Thursday, October 24, 2013


Our route from the P-Store to Bartlett Lake

Visiting Algonquin Park in May can indeed be an excellent idea: the park is relatively empty, we can have best campsites and there are plenty of wandering moose.  After a quick research we decided to stay on Bartlett Lake, which is connected to Tom Thompson lake by a narrow channel.  I had paddled on Bartlett Lake in 2007 and again in 2009 with Catherine and we really liked its relatively secluded location.  There were 4 campsites on the shores of the lake and we were hoping to get the one located across from the entrance to the channel—I remembered that it was a very nice campsite, facing west.  Our plant was to stay for 4 nights and paddle on all the adjoining lakes and bays.

On May 30, 2013 we left Toronto and in the afternoon we arrived at Algonquin Park’s Canoe Lake Access Point (near the P-Store).  As expected, there were very few tourists (certainly no kids!), the area was so quiet and pristine.  We paddled towards the Joe Lake portage, passing a few kayakers and the Tom Thomson cairn, facing the spot where the artist tragically drowned in 1917.  The Joe Lake portage is about 300 m. long, yet last time Catherine managed to paddle as far as possible towards the dam, thus shortening it significantly; this time we also took advantage of this natural shortcut.  We had to make a few trips back and forth to carry our stuff and the canoe. 
Ready to start our trip!
Unlike in the past year, when the portage resembled a busy thoroughfare, with people carrying canoes had to almost obey rules of the road in order not to bump into each other, this time we did not encounter a single soul.  We canoed under a former train bridge (it used to be part of the famous Booth Railway that had cut through the park, carrying mostly lumber; at one point it was the busiest train line in Canada, with trains passing every 20 minutes).  Finally we reached the beaver dam that we still remember from out past trips.  When I encountered it for the first time in 2007, I was not sure how to traverse it—although it did look quite solid, I had no idea if it would support our weight.  Soon a canoe with a couple of experienced trippers had arrived who put our concerns to rest: “It has been here for ages”, they said, “and it can support an elephant!”. So, this time we quickly lifted-over the canoe, yet immediately noticed that the dam was not as sturdy as before, there was a visible in the middle of the dam which we appreciated very much!  Just after passing the dam we saw our first moose, just wading in the shallow water; while fighting off black flies and mosquitoes, I managed to take a few photos.

First moose sighting
Soon we reached Bartlett Lake, named after the park’s former superintendent.  Nobody else was staying there and thus we picked the campsite we had visited in 2009—the best campsite on the lake.  Immediately we were attacked by swarms of black flies.  Wearing bug jackets and hat, I quickly set up the tent.  In addition, black flies seemed to be very actively backed up by a strong army of voracious mosquitoes!  Without delay, I started a campfire, hoping that the smoke will keep those ravenous bugs away, but eventually WE ended up both being bitten by them and suffocated by the smoke!  Sitting around the fire and having something to eat was very annoying, so once we were done, we sneaked into the bug-proof tent.

Enjoying the campfire at the campsite
Since I wanted to take photos of moose, which are abundant in the park, we were planning to wake up at 5:00 am and go canoeing .  Unfortunately, when the alarm clock went off in the morning, it was raining and we continued sleeping.  Catherine got up at 9:00 am and while moving some of our stuff from the canoe, she spotted three moose in the nearby bay who had actually been watching her for some time!  By the time I walked to her, the large mother moose was herding her baby and teenage son (or daughter) to the woods.  The whole family later appeared across the bay, wading in the water on the opposite shore.

It was sun/cloud mix for most of the day and very humid.  In the evening we decided to go for a paddle on Bartlett Lake.  We paddled to a bay in the north-west part of the lake, saw a beaver lodge and then paddled towards the start of the portage leading to Willow Lake (which I had done in 2007).  It was then that we saw scary lightening and even though it was not raining yet, I suggested that we proceed immediately towards our campsite.  It turned out a very good decision: in no time the sky became dark, in addition to lighting we heard thunder and we kept paddling as fast as possible, reaching speeds of 7-8 km/h. 
Paddling on Bartlett Lake just before the storm
When the canoe finally arrived at the campsite, it started to rain and soon lightening and thunder was accompanied by a torrential downpour and very strong winds.  Catherine stayed a few minutes behind, trying to get something from the canoe and it was enough for her clothes to become thoroughly soaked.  After one hour or so the thunderstorm subsided, but Catherine was still wet and cold.  Despite the rain (and Catherine’s prediction to the contrary), I managed to start a nice, smoky campfire so at least we could grill steaks over the fire and have our evening meal.  All that time we were incessantly attacked by black flies and mosquitoes who seemed to love the damp weather!  As soon as we were done, we went to the tent.  Wet, cold and increasingly itchy from bug bites, we decided to cut our trip short and depart in the morning.

We were up at 5:00 am; the instant we left the tent, we were mercilessly assaulted by mosquitoes and black flies.  The creatures were so annoying that we packed everything into the canoe in a record time and in less than one hour we were on the water, where we were at least safe from the onslaught.

Paddling home in the morning
While paddling on Tom Thomson lake, we saw a few tents or hammocks here and there, but everyone was apparently still sleeping (and no doubt hiding from black flies) and it was very quiet.  We also saw a few moose in the forest, but they disappeared before I could take a photo.  Before we approached the Joe Lake portage, it started to light drizzle and we had to don our rain gear.  We quickly portaged the canoe and our equipment and in no time reached the P-Store and the park office, where we got a partial refund.  We also managed to have a well deserved hot shower despite the park losing electrical power during the storm.

Later locals told us that 2013 was the worst in 7-10 years in terms of black fly activity and later we saw many people with terrible bite marks.  In fact, Catherine had a full body mosquito net suit and I believe she got bitten worse than myself.  Funny, some people are afraid to go camping because of black bears, wolves, foxes, snakes or other real or imaginary creatures—but if truth be told, it was our FIRST trip where we were defeated by tiny black flies!