Sunday, December 11, 2005

Winter fun in the great outdoors

Winter fun in the great outdoors is the theme of the 12th Annual Winter Assembly, hosted by Algonquin Outfitters, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2006. This free, family-oriented, event takes place at the Oxtongue Lake location, just west of Algonquin Park, on Hwy. 60, about 30 km east of Huntsville. The Winter Assembly is designed to introduce people to self-propelled (or at least non-motorized) winter activities like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, skate skiing, kick-sledding, winter camping, ice-climbing and dog sledding, as well as provide a host of opportunities to have fun in the snow.

This year’s event will pack a host of activities into a single day. You could drive a dog team, learn how to build a snow shelter, try skate skiing, go on a snowshoe hike, learn about winter camping, make a snow sculpture, enter a snowshoe race (and hopefully finish!), play snow games and more! Representatives from a variety of manufacturers will be on hand to talk about the latest in cross-country ski equipment, ski waxing techniques, snowshoes, winter camping gear and demonstrate new winter products. Lunch is always a highlight of any winter activity and barbeque fare, like hamburgers and sausages, will be available.

Equipment for all activities will be provided free of charge for Winter Assembly participants and a heap of door prizes will be given away throughout the event.

For more information, please call Algonquin Outfitters, 1-800-469-4948 (705-635-2243).

Please note that there is a charge for dog sled rides and a family rate is available.

The final schedule for the 12th annual Winter Assembly is not yet cast in stone, but in the meantime, here is a general overview of the day:

Saturday, Feb. 18, 2006:

9 am: Algonquin Outfitters opens

10 -12: morning program (x-c ski lesson, ski and snowshoes demos, snowshoe hike, quinzee building, dog sled rides, etc.)

12 - 2: lunch

1 - 5: afternoon program (skate ski lessons, ski and snowshoe demos, winter camping workshop, wax clinic, dog sled rides, etc.)

Sunday, Feb. 19:

10 - noon: 12th annual Ragged Falls Snowshoe Adventure Hike

Advance registration is not required - simply show up! All events take place in the immediate area of our Oxtongue Lake store (except the Ragged Falls hike - car pooling req'd).

Dog sled rides are provided by Winterdance Dog Sled Tours.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Banff Mountain Film Festival at Algonquin Theatre, Jan. 19

UPDATE: Jan. 10, 2006

This event is SOLD OUT for the fourth year in a row! There will be no tickets available at the door. If you were unable to get a ticket this year, we hope to see you next year! Tickets will go on sale on or about Dec. 1, 2006. The festival tours across Canada, the US and the world - check the World Tour page for other locations!

Hot on the heels of the largest, and one of the most prestigious, mountain festivals in the world, the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour has hit the road, with stops planned in more than 250 communities and 25 countries across the globe.

This year's tour features a collection of the most inspiring and thought-provoking active, environmental, and adventure mountain films. Traveling from remote landscapes and cultures to up close and personal with adrenaline-packed action sports, the 2005/2006 World Tour is an exhilarating and provocative exploration of the mountain world.

The Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour is produced by Mountain Culture at The Banff Centre, and features award-winning films and audience favorites from approximately 300 films entered in the annual festival in Banff.

After three sold-out years at the Delta Grandview Resort, Algonquin Outfitters made the decision to relocate the film festival to the Algonquin Theatre. Gordon Baker, event coordinator for Algonquin Outfitters, said, “The new venue offers theatre-style reserved seating, on-line ticket purchasing, a huge screen, a fantastic sound system, easier access and more convenient parking. Anyone that has been to the theatre will know that there are no bad seats! All-in-all, the Algonquin Theatre will offer a higher quality viewing experience, which is what it's all about.”

While the event may have left Grandview, Algonquin Outfitters has maintained the partnership with the resort's Nature Trails program, and will continue the fund-raising aspect of the film presentation. Funds generated by ticket sales will be donated to the Muskoka Heritage Foundation to support wildlife research in Algonquin Park.

Join Algonquin Outfitters when the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour brings the spirit of outdoor adventure to Huntsville, at the Algonquin Theatre on Thursday, January 19 7:30 PM.

Admission is $15 for adults and $12 for students. Tickets are available at the Algonquin Theatre box office at 37 Main St. E., on-line at or by calling the theatre box office at (705) 789-4975, or 1-888-696-4255, ext. 2352.

For more information on the Banff Mountain Film Festival, visit

Friday, November 25, 2005

Paddling on...

I'm sad to report that Robin Adshead, one of Algonquin Outfitters' most colourful and interesting custumors, passed away recently. We will miss him. Robin and his family first visted Algonquin Outfitters in 1994, and set a record that still stands, for the longest guided trip we have set up. That first trip was 22 days long and we ended up having to split the trip between two guides (the famous Hurley brothers, Alex and Brent). At that time, the Adsheads lived in England, and Robin led the crew with a unique combination of military organizational precision and a cheeerful open-mindedness to new experiences. Our outfitters from that time fondly rememember the unusual preparations required for an Adshead family canoe trip, such as compromise between the Adhead's taste for good wine with dinner and the Algonquin park food container rules. The end result was a trip to the liquor store followed by decanting good wine into Platypus water bags.

That first guided trip was followed by an even longer, 32 day, self-guided trip with his sons and others. Over the years, the family went in different directions. Robin moved to Spain but he and his sons always kept in touch with thier friends in Algonquin Park. His two sons, Darrell and Corrin, returned for several trips of their own and tell me that they will come again, "to raise a dram to Dad around the campfire."

Robin was a very talented (and well-equipped) photographer, and pictures from those trips can be seen on his web site.

Cheers then Robin, and happy paddling.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Paddling in November

Paddling in November in Algonquin Park is a privilege. The water is cold, weather unreliable and days are short. Lakes in Algonquin Park could start freezing any day now and snow will soon blanket portage trails and campsites. The photos, taken today, November 5, show a good example of a "nice" day for paddling in the late fall (or is it early winter?). You'll notice the securely fastened PFD, paddling gloves and soft-shell jacket to ward off the cold. Falling in the water is not an option! I stayed close to shore and didn't try any manoeuvres that could possibly result in a swim.

Calm weather and an unusually mild day suggested to me that it would be a good time to test out the brand new Bell "Prospector" on Oxtongue Lake. This canoe is a modern reworking of the classic Chestnut model by well-known canoe designer David Yost. The one I'm paddling is one of two in Canada right now and is made in Bell's very light KevLight construction. I think it weighs about 39 pounds! It paddles beautifully - solid, stable, predictable and easy to spin around when it's heeled over. It won't be as quick as some of our other favourite canoes but will be a versatile, high volume tripper for those that prefer a traditional looking canoe. We expect to have more of these in our rental fleet and are anticipating that a Royalex version will be coming for whitewater enthusiasts.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Take a trip to Higher Ground at the Algonquin Theatre, November 19

One of the first signs of winter for skiers and snowboarders across North America is the annual feature-length winter adventure film from Warren Miller. On Saturday, November 19, at 8 pm, Algonquin Outfitters is hosting this year's epic, Higher Ground, on the first-ever tour of a Warren Miller production in high-definition video. With screenings often running for one night only, Warren Miller films have drawn a dedicated band of followers with hundreds of thousands attending each year.

For a dedicated band of the world's most acclaimed winter sports athletes, the sport that is all about going downhill keeps reaching new heights. Warren Miller's Higher Ground chronicles skiers and snowboarders in their never ending search for new and thrilling ways to ride the snow. Crisscrossing the globe, hitting the steeps of Alaska, terrain parks in Colorado, deep powder in British Columbia and cliffs in Switzerland, Warren Miller's Higher Ground brings skiing and snowboarding to life on the big screen as no other action sports film has done before.

