Trip Log - Achray to Carcajou Lake via Carcajou Creek and Return
An account of a five day canoe trip out of Achray to Carcajou Lake and return. We wanted to check out the old logging dam between Wenda Lake and Carcajou Lake to determine if this was the location of the Tom Thomson painting "The Drive". In addition there are two other Tom Thomson sketches, "In Petawawa Gorges, Spring" and "Algonquin Park Vista", that we suspected also might lie up that way.
We also wanted to test out some changes to our tripping routine — our food strategy and the resurrection of our 42 year old tent. Both experiments were highly successful.
Our route was Achray to Little Carcajou Lake via Carcajou Bay, and Upper and Lower Spectacle Lakes. We travelled to Carcajou Lake via Carcajou Creek, passing through Wenda Lake. We visited the sedge meadow on Carcajou Creek as a day trip. We returned to Achray as we came with a slight detour to visit Stone Chute where Carcajou Creek exits Little Carcajou Lake. We encountered only one other couple in our travels beyond the Spectacle Lakes.
The text below is a minimally edited transcription of our trip diary. On this trip, the diary was written completely by Bob. However, Diana has subsequently added some comments; these are identified. Any material added subsequent to the trip is enclosed in square brackets.
2015 June 21 (Sunday) - Achray to Little Carcajou Lake
Just finishing our snack break – 11:11 in the mouth of Carcajou Bay, heading for Little Carcajou. Left Achray @ 10:30, house @ 8:35. Weather is calm with high thin cloud but showers and T-storm expected later.
When we arrived at the [only] camp site on Little Carcajou [which we had reserved] it was occupied. An inexperienced couple who had a reservation for the cabin were [set up] there. [We had interrupted their skinny dip]. They were on their second day of travelling [to the cabin], having spent the previous night camped on the portage [at the beaver pond]. They [immediately and without argument] volunteered to move on, but in retrospect, it
might [would] have been better if we had travelled on and camped at the cabin.
[Diana: I didn't feel too bad about them packing up and moving on, since they had had some rest already and were heading for a cabin and would not have to do a full set-up when they got there. Also, it is not that bad a trip from Little Carcajou to Wenda, and, being the solstice, there would be more than enough light. I lay down in the bushes and had a nap while waiting.]
They were finally clear of the camp site by about 6:30.
The wind was blasting and I had a hell of a time putting up the tarp. It seems that the secret is to tie off the down wind points first.
We had coffee, snacks and a cup of soup. We considered skipping supper but I ran out of my day's ration of snacks [and was still hungry], so we decided to have some Mountain House freeze dried lasagna.
The wind has now (8:20) died and it is still and humid. The bugs are out. We set up the bug net under the tarp – a bit of a jury rig but effective.
Into the tent for the night at around 10:00 pm – pretty late for us.
2015 June 22 (Monday) - Little Carcajou Lake to Carcajou Lake
Quiet night – if you don't count the bullfrogs. Diana heard an owl. I heard some “snorting” during night – perhaps a deer. Starting to get light at about 4:30. In Diana's words, “Ah, the beautiful sound of the red breasted robin at four fucking thirty in the morning!”
[Diana: I feel I've been misquoted here – I said “song” not “sound”. On top of the numerous and very loud bullfrogs who were grunting enthusiastically all night, the birds tuning up at dawn were a bit much. Not a great night's sleep.]
We're sitting in the bug shelter having coffee at 6:35. The day is calm, the sun is shining and the bugs are out.
11:15 Sitting in the canoe finishing our snack break in the creek just above Wenda Lake. We got away from our campsite on Little Carcajou at 9:30. We stopped at the cabin to return the fishing rod that the couple we displaced had left behind. We had a long chat [at the end of which, we had serious concerns about whether they were going to be able to make it out all right without assistance. But that potential problem was several days in the future.]
