Thursday, July 27, 2006

Algonquin reservations up and running, almost...

After a wild storm on July 17, the phone lines and reservation system for Algonquin Park were shut down. Apparently the cell tower at Cache Lake was struck by lighting, caught fire and the fibre optic cables severely damaged. This happened a year to the day after a wild storm that knocked down 40 trees in our back property.

In this year's big storm, tragically, one camper was killed by a falling tree. Several other people were injured and many other stories of close calls are emerging. The road in to our Brent store was closed for almost two days due to fallen trees and canoeists will find that many portages now have trees blocking the way. Damage was worst in the north end of the park and was widespread in north-central Ontario. The town of Mattawa declared a state of emergency after the storm!

Repair crews have been working hard to repair the the damaged cable and interior reservations can be now be made (call 1-888-668-7275). Algonquin roadside campground reservations are not available as of this blogging. Check the Ontario Parks blog for updates.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

More images from Olaf

Here are two more of Olaf's photos and one painting:

Hailstorm Creek - sunrise or sunset?

Opeongo sunset

"Sky is the Limit" by Olaf Schneider

Thursday, July 13, 2006

It's great to have friends

One of the best things about working in this business is the generous, friendly and interesting people you get to meet. One of these folks is Olaf Schneider, an artist and photographer. Olaf and his wife Tracey visit Algonquin Park often and recently sent us some beautiful photos and scans of a few of his paintings:

They were taken on July 1st & 2nd, Tracey and I were paddling into Hailstorm Creek and we saw Jerry and his friend pass by. We wondered what they were doing, so we paddled toward them. Just then, we saw a young bull standing at the shore eating. As I changed lenses the moose decided to change location. He got into the water and started swimming right towards us. I nearly ...... , so we stayed right where we were and I just started shooting photos. It was awesome. Jerry and his colleague in the canoe made a really nice backdrop for these images.
The cameras keep rolling when a moose swims by!

One of Olaf's recent paintings: "At Rest"

Thanks Olaf! We'll post more of his images another time...

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Paddling in Algonquin (part three of three)

The final installment of Tomas' adventure!
If you missed part two, click here.

A strange noise woke up in the morning. My inner tent which is normally yellow was black. I opened both eyes and stared with disbelief at my tent. The noise and black layers were mosquitoes. I jumped out of the tent to spray myself before I did anything else.

I knew I had a long day in front of me. I was still 2 hours behind my plan and the plan assumed to return the canoe at 7 p.m. In addition I had four portages including the 5.3 km one - the longest portage in Algonquin - connecting Dickson Lake with Bonfield Lake. After paddling whole morning I landed at the entrance of this portage at 1:30 p.m., which turned out to lunch time for mosquitoes. The previous portages were mosquitoes promised land. This one was hell for any human being. Swamps and wet land with numerous small ponds make this portage an ideal place for mosquitoes and other bugs. The instructions on the bug sprays advised to use the spray maximum twice for no more than six hours. I must have sprayed myself dozen times. Thinking back I now understand the tag line “SC Johnson - Family Company” - it means the whole mosquito family, even distant relatives, is invited for lunch. And it seemed that Summer Meadow was like gravy for them. The more I sprayed myself I more mosquitoes came. As if they talked to each other “have you tasted this new flavour. Little bit too sweet for me but in combination with fresh blood it is delicious.” I will not go into details but as in the previous portages I had to go through this hell three times. Last time I carried the canoe on my shoulders for seventy minutes with a half minute break. I could not rest longer because otherwise I would have inhaled mosquitoes flying around my head. After16 km, 2/3 with the heavy stuff on my back I was tired and on in autopilot mode “You must get to Outfitter by 9 p.m.” that was the thing that kept me going.

After I finally got to East Arm of Opeongo Lake I met a human being. I did not see and talked to anyone for 49 hours. The man greeted me and his second sentence was how tired I looked. But a typical conversation you have with a complete stranger but I probably looked horrible with blood streaks from killed mosquitoes all over my face and arms. When he saw my paddle he could not believe I paddled from the place I started that day in the morning. He and his buddy did essentially just the portages that day. He offered me to stay with them and to be picked by a water taxi on Monday morning. For a second I thought about this option but I quickly turned it down. I told a couple of friends about my intention to do this trip in three days all by myself and I wanted to stick to the plan. I thanked them and asked if by any chance they did not have a spare paddle. Without hesitation they borrowed me theirs. I thanked them, promised to return it to Outfitters under their name and at 5:30 p.m. I set off for the last part of my trip. I knew if everything goes well I had about 3 hours of paddling in front of me. The normal size paddle made a big difference. My back muscles were still sore and tired but at least I felt the boat moved with every stroke.

