Friday, December 16, 2011

Film picks for the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour in Huntsville, Jan. 24 & 25

Every year, I comment on how difficult it was to pick the films for the two nights we present the BMFF World Tour at the Algonquin Theatre in beautiful downtown Huntsville. Always one to be consistent, I will say it again: it was really hard to pick this year's films! This year we cover big mountain skiing (in several forms), rock climbing in remote deserts, a walk up the West Coast, kids climbing, kayak adventure, the water problem, mountaineering drama, unreal exploration and even trained cats.  As always, I recommend that you plan on attending both nights. Remember, if you go to both shows 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.

Tickets are available and already selling. I should point out that Algonquin Theatre tickets are nicely sized to fit in a Christmas stocking, so if you need a last minute gift for the adventurer on your list, they are just a mouse click away.

Thanks to Seana Strain and Charla Sharpe Tomlinson of the BMFF for their assistance in planning this year's program. Tuesday night has a total of two hours and 10 minutes of films and Wednesday is a bit shorter, at two hours even. There will be an intermission and great door prizes! As usual, there is no particular theme for each night. A few films have "coarse language" warnings, which are noted below. Consider yourselves warned!

Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012. Showtime: 7:30 PM.
Get tickets by clicking here.

All.I.Can: The Short Cut (special edit for Banff Tour)
Award at 2011 BMFF: Best Feature-length Mountain Film, sponsored by Town of Banff
Directed by: Dave Mossop, Eric Crossland

Film Synopsis: Stunning time-lapse sequences, creative visuals, great skiers, and deep powder are highlights of this excerpt from the award-winning feature film that looks at snow sports and the environment.

Audience Feedback:
- funny, great ski footage
- beautiful cinematography and local interest.

-amazing skiing and magnificent filming

Jury Comments:
- When I first saw the work of these film makers a few years ago I knew they were on to something. This year’s winner has continued to evolve and excel in cinematography, taking over two years to shoot this film on six continents. By combining thought provoking issues with mind-blowing action, this film captures the essence of big mountain skiing as it exists today.

Towers of the Ennedi
Directed and produced by: Renan Ozturk

Film Synopsis: The Ennedi Desert of Chad is a hot, sand-scoured and unfriendly place. But from its vast belly rise clusters of breathtakingly lovely spires, towers, and rock formations. Veteran climber Mark Synnott – known more for his far-flung adventures than his technical accomplishments – brings young climbing stars Alex Honnold and James Pearson to the Ennedi to explore its untouched landscapes.
 Audience Feedback:
- This film is a classic "travel to the middle of nowhere to find the coolest climbing ever” type of film! In addition, it is enhanced by the filmmaker’s artwork of the places and people in their journey and then topped off with the well known young gun in free soloing climbing, Alex Honnold. A solid climbing adventure into the beautiful Ennedi Desert, a place that few will ever go and few will ever see. 

Award at 2011 BMFF: Best Film - Exploration and Adventure, sponsored by Nemo USA
Directed and produced by: Ben Stookesbury

Classification: Parental guidance – coarse language

Film Synopsis: “Kadoma” is the nickname for Hendri Coetzee, a legendary South African kayaker who is known for exploring some of Africa’s wildest rivers. In December 2010, American pro kayakers Chris Korbulic and Ben Stookesbury followed Coetzee into the Democratic Republic of Congo for a first descent of the dangerous Lukuga River. Seven weeks into the expedition, tragedy struck.

Audience Feedback:
- A kayaking film that keeps the audience engaged all the way through and finishes with power and reverence.
- Heavy but well done. Amazing images, great story and cultural impact.
- Very enjoyable and well produced. An emotional story.
- Showed humility and serious consequences dealt with in an honest way.
- I was on the edge 10 minutes into the film and it never let up! Historical, cultural, geography..sad but amazing story. What a life!
- beautiful portrait of a real adventurer, great sense of discovery, true exploration

Jury Comments:
- The definition of exploration is facing the unknown with courage and integrity. The winning film this category has plenty of both. From the suspenseful opening scene, through its strong character development, to its final tragic conclusion, this haunting film simply stays with you.

The Man and the Mammoth
Directed by: Callum Peterson

Film Synopsis: A caveman discovers skiing, thanks to his new friendship with a woolly mammoth.

Audience Feedback:
- very clever
- loved it
- fun, well done

Journey on the Wild Coast (special edit for Banff Tour)  
Award at 2011 BMFF: Special Jury Mention
Directed and produced by: Greg Chaney

Classification: Parental Guidance – coarse language, nudity

Film Synopsis: A young married couple with a passion for adventure turn their camera on themselves, even in their weakest moments, as they attempt to walk, paddle and ski under their own power from Seattle to the Aleutians. Filmed over the period of a grueling year, this film reveals the rugged beauty of the wild northwest coast of North America – and the true meaning of intrepid.

Audience Feedback:
- pound for pound, this is packed with true adventure
- wow- what an adventure! Nothing seemed to matter to them.
- great, “homemade feel”, endearing and kind of quirky couple

- very grassroots, ...a remarkable journey

Jury Comments:

-…a rather unique and off-beat film. The protagonists probably made this film the way they conducted their epic expedition...without thinking of what they were doing! While this is not necessarily the way to make a good film, it certainly brought an authenticity and simplicity that moved the jury. More than an extreme winter adventure film, this film celebrates the ultimate life

Reel Rock: Origins – Obe & Ashima
Directed and produced by: Josh Lowell

Film Synopsis: There’s a nine-year-old girl from New York City taking the bouldering world by storm, and her name is Ashima Shiraishi. Guided by her coach and former bouldering star Obe Carrion, this tiny master is crushing competitions and raising the bar for her peers. A trip to the bouldering mecca of Hueco Tanks provides a glimpse of the past for Obe and the start of amazing new adventures for Ashima.

Audience, Host, and Staff Feedback:
- This little girl is the star of the tour this year! She will win your heart and her coach’s passion and belief in her will steal your heart a second time. A great story whether you are a climber or not.
- The little girl rock climber [Reel Rock: Obe & Ashima] was wonderful!
- loved this one - all fell in love with Ashima
- What a team! Inspiring!
- touching, beautiful, inspiring – great for kids!
- Cute, amazing, innocent, wow
- So good!

Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012. Showtime: 7:30 PM.
Get tickets by clicking here.

The Freedom Chair 
Award at 2011 BMFF: Best Film - Mountain Sports, Sponsored by Live Out There
Directed and produced by: Mike Douglas
Classification: General – coarse language

Film Synopsis: Josh Dueck was an aspiring skier and coach until a ski accident in 2004 changed his life for good. Despite his comeback and success in the world of competitive sit-skiing, he wasn't content. Josh's dream is to tackle the backcountry and the steepest and wildest mountains in the world – and with his infectious outlook, he may just catch his dream.

Audience, Host, and Staff Feedback:
- This is an inspiring story that has broad appeal for any audience, particularly the younger crowd.
- I think it's just a really well done film. Inspiring, funny, great action.
- I thought the Freedom Chair was a very moving and inspirational movie.
- Great story, great guy. Good cinematography. Made me smile.
- nice portrait of the man…beautiful shots
- awesome!

Jury Comments:

- This year’s winner exemplifies the sheer power of will and passion. Its spirit is infectious and leads all of us to look inside ourselves and dig deeper to find meaning in our lives and to pursue our dreams, no matter what hurdles we might have to surmount. 

Blue Obsession 
Directed by: Alan Gordon, Jordan Halland

Film Synopsis: The beautiful and ever-changing icefalls of Alaskan glaciers provide a stunning setting for some unusual ice climbing adventures.
Audience Feedback:
- This is beautiful and stunning look at the blue world of glacial ice in a local climber’s backyard in Alaska. An ice climbing film that has broad appeal because of the excellent visual imagery. 
- Great film, beautiful images.

On the Trail of Genghis Khan: The Last Frontier 
Award at 2011 BMFF: People’s Choice Award, Sponsored by V.I.O.
Directed by: Tim Cope

Film Synopsis: On an epic journey of truly historic proportions, Australian Tim Cope, his band of horses, and his dog Tigon travel overland 10,000 km from Mongolia to Hungary, following the footsteps of legendary warrior and nomad Genghis Khan. Cope visits distant parts of the world rarely seen, places on the cusp of modernity yet proud of nomadic traditions. The Last Frontier captures the culmination of his stunning three-year journey, the crossing of the Carpathian Mountains.
Audience Feedback:
- This film is powerful and enchanting story that is well told by the filmmaker himself.
-Well received, funny, endearing.
- A beautiful story filled with amazing adventures and people. 

Awards at 2011 BMFF: Grand Prize – Sponsored by Mountain Equipment Co-op; Best Film – Climbing, Sponsored by Alpine Club of Canada; Audio Post-production scholarship, provided by The Banff Centre
Directed and produced by: Anson Fogel
Classification: Parental guidance – coarse language

Film Synopsis: Experience Gasherbrum II in the middle of a deep, dark winter as seen from the raw, honest perspective of alpinist Cory Richard’s camera. This film deftly captures the interwoven roles of pain, fear, and doubt – and reveals a harrowing descent that amplifies their isolation and exposure.

Audience Feedback:
- This film is raw, edgy and powerful. It isn’t the usual climbing film focusing on the logistics and personalities of the climb and climbers, but more an internal dialogue of a climbers’ regrets, fears, pain & doubt while he tackles a peak with two friends in the middle of the winter.  There is good reason why it won Grand Prize!
- emotionally beautiful, amazing
- wow

Jury Comments:
- We were awed by this film. Its sensitivity, humility, great storytelling and technical achievement. - Mountains teach a climber humility. They are an arena of boundless emotions and the loneliness of man in the face of nature's power can be frightening. The icy hand of God seizes our hearts and ignites the will to survive in conditions where no one has the right to exist. As U2 once said "through the storm we reach the shore".
- The audio post production work for this film creates and seamlessly combines the big, harsh alpine environment with the intimate, claustrophobic, first-person story-telling that makes it possible to truly see, hear and *feel* "COLD." 

Seasons: Fall
Directed and produced by: Skip Armstrong

Film Synopsis: Deep canyons with steep, spring-fed creeks provide Kate Wagner with a soul-session in this paddling paradise.
Audience Feedback:
- beautifully filmed, mellow
- woman kayaking! Short, sweet, beautiful fall river scenery, love how she says she is “dancing” down the river and the music is in ¾ time, a waltz.
- nice, short, strong, beautiful cinematography

Ski Bums Never Die 
Directed by: Eric Crosland

Film Synopsis: What does it take to be a ski bum? An unending dedication to powder skiing? The ability to do anything in your ski boots? A lifelong quest for deep snow? Find out with this unusual and inspiring band of skiers in the Kootenay region of British Columbia.
Audience Feedback:
- This short upbeat film is refreshing and surprising in that the age of skiers is hard to believe…really 20 year olds trapped in older peoples’ bodies...
- super appreciative of this one
-it’s hugely inspirational to see this group of 60 and 70 year old ski bums in British Columbia ripping it up, hiking for turns and generally having a lot of fun.
- I want to be like them when I grow up.
- What a joyous group of people. Their love of skiing is what keeps them young. BRAVO!
- These guys were easily more inspirational than anything else I have seen lately….I can only hope I will be in half of the shape and having half of the fun these guys are once I am their age.
- my retirement plan just changed from dying of boredom in Florida to skiing the &%#$ out of every mountain until I can't walk anymore... 

Chasing Water 
Award at 2011 BMFF: Best Short Mountain Film, Sponsored by The North Face
Directed by: Peter McBride

Film Synopsis: Pete McBride grew up on a ranch in Western Colorado, a child of the Colorado River. After a life spent visiting other countries to tell stories as a National Geographic photojournalist, in 2008 Pete decided to follow the water from his family’s ranch to see where it ends up. This is the story of Pete’s journey, and a story about the lifeblood of the American West.

