The Home Stretch – Part Two: Opeongohmygod

This is a continuation from The Home Stretch – Part One: 100 Reasons to Smile. I recommend going back and reading that first. But I once also recommended to a bunch of people that we go see Jason X: Jason in Space in theatres, so maybe my entertainment related recommendations should be taken with a grain of salt. 

The picture kind of says it all.

As happy as I was to have hit my 100th lake, my arrival on Happy Isle also marked the culmination of almost 35 KM of tripping for the day, so I was eager to find a place to set up camp. The site I eventually settled on was decent enough, if not spectacular. I took a spot on the northern shore, close to the portage up to Red Rock Lake. There were a couple of nice tent sites, a good fire pit and a great stone beach that runs  a good distance along the north shore. There were a couple of long, downed tree trunks that have washed up on shore, making for fantastic spots to sit by the water and enjoy dinner. I had a pretty pleasant evening sitting with my back against one of those logs, watching the water and reading my book. At one point a trip came paddling down the lake from the Opeongo portage with the guy in the middle playing his guitar and everyone singing “The General“. This brought back some pretty fond memories of my days at Ahmek where it was pretty much guaranteed that once a summer someone would get up in front of the dining hall and sing this song with wildly varying degrees of success.

Happy Isle is a very nice lake in itself. The island that I have to assume it’s named for is smack dab in the middle of the lake. All the sites on the island were taken, so I can’t vouch for whether or not it actually is a happy island firsthand, but I can say with certainty that the bachelor party camping on one of those sites was blindingly, deliriously ecstatic. There’s nothing like drifting off to sleep on an Algonquin night listening to the waves lapping at the shore, the loons calling to each other and a bunch of wasted 20-somethings shouting things that you have to write down and look up later, and then wish you’d never looked up. I dunno, a bachelor party in the Park sounds like a great idea, but if you decide to go that route remember that sound travels over water and maybe don’t bring enough booze to raise the water levels by a couple of feet.

Looking south from the North Arm of Opeongo.

It rained overnight and the next morning brought a uniformly grey sky. I set off as early as possible, eager to get across the 2.2 km portage onto Opeongo quickly in the hopes of avoiding more rain and any headwinds that might come with that rain. The good news is that I did manage to avoid the rain. The bad news is that I definitely did not avoid the wind. In fact, for much of the 12+ KM paddle down Opeongo the wind seemed to be changing directions constantly, coming at me from every angle but behind. I had, at various times,  a headwind, a sidewind, a headsidewind, an ohmygodyou’vegottobefuckingkiddingmewind. Pretty much every kind of wind you can think of except for a tail wind. That was easily one of the most frustrating paddles I have ever had.

Despite being overcome by an almost overwhelming desire to break my paddle at various points, I have to say I’m glad I had the chance to see Opeongo. This was my first time on the lake and it’s hard to find the words to describe just how massive it is. Each arm or bay would be considered a good sized lake in its own right, and there are more than a few of these, all connected together in one giant inkblot of an inland ocean.

Oh look, one of those magical ghost fires that starts all by itself everyone once in a while.

My route down Opeongo took me out of Hailstorm Bay into the North Arm and down through the narrows where the Dennison Farm once stood. There are a few islands in the narrows, some of which have campsites on them. One island, that had no campsite, did however have a fire pit, complete with a still burning fire. What it didn’t have was any sign of the person who had started that fire. Nor did it provide any clue as to why they thought it was a good idea to leave that fire burning beside a giant pile of branches and sticks on a windy day (not that this would be a good idea on a calm day either). I saw the smoke from the water and went over and put the fire out, wondering all the while what Smokey the Bear or his lesser known cousin, Charcoal the Armadillo, would have thought. I bet they would have been pissed. I was.

Taking a much needed break at Windy Point. Spoiler: It was windy.

After leaving the narrows islands I struck out across another large, open area towards Windy Point. I battled a sidewind the entire way and was thrilled when I finally reached an empty campsite on Windy Point to stop for a rest and a snack. The campsite I stopped on was gorgeous. If I were ever to camp on Opeongo for the night I’d try and get back there. It has a fantastic view across the water towards Jones Bay and the East Narrows, great swimming spots and plenty of room for a tent or two. It’s a great place to stop for a snack, watch the wind push the waves across the water and contemplate never leaving dry land again. I stopped there for about fifteen minutes (that threatened to turn into a lifetime every time I thought about the prospect of getting back out in that wind) and then pushed on, hoping that the worst was behind me.

