To High Falls and the Water Slide
(the hard way)

An account, with photographs, of visiting High Falls and the water slide on the Barron River in Algonquin Park the hard way -- by canoe from High Falls Lake.

2010 September 29

In our page High Falls, the Water Slide and the Barron Canyon: Some Trip-Planning Notes we ventured the opinion that there was no direct and easy route from High Falls Lake to High Falls and the water slide. This opinion was based on having traversed this area, on both sides of the river, many times over many years. But we had never actually tried it by canoe. Others have, and report that it is indeed possible to paddle and portage your way upriver from High Falls Lake. We did not doubt that it was possible; the issue was: is it practical and advisable?

Consequently Bob and his friend Richard set out to travel by canoe, as a day trip, from the Brigham Lake access point to High Falls and the water slide, going in via Opalescent, Ooze and High Falls Lakes, and returning via High Falls Lake and the Barron River. They had their opportunity on September 29. It was overcast, though not raining. Water levels were up and everything was soaked from the several very wet weeks preceding.

A channel of the Barron River flowing into High Falls Lake from Stratton Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-09-29 - map - explore

The channel of the Barron River that flows from the northeast corner of Stratton Lake, through the water slide and over High Falls, enters High Falls Lake in its northwest corner. It drops into the lake through a rocky defile with a steeply sloping rock face on the north (right in the photo above) shore. The south shore is rough and obstructed and looked to be a more difficult route.

A channel of the Barron River flowing into High Falls Lake from Stratton Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-09-29 - map - explore

We attempted to line the canoe up this drop along the north shore. But with all of the recent rain and the steepness of the rock face, the footing was treacherous. It was too steep to stand; we had to scramble using both our hands and feet.

Drying out after swamping while attempting to line canoe upstream

(photographed: 2010-09-29 - map - explore

Whether it was due to the tricky footing, the strong current, the rope attachment being inappropriately located on the canoe, or the lack of practiced teamwork between Bob and Richard, we swamped the canoe during our lining attempt. It was awash to the gunwales and our packs were floating, but they stayed in the canoe. Bob's camera was in his pocket. His Spot Messenger was attached to the outside of his pack and it continued working just fine (however, it probably wasn't submerged). Here the canoe has been emptied out, but Bob hasn't yet retrieved his thermos.

Drying out after swamping while attempting to line canoe upstream

(photographed: 2010-09-29 - map - explore

Drying out. Richard is checking whether he will be having soggy sandwiches for lunch. Luckily, no. But his guide books ended up a little damp.

using a rope to raise the canoe up a rock face

(photographed: 2010-09-29 - map - explore

We couldn't line, and the footing was unsafe for a conventional carry, so we used ropes to raise the canoe up and over. (No we didn't drag it. It was lift - scramble - lift etc., using the rope to hold it between scrambles.)

Barron River immediately upstream of High Falls Lake

(photographed: 2010-09-29 - map - explore

Back on the water above the drop.

Small falls  rapids between High Falls Lake and High Falls

(photographed: 2010-09-29 - map - explore

We soon encountered the next challenge: a more substantial drop over a hundred meters or so.

Small falls  rapids between High Falls Lake and High Falls

(photographed: 2010-09-29 - map - explore

Small falls  rapids between High Falls Lake and High Falls

(photographed: 2010-09-29 - map - explore

Small falls  rapids between High Falls Lake and High Falls

(photographed: 2010-09-29 - map - explore

Small falls  rapids between High Falls Lake and High Falls

(photographed: 2010-09-29 - map - explore

Small falls  rapids between High Falls Lake and High Falls

(photographed: 2010-09-29 - map - explore

Again we were faced with smooth sloping rock faces with treacherous footing under the wet conditions.

treacherous rock face

(photographed: 2010-09-29 - map - explore

Bob fell and slid down the rocks here but managed to stop himself before sliding into the river.

Portaging along Barron River upstream of High Falls Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-09-29 - map - explore

Richard portaging the canoe over the broken rock in order to avoid the less obstructed but slippery rock faces. Bob's skid path is just out of the frame to the left.

Pond below High Falls on the Barron River in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-09-29 - map - explore

Launching into the small pond at the foot of High Falls.

High Falls on the Barron River in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-09-29 - map - explore

High Falls.

High Falls on the Barron River in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-09-29 - map - explore

High Falls on the Barron River in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-09-29 - map - explore

We landed at the foot of High Falls and left the canoe there. We climbed (scrambled) to the top. The climb was "OK", but with the wet conditions the footing was poor in places. We made our way to the water slide and ate our lunch there. We had the place to ourselves.

water slide on the Barron River in Algonquin Park

(photo by Bob: 2010-09-29 - map - explore

The rocks around the bowl at the bottom of the water slide were quite slippery and we weren't really looking for a slide.

water slide on the Barron River in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-09-29 - map - explore

Upstream of the slide.

water slide on the Barron River in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-09-29 - map - explore

The foot of the slide.

between High Falls and High Falls Lake on the Barron River in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-09-29 - map - explore

On our return trip, approaching the middle drop between High Falls and High Falls Lake. Our take out was on the left at the far extent of the exposed rock face.

between High Falls and High Falls Lake on the Barron River in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-09-29 - map - explore

The final drop into High Falls Lake from upstream. This time we took out on the south shore just at the right hand edge of this photo (the middle ground, not the foreground). It was rougher and more obstructed, but under the day's conditions it was the safer option, and is probably the best option under most conditions.

A channel of the Barron River flowing into High Falls Lake from Stratton Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-09-29 - map - explore

The final drop of the Stratton Lake channel of the Barron River as it flows into High Falls Lake, as seen from the south shore. All the water that is flowing over High Falls is squeezed through here.

We're not sure what to conclude from this experiment. Clearly it is possible for a couple of old guys to get a canoe into the pond at the bottom of High Falls and then climb up to the water slide -- all without broken limbs or heart attacks, or even breathing all that hard. It took us about an hour and 15 minutes to reach the water slide from High Falls Lake. About 30 minutes of that was recovering from swamping and getting around the first drop. We returned from the water slide in about 30 minutes. The return trip was down hill, down river, we then knew the route, and Bob spent less time on photography.

However, under the conditions of that day, the going was treacherous and there was the real potential for a serious fall or a slide into the river. Under drier conditions and at lower flow rates, the risk would be less, perhaps minimal. While accepting that our judgement is coloured by the hazardous conditions we encountered on that particular day, we stick to our original opinion that this is not a recommended route. But clearly, it can be done if you are so inclined and you recognize and accept the hazards.

We are chastened by the swamping of our canoe while lining. We are sufficiently experienced that this should not have happened. No excuses.

For a larger set of photos from Richard and Bob's trip to High Falls and the water slide, including a side trip to view the falls on the St. Andrews Lake drainage, see the photo gallery, High Falls (the hard way).