Monday, December 07, 2009

The long awaited BMFF film list for Huntsville

Editor's note: If you looked at this post prior to Dec. 7, the order would have been slightly different. My gurus suggested a little schedule tweaking to improve the timing, so we moved two short films around. "Mont Blanc Speed Flying" is now on Jan. 19 and "Ultimate Skiing Showdown" is on Jan. 20. Sorry for any confusion. All the biggies are on the same nights as originally planned.

At long last, the gurus in Banff and I have collaborated to come up with this program. Audience reaction to all these films has been very favourable at other showings, so I feel we have a great lineup. Tuesday night has a total of two hours and 10 minutes of films and Wednesday is a bit longer, at two hours and 14 minutes. There will be an intermission! Unlike previous years, I have not consciously tried to pick a theme for each night. There may be one but we will have to wait till movie night and see what develops.

Go to both shows and save! Remember, if you go to both sows and save your ticket stubs, you can receive a one-time discount of 15 % on any regularly priced item at Algonquin Outfitters in Huntsville or Oxtongue Lake.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010. Showtime: 7:30 PM.
Get tickets by clicking here.

Mont Blanc Speed Flying
Banff Mountain Film Festival Award - Best Short Mountain Film, sponsored by Mountain Hardwear

Six speed riders fly from the upper slopes of Mont Blanc down to Chamonix in one continuous 10-minute shot, filmed in Cineflex.

Filmed in the Mont Blanc range, this short features six different mountain sports: climbing, skiing, snowboarding, speed riding, paragliding and BASE jumping. A photographer wants to take one shot showing all the sports, instead of taking separate photos of each sport. It takes a lot of work!

Finding Farley
Banff Mountain Film Festival Award - Grand Prize, sponsored by Mountain Equipment Co-op
Banff Mountain Film Festival Award - People’s Choice, sponsored by Timex

"Stories aren't so much written or created as they are released, expressing what's been there all along." When filmmakers Karsten Heuer and Leanne Allison, along with their two-year-old son Zev and indomitable dog Willow, set out to retrace the literary footsteps of Farley Mowat, they meant it literally. Their 5000-kilometre trip -- trekking, sailing, portaging and paddling from the Prairies to the Maritimes -- is captured in this film. The family's arrival at their final destination (Mowat's Nova Scotian summer home) is, as Karsten says, "an affirmation of what the land and animals had already told us."

From the film 'Finding Farley', Photo by Karsten Heuer

Signatures: Canvas of Snow
Gorgeous cinematography, a laid-back roots music soundtrack, and a sincere exploration of Japanese ski culture renders this sweet shredding flick palatable to those tired of the typical ski movie. In Japan there is a cultural connection to the different signatures of terrestrial home - a sense that the rhythm of fall, winter, spring and summer influences the rhythm of the person, their energy, their riding style and the lines they choose. This special edit of the feature-length film features skiers, snowboarders, a photographer and a noboarder who are each in tune with this connection to winter and the environment they ride in.

Revolution One
Loyal BMFF viewers will remember the mind-boggling feats of unicyclist Kris Holm from previous films. Revolution One follows world champion unicyclists Kris Holm and Dan Heaton as they perform on one wheel what most wouldn’t dare to attempt on two. Bouncing and sliding over rocks, logs, and rails, these daredevils showcase the emerging sport of off-road unicycling.

From the film 'Revolution One'

Pick-up Sticks
Take an aerial plunge off the edge of an Arctic coastal headland into the abyss of a seabird colony to find out how marine environmental change is affecting the delicate balance of life for a hardy creature of the northern seas. A visual and metaphorical cliffhanger for our times!

Will Gadd rides again! What happens if you show up to climb one of the biggest frozen waterfalls in Canada but it isn't completely frozen? In Hunlen, Canadian boys Will Gadd and EJ Plimley kid their way through a nail-biting first ascent of B.C.'s remote Hunlen Falls. The climbing is technical—all 1,000 feet of it—but it’s the giant slabs of ice breaking free beside the route that makes the climbers nervous.

From the film 'Hunlen'

Project Megawoosh
Banff Mountain Film Festival Award - Special Jury Mention

Bruno Kammerl, a German engineer, works to perfect the world's tallest human water slide.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010. Showtime: 7:30 PM.
Get tickets by clicking here.

Ultimate Skiing Showdown
The final sprint showdown between the fastest skiers on Earth in juxtaposition with a stunt performer showing some of the sickest moves on Nordic skis. This film puts the ‘X’ in x-country skiing.

From the film 'Ultimate Skiing Showdown'

Kranked - Revolve
Banff Mountain Film Festival Award - People’s Choice Award on Radical Reels Night
The coolest human-powered adrenaline tool ever invented -- the mountain bike? "Revolve" blasts in cinematic glory from the French Alps to the lush coast of B.C., incorporating dirt jump, trail, freeride, slopestyle and downhill.

Africa Revolutions
To make the Africa Revolutions Tour, six professional paddlers teamed up with a woman on a mission to bring solar ovens to orphanages, hospitals and communities across Africa. From the crocodile-infested White Nile in Uganda to big-water first descents in Madagascar, a group of friends seek adventure on African rivers. Accompanying the team is Rita Riewerts, the founder of the Sun Catchers Project, a non-profit that installs solar cooking facilities in orphanages, hospitals and communities.

