Thursday, November 12, 2015

Paddling in La Verendrye Park, QC: Day 3

Day 1 - Part 1            Day 1 - Part 2           Day 2

Our luck finally ran out today. The wind that had picked up overnight was still at play ruffling the surface of the big lake into waves we would have to battle for the 6 km paddle back to Le Domaine. It was still another nice day weather-wise.

It was a slower morning, with just a short paddle, we could take our time getting going. Mark made the most delicious pancakes I think I've ever eaten. He uses my sister's recipe, I'm going to have to ask her for it. Once he mixes the liquids with the dry ingredients, he lets it sit for a while. It almost rises a bit like bread dough. Yum! The pancakes were served with butter and maple syrup, better than a restaurant even.

Really huge rock at our site
It was seriously big!

Rock sandwich
We took a self-portrait before setting off.

I was paired with Mark again in the canoe. The wind was coming at us at an angle, which can be tricky. Once we got closer to the end point the wind was almost at our backs.

One of the features I liked about the set-up at Le Domaine is they have hoses with running water available to wash your canoe off before putting it on your car. It's a good practice to make sure your vessel is clean before putting it in a different body of water.

We loaded the cars, returned the canoes (Mark got dinged a few dollars for a ding on one of the rental canoes - we never even noticed it), and used the flush toilets (YAHOO).

Julianne and I had to tie the canoe on the car, which I've never done by myself. I tried my best to get it tied down tightly. However, I don't think I got it straight enough. Mark had helped tie up the straps at the back and they were tied a bit differently. I think once I hit the highway, the wind caught the front of the canoe and twisted it to the right a bit. I could see the straps in my back window move over slightly to the left. I was worried, so stopped safely off the side the highway and checked all the straps. They seemed super tight, so I just got back in and prayed all the way home.

We met up with Mark in the other car in Maniwaki (I was also a slower driver than him) where we stopped to have poutine and Coke. Well, I was the only Coke drinker. Mark paid for everyone, including me. Coke has a promotion where they put people's names on the cans. My Coke can said, "share a Coke with your SISTER"! Awwwwww, I kept the can as a souvenir.

One item Julianne brought along that I would bring on my next trip is one of those little bottles with flavour drops you put into water, Nestea iced tea flavour. It was nice to have some flavour to hide any lake taste. Mark had borrowed a food barrel with a harness from a neighbour. I liked the convenience of having all the edibles in one place. But the downside is that what you're looking for in there is often at the very bottom. Also, I wasn't in either canoe where it was loaded, so I never had to carry it on a portage. Although our portages could not be classified as difficult on this trip.

It was a great trip, my brother's family are a sweet group. No one argued once during the whole weekend, no one was in a bad mood, no one pouted, everyone pulled their weight, no one complained about a single thing (okay, someone may have said something about mosquitoes, but to be fair, they love her). Everyone conducted themselves in a safe manner, there were no close calls, nothing was lost and everyone's skills were well developed for the tasks at hand. And I was the slowest paddler, LOL. Hopefully my chow was yummy enough to get me invited on the next backcountry canoe trip they plan.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Paddling in La Verendrye Park, QC: Day 2

Day 1 - Part 1            Day 1 - Part 2           Day 3

I woke up early and started to move in the hammock. I startled a grouse that had been nearby. I guess he gets the day shift and the rabbit has the night shift. He flew up into a tree and perched on a branch where I could see him from where I was lying. I like the visibility the hammock has. With the tent the fly needs to be opened. Often in the morning it's wet to handle, so lying in bed looking at the lake is usually not done. Not that I had a waterside view today.

Everyone got up and alternated packing stuff up and having breakfast. Today was going to be another nice day with calm waters.

It was a long morning, we paddled 8 km before making the turn at the very bottom of our route for the weekend. Just before our first portage of the day we stopped at a campsite to have lunch. We ended up stopping on a rock just offshore instead and we all went for a swim. It was easier to swim off the rock (no icky lake bottom to touch). I decided to put my lifejacket on for the swim. After a great lunch of fresh sandwiches, the girls all went back in and they wore their lifejackets for this dip. 
Bathing beauties!
After lunch, we headed to the first portage. We had a lot of company. There were at least two other groups there with multiple canoes. Alison and I did our usual race to the other side. This portage was around a rapid on a creek and wasn't very hilly. It was 265M long. Of the three groups, we all got into the water first and were on our way through Lac Bichet.

We got to our next portage, only 50M this time. It wasn't far, but each portage requires the same amount of labour with unloading and loading the canoe. A very short time later we had our last portage of the trip. It was only 170M and when we got to the other end, there was a motorboat taking up most of the beach where we needed to put our canoes in. Fortunately they eventually powered off. There was a nice little waterfall to our right.

