Three Nights on St. Andrews Lake.
2019 June 17-20
An account of three night canoe trip to St. Andrews Lake
Diana's old rotator cuff injury continues to bother her. It was an issue for most of last year and continues to be so. Consequently, we couldn't undertake anything very ambitious. So we decided on base camping on St. Andrews Lake. This would allow revisiting St. Francis Lake as a day trip and then on a subsequent day travelling down to High Falls Lake and then up to High Falls Pond — lots of good photo opportunities on that route. However in the event, instead of working our way up to High Falls Pond, we opted to go to Ooze Lake. Usually in mid June, Ooze Lake is a mass of wildflowers, in particular, rose pogonia and swamp pink. But not this year. We also struck out on photographing the old pointer that used to be at the foot of St. Andrews Lake.
But in spite of these two minor disappointments, it was good day. We got lots of photos, including the aftermath of the High Falls Lake Fire. We found it somewhat surprising as to how much more desolate the landscape was compared to immediately after the fire.
Our plan had been that we would camp on the third campsite from the end of the portage on the western shore, the campsite we stayed at the first time we visited St. Andrews Lake 46 years ago (1973 August). But in spite of there being no reservations showing for St. Andrews Lake and not having seen an occupied campsite since leaving Achray, when we arrived on St. Andrews Lake, that site was taken. We subsequently determined the campers were a couple of rangers doing maintenance work in the area. We ended up at the fifth campsite. In retrospect we believe that now the fifth campsite is the premiere campsite on the lake. It is more private and has not been grossly expanded with the undergrowth beaten to death. Nevertheless the third campsite remains a very nice campsite, especially for large groups.
On this trip, we were testing out two new pieces of gear — No-Fly-Zone shirts and a Garmin Inreach. The no-fly-zone shirts were OK but probably not worth the cost, whereas the Inreach fully met expectations (except that its weather forecast missed the overnight rain we had.)
This account is based on our trip diary with only minor editing and additions (except for the figure captions).
Monday, June 17
We're just offshore from the Achray launch site. It's sunny; the wind is calm; there are bugs; the temperature is ~16C. We left the house at ~ 08:30, stopped for gas, and reached the Sand Lake gate at ~09:20. We saw a bear on the Achray road.
We've just finished a snack break at the top of Stratton Lake. It's still calm, broken clouds, feeling warm, especially in the sun with our no fly zone shirts. We met two canoes at the weir. Three generations: 3 or 4 kids, parents and grandparents. All the kids appeared to be under 5, and very well behaved. One of the packs the family had was an old Gerry Vagabond; we haven’t seen one of those since the '70s.
While paddling down Stratton Lake, we encountered a group of 3 kayaks and 1 canoe (or maybe it was two separate groups 2 kayaks plus a canoe and a kayak). Later, we encountered 2 canoes – 4 guys – who looked like they knew what they were doing and had been out for a while — more people than we were expecting based on the reservations..
We're sitting in the bug net on St. Andrews Lake, waiting for the coffee water to boil. We’re all set up. We camped about half way down the lake [5th site from the portage]. Unfortunately the campsite we were aiming for, ‘our’ old campsite, was occupied. The only occupied campsite we have seen all day.
We arrived at St. Andrews at about 12:30 and here at about 12:45. Not a bad campsite – compact, clean. No perfect tent spot, but a couple of acceptable ones. Disappointed we couldn’t get our old campsite, but in reality, this is quite a nice campsite – except for a very bold and pesky chipmunk.
Multiple 6+? canoes have passed headed upstream. I guess the lesson is that at least in the off season, an absence of reservations doesn’t necessarily translate into an absence of people.
We're sitting in the bug net, teeth are brushed, food is up, Diana is pouring the Bushmills. It is dead calm, a quiet evening, with no more canoes. Supper was homemade minute rice with freeze dried vegetables and beef. It was OK but not great — filling but too much pepper.
We have almost finished our 1st mosquito coil. At this rate we will go over our allotment but I think we are OK. Bugs not too bad at the campsite (yet) but fierce back in the bush. Although the sky is still broken, we are not receiving any sunshine, thus the dull lighting. It is cooling off.
A muskrat swam by earlier, as did a mother merganser with chicks on her back and more following behind.
We had a double issue of Bushmills this evening; it went down well.
Tuesday, June 18
We're sitting in the bug net drinking our morning coffee. It's a calm morning with a relatively clear sky. The sun is just about to rise above opposite shore. ~12C. The bugs are out but not a big issue within the net.
It was a calm night. Both of us slept well except Bob was suffering some abdominal discomfort early in the night. Certainly we were warm enough.
The poplar fluff on the surface of the lake moves up or down depending on the minimal wind currents. At times, it is moving against the current.
We are getting ready to head out to St. Francis Lake.
We are finishing up a snack break on Rouge Lake. We left the campsite at 09:07 and paddled to the portage, then Bob realized that he was still wearing his camp shoes, so we returned to the campsite for a shoe change. We finally started the portage at about 10:30. It is still a nice day but the sky has milked over.
