Sunday, April 22, 2012

Review: Bartlett / Tom Thompson Lakes, Algonquin Interior

Fantastic site on Bartlett Lake
Location: A day's paddle north of Canoe Lake put-in (which is 60 km E of Huntsville on Highway 60)
Website: Friends of Algonquin Ontario Parks
Map: Canoe Routes Map Google Maps
Camping Facilities: Backcountry exclusively
Grade: A-
Stargazing: Excellent.
Summary: A quiet corner along one of Algonquin's busiest routes

Thoughts: I showed up at Canoe Lake on a weekday at the end of July to find myself a suitable solo trip.  I had been hoping to get a site on Tom Thompson or Little Doe, but to my surprise, everything was booked.  The only available site was on Bartlett Lake, just off of Thompson.  The park attendant assured me this was a good way to go; not only was it secluded, but it also had some really nice sites (the one in particular he suggested I aim for was on a point and it was large and secluded - you can see it in the photos below immediately left of the name "Bartlett" on the online map provided above.
Lonely gull on Bartlett Lake
Seeing as this was only my 3rd ever solo trip (and I was still having nightmares about my first, when my muscles seized up on my first night after a hard paddle against the wind), I was a bit nervous about some of the more open parts of the trip.  In the end, the worries were needless, and the trip was pretty smooth.

Sailers from Camp Arowhon on Teepee Lake
 I suggest you do your best to get to the Canoe Lake put-in as early as possible; it is a very popular lake, especially with newbies and motorboats, so it can be a bit of a fiasco.  The line-up to pull your canoe out of the portage to Joe Lake probably took longer than the act of portaging itself (a minuscule 300 m).  Then you make your way up Joe to Teepee, which hosts camp Arowhon (there were lots of kids out puttering around in their laser sailboats).  Try to get to the western shore as soon as you've passed the bay, it was useful as a windscreen.  After Teepee, the paddle is pretty easy when you're solo, not much in the way of big water to really let the wind pick up speed.  You'll come to a lift-over, which can be a bit tricky when paddling solo, but totally manageable.  It was on the other side of this lift over that I came across a moose grazing in the lily pads on my way back out (see video below).   The paddle across the bottom end of Thompson is pretty easy, not much of an opportunity for the wind to bother you.  Then once you arrive in Bartlett, you're not only sheltered from the wind but all the canoe traffic in this busy part of the park as well.  During my two night stay here, I might have seen half a dozen canoes roll by (perhaps on their way to Sunbeam Lake or Burnt Island Lake.  Bartlett feels like a refuge within the refuge, a great place to relax, enjoy the water and get some reading done.   

Moose on Tom Thompson
My trip to Bartlett was also the first time I've ever fallen out of my canoe.  I've got a Watson Canoe Prospector, 15 ft, and what I thought was a sufficient tumblehome to keep me vertical when I leaned into my strokes in the centre of the canoe; turns out I was wrong on that count.  Even with the calm, peaceful waters of Bartlett Lake, I found myself in the drink on my paddle to harvest a fallen pine on the other side of the lake. Not Bartlett's fault, purely me being too ambitious in getting to know my canoe.  

In summary, a great solo paddle trip, giving you a sense of seclusion and a relatively smooth paddle if the wind cooperates.  And even if it doesn't, there aren't that many opportunities for it to bother you.  

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Free Online Algonquin Map

For those who love Algonquin Park, Jeffrey McMurtrie has created a fantastic (and free!) online map for you to explore the park from your computer.  This is by far the most detailed map I've seen and he's chosen to provide it to the rest of us at no charge; it's a fine example of the excellent work that's be provided on the "open" realm of the internet.

Visit the Park Map Here

Support Jeffrey's efforts here - he uses it to make this free resource better.  Great work!

Screenshot of Jeffrey's Map

Review: Barron Canyon, Algonquin Interior

Location: 1 hr drive west from Pembroke
Date: July 2006
Website: Friends of Algonquin Ontario Parks
Map: Google Maps or Canoe Routes of Algonquin Park
Camping Facilities: Car Camping at Achray or Backcountry in the vicinity
Grade: B
Stargazing: Who knows, you're in a canyon.
Summary: Spectacular scenery, so-so sites, not a great base camping trip.
View from top of Barron Canyon
Thoughts:  The Barron Canyon is mos def one of the nicest areas of Algonquin, one which any camper in Southern Ontario and Southwestern Quebec should make the effort to visit.  With many trails and the deep canyon itself, there is much nature to be appreciated here.  While a great view is found at the top of the canyon on the Barron Canyon trail, it gets even better when you paddle the Barron river itself.  The camping, like most river camping, can be unfulfilling.   Personally, I like having a sense of endlessness in the natural environment, stretching beyond the horizon  past the shores at the opposite end of the lake.  You don't get that sense when camping in a valley of any sort, given the claustrophobic feel inherent in these landscapes (especially on a narrow river such as the Barron).  Throw the bugginess that you can encounter (due to the absence of breezes), plus the lack of a good view of the night sky, there really isn't much to draw you out of your tent at night.   Hence, don't take this as an indictment of the Barron Canyon, more a presentation of the general problems of camping along a river.

View from top of Barron Canyon
The campsites on the Barron (below the falls) are nothing to marvel at.  Ours was a pretty rocky one, with some decent tent pads, but not really much else.  The paddle in is a fun one (if you like river paddles) with plenty of variation in the scenery; you pass through marshes, rockslides, and wind through canyon with the path the river has made.  It's a decent paddle all the way up to the falls.  The single portage you'll have to do if camping in the valley (coming in from just above Squirrel Rapids) is a short 340 meters trek.  It can be a bit rocky in places, but nothing too difficult. I remember when we did this portage going upstream, there was a couple that was new to camping, who had likely just purchased their camping gear (including one of those ridiculously heavy Wind River canoes you get at Canadian Tire).  They were trying to carry the canoe (with all their gear sitting inside it) by using the deck plates as handles.  Ouch.   I tried to explain that its much easier to just put the yoke on your shoulders and carry the rest of the gear by hand, but I think the strain was getting to them and I don't know if they even finished the 340 m portage.  Hopefully they weren't turned off of camping forever, it would have been a shame.

The boredom that struck our group was likely attributable to our poor trip plan; this isn't a great base camping excursion.  Perhaps you can manage a linear trip starting from Achray (leave one car there and one at the picnic area at Squirrel Rapids), and just keep on moving each day (perhaps move up NW of Grand Lake and come back down).  That would probably be the only fun way to see the Barron Canyon from the river.  Otherwise, there's nothing more than a one-nighter here.

Inside Barron Canyon