Surprise! It wasn’t.

Coming up on the south arm. This was the last 20 feet without a severe head or side wind for about an hour.

Almost as soon as I left Windy Point and started into the South Arm the wind picked up again. It came at me on a diagonal that meant I had to sit in the middle of the canoe and paddle with everything I had on the left side just to keep the boat pointed in something close to the direction I wanted to go. At this point I began to look longingly at the numerous water taxis that were zipping past, carrying people who were apparently much smarter than me and their canoes, which may or may not have been smarter than me, back from the furthest reaches of Opeongo. That was the start of an extremely frustrating hour that didn’t really improve until I’d paddled the length of the South Arm and turned into Sproule Bay. On the plus side, it did give me ample opportunity to try out some of the words I’d heard from the bachelor party the night before.

Best welcoming committee ever.

I finished my trip by paddling up to the Opeongo store where my family was waiting for me. My daughter had painted a fantastic sign, possibly the best thing ever painted in Algonquin Park up to and including any and all works by Tom Thomson or the Group of Seven. My son had also chipped in, adding a very artistic palm print smear that really made the entire thing pop. All in all, it was a wonderful way to end the trip and hit my 100 lakes target (well, 101). Although, just because I’ve made it to 100 doesn’t mean I’m done tripping for the summer. I’ll have another post up soon and I’m planning on getting in at least one trip when the fall colours come in later this month.

Looking back on this trip, despite the challenges of Opeongo on a windy day, I’d say that the Canoe Lake to Opeongo route is a good one. This is particularly true for someone looking for a good sized trip but who wants to cover a lot of distance on the water. There are certainly portages, and some of those are pretty long, but the majority of the travel is over the water. For anyone looking for a more relaxing option, this would be a good three day trip, stopping for your first night on Burnt Island, your second on Happy Isle or Opeongo’s North Arm, and finishing off on Opeongo for the final day.

101 down. Many more to go. Until next time, enjoy the heck out of your fall.

New Lakes Paddled: 8
Total Lakes Paddled: 12
Total Portages: 8
Total Distance Portaged: 7.245 KM
Total Distance Covered: 56.80 KM


6 thoughts on “The Home Stretch – Part Two: Opeongohmygod

  1. I really enjoyed your posts … I am a Tanamkoon Alumni – and completed the loop you described years ago (29 years ago). So your description hit one of my favorite vivid memories of my youth.
    I can remember hitting the shores of Opeongo and the counsellor on our trip was to intimidated to stern … I took her place, and clearly still keep that memory like a badge of honor.
    I returned many years later, with the best of intentions to tackle the feat again, and realized the water taxi was not a shameful choice.
    I can’t wait to return someday with my son when he’s a bit older 😉 thank you.

  2. I was on Opeongo on a Scout trip around 1980 or 1981. Nothing memorable about the trip out, other than we went up through the west arm and it was against the wind, when we considered wind to be like, a normal feature of a day kind of wind. We returned several days later through the East Arm. The day before we had come through that blankety-blank 5K from Dickson. We woke up early that morning to get a jump on the wind. It didn’t matter, because even early on, no exaggeration at all, I can see it clear as day. Waves were crashing on the shore. We had to load the canoes by having guys stand on either side so the bows would cut through the waves during that process.

    Progress was ridiculously slow. You’d look at the shore, see how slowly you were moving, get very depressed, and move on. Three teenagers per aluminum Grumman. I had stern. All the way, dead on headwind. We had no business being on that lake. I have NEVER, EVER been on a lake in worse canoeing conditions than that.

    We got to the Join of East/West. That’s when we started going broadside over the swells – yeah, they were swells. Center boy had to bail out once or twice. I don’t know how long it took, but it was forever. Absolutely forever before we got to the south arm and could hide behind some islands. For the entire paddle – campsite to car – I had to paddle left side to maintain any control of that boat.

    I swore off Opeongo that day, saying I’d never go on another one of our scout canoe trips of that lake was involved. So, when they included Opeongo in the trip the next year, of course like an idiot I went.

    1. Great story David, thanks for sharing. Sounds like you had a much worse paddle than I did 🙂 Opeongo is something else alright.

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