"Skiers and snowboarders constantly stretch and push limits; physical, emotional and gravitational," said Max Bervy, Higher Ground's Producer/Director. "To achieve Higher Ground we set out to capture a select group of individuals in amazing locations, pushing their athletic boundaries. For mountaineer Dave Barlia it meant flying 10 feet off the ground, at 130 miles per hour, while wearing his winged suit on the slopes of Chamonix, France. For World Cup mogul champion and Olympic Gold Medal favorite Jeremy Bloom, 'it was a life changing experience,' when we invited him to heli-ski for the first time in the wild backcountry terrain of British Columbia."

Part action/adventure, part documentary, Warren Miller's Higher Ground also features legendary athletes such as big mountain skiers Jeremy Nobis and Seth Morrison, Ski-BASE jumping innovator Shane McConkey and the sport's hot-dogging icon, Glen Plake, as well as up and coming stars like five-year-old phenom Bridger Gile.

Along with adrenaline-filled action and magnificent scenery, Higher Ground delivers a high-energy soundtrack on a state-of-the-art digital sound system. The national tour of Higher Ground is presented by Jeep® and co-sponsored by Travel Alberta and

Take a trip to Higher Ground with Algonquin Outfitters on Saturday, Nov. 19 at 8 pm, at the Algonquin Theatre. Admission is $15 for adults and $12 for students. Tickets are available at the Algonquin Theatre box office at 37 Main St. E., on-line or by calling the box office at (705) 789-4975 or 1-888-696-4255, ext. 2352.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Why we love canoe tripping

The happy-looking fellow on the left is Andrew Middleton, one of our contract canoe trip guides. Andrew is a teacher in the off-season and like many people, finds a way to arrange his life so that he can spend as much time as possible in Algonquin Park during the summer. Unlike some, he has even found a way to get paid for going on canoe trips. He an excellent guide and usually, a very up-beat person. On a cold rainy day in Montreal. he had a moment of truth, and kindly offered to share with the world, on our blog. The story below is all his:


Reading the A.O. blog made me think of this moment a few weeks ago that made me ill. I thought it would be very good therapy to write it out. All it did was make me want to paddle. but it is raining. and cold. (Perfect...)

Hope all is well


Life in the %&#*@#& Mean City

It hit me when I was stuck in traffic. There I was; 7:30 in the morning in Montreal, drinking cheap gas station coffee from a travel mug on highway twenty at the thirteen merge.

There was on one side of me this cheese ball teenage something or other, probably on his way to school or at best a telemarketing gig. His bright orange Honda Civic had a muffler that made my spine vibrate and the loud, pulsating techno music was annoying enough that I had to crank up my talk radio so the arguments and political babble at least made the oomph oomph go away. As usual, my lane was the slowest. Then my accepted, humble existence I knew it that moment ceased to exist. On my right, creeping with an odd limp and a bounce in the rear that can only mean busted shocks was an old beat up green Land Cruiser. On its roof was an equally beat up red Swift Dumoine. I almost had an accident.

What a dichotomy. Every aspect of life I detest to my left, with the cheese ball techno racing tuner orange car guy, and on the right, everything that I love and think that is right in the world: old trucks with Swift canoes on their roof, ready to roll.

The players of this calm September morning didn't have a clue what impact they had on my day. As I made my way to my job and the hallowed halls of public school, ready to educate our nation's youth, I was overwhelmed by the immediate and seemingly innate desire to turn and run. Run back to my home, cast to the side responsibility and paychecks, hoist my boat to the roof and take off to the great wilds of the near north and disappear, at least until the snow fell. I could manage; maybe I could fake an illness. Kidney stones would do nicely; an injury that would allow me to both run away and still come back in a reasonable timeframe and resume my job. I have a Visa card; I think there is still room on it. I could just drive to Renfrew, and put in at Achray. Maybe I could just head west until I ran into Georgian Bay, or maybe just to Canoe Lake. Maybe I could just go down to the water and paddle around the infested waters on Montréal Island for the day. Maybe, maybe, maybe I just needed to go to work and forget about it. It couldn't happen, at least not today.

I wish I could just move back to Oxtongue Lake where the dual life of business and pleasure meet and the enmeshment of the two are possible. I wish I could sit at my desk and see mist. I wish I could walk in the woods and not run into a mowed lawn every ten steps. I wish that when I go paddling in the afternoon I didn't have to paddle by million dollar homes with their ignorant punk teenagers who hit golf balls at me. I wish, I wish and I wish some more. But now I shall simply be relegated to the unenviable task of living in the smog and concrete collecting my pay, watching the lanes that I am not in carry the lucky folks and their Dumoine off into the urban jungle I call home. Summer shall soon return and I with it.



Thursday, October 06, 2005

A Map of the Meanest Link Canoe Route

For the complete Meanest Link story in sequence, see parts one, two, three and four.

The Meanest Link - part four of four

For the complete Meanest Link story in sequence, see parts one, two and three.

The Meanest Link, final installment

This article was written by Huntsville writer Don McCormick. It first appeared in a slightly different form in the August 2005 issue of Muskoka Magazine.

Says Thomas: “Day nine was the best day on the entire trip. The end of the Nipissing was gorgeous; we saw three moose, we didn't have to wear our bug jackets, the humidity had dropped and, when we saw Cedar Lake and the AO store across a calm lake, we bolted for it.”

They were met onshore by Jake Pigeon, the manager of the Algonquin Outfitters store at Brent. He, quite literally, was raised in Algonquin Park and is very knowledgeable about it. Pigeon got them settled into the bunkhouse, which to them seemed like a palace. The canoe trippers dried their gear, washed their clothes, ate “real” food, drank cold beer, slept in a bed, had interesting conversations with Jake and baked their first ever pie. Thomas wrote, “Brent is like heaven,” in her diary.

The next day, AO co-workers Chuck and Greg arrived with the second food drop. The atmosphere was very festive. Dinner together, card games, dressing up in silly hats and glasses and having a dance party rounded out a perfect day.

“We didn't want to leave. The thought that we still had to work our way home was painful,” recounts Sanders. Their cordial time at Brent was one of the high points of the trip.

The following day dawned cool and overcast, the gloominess of the day reflecting their mood on leaving Brent's hospitality. Their route was down Cedar Lake, along the Petawawa River to Radiant Lake and up the Crow River to Lake Lavieille. The Crow River turned out to be worse than the Western Boundary, with an incredible 23 portages totaling about 10 km. They arrived at Lavieille at 9:30 p.m., camped at Swifty's favorite campsite and had one of his favorite brands of beer in his honor.

Next morning, there was a cold north wind blowing. With the help of strong tailwinds, the four paddlers sailed down Lavieille and Dickson lakes to the infamous 5.3 km portage - the same one Swifty claims the record portaging time - into Lake Opeongo. If they broke Swifty's record, it would have been wind-aided.

On Opeongo, they lashed their canoes together and, with a tarp for a sail, they raced down Opeongo in the pouring rain. “We were cold and wet but we were so happy because we weren't paddling,” says Capell. With their arrival at the Opeongo AO store, they had completed three of the four “Meanest Links.”

The next day turned out to be their longest of the trip - over 11 km of portaging in 15 hours of travel. It was cold. By now, all four women were thinking of home. The Madawaska River meandered maddeningly. There were beaver dams to lift over and the women were tired. There was the side trip into Camp Pathfinder at Source Lake that would add another “unnecessary” six portages to the trip. They arrived at their Tea Lake campsite after dark.