We stopped for lunch at ~1:00 at the top of the 110m portage (with the big rock and old rock dam). It seems possible that this is the site of the Tom Thomson painting The Drive. The background hill sort of matches but if so, once again Tom Thomson is exaggerating the verticals. But the forest cover has changed so much (and the dam is gone) that one cannot match the painting. [We will give this site a more thorough investigation on our return.] It is now 1:30. Diana is pumping water and we will soon be moving on. Got away at 1:45.
It is quite hot and the water levels are getting low. [There were] several places where we had to exit the canoe and pull over. We weren't able to skip any of the marked portages but we skipped at least one of the unofficial portages. We had concerns about [finding] the last portage into Carcajou Lake. The creek had become sufficiently obstructed that we suspected that we had missed the takeout. But pressing on and pulling the canoe over a couple of logs straddling the creek we eventually reached it.
There is lots of poison ivy throughout this area, but at the Carcajou Lake end of the last portage there is nowhere to put your packs and canoe down that isn't in poison ivy.
We reached Carcajou Lake a little after 3:00. We checked out the high rocky site on the south shore – we stayed there 30+ years ago. But instead we opted for the first site on the north shore. [Softer ground and more sheltered; less beaten to death.] Set up the tarp with bug shelter. Again very windy when setting it up.
Had coffee, snacks, soup etc. at a very leisurely pace. We are both quite tired. The route is rough, but is it that rough? Or is it just our years catching up with us?
Southwestern style masa with beef by Alpinaire for supper. We'll see how that goes. I liked the dinner; Diana thought it a bit spicy.
8:37 – Last night at this time we were eating dinner. Tonight everything is put away and we are about to enjoy our Bushmills to the hum of the mosquitoes outside the bug net. Saw a deer across the way in the marsh, the same as the last time we were here 30+ years ago.
2015 June 23 (Tuesday) - Rest Day on Carcajou Lake
It rained during the night; not hard, but steady. Slept in this morning, out of the tent a little after seven. Broken cloud with sun, but also a few spits of rain. Wind out of the east. Just finishing coffee at 8:00am.
A wild day. Sunny with clouds but very windy. We think it is shifting to the west – which is good, not only as a portent of high pressure but also, that is the direction our tarp was optimized for.
It is now about 1:30. We have spent the morning sitting around, lying around, snoozing. The wind continues unabated, periodically reaching some impressive crescendos. It started to spit a little which motivated me to check that everything was storm ready! I put on a heavier shirt, my work pants and watch cap, in addition to my smock, as I was starting to feel a little chilled.
[Diana: given the wind, I was just as glad we had not taken the rock camp site, and were in a more sheltered spot. I put on my long underwear and down jacket to keep warm in the wind. Nice that the wind cut down the bugs a bit, though.]
The wind continued but died somewhat in the late afternoon. It is now 7:45 and we are ready for the night. About to serve our Bushmills. Not much to report on observations today. We haven't seen anyone since the couple at the cabin on Wenda. Saw a (the?) deer again in the swamp across the bay and a large light coloured bird. It was perhaps a gull but it was behaving more as a raptor.
There is an old overgrown road paralleling the lake shore behind this camp site. (It is shown on Jeff's map). We followed it to the eastern end where there must have been some sort of lumber camp. Not much to see now except an overgrowing clearing, some wolf trees and a few scraps of rusted metal. We also found a partially buried, rotting wood pile that I remember being offended by 30 years ago. If you're going to log in the park, fine, but if you cut it, haul it out!
[Diana: west of the camp site the old road turns north and ends up at the westernmost camp site on Grand Lake. Supper was home made (minute rice, soup mix, dried onions, some seasoning, bacon bits) – fairly tasty, if a bit bland, and went down well.]
2015 June 24 (Wednesday) - Exploring the Sedge Meadow upstream of Carcajou Lake
7:00 am. Sitting snug in our bug net enjoying our morning coffee – clear, mist on water, ~8C. Quiet night, beautiful morning.
(Notes: we need to bring extra coffee, especially for rest days; we need to replace the filter element in the water filter; Bob lost a button on his smock. Need to check/reinforce the remaining buttons; need to restore shoelaces in repair kit;)
... back to our story ...
