Into the North Arm of Lake Opeongo
As I made the drive westbound across highway 60, a moose ran across the highway near the Pinetree Lake parking lot. I weren’t even close to hitting it, but it did give me a bit of a jolt, knowing that at any time this can happen on highway 60 and many other access roads. At 10am I turned on to Opeongo road and finished the drive. As pulled up to the launch area it looked super busy so I quickly parked and went to the permit office to secure permits. Because of how busy it was on the docks I assumed there would be a massive line in the permit office – wrong. The office was empty and I had my permit within minutes. I asked how busy Opeongo was supposed to be today and my jaw nearly hit the floor when the staffer answered. ‘There are 3 spots in the North Arm and one in Annie Bay – the rest of the lake is fully booked.’ I was flabbergasted, there must be nearly 150 campsites on Opeongo and I got one of the last four that were left? I became a little worried that I was going to get stuck with the worst campsite on all of Opeongo. Oh well – camping is camping is camping, so long as I’m in Algonquin Park.
I loaded the canoe with all the gear and had barley enough rom for my legs – backcountry camping with front country gear isn’t the greatest idea, but I made it work. By 10:45am I pulled away from the crowded docks, as water taxi after water taxi flew by. It was a sunny day with a cloudless blue sky and I was happy there wasn’t any wind yet – Opeongo can be intense once the wind kicks up, in fact it can be an outright killer, as some unfortunates have found. Around forty minutes after I left the dock I was paddling past Bates Island. Naturally, I recanted the tragedy that occurred here and baffled the wildlife professionals who were on scene described the bear’s behavior as ‘right off the charts’. Raymond Jakubauskas & Carola Frehe were killed by a bear on October 11th, 1991. Here is a brief description of what happened that day:
“While they were setting up camp on Bates Island, a black bear broke both of their necks. The bear then dragged their bodies into the woods and consumed the remains. When police arrived five days later, the bear was guarding the bodies. A park naturalist called the attack "right off the scale of normal bear behavior".
Steak & potato on the grill
Around 8pm we threw a bunch of wood on the fire and broke out the drinks. With no portages, we were able to bring a plastic bottle of vodka and a couple of 2L 7up bottles. Mixed that with ice from the cooler and we were doing just fine. We chatted around the fire, happy to still be out camping while the rest of the family packed up at Lake St. Peter this morning and went home. It was also nice to have a fire the $45 to $60 campground firewood price tag. Just before 9pm we could hear splashing in the bay behind us. We got up to take a look just in time to see a cow moose making her way back into the forest. We walked back to the fire and noticed four gulls hanging out in the water out front of our campsite, quietly cawing back and forth to each other – it was kind of funny, they seemed to be having a conversation of sorts. I tossed more wood on the fire while Angela mixed up a few more drinks. The bugs were beginning to come out so I threw on some punky wood and a pine bough that I found pre-cut behind the campsite. They did the job and we enjoyed our evening around the fire together. It was well after 11pm and a few drinks before we decided to call it a night – I was happy we had a full-sized inflatable mattress and pillows with us on this trip, it was a very nice touch. I was out within ten minutes of entering the tent!
Day 1: Opeongo Parking Lot to Hailstorm Bay
Following a week-long family stay at Lake St. Peter Provincial Park, I decided I had enough of car-camping (my first and last experience with this) and was in desperate need of some back-country canoe camping. There was a small problem – all of the gear I brought to Lake St. Peter was car camping gear – a massive tent, huge air mattress, big folding chairs, a cooler – you name it, I had it.
This was a problem because it meant I could not do any portages – or if I did, I would struggle to do it and would likely have to triple carry – forget that! So last night while I were in the tent at Lake St. Peter I busted out the map of Algonquin to see where I could possibly go without having to portage. There aren’t many options like this, Galeairy and Opeongo came to mind – or Shall / Farm. I figured the smaller lakes would surely be booked up due to the long weekend, so I decided our best bet would be to spend two nights in the north arm of Lake Opeongo – which was fine by me as I’ve always wanted to explore Hailstorm Creek.
I made a quick pit stop at the grocery store in Whitney to pick up some supplies for the next 3 days. It was nice to have a cooler with me because it enabled a good variety of fresh foods – steaks, salad-in-a-bag, sour cream – you name it! Oh – and ICE for drinks. Yup, this was shaping up to be a luxurious back-country camping trip. Why the hell not, eh? With the grocery shopping done all I needed were some items from the LCBO and I were ready to rock!