Audience Feedback:
-  a very well rounded and powerful environmental film...
- excellent, poignant – a “must see” on the environment
- compelling
- beautifully photographed, nice personal essay, nice use of stills
- stunning imagery, poetic script, compelling score that enhanced the emotional content of the film. Very enjoyable and thought-provoking
- beautiful imagery; excellent narration. Succinct, simple story well told
- story flows coherently and seamlessly. Stunning photography; images carry the story beautifully
Jury Comments:
- The award goes to a film that tells a deeply personal story of a man’s journey of discovery. His simple question delicately expands into a broader issue, delivering a strong and sensible awareness on nature preservation. This film succeeds thanks to perfect mastering of the art of story-telling.

C.A.R.C.A.Directed and produced by: Adam Bailey
Film Synopsis: One man's quest to revolutionize the world of animal avalanche rescue.
Audience, Host, and Staff Feedback:
- And I loved CARCA!! even looked up their website...a great way to end the night.
- lots of laughs - talked about it after
- good, humourous take on mountain rescue
- entertaining, great spoof idea well executed

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Meanest Link Trip Report: The Sidell's Journey

Editor's note: It is interesting to observe that the two Meanest Links trips this season were undertaken by paddlers that are NOT Algonquin Outfitters staff. More reports will be coming from the "Six on Six" trip described in the last post but meanwhile, here is an account of an August trip undertaken by some long-time customers. Gary Sidell and his twin sons Jonathan and David have been canoeing together in Algonquin Park  for many years. Sometimes one son or the other can't make the annual trip but whether it is two or three Sidells in the canoe, their route always covers a lot of territory. Gary became intrigued with the Meanest Link last fall as the route seemed to fit in with their distance-oriented style of canoe tripping. After much discussion, the Brent-Opeongo-Oxtongue Lake sections were chosen for the 2011 trip. Gary's trip report should be read in conjunction with a map - you will be impressed at the distances they covered:

2011 Meanest Link trip: Brent to Opeongo to Oxtongue Lake, August 11-15

Participants:    Jonathan M. Sidell and Gary M. Sidell

DAY 1:            Cedar to Francis            (17 miles; 5 hours 30)
            Thursday morning at 7:00, the ground was dry; no rain!  So far, a great start compared to 3 prior rainy years!  Right on schedule for pre-8:00 am arrival at, and 8:00 am departure from, Algonquin Outfitters (“A/O”).  But one mile short of A/O, the rental car dash displays seriously low tire pressure.  Stop at gas station for check and, lo and behold, found a screw in left rear tire.  No tire repair capability at the gas station, but back 5 miles in opposite direction someone may be of help.  7:55 am: arrival at High Tec car repair.  No one home yet.  8:00 am, worker appears.  8:05 am, tire fixed, we try again to get to A/O.  Great start.  Later still departure from A/O due to more self-packing and Sunday drivers, all in front of us on route 11 north.  Gord the wheel man can’t drive the A/O truck like a formula one car past these folks.  Finally, arrival at Brent, after a stop at the newly built crater observation deck and still no rain (but no sun either).  We hit the water with a cross-wind while Gord returns to main camp in the warmth of the truck.

On the Brent Road - where's David?

There is always time for shopping: Jon Sidell, Gord, Kate (Brent Staff) and Utah the wonder dog.

Ready to go. Utah thinks there is room for him!

Into the wild grey yonder of Cedar Lake.
            They moved the first portage out of Cedar into the Petawawa!  Our yellow sign said, “Acanthus.”  And I could have sworn we were right on the money!!  Really great start!!  But, due to wilderness camping ingenuity, we found an old train bed and started off on our 2 mile walk, swatting mosquitoes everywhere as we went - and in August no less!!  Half the Petawawa later, including our second scheduled portage and over a VERY high train bridge with some moving ties, we were back on the route, if not schedule.  At Radiant, we ran into a 13 day Tamakwa trip, clearly lost and on the wrong lake.  One last campsite there for which we had reservations but Tamakwa makes a bee-line for it in their metal battleships.  They were the last people we saw for 2 days.  We push on to Francis and had the entire lake to ourselves.  Having checked out all four campsites, we stop at the southern-most one, The Ritz.  Sandy beach, wide open with flat tent locations everywhere and, best of all, walking distance to the train bed right behind us in case we realize what craziness we have begun and want to walk out!  12 hours, one semi-flat tire, one seriously missed portage and 17 miles later, we finally stop for the day.

Morning mist at The Ritz on Francis.
Crow River to...what? Crow River?
 DAY 2:            Francis to Dickson            (15 miles; 8 hours)
            Picture perfect mist off the lake in the morning and still no rain!  Here comes the Genny!  And it’s not even cold, but boy was it good on Lavielle.  But first, it was the portage marathon down (oops), I mean, UP the Crow.  A little paddle, another portage, a little paddle, another portage, and another, etc.  Opening onto Lavielle, another headwind for a change.  We make it to Swifty’s favorite campsite but were unaware that we needed to practice our mountain climbing prowess to get there!  We manage to scale the cliffs to Campsite Swifty and recognize that this is a pretty nice one too.  All you have to do is find the elevator to get your packs up to the top if you spend the night.  The Genny was great, particularly for a not ice cold beer, but after our portage marathon, it really hit the spot.  Too bad that we only brought one with us!  A few more would have made the paddle to Dickson more enjoyable even if our headwind became something of a tailwind on the ride south, but they’re heavy.  Last campsite on the west shore in view of Dickson-Bonfield was even better than the one on Francis.  We had not only the water access and great tent spaces, but a table, clothes line and 3 folding canvas chairs left by prior occupants!  All we were missing was the TV.  And we were able to stop 3 hours earlier than on Day 1.  No other people seen on day 2.  Another good night’s sleep.