On the morning of their last day of the trip, all four were up at the usual 5 a.m. Under the cold and overcast sky, they paddled down Tea Lake into the Oxtongue River. They were getting close to home. “High Falls was a high point. Once you hit there, you're almost home,” says Strickland. “I was so excited I couldn't stop smiling,” recalls Sanders. When they rounded the corner and came under the bridge, the whole staff of the Oxtongue Lake AO store was out to welcome them home, mosquito bites and all.

That was a very emotional time. They had been planning this trip for a long time and, now, it was over. They had taken up this very difficult challenge and succeeded. Their sense of accomplishment was huge. Their friendships were strengthened by the shared experience. Their appreciation for the support of their friends “went off the scale.”

The “Meanest Link” was indeed the trip of a lifetime for friends Thomas, Capell, Strickland and Sanders, and an appropriate event to mark this very special period in their lives. Swifty has been honored, too.

© 2005 Muskoka Magazine. Reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Meanest Link - part three of four

The Meanest Link, continued This article was written by Huntsville writer Don McCormick. It first appeared in a slightly different form in the August 2005 issue of Muskoka Magazine .

For background on the Meanest Link, see “The Meanest Link - part one” and "The Meanest Link - part two"

Meet the paddlers. Sarah Strickland grew up in beside Algonquin Park. She is an accomplished athlete and canoe tripper who guides canoe trips for AO. She graduated from Laurentian University this past spring in biomedical biology and will be heading to medical school at the University of Ottawa in September. Janet Thomas is a third year sociology student at McMaster University who has worked at AO for the past eight summers as an outfitter. Leah Sanders is going into her last year in geography at the University of Ottawa. Jaime Capell has spent the past few years, since graduating from Huntsville High School, working and traveling. She will be attending Sheridan College in September in an illustration program. None of them will have any problem writing the proverbial, “what I did for my summer vacation essay.”

"All my friends think I'm crazy", says Capell. Why would they want to take on such a difficult undertaking? For all of them, it was the challenge. They'd all done canoe trips, but none had done one this long or this difficult. They wanted to be the first ones to complete the “Meanest Link.” Doing the trip with three of their closest friends at a point in their lives when their paths are beginning to diverge made it that much more special. All saw it as “the trip of a lifetime. There were other reasons for doing the trip - scenery, wildlife; getting to know the park better, especially some of the less well-traveled parts, and improving their tripping skills.

Along with any challenge comes anxiety. Foremost in their minds were the “bugs” - blackflies and mosquitoes. Strickland puts the problem in perspective. “With the bugs comes good water levels, fewer people, the ability to all get two weeks off together. So, it was, do it with the bugs or don't do it at all.”

Another source of anxiety was the magnitude of the physical challenge. Could they do it? All thought they could do it, but self-doubt niggled below the surface. The heavy physical demands would produce frustration. People say and do things, sometimes hurtful things, in the heat of frustration. Would their friendships survive?

Injury was a concern too. How would they manage if someone broke an ankle? Fortunately, Strickland is very well-qualified to deal with injury in the bush. And, they'd all done a lot of planning. Baker was confident they were well prepared.

6:30 a.m., June 6, 2005: They launched two canoes from the AO dock at Oxtongue Lake. The route for the first link - Oxtongue River, Lake of Bays, Peninsula Lake, Fairy Lake, Muskoka River, AO dock in Huntsville - took 15 hours. It was a hot, humid day and, “The headwinds and waves were insane,” recalls Sanders.

Day two was the start of the Huntsville-Brent leg - Big East River to McCraney Lake, then through a series of small lakes and portages and down the Nipissing River to Brent. It started out well but, very quickly, the water levels dropped and the journeyers started scraping bottom. All four had to get out of their canoes and drag them through the water. It was hot and humid and the flies were on them with vengeance. The rocks were slippery with algae and the footing was treacherous.

“By the end of the first day, I think we finally realized what we were in for,” explains Strickland. “We looked like we had chicken pox on our faces and necks because of blackfly bites.”
Their maps for this section were also very sketchy. It was very difficult to know where they were and, therefore, to know how much more of this kind of travel lay ahead. “We'd turn the corner and all we could see was more rocks. I almost cried that day. I just wanted the dragging to be over,” notes Thomas.

They finally got off the Big East River and into McCraney Creek. With this, they had moved into uncharted territory. It was only two and a half km up the creek to McCraney Lake - a short day. But the creek turned out to be even worse than the Big East. Low water, slippery rocks, dead trees strewn across the creek made it impossible to paddle. Packs had to be hauled out of the canoes and the canoes dragged and lifted over rocks and fallen trees. Heat, humidity and flies added to the burden. At one point, they thought they had found a shortcut into McCraney Lake along an old trail through the bush. But, a very difficult portage in the extreme heat steered them right back into McCraney Creek. Eventually, they had to give up, short of their goal for that day.

Says Capell: “That was my worst day. I felt so defeated. I was hot, tired, falling on every step.” McCraney Creek was the low point of the trip for all of the women.

The next morning, they were on the water at 7 a.m. determined to make it to McCraney. Again, it was very hot and the bugs were ruthless. They made McCraney by noon. “We nearly cried with joy. I have written in my journal 'Best day ever,' ” says Sanders. They paddled out to an island, had a great lunch, swam and dried out their wet clothing. The following day they paddled to the end of the lake to find AO co-workers Chuck, Will and Randy waiting for them with a food drop.

“It was fantastic. Just to see them really boosted us,” says Capell. Will and Randy had made the first attempt on the “Meanest Link” in the late autumn of 2004 and had to abandon it. They understood how difficult it is.

At McCraney Lake, they were finally into Algonquin Park. Being in the park meant designated campsites, marked and cleared portages, an accurate map, established canoe routes - “it was the start of good things,” says Strickland. The next part of the route, up to the Nipissing River, was through a succession of small lakes connected by portages. That day turned out to be the hottest day of the whole trip. There were over 9,000 meters of portages - all uphill. The lakes were so small that you could see the next portage from the end of the previous one. The intense heat and continuous portaging produced heat and chafing rashes and the bugs wore them down emotionally. “Today was so hard I just wanted to stop,” writes Thomas in her log. The next day and a half was spent on the Nipissing River. There was no shade on the river and the sun and heat were intense. Onshore, the mosquitoes were the worst they had ever experienced. By now, timewise, they were halfway through the trip.

© 2005 Muskoka Magazine. Reprinted with permission.

Click the link for part four.

Click here for a map of the Meanest Link.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Meanest Link - part two of four

For a brief background on the development of the Meanest Link, see “The Meanest Link - part one”

To follow up on “part one,” I was fortunate enough to secure permission to reprint a story from Muskoka Magazine. This article was written by Huntsville writer Don McCormick. It first appeared in a slightly different form in the August 2005 issue of Muskoka Magazine. I have added a few details about the link story, which appear in italics.

The Meanest Link
by Don McCormick

Four college women conquer adventure route with honors

There's a look about people who have taken on something very challenging and succeeded at it. It's a mellow, satisfied, self-confident glow.

It's the look you see on the faces of Janet Thomas, Jaime Capell, Sarah Strickland and Leah Sanders - four young tough-minded women who took on and completed the “Meanest Link” canoe route in Algonquin Park - a 330 kilometre journey with 55 portages.

Their story starts at the Algonquin Outfitters (AO) store at Oxtongue Lake this past June. All four women had worked there over the past several summers and had become close friends. With some of them graduating from university and moving on to careers, this may be their last summer working together at AO. The occasion called for something special - something like the “Meanest Link” canoe trip to mark this period of their lives.