From the film 'Africa Revolutions Tour' by Pat Camblin

Deep / Shinsetsu
"Shinsetsu" means deep powder in Japanese. This short film expresses a typical day in the mountains in Japan.

From the film 'Deep/Shinsetsu', Daisuke Sasaki in Hokkaido, Japan, Photo by Hiroshi Suganuma

Take a Seat
Banff Mountain Film Festival Award - Special Jury Mention
Dominic Gill’s mission is to cycle the 32,000 kilometres from the northern coast of Alaska to the southern tip of South America, on a tandem bike, picking up random strangers on the way. A gripping tale of two years and two continents, full of extraordinary characters and incidents.

From the film 'Take a Seat'

Shining Spirit
Filmed in Canada, India and Tibet, Shining Spirit documents a recording project that brings together the family of Jamyang Yeshi through music and multi-track recording technology. With the help of Western friends, Jamyang, in exile in Canada, and his brother Tsundue, in exile in the U.S., join voices with the family they left behind in Tibet. For the first time in over a decade, they sing together once again. The film is a testament to the power of music, the resilience of the Tibetan culture, and the enduring bond of a family separated by politics and geography.

First Ascent: Alone on the Wall
After gaining international climbing renown for his landmark free-solo of "Moonlight Buttress" (V, 5.12+, 9 pitches) in Zion National Park, Utah, in April 2008, 24-year-old Alex Honnold moves on to his next big challenge: the first free-solo of the "Regular Northwest Face" route (VI, 5.12a, 23 pitches) on Yosemite’s Half Dome.

From the film 'First Ascent: Alone on the Wall'

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The "best of" canoe trip stories 2005 - 2009

Can you believe it, this blog is almost five years old!

I was prompted to review old posts today when I had a request for some canoe trip stories from a British journalist. I made a list of links to send her and was astonished at the amount of stuff I have collected over the last few years. It was also an interesting review of the evolution of this blog. In the early days, when I was still using dial-up (and really SLOW dial-up it was), blogging was really time-consuming and posting pictures was out of the question. Now that I have reasonable high-speed via satellite, I can post pictures, embed videos and all kinds of exotic things. Yes, even though your Crackberry will work in the store, we still do not have DSL or cable out here in Oxtongue Lake.

You'll notice that unlike my colleague Randy Mitson, I have not changed the format of the blog at all or added a lot of gadgets and graphics. Randy's "AO retail and events blog" is more promotional and marketing oriented, so needs snazzy graphics and gizmos, while I see this blog as more of a story-telling and newsletter kind of thing. Plus, Randy is more inclined that way and I am more inclined to keep it simple and word-oriented. Yes, I am still "blogging it old-school in 2009."

It occurred to me that maybe some of my loyal blog readers might like a little review and blast from the past, so here it is, Gordon Baker's pick of the "best of" canoe trip stories from the last few years. Happy reading!

• A nice couple from Manchester make a video of their canoe trip

• The same nice couple from Manchester go on a 17 day canoe trip and send some pics and a story

• A different take on a tragic day

• Some of our staff take a holiday

• Pictures and story of a challenging trip on the Petawawa River

• A British military expedition in Algonquin, with a link to a great UK canoe blog

• Random photos highlighting some special customers and what we do

• German journalist goes on a canoe trip, with a link to her article with nice pics

• A family from the UK reports on their interesting guided trip

• A reminder that Mother Nature is very powerful

• Photos and paintings by an artist that loves Algonquin Park and Algonquin Outfitters

• More photos and paintings by an artist that loves Algonquin Park and Algonquin Outfitters

• A great story of humourous misadventure, see links to parts two and three included

• The grim reality of early June

• Memorial to a memorable client from the UK and a link to some of his great photos

• A fantastic essay from one of our guides about why people need to go on canoe trips

• People seem to like us

• The dark side of nature and some thoughts on evolution

• Another family from the UK writes about their adventure

• A very challenging canoe trip we dreamed up, links included to parts 2, 3, 4 and the map

• My own report about a trip to Lake Superior

Sunday, November 29, 2009

BMFF tickets are on sale now!

Tickets are now on sale for both shows of the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour at the Algonquin Theatre. See the post below for purchase details.

The final list of films available for the World Tour has only recently been made available. I will be picking the films over the next week and hope to have them posted on this blog by next weekend.

Please check back for more details on the films. I can tell you that the films this year are generally very "family-friendly" and there will be a wide range of subject matter each night.

My suggestion: go to both nights, then you don't have to wait for the list.

Friday, November 20, 2009

BMFF tickets go on sale November 30 in Huntsville

Algonquin Outfitters is proud to host the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour once again in Huntsville. Join us and ignite your passion for adventure, action and travel! Journey to exotic locations, paddle the wildest waters, and climb the highest peaks. The Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour will exhilarate you with amazing big-screen stories and take you away to the most captivating places on earth when it comes to Huntsville's Algonquin Theatre at 7:30 pm on Tuesday, January 19 and Wednesday, January 20, 2010. Each evening will feature a different selection of films. Stay tuned to this blog, film descriptions will be posted by mid-December. Tickets go on sale November 30. Get tickets early and avoid disappointment, the Huntsville shows are known for selling out!

The 2009/2010 Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour brings films from the 34th annual Banff Mountain Film Festival to about 285 communities around the world. From an exploration of remote landscapes and mountain cultures to adrenaline-fueled action sports, films in this year’s world tour are sure to captivate and amaze the explorer within you.