The toast on Lavielle, with David in the centre. Of course, that beverage container was re-used.
 DAY 3:            Dickson to Pog Lake Campground            (22 miles; 7 hours 30)
            The sun is actually out and shining this morning!  Tripping is much more fun without windshield wipers!!  On the other hand, waking up and starting the day with a 3 mile walk in the woods is not one of our top 10 favorite activities.  Over the portage and thru the woods, the Meanest Link trippers did go.  Somewhat of a not quite tail wind in the East Arm while following a motor boat to the opening.  Better than GPS.  Dead calm in the top part of the South Arm until we face a direct headwind further south!  This was followed by some tourist driving a big power boat who thought it appropriate to see how close to our canoe he could drive as he approached us, all the while maintaining his excessive speed.  Clearly, he flunked the boating course and has no business being on the water in a boat.  Many, many canoes from different camps coming toward us (with the wind at their back!) throughout the South Arm all the way to A/O-Opeongo.  Round the last bend, the store was a great sight.  On arrival, finally able to extricate ourselves from the canoe after our 2 hour 20 minute paddle across Ope.  Saw Jerry, got sodas (ice cold, but no Genny), ice cream and sandwiches.  Great looking staff.  After our break, we set out for our next walk in the woods, a mere two miles.  Stayed at A/O-Ope too long since it started to rain just as we got back into the good ship lollypop.  Rain ends as we finish the Sproule Lake portage.  We’re back in business!  Adequate water in all the piddling little lakes to get to Pog Lake without leaving the canoe.  We took the Kearney lake portage on the beach and crossed Hwy 60.  It seemed like rush hour traffic waiting to cross with the cars whizzing along.  We even got to be publicity stars:  a car, with Ontario license plates of all places, stopped and took our picture several times!  I guess we looked strange carrying a pack and canoe in the woods or else they had never seen such a sight.  Anyway, we tried to accommodate them, smiled and waived.  Just like home near Washington, DC! (Ed. note: camping at the Pog Lake campground is a good trick when paddling the Opeongo section, where campsites are few and far between. Plus, you get to have a hot shower!)

A brief visit with Jerry at the Opeongo Store
Dropped everything at the Pog Lake permit office while getting our site permit but, best of all, the Warden was there and Jonathan persuaded him that there was no way possible we could walk to our lake side site, could he possibly give us a lift?  “Yes,” was his answer so we took the limo to the site, then hot water showers!!!!!  Of course, the rain was back before we finished cooking dinner necessitating a speedy hoisting of the tarp over our picnic table and contents.  Adjacent campsite residents were so impressed with our tale of the Meanest Link that they thought they might get rid of their car next year and try interior campsites for the first time.  But not the Meanest Link.

A bit of an obstacle on the Madawaska River

DAY 4:            Pog Lake to Source            (12 miles; 5 hours 48)
            Nice warm sunshine!  Tripping is getting better, even if it is the Madawaska River.  And a bit of a tailwind too.  Uneventful until we got to the Madawaska fork where our GPS said, “Go this way.”  We did.  There did not appear to be adequate water.  We turned around, checked GPS again.  It said, “go this way.”  We did, again.  This time, after poking around, we were back on our way.  They need to put up a sign at the fork!  (editor’s note: the Sidells have previous experience with this particular fork in the river. It is one of the main reasons they carry a GPS).  Slight tail wind on Cache, and the islands were back in the right places this year.  Power boat leaving Tanamakoon as we passed island campsite graciously provides directions to Source Lake: “Over there in the weeds.”  Very serious, ridiculously vertical portage getting into Source, for our first time ever on the lake.  Kind of like climbing a ladder while wearing a canoe on your head hoping not to have to start over at the bottom without dropping you or canoe.  After another successful walk in the woods and arriving at Source, big pontoon boat says, “around the corner, you can’t miss it.”  And was it ever a nice sight to see the Jack Hurley Canoe Dock at Camp Pathfinder.  We get to stop paddling for the day.
            On arrival, I asked for Mike Sladden, having spoken with him a few weeks earlier.  Out of camp, but expected back soon and “we have been expecting you.”  Inadequate words to describe the Pathfinder hospitality.  Offered to stay at camp in brand new tent cabin, dinner and next day’s breakfast.  Saw Swifty’s and Wendy’s Adirondack Owners' chair next to dining hall.  It looked kind of small.   Really hard to leave with flat sleeping surface, great food brought to your table, no dishes to wash, great company from owners to campers from my home town of Buffalo, and particularly since Nurse Gracie did such a great job supporting Johnson and Johnson by taping all my toes back to my feet so that I could walk again!!!  The stop at Pathfinder was well worth the vertical portage getting into Source.

Jon and Gary with Mike Sladden, Camp Pathfinder director and Meanest Link supporter

Recently graduated Dr. Jonathan Sidell practices surgery on a banana.

DAY 5:            Source to Dwight            (20 miles; 9 hours 13)
            Another sunny day!  Success!  After breakfast, we leave Pathfinder and its hospitality behind on a calm Source Lake.  Uneventful traveling until arriving in Smoke where we were chatted up by an older gentleman in a power boat just after getting onto the water.  “Where are you coming from?  Where are you going?”  After learning of our traveling insanity, he told us that was “great!” and wished us well.  I’ll bet he was thinking, “better them than me.”  His boat sure looked like it could have towed us across Smoke with very little trouble though.  Quiet day on Smoke with virtually no wind.  Paddling down the Smoke Channel, we come upon the first, and last, person on the water that we see that day.  Who is it but none other than Mike Budman, Roots impresario and former fellow Voyageur canoeist from 50 years earlier at that other summer camp on S. Tea Lake which shall remain nameless here, especially when compared to Pathfinder’s enthusiastic hospitality.  Budman was driving a Swift kayak and, otherwise, outfitted in all things ROOTS.  Probably even his underwear too.  After leaving Budman in our wake, other than a couple of hikers at Whiskey Rapids, the next person we saw that day, several hours later, was the internationally known guide and outfitter Gord Baker swinging the remaining Gennys on the A/O dock.  Kind of like offering a treat to his dog.  That was just the incentive we needed in order to pick up our pace and, maybe, even look a bit impressive to the on-shore crowd, some of whom were jumping off the Hwy 60 bridge into the water next to us.  Along the Oxtongue River, we were unable to do likewise.  In fact, some of the swifts on the Oxtongue River could have used a few inches more of water so that we could have avoided that chilling sound of Carbon Kevlar making the acquaintance of small rocks, but at least that was something to break up the dizzying back and forth route on the early part of the river.

