Water Taxi took us back down Opeongo

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Day 2: Big Crow Lake back to Opeongo

It was about 8am when I stumbled out of the tent. I had a really great sleep last night – I think my body needed the rest after feeling so sick yesterday – I wonder what that was? I don’t recall eating anything funky, nor was I feeling off earlier in the day. I thought it could have been a bit of heat stroke, however I was wearing a hat and never felt overheated – but given how quickly it came and went, I’m leaning towards a touch of heat stroke. I put my shoes on then stood up out of the tent – Gary was awake! He was sitting on the bench down by the fire. Moment of truth! I walked up to him and as I asked how he was doing, he turned and looked at me then the answer became clear – we had to go. He looked like he was extremely uncomfortable – so much so that it wouldn't even be wise to just stay here for four days and base camp, it looks like he needs medical attention.

At the Proulx Lake end of P1395 back to Lake Opeongo

Sitting comfy on the water taxi with the logo of our saviors!

As the taxi unloaded a canoe, an older couple stepped out onto the dock to begin their trip. There was another couple and canoe in the taxi but they were headed to Hailstorm Creek – which was great because at the time I’ve never seen it. While pulling away from the dock, I asked the taxi driver how many runs he had today – ready for this? One to the north arm, and this was it. Sure, there were runs to Annie Bay or the East arm – but after this trip he wasn’t coming back to the north end. He even agreed it was odd for a Saturday in July. Gary and I really lucked out on this one – the water was so rough the taxi couldn’t travel at full speed. We wave-hopped our way over to Hailstorm Creek where he unloaded the other canoe and couple – they were headed out to photograph some wildlife. With both groups gone we made our way down the rest of Opeongo at roughly half speed. As we approached the docks at AO I felt instant and full relief – we made it back to where we needed to be, in order to get Gary some help. The people at Algonquin Outfitters were awesome and discounted the taxi ride down (we had already pre-paid for a ride down from the Dickson-Bonfield portage, so they gave us a partial refund due to the situation). I went into the permit office and was happy they also refunded the unused nights. While I was in the permit office, Gary went to the parking lot and retrieved the truck. I loaded the boat and tossed the packs in the bed – it was time to go. It was 1:08pm when we pulled away from the access point – this was the shortest trip in Algonquin I’ve ever taken, but also the most distance covered in the shortest amount of time. In just under 30 hours we had travelled approximately 64km. 32km by motorboat and 32km self-powered. The drive out was uneventful and when Gary went to the doctor, an x-ray revealed he did a fair amount damage to a disc his lower back, but with time and treatment it would heal.

 Though this trip was faced with disaster after disaster, I’m glad we pulled through and made it out. Sometimes the right decision is hard to make – especially if it’s the opposite of what you want – but there is very little room for error out here and if something goes severely wrong, make sure you have an exit strategy.

Making our way back out to Lake Opeongo

We had a problem though. Not a huge one, but one that would probably cause Gary more pain if not resolved. It was a 15km paddle to the portage back to Opeongo. Then it was a 1.4km portage – followed by a 16km paddle down Opeongo – a notoriously rough lake and difficult paddle. I figured I would have to do a double carry, in order to let Gary get across the trail in one piece. I wondered how well would he hold up sitting in a canoe for 30kms? That’s a fairly long day when you’re feeling good, let alone struggling with intense back pain. We figured it would be best to get going as early as possible, to perhaps beat the wind though I think it’s already too late for that. The wind wasn’t intense, but there was definitely a breeze and considering how early it was – today was shaping up to be a windy day. 

We ate a very quick breakfast of oatmeal with coffee, then broke camp and packed up. I was really sad to be going but happy to be getting Gary the help he needs. With the boat packed up we did the typical once-over on the campsite to ensure we didn’t forget anything and that the fire was completely out. We left at exactly 9am. I figured it would take us about 6 or 7 hours to get back if the weather was calm versus 9 or 10 (or not at all) if Opeongo is too rough. After about 15 minutes in the canoe I asked Gary how his back was feeling and he mentioned that sitting in an upright position actually caused him the least pain – phew, that’s one monkey off my back. I was worried we would have to pull over every half hour so he could get out and reposition. We reached Little Crow Lake and there was a group on the second campsite, no one around though – just tents and canoes. Sometimes its nice to sleep in while camping. It was only a few minutes after when we reached the outlet for the Crow river and began our ascent. The Crow River has very little current here and zero obstructions so it was a nice paddle. I told Gary he didn’t have to paddle if he couldn’t. For this section and Little Crow Lake, the wind was at our backs so it me out helped a lot. By 10am we were passing the portage to Red Rock Lake and about ten minutes after that we emerged onto Proulx Lake.

The plan was to wait here for a water taxi. I figured we wouldn’t have to wait very long, given that it was a Saturday in July and the Proulx Lake portage is probably one of the most frequently used drop-off points.  Having used Algonquin Outfitters many times, I knew their taxis went up the lake on the hour and back down on the half hour. Our best bet was to be at the end of this portage by 11:30. Well just our luck – it was 11:19am. In ten minutes, hopefully a taxi will arrive to get us down the lake. We waited, and waited. Nothing came. Ten minutes, twenty minutes, forty minutes. Nothing. ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ I said, ‘the one Saturday there isn’t a taxi coming up here.’. We looked out at the water and it was kind of rough. Not impossible, but much worse then our paddle through the Crow’s and Proulx. ‘What do you want to do?’ asked Gary. ‘If we’re going to go, we should just go.’ We both agreed that although it looked like a challenge, we could make it back to the access point in a few hours. 

We loaded the canoe and shoved off the dock. There is a tiny, protected bay here then it opens up into the North Arm proper. We paddled out of the bay and wow – the wind was much worse than anticipated. I wasn’t sure this was a good idea anymore. What would happen if we tipped? In Gary’s condition is he capable of swimming? I was really nervous as we bobbed up and down in the waves. I said to Gary we may have to pull over at a campsite and either wait out the wind or spend a night and leave really early in the morning. Just as I finished that sentence, I could hear a buzz off in the distance. Could it be? The buzz became louder and louder then from around the corner a most welcome sight – a water taxi was headed in our direction. I’ve never been so relieved in my life. We raised our paddles to indicate distress and they immediately turned to head in our direction. When they approached, we explained our situation and he instructed us to paddle back to the Proulx Lake portage dock where he would load us up and take us back down the lake. Oh man, just awesome.

The cliff on Big Crow Lake

tr 44: Big Crow Lake

Proulx Lake was a bit windy, but still at our backs. As we exited the NW arm we spied a couple canoes coming in our direction – I was jealous! I was surprised at how quickly we were moving under mostly my power. Gary was paddling but avoiding using too much effort as to not strain his back. We landed at the first and only portage of the day – the 1395m trail we took yesterday. As we landed and unloaded the boat, Gary said his pack wasn’t that heavy and if I could manage the canoe for the entire portage, he felt he could take his own pack – thus saving the additional time of me doing a double carry. I wasn’t overly keen on the idea because I didn’t want him to worsen his injury, but he insisted. He loaded up as did I, and we made our way up the trail. It took us a bit longer to cross this time around and we stopped a few times – but after a half hour or so we came out on the other side.