Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A happy customer

It's been a busy month! Fortunately the weather in August was a lot more stable than it was in July (see stories below). As the summer winds down and fall approachs we all look forward to a more relaxed pace, stunning fall colours cool nights and yes, even the approach of winter.

We work hard to ensure that all our customers have a great experience and it's rewarding to get positive feedback. Here's a nice note from Andrew S., from England. He and his family went on one of our Custom Guided Canoe Trips earlier in August.

Dear Gordon

I just wanted to thank you for organising a wonderful canoeing trip for us last week. It was an experience that neither I nor my family will ever forget. The canoes and equipment were all first class and we could not have asked for anything better. With hindsight, the only thing I might have changed was the type of food we chose. I think I would have passed on the fresh chicken and bacon & eggs and stuck to lighter, more easy to prepare food -perhaps you could warn people not to be too ambitious. I would particularly like to highlight the fantastic role played by our guide, D....... She was the perfect guide in all respects, knowledgable, helpful but equally happy to leave us to get on with things on our own once we knew what we were doing. She was excellent company and became a firm friend of both us and the kids. Overall she was a credit to your organisation and played a big role in making the trip a success. The only problem is that it has left me hungry for more- I am already studying the map and tracing out possible routes with absolute jealousy for those of you who live in the area!

Thanks again for helping with such a fantastic adventure- we would recommend Algonquin Outfitters to anybody.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Another storm story

Bill and Simone T. live near Montreal, Quebec, and are very regular customers at our Oxtongue Lake store, visting winter and summer. This year's pilgrimage to the Algonquin interior took place in mid-July and they too were camped in the north part of the park during the wild storm of July 17.

Here is their story:

Hi Gord, we're back home "safe and sound" after our eight day canoe trip in the park. It was definitely quite different from any that we have done in the past.

We had planned to travel from Canoe Lake to Otterslide the first day to be close to the creek for an early start the next morning. Then we were to go to Burntroot on day two and on to Catfish the third day. We were to have a "day off" on day four to do a little exploring on Catfish, as we really like that lake. We have done this trip, with a few changes, twelve times.

The first day we arrived at Otterslide as planned, set up camp, lazed around a bit, ate supper, watched the loons frolicking and turned in for the night.

The next morning we awoke, ate breakfast, packed up and started down Otterslide Creek where we saw a young moose trotting along beside us before crossing the creek to join its' mother. We started out into Big Trout where we met two canoes heading for the creek, we exchanged good mornings and one of the paddlers in the second canoe said that we were in for a rough ride as the wind would be in our face with two foot waves and whitecaps. We thanked him for the info and said that was what we were expecting. Well, it took us an hour and fifteen minutes to get to the point of land where the portage from Lake La Muir comes out. Normally it might take us half an hour to reach it. We decided that this would be a good spot for lunch. After eating, we decided that we would take the afternoon off, camp here and do a little longer paddle the following day.

We started our third morning with breakfast, packed up and headed for Longer Lake, through Burnt Root and then into Perley. The wind had really picked up again, and even though it was behind us, we decided to stop at one of the camp sites on Perley. We had camped a couple of times on the high site but never on the site further down the lake, we decided to give the further one a look see. Well, that's all we did. That site is overgrown and looked like it hadn't been used in years so we decided to fight the wind and go back to the high site. As we approached the camp, a very large bald eagle lifted off the huge dead tree that marks the path up to the camp. We were quite excited as we had never before seen one in the park. We left the canoe facing into the wind and took our gear up to the camp.

Normally when we reach a camp the first thing that we do is to set up a tarp so that we have a place to cook if there is any rain. We have it down to a five-minute exercise. We string a rope between two trees, hang the tarp over it with the long end down facing into the wind and the short end the other way. We tie the tarp to the rope with short cords at either side. We use four tent pegs at each end and attach the tarp to the pegs with bungee cords. It works great.

After we packed our gear up to the camp we strung our tarp rope, hung the tarp over it and tied the two sides. The wind by this time was so strong, it tore the grommets where we had tied them and we just physically could not put up our tarp. We set up our tent and sat on a log watching the wind come down the lake. It started raining so we took "shelter" inside our tent. We have never experienced wind like we had that day anywhere in our lives. It was "screaming" through the trees and the rain was coming down in torrents. We had to close the top vent on the tent, as the wind was so strong that the rain was pouring into the tent from the vent. Our tent balloned inwards so much that we still don't know how the aluminum poles were okay afterwards. We heard CRAACK-------BOOM. I said," I guess a tree came down." Then CRAACK-----ZAPBOOM. We looked at each other and said, "that was a funny noise." The storm seemed to last about fifteen to twenty minutes and then it let up.

