The Citiots Take Algonquin Park
Algonquin Park Interior Trip, August 2013
It all started with a conversation about our next trip. Sitting around the fire at Brennan Harbour Lodge Brennan Harbour Trip Report Dave mentioned he thought a back country canoe trip in Quetico Park would be really cool. We all nodded and then Scott (the voice of reason) piped up “Have any of you guys done a canoe camping trip”. As we all shook our heads, we realized that that plan may be over our heads. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t novice campers or new to the outdoors but most of our experiences were car camping or cottaging. If we were to consider such a trip maybe it would be wise to take some baby steps
Later that winter Dave reached out to see how many of us would be interested in doing a 2-night backcountry camping trip in Algonquin Park. The plan was to use a guiding company in order to have them provide most of the gear, canoes and ensure that we city guys didn’t end up stranded and lost deep in the Algonquin forest. Eventually 6 of us signed up and we embarked on one of my most memorable trips, comedically speaking that is.
Since one of our group members conveniently had a cottage close to our jump off point, we made the wise (at the time) decision to head to his cottage on Thursday in order to meet the guide early Friday AM. We could have a low-key night, an excellent steak dinner and a beer or two before shutting it down early to be ready to rock in the AM. NOT! A few beers turned into many, early to bed turned into a midnight sauna followed by a jump in the lake, followed by more beers, scotch and cigar night cap. The next morning, we all looked like extras from the set of the Walking Dead!
We headed to the outfitter store to meet our guide. It was a simple check in and then we would follow our crew to Canoe Lake access point and do a short paddle from Smoke Lake to Ragged Lake. Well, you guessed it NOT! As we pulled into the outfitter store, we were a tattered crew. One member who will remain nameless scrambled to find a place to be sick, another was desperately trying to extend his sleep in the back of the SUV. Dave came back out of the office looking slightly perplexed. There was a slight change of plans, our trip had been subcontracted to another outfitter who was on his way to meet us. 30 minutes later our new guide pulled in and man he was something! To this day I can still get the guys laughing with an impression of Bob (name changed for, well just because). As we huddled to the back of our cars Bob began his tirade. Do I see alcohol in your bags? Do you not know this is bear country? Do you know how far of a paddle it is from Canoe Lake to Tom Thompson? Did you think you need those Clif bars? Do you know that Algonquin Park is a national treasure? After being yelled at I believe Dave finally asked a question of his own “Do you want to be paid for this trip? We all marched off to our cars hungover, a little scared and wondering what we had signed up for.
Pulling into the Canoe Lake access point Bob introduced us to our two guides (bonus we only thought we had one) Andrew and Alex. This is where the trip turned. As Bob marched off into the park office to finalize our permits Alex called us over into a huddle. “Did Bob give you a lecture” he asked. “Yes, he did, Bob is an as#^S& we replied. With a chuckle Alex said, “Bob will be in there for a while, go back to your cars and grab whatever you want, just keep it on the downlow” We all scrambled back to the cars, grabbed our gear and got ready to head out. Note: At this point we did have to do a paddle test, we paired up and did a small circle around some buoys in the big Souris River Queticos. Honestly, I wish I had it on tape. While Mark and Greg handled the test easy the rest of us shook, wiggled and almost tipped our way around. I can only imagine what the guides thought but it was no surprise when Alex jumped into the canoe with Colin and I and Andrew went in with Dave and Scott. Mark and Greg got their own.
As we headed into our adventure, we must have looked so comical. Colin was the colour of ash and I was quiet, which is a rarity. I was nervously contemplating Bob’s warning that we were entering Bear country! To hear Bob speak these bears were trained to sniff out toothpaste particles on your breath in order to raid your campsite and attack handsome guys from Mississauga. Then it happened. As we paddled our way into the park a woman of 60 or so years old paddled by in her canoe with her 2 dogs and gear. “Just finished two weeks in the park” she said. I waved goodbye and internally psyched myself up – Andrew if your Mom can do it, so can you.
After the worlds longest paddle, we finally made camp. While the trip was arduous for Colin and me, the other guys had fared much better. Dave and Scott had spotted a cow moose and her calf on the way in. Mark and Greg had hardly broken a sweat and did some fishing. We were surprised that the camp was already set up. Tents, tarps and hammocks were good to go. While this was initially a bonus it somewhat defeated the purpose of us getting our feet wet in terms of back country camping. One of us mentioned to the guides that we did want to understand the ins and out and they walked us through why things were done the way they were. They even went as far as pulling down the food barrel set up and showed us how to hang it. As the trip went on, they really got into explaining each decision they were making and why. In short Andrew and Alex were amazing guys and guides.
The rest of our time on Tom Thomson was awesome. We fished (and caught some nice bass), got better at paddling, had some epic campfires and enjoyed our surroundings. The trip still served up some great comedy. After returning from a fish one afternoon I decided to make use of one of the hammocks and rest my eyes. Just as I entered into a deep sleep I was startled by a female collective singing “Hey now, you’re a Rockstar, get your game on, go play” I jumped up to figure out what the hell was going on when I saw a group of teenaged girls paddling along in a flotilla singing Smash Mouth at the top of their lungs. I also witnessed an impatient Scott lose a monster smallmouth as he tried to hand bomb it into the boat which more than likely gave Colin and I big and most fish trophies – sucka!
Sunday came in all to quickly and it was time to head out. As we packed up the guides informed us that we would have lunch on the way back and they wanted to show us one of the best lookouts in the park. Well I gotta admit I was not thrilled. I was tired, a little hung over and faced a 3-hour drive back to Mississauga. I just wanted to paddle out as fast as I could and get home to my bed. I was out voted, and we slogged our way out and then hiked Mt Everest to eat PBJ wraps and snap a photo. I will begrudgingly admit that it was cool. I also remember being passed by a 16-foot ski boat as we paddled every so slowly out. I turned to Colin and declared “I will give that guy $100 bucks if he can take me to my car” and I totally meant it lol.
Overall the trip was great. Using the guides was a bit more expensive but their expertise and company was worth it IMO. While I am sure we would have survived on our own it allowed us to experience the trip in style and whet our appetites for more. Most of us have done other back country trips, I have started camping with my family and we are talking about a new Algonquin trip with our kids. I can agree with Bob on one thing – Algonquin is a national treasure and I am grateful to live so close to it. If you are thinking about the trip, I highly recommend it and if you are a “citiot” like myself I recommend the guided option if you are so inclined.