Friday, June 05, 2015

Trip Log - Day 1: Grand Lake to Upper Spectacle Lake; in to Little Carcajou Lake and Return (Victoria Day Weekend 2015)

Day 1                go to Day 2              go to Day 3

This trip was the first one for 2015 and the first one in the new canoe.  We were both excited to be going back to the park. 

The melt was fairly late this year and the park didn’t take any backcountry reservations until May 1st, the official ice-out date.  The Victoria Day weekend came early as well.  We had gone last year on this same weekend, it was cold then, I packed some warmer clothes this time.

I was at LT’s house 10 minutes before the agreed-upon rendezvous time of 6:30 a.m.  We were going to save time by not having to stop and rent a canoe, but we still had to load it at this end.  We carefully checked that we had all the bags.  There’s always something forgotten each trip.  I made sure not to rush LT, I let him walk around the ground floor, glancing around to see that everything he wanted to bring was loaded up.  We angled the canoe out of his fenced back yard, along a path to my car parked in the designated Visitor’s Parking spot.

We were on the road shortly after 7 a.m.  LT made some egg/bacon/cheese breakfast wraps that we ate in the car with tea, no drive-thru required!  The traffic was good – we were at the Sand Lake Gate in good time.  A couple of guys in shorts were coming out with their permit as we went in.
The new canoe - completely without scratches!
LT had scheduled us into Upper Spectacle Lake for the first night.  It has 2 campsites, both on the same shoreline.  He wanted to get there first to have his pick of the 2 sites.  As we were driving the car onto the small road leading to the dock, we could see the shorts guys paddling off in the direction we were going to be heading as well.

The lake was fairly flat.  The canoe was taken off the car, the bags unloaded from the car, the canoe loaded up, the car parked and the pictures were taken – we were off!  It was 10:10 a.m.  Our route wasn’t going to be very arduous today.  It was an area we hadn’t camped in before, although we’d been deep into Carcajou Bay of Grand Lake in error on the very first trip we had done together two years earlier.

It was a day before the long weekend, so the traffic was minimal.  I like this strategy – going out a day before the busy time.  As we got to the middle of the lake LT remembered what he forgot to bring – his nightcaps!  I depend on Camino hot chocolate for my nightcap and I knew that was packed.  We didn’t turn around to drive into Petawawa to go to the liquor store, but he certainly considered it for a minute.

Loons were escorting us into Carcajou Bay and I tried to get a few shots of them.  I’m going to have to get a telephoto lens for these moments.  I’m not sure I would want to take it out and use it on a lake just yet, but I’ll get there someday.
Our escort on Grand Lake
Our first portage was only 20 meters.  It wasn’t marked, but it was obvious.  It was straight over a large rock that was beside the narrow flow of water that dropped maybe just over a meter.  It was tricky getting the canoe and bags out, but it was the only way to go.  
Our route, map is from Jeff's map of Algonquin Park
We were now in a pool that had several waterfalls landing in it.  We paddled close to each of the cascades to get some great pictures.  To our left was a high rock with a couple of tents on it.  I think that spot is very specifically reserved, it’s a gorgeous location, although I’m not sure what shape the site is in.  It must have a steady stream of residents all through the camping season.

Carcajou Falls
The portage was again to the right and it was another tricky landing spot.  We got out of the canoe and had to go straight up a rocky, treed hill.  This is another very short portage – only 90 meters.

The put-in was nice though, a big smooth rock to ease our way into the water.  After a very short paddle, the next 220 meter portage came up.  As we went through here we noticed 4 guys sitting in an area that didn’t look like a campsite, however, I was betting they were going to camp there.

We came out, loaded up the canoe and headed straight away from the portage site.  We paddled a narrow channel through a marshy area for a good 15 minutes before LT decided to check the map.  We were going the wrong way, but it didn’t take long to get back to the portage and head towards Lower Spectacle Lake.  As we turned in that direction we were directly above the roaring waterfalls.  They look very innocuous from above – just a line on the horizon, nothing at all really.  The roar reminds you that all is not what it appears to be.  It also makes me instantly scared to death.

The narrows into Lower Spectacle Lake is gorgeous, rocky walls rising above, not nearly as high as the Barron Canyon, but evocative of the canyon.  Lower Spectacle is a nice lake.  There are two campsites on the lake – they are on opposite sides.  We saw one site, but not the other.

The put-in at our last portage of the day was interesting.  It took a bit to figure out where to go through the marshy grasses, those beavers keep making paths!  But once we had the right one, there was a floating dock!  Such luxury!  When I peeked through the entrance to the portage, there was a tree that fell over and the base of the tree sticking up looked just like a black bear’s profile from the neck up.  I took a picture. 
Portage at Lower Spectacle Lake going into Upper Spectacle Lake

See the bear?
This portage is fairly short and easy to do.  We put into Upper Spectacle Lake, most of the work done for the day.  We paddled to the first campsite.  It was okay, but we went to check out the second site and picked it over the first.  We’d be that much closer to the portage for the next morning.  We’d put the canoe in the water shortly after 10:00 and it was now 12:30.

