ALGONQUIN PARK’S THE PERFECT LOCATION FOR A QUICK WEEKEND OF CAMPING AND CANOEING
By CATHY STAPELLS
CALL OF THE WILD OFFERS WEEKEND TRIPS TO ALGONQUIN PARK IDEALLY SUITED TO BEGINNERS.
ALGONQUIN PARK — Somewhere in the distance, wolves were howling. And a small shiver ran up my spine.
Tasman, our guide’s Australian shepherd dog, answered them with a howl of his own. My only hope was that the wolves weren’t too close. I figured a canoe trip into Algonquin Park was bound to include some wildlife, but sitting around a campfire at night wasn’t the time for a close encounter with a wolf.
And this was just the first day of our three-day weekend adventure of camping and canoeing in Algonquin Park. We were six all together: my husband, Tim; our friends Jane and Jack; Steven, a friendly guy from Australia; and our guide, Robin Banerjee, who heads up tours for the company, Call of the Wild.
Robin usually picks up participants at Finch Subway station. We opted to drive up, and met Brian and him at the Portage Store inside Algonquin Park.
These three-day trips are ideal for novice paddlers and campers. While other members of our group had more experience, I hadn’t been camping since I was kid.
“For the ease of just showing up, of having someone else take care of the equipment, the route, the basic plan, Call of the Wild was well worth the cost,” said Jane.
At the Portage Store, we loaded up with gear and headed to our starting point at Rock Lake. It was a warm and sunny afternoon as we set out. There’s nothing like the beautiful sound of loons to let you know you’re in the Canadian wilderness. We paddled leisurely, slowing down to look at rock formations or the flight of geese. I soon realized that was the warm-up.
To get from Rock Lake to Pen Lake, where we were to set up camp, we had to trek a 300-metre portage — much of it uphill. It was here I really appreciated the strength of the men of our group. While they hoisted the canoes onto their shoulders and carefully navigated the wooded pathway, I helped carry lighter gear like packs, tents and paddles. Once on the other end of the portage, we quickly reassembled our gear and pushed out into Pen Lake.
Although it was tempting, at times, to think we were alone in the wild, we weren’t. Occasionally, we’d pass other paddlers, either on the water or at campsites. But all in all, it was peaceful and the air was wonderfully fresh. Then things got interesting when we saw the moose.
Robin warned us to approach cautiously, so we paddled quietly to within a safe distance of it. For a closer look, we relied on binoculars and a long camera lens. It had waded into the grasses on the shoreline and munched on them as we watched each other.
“Paddling to within 14 metres of a moose was a great experience,” said Tim, who, despite a lot of camping in his youth, had never seen a moose up close. “And hearing the wolves howl at night was really something.”
We made camp at one of the cleared sites on Pen Lake. Accommodations were basic: tents, sleeping bags, and a box in the woods provided the toilet facilities. For dinner that first night we feasted on chicken fajitas, nachos and freshly made guacamole. Food the rest of the trip was simple and wholesome.
The next day we continued down Pen Lake, through another short portage, and down a shallow tributary. While we didn’t see the beavers which had dammed the river, we saw lots of birds and some turtles. When the canoes scraped the bottom of the river, we turned back.
We stopped for a picnic lunch on the rocky, wooded shore. Full of cheese, bread and fruit, we dozed in the sun. It was so warm and peaceful, I really didn’t want to climb back in the canoes and continue on. Late that afternoon, back at the camp, I attempted a swim (and a much-wanted wash), but the late-September water was so cold, I splashed quickly and retreated to the warmth of a towel, and stretch-ed out in the sun to get warm.
Our final day was spent retracing our route back across Pen Lake, through the long portage to Rock Lake. The wind had picked up on Rock Lake and was coming from the north, the direction we were headed. That called for some harder paddling — for me any way. I’m not an experienced paddler, nor do I have a lot of upper-body strength, so by the end of the three days I was tired. In all, we paddled about 30 km during the weekend. But it was a lot of fun and I’d do it again.
I think everyone enjoyed the weekend.
“It converted me,” said Jane. “I want it to become something I do for all the rest of my summers. Going on the trip was a great way to experience canoeing, portaging and camping. It made us feel incredibly lucky to live in the midst of such awesome natural resources. Now we’ve begun collecting our own gear with plans to embark on our own adventures.”
Call of the Wild offers a variety of trips throughout the year, suited to the novice and the experienced outdoorsperson. There are two trips offered to beautiful Killarney Park: a three-day “women only” canoe and hiking trip, and a four-day regular canoeing/hiking trip. There’s a five-day trip to Barron Canyon (near Pembroke), a six-day luxury hiking trip which involves staying at inns instead of camping, as well as winter trips of snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and dog sledding.
(First featured: June 8, 1997)
COSTS: The three-day weekend trips cost $275 per person and includes transportation from Finch Subway station, gear and meals; the “women-only” canoe trips costs the same; four days in Killarney, $365 per person; five days to Barron Canyon, $485 per person; six-day luxury trip, $992 per person.
MORE INFO: Contact Call of the Wild, phone: 905-471-WILD; fax: 905-472-WILD; Email: [email protected]; web site: www.CallOfTheWild.ca.
TRAVEL TIP: Wondering what to bring with you? Call of the Wild provides all the food supplies, canoeing and camping gear you’ll need. Before your trip, you’ll be sent a list of personal items which you should bring, including clothes and toiletries.