Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Trip report from England

Earlier in July, a brave "fifty-something" couple from England brought six young men from England on an eight day canoe trip starting at our Opeongo Lake store. The patriarch, Victor, is a transplanted Canadian who gamely offered to take his sons and their friends on a trip-of-a-lifetime to Algonquin Park.

With permission, here are some exerpts from his trip report:

Dear Gordon,

Before time moves on too far and makes this email somewhat irrelevant I'd like to say thank you for putting together the makings of a successful canoe trip into Algonquin Park for myself and my party.

Bringing out 6 somewhat rowdy and exuberant youths, young men who had never before been out of reach of Macdonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken, was always going to be a bit of a risk...

Moving on, the trip was absolutely superb. The first evening ended in rain... which didn't help the great steak dinner, but didn't stop anyone from eating them either. If I had any problems with the trip it was rousing them in the morning early enough to get them on their way in time to make camp before sunset the following day. Here my wife was heroic in motivating them to get packed up each day. The day spent going down the Little Crow River was beautiful and only marginalized by the minor and momentary irritation of the Park Ranger going about his job and destroying the serenity with an outboard motor. The price to pay.... And he was more than apologetic about the disruption.

That particular day was long. As was our trip down the Crow. You were right in that the Crow River was an 'all day trip.' But none the less at the end of the longest portage (p1220) when we stopped for lunch, we fished and caught a half dozen small but very pretty Brook trout, saw a couple of moose and muskrat, caught snakes (Garter and Algonquin Brown snake), and in general had a great day.... albeit tiring.

As for the Dickson/Bonfield portage, the 'bark' was worse than the 'bite.' Everyone of the party, from the smallest upwards did that portage without a moan or groan (I lie). Nonetheless we did it in one 'fell swoop,' in a time of around 3.5 to 4 hours. A comment made by one of the biggest and strongest of the lads was that "today has been without a doubt, the hardest day of my life!" and then went on to say to my youngest son Christopher "I'm impressed with your old man... he carried the canoe the whole way..." (the unspoken words being ...without collapsing or having a heart attack....) I think they all thought (hoped) that I was going to have a heart attack, then the source of their pain would go away.....

For myself I enjoyed not just the whole trip, but the portage itself. I too had not had a day as hard or difficult (physically) as that in probably 40 years... it's been a long time since I used to do that regularly (military).

My youngest son Chris carried my pack and I wouldn't have wanted to carry it. It was heavy, I was 'blessed' with having to carry the canoe, believe me. As for the youngest in the party, Michael B; Michael carried both a pack on the back, and the 'bear keg' as did my other son Matt some of the way on this portage and on the other portages, but at 17 years of age, it was no mean feat for Michael, he was an absolute stalwart and impressed me immensely. Not a single complaint, just comments more like "anything else?" Yeah I can carry me! One of the other youngsters, James R, had never had a holiday outside of England before this...! I can only imagine that he must have thought that this was the holiday from hell, and that if this is what holidays were all about, then forget it, he'd stay home in future. But he swears that he enjoyed it. We'll see when I ask him if he wants to do it again next year.

In all I don't think any one of them will forget this trip in a long time, and I can only hope that it left an impression that will one day make them all want to do it again.

The only minor downside was really the last day when the wind began to rise as we were making our way out of the East Arm at Opeongo and down through into the main lake. The wind was gradually increasing, and as it was hitting the canoes broadside didn't leave a wide enough margin for safety. The 3 man canoes were just that low in the water to lack comfortability so it was a reluctant decision that was taken for us to pick up the water taxi just before half way. We really would have liked to have finished the trip off with that long tiring paddle down the lake and not have had to take the easy way out.

However, it was just after starting the trip that morning that half way through the East Arm that I finally caught a decent sized fish. A nice Lake trout around the 3.5 - 4 lb mark I would guess. As it was the last day of the trip it was returned to the lake and hopefully survived to live another day. Unfortunately there wasn't more time to fish Lavielle the day we came through, and I remembered your words about the planning and the route, that if we took a longer route then it would be all paddling and no time for relaxation and fishing. Well, even though we shortened it, with my lot it more or less ended up as such anyway...

Nonetheless I believe a good and memorable time was had by all.

Again, many thanks and best regards

Victor P.....


I wouldn't say it was easy, the trip with the boys I mean. I'm somewhat 'strong-minded' myself and rather intolerant of what I consider to be bad manners, rudeness, and so on... So yes, it was at times difficult and there were times when I did take people to one side and quietly read the riot act.

However, they are all people in their own rights, have their own opinions, and are in fact decent young men of a rather exuberant nature... I knew the situation when I took it on.

Would I do it again with them? Yes, without a moments hesitation... and it's already a thought process with them. The fact that there was from time to time hard and heavy work involved, in the main made the trip. Each one of them had something to prove to themselves (and their friends) and each did that successfully and came out -- I believe -- a much better person for it.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Going to Algonquin? Pack your saw!