We had a fresh lunch that LT had made.  Three small subs with cold meat and cheese.  He’d made a homemade version of sub sauce, which he’d packed in a Ziploc bag that he cut the corner on after shaking it up to apply on the subs.  It made a difference for sure, my first exposure to sub sauce.  He’d cut up 2 apples and had some green grapes for dessert.  And he’d cut a large wedge of Gouda cheese with caraway seeds in it, very yummy.  A couple paddled past our campsite, the first people we’d seen along our specific route.

After lunch, we set up camp.  We erected both the tent and the bug shelter.  The bugs weren’t horrible, but they were gathering.  I pulled out my hammock and set that up.  I got the hammock at Costco late last summer.  It’s not designed specifically for camping.  But it’s a double-sized one and I splurged and got the mosquito netting for it.  I retired to the hammock for a nap and LT claimed the tent.  I made sure I had my pillow and sleeping bag.  I don’t really remember falling asleep, but someone claims I was lightly snoring.  Hmmmmm.

One thing I did to add to the ambience of the campsite was to load up an empty plastic bag with carbon from the fire (there were no ashes) and dump it into the thunderbox. When I was doing my initial scan of the site I noticed that the box was quite full (and pungent).  This is something I’m going to do more often, it significantly improved usage of that item especially on the following day.

Once naptime was done, we got up and were a bit antsy.  LT suggested we take a walk over to the first campsite.  The shoreline looked like there had been a fire at one time, a lot of the undergrowth was gone and many trees were charred, although most were standing.  We walked over not going too close too fast in case our neighbours had arrived.  LT knew that there was another party reserved on the lake for that night.  They hadn’t arrived yet.  We walked back to our campsite.  He suggested that we walk in the other direction to see how far we could get.  We were able to walk all the way to the portage that we would be taking the next morning.  There was a bit of bushwhacking required, but not heavy woods.

Well, we were here, why not walk the portage to see what it was like?  Right?  Early on the path there was very old scat that was really just the fur remains of the digestive deposit.  A little further on there was more of the same.  We came upon a blow-down.  It had been a big tree but the parts across the path were the various smaller branches.  LT snapped off all the smallest ones.  He decided that tomorrow he would take his saw out at this point and clear the remaining branches.  He would benefit for both the trip in and the trip out.  He was doing a single carry every time with the canoe.  This was our first trip where he did that.  This new canoe was working our really well for us.

A bit further along the path had some mush, wet spots.  There were several boardwalks, but we could have used a few more.  The map stated that we would come upon a pond that we’d be able to put the canoe in to paddle for 300m if we were so inclined.  We were keeping an eye out for that landmark.  We came upon two floating logs in a small creek.  Neither of us were going to attempt to walk across that.  I went upstream, he went down.  He was right.  Turns out, you don’t need to cross these two logs anyways.  The path veers to the left around a hill and bam, there was the pond.  We were on foot so we attempted to find the portage on land.  It was tricky.  We had to climb a small ridge that was topped with trees.  LT would have to weave the canoe through these tightly knit trees, just like threading a needle.  We decided the pond would be the way to go the next day.

I was so, so, so thirsty.  This was going to be a small stroll, we were now 2/3rds of the way through a 2km+ hike.  I probably mentioned it once or twice or more.  The rest of the portage didn’t seem that far from the pond end, maybe a 10 minute walk, but it was a rough one.  Up and down, rocky, not a smooth path, one more blow-down, a full spruce tree that needed to be detoured for.  The arrival point on Little Carcajou Lake was a bit tricky.  We eyed the lake, then turned around and walked back.

We were about 7/8 of the way back when we came upon four young men carrying two very heavy Canadian Tire type canoes.  The ones that seem to be one big moulded plastic boat.  LT noticed that the canoes didn’t even have yokes they were carrying them by the ends, two guys to a boat.  However, I did notice (I always walk with my head down through the bush – I don’t want to sprain an ankle) they had a Go-Pro attached to the bow of one of the canoes. They asked us if it was much further.  I was more optimistic I said they were maybe 1/3 of the way.  LT said more like ¼.  But afterwards we realized they were probably not even that far.  By now it was after 6 p.m.  It might be dark by the time they set up camp.

Our supper back at the campsite was fresh beef stew that I’d made on Wednesday night.  It was yummy.  I had brought some bannock mix, but we were full of bread from the wraps and subs.  Besides we had a lot of stew.  Dessert was banana nut bread pudding.  I had chocolate that I shared.  We didn’t have a fire.  We were pretty tired and went to bed fairly soon after dark.  We were going to play cards in the tent, but I seemed to have misplaced my reading glasses.  Oops.

The spring peepers were in full force as the sun was setting.  We also heard a bird that was singing a “whip-oh-will” song.  He started singing in the twilight and seemed to go on for ages.  

go to Day 2              go to Day 3

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