October 8 - Day 1
Soloing into Burnt Island Lake

My friend Sean (of Ajax) has an annual solo paddling trip into Algonquin Park every October long weekend. The last few years he has invited myself and a few others to join him, paddling in solo for a weekend of base camping.

This year Sean had chosen Burnt Island Lake. Although I balked at first at the prospect of paddling to such an over-used area of Algonquin Park, Sean reminded me that he had never been there and that October was a perfect time to go there; traffic would be minimal. We had in fact camped on nearby Tom Thomson Lake the very same weekend a few years earlier and the crowd and noise level was absurd. So I was skeptical to say the least.

Sean had gone into the Park on Thursday (I had watched his progress via the Spot device he carried) and knew where to meet up with him and Mike (Who had supposedly gone into The Park earlier on Friday). I was ill and when I mentioned this to the guys beforehand, I received considerable ribbing when I warned of my possible absence. I was assured of further friendly verbal mockery if I failed to show up, how can I not deny my friends their pleasure?

So, there I was; It was 11am on a beautiful sunny Friday morning (Rather a late time to launch by my standards) and I had this horrible pain in my face and head and a stuffed-up nose. I'm not one for pills but given the level of my pain and the prospect of living outdoors for 4 days, I had felt it absolutely necessary to purchase sinus pain pills while in Huntsville and swallowed the recommended dose moments before I launched..I hoped they worked!

Canoe Lake access point
A beautiful fall day: The put-in at Canoe Lake

The paddle up Canoe Lake was quiet with only one or two motorboats nearby and a group of three canoes overtaking me as I passed the islands where Camp Wapomeo is located. As I passed the islands and paddled unto the open expanse of water a strong Westerly wind blew and I struggled to maintain my heading. The intensity of the wind increased and now I fought a losing battle as I was blown into shore.

I estimate that the winds were in excess of 30 km/h at one point as I ended up right next to the dock where the cairn to Tom Thomson is located. I was able to turn myself around and work my way up the shoreline but this task was not easy, the winds continued to push into me broadside as I navigated the shallow waters that were littered with tree stumps and rock.

I was blown ashore several more times before I finally made it to the top of the lake, where I was protected from the wind. As I approached the take-out to Joe Lake I even had some swirling winds push me along. I beached at one of the unofficial landings, chopping off about 100m off my portage. I landed at 12:05pm. This is about 10 to 15 minutes longer then it usually takes me to reach the carry-over. Paddling ill was tough work!

By 12:25pm I was ready to launch onto Joe Lake and the pain in my face and head were gone and my nose had cleared-up, I was feeling pretty good! The weather was still excellent and the winds looked to be less of an issue on the smaller area of water that lay ahead. I paddled up past the old rail bed, under the bridge and around the East side of Joe Island. I passed a particularly nice and rugged looking campsite as I paddled up the island's shoreline protected from the wind.

Joe Lake
Launching onto Joe Lake next to the dam


Joe Lake island campsite
A rugged campsite on Joe Island caught my eye as I passed by

By 12:50pm I was in the open channel of Joe Lake heading east towards Little Joe Lake. In this open section of water the winds had picked up again, this time in my favour. I had a strong wind at my back pushing me and my canoe along. All I had to do was steer for about 15 minutes and it was fantastic. It was along this section of the lake that I raised my camera to take a picture and as I removed the lens cap from my lens, the wind caught it and down it went into the drink, I lost sight of it immediately in the churning waters. Ooops.

The wind continued to push me along. I was feeling pretty good, my sinus pain was still in remission courtesy of the pills I had taken and I enjoyed the paddle into Little Joe Lake. I paddled up the North shore and looking over my shoulder, I spied Camp Arowhan and wondered if one day I might pull up for lunch. I didn't feel like eating and was in fact on a race against the sun to make it to camp before the sun went down.

Joe Lake
Wind at my back: it was a sweet ride down Joe Lake

As I paddled into the shallows at the head of Little Joe Lake I could hear voices behind me. The voices continued to grow in volume but I could not see anyone behind me. I reached the 120m (signed as 165m) portage; I hadn't been there in seven years. The last time I had been through there, I was able to paddle around the portage. This time though, there was a current with small rapids and a beaver dam. No matter, I paddled up the small swift and rammed the dam, got out, pushed my canoe over and hopped back in as I shoved off a rock I had jumped onto, all in one neat movement…practise makes perfect! I paddled up a flooded looking creek that connected Little Joe Lake to Baby Joe Lake via Lost Joe Lake.