The “Meanest Link” canoe route is the brainchild of Gord Baker and Alex Hurley. Baker is the assistant general manager of Algonquin Outfitters. Baker wanted his AO staff to take more canoe trips to recommit themselves to AO's core activity of canoe tripping. The “Meanest Link” challenge is the core ticket.

Completing the route itself would also serve to honor the memory of AO founder Bill Swift Sr., better known as “Swifty”, who passed away in 1999. Swifty had "...a gruff exterior and a heart of gold,” according to Baker. One of his nicknames - one Swifty particularly favored - was “Meanest.”

The trip links the four AO Stores - Oxtongue Lake, Huntsville, Brent and Opeongo - hence the name “Meanest Link.” There are four tough legs to the trip - Oxtongue Lake to Huntsville, Huntsville to Brent, Brent to Opeongo and Opeongo back to Oxtongue Lake.

Other staff members had completed individual sections of the link over the previous summer and fall. Two male staff members, Will Lougheed and Randy Pielsticker, had tried to complete the whole loop in early November 2004 but had to cut their trip short due to bad weather, low water and the fact that they were running out of food. Given the marginal weather, short days, unknown terrain on the Big East River and generally challenging conditions, their accomplishment is significant.

The route does not take the conventional or easiest path. The Huntsville to Brent section goes up the Big East River to McCraney Lake, through a series of small lakes and portages (the “Western Boundary” route, well known to trippers from Camp Pathfinder) and then down the Nipissing River to Brent. This leg is, by far, the most difficult portion of the “Meanest Link.” The mean factor includes relentless swarms of mosquitos and blackflies, low water, snags, deadfalls, huge portages, heat and humidity and the unknown.

The route also includes side trips to Source Lake, the site of Camp Pathfinder, and to Lake Lavieille. Swifty had been a camper, counselor and even one time owner of Camp Pathfinder. Lake Lavieille was Swifty's favorite place in Algonquin Provincial Park and the route includes the famous Dickson-Bonfield, five km portage for which Swifty claimed to hold the record portaging time. Enduring was more on the minds of the four women when they set off than setting records.

© 2005 Muskoka Magazine. Reprinted with permission.

Click the links for parts three and four.

Click here for a map of the Meanest Link.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Snow at Opeongo!

The title says it all.

The weekend looks good though - check the weather!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Fall colour report #1

Fall is really here, now that the beautiful fall foliage is starting to appear. As of today, there are a few trees that have completely turned but the majority are just beginning to "blush." This suggests that the colours will be at their peak in Algonquin Park some time during the last week of September.

Personally, I like the early phase of the fall colour change, with the contrast between greens, reds and yellows. The drive to work this morning was fanstastic: the early morning light, back lit mist and dewy spider webs, occasional bursts of colour in the maples was a visual feast

Monday, September 12, 2005

Annual Fall Canoe & Kayak Sale, Sept. 17 -18, at Oxtongue Lake

This weekend, Sept. 17 and 18, is the annual Fall Canoe sale and Assembly at Algonquin Outfitter's Oxtongue Lake store. This event is a season-end clearance sale of rentals, demos, trade-ins, used and new canoes and kayaks. There will be incredible variety at unbeatable prices. You'll find canoes and kayaks from Swift, Bell, Chestnut, Scott, Wilderness Systems, Dagger, Perception, Bic and more! The canoe & kayak sale starts at 10 am on Saturday. Test paddling and previewing are available on Friday.

There will also be a storewide sale all weekend at Algonquin Outfitters, in Oxtongue Lake only: outdoor clothing & footwear, paddles, sprayskirts, kayak accessories, canoe packs, tents, sleeping bags, camping gear, life jackets and more!

Bob Henderson, author of "Every Trail Has A Story" will be the special guest speaker on Sept. 17. Bob is a fascinating story teller, seasoned canoe tripper, outdoor educator and canoe trip history buff. His latest book, Every Trail Has a Story, “captures our living history in its relationship to the land and invites us to imagine and participate.” Spend an afternoon with one of Canada’s most gifted story tellers, and learn more about the living history of Algonquin Park and canoe travel in Canada. On Saturday only, from 2-4 pm, Bob will offer a storytelling session, featuring tales about Canadian landscape and heritage from "then and now." At 4:30, he will present a slide show highlighting stories in his new book. To learn more about Every Trail Has a Story, visit Natural Heritage books .

• For information on canoe & kayak sales, call 1-800-661-1429 or visit

• For information on outdoor clothing & gear sales, call Algonquin Outfitters at 1-800-469-4948

• Oxtongue Lake is located 30 km east of Huntsville on Hwy 60, just before the West Gate of Algonquin Park.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Fall is here!

Well, it is Labour Day Monday, the unofficial last day of summer. Signs of fall are popping up everywhere: tinges of red and yellow in the maples, cooler nights and some nice displays of Northern Lights. There are lots of canoes out in Algonquin Park somewhere, carrying people back from what might be their last trip of the season. It doesn't have to be that way, though. Anyone with time off in September should be planning an Algonquin Park canoe trip.

In my mind, fall is the best time to go on canoe trip in Algonquin Park. After the Labor Day weekend the number of park visitors drops dramatically. You'll find spectacular fall colors (usually peaking around the third week), no bugs, higher water levels and, if you're lucky, glorious weather. Early October can still offer nice canoeing weather, then again, it could snow. Die-hard canoe trippers will go on trips right up until the lakes freeze in November. Remember that as fall progresses, the days get shorter and you have to put a considerable amount of effort into simply staying warm.

Fall is probably the best time to enjoy Algonquin Park's day hiking and backpacking trails. The cooler weather is ideal for hiking and the fall colors make every step a scenic view. I'm looking forward to our annual fall hike on the Centennial Ridges trail. It is my personal favourite day hike in the park, with outstanding views, a variety of forest environments and is just a really great walk.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Experiencing nature at work

If a survey was done regarding the top 10 reasons why people go on canoe trips, I would predict that seeing wildlife would rank in the top three. In Algonquin Park, most visitors really want to see moose and are often rewarded with a sight of these large, odd-looking animals going about their daily business. Smaller animals like squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, ravens, jays, otters and mink are often seen as well. Despite the relatively large number of them in the park, bear sightings are not that common. Sightings of the park's top predator and possibly most charismatic creature, the wolf, are very rare.

The canoeist or hiker is generally rewarded with a view of an animal feeding or moving from place to place. Rarely does the casual observer see animals engaged in what are the really important parts of their life: hunting, being hunted, birth and death. These wildlife sightings fall into the "once in a lifetime" category, and the story below is about one them. This account is written by Dan Strickland, one of our neighbours in Oxtongue Lake, and someone who has spent a lifetime observing wildlife in their natural habitat. Now retired, Dan was the Chief Park Naturalist of Algonquin Park for many years. I can't imagine more credible witnesses to the incident described than Dan and his daughter Sarah, one of our long-time summer employees and an excellent canoe trip guide.

You will find the following event of interest. It occurred at about 7 p.m. on Wednesday, August 10 on the Rock to Louisa portage in Algonquin Park as my daughter Sarah and I were going in on an overnight fishing trip to Lake Louisa.

Sarah, who was about 5 minutes ahead of me at this point (22 year olds are faster than 63 year olds) first heard two loud vocalizations that sounded like those of a child yelling "WAY" (although Sarah was perplexed that a child could be on the portage that late in the day). She was shortly confronted by a fawn who ran noisily up to her, its sides heaving, and stood just a few feet from her right on the portage. When she moved, it two or three times ran noisily away but circled back again stopping just feet away from her. Sarah saw blood on the fawn's head and, of the two possible predators, she was imagining bear. She also saw something else moving in the woods but not well enough to see what it was before it passed out of view. When I arrived, the fawn was in the bush about 6 feet from Sarah who was on the portage. When she saw me, Sarah yelled "Hey dad, this fawn is acting like it's on drugs" (referring to its noisy and clumsy forays into the bush and somewhat alarming rapid returns so close to a human). We then had several more demonstrations of this behaviour during which the fawn several times got hung up on logs, saplings, and the boardwalk, before breaking free and continuing to tear through the bush while making a tremendous amount of noise (but no further vocalizations after the two Sarah heard). We noticed a conspicuous bloody spot on the portage which Sarah later told me was a place the fawn had stood right in front of her for a particularly long time (more than a minute) bleeding.