Right about here we discovered we had someone gained an extra paddle. The park gives each canoe 3 paddles when you rent it. We must have picked it up during the melee at the first portage right after lunch. Oops. There was discussion whether we should leave it at the portage, but it was decided to just bring it back to the rental office.

Definitely needed to portage around this
Last portage done
We made a decision at lunch to push through, make this a long day and try to get all the way to Lac Jean-Pere to camp for the night. It would make our next day very short, only about a 6 km paddle back to Le Domaine.

By now I was paddling with my brother. As I was so slow, we thought maybe it would help speed up the group. It didn't. 

Almost in the big lake
We got into the big lake and headed to a spot that Mark and Julianne remembered staying at during their last trip. There was a lot of traffic and it appeared as though another group was headed to the same spot. They moved on and we jumped on it. However, Mark and Julianne went back out to check another spot, this one wasn't quite as they remembered. Turns out, the spot they had been at was around the corner, so we all packed up and headed over there. 
Our site: the "5" just above "PERE" in the lake
This site was a 5 tent pad spot, with the number 10-81. Being on the big lake it was considered part of route 10 (Circuit 10 on the map). It was a really interesting, multi-level site. The girls put their tent on the main pad. Up on a rock Mark and Julianne pitched their tent. We ended up eating dinner up in this area, high over the lake, it was a really lovely spot. I hung my hammock across from the girls, not far from the shore. 

My canoe was way up on the shore, right next to my hammock. In fact, I'd even tied a side line from the hammock to the edge of the canoe as there was no tree on that side. The night before there was a small twig tree underneath the hammock that scritch-scratched when I moved and I wanted to avoid that tonight. I didn't put as much air in my mattress this time and it would be much more comfy.

I had brought tonight's full dinner. On the menu: soft shell tacos and pineapple upside down cake. It was delicious! Mark heated each shell before we added the chicken, veggie, taco seasoning to it (I forgot to take out the cheese strings to add to the tacos, oops!). We each had 2 tacos, then dessert. 
Doing dishes up on the rock
We didn't have a fire tonight. We sat around and chatted, talking about the trip, hardly believing that we were almost done. We also didn't set up the bug shelter. Being high on the rock we had a breeze that was keeping the mosquitoes away.

One of the conveniences I wasn't too impressed with were the thunderboxes. They did not have thunderboxes here per se, they had thunderbarrels.  Blue plastic 55 gallon barrels that were half buried in the ground. They have a black lid on them with a slot cut out from front to back. At this site we had an issue with these teeny tiny red bugs that were on the lid. Granted the view from this seat was really nice, it looked on a cliff wall covered with growth and trees. But no one wanted to sit on it. 

Everyone bundled off to bed. The wind picked up overnight. I woke up to hear the waves slapping the other two canoes that were on the shore. I lay there and wondered how far they had been brought up, it sounded like they were in danger of being washed out. Do I get up? I'm awfully comfy. Hmmmm. But the canoes sound like they could be pulled out into the big lake. I fumbled in the hammock to put on my headlamp, unzipped the hammock and found my flip flops to see what was up. 

As I came down to the water, I could see one canoe. OMG, where was the other one. I looked out to the lake and in the light from my headlamp, which wasn't that great for distances, I could see a white shape. HOLY CRAP! I panicked, took a few more steps closer to the shore then realized the other canoe was on shore tucked behind the first one I had spied. What was that shape out in the water??? A big rock. PHEW!

Meanwhile my brother could hear me moving around. He'd awoken to the sounds as well and was thinking of coming down to check the canoes. I tied both of them up after dragging them up as far as I could and went to bed relieved. 

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Paddling in La Verendrye Park, QC: Day 1 - Part 2

Day 1 - Part 1                  Day 2              Day 3

Our view for the evening
Right next to our campsite there was a family of osprey. Our presence didn't bother them at all. They must know that their nest way, way up in that tree wasn't in any danger from us.
Two osprey are sitting on a branch
 At least with 6 people in the group, any work could be done pretty quickly. Once we landed we unloaded canoes, chose which tent would go where, and set up to make dinner. I brought along the bug shelter and it was set up closest to the shore. The next tent pad had the girls' tent. The spot behind that was for the parents' tent. I was at the very back of the bus hanging a hammock between two trees. I had brought along LT's hammock to try it out. I also brought my air mattress to use inside the hammock as I heard they are cold from below.

Shortly after settling on our site we noticed the bathing suit family go by in their two canoes. It turned out they had settled on one of the reserved sites. This park denotes some sites as reserved and they are meant for bigger groups. I felt bad for them although the next campsite past us was less than 1 km away.

Julianne had brought a delicious dinner of whole wheat pasta with pesto and fresh veggies. There was also some yummy bread with rosemary. I made banana nut bread pudding for everyone for dessert. 
A perfect campfire
We spent a bit of time in the bug shelter as the sun was dropping. Then it happened, we had the most gorgeous sunset I think I've ever seen while camping. We all gathered around the beach to take picture after picture. Just when we thought it was done, it would become more beautiful.



