A Canoe Trip to St. Francis Lake and High Falls Lake
A description with photos of a two night canoe trip in eastern Algonquin Park, from Achray to St. Francis Lake and High Falls Lake.
2007 September 17
The day started sunny and breezy at 6 degrees. We arrived at Achray a bit after 10:00 a.m. and were on the waters of Grand Lake by 10:30. There were very few people around -- only one other canoe with two women, who launched soon after we did. The wind picked up, blowing from the south, and caused us some extra work crossing the lake.
Soon we were into the creek (actually the Barron River) flowing from Grand Lake into Stratton lake. After the 50m portage around the small dam, we re-launched in the creek, scraping on the rocks a bit due to the typical low fall water levels. There are a lot of old logs in the creek, left over from lumbering days. The creek flows under a railway bridge (now unused) and into Stratton Lake.
We entered Stratton Lake at 11:15 and disturbed a heron. Some of the trees along the shore -- the silver maples -- had largely changed colour. We stopped near the south shore of the lake for a snack break, then continued on down the lake, sticking to the south shore for shelter from the wind. Although the lake has numerous campsites, we only noticed one family staying there.
After the 75m portage around the rocky narrows at the outflow of Stratton Lake, we arrived at St. Andrews Lake around 12:30. We stopped for lunch at the first campsite, a spot we had camped at in 1974 on a trip down the Barron River with Wally, Joan, Herman and Yeti. As far as we could tell, only one of the campsites on the lake was occupied.
We finished lunch at 1:10 and paddled across the lake to the start of the 400m portage to Rouge Lake. This portage used to cross the railway tracks and follow a trail through the bush, but now that the railway has been removed, the trail follows the abandoned track bed. It is surfaced with some sort of crushed slag, and is not very comfortable walking, aside from being out in the open and therefore hot in the sun. Diana turned her ankle on one of the lumps and fell heavily (carrying a pack). Fortunately the result was only a few scrapes and bruises, so she was able to carry on all right. The portage took about 30 minutes, then we were through to Rouge Lake, a long narrow piece of water paralleling the old railway. The ends of the lake are mucky, full of weeds and beaver houses, so we paddled to the clear spot in the middle and drifted while having a snack break.
Restored, we headed for the 900m portage to St. Francis Lake. It is a pleasant shady trail through the bush, not too rough, and well-used enough to be good walking without seeming too beaten down. This carry took about 45 minutes, and then we were into St. Francis Lake, arriving at our campsite (the only one on the lake) at about 3:30. A helicopter flew over just as we arrived.
The site is well-used, and unfortunately there was a pile of cans and other metal garbage behind the fireplace. The trees are sparse, so it would be difficult to rig a tarp over the fire on a rainy day. By 5:50 we had set up camp, gathered firewood, put up the food rope (with some difficulty), and made minestrone soup to sip while supper -- dehydrated pot roast and vegetables with Hamburger Helper potato stroganoff -- was cooking. The home-dried food worked out very well; the commercial stuff was not so good (tough potatoes), but at least it was edible and filling. We heard wolves howling at the east end of the lake just as we finished eating, then directly across the lake about an hour later. After washing the supper dishes and tidying up the campsite, we hung the food pack up for the night. Then we relaxed near the water with an after-dinner drink (Bushmills and water), watching the moon rise. Some creature swam by, probably a muskrat, but by then it was too dark to identify it.
The wind died down somewhat, but continued to blow intermittently through the night. The sky was clear and the temperature was dropping as we got into the tent for the night at about 8:15. During the night the sky was a beautiful blanket of stars, with a barred owl hooting, and some other creature making the occasional mournful call. At one point during the night, a helicopter passed over -- one of the 'benefits' of being near CFB Petawawa.
2007 September 18
We were awakened at about 6:20 by a wolf howl in the bush behind our campsite -- a single short howl, then quiet. Nothing to see when we emerged from our tent. It was a cool morning with a bit of wind, a slight mist on the water, and a beautiful sunrise. A loon was swimming on the lake. A bit later, two moose swam across the lake and disappeared into the bush.
