Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Massasauga Provincial Park, June-July, 2010

The Massasauga Trip, June 30-July 08, 2010

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The Massasauga July 2010

Day 1, June 30, 2010, Wednesday

I have visited the Massasauga Provincial Park three times over the past two years and this year I decided to organize a group event for our Meetup group, “Get Out”--sadly, no longer in existence. I called the Park Reservation Line months before to book site #509 (where we stayed last year—see blog XXX) and it was available. Another group member, Andrea, booked an adjacent site #508, which was a short paddle away from ours. Since those sites, located on Blackstone Harbour, were less than 30 minutes from the parking lot, I thought more people would be interested in this event, yet only 10 signed up. After making the reservation, I realized there were some errors made by the reservation staff and it took me many phone calls to straighten things out. Evidently, a lot of people had problems with Ontario park reservation in 2010, so much so that not long ago I got an email from Ontario Parks informing me that the reservation system would be radically overhauled due to such complains. At least somebody has taken notice!
Time indeed flies—soon, it was time to depart! But typically there was the proverbial fly in the ointment too. As Catherine and I were packing my car in the morning, one of the trip's participants', Aaron, called to inform us that his car had just broken down and that he, along with his ride, Soltera, would not be able to arrive today. Well, c'est la vie, I thought, two down but eight left to paddle. We departed around noon and after about 2 hours of driving reached Pete's Access Point in the Massasauga. Since we already had a campsite and canoe reserved, it did not take us long to complete all the administrative matters. However, just before we were about to leave the park office, we found out it would be closing at 6:00 pm—and Andrea and Jane were supposed to arrive today well after the closing time... so it would be impossible for them to rent a canoe! Luckily, we managed to reach them in Toronto (cell phone reception is excellent all over the park) and they decided to come early next morning. Another crisis averted! Eight paddlers still on the roster by my count.
Campsite # 509
As far as I remember, each time we were departing Pete's Place, it was windy—last year we had to spend one night on an unreserved campsite as it was impossible to get to our destination in such a weather. This time was no exception: it was so windy and wavy that at one point we had some reservations about putting the canoe on the water! Of course, the canoe was totally packed up over the gunwales and there was hardly any space left for us to sit, but this is quite normal—we always take too much stuff, just in case... as well as we always want to camp in relative comfort! So, before 4:00 pm we were on the water, paddling towards campsite # 509—which was almost exactly against the wind and waves! Slowly, we made progress—the fact that the canoe was quite heavy made it quite stable and not very prone to the wind. Yet it took us a while to reach our campsite and at one point we had to paddle to the right of the campsite and then take a sharp turn left in order to avoid paddling parallel to the waves. Less than one hour later, we reached the familiar campsite, set up our tent and gathered wood for the campfire. As it turned out, nobody else arrived that day, so we spent several hours sitting in front of the fire; once it started to rain a little, we went to the tent and retired for the night. Of course, we did hang our food barrel on the same tree branch we did last year—after all, in the summer of 2009 it was supposedly the worst campsite in terms of black bear activity!

Day 2, July 01, 2010, Thursday—Canada Day


We were up at 9:00 am and soon saw a canoe coming from the direction of the channel; it was Aaron and Soltera, who parked the car at the Moon River Marina and paddled from there. We welcomed them with freshly brewed coffee and soon saw another canoe, this time coming from Pete's Place, with Jane and Andrea.
Since it was still windy, Aaron decided to paddle solo to them in case they needed any assistance—by the way, Aaron's paddling skills were outstanding! Later we visited their site; Aaron demonstrated how to hang a food barrel! We saw an interesting skeleton on a rock just off campsite #508—it might have been a fox or maybe a coyote... or even an odd-looking camper!
Apparently Aaron had been in this park before, he even stayed once with his kids on campsite #508—and he recommended that we paddle to a fall just opposite Pete's Place. Indeed, the fall was quite impressive; the turbulent white water was visible from afar and I was puzzled why I had not see that fall during my past trips to this park? Well... I got the answer a few days later!
We spent some time paddling close to the fall and enjoying the view, then made a short portage, put our canoes on the Blackstone River and started paddling up the river. It was a great paddling trip—the scenery was amazing, we had to paddle over a beaver dam, fallen trees as well as a number of rapids—that is, up the rapids! Catherine and I paddled very hard, yet our canoe was pushed back. Instead of portaging around the rapids, we made another attempt to go over the rapids—and this time we succeeded, getting to Little Blackstone Lake. After a while the others joined us and we spent some time exploring the lake—it had several very nice campsites. It was much easier to go back down the river and we quickly reached the falls. Catherine carried the canoe to Blackstone Harbour and we paddled back to the campsite. Soon all of us were sitting on our campsite around the campfire, exchanging spellbinding stories. I will never forget Aaron's description of his solo trip on the Missinaibi River up to James Bay, but especially his story about Bill—a guy whom he met before embarking on this journey, who had no kayaking or canoeing experience and who also was about to do a similar trip in his very cheap, small and plastic Pelican kayak! We were really engrossed listening to his story—it's a pity I didn't have a voice recorder with me! To make the long story short, Bill did make the trip weeks, if not months later, although his kayak got damaged, he lost most of his stuff and eventually was stranded on some island on or near James Bay; hungry, the was rescued by a native guy whose motorboat was passing by. Soltera also told us a few tales about her journeys in Latin America, which included her having to use a pepper spray to ward off potential thieves. Soltera and Aaron, both of whom spoke fluent Spanish, conversed most of the trip in this beautiful tongue (hopefully, saying only nice things about us).
Unfortunately, Andrea had to work the next day, so she had to go back to Toronto in the evening and come back the next day. We 'gave her a ride' by paddling her to the parking lot in the evening.