The creek was flooded, as all the alders were partially submerged, there was no creek banks to speak of. I came to a fork in the creek and knew by the map that I was to go right and as I was about to turn right, two guys in a canoe emerged from the left fork. They had followed it to nowhere and were now returning, heading for the fork I was going to take. It happens to everyone and I smiled back at their embarrassed grins.

Here's where it gets embarrassing for me; Now it was my turn to get lost. I got lost on Lost Joe Lake! You want to know how I managed this feat? Easy; I padded past the take-out for the 435m portage thinking I could paddle up and into Baby Joe Lake. I ignored my map and pressed on, paddling up very shallow river like waters, getting stuck on rocks, getting out to push the canoe along and finally reaching the lake.

There was a portage landing but no portage sign as I paddled onto the lake and I thought that this was the end of the 435m trail, the distance seemed about right. I spied one campsite to my left (And an inflow of rushing water next to it) as I turned right and headed up the lake. About halfway to the end of the lake, I spotted another campsite to my right and headed into the sun, looking for the portage. I got to the end of the lake and couldn't find a trail. What? Something wasn't right. What was wrong? I picked up the map and looked at it very closely, VERY CLOSELY.

There was only supposed to be one campsite on Baby Joe Lake and if I was on Baby Joe Lake heading up the lake,why was the sun in my face? I should be heading in a northerly direction, not southerly! Answer: I wasn't on Baby Joe Lake, I had lost my way…on Lost Joe Lake!

That's what the 435m portage does, it bypasses Lost Joe Lake. I turned around and paddled over to the inflow of water and tried to paddle up it, the current was too strong and add to that a twisting waterway; My decision was made for me and I headed back to the sandy looking portage landing. I got out of my canoe, picked up my barrel and walked in an Easterly direction. Two minutes later I found myself and a group of six young men at the landing for Baby Joe Lake. I returned to retrieve my canoe and loaded up for the paddle across Baby Joe Lake, while chatting with the group of young men. They were going into Burnt Island Lake as well and I tailed them as we headed across the lake to the last portage into Burnt Island Lake.

Baby Joe Lake

The easy put-in at Baby Joe Lake

My arrival at Burnt Island Lake was a bit of a surprise as suddenly it was rush hour at the put-in...Canoes and guys crowded a flooded landing(The water level was very high, near spring flood levels), while off to the side a couple sat next to the landing their gear and food and wine laid out for a mid-afternoon meal. They watched silently as everyone including myself launched onto the lake. The water level was very high, near spring flood levels.

I paddled along the vicinity of the North shore and luck would have it that the winds were behind me. The further down the lake I paddled, the less wind shadow there was and so my pace down the lake quickened by the push of the wind. I passed by a couple camped on "Racoon" point and though it a silly place to camp in windy fall weather. Ten or twelve years earlier I would've unknowingly done the same thing!

Burnt Island Lake
Paddling the protected bay before I reached Brunt Island Lake proper


Burnt Island Lake
Paddling near Burnt Island Lake’s north shore amid fantastic paddling conditions

By 4:30pm I arrived to hoots of joy and snickering. The poor sick old man made it! Well, I felt pretty good, I was just tired. Sean had what he thought, chosen an exposed site and had thrown up a few tarps to block wind. There wasn't much wind and I got to say the campsite he did pick was nice , it was tucked far up into the bay that we were well away from the main 'drag' of the lake. The site itself was rugged and had the look of not being used to often so that made our day.

Camp on Burnt Island Lake
Mike & Sean around the camp fire-pit


Sunset on Burnt Island Lake
Sunset colours on Burnt Island Lake

Mike was there too and as I arrived he began piling wood on the fire for Sean who was cooking chicken for us for dinner. I set up my tent and laid out my gear and after about 45 minutes of busying myself collapsed in front of the fire. Someone handed me a drink and I sipped my way through the stiff drink as I dried the sweat off by the fire.

Sunset on Burnt Island Lake
Another look at the sunset colours

It was a nice quiet night by the fireside with the lake beside us. Nothing stirred and the temperature remained near a comfortable 6°C. I went to bed first, just after 9pm, I was tired and it had already been dark for two hours, the nights were long in the fall. I wondered if I would sleep the whole night.

Next Page - Day 2 | Return to Top of Page

Map • Weather • Stats