November 23, 2012 - Day 1
One last paddle of the season!

This was an end of season canoe trip, a quick 2 night solo to access#4 Rain Lake. I arrived at the access point just before 9:30am to what was possibly the most dreary and depressing November day I've ever encountered. On my drive up it had begun to rain as I passed through Gravenhurst and even as I arrived at the access point it was still raining albeit not as hard.

The soil around the immediate area was mud, the kind that sucks your booted feet one inch down, possibly more. It really was a miserable day. I was in high spirits though; A fellow paddler had come out of the very same access two days before, reporting excellent weather conditions and that Rain Lake was wide open (No ice) and therefore open to paddling. This was my last chance to paddle Algonquin Park in 2012 as time was running out - Soon, very soon there would be ice covering the lakes.

So it was with optimism and excitement that I shoved off with my canoe loaded at 10:02am to windy and showery conditions as I paddled onto Rain Lake.

Not five minutes into my paddle I was greeted with the sight of a passing merganser floating by in the water and 2 minutes after that a loon on the first bay to my right as it bobbed in the waves. This was a surprise for I had never seen a loon this late in the season. It was a juvenile to be sure, by its plumage this was certain. My wish was that it took flight very soon else it would perish in the soon to be frozen world of Algonquin Park.

rain lake access#4

Arrival at Access#4 Rain Lake: The wet and muddy put-in

The wave action had built up just a little bit though the paddling was quite manageable and I was not in any danger. I even had the wind at my back (For a change). Skirting the shoreline (Easy to do on most of Rain Lake) I came upon a campsite on the lake's northwest shoreline about 30 minutes into my paddle. Rain Lake itself lies in a line from southwest to northeast. The weather forecast was for southwest winds increasing to 30km/h and showers, with the wind shifting to northwesterly by evening with flurries.

Well it certainly felt like 30km/h winds as I made landfall and surveyed the campsite. The site was up off the water but was quite open to the southwest - Wind was blowing right through the campsite. If the wind direction didn't change (As forecasted) I'd be eating icicles for dinner.

rain lake access#4 and canoe
I launched just after 10:00am under the most depressing of weather conditions

Back into the canoe, I shoved off and consulted my map once more. I had planned to camp on one of the two campsites on the far shore - Next to the portage to Sawyer Lake. This would give me protection from forecasted northwest winds and would afford me the opportunity to walk to the next lake via the portage should paddling be to risky once camp was established.

Paddling up to a point where the lake widens, I could see the island across the way guarding the far shoreline beyond. The rain had finally ceased but the clouds still hung low and the wind had increased in strength with occasional gusts thrown in.

I consulted the map yet again. I did not want to risk crossing the open patch of water - too vulnerable and dangerous it could be so I opted for a campsite around the bend. It might not be completely protected from a north wind but it would offer shelter for now from the southwest wind and if it shifted to the northwest offer moderate protection. My line of thinking continued along this path taking into account that there was also the old rail-bed nearby - The Western Uplands backpacking trail in fact. If the lake froze-up overnight and the ice too thick to break or paddle through, I could always walk out.

Paddling Rain Lake
Paddling onto the first bay as I made my way down Rain Lake

By 11:13am I had landed at my home for the next two nights. It had taken me just over 70 minutes of easy-going slow paddling to get there. The landing was a smooth rock slope that was wet with the rain. Once I surveyed the campsite and made up my mind to stay I unloaded the canoe and took a temperature reading of +5°C.

The wind gusts seemed to become stronger and more frequent as I unpacked and set-up my tent; I looked up and around at all the trees above me to make sure there were no 'widow makers' above me. All seemed well as I finished setting up my tent and pumped up my air mattress and laid out my sleeping bags.

Next I went to dig out my clothing sac to lay out my nighttime and bedtime cloths; I was damp and getting chilled - Time to toss on a sweater. My clothing sac wasn't there! I turned my canoe pack upside down, shook out the remaining contents, looked around my immediate area. I had no spare cloths - Just the clothes on my back.

The brown hues of November
Brown hues of November: Grasses in their dormant state

A brief surge of panic swept over me, this was not good, quite dangerous in fact. The temperature was supposed to drop to - 5°C overnight and -13°C the following night. The overnight low on the second night was beyond the thermal limits of my sleeping bag, so for the very first time I had packed two bags; -7°C down bag and a -7°C synthetic bag. Combining the two coupled with my down filled air mattress I figured I'd be fine. I had even tossed in a spare pair of wool socks loosely into my canoe pack at the last minute.

I couldn't believe it though. I had not packed my clothing sac. I had my canoe pack stuffed ready to go for nearly a month and it wasn't until this weekend that I had the chance to go. I figured during that time I must've taken out my clothing pack and re-packed it with additional warm gear and failed to repack it into the canoe-pack. This seemed the only logical answer.

I was relying on that clothing sac as it contained many important items; Long underwear, wool toque, 2 pairs wool socks, a sweater, a fleece pull-over and spare pair of cargo pants.

All I was wearing was cargo pants (with rain pants over top) and a t-shirt with my winter jacket on and a wind-breaker over top of it, PFD and my ranger hat. That with two pairs of gloves : paddling and winter gloves, I had been quite warm coming in but now I was getting chilled and with no dry cloths to change into I was very worried.

I decided right then and there that I would stay the night, but the next morning I would leave immediately. It wouldn't be any fun having to walk or paddle around all day shivering then risk the nighttime lows. Nope, I would enjoy my stay then leave the next morning.