Day 3, July 02, 2010, Friday

Moon River Falls

Yuri and Victoria arrived in the morning and set up their tent on campsite #508. Also Soltera apparently went for a morning swim—halfway around the bay—no mean feat, I must say! Later we paddled to the Moon River Falls, about 2 hours from the campsite. It was my third visit to the falls—unlike last year in September, the water levels were much higher and the falls were an awesome site! We spent about one hour there and then paddled back to our campsite, stopping in the Moon River Marina, where we bought beer and alcohol coolers at the LCBO outlet there and sat out watching the world... of boats go by while shamelessly downing Smirnoff and chips. It was heavenly! As we arrived at our campsite, Ian and Sue, a British expat couple, were setting up camp.
Group, Campsite # 509
Then we picked up Andrea from the parking lot back from her “trip to Toronto for a day of work” and finally all of us (i.e., Catherine, myself, Yuri, Victoria, Ian, Sue, Aaron, Soltera, Jane and Andrea) were able to sit around the campfire on our campsite, exchanging a lot of interesting stories. Since Aaron is a commercial pilot, I was quite interested in his job and flying in general; who knows, maybe one day I will find the time to enrol in a flying course? That would certainly be something very audacious!

Day 4, July 03, 2010, Saturday

Calhoun Lodge

Aaron and Soltera packed up and left in the morning since Aaron had to attend a funeral and Soltera was flying to Mexico. After breakfast, all of us paddled to Calhoun Lodge where we explored the remaining buildings. I decided to stay at the lodge and catch up on several magazines whereas the others went on a hike. After a few hours they showed up, except for Catherine and Jane; soon we got a text message from them that they were lost. After a comical text fest Andrea and I figured out to paddle to the north of Blackstone Harbour where we spotted them out on the rocks waving us down. We brought them back in the canoe to the lodge. Catherine and Jane paddled to the Moon River Marina and got us a case of beer for our heroic effort! We spent the last night together around the fire. Yuri played Catherine's Cuban drums and Victoria regaled us with interesting stories about the life in Israel. And we drank well earned beer, of course, the British brew “Guiness” that had a plastic pellet inside each can!

Day 5, July 04, 2010, Sunday


It was the last day of our group event! Ian and Sue left in in the morning, Yuri and Victoria packed up their stuff and left backpacks at our campsite and apparently paddled to the falls across Pete's Place. Catherine and I paddled to Peter's Place, which was buzzing with activity, as most people were just finishing their trips and arriving in the parking lot. We put the canoe in the bushes, chained it to a nearby tree and drove to the town of MacTier, got drinking water behind the LCBO store, replenished our supplies of red wine and bought food for the next four days. We also stopped near MacTier and Catherine went for a quick swim in Lake Joseph. Then we returned to Pete's Place, loaded our canoe with new supplies and paddled again to that falls nearby—but the was no falls: yes, all the water was gone and instead of all the rapid, turbulent, white water, there was barely a trickle dripping off the rocks, as if somebody had turned in off! No wonder I had not seen it over the past years! We paddled to our campsite—everyone was gone by then, the weather was just perfect and as I was lying on the warm rock, basking in the sun like a giant iguana and taking great delight in the surrounding scenery, I simply said that this was the best time of my life!

Day 6, July 05, 2010, Monday

It took us the usual two hours to pack up and just after 1:00 pm we were ready to leave our campsite and paddle to the new campsite # 211. It was a pleasant paddle, we passed through a number of lakes, passages and bays and 2.5 hours later we finally reached our campsite. Catherine remarked several times that using the GPS was invaluable.
Sunset (The Massasauga Park, Campsite # 211)
The campsite was very nice, located on a tip of a small peninsula, very private and sheltered from the wind. In the evening we went paddling, but our trip was aborted after 15 minutes when Catherine spied a seagull making off with our dinner, packed in a plastic bag. In her haste she had set out the pork steaks and yams to be grilled a little too soon. Amazingly, the meal was a tad too heavy for the bird and it dropped it right at the waters edge. Thus, dinner was saved and a valuable lesson learned. We spend the remaining time reading, talking, admiring the sunset and listening to my shortwave radio. We had a very nice campfire and lots of red wine, so much so that we started seeing fish jumping out of the water. Upon inspection, we discovered we were not hallucinating, but that gar pike were snapping up bugs. We fell asleep about 3 am.

