This campsite has a kitchen table - I love when campsites have kitchen tables
A beautiful campsite on Lake Opeongo
The ass-end of a moose headed back into the forest
Windy Point, Lake Opeongo
Looking up the lower bay of Lake Opeongo from the dock - not too windy = not too bad!
Fully-loaded Water Taxi zooming by
Into the North Arm of Lake Opeongo
The final product: Steak with onions, roasted potatoes loaded with sour cream & green onion and salad!
Relaxing by the fire
North side of Wolf Island
Day 1: Opeongo Parking Lot to Hailstorm Bay
Following a week-long family stay at Lake St. Peter Provincial Park, my fiancée Angela and I decided we had enough of car-camping (my first and last experience with this) and were in desperate need of some back-country canoe camping. There was a small problem – all of the gear we brought to Lake St. Peter was car camping gear – a massive tent, huge air mattress, big folding chairs, a cooler – you name it, we had it. This was a problem because it meant we could not do any portages – or if we did, we would struggle to do it and would likely have to triple carry – forget that! So last night while we were in the tent at Lake St. Peter we busted out the map of Algonquin to see where we 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 we 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.
Today was my father-in-law’s birthday and he was staying at the East Gate Motel in Whitney while the rest of us were at the Lake St. Peter Campground. We wanted to celebrate with him so we got up extra early and packed the car in order to meet him and my mother-in-law for a nice breakfast at the motel. It’s a great little motel and I wouldn’t hesitate to stay here – a small family operation, very cozy. After a delicious breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausage, hash browns & coffee we were ready to hit the road. We made a quick pit stop at the grocery store in Whitney to pick up our supplies for the next 3 days. It was nice to have a cooler with us because it enabled a good variety of fresh foods – steaks, salad-in-a-bag, sour cream – you name it! Oh – and ICE for our 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 we needed were some items from the LCBO and we were ready to rock!
Steak & Potatoes on the grill
Bartender Angela mixing up a few more drinks
Camping among the Canadian Shield
Angela and her experimental steak & onions
At 1:45pm we claimed the campsite to be home for the next three days. I was really impressed with our 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. Angela and I set up our castle of a tent together and while she took care of the interior, I 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. We debated going to Hailstorm Creek today, but we 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 we would be wise to save it for tomorrow. Aside from taking turns relaxing in the hammock or down by the rocks, we 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.
The Opeongo dock was only slightly busy this morning
Our back-country bar was stocked with everything - including ice!
Opeongo docks to Hailstorm Bay
This guy kept a close eye on us the entire time - I'm pretty sure he wanted some steak
Four gulls having a chat off-shore from our campsite
Messing around with a few left over sparklers from Canada Day and long exposure
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
Our new target - this amazing campsite!
I was trying to write Peek, looks more like Pook
It probably wasn’t the best idea to tell her that are we were headed out for a trip - maybe waiting for the paddle back would have been more appropriate. It seemed to have her a little more bear-paranoid than usual, though not unmanageable. We continued our paddle up the Great Opeongo and into the expanse of the South Arm. By noon we were 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. We 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. We 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 we had passed through the Western Narrows and emerged on Opeongo’s North Arm. We were targeting one of the campsites near the entrance to Hailstorm Creek as we planned to spend tomorrow exploring it. The first campsite we 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, nor did Angela – plus it was pretty far from the mouth of the creek. We decided to head into Hailstorm Bay proper and check out the campsites there. Angela used her zoom lens to determine both campsites near the mouth of Hailstorm Creek were vacant. I suggested we aim 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 we were 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 us! I pointed it out to Angela and she once again used her zoom lens to verify it was vacant. An immediate re-direction of the canoe and this was our new target. We were about 1km away from it when I spotted it, so I figured we could get there in about ten 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. At one point, I was digging so hard it was rocking the boat enough to make Angela stop paddling – so I eased off a bit knowing we’d get there fast with two paddles in the water. The race was on but we 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.
Napping in the hammock
As we made the drive westbound across highway 60, a moose ran across the highway near the Pinetree Lake parking lot. We 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. At 10am we turned on to Opeongo road and finished our drive. As we pulled up to the launch area I asked Angela to unload as much of the car as she could, while I ran in and secured the permits. It was very busy on the docks so 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 we got one of the last four that were left? I became a little worried that we were 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.
We loaded the canoe with all the gear and had barley enough rom for ourselves – backcountry camping with front country gear isn’t the greatest idea, but we made it work. By 10:45am we 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 we left the dock we were paddling past Bates Island. Naturally, I told Angela about the tragedy that occurred here and I also explained 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".
Angela is setting up the tent, and also appears to be up to something
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!