When I was somewhere in the middle of Eat Arm of Opeongo Lake it got darker and started to rain. A short 5 minute rain. Unfortunately I did not hide the map print out and after it got wet all colors mixed up and created an interesting piece of abstract art. Unfortunately as a map it was completely useless. I kept paddling east hoping not to get lost among many small and bigger inlands. I felt I was on track to make it. I almost whistled from happiness. But the trip was not over yet. And it happened what I was afraid of - when I felt Outfitters must be just round the corner I entered the bay with no exit - just a tree line on a shore. I felt I was so close and for some time I was just paddling back and forth as if I did not believe my eyes trying to find a hidden connection to Outfitters. But there was none. It got darker and I was quickly running out of the time. I said if I do not find the way in the next quarter an hour I will have to find a camp site and stay there over the night. Miraculously, a fishermen boat appeared. I asked a guy on board for the way and after 45 minutes of intense paddling I reached Outfitters at 8:45 p.m. I felt tired and my body was shaking from exhaustion. But my felt good- despite all obstacles I made 4 day itinerary in 3 days all by myself.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Paddling in Algonquin (part two of three)

Tomas' adventure continues. If you missed part one, you can see it here.

I found a gorgeous place - it was on a tip of an island with a sand beach and crystal clear water of Proulx Lake. Since I left Opeongo Lake I did not see a single person. I lighted the fire, cooked some meal and boiled water for tomorrow. I also worked on the paddle - I was proud of myself as I came up with two solutions. The first one was included a piece of wood inside the hollow shaft with three other pieces tied with a rope to the shaft. The other one was just a wooden shaft.

The following day I set off early to make up for the lost time. Unfortunately my first fix lasted just three stokes and the back up option worked for about an hour just long enough to get me up the river to Little Crow Lake. There the wooded shaft definitely broke leavening the broken part inside the shaft which meant I was not able to replace it with anything else. The only thing I could do was to screw a cork screw on my pocket into this wood inside the shaft and create some form of a T grip on the top of the paddle.

I knew I could not afford any further delays so I paddled as fast as I could. Despite my effort I did not progress very fast - I was more like a little kid paddling on an inflatable boat than the hard core paddler but I did not have any other option. Exhausted I got to Crow river with seven portages. I soon understood that I would not be able to carry all my staff at once. So first I went with my sack and whatever was left from the paddle, and then went back for the canoe. I walked every portage three times. Three times through mosquitoes and black flies paradise. After the one portage more than 1 kilometer long, tired I decided to take my change and instead of portaging to go down the river through the rapids. In the end rapids were the reason why I went canoeing in Europe. It turned out this was not the right decision. My canoe was more a steam boat than a light white water boat. No matter what I did - and it could be just because of the extremely short paddle - she kept the direction. I was her and the river deciding where to go. I jumped twice from the boat to prevent flipping over. Fortunately the river was just waist deep and the rapids were not too strong.

After I got over the last portage I saw something big in the river. At the first moment I thought it was a rock but the rock was moving. As I got closer I realized it was a moose cow bathing and eating river grass. “This is the reason why you came! This is the first hand experience of Canadian wilderness life” half of my mind screamed with excitement. The other half, the more pragmatic was more concerned how I will get around the huge moose cow standing in the middle of the river and not showing any willingness to move even inch aside. As I got closer to her I had to make a choice. I decided to pass her on the left side because the current was faster. When I was passing her just I few meters away we stared into our eyes. “Will she run after me?” went through my mind as I was paddling with my funny paddle as fast I could. She did not move at all. She completely ignored me and kept chewing juice river grass.

Despite 10 hours of paddling and portaging I was still behind my plan. But I was too tired and also had to prepare for the night. Like a night before I found an awesome place on Lake Lavieille. After I cooked some meal I built the tent and tired fell asleep almost instantly.

Tomorrow, I'll post the third and final chapter of Tomas' canoe adventure in Algonquin Park. Check back and you'll read about how Tomas learns the truth about mosquito repellant and accepts the generosity of strangers.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Paddling in Algonquin (part one of three)

Tomas H., originally from the Czech Republic, and living in Ontario for a period of time, decided to go on a canoe trip in Algonquin Park. He had quite an adventure and sent us the story below. With his permission, I am posting it. The story will continue over three days, due to the length, and it it definitely worth reading. As you might imagine, English is not Tomas' first language but I haven't edited it at all, and the tale has all the flavour of his own words.

Stories like this capture the flavour and adventure of canoe tripping like no advertising agency script ever could. Experienced canoe-trippers may see Tomas' trip as a bit of a misadventure but the beauty is that he rises above his inexperience by being resourceful and open-minded to solutions. We've all been there at one time or another and I bet we'll see Tomas back for more trips in Algonquin Park.