We are finishing up lunch on St. Francis Lake. It’s a warm muggy day; Diana is feeling somewhat off due to the heat.
We arrived at the lake a little after 12:00. It was mirror smooth and the sky was clear again. We made our way to the lone campsite for lunch. The bugs weren’t bad out on the shore-side rocks. This campsite has undergone some major modifications since the last time we were here. It’s a nice little campsite, albeit compact, but there’s no good tent spot. Where we used to pitch the tent is now obstructed.
The portage is unmaintained and as such it is a little overgrown and faint at the beginning but ok to follow once you were in the bush. There were a couple of trees down across the trail, but they presented only a minor inconvenience.
We're back in our bug net on St. Andrews Lake, waiting for the coffee water to boil. We left St. Francis Lake at ~14:10 and reached Rouge at ~14:30. We stopped for a break on Rouge. We started the portage back to St. Andrews at ~15:00 and finished at ~15:15. Coming back was easier and more straightforward than going, although it felt hot and humid with barely a breath of wind.
St. Andrews Lake seems the same as when we left with no new residents. The two guys camped at “our” campsite are clearly a couple of rangers doing maintenance work in the area. They are currently out working.
Everything is put away, the food is up, our teeth are brushed, etc. It is a nice calm evening, still about 20C. One of the rangers was out paddling around solo. There is no one else on the lake as far as we know. (But the reservations suggested one other party).
We had Backpacker's Pantry 3 cheese lasagna for dinner – good, we can have again. In reality it’s basically cheese and macaroni – no butter is needed (but croutons would be good).
Wednesday, June 19
We're in the bug net drinking morning coffee. We were out of the tent at 06:40. It was dead calm with the sky somewhat clouded. 15C. The bugs are out.
Both of us were wearing no-fly-zone shirts (Permethrin treated and lined to meet Health Canada regulations) on this trip. They seem to work, but with the lining, they are very warm. Probably too warm for a hot sweaty portage when the bugs are out in full — high teens and twenties. They are best when the temperature is lower; but then, the bugs are less of an issue. Further, it is not clear whether the bug protection is mainly due to the Permethrin or the mechanical armour provided by the lining (both I suspect). However since there is usually a need for a slightly warmer shirt on an early season canoe trip, we will continue to take them. We don't regret the purchase but probably won't buy any more. When the weather turns warm, there is still a role for a light long-sleeved shirt and a bottle of deet.
We're away from the campsite, heading for High Falls Pond.
For many years an old pointer lay, fully submerged at the outlet of St. Andrews Lake. Then some persons unknown attempted a salvage operation. Subsequently, others joined in and hastened the demise of this old logging relic. Now it is gone. If it had been left undisturbed, we have no doubt that it would still be there. There are several lessons here, but we will refrain from preaching.
We're just finishing up a snack break on High Falls Lake. There's lots of water. Bob got a soaker on launching the canoe at the end of the portage (his foot just slipped on the loose gravel).
On the basis of the water flow, our elderly agility, etc., we decided to head to Ooze Lake instead of working our way up into High Falls Pond. We were hoping for a good floral display.
We're just finishing up lunch at the northern unofficial campsite on High Falls Lake. We went to Ooze Lake but for what ever reason – too early, too late, water levels are too high – there weren’t any orchids. So we returned to High Falls Lake. It’s warm and close and clouded over and it feels like rain. We’ll see.
We are back at our campsite, in the bug net, under the tarp, in the rain. Diana is pouring the coffee. It started to rain just as we finished the portage into St. Andrews. As far as we could see, the old pointer at the foot of St. Andrews Lake is gone. Probably the result of decay and this spring’s high water levels.
Dinner is over, teeth are brushed; we are sorting out the food for the food hang. The weather has cleared. The sky has broken cloud, but more cloud than sky. The wind is calm. There is no significant rain in the forecast (according to InReach).
Supper was Alpinaire Pepper Beef with Rice. OK but not great. Diana: “It’s fine”.
It's Bushmill time, a nice evening, calm with bullfrogs. We suspect that the rangers have left, leaving just us and a couple of guys at the campsite opposite the Marie Lake portage. (They had a hammock and a bivy sack.)
and it’s raining again.
and it’s raining again with some enthusiasm.
Thursday, June 20
We're sitting in the bug net having our morning coffee; we were out of the tent at about 06:00. It rained all night on and off and is continuing. This morning the lake is dead calm, temperature 16C. The rain, when raining, is very light. The ceiling is very low and thus may burn off.
I totally screwed up the morning coffee. I put all the coffee and sugar in one mug and nothing in the other and didn’t notice my mistake until I realized that the second mug was just pure water. I mixed them back and forth using the pot lids.
We are just finishing a snack break on Stratton Lake. We were away from the campsite at ~ 10:15, then stopped at our old campsite to take photos. (The rangers had left. I have never seen a campsite so neat and tidy.)
On the return journey to Achray, took a lot of photos trying to match scenes from 1973 – some with more success than others. Got back to the car a little after 13:00 and were home around 15:30.