The group started to shuffle off to bed, disappearing one at a time. Finally I went back to my hammock to tuck in. I was a bit nervous, being so far back on the site and being alone. As I got to the hammock, I saw some movement on the ground. It was a bunny rabbit! He sat stock still peeking at me with a side eye. He looked exactly just a chocolate Easter rabbit, right down to his round eye. Once I was in the hammock it took me a long time to settle down and get comfy. The problem was my air mattress was FULL. I realize now it shouldn't be so full of air. It was my first night in a hammock and I didn't sleep that great.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Paddling in La Verendrye Park, QC: Day 1 - Part 1

Day 1 - Part 2           Day 2             Day 3

This summer both LT and I decided to try some different tripping options. He went on a 6-day solo trip, he went on a trip with 3 of his friends without me, and I went with my brother (Mark) and his family. Both of his trips were in Algonquin Park, but I wandered further afield to La Verendrye Park north of Maniwaki, Quebec.

Both of my younger brothers have had lots of canoe camping experience, starting as far back as college days. Whereas I'm a more recent convert. They often did their backcountry canoe camping in La Verendrye. And everyone else on this trip had been canoe camping in this park before. 

Our group consisted of Mark (the sole male), his wife (Julianne) and their three daughters (Alison, Eileen, and Alana). My nieces are between 22 and 17 years old. So everyone had a full pack to carry. With 6 of us on the trip, we split up nicely between 3 canoes. I brought the one I share with LT, they rented 2 more at the park.

I picked up a laminated map at World of Maps. We were doing circuit 11, which is 34 km long. There aren't too many portages and most of them are quite short. The map I found online isn't quite detailed enough to show all the portages.

Circuit 11 is a loop starting and ending at Le Domaine.

We exchanged emails beforehand to make sure we were all organized before leaving. Food was planned, I would provide desserts for both nights and one supper for everyone. I brought some of my own snacks and breakfasts. I was looking forward to proudly showing them some of the food I can make from dehydrated ingredients. 

I was really interested to see how it would be tripping with different people. LT has been a really good teacher, he's taught me some very good habits for being in the wild. Both for safety and for respect of nature.

We got an early enough start on a Friday morning in August, everyone had taken Friday off. One niece even made the trip all the way up from Montreal, although it might have been closer for her to drive directly if she had a car. We made a quick pit stop at the McDonald's in Maniwaki for washrooms and Egg McMuffins.

The weather was nice, a great August morning. We continued on to the destination of Le Domaine. It's almost right on the highway, the lake visible from the road. The park office is there, as well as the canoe rental, souvenir shop, washrooms, almost anything you need. 

We could drive our cars right down in front of the office to unload, there were a lot of people buzzing around all getting ready to launch as well. LT had helped me load the canoe early this morning at his place. Julianne and I untied it and set it down nearby. They provide some picnic tables that we could use to pile our gear before leaving.

Family photo before launching
Busy beach launch

And we're off (Julianne and Elieen)
Today we were planning on going clockwise on the loop, doing about 12 km. We were extremely lucky, the big lake, Lac Jean-Pere, was quite calm and we made good time. Alison and I were paired together. LT has told me many times I need to sit in the back and learn to steer. After our first portage, I took a turn at it. I took a long turn at it and I suck. Big time. The canoe zigzagged the whole time I was at the rudder. After a couple of hours of that pain, I gave up.

The first portage was pretty easy. It was flat, not very long (180M), and not very crowded. Because of the weight of the 2 rental canoes, they were carrying their canoes in pairs. Alison and I are a good match for that as we're close to the same height. Everyone else in the group is tall. Alison and I carried the canoe that way on the first portage, but then we started to do the portages with one of us carrying the canoe and the other at the back helping to balance it. We did double trips for all portages on this trip.
Two person carry
I will say, Alison and I rocked the portages, we were the fastest! I think it's because we each only had a single bag. The rest of the gang had been assigned multiple bags to carry. 

Well, if I was on the fastest portage team, I was the lead weight at the back of the pack for paddling. It was humbling to realize how much slower I am. I'm consistent, but slow. I'm so used to LT doing all the hard stuff, he's obviously the power paddler on our team.

We came into a tiny lake, Lac Alenya to see a canoe with a man and 3 kids in it. They were fishing. As we made our way around the corner to the next portage there was a woman there in a bikini that was getting very agitated. She was with a canoe waiting for the fishing group. We talked to her, turns out the guy in the other canoe was her brother (hey, I could identify). Except I was pretty glad MY brother wasn't wearing a Speedo bathing suit (and nothing else) like her brother. Her gang came ashore with us, and there wasn't much space for 5 canoes and all our gear, including a batch of freshly caught fish. 

