carrying. By 7:30am we were loaded and set off onto a beautiful calm Rain Lake which was drenched with sunshine and morning mist. Late July just doesn't get any better. We paddled not five minutes and we came upon our first loon, with a big chick in tow, complete with a full supply of down feathers.

We passed the Casey Lake party, Mike's sleek cedar-strip canoe outpacing the slower overloaded canoes. With me in the bow I had the pleasure of a calm and glass like lake in front of me. With the sun still blazing, it was difficult to spot our portage, however we did see it as we paddled within a few meters of the landing.

By 8:15am we were set-up for the carry-over. I gathered up my gear and set off ahead of Mike. Almost immediately I came across the Western Uplands backpacking trail. It ran along a rail-bed, and intersected the portage. I thought nothing of this and continued South along the trail. After nearly 5 minutes I thought I had heard what sounded like someone hollering in the forest, echoing off a portion of the forest across from the bay to my right. I stopped and waited for Mike to catchup. I waited for perhaps one minute then heard more distant hollering, my blood ran cold. Mike was in trouble! I tossed off my pack, a secondary pack of Mike's and my camera bag. I left everything behind and started to walk rapidly back up the trail.

McCraney Lake portage
Mike readies for the carry-over to Little McCraney Lake

Not two minutes goes by and I see Mike coming down the trail with his canoe on top. "You ok? I thought I heard yelling?". Mike quickly explained what had happened; He had started down the trail, but with the bay appearing on his right (Closed off section of the lake via the rail-bed) as he went along the trail; this caused confusion. Mike back-tracked and continued on down the Western Uplands trail, but now the water was on his left. Mike then back-tracked again, found the signage and started off once again down the correct trail. With a canoe on top it really makes it hard to see all the signage, that and the fact that he had never been on this portage before, with the intersecting backpacking trail and the bay (Rain Lake) to his left , threw Mike off.

All was well now though. I loaded up the packs and set off again, this time with Mike following close behind. About halfway down the trail Mike decided to take a break to re-adjust the yoke paddling. I carried on, soon outdistancing Mike. By 8:40am, I arrived at a fork in the trail. A portage sign indicated the cart trail continued onwards straight ahead for another 150m to Little McCraney Lake. There wasn't a sign for the right fork. I turned and trudged down the right fork anyway.

About 40m down the trail, I arrived to beautiful sandy shallows. I struggled to toss the packs off in a hurry, grabbing my camera bag and hurrying back up the trail. I wanted to catch Mike before we came to the fork in the trail. Save him the additional 150m walk. I waited and waited and waited some more..oh oh..I hear something coming up the trail from the Little McCraney end. It was Mike! He had gone past the fork while I was removing my gear, boy was he fast! Mike went all the way to the end, then returned…300 extra meters…whew! Mike also mentioned that the landing I had found was much better than the cart trail landing.

We loaded up the canoe and was alarmed to notice a leech heading for me. I easily hopped out of the way. Two more leeches appeared. Now there was three. They seemed to have be wakened by our sloshing around in the shallows. Mike was laughing at me as I started to scream like a girl. It is the anticipation of leeches coming at me that freak me out. Once they are on me…not much you can do.

Mike halted his laughing when I pointed out two more leeches coming in his direction and a sixth one heading straight for his canoe, a rather monster sized one at that. It was huge almost an inch wide. "Let's go", I said hurriedly. Mike agreed, he was worried about his canoe coming under attack.

By 9:05am we paddled onto a calm Little McCraney Lake. The mist was gone and the sun wasn't too hot, the conditions were perfect. We made our way down the lake, eventually coming to a beaver dam. As we arrived I noticed a mink running across the dam, it quickly disappeared into the forest. Getting over the dam was a little different then what I was used too. I started to drag the canoe over the dam, the cedar hull screeching as it slid over wood. Mike gritted his teeth.."Pick it up!". Oh jeez…a princess canoe…oh great!

Now of course I was on edge, I had heard that while paddling from the dam down into McCraney Lake proper, the waterway was laced with lots of rock and with the sun in my eyes it would make spotting the rock difficult. Mike would never forgive me if we hit rock with his homebuilt cedar-strip Winisk canoe. It really was beautiful, but it had to be handled with extra care.

The frequency at which the rocks appeared worried Mike so much, that he stood up in the stern, paddling cautiously. I sat motionless, there was nothing else I could do while Mike stood up behind me. A few quick manoeuvres by Mike and we were through. He waterway widened, becamoe marshy and the rocks faed away. Barely ten minutes later we paddled onto McCraney Lake proper and were rewarded with a calm and beautiful lake. We made our way down the East shoreline.

Little McCraney Lake
Launching onto Little McCraney Lake

As we paddled the lake, we noticed that the shoreline was ringed with gravel and dead (sun bleached) cedar tree trunks and stumps. The lake had the look of being lower than it should be. We were aware that there was an MNR controlled hydro dam at the end of the lake. However I asked about this at the permit office and was told the dam would be opened at the end of September instead of the usual end of August. The low looking water level was probably just the summer norm.