Be moved. Be inspired. Don’t miss out. Starting November 30, advance tickets will be available at the Algonquin Theatre box office at 37 Main St. E., in historic downtown Huntsville, on-line or by calling the theatre box office at (705) 789-4975, or 1-888-696-4255, ext. 2352.

Admission is $15 for adults and $12 for students. Folks buying tickets for both shows can exchange their two ticket stubs for a 15% discount on their next purchase at Algonquin Outfitters in Huntsville or Oxtongue Lake.

For more information on the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour, you can check the Banff Centre web site, follow the tour on Twitter, read the World Tour blog and/or join the Facebook group.

For a sneak preview, here is this year's intro video. Turn your speaker volume up to LOUD to get the full effect:

Monday, November 16, 2009

Algonquin Park canoe trip video

I'm always impressed when people make the effort to do a good job recording their adventures on camera. As a "point and shoot" type photographer, I am well aware of how easy it is to take a mediocre picture, how hard it is to take a good picture and how rare it is to take a great picture.

Taking video adds an extra dimension and quite honestly, canoe tripping doesn't lend itself that well to the "action sports" genre so popular with videographers. When a couple of creative and talented people go on a canoe trip, the results can be impressive. Team Pickle's video below is such an example.

Here is the description from the Maia Media website, where the video is posted:

Back from our 17 day Canadian Adventure paddling & camping in Algonquin Park. It was most definately more of an endurance test than either of us had expected but very rewarding. In brief we saw 4 moose, got bitten by enormous mosquitos, ate too much sausage, completed 27 portages, stayed 3 nights in “a scary death cabin”, saw bear and wolf prints, caught fish and toasted 3 bags of marshmellows!

All footage has been taken using a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3. The footage is a combination of photographs and video footage.

Music is Weapon of Choice by Fatboy Slim.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

In case you hadn't heard...

I'm guessing that Hawksley Workman is currently spending time thinking about...
Some of the great things about Algonquin Park

The votes were counted and, lo and behold, Hawksley Workman and Algonquin Park will soon be forever intertwined in song. If any of my faithful readers helped with a vote, good for you!

Listen to your local CBC Radio 2 station on November 23, as that is the day the songs will be be released. If you miss it on the radio, you will be able to listen on-line at the Song Quest website. Check the site now for more info on all the Great Canadian Song Quest winners.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Vote for Algonquin Park! Vote for Hawksley Workman!

On my scenic commute to and from Algonquin Outfitters, I listen to great music played on CBC Radio 2. If you haven't experienced Radio 2 yet, check it out at 106.9 FM in the Huntsville area, listen on-line or find your local station here.

Currently, Radio 2 is featuring the Great Canadian Song Quest, which has exposed listeners to both new and established Canadian singer-songwriters and many interesting places across our wonderful country. The description from the CBC web site sums it up best:

CBC Radio 2, Canada's national music network, brings Canadians the chance to share their passion, and nominate their favourite locations in the country to be celebrated in song through THE GREAT CANADIAN SONG QUEST. Whether it's a secret meeting place, a sensational signpost or a breathtaking wonder of nature, CBC Radio 2 wants to know! Canadians get the deciding vote on who writes and performs the songs from among Canada's finest musical icons and emerging stars. The end result is an incredible cross-country playlist, with 13 brand-new, original songs for Canada's playbook. Each artist will compose and record an original song, inspired by the locations chosen by Canadians from each province and territory.
So here is where fans of Algonquin Park come in. Algonquin Park has been nominated for Ontario and is in the top five. Only three days are left to vote, so get going and vote for Algonquin Park. If you want to get really carried away, you can upload photos, create a blog and support Algonquin Park in other ways.

While you're at it, I recommend voting for Huntsville native Hawksley Workman to be the Ontario songwriter. No disrespect to the other talented artists in the running but I'm a big fan of Hawksley's music and his songwriting skills would be up to the challenge. Hawksley's annual appearance at the Algonquin Theatre, as part of the Huntsville Festival of the Arts, has been regularly sponsored by Algonquin Outfitters. Assuming that he performs in town next summer, what could be better than a successful musician from Huntsville singing his song about Algonquin Park, on stage at the Algonquin Theatre, at a show sponsored by Algonquin Outfitters!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fan mail from happy customers

17 day canoe trip + no razor = new hairstyle

Patrick and Hannah from the UK contacted us back in March about making plans for a fall canoe trip. After many emails back and forth, they boarded a plane, flew to Toronto, hopped on a bus to Huntsville and took a taxi to our store in Oxtongue Lake. After a night in our tent cabins, and some last minute shopping and packing, we drove them to Canoe Lake the next day. Seventeen days later, they returned, tired, grizzled (or at least Patrick was) and totally enamoured with Algonquin Park. Patrick reported that at one point in their trip, they did not see another human being for four straight days. This experience, he said was "very cool but a bit wierd."

Patrick and Hannah rented a Swift Winisk, the ideal canoe for a two-week trip

After returning to England and getting back to their regular lives, Patrick took the time to write us this nice e-mail, and at my request, send some pictures of their trip. All photos in this post are courtesy of Patrick Bird.