I finally had the presence of mind to get out my camera and take a few shots but the low light levels compromised their quality. Only two nearly identical flash shots were reasonably good. Shortly after I took them the fawn bounded up the trail on its last movement away from us. It had its "flag" up and seemed to be jumping conspicuously high in the air. It stopped about 30 feet up the trail from us and Sarah simultaneously spotted the wolf (which she was then sure was the animal she had seen earlier). The fawn took off at high speed south of the portage at about a 45 degree angle in front of us and seconds later the wolf followed, also at high speed. As it crossed the portage, we both saw that it was collared (i.e. it had a dark discontinuity or disturbance in the pelage around the neck). We heard more crashing-through-the-vegetation noises, briefly terminated by a fairly loud but non-vocal exhalation. There were then more noises of something moving through the vegetation but going directly away from us. A minute after the cessation of these noises we walked into the woods to see what we might see or learn but found no clues or signs in the rather thick brush. We left, concluding that we had heard the wolf finish off the fawn and then move away from us, holding its prey in its jaws. On the way out the next day, at 4:45 p.m. we howled in the same area but got no answer.

This is as close as I have ever come to actually witnessing wolf predation, although I have twice seen adult deer pause close to me with their tongues hanging out and in one of these cases a wolf appeared a minute or so (?) later following the same trail as the deer. What was remarkable about the present observation was the fawn's persistent returns to stand close to us after its frantic, seemingly panic-stricken forays into the bush. Could deer have been programmed to seek refuge from predators by fleeing into the presence of bigger animals (their mothers in the case of fawns but perhaps also other big animals (e.g. humans, mastodons, ground sloths??). Such behaviour might possibly have deterred further attack, at least some of the time with some predators, and could therefore have been evolutionarily rewarded (?).

Dan Strickland
Oxtongue Lake

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Unsolicited praise for AO

Every now and then, we get a nice letter from a customer, telling us how much they like us. We are always happy to get tehse and now we have a forum to share!

Here's one from a longtime, loyal customer, reprinted with permission:

Some thoughts about what Algonquin Outfitters has meant to me and my family

I have always experienced great excitement every time I see the two A/O billboards telling me my favourite Wilderness Outfitter is just a few miles away. For the last 10 or more years, A/O has been my outfitter of choice for both my family canoe trips and also for my 'marathon' canoe trips with my cousin.

A/O delivers great 'Service': knowledge, patience and attention to detail. They CARE about their customers and it shows. Where else do you find a sales person that spends whatever amount of time it takes for a customer to be comfortable with his or her ultimate choice in paddles, gear, etc.? That advice has extended to canoe route planning and canoe rental recommendations.

When winter comes, we are lured back to experience the Annual A/O Winter Assembly. First my wife and I, and then we returned with our children and their family. There is always good fun, a warm bonfire, snow shoeing, dog sledding, and just good winter enjoyment.

My family and I have had nothing but wonderful experiences at A/O. I look forward to my next return to my favourite Wilderness Outfitter.

Jay N. R.
A Grateful Customer

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Trip report from England

Earlier in July, a brave "fifty-something" couple from England brought six young men from England on an eight day canoe trip starting at our Opeongo Lake store. The patriarch, Victor, is a transplanted Canadian who gamely offered to take his sons and their friends on a trip-of-a-lifetime to Algonquin Park.

With permission, here are some exerpts from his trip report:

Dear Gordon,

Before time moves on too far and makes this email somewhat irrelevant I'd like to say thank you for putting together the makings of a successful canoe trip into Algonquin Park for myself and my party.

Bringing out 6 somewhat rowdy and exuberant youths, young men who had never before been out of reach of Macdonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken, was always going to be a bit of a risk...

Moving on, the trip was absolutely superb. The first evening ended in rain... which didn't help the great steak dinner, but didn't stop anyone from eating them either. If I had any problems with the trip it was rousing them in the morning early enough to get them on their way in time to make camp before sunset the following day. Here my wife was heroic in motivating them to get packed up each day. The day spent going down the Little Crow River was beautiful and only marginalized by the minor and momentary irritation of the Park Ranger going about his job and destroying the serenity with an outboard motor. The price to pay.... And he was more than apologetic about the disruption.

That particular day was long. As was our trip down the Crow. You were right in that the Crow River was an 'all day trip.' But none the less at the end of the longest portage (p1220) when we stopped for lunch, we fished and caught a half dozen small but very pretty Brook trout, saw a couple of moose and muskrat, caught snakes (Garter and Algonquin Brown snake), and in general had a great day.... albeit tiring.

As for the Dickson/Bonfield portage, the 'bark' was worse than the 'bite.' Everyone of the party, from the smallest upwards did that portage without a moan or groan (I lie). Nonetheless we did it in one 'fell swoop,' in a time of around 3.5 to 4 hours. A comment made by one of the biggest and strongest of the lads was that "today has been without a doubt, the hardest day of my life!" and then went on to say to my youngest son Christopher "I'm impressed with your old man... he carried the canoe the whole way..." (the unspoken words being ...without collapsing or having a heart attack....) I think they all thought (hoped) that I was going to have a heart attack, then the source of their pain would go away.....

For myself I enjoyed not just the whole trip, but the portage itself. I too had not had a day as hard or difficult (physically) as that in probably 40 years... it's been a long time since I used to do that regularly (military).

My youngest son Chris carried my pack and I wouldn't have wanted to carry it. It was heavy, I was 'blessed' with having to carry the canoe, believe me. As for the youngest in the party, Michael B; Michael carried both a pack on the back, and the 'bear keg' as did my other son Matt some of the way on this portage and on the other portages, but at 17 years of age, it was no mean feat for Michael, he was an absolute stalwart and impressed me immensely. Not a single complaint, just comments more like "anything else?" Yeah I can carry me! One of the other youngsters, James R, had never had a holiday outside of England before this...! I can only imagine that he must have thought that this was the holiday from hell, and that if this is what holidays were all about, then forget it, he'd stay home in future. But he swears that he enjoyed it. We'll see when I ask him if he wants to do it again next year.

In all I don't think any one of them will forget this trip in a long time, and I can only hope that it left an impression that will one day make them all want to do it again.

The only minor downside was really the last day when the wind began to rise as we were making our way out of the East Arm at Opeongo and down through into the main lake. The wind was gradually increasing, and as it was hitting the canoes broadside didn't leave a wide enough margin for safety. The 3 man canoes were just that low in the water to lack comfortability so it was a reluctant decision that was taken for us to pick up the water taxi just before half way. We really would have liked to have finished the trip off with that long tiring paddle down the lake and not have had to take the easy way out.

However, it was just after starting the trip that morning that half way through the East Arm that I finally caught a decent sized fish. A nice Lake trout around the 3.5 - 4 lb mark I would guess. As it was the last day of the trip it was returned to the lake and hopefully survived to live another day. Unfortunately there wasn't more time to fish Lavielle the day we came through, and I remembered your words about the planning and the route, that if we took a longer route then it would be all paddling and no time for relaxation and fishing. Well, even though we shortened it, with my lot it more or less ended up as such anyway...

