Wednesday, August 24, 2011

2011 3 Day Algonquin Trip Summary - Rain Lake > Sawyer Lake > Jubilee Lake

For a number of years now I've been wanting to introduce my group of friends to interior (or back-country) camping a see who enjoyed it, possibly building up a small team of like minded adventurers. This year I managed to pique the interest in a medium sized group of people, and planned to take a group of 9 people to Canisbay Lake in Algonquin Park. Canisbay Lake is a drive-in site park, but is also an access point to canoe routes in the interior. The plan was to arrive and then paddle out to the lake sites and stay, but be close enough to paddle back to the outhouses and shower facilities for those who wanted them. The best of both worlds so new members of the group could slowly gauge their comfort levels.

Slowly during the course of preparations the group dropped from 9 members to 4 and I came upon the realization that we no longer needed a "hybrid" style camping experience. I asked the remaining group members if they were interested in taking the trip a little further into the interior away from modern conveniences and they all responded positively.

I got on the phone with the parks reservation system and changed the trip to 2 nights on Jubilee Lake, through access point 4. The new trip consisted of paddling through Rain Lake, a portage of 310m, paddle through Sawyer Lake, a portage of 550m and finally arriving at Jubilee Lake where we would make base camp and stay for the duration of our trip.

Day 1
We arrived in Kearny and picked up the permit from the park office in the community center and canoes/PFDs/paddles from Canoe Algonquin which was located close by. The drive from Kearny took another 35mins to the Rain Lake Access Point.

Once there I gave a short tutorial to our two new members on how to portage a canoe and taught them the basic paddling strokes they would need to know (J-stroke, draw stroke and sweep stoke).

We packed the canoes, one with my guests and their bags, the other with myself and my girlfriend plus our packs, my tools and the food barrel. With canoes packed up with our gear, we took off on the beginning of our adventure.

Rain Lake is not a large lake, and I'd been here before. This year however, the water level of the lake was lower than I remember and in certain areas I found that our canoe would get snagged on fallen trees that we just below the surface. Our partners with a lighter canoe managed to get by without a problem though.

We took our time soaking in the scenery, and just enjoying being in the canoe. It was the first time for my girlfriend and I being in a canoe since last year and we just wanted to have fun with it.

When we reached our first portage we did two trips. I took one canoe ahead of the group while the rest took turns portaging the canoe and carrying bags. Once we brought all of our gear over to Sawyer Lake we took a 20 min break to hydrate and snack on some GORP and pepperoni sticks.

A group of "adventure dogs" came by with their canoe guides and we made friends with the excited pups. A few tried begging for snacks but luckily we held strong and eventually the adventure dogs were on their way. After our break we packed up again and headed back on the water. My partners were surprised at how short the paddle across Sawyer lake was compared to Rain Lake. The orange sign indicating the portage spot was a little harder to find however, and they paddled off in the direction they thought the portage should be, while I hung back and kept scanning the coastline for where the map told me it should be. I finally found it as I pulled up closer to the shoreline and noticed it was affixed to a tree that had bent forward and was on the verge of falling into the lake.

There are times you're going to question the map and your orientation. When push comes to shove, the map is usually right.

This portage was a little harder, not because of the length but because I got foolhardy and tried to carry the canoe and my pack in the same trip. Filled with tools for the group, a tent and personal gear my pack was easily the heaviest of the bunch and I tried to take it and portage my canoe in one go. I got about halfway before I started tiring out and by 3/4 I was just telling myself to put one foot in front of the other. I had no idea where the end of the portage was and finally about 50m away from the end I felt like my back was going to give out from the load and called out for my girlfriend to help unload the canoe from my shoulders. I planned on coming back for it, but she insisted on trying to portage it the rest of the way. She got it onto her shoulders and was so happy that she wanted a picture. In my state I was exhausted, frustrated and actually pretty pissed off at myself for having to give up and lashed out at her by telling her she was selfish and it wasn't the time for pictures. It totally killed her enthusiasm and put her in a foul mood for what should have been an exciting accomplishment. I ended up apologizing for being such a jerk, and explained how I was taking out my frustration on her for not making it the whole way.

Not impressed.

With things better we saw the other guys catching up behind us with their canoe and gear. We packed up and set off to look for a decent site to spend our 2 nights.