After coffee and breakfast (and dishwashing), we packed everything up and were on the water at about 9:30. We crossed the lake and portaged back to Rouge Lake, where we had another mid-lake snack break, then did the portage to St. Andrews Lake, arriving around noon. There were some people camped on the other side of the lake -- the first people we had seen since leaving the lake the day before.
Our supply of drinking water needed replenishing, so we paddled out into the lake and started pumping. Since the wind was coming from the southeast, we were able to make progress on our journey just by drifting as we pumped. Eventually we had to start paddling again, and visited the start of the portage to Marie Lake, though were not tempted to make a side trip.
We stopped from 12:15 to 1:00 to eat lunch on the west shore of the lake not far from the start of the portage to High Falls Lake. The landscape in this area is very rocky with sparse vegetation, and we enjoyed looking at the scenery. A couple of canoes heading out on day trips passed us while we were eating. After lunch, it was a short paddle to the start of the 950m portage to High Falls Lake. The first part of this trail is wide and fairly smooth, worn down to bare rock by many feet. The last part of the trail is a bit rough, with rocky sections and wet spots. The final descent to the lake is steep and rough, and difficult to negotiate. Another couple came through just behind us, to spend some time fishing before returning to their campsite on another lake.
We spent about 30 minutes on the portage, arriving at High Falls Lake at about 1:30. Both of the campsites were empty, so we looked at both of them, but neither one had very comfortable-looking tent spots. We finally decided on the first (southernmost) site, since, though small, it looked better -- high above the water, and open on the lake side. We started to make camp at about 2:30. Unfortunately one of the tent poles broke, so a field repair was required. Bob taped it and lashed it together with a couple of flexible sticks -- not pretty, but we were able to pitch the tent.
It was quite warm; there was little shade and the narrowness of the lake meant that the wind did not penetrate much. The noseeums were a nuisance. During the late afternoon the day trippers passed by on their return leg; also a couple of fellows came up for some fishing and then left around suppertime. We had our evening soup, then made supper (curry noodles with dehydrated chicken and vegetables –- this one worked very well). After the usual dishwashing, tidying, and hanging the food pack, we enjoyed our evening drink. By now everything was quiet and we had the lake to ourselves.
[Bob's notes say that two jet planes went over at around 6:00, though whether that was a.m. or p.m. is not specified. More benefits from being close to CFB Petawawa.]
The wind died and the night was very quiet and clear, but not as cool as the previous night. We retired to the tent at about 7:45.
2007 September 19
Rising time was again 6:20, to a clear sky and temperature of 10 degrees, with a bit of mist on the water. Sunrise was behind us over a hill, so the light arrived in our campsite later than it did on the opposite shore. After the usual coffee, breakfast, cleanup and packing, we were on the water again around 9:45. At the top of the portage to St. Andrews Lake we met a father and son out for a day trip (they were camped on St. Andrews Lake). As we were paddling away from the portage, we noticed the remains of an old pointer boat in the water, and took a few minutes to photograph it.
We paddled partway up the lake, then stopped for a snack break and to filter some more drinking water. By this time the day was becoming quite hazy and hot, although the wind made it more comfortable (if a nuisance to paddle). At the top of the 75m portage to Stratton Lake we met a couple who were heading to St. Andrews to camp and explore for a couple of days.
We stopped around noon for lunch at a huge, very pleasant campsite partway up Stratton Lake. Although it clearly receives heavy use, it was tidy and with almost no garbage (the rangers have been cleaning up, no doubt). At the 50m portage we encountered a high school group on a class trip for three days. The noise and chaos were impressive (about 20 people all together); we would not have liked to be one of the teacher chaperones on that outing.
At last we were into the creek and found some peace and quiet again, then paddled back to Achray with a tailwind, arriving on the beach at 2:00. Within 15 minutes everything was loaded on the car and we headed off, arriving home at 4:00. The temperature was 28 degrees.