Moose on a mission, somewhere in Algonquin Park
Dear Gordon/All the staff at Algonquin Outfitters - Oxtongue Lake

First of all I just wanted to say thanks for a great experience. All your team's help and advice was invaluable in making our trip as great as it was. Hannah and I just wanted to let you know we had an incredible experience on our recent visit to the Park and the team at the Oxtongue Lake store really added greatly to that. Their advice and great customer service helped smooth our nerves when we arrived and fueled our enthusiasm at the same time.

Small fish, big smile. That's an enthusiastic angler!

Our 17 day paddle through the park turned out to be more of an endurance test than we had ever imagined but we came out the other end with smiles on our faces and a desire to do more paddling. Can't ask for much more than that. I especially wanted to thank you, Gordon, for your advice by e-mail and in person prior to our trip and the young guy from Maine who gave us a lift back to the Oxtongue Lake store. He was a credit to your company, easy going and informative, he answered all our lame questions very patiently. Who knew anyone would know so much about Moose! Not forgetting the rest of the team at the store who were all really helpful.

All in all you're running a great outfitters we wouldn't hesitate to use again, let's hope we get the chance. I've attached a picture of us on the water so you've got an idea who we were.

All the best for the future.

Patrick & Hannah
There aren't many mosquitoes in Algonquin Park in September but Patrick and Hannah managed to find some. Good thing I didn't advise them to leave the bug hats behind!

It doesn't get much better than this. A lovely campsite on Catfish Lake, late afternoon sun, a fine rock to cast from and a tired paddler hoping for a brook trout.

They don't show these pictures in the tourist brochures. Patrick's caption "wet and tired in a tent" sums it up completely. Hannah is still smiling, I think.

This just in. You can see more pictures from Patrick and Hannah's Algonquin Park adventure on the Team Pickle blog. Simply click here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fog, fall colours and the right formula

You have to get up early to see these fall colours!
Photo by Rob Stimpson

The fall colours are really starting to show in Algonquin Park. Right now, the best colours can be seen between the West Gate and Cache Lake, along Highway 60. I really like this stage of the colour season, when the emerging reds, oranges and yellow burst out against the backdrop of rich summer green.

One of the other natural highlights of early fall is predictable morning mist, caused by cool air moving over relatively warm lake water. With the clear, cool weather we have been enjoying lately, early mornings have been a photographer's and paddler's dream come true. I had the to fortune to attend a meeting recently at Bartlett Lodge, located on Cache Lake. Also at the meeting were photographer Rob Stimpson, paddler, author (and executive director of the Canadian Canoe Museum) James Raffan and outdoor educator Val Bishop. Combine skilled paddlers, morning mist, talented photographers, a perfect morning, Algonquin Park scenery and what do you get? A beautiful way to start the day and become part of some great images.

Your faithful blogger checks out a photogenic cedar tree.
Photo by James Raffan

Your faithful blogger heads out into the fog.
Photo by James Raffan

Gord, James and Val enjoying a morning paddle.
Photo by Rob Stimpson

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

One of our big canoes goes on a long trip

Expedition Champlain 2009 is retracing a section of Samuel de Champlain's 1615 route from Huronia to Montreal and, for most of route, is using one of Algonquin Outfitters' four 26' North Canoes.

Michael Arvisais and his brigade of Voyageurs left Penetanguishine on Monday, July 20, and are expected to cross infamous La Vase Portages this week. After paddling along the coast of Georgian Bay and up the French River, crossing Lake Nipissing, they are currently camped for the night at Champlain Park at the mouth of La Vase River, just outside of North Bay. The La Vase portages are the link between the watersheds of the Mattawa and French river systems, famous in Voyageur lore for bugs and mud. Modern day canoeists still have those issues, not to mention Hwy 11 and encroaching development.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Imagine swimming across Algonquin Park

Starting this Saturday, July 25, two Ontario women, aided by four backcountry support crew, will be the first to swim across Algonquin Park. Kim Valenta and Nora Livingstone will cover over 60 kilometers and 25 lakes of Ontario’s wild backcountry to raise support for Toronto Wildlife Centre. Their route starts at Park Lake, near the West Gate just off Hwy 60, and follows a chain of lakes that includes popular canoe trip lakes like Ragged, Big Porcupine, Louisa, Rock and Galeairy.

Kim and Nora, when not swimming

In 2008, Toronto Wildlife Centre (TWC), a wildlife hospital and rehabilitation centre, reached a milestone: over 50,000 sick, injured and orphaned wild animals had been admitted for medical care since the centre first opened in 1993. Kim and Nora, both employees at TWC, decided to be the first to swim across Algonquin Park – long a symbol of Ontario’s wilderness - in recognition of this. Their goal is to raise support for and awareness of this indispensable organization. It is their hope, with the help of sponsors, to raise $25,000 for sick, injured, and orphaned wildlife.

With logistical support provided by Algonquin Outfitters, Swim for the Wild will begin July 25th at the Westernmost point of Highway 60 in Algonquin Park, and will end over one week later in Whitney, just outside of the eastern boundary of Algonquin Park.

For more information, please contact:
Kim Valenta
Founder, Swim for the Wild
416-631-0662 Extension 3205
admin at torontowildlifecentre dot com

PS to my faithful readers: sorry for my long absence from the Blogosphere. I will try to get a few more entries in for August. The good news is that we are really busy! If you haven't already, take a look at our snazzy new website.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Open water!