It probably wasn’t the best idea to recall that story in detail while headed out for a trip - maybe waiting for the paddle back would have been more appropriate. It seemed to make me a little more bear-paranoid than usual, though not unmanageable. I continued my paddle up the Great Opeongo and into the expanse of the South Arm. By noon I was at the infamous Windy Point – I didn’t bother mentioning the canoe that capsized and two occupants drowning here two months ago, after ice out, it seemed unwise after the Bates Island situation. I stopped next to a large rock in the shade for a quick break before continuing on. A few more water-taxis passed by and I found myself happy to be paddling the lake instead of zooming by. I moved north towards the cluster of islands and passing the expanse of Graham Bay to the west. There are supposedly ruins down there and I’d like to check it out on the paddle back to the car. The islands that separate the South and North Arms are very pretty – mostly round islands with thick clusters of various pines.
By 1pm I passed through the Western Narrows and emerged on Opeongo’s North Arm. I was targeting one of the campsites near the entrance to Hailstorm Creek as I planned to spend tomorrow exploring it. The first campsite I came across on the south shore looked like it hadn’t been used in a long time. It wasn’t a bad site despite being heavily over-grown but I didn’t want to camp here – plus it was pretty far from the mouth of the creek. I decided to head into Hailstorm Bay proper and check out the campsites there. I used the zoom lens to determine both campsites near the mouth of Hailstorm Creek were vacant. I aimed for the second one, a little further away from the creek as I’m sure the bugs would be much worse at the first one. The site I was aiming for looked very nice, it was getting a lot of sun and there was a little rock sloping into the water – perfect for swimming. While paddling across the bay something caught my eye – a HUGE rock campsite on a beautiful point just north of me! From the water it looked massive and high up off the water. An immediate re-direction of the canoe and this was my new target. I was about 1km away from the site when I spotted it, so I figured I could get there in about ten to twelve minutes. Just as I finished that calculation in my head, I could hear a group of people landing at the portage coming from Happy Isle Lake. I don’t know why but my mind decided that they also wanted my campsite – and I threw my paddling into overdrive. The race was on but I made it with plenty of time to spare – the other group hadn’t even left the portage yet and when they did, they were picked up by a water taxi - so I was racing against my own thoughts.
Opeongo docks to Hailstorm Bay
The final product: Steak with onions, roasted potatoes loaded with sour cream & green onion and salad!
This guy kept a close eye on me the entire time - I'm pretty sure he wanted some steak
Windy Point, Lake Opeongo
North side of Wolf Island
At 6 o’clock I got the fire going while Angela did the dinner prep work. We were having a simple but traditional meal of steak with potatoes, onions and caesar salad. With the potatoes wrapped in foil they went on the fire first and stayed there for a good 40 minutes before we tossed the steaks on. Now, normally I would use a grill to cook my steak (like anyone else, right?) Angela wanted sautéed onions with the steak – but we didn’t have a frying pan or pot. So she decided to experiment and allowing this was my mistake. She wrapped each steak in foil, along with the onions and cooked them (wrapped!) over the fire. I tell you I was not down with this idea right from the get go. She claimed it would be like cooking steak in an oven (but who cooks a steak in the oven??!). When it was finally done we dished it all out on plates and topped our potatoes with sour cream and green onions. Everything was great – except the steak. It was okay. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t a fire-cooked steak. Never the less, dinner was thoroughly enjoyed and with the fire already going we tossed our paper plates in the pit and the dishes were done! I put away most of the food and secured the campsite, as a resident red squirrel was making regular appearances.
Relaxing with a drink after dinner
This campsite has a kitchen table - I love when campsites have kitchen tables
Looking up the lower bay of Lake Opeongo from the dock - not too windy = not too bad!
A beautiful campsite on Lake Opeongo
Fully-loaded Water Taxi zooming by
Four gulls having a chat off-shore from our campsite
Bartender Angela mixing up a few more drinks
Relaxing by the fire
The ass-end of a moose headed back into the forest
Camping among the Canadian Shield
Angela and her experimental steak & onions
The Opeongo dock was only slightly busy this morning
Our back-country bar was stocked with everything - including ice!
My new target - this amazing campsite!
At 1:45pm I claimed the campsite to be home for the next three days. I was really impressed with my time – exactly three hours from the dock at Algonquin Outfitters to this campsite – which is only a few hundred meters across from the Happy Isle portage. By now a few clouds appeared but the threat of rain was non-existent. I set up my castle of a tent then hung the hammock and gathered a bit of firewood. I was happy to be on a west-facing point as the slight breeze was surprisingly enough to keep most of the bugs at bay. Once everything was set up, there wasn’t much to do but relax and enjoy the scenery. I debated going to Hailstorm Creek today, but I already paddled 14km to get here, and I wanted to go between 8 and 10 km down the creek (for a total of 16 to 20km round trip) so I figured I'd be wise to save it for tomorrow. Aside from relaxing in the hammock or down by the rocks, I didn’t do much else until it was time to get dinner ready. I was also surprised at how little motorboat traffic we heard, as I figured camping opposite a taxi drop off point would come with heavy traffic.