Whiskey Rapids is more like Whiskey Trickle. Apparently the Cairn Builders have been there.

The pace picks up when there is cold beer in sight.

A stylish turn to end a challenging trip.
            Our arrival back at A/O a day ahead of our schedule, while we were able to semi-walk under our own power, was a true sense of accomplishment.  Even though this has been our 17th annual family trip in the wilds of Algonquin, and we are quite familiar with tripping, this piece of the Meanest Link was a most challenging trip.  It certainly provided new, and greater, appreciation for the original four young ladies who did the entire loop in one fell swoop over 16 days and our utter amazement at the guy and gal who did the whole thing last spring in only 7 ½ days.  I think that guy with the power boat on Smoke must have had something to do with them!

Post-trip visit with Jack Hurley, canoe builder, Pathfinder/AO alumnus emeritus and long-time friend of Swifty.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

The first Meanest Link trip of 2011 starts tomorrow!

This just in from Mark Rubino, one of the six paddlers starting the two longest sections of the Meanest Link canoe trip on Sunday, July 10:


Track our group of 6 guys live, as we paddle and portage our way up to and through Algonquin Park on one of the toughest canoe routes imagined, "The Meanest Link".

At times though-out the 15 day trip, the tracking signal may disappear from time to time, due to travel through the forest or  other subsequent unintended obstruction of the transmitting device.

Once camp has been established for the day, An "OK" signal will be transmitted, indicating that all is well and that the tracking device will most likely be turned off for the night as no more movement is expected for the rest of that day.

Wednesday July 20th is a rest day so do not expect any substantial movements to track.

In addition to the regular "Spot" tracking web page, there is also the "Spot Adventures" tracking web page, with an interface that is less obtrusive.

The Spot Tracking page URL:

The "Spot Adventures" URL is here:

Mark Rubino

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The REEL Paddling film festival is coming to town this week!

In our ongoing quest to keep you entertained, Algonquin Outfitters is hosting this fun event on Wednesday,  June 1, at Huntsville's Algonquin Theatre. 

For a full list of the films being shown, descriptions of the films being shown in Huntsville and some of the cool prizes you can win, check out Randy's Retail and Events blog here:

REEL bonus from Algonquin Outfitters!
With your $15.00 ticket to our Reel Paddling Film Festival screening, you can
enter the Yakima Take It Easy Sweepstakes for a chance to win a Yakima roof rack package. All movie-goers will also receive free digital subscriptions to Rapid, Adventure Kayak, Canoeroots and Kayak Angler magazines, a $24 value.

Not only that, but to celebrate Algonquin Outfitters' 50th anniversary, everyone attending will receive an Algonquin Outfitters 50th Anniversary Coupon Booklet, with over $900 in valuable coupons to help you explore your own adventure.

And, finally, to get you one step closer to the river, lake or trail you will also receive a free entry into the Algonquin Outfitters Live Your Adventure contest, with over $10,000 worth of adventure gear up for grabs.
See you on Wednesday!

Sunday, May 01, 2011

We're calling it open

In our definition, ice-out on Lake Opeongo occurs when a water taxi can make a return trip to and from the North Arm, unimpeded by ice. This occurred on April 29, even though there still was ice floating around on lake. Today there is no ice left at all.

Conditions are still highly variable depending on what access point you are heading for. Keep checking the park's page for updates:

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Very detailed update on Algonquin Park web site:

 Due to recent high winds and rain, conditions are changing rapidly. Park staff just announced that Highway 60 and some other access points will be open tomorrow, with most lakes accessible off the highway either open or partially ice covered. Interior lakes conditions are unknown. Park staff were planning a flight today but cancelled it due to high winds and low visbility.

Travel conditions are typical for the time of year: frigid water temperatures, very high water levels, flooded portage landings, wet muddy trails, expect blowdowns on portages and campsites. Any river sections will be in full flood conditions. Fine weather for a canoe trip.

Check it the details here:

A quick update from people "on the ground"

Heavy rain, wind and mild temperatures have been having their way the stubborn lake ice.

As of 9 am this morning:
Oxtongue Lake: Open. The ice seen in the "ice canoeists" photo in the previous post is gone. Water levels extremely high. I would not recommend travel on the Oxtongue River at the moment. Or any Algonquin Park river route, for that matter! It is full-on raging spring flood conditions.

Lake Opeongo:
the bay in front of the store is open. The lake is ice-covered just beyond the channel marker buoys. We will try to get a further report from Opeongo later today.

Lake of Two Rivers:
mostly ice free, some big pans of black ice floating around.

Smoke Lake:
covered in ice fog, hard to tell. Hangar Bay still iced in with grey ice.

Cedar Lake and Brent Road:
Jake checked in yesterday from the Brent Store. The road is passable by 4x4 truck with good ground clearance. Not recommended for lesser vehicles. Cedar Lake is still ice-covered though there is a big lead in the middle from the inflow of the Petawawa and Nipissing Rivers.
High winds today will make lake travel very hazardous due to cold water conditions and shifting ice.

Stay tuned to the Algonquin Park ice conditions page for more updates and more details on access point road conditions. Currently, the Rain Lake and Source Lake roads are closed due to washouts (among others). This situation will not improve soon with the heavy rain last night, and more is expected today. At this moment the backcountry permit restriction is still in effect, to be re-evaluated today.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ice canoeists on Oxtongue Lake

A couple of hardy young  men from Port Sydney did an overnight trip down the Oxtongue River, ending at our dock like many people do. Unfortunately for them, the last 100 metres or so was the hardest part of the trip, since they chose to take the direct route across the remaining ice. It took them about 30 minutes to get from the bridge to the shore, pushing and shoving their aluminum canoe across the slushy surface. It probably didn't help that one set of parents and I were offering them suggestions from shore, as in, "why didn't you take the long way, and paddle around the ice?" Oh well, sometimes the spirit of youth cannot be denied.

Almost.... There.....
There is not much news in the ice department. Algonquin Park has extended the "no water access permit" restriction until April 28. Things will start to change quickly given the current weather forecast. We are currently experiencing heavy rain and thunderstorms and milder weather in the next five days should really get things moving.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Sunday Algonquin update: ice, moose and fish.