So with me still in shock at my terrible error I decided I had better get on with collecting firewood. The chore would do me well to warm me up. The prospects did not look good for dry wood though - Everything was soaking wet and what little there was lying around was too big to cut.

I started looking around for standing dead trees and found a spruce tree that was quite dead with a height of about 8 meters. Normally, I take fallen wood but this time around I had to take one that was till standing. Cutting and felling the dead tree went well and within a few minutes I was dragging my tree back to camp.

Within a few meters of the path back to camp, my rain pants caught on a tree sapling and tore them up the leg to my thighs. If it weren't for the situation I was in, I would've laughed at the comedy of the situation; Here's a guy walking through the woods with crotchless rain pants on - How goofy is that?

Two steps more and another sapling branch poked me right in my right eye. Immediately, my vision went all blurry and my contact lens felt out of place. I cupped my hand to my eye and thought, "Hell - Can anything else go wrong?"

I dropped my tree and made my way back to camp with one eye open and my other eye covered with my hand. I reached my tent and dug out my kit. Shielded from the wind, I managed to pull out my contact lens and see that it had been folded over and pushed to the side of my eye. I fixed the lens, poured a generous supply of saline solution on it and re-inserted it into my eye. All was well. I should also mention that while I was setting up my tent I noticed (For the first time in all my years of camping) a discarded contact lens packet laying on the ground nearby, among a few other items of trash. How improbable is that? Was that a forewarning that I had ignored?

As a matter of fact, the whole campsite was quite 'dirty' looking. I had found bits of trash everywhere in the bush; beer cans, candy wrappers, pieces of rope hanging from trees, tin foil galore in the fire-pit and bits of rubbish all over the place.

Finally by 1:30pm I had a nice supply of firewood and my tarps strung up. I was set-up and quite chilled.. Time to get the fire going. Well, guess what? My BBQ lighter didn't work too well. I managed to get a few flames going before a gust of wind came along and ended my attempts at getting a fire going. The BBQ lighter finally died.

Frantically I searched around; My kitchen kit lighter was gone, the spare I had wrapped in my marine safety kit was gone too (I remembered using it earlier this year but failed to put it back). It had been years since I had such a disaster prone trip, but this wasn't the time for it. I kept reminding myself not to panic; I was alone and only I could look after myself - Now think! My camera bag - I opened it and looked inside a pocket and therein lie my salvation - A tiny bic lighter.

With lots of newspaper I had brought in with me and my bic lighter, I got the fire going; Feeding it lots of twigs one at a time, shavings off of a log and then sticks and finally branches and then small logs. By 2:30pm I was saved - I had a nice fire going and took off my shirt to dry it off while I wore my winter jacket and sat right next to the fire warming myself up - My spirits soared!

tarp at camp
A tarp protected my backside from strong Southwesterly winds



Campfire on Rain Lake
A warm fire kept me company

By 4pm I had some really nice coals going and tossed in some red potatoes to roast over the coals. I boiled them the night before to save time and seasoned them at camp with butter, fresh ground pepper and sea salt, all wrapped in foil. By 5pm, my potatoes along with chicken I cooked over open flame were done and I enjoyed a hearty meal in front of a warm fire under a tarp in a darkening sky as evening set in.

After dinner I sat by my fire thinking of my days events; How things went from bad to worse to possible insanity. Coping with the elements is a given when outdoors, but to cope with one's errors and dumb luck on top of that was a real test indeed. I had passed but it just wasn't the kind of test I enjoyed. I laughed at that last thought - How fragile I was. One minute I was chilled and worried about my limited future. The next moment, warmed by my campfire and my belly full of food - Content. I've camped in November before but not in conditions such as this or the foolish circumstances such as I had just put myself into.

Dinner over the fire
Chicken & Cheddar with roasted red potatoes

By 6:00pm it had begun to snow pellets - That styrofoam-looking type of snow. My thermometer read 0°C, the temperature was dropping rapidly. Though the fire was warm, my feet were frozen. My feet were in wool socks inside felt lined boots and had been sweating all day and now that sweat was freezing my feet. I had a spare pair of wool socks but I needed them dry for sleeping in. I stayed up for 50 minutes more, removing my feet from my boots and warming my feet by the fire while drying off my socks and felt liners. All the while the wind increased in strength and the snow pellets were now showing accumulation on the ground.

By 7:00pm I crawled into my tent. It was pitch black anyway and very windy, cold and quite miserable out. I peeled off the rest of my damp cloths. Stripping down to just my underwear, towelling myself off and putting on dry wool socks… Ahhh! I didn't have a sleeping toque to wear but my inner sleeping bag (The down filled one) had a hood and this saved me.

stormy night on Rain Lake
It began to snow as the storm intensified as evening closed in

Eventually I drifted off to sleep and woke up around 11:30pm as I needed to go for a pee. Stepping outside I was greeted to a winter wonderland. Everywhere was snow covered and it was snowing heavily. This was not 'flurries'! There was about an inch of snow of the ground and on top of my tent. I hurried and finished my business, rushing back to my tent. As I went back to sleep I could hear the snow falling on my tent as well as the rush of gusting winds. The wind had in fact shifted to the Northwest, I could hear that it was coming from a different direction, but now the gusts of wind gave me the chills in the form of worry. I really hoped that the gusts weren't strong enough to blow a tree down on me. I drifted off to sleep once again.

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