Nonetheless I believe a good and memorable time was had by all.

Again, many thanks and best regards

Victor P.....


I wouldn't say it was easy, the trip with the boys I mean. I'm somewhat 'strong-minded' myself and rather intolerant of what I consider to be bad manners, rudeness, and so on... So yes, it was at times difficult and there were times when I did take people to one side and quietly read the riot act.

However, they are all people in their own rights, have their own opinions, and are in fact decent young men of a rather exuberant nature... I knew the situation when I took it on.

Would I do it again with them? Yes, without a moments hesitation... and it's already a thought process with them. The fact that there was from time to time hard and heavy work involved, in the main made the trip. Each one of them had something to prove to themselves (and their friends) and each did that successfully and came out -- I believe -- a much better person for it.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Going to Algonquin? Pack your saw!

On Monday, July 18, a severe thunderstorm front moved quickly through Algonquin Park and surrounding area. Algonquin Outfitters received a direct hit from a downburst at the Oxtongue Lake store. We estimate that over 30 trees were knocked down or snapped. These were not small trees, either. Those of you who know our store should remember the tall red pines growing in the back of our property. At least 25 of these mature trees, averaging about 10 inches diameter, fell in the area directly behind the shop. This area is used for drying tents, storing canoes and occasionally for large groups camping the night before their canoe trip. Thankfully, no one was camping and no one was hurt. We did lose six canoes, including a brand new carbon-Kevlar Bell Northwind and a classic cedar-canvas Chestnut Prospector, when a pine tree flattened a canoe rack. The roof of the shop was broken by another falling tree and our venerable GMC Jimmy got hit as well.

Staff who witnessed this event said they had never seen anything like it. Black sky in mid-afternoon, a wall of rain, trees spinning wildly then snapping like toothpicks and the sound of wind like a rushing freight train. Within minutes it was over and now, two days later, clean-up is well underway.

The worst part of the storm tracked north of Hwy 60 through the park. Camp Pathfinder, on Source Lake, suffered tree damage and Camp Ahmek, on Canoe Lake, reported that they lost their floating docks. I haven't heard any other reports of damage or injury but chances are good that there are many campsites and portages in Algonquin Park with trees down. Portaging through fallen trees is hard, time-consuming work, so anticipate that some portages will take a lot longer than anticipated

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Be careful with fire!

Due to the extremely dry conditions, Algonquin Park has issued a Public Advisory regarding Voluntary Fire Precautions.

This does NOT mean that a fire ban is in effect (yet) but does mean campers should be extremely cautious with fires.

Check the news page on the Algonquin Park web site for details.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Border Crossing Tips

This just in from our colleagues at NOTO ( the Northern Ontario Tourist Outfitters Association, of which we are a long-standing member):

We are hearing from many operators reports of stepped-up screening of guest entering Canada from the US. Although the requirements have not changed, border officials are becoming much more careful about checking for valid entry documents.

Despite the recent rumblings about passport requirements for US guests to re-enter their country, this provision is not scheduled to come into effect for a while yet. What is in effect, and has always been a requirement, is the need to show proof of citizenship.

Despite what may have been accepted in the past, a driver's license is not proof of citizenship! Because it has a photo, it is useful to provide positive identification, along with a proof of citizenship document, such as a birth certificate. A passport provides both identification and proof of citizenship, so it is the best document for frequent travelers.

The requirements for entry into Canada are exactly the same as the requirements guests have to meet to re-enter the US when they go home. Although driver's licenses may have been accepted at some border crossings in the past, they have never been an acceptable proof of citizenship.

By far the best advice for anyone who travels between the US and Canada is to obtain a passport. It is considered the most secure form of identification, and will definitively help minimize problems at the border. Until the new requirements come into effect, photo ID plus proof of citizenship is still acceptable.

Heightened border security is a fact of life we all have to live with. However, if you have the required documents ready when you arrive at the border, most border crossings are as simple and routine as they ever were.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The Meanest Link, Part One

Last summer, Alex Hurley and I dreamed up a canoe route to honour the memory of Bill Swift Sr., one of the founders of Algonquin Outfitters. Swifty, as he was most often called, had other nicknames, such as Mean Dude, or Meanest, which were a tribute to his gruff exterior persona. How he got those names is another story.

The Meanest Link consists of four challenging canoe routes connecting all four Algonquin Outfitters stores: Brent, Opeongo, Oxtongue Lake and Huntsville. Paddlers must follow a prescribed route between each store and follow a few traditions along the way. Each leg of the trip must be done as a single canoe trip, with the exception of the Huntsville/Brent route, which due to the difficulty and time required, may be split into two sections. Last summer, several groups of staff spent their days off paddling the Brent/Opeongo, Opeongo/Oxtongue Lake and Oxtongue/Huntsville routes. If you would like more details more details on the "Link" routes, drop by the Oxtongue Lake store and talk to Alex or Gord.

While the "Link" is not intended to be a speed trial, several amazing feats of marathon paddling were recorded. Chris Bosworth and Rob Finkbeiner, for example, left the Brent store at 4 am (in fog and darkness) and landed at our Opeongo store 17 hours later. The average canoe tripper would probably take at least four days to do the route down the Petawawa River, up the Crow River to Lake Lavielle, over the famous Dickson-Bonfield portage to Lake Opeongo.

Until the fall of 2004, no one was able to take the time to attempt the Huntsville/Brent leg, let alone the entire route. The Huntsville/Brent leg goes up the Big East River to Algonquin Park's western boundary, up the boundary via McCraney, Rain, Ralph Bice and Big Bob to the Nipissing River, then down the "Nip" to Cedar Lake and the Brent Store. This is a TOUGH route. Except as a spring whitewater run, the Big East is rarely travelled above Arrowhead Park.

In the next installment, I will tell you about the first attempt to paddle the entire Meanest Link in one continuous canoe trip.

For the rest of the Meanest Link story, see parts two, three, four and the map of the route, posted in this web log.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Where did the bugs go?

After a long spell of hot and dry weather, the general consensus up here is that black fly season was a "non-event." There have been years where the pesky critters have persisted into July. Not this year! The news is not all bugless though, as mosquitoes are still out there and there has been an early appearance of deer flies.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Sun, sand and three degree water

The Lake Superior trip was wonderful. We spent five days camped on the rugged coast, doing day trips to scenic locations with exotic names like the Devil's Warehouse, the Devil's Chair and a wide variety of stone beaches. Each beach, large and small, seems to have a different character: some have large round rocks, others have smaller round rocks, while other have rocks of a great range of colour and character. If you are fascinated by rocks and water, the Superior coast is a "must visit" destination.

It is not a destination to be taken lightly though. After several trips on the coastline by canoe, we live by the mantra, "travel when the lake lets you." Guide books to the area suggest that you should plan on being shore-bound one day out of every four, due to fog, wind, waves, bad weather (or all of these at once). Even during the heat wave of last week, we were wearing long sleeves and long underwear while paddling on the frigid lake. Swimming is out of the question!

Our young dog, Utah, survived his first camping trip with flying colours. His day was made when he discovered the skeleton of a moose down the beach from our camp site. This seemed to awaken some of his wild ancestry and I had to really work to discourage him from bringing trophies back to camp.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

No blog for a while - gone canoeing!

Our favourite insects, the dragonflies, hatched in great numbers yesterday. This is always a good sign. These voracious winged predators are not only beautiful to look at but they feed on smaller insects, like black flies and mosquitoes. For some reason, black flies have not been too much of a problem this year, probably due to the hot dry weather. Mosquitoes are out earlier than usual but most people have a greater tolerance for them.