We got out of the tent to survey the situation. The noises that we had heard were easy to figure out. Less than ten feet from the door of our tent a tree about ten inches in diameter had uprooted and crashed to the ground AWAY from our tent. About ten feet from our tent in the other direction, the top of a dead eight-inch pine tree had come down in two ten-foot lengths and had snapped our tarp line. Had we been able to set up the tarp, that is exactly where we would have been sitting.

I said that I was going to go see how the canoe had fared. We walked over to the path that leads down to the water and found a twelve inch cedar tree had been snapped and was down across the path. That wasn't the worst part. Where we had left the canoe and paddling gear were the two paddles and the two life jackets. They hadn't even moved an inch but where was the bright yellow Mattawa that had brought us here? For a second I thought that someone had stolen it. What a dumb thought, who could be out on the water in this? We looked in the bushes, no canoe. We looked down the narrows, and there, about one hundred meters down and across the narrows, full of water, thankfully, was our best friend. I stripped off to my undies, walked down the shore and swam across to retrieve the canoe. I emptied it and paddled back to the beach. We placed it on the beach facing into the wind and put our life jackets on top of it with large rocks on top of the life jackets and headed back up the hill. We just made it into the tent when off in the distance we heard the rumbling of thunder storms. That whole night the thunder storms just kept comimg and coming. The thunder especially, was amazing. Normally, we have both "enjoyed" being in the woods during thunder storms, but after what had just happened to us.... We didn't get much sleep that evening. Thank goodness, we didn't know at the time, but according to Enviornment Canada, the winds in that part of Algonquin Park were considered to be 1 on the Fujita scale which is 120-170 km/h, supposedly able to overturn cars, so our poor little Mattawa certainly was no match for it. It uprooted or snapped off thousands of trees.

Day four, this was supposed to be our "day off". We set out for Catfish Lake. The last portage into Catfish was a "real joy." There were four areas with large trees that the wind had knocked down accross the trail. We trimmed some of the smaller branches and pulled the canoe through, but in two areas the trees were too large and dense so we had to "bushwhack" around them. We made it to Catfish and camped on the island in the second section of the lake near the abondanded "alligator," just where we had hoped to, and stuffed ourselves silly with wild blueberries.

We awoke in the morning to a very dense fog. We wondered what else would happen. The fog burned off as we ate and packed up. We paddled back to Burntroot and were lucky enough to get our favourite island camp site at the far south end of the lake just before it goes into the smaller part of the lake. As we climbed up onto the island, we noticed a strong burnt smell. There had been two root fires. We didn't know if they had been started by careless campers as there were signs of partly burned logs scattered everywhere. The earth was all blasted away from the areas where the fires had been as if someone with a very powerful hose had been there and there seemed to be pink residue at the bottom of the washed out areas and we wondered if this was fire retardant.

Day six had us off to Big Trout and down to a beautiful island camp site at the far end of the lake, near the turn for the portage into the creek. This was our "day off". Finally!!! We didn't do anything except rest and talk about the trip so far.

Our eighth and final day saw the wind gods finally with us. We left our island on Big Trout just after eight in the morning, did the creek and the winds literally blew us down Otterslide and both sections down Burnt Island and even Canoe Lake. We hit the beach just before three-fifteen and headed for the showers before going to spend a beautiful evening with friends that have a cottage on Peninsula Lake.

We spent the following week at a cottage on Oxtongue Lake with our daughter, son-in-law and two grand children planning, God willing, our canoe trip for July 2007.
After reading the post recounting the adventures of the Baron and crew, Bill sent this note:

Hi Gord, Sim & I found your story on the blog very interesting yesterday. Sim says she feels better to hear that someone else lost their canoe. We sort of had a guilty feeling like we should have done something else. They came a LOT closer than we did. Some of the similarities were amazing. They backtracked, a lot farther than we did, because of overgrown camps and trails, they camped on a high campsite and they lost their canoe. Great story!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Storm stories

The big storm of July 17, recounted earlier in this blog, swept a tragic and destructive path across Algonquin Park. Just now, stories are emerging of close calls and near misses. The story below, and one I'll post later, come from regular outfitting customers of ours who were camping in the north part of Algonquin Park on that fateful evening. Thankfully they emeged unhurt but both stories illustrate just how close they came to disaster.