Alison and I made a quick trip to the other side of the portage. It was a bit hillier than the first, but not by much. It was 330M long. As the other group was being pushed by the woman, we let them launch first. I could see she wanted to make sure they got a suitable campsite for the kids. They were all fairly young, under 10 years old.

We got our canoes launched and were now in a more narrow waterway that is part of Lac Antostagan. 
Beaver dam crossing - Julianne getting her feet wet

Making our way through the weeds
The family crew had settled on the first campsite after that portage. Which was a mistake. We continued on to get about 12 km done for the day.

After a few hours of paddling we settled on a spot to camp. The park is set out a bit differently than Algonquin Park. There are triangles on the map that have a large number in the middle, 2-3-4-5...  This number indicates how many tent pads there are on a site. We chose a site that had 3 tent pads and had the number 11-20. 11 to indicate the route, 20, I assume, to indicate the site.
Our site: the "3" closest to the 4.5 km marker

Beach parking lot
See here for Part 2 of our day.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

A walk in the woods - the Lookout Trail

Algonquin Park advertises "The Golden Encore" as a good time to see some different colours in the park after the blush of the sugar maples has died down. Then the yellow leaves of the aspens, birches and tamaracks get their time in the spotlight. Well the tamaracks don't have leaves, they have needles like all the other coniferous trees. They're an anomaly amongst their fellow soft wood trees by having their needles turn yellow in the fall.

Panoramic vista - click on the picture to open it
LT and I have yet to explore the Park along the Highway 60 corridor. This fall was a very busy time and there were a couple of serious accidents with all the traffic. We do prefer to avoid the crowds and we certainly managed that today, November 1st, not only was it late in the season, it was kind of a crappy weather day. The forecast promised sunnier skies in the afternoon, but we really only saw sunshine in our rearview mirror as we were within city limits coming home.

I packed a picnic lunch, picked LT up at 8:30 a.m. (hey, everybody got an extra hour of sleep last night right?) and we set off towards Renfrew, Eganville, Barry's Bay, Whitney, then into the Park. It took a few hours to get there. The traffic wasn't bad today, on our way there or in the park. 

We stopped off at the East Gate to get our permit for the day and some souvenirs. The sky had just opened up when we pulled into the parking lot. Hopefully this would die down soon.

I picked up a couple of interesting publications, a pamphlet about the source of lake names in the Park, and a checklist of birds (yeah, I haven't got much chance of ever using that properly, but it was only $3.50). I don't think we would have needed a park permit if we had only gone to the Visitor's Centre. We planned on doing at least one of the small trails off the highway, and a permit was needed for that activity.

Next stop was the Visitors' Centre. It's very entertaining and we ended up rushing through it because we didn't really allow ourselves enough time for this trip. We walked through the souvenir shop, LT got a tea in the cafeteria, we went out onto the viewing deck, we walked through some of the interior displays, which are well done.  

Algonquin Park has a web cam set up here. It's on the front of the building facing the excellent view.  Here's the link:

I made sure I went out to see the view I'd been looking at every once in a while since this winter when they had hauled out a moose carcass (it had been killed on the highway) for various park natural residents to feast on. And I watched the web cam intently this spring to see when ice out might be happening.

Beside the centre there is an accessible boardwalk that is about 100M long. It goes to a mock-up of a firetower and also has a similar view to the front deck of the centre.

We only had time for one hike, so I picked the Lookout Trail. It's 2.1 km long and has a bit of a climb. The surface the trail is made of is quite easy to walk on, it's packed stone dust, I think.

The trail is a loop. There are numbered posts and a booklet that explains something at each of the posts. Because it was lightly raining, we chose not to take the booklet with us. This trail talks about the geological facts about the Park and how many of the rock formations came to be.

I chose this trail because it was close to the Visitor Centre and because I thought the view might be really nice. The weather did make it a bit harder to see very far, but you can judge for yourself here:

The trail is a really nice one, very pretty.

I'm very glad we had the trail almost all to ourselves. As we were just about finished, another couple came up the path. We exchanged greetings and headed to the parked car to enjoy the picnic.

On a negative note I was disappointed to see how much garbage people left behind. I can see that once in a while when you're opening that much needed granola bar (it's only a short hike, really!) a small corner comes off the wrapper. But there was much more than that. The ultimate horror was a used baby diaper right next to a LARGE McDonald's drink cup. Seriously? This garbage was within 20 paces of the parking lot. Staff must have to pick up the garbage on these short trails off highway 60 on a fairly frequent basis. Okay, rant over.

This little foray into this area of the Park now has us talking very excitedly about exploring a lot more around here next year with our canoe. We might even make a trip here this winter to try some snowshoeing. We will certainly allow a lot more time to enjoy the Visitors' Centre next time.