A few drinks of whiskey and I was feeling good. Then around 9:15pm something odd happened, I heard loud noises from the south end of the lake. “What wad that?” Angela inquired. ‘No idea, but it kind of sounds like people.’ Surely enough, about 20 minutes later, a canoe was approaching our campsite. When they were close, they asked how much further to the portage to Wenda. I told them not much, maybe 5 minutes of paddling. I assumed they were staying at the cabin and when I asked them, they confirmed it to be true. Angela asked how I knew they were going to the cabin and I told her it was just a guess because the cabin is one lake over and it’s pretty late to be travelling to a campsite, then having to set up camp as opposed to open a cabin door. They continued on and another canoe followed just behind them. I certainly wouldn’t want to be travelling in the dark, but sometimes you do what you gotta do. Maybe there were highway delays, maybe one of them had to work late. We continued to enjoy some drinks around the fire and about a half hour later I could see headlamps at the portage to Wenda. ‘They must be double-carrying.’ I said to Angela, because it shouldn’t take a half hour to paddle to a trail and start down it. Eventually their lights disappeared into the bush, and we both decided to retire to the tent for the night. All in all, an awesome first day in Algonquin Park.
A nice view down Little Carcajou Lake from the lone campsite
It was about 5:30pm now and I decided to get a good pile of wood going. Angela tossed a few logs on the fire as we needed a good bed of hot coals to cook dinner. I made a few trips back and forth from the forest behind the campsite with wood. One thing I like about spring camping is the ease of finding firewood. Fast forward to October and I bet this site has been picked clean. While looking for firewood I also tried to locate the thunder box. I went up a really steep hill, following what I thought was a trail but then it just stopped. No box. Ah well, no problem – we had a mini shovel for digging cat holes anyway. On one of my trips back with wood, I noticed a bunch of white fur on the ground. Then I saw more fur, and followed a furry trail to a spot where it was obvious a deer had been eaten – nothing but hair remained – nothing! It had the stench of death in the area, so I moved on. With the fire down, we tossed a pre-made foil package of potatoes, onion and jerk seasoning, and a second foil pack of jerk seasoned broccoli. That along with our steaks and dinner was ready to go! Steak is a tradition on the first night of any camping trip – I can’t think of a single trip I’ve taken that didn’t start out this way. With our dinner finished, the dishes washed up and the food sack hung, there wasn’t anything left to do except pour a drink, sit back and enjoy the fire. We chatted about our journey so far and I found Angela was in good spirits. This was especially good because on previous trips, we would base-camp for 4 nights and complete day trips. On this trip however, we would be moving each day with a rest day at Greenleaf – so I was happy to learn she wasn’t exhausted or wanted to call it quits!
High Falls on Carcajou Creek
OH GOD NO PLEASE NO!
By 10:30am we launched onto a beautiful Grand Lake. The sky was grey but that didn’t matter – We were in Algonquin Park! The sky could be purple or black and I’d be just as happy. On the drive in I was worried about arriving so late in the morning because the winds on Grand Lake can really be a killer! When we launched the wind was nothing more than a breeze, so the crossing over to Carcajou Bay was both easy and relaxing.