Your faithful blogger is going on a canoe trip next week, so this blog will not be updated again till June 16th or so. My wife and I are off to Lake Superior Provincial Park for a little coastal paddling on the big lake. In a canoe of course! We have our own Swift Winisk equipped with a custom spray cover. I haven't figured out whether the dog will ride on or under the cover yet - we'll see! The 4 degree C (maybe 38 F) water tends to keep the bugs down near the shore but does put a damper on any swimming ambitions.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Support your local outdoor educator!

In the spring and fall, we provide canoes and equipment to a number of school groups. These groups are generally high school students and usually fall into one of two categories: "outer's clubs" or physical education classes. These groups are organized and led by some very dedicated teachers who have to pass through some incredible hoops and jumps to get these young people into Algonquin Park. Funding cuts, difficulty getting supply teachers and liability concerns are a few of of the big ones.

Neverthless, the enthusiasm and commitment of both new and experienced teachers organizing and leading these trips is inspiring. Right now, in the peak of black fly season, we have two schools out on trips. These teachers and students deserve a big pat on the back for their effort!

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Clean Up Algonquin Park for Free!

For the last nineteen years, on the first full weekend of June, Algonquin Outfitters has sponsored this popular event to help clean up Algonquin Park canoe routes. It is an excellent opportunity for individuals and groups to give something back to Algonquin Park.

The Clean-Up Weekend is open to all, even to those who don't need to rent a canoe! Individuals, families, outers' clubs and Scout troops have all participated in the past. This event is run at Algonquin Outfitters' main canoe outfitting store in Oxtongue Lake. Participants usually arrive and register early on Saturday morning. Staff members explain the guidelines of the event, provide participants with garbage bags and flagging tape and help select canoes and other equipment. Participants are responsible for routing their canoe trip and paying for camping permits. While paddling and portaging through the park, participants are responsible for stopping at campsites and portages to pick up litter and look for natural or human-caused damage to report to Ontario Parks staff.

Clean-Up Weekend participants can take advantage of free canoe rentals for aluminum canoes, a discounted rate for Kevlar canoes and 50% off complete outfitting. Trips can start on Friday or extend to Monday and still qualify. On Sunday afternoon, prizes are presented, with awards for the most litter collected, the most unusual item found and most bug bites. There are also draws for some great door prizes!

You must make a reservation with Algonquin Outfitters to receive the discounted or free rentals. Call 1-800-469-4948 (705-635-2243) for more information or to reserve.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Luc Mahler bike race results...

This just in....

Luc is doing well at the Canada Cup Camp. He only has one result posted so far, from Sunday the 22nd. He placed 7th (of 16) in the Junior Expert H division. If you go to the Canada Cup site and click on "results", you will see his posting on the last of the 4 options.

Scratch, scratch, scratch...

I got my first black fly bite of the season today!

The black flies restrained themselves over the recent holiday weekend and Algonquin Park canoe trippers enjoyed cool but otherwise nice weather. Best of all - bug free! Not so today. When I arrived at work this morning, I was admiring the glass-calm waters of Oxtongue Lake, back-lit by the morning sun. All looked serene and peaceful except for the halo of hungry insects buzzing around the heads of two young German fellows packing their bags for a canoe trip. As soon as the store the store was open, they came in and bought bug hats!

The key to camping in bug season is to have a positive attitude, use physical protection (like a bug shirt or bug hat at the least) and avoid using scented soaps and shampoos. There is a wide variety of insect repellant available and as many opinions about what works.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The first long weekend of the season

The May long weekend, with the holiday officially known as Victoria Day, is in full swing. Cool weather has kept the black flies at bay and Algonquin park is full of people canoeing, kayaking, mountain biking, hiking, camping and having fun. Our store was really busy yesterday and it's great to see a succesful "kick-off" weekend to the 2005 canoeing season.

Sadly, Algonquin Park sees its' share of holiday mishaps and this weekend has been no exception. We've heard sirens and seen emergency vehicles head into the park twice since Friday morning, responding to vehicle accidents. The air ambulance was called in both times to evacuate seriously injured people. Tragically, a motorcyclist was killed when he hit a deer near the West Gate. Incidents like this underscore the fact that the most dangerous part of a canoe trip is the drive up. Take care when you are driving!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Go Luc Go!

Many of our canoe customers may not be aware that the "bikes and boards" division of our Huntsville store is very active in sponsorship and support of competitive atheletes. We sponsor a number of local mountain bike racers, snowboarders, cross-country skiers, wakeboarders and adventure racers.

One of these racers, Luc Mahler of Huntsville, has been selected to attend the Ontario Team Training camp and to race in the Canada Cup races in Bromont, Quebec this weekend and at Mont Tremblant the following Saturday.

We wish Luc the best of luck and will keep you posted on his progress.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Good fishing for Rich and friends...

Despite cold weather and blustery conditions, Rich reports that the fishing was excellent. He was a bit vague on which lake produced the best fish but is the the way of the succesful angler. "Yes, we caught fish but I won't tell you where..."

I saw pictures of nice sized (11 pounds) lake trout and some fat brook trout. I haven't figured out how to put pictures on this blog yet, so unfortunately I can't share them.

The Bell canoes received rave reviews - fast, light, stable.

Check out all the Bell whitewater boats at
Palmerfest this weekend.

Support your local outdoor educator

In the spring and fall, we provide canoes and equipment to a number of school groups. These groups are generally high school students and usually fall into one of two categories: "outer's clubs" or physical education classes. These groups are organized and led by some very dedicated teachers who have to pass through some incredible hoops and jumps to get these young people into Algonquin Park. Funding cuts, difficulty getting supply teachers and liability concerns are a few of of the big ones.

Neverthless, the enthusiasm and commitment of both new and experienced teachers organizing and leading these trips is inspiring. Right now, in the peak of black fly season, we have two schools out on trips. These teachers and students deserve a big pat on the back for their effort!

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Look out fish!

Early this morning, Rich Swift, the General Manager of Algonquin Outfitters, and three friends headed up Lake Opeongo in one of our water taxis, on the first leg of their annual spring fishing trip. Their ultimate destination was Lake Lavielle, a remote large lake northeast of Opeongo. Lavielle holds a special place in the Swift family's hearts as it was the favorite lake of Rich's father, the late Bill Swift Sr., better known as Swifty. The trip to Lavielle is not an easy one. The most direct route in and out requires that you walk the famous (or infamous) five km Dickson-Bonfield portage both ways. Swifty claimed that as a young man, guiding for Camp Pathfinder, he ran the portage "fully loaded" in 41 minutes. Fully loaded, in those days, meant carrying a waterlogged cedar-canvas canoe and a heavy canvas canoe pack. In his uniquely colorful language, he described his physical appearance at the time as "all legs and eyeballs." Anyone who knew Swifty can imagine what a sight that would have been!

Rich and his forty-something crew (one is even fifty-something) will have an easier trek over the portage. They are testing our newest rental canoes, the Bell Northwind, a canoe that weighs, appropriately, forty-something pounds in the "KevLight" construction. Look for these at our Oxtongue lake and Opeongo stores, in the Featherweight Carbon-Kevlar rental category.

Swifty often said that Algonquin Park offers "excellent fishing for the ambitious." Good luck to Rich, Scott, Tek and Doug!

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Where did those bugs go?

Cool weather over the last day or two has kept the blacks flies at bay. Keep your eye on the forecast if you are coming up in the next week or so - warm weather means bugs, cool weather means they'll hold off for a while.

White and red trilliums are in full bloom - what a lovely sight! Most trees are "leafing up" and should be in full foliage within the next two weeks.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

They're back.....