Now that the Opeongo Store is open (even if the lake isn't) our roving reporter Jerry Schmanda can send us reports on conditions as they evolve:
Yesterday's report...
A quick update as to fishing results on opening day, April 23, 2011. Very few fisherman's cars were parked along Hwy 60 and the day hiking trails were empty. It was a windy raw day that made you think that underwater would be a better place to be. None of the smaller lakes are ice free.
Everyone we spoke to that went out fishing caught fish! One party fished from out on the ice and caught a few. The others all caught some from shore. So far so good. Nobody was skunked!
Today's report....
Algonquin Ice Out? Not yet.  All the lakes along Hwy 60 are still ice covered with some areas opening up due to the currents from small creeks and rivers. Lake of Two Rivers shows the most progress so far. Canoe Lake looks as though it might open by June! Lake Opeongo now has two resident loons, both are in the only open water, near our docks. The first wood ducks were seen on the creek that parallels the Opeongo Road today. Upon arriving at the store, I was greeted by the unmistakable calls of an Eastern Phoebe from a nearby pine tree. Two wolves were seen yesterday near the Visitor Center and a Pine Marten was spotted sniffing around on the Opeongo Road early this morning.
Algonquin Park's Annual Easter Moose Jam took place today near the intersection of Hwy 60 and Rock Lake Road. It was the least the two moose could do for all the people that drove hours to see one.
TAF (that's all folks) from Opeongo,

Pictures from today, April 24, 2011. All photos by Jerry Schmanda .

Looking east on Tea Lake from Hwy 60
Cache Lake boat launch
Lake of Two Rivers. There's a big crack between the island and the point
Easter Moose Jam on Hwy 60
Costello Lake - people were walking on it today
Male and female wood ducks on Costello Creek
There is enough open water to launch a water taxi!
But not quite enough to go very far...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

If you are visiting Algonquin Park this weekend, bring your hiking boots. And maybe your snowshoes...

It's a little snowy up here in the woods!

The Algonquin Park website has been updated with a special announcement:

ImportantDue to unsafe ice conditions and winter weather persisting within Algonquin Park, no backcountry water access camping permits will be issued until circumstances are reassessed on April 26, 2011. In the interest of public safety, all day use activities on Algonquin Park waterways are strongly discouraged. 

The full report is here:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

AO visits the Algonquin Park Visitor Centre

The big cheeses of AO went in to the park yesterday for a meeting and a special cheque presentation, so I took a few shots along the way. Sorry for the bad quality of the lake ice photos but we were running a little behind schedule and didn't have time to stop!

On behalf of the Friends of Algonquin Park, superintendent John Winters accepts a cheque for $750 from AO's Rich Swift. The donation is portion of the proceeds of the Huntsville showing of the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour, annually hosted by AO in Huntsville in January. AO has used proceeds from this event to support wildlife research projects for many years. This year the donation will support wolf research being carried out by Dr. Brent Patterson and PhD candidate John Benson. For information on the wolf project and to learn how you can support it, click here.
Park superintendent John Winters is retiring soon, so the AO old-timers gathered for a group shot. We are very proud of the positive relationship we have with Algonquin Park staff and wish John all the best on his next adventure. From left: me, Opeongo Store manager Jerry Schmanda, John Winters, Brent Store manager Jake Pigeon and AO General Manager Rich Swift.
Lake of Two Rivers from Hwy 60. There is a sliver of open water by the roadway.
Even I was surprised how much snow is left in the woods. All north-facing slopes are snow covered (knee-deep in some places) though south-facing slopes are mostly bare. Park staff reported that they are still using snowshoes to do interior trail maintenance in many places.
Hangar Bay on Smoke Lake. A little bit of open water in the sunny, sheltered bay but all the lakes you can see from the highway are mostly frozen right up to the shore. Nothing in the rearview mirror. Only saw one moose - many people people are reporting seeing five or six when traveling between the East and West gates.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A little doggerel to pass the time

Trusting that you will forgive my self-indulgence, I thought I would share a bit of free verse on the topic of canoe tripping in less than ideal conditions. It seemed appropriate, given the theme of recent blog posts.

Three degrees and raining

That is the weather today -
add in wind: gusty and blustery,
patches of snow in the woods,
lakes and ponds covered with ice.

Put another log on the fire,
make a cup of tea,
settle down with a good book:
it’s that kind of day.

I’ve been on canoe trips on days like this,
including the frozen lake part:
I highly recommend it,
if you need some character-building.

There was Temagami in October:
I was a bit embarrassed that the tent I loaned my friends
leaked like a sieve on a windbound rainy cold day.
At least that gave us a project.

Or the James Bay Lowlands in June,
on a river with an unpronounceable name,
camping on nature’s largest sponge.

After carving out a hideout in a spruce thicket
we blew up one stove
and the spare didn’t work.
That night the river rose a foot:
now I always tie my canoe to a tree.

Years ago, on the barrenlands in July
(Yes - rain, snow and frozen lakes)
with wind so strong you could lean into it
and not fall over.

Eventually the sun comes out.
You revel in it, dry out,
and make light of how uncomfortable you were
the day before.

It all gets stored in the memory bank
and you will inevitably do it again.

Even in Algonquin, mild-mannered Algonquin,
one day in May,
I drove into Magnetewan Lake,
with a vague plan to meet some friends
already out there.

There was snow on the ground and it was raining,
the ice had been out for a couple of days.
I got out of the car, and let the dog out.
The solo canoe stayed on the roof.

We walked down to the dock and had a look around.
I stuck my hand in the water.

I looked at the dog, already wet and doggy-smelling.
He looked back, in that soulful way that dogs have.
This time I had a choice:
I went home and made a cup of tea.

Gordon Baker, April 16, 2011.

Friday, April 15, 2011

My hunch was right, the ice out flight will happen this week...