Jubilee lake is shaped like a horseshoe and at the top of the curve was what I thought might be a good spot. It had good view of both sides of the lake, had a back that was facing more remote forest and was far enough away from other camps that we'd have plenty of privacy.

When I stopped by to scout out the location, I found it had even more benefits such as a waist high rock outcropping which could act as a table, decent flat ground for the tents and some logs someone else had set up as a bench and sitting area. We unpacked the canoes and began to make camp.

This site gets the thumbs up
I set up camp the same way I'd prioritize my needs in a survival situation. It helps me practice my though pattern and helps me to analyze the situation I'm currently in and decide which need needs addressing first. This particular time our work-flow was

  1. Shelter
    We cleared the ground of debris set up tents
  2. Water
    One team begin pumping water through the filter to fill the dromedary bag and replenish our empty bottles
  3. Fire
    Secondary team began to search for tinder, kindling and fuel wood. Once I had enough I started the fire while my partner kept bringing back armfuls of fuel.
  4. Food
    Began cooking while team 1 continued pumping water and my partner retrieved more firewood.

Lunch was a simple meal of Kraft dinner with fried spam. The spam I pre-sliced the night before and froze in a ziplock bag. Minimal garbage, and the bag could be sealed to minimize food smells.

Those who didn't cook, clean up, and I scouted out a place to hang the food barrel for the night while we had a few hours left of daylight. When camp was clean we each had some free time to explore or relax as we saw fit.

One group decided to take the canoes out again to try their had at fishing, while I stayed back at camp to process the wood that had been collected.

Once light started to fade I stoked up the fire and started getting dinner ready. One benefit of staying in the same camp site is that the complexity of the meals can be so much more, and I prepared a dinner of steak fajitas and rice cooked in chicken bouillon.

Fajita fixin's

For dessert I made a cake like bannock with cranberries and dosed it with a good helping of amaretto and rum. In retrospect I could've eased up on the rum as I can still smell it in my mind as I write this.

Rum soaked cake bannock

One things I'm saddened by, is that we were out in the middle of nowhere and yet could hardly see the Perseid meteor shower since it actually occurred during a full moon this year. Ah well, next time.

With full bellies and tired muscles we went to bed.

Day 2

This was a much more relaxed day and we had the whole time to explore and simply make improvements. I woke up to find my guests already up...turns out they hadn't slept very well. I cleaned up and with hygiene out of the way to retrieved the food barrel from the trees. Breakfast was a thawed carton of pasteurized eggs with the rest of the frozen spam.

After we clean up camp a few of us decided it was the perfect weather for a swim. The water was cold and there was a lot of organic debris where we were, but there's nothing quite like swimming in a lake and washing off the sweat and salts from the day before.

We dried up a few of us decided to paddle around the lake looking for dried firewood. I prefer this method to pulling wood from the forest, because more often than not, the wood on the shore edges are dry and sun bleached...not having had time to start to rot. There is also the advantage of piling the wood into the canoe and having the "horse" do all the heavy lifting as you cart your spoils back to camp.

The others started to work on processing the firewood while I made a tripod with which I could suspend my billies from. We made lunch of angel hair pasta that was quite good for little effort...I think I'll pack it on future trips as well.

I got complaints that the water filter wasn't working and so I took over water pumping duties at this point. This was fair since I hadn't taken my turn yet the whole trip, and found that the organic material in the lake was really taking it's toll on my pump. I must've spent 40mins just pumping and cleaning the thing before it would start to flow at a reasonable rate again and by the time I had 5-6L of water I didn't feel like filling the dromedary anymore. Luckily I had people more than willing to tag out with me so I filled all the empty bottles and passed the responsibility (and empty bag) on.
The view while pumping water through the filter

Dinner is where my tripod really came into it's own. I had frozen chili in an empty 1L milk carton and it was defrosting the whole trip. It was even still cold when I pulled it out of the food barrel! I didn't want it to burn and so I kept the fire small and let the chili slowly come to a boil over 1 1/2 hours or so. There's just something about keeping a watchful eye on something you're cooking and letting it do it's thing slowly that makes it so much more fulfilling.

