June 12, 2014 - Day 1: Holy Cow! The skeeters are bad!
Day 1 Routing (7KM): Access#15 Kingscote L--> Big Rock L--> Byers L
Stacks Image 5182

Trip-log#117 canoe route overview map

It was father's day weekend and I never go into Algonquin this early in June. Usually, if I do go in June its a week to ten days later. I knew the bugs were going to be bad as 2014 was a terrible year for bugs. It's when you actually get there the reality of the situation begins to 'sink' in, as in the mosquitos 'sinking' into my flesh.

It was Sean's idea to go on Father's Day weekend with us taking an extra two days, heading in on a Thursday. It's a traditional thing with Sean, usually going in annually on Father's Day and Thanksgiving weekend. Going in mid-June is torture as far as I was concerned, but during a bad bug year was just plain nuts. Still, the lure of friends together in Algonquin Park at a time when you expect to see no one is impossible to resist.

I had been up earlier in the beginning of May and noticed that mosquitos were coming out before the black flies - I'd never seen that before! That revelation plus the advice of senior canoe trippers I had asked beforehand - had me concerned that the bugs would be bad. I didn't know how many times I would get to visit Algonquin Park this year, so I didn't hesitate when I was invited to tag along - I just cringed a little.
Must get on the water!

I arrived at the permit office for access#15 at 7:45am, it is located in Pine Grove Point. A trailer park with drive-in lots available for campers too. Driving east along the main road into the trailer park you come across the general store, which is where you buy your permits for access#15.

Mike & Sean were already there. The mosquitos were bad. There were clouds of them attacking if you stood around for too long which is what I was doing as I greeted Mike & Sean. All three of us congregated in my van as we waited for the office to open.

For fifteen minutes or so we got eaten alive in my van and realized (too late) as the operator of the permit office arrived shortly after 8am that I had left my ventilation windows in the rear of the van open. Oops!

After acquiring my permit, I drove as fast as I could to the access point. I wanted to be on the water fast. I had to slow down considerably, as the access road to Kingscote Lake is very twisty and there were many rocks protruding and potholes from spring runoff that had to be avoided. At one point, there was a section of the road that had a marsh that was spilling across it. Driving through this slowly was successful and in fifteen minutes I was pulling up to the lake.

I got out and soaked in the silence. Two vehicles were parked in the parking area and no one was around - The lake was empty. SWEET! I began unloading my vehicle; canoe, canoe pack, fishing gear, tri-pod, camera gear, etc. Mike & Sean showed up within 2 minutes and had to drive around a snapping turtle that had begun crossing the road - heading towards the lake. The snapper had probably finished her egg-laying for the morning.
Stacks Image 5192
Stacks Image 5193

Mike & Sean getting ready to launch

By 9:15am I was loaded up and looked out onto the water. It was very gloomy looking, heavy cloud cover with a slightly coolish temperature and very humid. The kind of day you know that if the sun comes out, it will feel like a sauna and the skeeters will murder you.

I launched ahead of Mike & Sean. We were all soloing - each of us had our own canoe. I am a slow paddler so I went ahead, knowing they would catch-up or even pass me. About 20 minutes into my paddle up the lake, a nice tailwind came to life - pushing me along. I reached a point on Kingscote Lake where it becomes somewhat narrow. It was there that I paddled over to the eastern shoreline, leaving the protection of the western shoreline. The move was uneventful and I continued up the lake with the wind and waves in my favour. Nice!
Stacks Image 5200

A gloomy looking Kingscote Lake

The mosquitos were awful!

It was 10:02am when I arrived at the 1,470m portage to Big Rock Lake. I had never been there before and liked the take-out; The water was shallow with a sandy bottom and the water was crystal clear and not to cold to step into as I pulled up onto shore. Seconds later, both Mike and Sean arrived and for a few moments the small trailhead was over-crowded with the three of us there.

As I threw my canoe-pack onto my back and prepared to march up the portage, it began to rain. The rain intensified and I let out a curse. I was getting soaked. I switched up, taking off my pack and throwing the canoe onto my shoulders. There! I was not going to get wet anymore.

A few seconds into the carry and the rain stopped and then the mosquitos came out in droves. The portage trail itself was well trodden and easy to follow. About a hundred meters or so into the trail there is a section where it became grassy and muddy. I had to tiptoe through this section. There was another section just like it about a few hundred meters further onwards.
Stacks Image 5212

Kingscote Lake: The take-out for the 1,470m portage to Big Rock Lake

About five minutes in, there was a fork in the trail and I'm not referring to a fork in the trail that partially avoids the grassy/muddy section. It is further on that there is at least three portage signs, one denoting a left fork that goes to Lower Minnow Lake. The right fork, takes you to Big Rock Lake. When carrying a canoe, a portage sign at shoulder level isn't always an obvious thing to see. Be sure to watch for this split in the trail during your first few minutes traversing the portage.

There were a few more muddy sections to negotiate but overall the portage was in very good condition. Towards the last third of the trail, I experienced a few up and downs as the trail climbed a little, then descended more then once. There was nothing dramatic or shocking to deal with - just an average portage in Algonquin Park, with an above average amount of mosquitoes.

Twenty-five minutes later, I arrived at Big Rock Lake just a few minutes behind Mike. He was already there, sipping on some water and refuelling himself with gorp. I quickly put my canoe down and began the 'end of the portage' ritual of wiping away all the mosquitos that were attached to me and scratching the heck out of the bites I had endured coming across. The little bastards had fed well on me. I had many bites and several of them had swelled to monumental sizes.