By 9:55am we arrived at the first campsite on the East shoreline. We had passed a senior couple who had just vacated the campsite, telling us that there was only one other group on the lake; a couple of firefighters and they wished us a good weekend pas they paddled away and up the lake.

We inspected the recently vacated campsite. It had a really nice view down the lake, with mainly a Southern view, sweeping East to West. The site was completely protected from the North. The landing was cluttered with shallow rocks. The campsite was in excellent condition, the senior couple having left no trace of their recent occupation. A cold fire-pit, no trash, a small supply of fire-wood and no tent peg holes. Kudos to the couple for leaving a campsite clean and natural looking. I wish there were more campers like this in Algonquin Park.

McCraney Lake campsite
We stopped by a vacant campsite for a few minutes

We moved on though as we had planned to camp further drown the lake and I have a rule where I like to pass up the first site I come to on a lake.

By 10:30am we arrived at the lone island campsite at the South end of the lake, directly across from the Clara Lake portage. It was a beauty of a campsite, although I think Mike had some reservations, but in a matter of a few hours it had grown on Mike and he came around to liking it. It was very shady, the overhead hemlock trees providing much needed shade from the bright sun. We were on the East side of the island, so we had some protection from the West and the North.

We set-up camp and in just over an hour we were settled in and headed for the North side of the island. Here it was very rocky but gave a great view of the expanse of McCraney Lake before us. Not only was the beach rocky, but it was studded with Inukshuks. Guess some kids were bored! At 12 noon, we heard then saw The Park plane fly over the lake, it passed near our island then over the Western shore, where it turned and banked sharply down towards the lake surface. The plane finished its decent landing smoothly on the water as it taxied to the campsite where the firefighters were camped. For half an hour the plane was docked at the campsite, then with the wind blowing South we watched as the plane departed heading up the lake, eventually taking off and flying East back the way it had come. Both Mike & I had hoped it would fly down the lake toward us, but that was not to be.

By 3:00pm Mike wanted to go exploring, so we got into his canoe and paddled down to the end of the lake, searching for the lone campsite located there. Before we found the campsite, we stumbled upon an old structure, a metal box, with propane tanks and a solar panel. It looked like an old weather station. We bushwhacked a bit along what looked like a very old road, now overgrown with grasses. Soon we got back in our canoe and headed for the nearby campsite. It was located inside of a minute from the abandoned weather station. As a matter of fact the overgrown and grass covered campsite led back to the weather station. The campsite looked like it hadn't been used in years and was probably just a backup site. The lake was supposedly booked full, however I'd only want to stay on that site if it was an emergency.

McCraney Lake
Looking up McCraney Lake from the abandoned weather station

Next we paddled over to the dam. Walking onto the dam after having to bushwhack a little ways, we were astonished at the height of the dam. The vertical drop into McCraney Creek was pretty significant. The wall which was sloped as well, looked to be less than 10m, but more than 7m…Still that was over 20ft…probably about 25ft. We took a few pictures then left.

Mike gazes in amazement at the height of the dam

When climbing back into the canoe, I lost my footing on the steep gravel shoreline and I landed on my bum, my feet and legs sliding into the water, slipping down on the gravel. I regained my balance and climbed into the canoe where Mike promptly slipped into the water too. Both of us were now partly soaked as we paddled our way back to camp.

McCRaney Lake dam
Looking down at McCraney Creek from atop the dam on McCraney Lake

About half way back to camp I felt a slight itchy burning sensation on my foot. Oh oh. I pulled off a sandal and sure enough there was a leech on the top of my foot. It was the smallest leech I had ever had latch onto me and try as I might the little bugger wouldn't come off. No matter in half an hour or so it would fall off on its own.

By 5pm we were back at camp and I finally managed to get the leech off of my foot. Mike had some itchiness too and he removed his sandal and discovered to his horror a big leech glob on the top of his foot. About 50 tiny baby leeches were clustered together in one spot and were feeding on his foot.

I dug out the salt and told Mike to spread it all over the little monsters. In no time at all, every single leech was either dead or gone from Mike's foot. Blood flowed freely from his war wound. After washing his foot and 30 minutes or so the bleeding stopped. It was the first time Mike had ever had a leech stuck on him. Fifty of the tiny buggers was a record I never wanted to break though!

I walked around the campsite and found a dead Merlin not to far from camp. Mike gave it a few pokes and turned it over. The dead bird hadn't been there long, only a few days perhaps. We wondered at this. There was a family of Merlins nesting on the island and at times they were quite vocal. There appeared to be four of them. Perhaps five was too many?

deceased merlin
A deceased Merlin lies behind our campsite close to where more merlins were nesting

I headed back to camp to lay down in my hammock. I took off my sandals and laid down, I felt something crawling near my foot and looked around, a leech was crawling in my hammock looking for me. I looked at my foot and another leech was on it. What the? Mike! The leeches are in the sandals, ugh!

algonquin dinner
I prepared a dinner of chicken and rice over the fire

Later that night we had marinated chicken cooked over the campfire served with rice for a tasty dinner. The stars were bright that night as the sky remained clear. It was a great evening to be outdoors, the silence was stunning!

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