Upon arriving at the mouth of the bay, we paddled close to the rock wall where the Petroglyphs are located. Paddling nice and slow, we tried to spot them. A few instances here and there produced some ‘maybes’ but we never saw anything conclusive. The bugs were attacking us because we were close to shore, so we moved on through the bay. We stopped quickly at the first campsite in Carcajou Bay because I wanted to get out a have a closer look. I spotted this campsite a few years back and deemed it a nice spot to make camp – but not on a long weekend. We stayed about 5 minutes and remarked how the area must have recently been maintained as there was evidence wardens were out and about cleaning up the campsites. Thanks Wardens! Much appreciated! Back in the canoe we continued down the bay to the first portage of the trip – a measly 20m around a swift. I dropped Angela off on the rock and told her I would line the canoe up the little rapid, thus avoiding unloading and reloading all our stuff for such a small distance. Mistake. I neglected to tie a line to the stern of the boat, which compromised my ability to completely control the boat. As I began to line the canoe up the rapid all was going well – then before I could say ‘Oh Shit!’ the nose of the boat hit the current, and instantly swung it sideways into the swift. The boat rocked to one side and began to fill with water. Not good. I pulled up on the rope as fast and hard as I could – which was enough to bring the gunwale above the waterline and prevented total submersion. Epic mistake that almost caused me to have to take a swim to retrieve all my gear. Luckily, the boat only ended up with about an inch and a half of water and nothing damaged. I pulled the boat back to the landing and proceeded to unload it. I did this silently as Angela began to take packs and stuff to the other end of the tiny trail. The only thing I said about the situation is ‘Well that could’ve been much, much worse’. Angela agreed and that was that. We pressed on to the beautiful waterfalls. This was Angela’s first time through Achray, and second time on the East side. She kept remarking how rugged and rocky the area was, and I explained these were the main reasons why the East Side is my favorite place in Algonquin Park. It was still very early (11:45am) so at the bottom of the falls we decided to throw a few casts and try to land a trout. We weren’t serious about it but figured it would be a good spot to possibly land a brookie. No dice, or fish, but that’s okay. We headed over to the 90m portage around the falls and made quick work of it.
Day 1: Grand Lake to Little Carcajou Lake
As I awake just before 7am, still lying in bed I looked up at the ceiling and briefly forgot where I was. After a couple seconds I remembered that I was in a tiny little motel in a town named Pembroke. Then came a sudden rush of excitement came over me as I realized why I was there – I was about to head out on another canoe trip in Algonquin Park!
I woke up my fiancée Angela, who pleaded for another 10 minutes of sleep. I obliged and took a quick shower. All clean and dressed in my camping attire, I woke Angela again but this time stating ‘Hurry up!! We’re going to be late for camping!’ It always gets her when I say that – a little inside joke I like to use on camping trips. With us both awake, showered and ready to go, I quickly cleaned up the motel room, dropped off the keys to the owner and thanked them for their hospitality. With the car already packed, it was as simple as hoping in, hitting up the Tim Hortons for some coffee and breakfast sandwiches then in no time we were headed down Barron Canyon road. We planned to hike the canyon trail, but I was eager to get out on the water so I insisted we hike the trail on the way out. Upon arriving at the Sand Lake Gate I was admittedly worried that there may be a huge line, after all, this was the Friday before the May 2-4 long weekend, and I knew the park would soon be teaming with (non)wildlife. I arrived at the gate and to my surprise – only one other vehicle was parked there. I entered the gate, obtained my permit, and back in the car. The whole process likely took less than 5 minutes. We left the gate and proceeded down the gravel road, making our turn on to Achray road and a couple minutes later we arrived at the access point. The parking lot was half full, but I knew by tomorrow it would be over-flowing. We made quick business of removing the canoe from the roof rack, outfitting it with ropes, bailing bags, yoke pad and a few other accessories that make canoeing life a little easier.
