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!

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