Day 7, July 06, 2010, Tuesday


We were up at 2 pm. It was a very hot day, so we decided not to paddle; instead, we swam, I tried fishing, yet without any luck. Catherine ensconced herself under a huge pine and proceeded to read her 6 month collection of McLean's Magazines. For a few hours I observed and videotaped wasps, which were hunting spiders, then injected them with some immobilizing substance and lied eggs inside them. While the hapless spiders was awaiting his fate, the wasps were frantically digging holes in the sand on tent pads; once they finished, they dragged the spiders and buried them. Apparently once the eggs hatch, the baby wasps (or whatever is the scientific name) feed on his body and then emerge from the hole. I hope I will find the time to edit my videos... and perhaps sell the to “National Geographic”! Later, we swam again, Catherine made her 7:30 pm obligatory call home, then we had a great campfire and as always, stayed up for several hours.

Day 8, July 07, 2010, Wednesday

We got up quite early, i.e., around noon and had our traditional breakfast (coffee and oatmeal). It was another very hot day, so after breakfast we set up our folding chairs on the other tent pad and were just watching the scenery and an occasional motor boat passing by. I turned on my radio—the Soccer World Cup was on, it was the semi-final, Germany vs. Spain and we managed to catch the highlights and final 15 minutes. Spain won 1:0!!! We could imagine what College Street in Toronto looked liked with all the celebrations and heat/smog alert to boot. At one point I noticed a few skinks on our campsite; they are very timid and it took me a while before I could take a few photos and videos of those beautiful reptiles—by the way, they're the only lizards in Ontario!


Around 7:30, when it became cooler, we decided to go canoeing. We paddled to a bay left of campsite #210, then up towards Cow Island—there was one campsite on the island full of young people goofing around. A swoon of ravens took off which reminded Catherine of Hitchcock's “The Birds”. After paddling around Cow Island, we proceeded to stalk a hapless beaver with the camera lens, then back to our campsite. It was getting dark and we could hardly see anything—only the ghostly white tarp over our campsite was visible from afar! We made it back to our campsite just after 10:00 pm and immediately started our last campfire, burning all the wood.

Day 9, July 08, 2010, Thursday


Our last day! We awoke to the hammering of industrious woodpeckers. Seemed too hot for even birds to be working, but these ones must have been hungry! We were packed up and ready to leave at about 1:00 pm, but suddenly felt gusts of very strong wind, just out of the blue! I checked the forecast on my marine radio, but it did not mention any wind. In fact the wind was so strong and sudden that it tipped over my video camera which was attached to the tripod! I was really concerned about our paddling back, as we had to traverse a few open bodies of water—but as suddenly as the wind started, it stopped. To this day I have no explanation for this weather phenomena! Several police boats passed our site and we wondered if there was an incident on the 20-something site. Then a helicopter whirred overhead and our imaginations went wild. Eventually a park boat passed with a rental canoe on its deck and 2 girls up front. We left just before 2 pm and arrived in Pete's Place at 04:30, unpacked our canoe, put it on the rack and proceeded to pepper the park guy with questions... non of which he could, but should have been able to answer.

We returned to MacTier's Foodland in hopes of buying a roasted chicken and picnic fixings and were surprised to see rain puddles everywhere. We opted to sit at a patio diner next to the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) Detachment and chatted with the waitress about a cocaine fuelled break-in and then about her paralysed son's—a very sad story, involving alcohol and cars. A deer wandered into town and several locals ran to spy on it. We were on the road by 7:00 pm and pulling into Catherine's driveway by 9:00 pm. Already reminiscing about the great time we had—and discussing our next trip to that park!

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  1. nice pics.ya for a little lake it gets churned up pretty good.i too have been going there for past 9 family and dogs and friends love this place....but think you mentioned there are several sites in the lil blackstone lake...there are only 3.and ya the black bears are pests. but bearable. think i ran into you and your friends when you were incountering a bear.. i came to ur campsite with an air horn...maybe not you...well enjoy mother nature while she is still here!!

  2. Thanks for your comments. Actually, there are about 7 campsites on Blackstone Harbour (NOT lake), we visited almost all of them. We were away when a bear suppsedly visited our campsite and the warden told us this afterwards, so I guessed you encountered a different group of campers.

  3. I think that is a deer skeleton.