In case you are not a Facebooker, I am cross-posting this announcement from the Friends of Algonquin Park Facebook page:
Ontario Parks staff will be conducting an ice out flight sometime during April 18 to 21, 2011 to assess current ice conditions throughout Algonquin Park. The exact date can not be confirmed as the flight is dependent upon suitable weather conditions. Results of the ice out flight will be posted at as soon as they are available.
Along with many other great images, the Friends also recently posted a few aerial shots of popular lakes along Highway 60, taken April 12. Here's one of them, showing Tea, Smoke, Bonita and Canoe Lakes: 

You can see the Friends of Algonquin Park complete ice-out gallery here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A little Algonquin Park brook trout stoke...

While you are sitting around waiting patiently for the ice to go out, take 10 minutes and watch this informative and beautifully filmed video on the native brook trout of Algonquin Park. There are some great underwater shots of fish and a powerful conservation message. You will also notice a few canoes courtesy of Algonquin Outfitters, by the way!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Algonquin Park ice report: yes, there is still ice.

Satellite image from April 9, 2011
I drove through through the park on Hwy 60 last evening, on my way home from spring skiing in Vermont (which was great, by the way). A lot of snow melted in the three days I was away, and with the torrential rain last night and mild weather today, even more will be gone by now. The ice is locked right up to the shore on all lakes you can see from the highway. Even small ponds are still frozen, though they look pretty mushy. So, what's the conclusion? Slow progress is happening but personally, I would estimate ice-out on bigger lakes in Algonquin Park is at least two, if not three weeks away. I have been wrong before. Golden Lake, to the east of Algonquin Park and at much lower elevation, is still ice covered though there is open water along the shoreline. As you can see from Saturday's satellite image, Lake Simcoe, Muskoka and Haliburton area lakes are still ice-covered (Opeongo is in the upper right corner).

If you decide to take a drive up and see for yourself, be careful on the roads. "Ice fog" can roll in during the evening and morning hours, making it difficult to see big critters like deer and moose. I had to stop near Cache Lake last night and wait for two shaggy moose to amble off the roadway, and a friend reported seeing a dead moose at km 15 when he drove through the park about two hours later.

Tea Lake Narrows from the highway bridge, April 7, 2011

Possibly the most-photographed island in Algonquin Park. Lake of Two Rivers, April 10, 2011

It's a lonely road on a Sunday in April. Just me, the fog and a few moose.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

It's a little different from last year. Ice out April 3? I don't think so.

As type this in the office at Oxtongue Lake, I can hear the buzzing of snowmobiles drag racing up and down the lake. Last April 3, you might have heard the putt-putting of a cottager out cruising in their tin boat, or maybe the swish of a paddle. I'm not complaining about the sledders, if I was a snowmobiler I'd probably be doing the same thing. I am a skier, and what did I do yesterday? I went skiing with friends just outside of Huntsville. Some folks came in the store today and reported excellent spring conditions on the neighbouring trails belonging to the Blue Spruce Resort.

Spring is making inevitable progress. Snow is receding fast on the sunny side of the highway. The robin has returned. Alas, for paddlers and anglers, the lakes are still frozen solid.

Algonquin Park has cranked up their ice out reporting for 2011. For some recent pictures of conditions in the park, check out the Friends of Algonquin Park Facebook page (and you don't even have to be a "Facebooker" to see the pictures). The FOAP website has, among other items, an interesting comparison of 2008 satellite imagery with that of 2011, found here. Looking at those images, the big thing that stands out is how "grey" much of the ice looks in southern and central Ontario in the 2011 image. I hate to be a killjoy but don't take that to mean that the ice in Algonquin Park is about ready to go. While grey ice in the satellite image can mean soft mushy ice on the verge of disappearing, it is not always the case.  In that image, with the exception of lakes south of Hwy 7, I believe it means that there is a layer of water on top of the ice, formed by the sun's melting of the surface snow. I see this happen every day outside the window.

Being a dedicated ice-out blogger, I mentally correlated those images with the archived ice-out data for 2008 on the Canoe Lake Ice-Out page. Interestingly, most people (including me) predicted a late ice-out of April 30 but the winning date was April 25. As I recall, and confirmed by reviewing this blog's archive, we were calling for a late ice-out up to the middle of April. Then, the weather shifted, someone turned the heat on and POOF, the ice disappeared very quickly.

So, for you optimists out there, anything can happen. For you realists out there, keep your eye on the weather, use the resources at hand, and plan accordingly.

I'm just sayin'...

Utah the Wonder Dog trying to help dig out our deck in rural Huntsville, April 2, 2011.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Of Easter, ice-out and openings...

March 25: Lakes Scugog and Simcoe are still frozen!
A number of ingredients are combining to spice up the recipe for "ice out frenzy" this season. Start with an unusually early opening of trout season in Algonquin Park: April 23. Add in an equally unusual late Easter Weekend: April 22 - 25. Mix it up with last year's record early ice-out date of April 4 (on Lake Opeongo), then spice with all the eagerness of an early-season angler and you end up with many optimistic people thinking they will paddling merrily up Lake Opeongo on Good Friday, ready to fish the next day.

I hate to be a wet blanket but let's be realistic. The image to right comes from my old friend, the NOAA CoastWatch satellite image of the Great Lakes Region, updated twice daily all year round. The picture you see was taken yesterday, March 25. To locate things geographically, you can see Lake Opeongo in the upper-right, Lake Bernard in the upper left, Lake of Bays just above the centre and Lake Simcoe is very obvious in the lower left. In my experience of anecdotal observing, Algonquin Park lakes open up three to four weeks after Simcoe, depending on the weather. Hmmm. Do the math. Overnight temperatures this week have been in the negative double digits every night this week: the forecast is -18 C tonight. This spring is not going to be like last year (as the saying goes: that was then, this is now). I'm even thinking about changing my prediction on the Canoe Lake Ice-Out Contest but that might be against the rules. It is still early, and anything can happen, but if you are planning a canoe trip for Easter Weekend in Algonquin Park, I would definitely recommend having a backup plan, like hiking in the bug-free forest.

