The second day of our trip was set aside for a day trip up to the Barron Canyon. The plan was to get on the water early, head up through the Cascades to the canyon, then come back by way of Opalescent and Ooze Lake. This worked well for everyone involved, because it meant that my tripping partners got a chance to experience the trip to and through the Canyon for the first time (one of the most beautiful routes in the park) and I got to experience Ooze Lake for the first time (not one of the most beautiful routes in the park).
We started off by paddling over to the St. Andrews portage and, having learned our lesson the day before, portaging across instead of trying to paddle through. Once on St. Andrews we turned north towards the High Falls end of the lake. There are a quite a few campsites on the western shore of St. Andrews as you paddle north, almost all of which were taken that morning. I’ve never stayed on St. Andrews, but a couple of those sites looked pretty decent. The best one though, in my opinion, is the site directly across from the portage over to High Falls Lake. This one was, unfortunately, also taken that morning, but it looks like a pretty ideal spot to set up for the night. You get the white noise of rushing water, pretty scenery and some honest to goodness historical content thanks to the remains of the sunken pointer boat just offshore (last year when we paddled through this way the pointer point was sticking out of the water with the bow pointing towards the sky, this year it had fallen, or been pushed, over and almost looked like it was pulled up on land. If I had to guess how that happened I’d have to say ghosts).
The portage over to High Falls is a pretty easy half kilometre, made even easier by not being the one to carry the canoe this time. Not having my head buried inside the boat gave me a chance to appreciate some of the scenery along the portage, including a beautiful little hidden grotto that I missed last year. It’s off to the right of the path as you head towards High Falls, about 2/3 of the way along. I’m assuming that since I’d never seen it before no one else has either, so I’m hereby naming it Drew’s Grotto. But don’t worry, I’m not selfish, feel free to check out Drew’s Grotto the next time you head through that way. You’re welcome.
The effects of the forest fire that closed High Falls back in 2016 (just before my last trip through this way) are still plainly visible. I mean, that makes sense, Algonquin isn’t some enchanted forest where things grow back in a year, but still there was some part of me that was surprised to still see such devastation all along the shore. Anyone who ever wonders whether they really need to put that extra bucket of water on their campfire, or if it’s ok to drop a cigarette on the portage, just paddle through High Falls for your answer.
The portage out of High Falls onto the Cascades is still narrow and uneven. It is, however, much easier to navigate when you’re once again not carrying the canoe. If you’re keeping track, the score right now is Drew, zero carries, everyone else, lots of carries. I like that math. If you want 1,500 words on how beautiful the trip along the Cascades is, feel free to go back and read last year’s report. Not much has changed. The waterfalls/rapids in between sections of the river are still gorgeous, the river itself is still a very pretty paddle.
In complete contradiction to what I wrote last paragraph, one significant difference between last year and this year is that water levels were a good deal higher this time around. High enough that we decided to try our luck at paddling past the last Cascades portage. This would otherwise be a short, 275m portage, but you know what’s better than carrying a canoe for 275 meters? Carrying a canoe for zero meters. Our decision looked like a pretty good one for the first 150 meters or so. Then, as we scraped to a stop on a bed of half inch deep river rock over surprisingly fast moving current, it looked like a bad one. We ended up climbing out and walking the canoe about 10 meters, at which point the river got deep enough to paddle again and we continued on our merry way.
I really like the paddle along the Barron River between the Cascades and Brigham chute. The shore on either side of the river starts to rise, hinting at what’s to come when you get down into the Canyon. There are a couple of rock falls that look like someone spilled a bag of boulders down the side of a hill and you paddle past them both marveling at the sheer size of the jumbled rock and hoping that those rocks don’t pick that exact minute to finish their tumble towards the water.
We decided to try and paddle past the portage leading out of Brigham Lake and into the small pond just before Brigham Chute. Once again, we made it most of the way and once again most of the way was not enough to keep us from getting wet. This time we were actually moving a pretty good pace when we smacked up against a canoe seeking underwater rock, flexing the side of the boat to the point where I expected to find a good sized hole in the side beside a series of scratches that spelled out “fuck you Drew”. Fortunately, no holes appeared and we were able to wade the rest of the rapids, (which was actually a really refreshing change of pace as the day was getting pretty hot, so yay?).
We did not try to paddle past the next portage, the Brigham Chute portage, for fear of adding more scratches to the bottom of the canoe and also because Brigham Chute looks like this:
Once over the portage, we set off for the canyon. I am not going to mention here that I nearly dumped the canoe getting into it at the start of the river. Nor am I going to mention that I did this in front of a very lovely seeming family who were enjoying both their lunch and my inability to keep my boat rightside up. Nope, not mentioning it at all.