8:55, in the sun, in our canoe, just off our camp site and about to go exploring. We paddled up the lake with the intent of exploring the sedge meadow. We were interested in the sedge meadow for its own sake, but we also thought it was a possible location of the Tom Thomson sketch Algonquin Park Vista.
The top end of Carcajou is quite rugged with cliffs on both sides as befits an early glacial flow channel (with the controlling sill located in/near the sedge meadow).
We flushed a deer at the portage. Diana's best deer act had it confused for a while but it eventually figured us out.
The sedge meadow was interesting and different from most Algonquin wetlands in that there was little in the way of sphagnum and broadleaf bushes but – surprise – sedges instead. Pitcher plant, pogonia, sundews, water lilies, bladderwort, with a few cattails (starting to invade).
Does the location match the painting? Probably not. The background hills are perhaps right, but the present tree growth hides the vista in the sketch. And [if it is the location] the present water level is much higher. However, the water level is controlled by a beaver dam. So you might be able to get a match in the absence of trees and beavers.
[We have subsequently found a location on lower Carcajou Creek that appears to be a more likely location; see addendum.]
On the way back to our camp site, we stopped and photographed the real wood pile I remember from 30 years ago – slab wood 4' lengths, piled in 2 rows – let's say 6' high and extending for perhaps 200' (eyeballing). That's in the range of 50 to 100 cords of firewood. Clearly part of the winter firewood supply for the lumber camp. Leaving it to rot is wasteful but not on the same scale as wasting full sized logs (which is what my faulty memory recalled).
[Diana: The wood in the pile seemed to be a mixture of slab wood and small cross-section rectangular pieces – looked like offcuts from a sawmill, the slabs from squaring up the logs and the rectangular pieces leftovers from cutting dressed lumber to size.]
We returned to camp at about 12:30 and had coffee. The wind is up again so not good conditions for exploring the long southern arm on Carcajou.
(We didn't go to Greenleaf because currently Diana has been trying to be nice to her knee; it has been complaining for the last several weeks).
Quiet afternoon. Wind rising and falling enough to preclude a pleasant exploratory paddle. Diana napped; Bob contemplated.
It is now 7:20. All is calm, food is up, and we are about to have our evening libation.
[Diana: supper was Alpinaire Pepper Beef with Rice – quite good.]
2015 June 25 (Thursday) - Carcajou Lake to Little Carcajou Lake
Up at 6:15. Temp 8C. Morning clear, some high milky cloud, light mist on the water, wind calm. Quiet night.
9:35 – in the canoe, off our camp site and ready to head out. Lake is almost glassy calm. Sun feels hot. Clouds some cirrus, some stratus.
Through the portage [Carcajou Lake to Carcajou Creek] @ 10:05. That portage is flat but very rough – boulder pavement as befitting a glacial drainage (like the portage below High Falls Lake, but rougher). The saving grace is that the boulders are firmly rooted and don't shift under foot.
[We stopped at the old logging dam site in order to better evaluate whether this might have been the location of the Tom Thomson painting The Drive.]
- Some notes re the dam site:
- - there is a flat area on south shore above dam – perhaps something was there, but perhaps it was flooded
- - there is no doubt that this is a logging dam.
- - the dam extends about 20' into bush on south shore
- - the elevation of dam [was] about [the] top of [the] big rock – i.e. about 6' above current level
- - assuming this is the site, the painting location is now completely overgrown and the view is no longer available
4:30 Sitting in our bug net on Little Carcajou Lake. Camp is all set up. We've had coffee and afternoon snacks.
Sky is overcast and wind calm. I suspect rain.
We are both tired. More tired perhaps than we have any right to be given how far we've come. But travelling Carcajou Creek is hard, rugged work and the day is warm and muggy.
We stopped at the cabin. The couple seemed in good spirits. However the woman is still having trouble walking more than 100m or so and the man was complaining of an infected foot. In retrospect, I suspect poison ivy (which is everywhere back in here). Their plan is to leave the cabin first thing Sunday morning with the goal of reaching Achray that day. The man will carry everything (3 loads) while the woman will hobble along empty. If they can't make it all the way to Achray, they will simply camp where they can. If it is raining on Sunday they will delay until Monday but they won't delay beyond Monday.