I would like to thank you for an unforgettable experience from the last weekend. A recapped it from my friends - you may enjoy reading it too.


Tomas H.
Czech Republic

Paddling in Algonquin (part one of three)

Since my brother with his wife came over for a 14 day visit two years ago and after 2 days in the first week spent the whole second week totally excited paddling on lakes in North Ontario I wanted to try it. My chance came last weekend after my family went over to Europe. After close to 10 hours browsing on internet I finally decided for a trip I wanted to make - Opeongo Lake, Proulx Lake, Little Crow Lake, Big Crow Lake, Crow Lake, Lake Lavieille, Dickson Lake, Bonfield Lake, Wright Lake and Opeongo Lake. Most of the sides I looked at described this trip as 4-5 day long. As I like to challenge myself I took Friday off with a clear goal to make the trip in three days.

I left Toronto on Thursday late evening and arrived in Algonquin at 2 o'clock in the morning. As the West Gate office was closed I parked the car and within few minutes fell asleep. I must have slept pretty well as I woke up later than I intended which meant I started my canoe trip by two hours later than I planned.

Upon arrival to Algonquin Outfitters on Lake Opeongo I checked in the Park office and went to Outfitter for a canoe. I booked a solo canoe hoping the canoe would be smaller and lighter. When I saw it the only difference I noticed was just one seat in the middle - I always thought when I saw drawing of native Canadians from the 19th century with men sitting in the middle that it was a mistake but apparently it wasn't. When I was choosing the paddle a guy behind the counter advised me to go for a chin long one - there was just one which was so long. A shaft of the paddle was slightly bent but the guy assured me it would be okay. “Will you portage?”, he asked. Yees, I answered with uncertain voice without having a clue what portage means. Fortunately the good man answered himself “oh ye, you go to the lakes north off Opeongo” and went back to the store. In a second he came back with a piece of wood looking like a medieval torture instrument. When he saw my puzzled look he showed me what it was for and how to mount it on the canoe. Near future showed my first impression was not too far from the truth. The only difference between the torture instrument and this piece was that with the former someone helped you to put it on while with the latter I had to do everything by myself. Otherwise I believe the pain was comparable. “Will you need a water taxi?”. “No”, I replied this time with a confidence in my voice as I read somewhere on internet that hard core paddlers never take the water taxi. I was not sure if I was the hard core paddler but from the tone of the article I read I figured out that only total losers take the taxi.

Just few minutes after I set off and left the wind protected bay it turned out very clear that I was the only loser as I crashed into headwind with waves 30 centimeters high while non-hard core paddlers passed by smiling in water taxis. One group even cheered my up. “Is this boat sea-worthy” as I was trying to reach the shore of North Arm. The itinerary I followed said this trip usually takes three hours. After 4.5 hours when I finally reached the shore I realized another advantage of the water taxi. It disembarks you directly at the entrance to portage. My letter sized print out of the map was not the most detailed map I ever used - somewhere there in front of me was the entrance to the portage but it was all I was able to read from the map. After 1.5 hours of paddling back and forth along the shore I finally found the portage to Proulx Lake. The weather was beautiful and despite the delay everything seems great. I landed and began preparation to portage the boat. As soon as my feet touched the ground herds of mosquitoes appeared as if they were waiting just for me. As a hard core paddler I packed all my stuff into a water proof sack and to be really sure nothing gets wet I put everything inside the sack into plastic bags. But into which one I put the bug spray I obviously did not remember. I was desperately going through the sack with mosquitoes in my mouse, nose, ears and under sunglasses. I was eaten alive. Finally at the very bottom of the sack I found it - Off with a new Summer Meadow scent. It worked. Mosquitoes still flew around but did not bite. At least for some time. As I portaged - which means I carried the heavy sack with all my stuff for three days including tent and food on my back, 17 kilos “light” canoe on my shoulders and a paddle in my hand, my sweat washed away some of the bugs spray and some mosquitoes were not repelled by Summer Meadow scent any more. One bite, two bites, three bites. There is not much you can with the heavy load on your back. How many bites can I bear? After more than ten I gave up, dropped everything and sprayed myself from head to toes again. Finally I got to the end of the portage. Out of this mosquitoes land, and fast went through my mind I was loading the boat. First stroke, second stroke, third stroke and whoops the paddle broke exactly in the place where in was bent. Instead of a chin long paddle I had a waist long - a right size for my three year old son. “What should I do? Should I return?” My desire to deliver on the goal I set myself prevailed. I paddled to the nearest camp site with a clear plan to somehow fix the paddle and carry on in the trip early morning following day.

Stay tuned for part two, wherein Tomas fixes his paddle, in true "McGyver" style, and presses on to Lake Lavielle.