On Monday, July 18, a severe thunderstorm front moved quickly through Algonquin Park and surrounding area. Algonquin Outfitters received a direct hit from a downburst at the Oxtongue Lake store. We estimate that over 30 trees were knocked down or snapped. These were not small trees, either. Those of you who know our store should remember the tall red pines growing in the back of our property. At least 25 of these mature trees, averaging about 10 inches diameter, fell in the area directly behind the shop. This area is used for drying tents, storing canoes and occasionally for large groups camping the night before their canoe trip. Thankfully, no one was camping and no one was hurt. We did lose six canoes, including a brand new carbon-Kevlar Bell Northwind and a classic cedar-canvas Chestnut Prospector, when a pine tree flattened a canoe rack. The roof of the shop was broken by another falling tree and our venerable GMC Jimmy got hit as well.

Staff who witnessed this event said they had never seen anything like it. Black sky in mid-afternoon, a wall of rain, trees spinning wildly then snapping like toothpicks and the sound of wind like a rushing freight train. Within minutes it was over and now, two days later, clean-up is well underway.

The worst part of the storm tracked north of Hwy 60 through the park. Camp Pathfinder, on Source Lake, suffered tree damage and Camp Ahmek, on Canoe Lake, reported that they lost their floating docks. I haven't heard any other reports of damage or injury but chances are good that there are many campsites and portages in Algonquin Park with trees down. Portaging through fallen trees is hard, time-consuming work, so anticipate that some portages will take a lot longer than anticipated

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Be careful with fire!

Due to the extremely dry conditions, Algonquin Park has issued a Public Advisory regarding Voluntary Fire Precautions.

This does NOT mean that a fire ban is in effect (yet) but does mean campers should be extremely cautious with fires.

Check the news page on the Algonquin Park web site for details.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Border Crossing Tips

This just in from our colleagues at NOTO ( the Northern Ontario Tourist Outfitters Association, of which we are a long-standing member):

We are hearing from many operators reports of stepped-up screening of guest entering Canada from the US. Although the requirements have not changed, border officials are becoming much more careful about checking for valid entry documents.

Despite the recent rumblings about passport requirements for US guests to re-enter their country, this provision is not scheduled to come into effect for a while yet. What is in effect, and has always been a requirement, is the need to show proof of citizenship.

Despite what may have been accepted in the past, a driver's license is not proof of citizenship! Because it has a photo, it is useful to provide positive identification, along with a proof of citizenship document, such as a birth certificate. A passport provides both identification and proof of citizenship, so it is the best document for frequent travelers.

The requirements for entry into Canada are exactly the same as the requirements guests have to meet to re-enter the US when they go home. Although driver's licenses may have been accepted at some border crossings in the past, they have never been an acceptable proof of citizenship.

By far the best advice for anyone who travels between the US and Canada is to obtain a passport. It is considered the most secure form of identification, and will definitively help minimize problems at the border. Until the new requirements come into effect, photo ID plus proof of citizenship is still acceptable.

Heightened border security is a fact of life we all have to live with. However, if you have the required documents ready when you arrive at the border, most border crossings are as simple and routine as they ever were.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The Meanest Link, Part One

Last summer, Alex Hurley and I dreamed up a canoe route to honour the memory of Bill Swift Sr., one of the founders of Algonquin Outfitters. Swifty, as he was most often called, had other nicknames, such as Mean Dude, or Meanest, which were a tribute to his gruff exterior persona. How he got those names is another story.

The Meanest Link consists of four challenging canoe routes connecting all four Algonquin Outfitters stores: Brent, Opeongo, Oxtongue Lake and Huntsville. Paddlers must follow a prescribed route between each store and follow a few traditions along the way. Each leg of the trip must be done as a single canoe trip, with the exception of the Huntsville/Brent route, which due to the difficulty and time required, may be split into two sections. Last summer, several groups of staff spent their days off paddling the Brent/Opeongo, Opeongo/Oxtongue Lake and Oxtongue/Huntsville routes. If you would like more details more details on the "Link" routes, drop by the Oxtongue Lake store and talk to Alex or Gord.

While the "Link" is not intended to be a speed trial, several amazing feats of marathon paddling were recorded. Chris Bosworth and Rob Finkbeiner, for example, left the Brent store at 4 am (in fog and darkness) and landed at our Opeongo store 17 hours later. The average canoe tripper would probably take at least four days to do the route down the Petawawa River, up the Crow River to Lake Lavielle, over the famous Dickson-Bonfield portage to Lake Opeongo.

Until the fall of 2004, no one was able to take the time to attempt the Huntsville/Brent leg, let alone the entire route. The Huntsville/Brent leg goes up the Big East River to Algonquin Park's western boundary, up the boundary via McCraney, Rain, Ralph Bice and Big Bob to the Nipissing River, then down the "Nip" to Cedar Lake and the Brent Store. This is a TOUGH route. Except as a spring whitewater run, the Big East is rarely travelled above Arrowhead Park.

In the next installment, I will tell you about the first attempt to paddle the entire Meanest Link in one continuous canoe trip.

For the rest of the Meanest Link story, see parts two, three, four and the map of the route, posted in this web log.