This should be my last "ice out" report for 2009. All lakes accessible from Hwy 60 are open, including Opeongo. There is a slim chance that some interior lakes could have black ice floating around but after yesterday's high winds and heavy rain, that is pretty unlikely. The only issue facing early-season canoe trippers now is access. Some park access roads are in rough shape and may only be passable with a four-wheel drive vehicle with good ground clearance. Check the Algonquin Park spring conditions report or call the park information line (705-633-5572) for details before heading to any of the more remote access points.

Anyone planning a canoe trip at this time of year should be prepared for cold weather, high water levels, very cold water and unexpected surprises along the trail, like fallen trees, flooded portage landings and soggy campsites. So why go? There are many reasons: spring wildflowers like trout lilies and wild leeks are popping up, the bugs aren't out yet and if you are really lucky, you might get to place the first set of human footprints of the 2009 season along a portage trail! Then there is the fishing...

Steve B could have gone to Venezuela to catch a wacky fish like this payara...

This week, he traveled all the way from South Florida to fish for beautiful fish
like this Algonquin Park speckled trout.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Algonquin fly-over ice report is up

Contrary to popular rumour, park staff were able to fly yesterday and have posted a detailed report with pictures. It is well worth reading as ice conditions are described as being "most unusual."

The executive summary is that most Hwy 60 lakes should be passable by Saturday (with the likely exception of Opeongo) but that canoeists should expect to find certain interior lakes still frozen over.

Remember that hole we described in our April 2nd blog? Well, it has expanded to the point where there is open water from Bates Island to Sunnyside. The trouble is, you can't get there due to the fact that the southern end of the South Arm is still plugged with ice.

Scroll all the way to the bottom of the report and read the access road report as well.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The view from Hwy 60

Larry the Lawyer emailed the other day after seeing my pictures from April 16:
Geez, will you tell Gordon enough already with the snowy pictures on the blog. I took a photo of those same canoes on the AO Winter Fun Day and there was less snow.
Larry won't be happy with this report but I feel compelled to tell it like it is. Our staff are now in at the Opeongo Store, getting things ready for the opening of the season. They report that Opeongo is still iced over, though there is open water in the bay near the access. Ice thickness is about 12". There was a lot of wind and rain last night so things will be changing quickly in the next few days. Temperatures on Friday and Saturday are expected to be in the 20s!
Lake of Two Rivers on April 20

Costello Lake, just off the Opeongo Road

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Moving towards "ice out"

Smoke Lake, as seen from Fisherman's Point on April 16
(OK, so I'm no Ansel Adams. I just thought the image looked better in black and white.)

I don't have a new ice report for Algonquin Park today but I can report that all the lakes around Huntsville are open. Fairy, Vernon and Peninsula Lakes are all ice-free. Lake of Bays is mostly open with ice in some bays. Oxtongue Lake is 70% open. There is wind, rain and warm weather in this week's forecast, which will help get things moving.

My personal prediction is that you will be able to canoe somewhere in Algonquin Park next weekend. Most big lakes will likely still be ice-covered. Check the Algonquin Park news bulletin on Wednesday or Thursday, as they will posting a report after a fly-over on Tuesday.

Craig MacDonald, Algonquin Park's ice-out guru, told me recently that there are certain lakes that are predictably "resistant" to breaking up and hold ice longer than others. Typically, these are headwater lakes with little inflow. Good examples in Algonquin Park are Opeongo, Smoke, LaMuir, Tim, Ralph Bice and Louisa. With the exception of LaMuir, all of those lakes are either at access points or within range of a day's paddle, so just one ice-covered lake on your route could significantly affect route plans.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A few pictures from today

You'll want snowshoes to pick out a rental canoe

Lake of Two Rivers from Hwy 60

There is a little open water on Smoke Lake

Your faithful blogger paddles the dock at Smoke Lake

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Our blog makes the Insider Report

Thanks to the nice people at Ontario Parks for including a link to this blog in their recent Insider Report on Ice Out Canoe Trips!

If you are not on the "insider list," I highly recommend signing up. The reports include all kinds of interesting information about Ontario's wonderful provincial parks, as well as contests, camping tips, route suggestions and much more.

While I'm at it, thanks to all the faithful readers of this blog for paying attention to what I have to say. You know who you are. I checked the visitor statistics today and just about fell off my chair when I saw that this humble blog has had over 3000 visitors in the last month and a recent daily high of 164 visitors! I'd better get blogging. For some reason, people in Don Mills, Ontario, and State College, PA, really like this blog. Those two cities boast the highest AO blog visitation from Canada and the USA respectively. Who knew?

Beautiful weather up here but still lots of ice!

The weather has been spectacular lately. With all the sunny days, you'd think that the ice would be disappearing at a rapid rate. Unfortunately, at least for early season paddlers and spring anglers, this is not the case. Night-time temperatures are still well below freezing and the recent snow has made a nice reflective layer on top of the ice. Consequently, there has been much less ice-out progress than you would expect. 

Having said that, rivers have created big leads into some lakes so there is movement. What we really need now is some wind and rain to get things broken up. 

All this clear weather has made for some excellent satellite photos on the Coastwatch web site. Click the link and select the best looking recent thumbnail image (ie. the one with the least cloud cover). That will open in your browser window, putting you somewhere west of Thunder Bay. Scroll over and down until you recognize landforms like Manitoulin Island and the Bruce Peninsula. Scroll right (eastwards) from there and you should be able to recognize bigger Algonquin Park lakes such as Opeongo, Cedar and Lavielle. Notice how white and frozen they are! These images are updated daily so watch for progress. While you're at it, look at Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie and the crazy patterns in the water caused (I presume) by silt.