I don’t know what I can say about the Canyon that many others, including myself, haven’t said before. It’s gorgeous. Go there. Hike around the top of it, paddle through the bottom of it. Just experience it. There’s nothing else quite like it in Algonquin and it’d be a shame if you missed it.
We took some time to appreciate the Canyon, then headed back the way we came. We paddled across Brigham to the portage put in/campsite on Brigham’s South Shore. I explored the campsite a bit while my buddies went ahead with the canoe to Opalescent. It’s not a bad little spot, although I have to imagine there’s a fair bit of traffic through the site which would be a negative. The shoreline is also kinda weedy, which probably doesn’t make for great swimming. On the plus side, there’s like half a dozen stump chairs, so at least you’ll be able to offer visitors a place to sit.
The portage to Opalescent was harder than I remembered, with a fair bit of up and down and rocky ground to boot. Glad I wasn’t carrying the canoe (for those still keeping score, times I carried the canoe: few, times other people carried the canoe: many. Still winning). We paddled across the western tip of Opalescent to the start of the Ooze Lake portage, the first new ground I was covering this day.
After a pleasant chat with a couple of guys coming the other way, we crossed the 640m over to Ooze. Despite its moderate length, this portage is pretty easy. There isn’t too much up and down, the path is clear; it’s like Ooze Lake just can’t wait for you to get there. You, on the other hand, can probably wait to get to Ooze lake. It turns out the Algonquin Park Lake Naming Committee (APLNC) knew what it was doing when they named this one. It’s a small body of water, barely more than a pond. And, arguably, it’s not actually a single small body of water but many even smaller bodies of water separated by weird floating clumps of … dirt? peat? swamp monster droppings? … I don’t know. What I do know is that we started off poking at various floating clumps while trying to get away from the shoreline, then poked at even more floating clumps as we paddled across. And I’m pretty sure at one point one of the clumps poked back.
After surviving the Ooze we portaged back onto High Falls Lake and headed back to our site by way of St. Andrew’s. After a quick stop mid paddle to watch a deer swim across Stratton, we dropped our gear off and headed up to the High Falls waterslide area to swim the rest of the day away. Unlike the previous day, we definitely did not have the place to ourselves this time. That didn’t stop us from getting in quite a few slides and it certainly didn’t stop me from losing my balance mid slide and scraping a toonie sized circle of skin off my spine. You know what hurts? Scraping a toonie sized circle of skin off your spine while falling down a (very gradual) waterfall. At this point my back, which was still on strike from the day before, threw up its hands, dropped its picket sign and started applying for jobs in skeletons with better worker safety records.
We headed back to our site on Stratton and enjoyed another pleasant evening with a much more successful campfire than we’d had the night before. Turns out feeding a fire instead of being distracted by Animalopoly makes it burn better. (Of course, after my second straight night of losing Animalopoly I was about ready to feed that to the fire as well).
The next morning we packed our things and paddled back to the access point. You would think that getting back to the access point would mean the trip was over, but you would also think that at some point Taylor Swift will release a song that wasn’t a thin slice of musical paradise, and you’d be wrong about both those thoughts (I ride for T-Swizzle all day and night). We decided that we weren’t quite done with paddling for the day, so we strapped the canoe onto our car and headed over to Number One Lake for lunch.
Number One Lake is accessible from the main access road just after you pass the Sand Lake permit office. There’s no canoe route into or out of Number One, so your only option for getting there is by portaging in from the access road.There’s a small pad where you park your car, then you portage along a 180m trail that goes up and over a small hill. The hill does wonders for making it feel like you’re further away from the access road than you are, although I imagine if you’re camped there you would still get a fair bit of road noise. The portage takes you right through one of Number One’s two campsites, a decent enough spot with a nice view of the lake and enough level areas to pitch a couple of tents. The site was occupied when we arrived, so we put our canoe in the water and paddled along the shore to Number One’s other campsite; a smallish spot on the north west shore that doesn’t look to be used that much. We made ourselves a pre-lunch (McDonald’s was very much on the menu for the drive home, so we didn’t want to fill up) and enjoyed the quiet for a while before packing up and heading back to the car.
This time when we strapped the canoe on top of the car our trip was truly over. All in all, it was a great weekend. If you haven’t been to this part of the Park you need to fix that. There’s a bit of something for everyone out this way. There’s a drive in campground at the Achray access point for people who like car camping. Grand and Stratton are very kid friendly with nice beaches and the High Falls waterslide area. And for those who want to get in a good couple of days paddling and portaging the Barron Canyon is a must see, with plenty of great camp sites on these surrounding lakes. Damn. Now I want to go back.
How many days until ice out?
New Lakes Paddled: 4
Total Lakes Paddled: 14
Total Portages: 19
Total Portage Distance: 8.43 KM
Total Travel Distance: 42.7 KM