I ran away from my canoe, distancing myself from the mosquito horde and refreshed myself with water and gorp too. I glanced around, surveying Big Rock Lake for the first time. Green and lots of it, though my immediate surroundings were black and brown. I frowned. Something was not right. I surmised that sometime, somewhere on the lake, a beaver dam had burst and drained the lake of several feet of water. As I looked around I could see exposed shoreline - Wood, stumps, timbers - all had been obviously submerged under water for years now sat exposed - high and dry.

I took a few pictures and headed back down the trail to grab my second load of gear. Unhindered by a heavy load, the trek back was much easier and quicker and in no time with much less bug bites I returned to Kingscote Lake and picked up my canoe pack and began my trek back to Big Rock Lake.
Stacks Image 5236

Put-in to Big Rock Lake: Low water levels

By 11:25am I was ready to launch onto Big Rock Lake. It took 85 minutes (Short breaks included), to do the double carry to Big Rock Lake (That's 4.4km total). Not record breaking but not too shabby either. Sean with all his camera gear was taking a little while longer so both Mike & I waited on the water, to get away from the bugs. The wind had begun to pick up and so I went with it. The wind pushed me along in the right direction too. All we had to do was skirt the top end of Big Rock Lake to get to the portage to Byers Lake.

The view down Big Rock Lake was tantalizing, I wanted to paddle down the lake and see what was there. There were no campsites on the lake and my gaze was drawn to an island and big rock cliff on the lake's eastern shore. At one point I nearly bottomed out on a shoal, presumably that would not have been there if hadn't been for the low water levels on the lake.

By 11:50am I had landed at the take-out for the trail to Byers Lake and I looked back and saw the sun for the first time that day, albeit only briefly. I waited around a few minutes for Mike & Sean and by 12 noon I couldn't stand it anymore - I was getting eaten alive. I grabbed my pack and other gear and headed down the trail.
Stacks Image 5260

660m portage take-out: Looking back at Big Rock Lake

The trail like the previous one was well-defined and smooth. Barely 100m into the trail though, the portage suddenly took a dip - the more I went downhill the steeper it got. The hill wasn't too steep; not crazy or dangerous. The hill sat in the back of my mind as something I didn't look forward to - having to climb back up it on our trip out. The trail remained smooth through-out the way to Byers Lake, with just a few muddy sections and very flat except for the hill previously mentioned. Overall, a much easier portage to deal with than the 1,470m one. That and being only 660m in length made the arrival at Byers Lake a happy one.

The climb (Empty handed) back to Big Rock Lake for the canoe almost had me winded by the time I got to the top. I was not looking forward to Sunday. I reached my canoe and headed back to Byers Lake. By 12:45pm I was ready to go and awaited the arrival of Sean & Mike with their 2nd carry of gear.

Once again, the bugs were bad. The sky was still gloomy and the humidity level had increased, bringing the level of bugs to 'furious' intensity. I couldn't stand it anymore and launched onto the lake. The put-in had a drained looked like Big Rock Lake had, though nowhere near as much in depth. I also noticed too at the water's edge many cranberries on the top of the soil/woody debris mixture. I had never seen that before in Algonquin Park. Enough of cranberries and mosquitos, I launched!

Ahh.. Relief!

There are two campsites on Byers Lake. The first one which I approached, can be seen from the portage. What I could see was that it had a sandy beach! I headed straight for it. To my left was a nice looking round hill that dominated the northwestern side of the lake. By 1pm we had all arrived at the campsite. It had taken us three and a half hours to get to camp. Anything under 4hrs is good, under 3 is great. So we had done ok.

The landing was indeed a sand beach and looking around , we saw the camp was unoccupied and clean too. Nice. There were some unusual markings in the sand; some footsteps and what at first I thought were dog tracks but with strange scrapes in the sand.

Both Sean & I set up out tents on a flat but well drained area above and southeast of the fire-pit, while Mike hung his hammock south west of the fire-pit. Where Sean & I had pitched are tents was open to the sky, though the rest of the campsite was heavily treed and with the sandy beach, I rated our campsite a 9 out of 10. It really was quite nice.
Stacks Image 5321
Stacks Image 5322

The put-in at Byers Lake: Cranberries at the landing

Gathering wood for our campfire was a wet affair, as the forest was soaking wet from recent rainfall. Both Sean & I gathered firewood while Mike chopped it up. Mike had also brought along a bug tent. It was a godsend that night for it had begun to rain and we hid in it for awhile once camp was all set up, to escape the bugs.

By 8pm, we had a visitor at camp; a snapping turtle. Both Mike & I had surmised after much discussion about the strange scrapes in the sand that it might have been a turtle and indeed it was. It was a treat to have a snapping turtle visit the beach and begin laying eggs in our presence: it was a real privilege to see nature in action. After about 20 minutes or so of observing the turtle, we left her alone retreating back to the fire-pit to eat our dinner and enjoy the silence of an evening spent around a campfire - except for the occasional slap at a mosquito.

For dinner, Mikey made us sweet & sour marinated beef over the campfire with fresh green beans boiled in water. Soft cookies were served for dessert. It was all very tasty and we washed it down with some after dinner beverages, namely fireball whiskey.
Stacks Image 5347

A snapping turtle laying eggs at our beach campsite

By 10:00pm I had retired, having been up since 5am that morning. It had been a long, sweaty, bug-bitten day. Much to my dismay I found my sleeping pad had completely deflated. Obviously there was a hole in it and for some reason or another, I hadn't brought my patch kit with me. There were several tiny holes in it actually and I suspected one curious black feline creature from back home had done the damage. Being exhausted from the days activities, I had to settle for blowing up my mattress again and enjoying about 40 minutes of blissfulness before the sleeping pad deflated once more.

Map • Weather • Stats