The Canoe Lake Ice-Out Contest page has some recent pictures of a very frozen-looking Canoe Lake and a link to an Algonquin Park page discussing the history of ice-out on Lake Opeongo. Algonquin Park staff have started their spring ice and road conditions report. This is especially interesting to anyone planning an early trip to some of the more remote access points. Stay tuned to this blog for more pictures - we're going into the park tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Spring is over, winter has returned

I've had a few calls today from optimistic souls who thought they might go on an Easter weekend canoe trip in Algonquin Park. Regrettably, I had to inform them that they might consider hiking or even a little snowshoeing.

While the heavy rains of last week gave some hope that lakes might open early, winter has reappeared. On Monday, the temperature dropped and 10 to 15 cm of fresh snow fell in and around the park. We're thinking late April average ice-out.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Big hole spotted in Opeongo Lake

Satellite view of Opeongo, Cedar and Lavielle area from March 31.

I saved this for April 2 because nobody would have believed it if I posted yesterday. AO's Opeongo Store manager, Jerry Schmanda, took a bicycle ride up Opeongo Lake the other day to check on ice conditions. He reported that the ice surface was very firm, although there is soft ice near shore. North of Bates Island, Jerry observed several large pressure cracks and a most unusual large circular patch of open water, roughly 50 metres in diameter. On the fuzzy satellite image above, those of you who know Opeongo will notice a dark patch just north of the location of Bates Island. This, we believe, is the hole.

April 2 and the quinzee built for Winter Fun Day is still standing (sort of).

What are conditions like in Algonquin Park at the moment? Pretty typical for the time of year. There is still snow in the bush, though south-facing slopes are bare. Streams and rivers are open, with very high water levels. Lakes are still frozen, though starting to look a little grey. There are many signs of spring - I've even seen several robins.

Oxtongue Lake on April 2. Still frozen solid!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

There is still lots of ice and snow up here!

There is room to move on the Smoke Lake skating rink!

Despite the recent warm weather, Algonquin Park remains covered with white stuff. Spring skiing conditions prevail!

I received a first-hand report from someone who drilled a hole through Source Lake just yesterday: six inches of mushy ice over top of at least 20" of clear hard ice. The weather is predicted to change tonight and temps will drop over the next few days, freezing it all up again.

One of the positive things about the wacky weather we've had this winter is that hard, skateable ice has lasted for weeks on Algonquin Park lakes. This is a rare event. In most winters, there might be one or two days where you can skate on a frozen lake without doing a lot of shovelling first.

The pictures in this post are of AO staff member Beth Brittain and son Jacob skating on Smoke Lake a couple of weeks ago, along with Beth's husband Paul, who was taking pictures.

Which way to the Ragged Lake portage?

Space Shuttle Discovery will fly over Algonquin Park TONIGHT

This just in...

From: Delta Grandview Resort's Echo Valley Observatory, Astronomer: Thomas Kovacs

This evening, the Space Shuttle Discovery, currently joined onto the ISS, will fly directly over Muskoka. This will be the best chance to witness this current mission.

To see this for yourself regardless of where you live in Muskoka, prepare yourself by facing south-west, roughly in the direction of the Sun, as it will have just set.
Low on the horizon also near the sunset you will see a very bright star, that is Venus.

  • 8:05pm: The ISS/Shuttle will pop above the horizon. At that point, it will be over 2,000kms distant.
  • 8:08pm: The Shuttle should be plainly visible quite high above the Sunset
  • 8:10pm: It will be almost directly above Muskoka. It will be about 360kms distant.
  • 8:13pm: It will be directly over Labrador when it will rapidly disappear as it enters the Earth Shadow.

The Space Shuttle Discovery will look similar to a star, and will be the brightest object in the sky aside from Venus, with a plainly visible motion roughly equal to a high airplane.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Rick Mercer in Algonquin Park

Many people think that comedian Rick Mercer has the best job in Canada. He gets to travel the country, meeting interesting people and doing cool stuff. On this week's episode of the Mercer Report, Rick paid a visit to Algonquin Park and went looking for bears with research scientist Martyn Obbard.

If you missed it on television, you can watch it on-line on the CBC website or by simply clicking PLAY below. If you look closely, you'll notice that Rick is wearing the Park Superintendent's jacket. Hmmmm. It could be an interesting summer with him in charge of Algonquin Park!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

First thoughts on ice-out '09

Despite the seemingly endless winter this year (this coming from someone who loves the winter), we are thinking about spring. Or at least trying too, which isn't easy when the morning temperature has been averaging about -25 C for the last few days.

Our friend Scott Hayden over at the Blue Spruce Resort reports that the ice on Oxtongue Lake is at least 36" thick. He bottomed out his ice auger the other day in a vain attempt to go ice fishing. Hmmmm....

With that information, you might try to take an early guess and be the first to enter the 2009 Canoe Lake Ice-Out contest, which now up and running.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Winter Fun Day Schedule

Celebrate winter with Algonquin Outfitters!