In the world of adventure activities, flatwater canoe tripping, such as we promote in Algonquin Park, is generally considered fairly low risk. While there are many potential hazards, such as wind, cold water, rugged trails and the like, these are easily manged by being careful, having good equipment, staying within your own confort zone of skill and experience, planning ahead and watching the weather. No amount of care and planning can prepare you for the moment when Mother Nature rears up and takes a swipe at you, such as what happened on July 17. Experience and skill can help you deal with the aftermath, as we'll see here.

Two or three times aseason, we are visited by a group of friends from the Cleveland, Ohio, area. Over their years of canoeing together these fellows always refer to themselves as the King and his Court, and so each season, we look forward to visits by Baron, Jester, King, Czar and the occasional new recruit. Here is their story, as told by Baron:

Thank you for your help in making our trip this year another good one. While it was very eventful, the results were great and we all had a good time.

The first few days through North Tea (west), Biggar, Three Mile and Manitou went as planned. But, as we started in to Fassett Lake on Monday, it was clear that we were probably the first people in from Manitou Lake this year. The trail was overgrown and most portage signs were pulled from the trees. We said to ourselves that there must be some reason that no one takes this route -- like the campsites are bad? The water levels were good. In any case, we decided to turn around and head back to Manitou.

We settled into the high campsite on the south side at the end of the peninsula north of the trail into Fassett. A stiff wind blew all afternoon so we delayed putting up the tents. About dinner time we put up one tent and the Buckley Dry Fly to provide shelter for cooking. Shortly after that the storm came through.

After putting gear under the Dry Fly, two of the group ducked into the tent and two got under the dry fly. A tree over a foot in diameter broke off about 25 feet up and came down on the tent, just missing the guys in the tent. With a bit of panic, they ran over to the Dry Fly to tell us they were just missed. In the middle of this a tree about 8 inches in diameter came down on the Dry Fly. It came from behind the Dry Fly, just missing my head by a couple of feet. Interestingly, the climbing line I use to support the fly held the tree from completely hitting the ground! The storm didn't last long, and we got out to assess the damage. There were about 10 trees down around the campsite. All three poles on the tent were bent, and its' rain fly was badly torn. The holes in the tent itself were able to be covered with duct tape. Duct tape also covered the holes in the Dry Fly, which will be salvaged. Later, we combined the 3 poles to make 2 good ones so that we could use the tent by placing it under the Dry Fly. The key thing is that we were all fine.

As we were assessing the damage, we checked on the canoes which were turned over, well up on the beach. To our surprise, one was missing. We looked up and down the beach with no success. After the wind settled a bit and the water calmed, two of us went searching on the lake. We had the direction, but nothing more to go by for searching. As we went out, we spotted it upside down nearly a half-mile off shore. It was flooded with only a couple inches visible above water. The Bell canoes are so light that we didn't feel we had the stability to clear it in the middle of the lake, so we towed this giant sea anchor to shore to empty it and return to camp. Amazingly, there was not a bit of damage to the canoe! We felt very fortunate to find it in good shape. You might want to advise people to tie down the Bells as they are so light.

Tuesday we stayed put to dry out the gear, and then Wednesday we headed down to North Tea (east). The portage had several large trees down across it. We also hiked the trail from North Tea to Lorne. That told us that we had made a good decision to avoid Fassett. The trail was blocked in many spots with downed trees. We also talked with a ranger on the lake who told us of the widespread damage, injuries, and the death on Three Mile.

Thursday we headed to North Tea (west) planning to camp there Thursday night prior to heading out Friday morning. The weather looked very much like rain, so we decided to head out with the gear dry rather than packing wet on Friday morning. It proved to be a good decision. After a battle crossing the lake to the access, it started to rain as we were tying down the canoes on the car. As we were making our way across the lake we talked with the couple who first came to help the group on Three Mile where the fellow was killed, and then went to get the ranger's help. A very sad and challenging situation. They had about a three hour trip to get help, making it back about 1am. The evacuation flight made it in early in the morning. The fellow who was killed and the fellow in the tent with him (apparently with a serious spinal injury) were the counselors for a group of 16 year olds. One of the kids was related to the fellow killed. They got some other campers to stay with the kids before going for help.

It was a trip with a lot of memories, but all-in-all a very good time. We will be back.

Again, thanks for your help, and I'm sorry we didn't get to see you and others at Oxtongue Lake.

When I wrote and asked permission to post his story, Baron replied:

You are welcome to post the story I sent you on the net. I would suggest that you do a little editing. Attached are photos of the damage. Select those that will work for you.

That was quite a storm, and I'm sure most people in the park have some stories to tell. It is very interesting how people react, and the strength that comes out in tough circumstances. We thank God for keeping us safe.
Photos of the campsite after the storm can be seen on Jester's post on the Canadian Canoe Routes site.