High Falls on Carcajou Creek
Our campsite on Little Carcajou Lake
Paddling up Little Carcajou Lake
So far so good
Grand Lake to Little Carcajou Lake
Mini canyon on the way to Lower Spectacle Lake
Before taking this beast of a trail on (I say this because even though it’s not very long, it’s very, very rugged) we decided to have a quick lunch. I ate a few granola bars and meat sticks and Angela had some lemon tuna (decanted) and a couple of granola bars as well. Topped off with a huge swig of water (lighten the load!) and we began to suit up for the trail. I gave Angela fair warning about this trail. I told her it’s full of ankle busting rocks, narrow passages and flooded out areas. She was game. The trail starts off easy enough, a nice flat trail through a beautiful stand of red pines, but it doesn’t take long for things to take a turn for the worse on this trail. We needed a break by the 500m mark, then another one 400m after that, then 200m after that. We seemed to be getting tired and our food pack was at its heaviest so it was beginning to take its toll on us. When we arrived at the pond, I told Angela I’m not interested in skipping it – the previous two times I crossed this trail I didn’t make use of the pond. I don’t see value in re-loading then unloading the canoe, just to save a measly 300m. We pressed on and took a few more breaks – man this trail is killer! It took us a total of nearly 90 minutes to get across that trail. Considering I average about 20 minutes per km when solo, this took way more time than it needed to. But considering Angela is still very new to this and it was the longest and most difficult portage she had attempted (at that time) so I have to commend her on her completion of it. She kept the complaining to a minimum and was mostly frustrated at how the trail would just disappear in some areas, or be underwater in other areas. I said these are the costs of spring tripping! We arrived at the end of the trail just after 3pm and we were both very happy that our portaging for the day was complete. The landing here is a little steep, but after walking the rough trail it’s not so bad to work with. It didn’t take long for us to get up the lake and land at the campsite.
The campsite was missing its sign, but it was obvious that this was the right spot. The fire pit was located fairly close to the shore and this site was situated on a little slab of land jetting out from the main shoreline. The site has one, maybe two tent pads and is fairly small. Great for a couple or soloist. I began to set up the tent and tarp while Angela got a fire going. It wasn’t needed yet, but it was a bit chilly and damp, so I figured why not. Usually I’m opposed to an unnecessary fire, mostly because it just means I have to get more wood for when we actually need it, but I think new campers find comfort in fire. I say this because every new person I’ve brought out to the back country, the first thing they do is get a fire going. I don’t know – when I’m solo, I’ll have a fire on a cold morning, when I’m cooking, or before bed. To each their own. With the shelter set up, Angela began to work on the inside of the tent. Mattresses rolled out and inflated, sleeping bags ready to go!
Creek to Lower Spectacle Lake
Lining up the swift
Great campsite on Carcajou Bay
Looking back through the narrows at Grand Lake
Enjoying whiskey and the fire
A look at the entrance to Stone Chute
We stopped at the top of the falls for a little break and snack. The pools above the falls here are very beautiful, massive flat rocks gently slope into the water’s edge all around this area. It’s very scenic and very beautiful. After a quick snack we loaded the canoe and made the 30-second paddle over to the next portage – a 220m trail leading into Carcajou Creek. As we passed the lone campsite on this portage, a few guys called out and asked about the weather forecast. I told them it was supposed to rain a bit this afternoon, but then clear skies for the next 5 days. They seemed happy at the sound of that, and why shouldn’t they be?! When we arrived at Carcajou Creek, the bugs were a little more annoying than they were in other areas, so we didn’t hang around too long and began our trek to Lower Spectacle Lake. The section of creek between the last portage and Lower Spectacle Lake is stunning. It’s only a few hundred meters at best, but just stunning. It’s a small sample of the entire east side. When we arrived at Lower Spectacle Lake I was surprised to see it was vacant because I checked the online reservation system before leaving and all the sites in this whole area were booked up – I even had to modify my route to accommodate site availability – which wasn’t an issue, I was just expecting it to be rammed! I pointed out the campsite on the east shore, telling Angela I had stayed here once back in 2012 (See TR17: The Barron Canyon to Greenleaf Lake) she mentioned this lake was unremarkable and I agreed – it was very shallow and lack the giant features usually associated with the east side. Just after 1pm we arrived at the take out for the short portage between the two Spectacle Lakes. The short, flat, pine-needle covered trail was completed in about a minute and we launched onto Upper Spectacle Lake. While paddling up the lake, I pointed out the burned-over east end of the lake and mentioned it had been like that since I passed in 2012. We passed the first campsite and eventually the second. The second campsite was occupied and the group was busy getting tents and tarps put up as we paddled by – I’m not even sure they saw us. We landed at the take out to P2180 to our destination lake for the night – Little Carcajou.