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!

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Wake up groundhogs! The ice out reports for Algonquin Park begin!

The shadows are getting longer every day.
Ice out bloggers must be telepathic. Or at least, "on the same page." As I drove along Hwy 60 yesterday afternoon, admiring the snow covered lakes in Algonquin Park, it occurred to me that I better start gearing up for another fun season of ice-out blogging.

I stopped at Smoke Lake, took a few pictures and thought about posting them today to help people get in the "ice out" frame of mind. I can tell you, it will take me a while to start thinking spring, having just returned returned from four days of amazing skiing at Jay Peak, Vermont, where I participated in a social media experiment called the Northeast Ski Blogger Summit.

This morning I discovered that I had been scooped! The other regular (and highly dedicated) ice-out blogger is Jefferson Ridpath, a Canoe Lake cottager. His site is completely focused on the Canoe Lake ice-out, and you can even enter his "ice-out prediction contest."

As the photos will tell you, Algonquin Park is still firmly in the grip of winter but it is never to early to think spring and get your water taxi booked for spring trout fishing season in Algonquin. If you haven't followed these ice-out reports before, feel free to read tales from previous seasons by clicking here. If cabin fever has you gripped, hop in the car, drive in our direction and enjoy some skiing and snowshoeing on the many lovely trails in and around Algonquin Park.

Smoke Lake on March 8, 2011. It is still winter up here!