Well, I hate to admit it but I saw a few Black Flies yesterday. The good news is that the temperature has dropped dramatically and frost is predicted for tonight, so that will slow down the onslaught for a few more days. The other good news is that the first of the critters to hatch don't bite much, they just buzz around and annoy you. Consider it training...

If you would like to learn more about Black Flies, check out what our friends at Agriculture Canada have to say. If you would like to celebrate Black Fly culture, you can always participate in the town of South River's annual Black Fly Hunt! Going to Maine soon? The Maine Nature News has a very detailed Black Fly Report and rating system.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Spring in Algonquin Park

Spring has truly arrived. The trilliums are up, though not yet in flower, trees are"leafing up" and there is a lovely tinge of green to the forest horizon. Best of all, the black flies are still asleep, so anyone lucky enough to be in Algonquin Park can enjoy bug-free camping, for a little while.

A big family group came back today from their annual trip down the Oxtongue River. The spring floosd has subsided and the river is now at a reasonable level for canoe tripping. The Oxtongue is an often-overlooked canoe trip option and is a nice introduction to river tripping. It can be done as a one, two or three day trip, depending where you start. There are two very scenic waterfalls to portage around and a few short portages around smaller rapids. Chrismar Mapping has produced a detailed "Adventure Map" of the river, available at our Oxtongue Lake store.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

What a Day...

What a day to be on a canoe trip in Algonquin Park! The weather is beautiful: sun is shining, no wind, no bugs, pleasant cool spring morning temperature, what more could you ask for?

This time of year is one of the best-kept secrets of the canoeing calendar - the pre-black fly, early May canoe trip. You should try it sometime!

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Sailing, sailing...

Our ace canoe repairman, Johnny Gall, just got back from an ice-out fishing trip, up on the "western boundary" of Algonquin Park. They didn't have much luck fishing, what with the crazy weather last week (hail, snow, wind, rain) but did have an amazing canoe sailing experience on Ralph Bice Lake. He and his two friends were travelling in three solo canoes, so they lashed the craft together and rigged up a huge tarp for a simple downwind sail. The wind was fairly strong, and they got going so fast they almost ran into on the remaining ice at the far end of the lake. Forty-five minutes from teh Hambone portage to the east end of the lake is very good time.

Campers on shore came out from under their tarps to witness the wild episode and one wag shouted at them, "don't you know this is a "no-wake" zone!"

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Open Boats are Here!

I've haven't seen so many open whitewater canoes in our yard for years! It was very exciting yesterday when the Bell Canoe truck and trailer arrived yesterday, loaded with models like the Ocoee, Prodigy, Prodigy X and Nexus. The Nexus is even rigged with the triple saddle system, enabling it to be paddled as a solo or tandem (or triple??? I'm not so sure about that) canoe. Some of these canoes are for sale, some for rent - stay tuned for details.

Ontario whitewater enthusiasts will be able to try out all of these models at the upcoming PalmerFest and Single Blade Symposium, at Palmer Rapids, May 21-22. Algonquin Outfitters will have a booth there, with lots of great deals on paddles, used kayaks and more!

More Bell boats are coming later. Their Kevlar touring canoes are among the lightest in the industry - we will offer them in our "Featherweight" rental category and have them for sale at the Huntsville store..

Speaking of new rental canoes, we are making a substantial investment in new Swift canoes for our fleet this year. Look for brand new versions of our most popular rental models like the Kipawa, Algonquin and Winisk.

Opeongo is Good to Go!

Our water taxis have been all the way up both the North Arm and East Arm! They report that the lake is clear of ice.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Water Taxi Adventure

OK, at some point we'll stop talking about the ice on Opeongo Lake. These days, however, it is an item of great interest to outfitters, trout anglers and canoe trippers using Opeongo Lake as an access point for the Algonquin Park interior.

Current conditions on Opeongo Lake: the South Arm is open but there is a big sheet of ice floating arond in the channel leading to the North Arm. The narrows leading to the East Arm is blocked but there appears to be open water beyond. Jerry Schmanda, the Opeongo Store manager, speculated that there would still be ice at the east end of the East Arm. We anticipate that Opeongo Lake wil be completely open by Thursday or Friday. We have no reports on interior lakes like Hogan, Lavielle or Big Trout.

One of our water taxis was able to take some canoe trippers to the Happy Isle portage, in the North Arm, this morning. On the return trip he was almost trapped by a huge floating, wind-blown ice floe, which was threatening to push the boat up on shore! The driver had to jump out of the boat at the shore and push it along the shrinking stretch of open water, with the ice pushing on the opposite side! This would have been no small feat, considering that the boat is an 18-foot welded aluminum work boat with a 90 HP outboard motor and that he was wading along a rocky shore in ice-cold water. Anybody who has ever envied the job of a water taxi driver's job of piloting boats up a big northern lake on a warm summer day might think twice when considering that those boats run from late April to mid-October, in all conditions. There are days when it is a cold, wet and very challenging occupation!

Monday, May 02, 2005

Cedar Lake is Open!

Just got off the satellite phone with our staff at the Brent Store, on beautiful Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park. They report that Cedar is completely open, with a little bit of ice floating around the east end.

Still no word on other interior lakes.

Opeongo Lake Ice Update

It is snowing heavily as I write this. Our water taxi drivers at the Opeongo Store report that the South Arm of Opeongo is half open. This morning, a boat got as far as the East Arm narrows but encountered solid ice beyond that point.

Conditions change rapidly, so stay tuned or call the Opeongo Store at 1-888-280-8886 for an up-to-the-minute report.

The good news is that all lakes south of Hwy 60 are open. This weekend, several hardy parties braved wind, hail, rain and snow and reported good fishing results from lakes accessible via the Rock Lake, Cache Lake and Smoke Lake access points.

Most lakes accessible from access points on the west side of Algonquin Park, like Tim River and Magnetewan Lake, are open.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Ice Out in Algonquin Park

The big question on every Algonquin Park canoeist's mind right now is, "is the ice out in the park yet?"

After a long, cold, snowy winter, the answer (as of today) is, "not completely!"

Ontario Parks staff flew over the park two days ago and conditions haven't changed much since then. All lakes south of Hwy 60 are open, though you may still find sheets of ice floating around in larger lakes like Cache, Smoke and Louisa. Water levels are VERY high.

North of the highway, it's a different story. On Lake Opeongo, for example, the lake is completely frozen beyond Bates Island in the South Arm. Large interior lakes like Big Trout, Lavielle, Ralph Bice and Cedar are all ice-covered, with some open areas. Considering the weather forecast, things are not expected to change very quickly. Canoeists travelling at this time of year must be extremely careful. The water and air temperature is just above freezing and drifting ice could trap you for some time. Rivers like the Petawawa, Nipissing and Amable du Fond are in full spring flood, so extreme caution should be taken approaching portages and fast water sections.

When does the ice go out? A few seasons ago, our intrepid reporters unearthed a secret document revealing the results of a 33 year study of ice-out dates on Opeongo Lake. Opeongo is usually the last lake to open up in Algonquin Park. "Ice-out" refers to the day when boat travel from end to end is unimpeded by ice. Over 33 years of record-keeping, the average ice-out date was April 30, the earliest was April 12, 1981, and the latest, May 15, 1972. The official ice-out date for 2004 was April 25. With such a wide range of potential dates, you now know why our staff have such difficulty answering that popular question, "When will the ice go out this year?" The best strategy for trip planning is to have a flexible schedule and route plan and to phone us closer to your trip dates to get a better prediction.

For the official Algonquin Park report on ice conditions, click here. For an informative and relatively up to date report on Canoe Lake conditions, visit the Electric Penquin site.

I will post new ice reports as we receive them.