The paddle down Rock Lake and beyond
This was a four night stay on Galeairy Lake with Barry Bridgeford, operator of the algonquinadventures.com web site. I looked forward to the opportunity to camp with what I thought was an important person in my re-connection with Algonquin Park, so many years earlier. We had originally decided to go in via access#1 to Manitou Lake, however with moderate winds and rain predicted, we decided instead to take a more Southerly route.
We entered Algonquin's waterways through access#9, Rock Lake. Arriving on Monday of the long weekend, just as everyone was coming out, we were going in, the timing couldn't have been better.
We had only decided on Rock Lake access as we drove up along highway#11. With most people leaving The Park this day and a forecast for a gloomy week of wet weather, we realized we could pick and choose any lake we wanted to stay on. Traffic would be minimal.
By 10:10 am, we were loaded up in Barry's Swift Kipawa canoe. It was agreed I would man the stern of the canoe for the duration of the trip. No sooner than five seconds after we launched it began to rain. Both Barry and I took this a harbinger of things to come. The rain wasn't to hard and very quickly we got into the routine of a light drizzle that persisted on and off as we made our way down Rock Lake. At least it was warm!
The winds were very light and by the time we passed by Jean Island, the water surface had become glass-like with the rain abating for the moment. The sky remained heavily overcast as we drifted by a campsite, consuming some gorp and water, replenishing our energy levels as we took a short break. There were a few islets and some shoals as we drifted pass the point campsite which I might add, had a very bushy look to it. One large open fire-pit area with nothing but enclosed forest surrounding it, not too shabby.
Roughly an hour into our paddle we approached a high cliff that faced North. Rain began to fall again as we paddled towards the rock face. The rainfall started to become heavy and yet the winds remained low. After a few minutes the rain abated and I was able to get a look at some of the campsites along the East shoreline as we closed in on the cliff face.
From distance all the of the campsites looked very open and airy, with lots of smooth rock. The rain was becoming heavier and it was decided to skip touring the cliffs and continue our journey to Galeairy Lake. We passed near to where Barry had camped several years earlier, as Barry recalled some excellent Bass fishing experiences there.
By 11:30 am under the near constant drizzle we passed by "Echo Bay" on Rock Lake's Southern end. This area had a charming quality to it; One campsite at the mouth of the bay and nothing else around. The narrowing channel of Rock Lake outside the bay also provided for sheltered canoeing as well.
As we paddled the channel we passed by a soloist who was camping illegally, or rather he was camped in an area that was not designated as an official campsite. We had passed empty campsite after empty campsite on Rock Lake, given the relatively early time of our departure(10:10 am), we surmised that many of the campsites had been available to this soloist, yet he had chosen to ignore camping at official campsites. We wondered at this and paddled onwards.
As we passed Echo Bay we came upon a section of the lake that resembled more a river than a lake. In fact Barry had told me that many years previously while camping on Rock Lake in the spring, there had been a very strong current as one neared the portage next to the dam. It was so strong that while he had a small motor on his canoe, he was going roughly 4 or 5 mph and had difficulty outrunning the current.
With September water levels though the situation was vastly different. No current to speak of could be felt and we had to tippy-toe our way through a section of the channel as it became very shallow, the lake bottom being riddled with rock.
We arrived at last at the portage, managing to avoid all the rocks. As we were emptying the canoe a party from the other end of the 100m carry arrived and we scrambled to get our gear out of their way. The put-in was a drop down into the water from a rocky landing. We carried our canoe up to the trail proper, thereby clearing the landing for our fellow campers.
We proceeded to carry our gear over to the Galeairy Lake end of the trail. The put-in into the lake was much easier then the Rock Lake end, although neither was difficult. By 12:10pm we launched onto Galeairy Lake. We paddled in a Southerly direction, as I studied the map and adjusted my bearings.
Galeairy Lake is one of those lakes that had endured change. Almost immediately upon launch one notices the changes Galeairy Lake has gone through. To our left and behind us was the old railway-bed from the glory days of Algonquin Park's past. Along the shorelines we could see many tree trunks. The lake's water level having been raised by artificial means of damming. Despite this, the lake had a unique appearance; there were many points in which one could paddle around and bays to paddle into. Many of the points had campsites on them as well; Definitely a summer lake.
We passed by the first campsite on our left, it was on a peninsula but not on the point. It had a rocky landing and was surrounded mostly by spruce and cedar trees. We paddled onwards, passing through a narrow channel and emerged onto the lake proper. We paddled by two more sites along the North shore, both looked exposed, especially a very large looking campsite that sat high above the water, complete with grass and some sloping rock down to the water's edge. Most definitely a summer lake!
We arrived at a campsite on the South shore, again the site was on a rocky point. We got out and inspected the campsite, as we did so we noticed fish scales in the water at the landing. Someone had cleaned their fish right at the campsite landing.
As we walked around the campsite, we noticed it appeared to be dirty. I could smell the fire-pit and Barry, reaching down into it, could feel intense heat. The ashes were hot. The previous campers had failed to extinguish the campfire, preferring to let it burn out on its own.
The more we looked, the more garbage we found and the less desirable the campsite became. I didn't like the fact that the campsite was exposed to both a north and West wind. I wasn't too sure of the tenting possibilities either given the prospect of a week of rain. I asked Barry if he would prefer to move onto another site? Barry agreed and so we moved on.
I spied another campsite on the East side of the point that we had passed, that had the large summer sight on it. I suggested we paddle over to it and give it a look. As we approached the site, we could see that it was enclosed in the forest. It had two small shallow rock landings. We pulled up at the second landing and got out to inspect the campsite. Immediately, we could see a vast difference; The site had a wild look to it and the shoreline with the exception of the landings was heavily forested.
The site itself was open and it was very clean with very little evidence of trash. Granted, there was a rope hanging from a tree, but the site had an under-used look to it. There was also not one but two bush piles, plenty of kindling and a marginal amount of cut firewood and timber to be chopped. The fire-pit was a rocky pile of stones, which Barry promised he would fix.
I liked the fact that there was open forest at the campsite and a NorthEast facing view. If we had any wind, it would most likely be alongside our campsite, not through it. It was 1:00pm and we were home. It had taken us just three hours at a leisurely pace to reach our destination, not bad.
In about an hour we had camp set-up, complete with tarps; one over each tent, one over the fire-pit and a massive 11x15 foot tarp, which Barry had brought along. We utilized the large tarp for our kitchen. This would prove a God-send when it rained later on. For the rest of the day it rained on and off, as we hung around camp relaxing and exploring the immediate forest surroundings.
There was a visible trail to the South and we followed it to the nearby large campsite on the open exposed point. The campsite was unoccupied and we were able to explore the site extensively. That evening I had chicken cooked over the fire served with rice The night ended with a fire warming us amid the damp surroundings on Barry's newly re-built fire-pit.
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