[They had a plan that they were comfortable with and Diana and I didn't see that there was anything we could reasonably do to assist; we were travelling on quite different schedules. We considered mentioning the situation to the rangers at Achray, but without a specific immediate problem to address — only hypothetical future difficulties — we didn't think that they would show much sympathy or interest.]
We'll never know what happened!
8:55 Sitting in our bug net with our Bushmills. Everything is calm and quiet except for the bullfrogs. The sun is just about to go down. The incessant whine of the mosquitoes has not yet begun.
[Diana: supper was Alpinaire three cheese lasagna. I had not noticed when buying it that it was a four-person dinner, and it was huge. Fortunately (?) I managed to spill about half of it while serving, so we ended up having about the right amount, and it was tasty, too. Didn't enjoy the cleanup so much. Won't make that mistake again.]
2015 June 26 (Friday) - Little Carcajou Lake to Achray
Out of the tent at 6:00 am – 8C. Sky clear – mist with morning breezes.
On the water @ 9:15. Mist has risen, sky still clear, light breeze from the west. Going to have a look at Stone Chute.
[Diana: Stone Chute was interesting – remains (rocks only) of a dam with sluiceway and a log flume along the west shore. No evidence of any timbers remaining. Stunning rocky landscape with a good supply of poison ivy.]
We started through the portage [Little Carcajou to Upper Spectacle] at ~10:00 and finished at 12:15. We paddled the pond without issue. Had lunch while drifting about on Upper Spectacle Lake.
[Diana: Even at the dropping water levels we experienced, the pond was quite deep enough for our canoe with a full load. A bit shallow landing at the east end. Worth the extra loading and unloading to avoid a very rough section of trail.
I fell not far beyond the beaver pond, landing hard on a rock with my bad knee. After some wailing and cursing, lying on the trail, I got out of the pack straps, managed to stand up, hoisted the pack onto my back and carried on. Knee worked until Achray, seized up completely during the drive home. After a couple of colourful days (bruises, abrasions) it seems to be settling down and is functional, if not entirely comfortable.]
[Diana: Straightforward portage into Lower Spectacle Lake. There were two people at the south shore camp site and a solo paddler fishing in the middle of the lake. It seemed odd after having seen only two other people (albeit three times) for the previous five days. Took a few photos in the gut to Carcajou Creek, then did the two portages around the falls. Carried over the rock at 'Peek's Peril'. Stopped in the bay to pump water, eat snacks, etc., and also to rest – we both feel a bit tired.
Light wind, so relatively easy paddle across to Achray, landing around 4:00. Passed through a flotilla of canoes filled with women and children heading out as we came in.
Saw a mother bear and two very small cubs on the road to the gate. Home before 6:00.]
Addendum - 2015 July 27
Our food strategy. We realized on the basis of past experience that previously, our tripping diet tended to be deficient in protein. In addition we realized that even in our day-to-day living our sodium intake tended to be low. But on a strenuous canoe trip, your salt intake needs to increase. Consequently the high sodium content of Cup A Soup etc. and freeze dried meals is a plus, not a minus. Embrace them. And they use minimal fuel to "cook". On this trip the only "cooking" involved boiling water on our Trangia to add to instant soup, freeze-dried meals, coffee and granola. If we assume that we require three to four thousand Calories per day, then a freeze-dried dinner only provides a small proportion of the day's calories. Therefore we focused on our snacks — cheese, oat cakes, gorp, Mahatten Mix, protein bars, and homemade squares and brownies — to provide the bulk of our day's calories (lunch is a glorified snack). Breakfast is a high-calorie granola and cheese. Two protein bars per day can contribute 40g protein. Thus we focused on breakfast and snacks and the freeze-dried dinner was more a token dinner than a crucial part of our daily nutrition. This strategy worked well for us but would not suit all. Freeze-dried dinners are bulky and expensive. In warmer weather and late sundown, we are fine with no fire; others may not be.