The 15th Annual Winter Fun Day will get you excited about winter! Join us for an activity-packed day with something for everyone. All events take place at Algonquin Outfitters in Oxtongue Lake, February 21, 2009. Rental/demo cross-country skis are available at no charge if participating in scheduled lessons. Please sign out equipment upstairs in the store at least 15 minutes the lesson starts. Call 1-800-469-4948 (705-635-2243) for more information.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Ongoing Events: 10:30am—4pm

Dogsledding - with Winterdance Dogsled Tours. Meet and pay at the dog truck - follow the sound of barking!

Snowshoe demonstration: test-drive high-tech snowshoes from Atlas, Tubbs and Faber. On the lake.

XC ski demonstration: test-drive the latest in XC gear from Alpina, Madshus and Rottefella. Thanks to Craig Podborski of Alpina Sports Canada. On the lake.

Winter campfire: warm up around the campfire!

Cross Country Tips: meet Dan and Joan Mahony of Ski for Life at the ski oval for informal lessons. See specific lessons at 11, 1 and 2:30 pm. Please sign out rental equipment inside (no charge if you are taking a lesson) at least 15 minutes before the lesson.

Igloo Building: take snowfort-building to the next level with Andrea and Paul Waldron. Look for the growing pile of snow near the lake (conditions permitting).

Winter Disc Golf: if you can toss a Frisbee®, you can play Disc Golf - try it out!

Snow volleyball: warm up for the big game in the afternoon. On the lake. Thanks to Yuill MacGregor and NorthOnSixty.

• Don’t forget to sign up for door prizes inside! Door prize draws at 12:15, 4:00 - you must be present to win!

BBQ lunch: 12-2 - Opens at noon. Buy food tickets inside please! Thanks to Chef Jeremy!

Scheduled activities and lessons:

11–12, Cross-country ski lesson - novice classic: instructors: Dan & Joan Mahony of Ski for Life . The lessons focus upon the development of fundamental skiing skills while teaching not only the importance of physical fitness but also demonstrating cross country skiing as an active winter lifestyle. The friendly and competition-free approach used by SKI FOR LIFE provides a comfortable learning environment that is appealing to beginner, novice, and intermediate skiers of all ages. No experience is necessary. Get skis inside ahead of time, meet at ski oval.

12:15, Door prize draw: At the front counter - you must be there to win!

1:00 - 2:00, Cross-country ski lesson - intro to skate-skiing: Even touring skiers can benefit from this modern ski technique. Limited equipment available. Instuctors: Dan & Joan Mahony of Ski for Life . Basic x-c ski skills would be helpful!

2:30 - 3:30, Snow Volleyball Tournament: look out Winter Olympics! Test your volleyball skills with a real game on the lake. Who needs a beach when you’ve got a frozen lake?

2:30 - 3:30, Cross-country ski tour: Dan & Joan Mahony of Ski for Life . Meet on the oval. A roving lesson on the Blue Spruce trails.

3:45, Fun snowshoe race: Just one lap around the oval! Prizes for adults and kids! Meet at the snowshoe demo area.

4:00, Door prize draw, snowshoe race prizes : at the front counter - you must be there to win!

Special Sunday events: Sunday, Feb. 22

9:30am - 12pm,
15th Annual Snowshoe trek to Ragged Falls: trek leader, Gordon Baker. An adventurous annual tradition! Free snowshoes for use by participants, or bring your own. Meet at the AO store front counter by 9:30. Car pooling required. Dogs that play well with others are welcome if well-behaved and on a leash.

12:30pm - 2pm,
1st Annual Guided Ski Tour: tour leaders, Dan and Joan Mahony of Ski for Life . Join our intrepid instructors for a guided tour of the lovely trails of the Blue Spruce Resort. Tips, tricks and techniques will be covered on the the trail. Free x-c ski package for use by participants, or bring your own. Meet at the AO store front counter by 12:15. Sorry, no dogs allowed on the ski trails.

Monday, February 02, 2009

How to be a good host

Once again, the Algonquin Theatre was packed for AO's presentation of the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour. If you missed our shows in Huntsville, check the World Tour web site for screening dates in other locations.

Only a few seats left!

Both nights were very well attended, with only a few empty seats. It is a testament to the adventurous nature of people from Huntsville (and beyond) that a small town like ours can get almost 800 people out on two cold winter nights to see movies they've never heard of! I was really pleased with audience reaction to our choice of films because, quite honestly, you can't please everybody. Thanks to everybody for coming out and supporting this event!

Gord and Stefanie on the trail

We were pleased to welcome Stefanie Gignac back to Huntsville for the second time. Stefanie is one of the BMFF "road warriors," spending her winter travelling across North America representing the World Tour. It always seems to work out that Stephanie and her predecessors end up with a day off in Huntsville, so I try to help them out with ideas for activities (unless they really would prefer to catch up on their sleep). Last year, we sent Stefanie cross-country skiing in Algonquin Park. This year, I really lucked out. Coincidental with her visit, I was offered an opportunity to experience a new dog sledding day program being offered by Outward Bound Canada on Algonquin Park's Sunday Lake Dog Sled Trail. I asked Craig Macdonald, the trail system's developer, if I could bring her along and he (being a nice guy AND a fan of the BMFF) replied, "Absolutely!" OB is one of three dog sled operators using trails systems in the park and this experience allowed us sample their new day and half-day programs, open to the public.