Having said all this, there have been some signs of spring. Snow has disappeared on many south-facing aspects outside the park. Deer are on the move. About a week ago, I saw a robin in my backyard and dutifully reported it on the Journey North site. There I learned that individual robins are seen a week or so before the first "wave" of robins. I haven't seen that robin since and no wave has appeared. I can imagine the modern critter, pecking out a tweet to his buddies on his BirdBerry:

@robinscout: am in Huntsville. Still %&$#)^% cold and snowy here. No worms. Heading back south.

If you are home watching robins or waiting for the ice to go out, check out Journey North. It is a very cool collection of information (all reported by volunteers) related to to animal migration and signs of spring (including ice-out).

Spring skiing in the Muskoka trees on March 25, 2011.
Conditions are ideal for short-legged dogs.
After you do that, turn the computer off, shut down your phone and get out there and enjoy the spring snow conditions in Algonquin, Haliburton and Muskoka. Trails are firm, walking is easy, backcountry ski conditions are awesome, the weather is sunny and the roads are dry. With Daylight Savings Time in effect, it's not getting dark until 8 o'clock or so. I've been skiing after work several days recently. We've had several groups checking in today on their way to the Western Uplands and Highland hiking trails. There is no reason not to come up to Algonquin Park right now! Unless maybe you were thinking about canoeing. That day will come - be patient!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Canoeing icon Kirk Wipper paddles on.

Kirk Wipper
I found a sad e-mail in the in-box this morning and thought it was important to share the news. While significant accomplishments in themselves, Kirk Wipper was much more than past owner of Camp Kandalore and founder of the "Kanawa International Collection of Canoes, Kayaks and Rowing Craft," which became the core of the Canadian Canoe Museum. He was a passionate advocate for wilderness and for canoeing as a way to experience wilderness, worked tirelessly to develop organized canoe instruction in this country, celebrated Canadian canoe heritage at every opportunity and was one of the most engaging and interesting people I have ever had the good fortune to meet.

The notice below was sent out yesterday by Jim Raffan, Executive Director of the Canadian Canoe Museum and long-time friend of Kirk Wipper.

Dear Friends:

I regret to inform you that Kirk died suddenly last evening.  He was with Ann and friends at Elmhirst's Resort and, apparently, choked on a piece of meat and they were unable to clear his airway.  His neighbour Don White called from the Peterborough Hospital at about 11:40 to relay the sad news.  Ann's son Mike was with them, as are the friends and neighbours so she is not alone.  I know you will join me in conveying heartfelt condolences to Ann and the rest of Kirk's family.

One of Kirk's favourite poets was 19th Century English writer William Arthur Dunkerley, who, under the pen name John Oxenham, wrote, "For death begins with life's first breath, and life begins at the touch of death."   So ends and era.  And so begins another, hard as that is to fathom at this moment.

As you may know, Kirk was honoured last fall with the Ron Johnston Lifetime Achievement Award by his peers and colleagues in the Ontario Camping Association.  In conjunction with this honour, the OCA made a short film to mark the occasion. If you'd like to have a look, here is a link: click here.

Near the end of this retrospective on his life, Kirk - prophetically, as it turns out - recites a poem called "The Way" by John Oxenham.  There will be much more to be said and done to mark the passing of this life that has brought us all together, this life that has done so much for Canada  ... but until we all get organized and back on our feet I leave you with these words spoken by Kirk himself just a couple of months ago and send them along with stunned disbelief, I'm sure you share, that the time has come to say goodbye to our old friend.

To every man there openeth
A Way and Ways and A Way
And the High Soul climbs the High Way
And the Low Soul gropes the Low
And in between on the misty flats
The rest drift to and fro;
But to every man there openeth
A Way and Ways and The Way
(this is Kirk's personal variant on the poet's original line)
And every man decideth
The way his soul shall go

This past evening, sadly, a High Soul has paddled on.

Details about arrangements will follow.


"You have to do what you can, do your best with what you are.  And you have to believe in wilderness.  If you do that you can't go wrong."

Kirk Albert Walter Wipper

b Grahamdale, Manitoba, December 6th, 1923

d Peterborough, Ontario, March 18, 2011

More on Kirk Wipper:

The Kirk Wipper web site and guestbook for sharing memories.

After the same notice as above, a nice tribute, good bio and excellent quote from Jim Raffan is here.

An interesting memoir of Kirk's contribution to the preservation of indigenous watercraft is here.

Kevin Callan reminisces about being inspired by Kirk Wipper here.

A presentation at Muskoka's Grace and Speed Museum highlights both Kirk's philosophy and dry wit: click here.

Edit: This just in from the Canadian Canoe Museum:

“This is surely the end of an era,” said museum Executive Director, James Raffan. "Kirk will be sorely missed but his legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of the members, volunteers, staff and friends of the museum who join daily stewardship of these 600 canoes and kayaks-this unique portrait of Canada he created-that was his passion for so many years.”
Visitation for close friends and family will be at Keene United Church, on Friday, March 25, 2-8 p.m. will be followed by a funeral service also at Keene United Church, Saturday, March 26 at 11 a.m. For the wider community, a memorial gathering entitled “Travelling On: Celebrating the Life and Passions of Kirk Wipper” at The Canadian Canoe Museum on Saturday, April 30, 2 p.m. followed by a reception at the museum. Anyone moved to contribute a song or story to this celebration should contact the museum (705) 748-9153 or email

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Cache Lake ice thickness report: 03/16/11

We had a visit from a couple of Cache Lakers today. While staying at the cottage for a few days, one of them drilled the customary water hole and then took measurements:

Top layer: 8 inches of firm snow

Middle layer: 14.5 inches of "white" ice

Bottom layer: 5 inches of "black" ice

Required reading for ice-out buffs
They reported that skiing conditions on the lake were excellent, though our driller did observe a thin layer of water-saturated snow on top of the white ice. The surface snow was firm enough to support body weight and keep them out of the slush. Temperatures are mild today but some cold nights are in the forecast, so things will firm up again.

I have been told that while white ice is not as strong as black ice, it takes longer to disintegrate due to its unorganized structure. For a good explanation of the difference, see pages 23-24 of the fascinating book Ice: The Nature, the History, and the Uses of an Astonishing Substance, by Mariana Gosnell. You can view the text online by clicking on that link.

Interpret this as you see fit!