To go with the chili I made a simple bannock, but added shortening to the mix. The goal was something more biscuit like, but without the flaky layers. The bannock cooked extremely slowly, and I found I had to turn my billy into a makeshift dutch over by suspending it over the fire and laying coals on top to cook all the way around and right through. Of course, it burned....but only slightly.

While dinner was being prepared I overheard some commotion and ran to see what was up. Turns out far off in the distance, someone had noticed a black speck on the horizon moving. A bear? A moose maybe? At least, that what I think it was...I really wish we could've taken the canoes out to investigate, but the sun was setting quickly and it was not something I was willing to risk.

We sat down to eat our chili and bannock and slowly built up the fire as the darkness crept in.

At some point in the night a branch or twig snapped in the dark woods behind us. Not uncommon when you're in remote back country, but my two new adventurer buddies became obsessed with it. I thought it was strange that they were letting their imagination run wild on the second night, but looking back I think they were too tired to care the night of day 1.

Nothing calms the nerves like a cup of tea. Earl grey, hot.

For the rest of the night any crack or grunt in the darkness was met with questions about bears and large predators. There's nothing quite like going to sleep listening to two grown men whisper in their tents about whether a bear will eat them in the night.

Day 3
We woke the morning of the last day to find a bright warm sun shining down on us. This was quite the contrast from the overcast days we've had up until this point, though it's not uncommon for all of my camping trips to be rained out. Just bad luck I suppose...or good luck depending on how you look at it (I sure do get a lot of practice building shelters and starting fire with wet materials). We ate a breakfast of pancakes to fuel up for the journey back.

With everything pack up we paddled back across the lake back to the portage to Sawyer Lake.

This time around I learned my lesson decided to take too trips. Carrying the canoe separately from my pack was definitely a lot easier to make two run, even though you triple the distance you travel. This tactic might work well for shorter portages, but I'm not so certain it would be as effective on portages longer than 1km.

Packless, I can make good time carrying the canoe over the portage

While portaging the canoe ahead I passed my friends who were trying to do a two man carry, with their packs on. As I passed by, I heard one of them yell and remark that something had bite him. I put down my canoe and rushed over, to find two red marks in the area that was tender.

"A snake bite" I thought, as I tried to look around for the snake that bit him.

No luck! Now I know that no snake in the park is supposed to be venomous, but when you're in a situation where you're far from medical attention, you start planning strategies for the worst case scenarios. We get him to drop all of his gear and escort him to the end of the portage, where I inspect the wound again. There's no blood, and the looks as though only one of the marks is swelling. Actually it looks a lot like there's only one puncture mark...from a wasp! More than likely he just got stung by an angry wasp, but there was no way to tell for sure...or so I thought. One the route back, in the same exact spot my other friend got stung by a wasp, and this time we SAW the wasp make the sting and fall away! The little bastard! Fully relieved we pick up the rest of the gear plus what we drop on the side of the trail and made our way back to the end of the portage.

I gave my friend some insect sting relief pads to help with the pain and swelling and at this point we start noticing more and more wasps hanging around our location, and not wanting a repeat, we quickly pack our canoes and head out onto open water where they won't follow.

At our next portage I graciously allowed me girlfriend to portage the canoe the whole way...and this time I was kind enough to take a picture like she originally want.

All is right with the universe again

With the gear all transported, we stopped here for a small snack and hydration break. The last one of the trip. We took the time to soak up the calmness of the lake, the silence of the forest and the warm breeze before heading back to the hectic pace of the city.

With our break over, we paddled back to our launch point and packed the cars for our trip home.


  1. Hi, I've done a few backcountry camping trips, including a couple to Rain Lake and further, but I'm thinking about just my 12 yr old daughter and I going to Sawyer Lake and I was wondering if you could help me and let me know about the portage from Rain to Sawyer lakes. Was it challenging, any significant terrain, or pretty flat and not much to worry about. Since I'll be carrying most of the gear back and forth, I thought I would check.
    Thanks in advance.
    Great trip blog by the way.

    1. Hi Raj,

      It's been some time since I've been on Rain Lake, but I remember portage between Rain Lake and Sawyer being very straight forward.

      The portage itself is quite short (Jeff's Map says 310m) with an even uphill/downhill that peaks about middle way through the trail. One person should be able to do a two carry portage in about 20-30 mins.

      Enjoy your trip!