"You are here" at the Sunday Lake Trails

If you haven't experienced dogsledding, it is one of those experiences that should be on every outdoor enthusiast's "list of things to do before I die." Going with an experienced, professional operator guarantees that you will have a safe, enjoyable experience on good trails, with friendly hard-working dogs. The Sunday Lake Trails are specifically designed for dogsled travel, and even follow sections of old dogsled trails from early days in the park, when dog teams were used to resupply logging camps and by park wardens on winter patrols. We met the group at the trailhead, and after our guide Ericka gave us a crash course in "Dogsledding 101," we headed out with our team of five dogs, part of a group of six sleds. The main rule is "whatever you do, don't let go of the sled!"

Mushers in training with our guide, Erica

The best thing about going on a dog sled "tour," as opposed to a dog sled "ride," is that you get to drive the sled. This is surprisingly hard work. While standing on skinny sled runners, you are expected to work the brakes (our sled had two different brakes), shout commands at the dogs, help steer the sled around corners, absorb the bumps and hollows of the trail, duck around snow covered trees, admire the scenery, keep up with the team ahead, help push the sled up hills and avoid stepping in dog doo. We even re-named our wheel dogs (the pair closest to the sled) "Pee" and "Poo," due to their propensity to engage in those behaviors on the trail.

Rule # 2: don't run over the team ahead of you...

Our tour took us up around Zenobia Lake and beyond. On a break, we checked out one of the overnight camps that Outward Bound uses for their overnight expeditions. Both OB and and Chocpaw Expeditions, another operator in South River, have special permission to establish semi-permanent winter camps in Algonquin Park. These camps are taken down at the end of the winter season and are not available for public use. Travelling by dog sled is lot like travelling by canoe - you can take a lot more stuff with you! On an overnight trip, guests sleep in a traditional canvas wall tent, heated by a portable wood stove.

Craig MacDonald and Stefanie outside the wall tent.
(That's the stove pipe coming out the front)

I could go on and on. It was a fantastic experience and Stefanie thinks that Algonquin Outfitters might just garner the "best perk for a road warrior" award for this year's BMFF World Tour. If you'd like to see more pictures and read Stefanie's version of events, visit her blog. After singing the praises of the dog sled experience at Wednesday night's show, she was offered a trip the next day with another local musher. This experience showed her the "extreme" side of dogsledding and it is another good story.

Our photogenic lead dogs

All photos on this blog post by Stefanie Gignac (my camera died!)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Winter Fun Day coming up on February 21

Winter fun in the great outdoors is always the theme of Winter Fun Day, (formerly known as the Winter Assembly), hosted by Algonquin Outfitters in Oxtongue Lake. This year is the 15th annual Winter Fun Day, so plan to join us on Saturday, Feb. 21, 2009. We changed the name of the Winter Assembly to Winter Fun Day, because, well, that's what it is - a fun day of winter activity!

Snow volleyball, sponsored by NorthOnSixty, is always popular

This free, family-oriented, event takes place at the Oxtongue Lake store, just west of Algonquin Park, on Hwy. 60, about 30 km east of Huntsville. Winter Fun Day is designed to introduce people to self-propelled (or at least non-motorized) winter activities like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, skate skiing, sledding, winter camping and dog sledding, as well as provide a host of opportunities to have fun in the snow.

Chillin' and grillin' at Winter Fun Day!

This year’s event will pack a host of activities into a single day. You could drive a dog team, help build an igloo, try skate skiing, go on a snowshoe hike, learn about winter shelters, enter a snowshoe race (and hopefully finish!), play snow games (don't miss snow volleyball!)and more! Snowshoe demos are being sponsored by the Atlas Snowshoe Company and Jason Wilcox of Atlas will be on hand to explain the latest and greatest snowshoes. You can also try some really nice skis and chat with Craig Podborski (yes, he is Steve's brother), who will be on hand with a demo fleet of Alpina cross-country skis and boots.

Dan and Joan Mahony of Ski for Life are returning Saturday and Sunday, offering two scheduled lessons (basic skate and classic) and a guided ski tour. Dan is a super-enthusiastic skier, creative instructor and his lessons will be oriented towards the novice skier and the "average" skier wishing to improve their technique and confidence.

Dan Mahony (2nd from right) really "gets down" in a ski lesson...

Equipment for all activities will be provided free of charge for Winter Fun Day 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.

Winterdance dogs are friendly and always ready to pull!

The final schedule for the Winter Fun Day is not completely cast in stone, but in the meantime, here is a general overview of the day:

Saturday, Feb. 21, 2009:

9 am: Algonquin Outfitters opens

10 - 4 pm: dog sled rides. Please sign up to make sure you get a turn!

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

12 - 2: lunch break (light snacks and hot drinks available at Algonquin Outfitters)

1 - 5: afternoon program (skate ski lessons, ski and snowshoe demos, snowshoe race, ski tour, etc.)

Sunday, Feb. 22:

9:30 - noon: 15th annual Ragged Falls Snowshoe Adventure Hike

1 - 2:30: New! First annual guided ski tour of the Blue Spruce trail system, with Dan and Joan Mahony.

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.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

AO's prize-winning blogger

Jeremy in his happy place

Some guys have all the luck. Jeremy Bessey, Algonquin Outfitter's rental and outfitting supervisor, made his first blog post on the interesting Outdoorsica site and won a very nice gift certificate! Of course, he does have to go to that giant outdoor store in Toronto to spend it but we won't hold it against him.

All kidding aside, congratulations Jeremy on a well-written and thoughtful piece. Anyone considering a career in outdoor world should definitely heed his words!

So now, how do those Google Ad Words work?????