It was our first trip without John, our long-time paddling partner. Our other paddling partners were not sure how long they would be able to camp this year, so we only booked an 8 day trip on Spider Lake in Massassauga Provincial Park.
I was dealing with an ongoing knee injury too, so we wanted an easy trip and sites near the portage for access. I actually booked two sites right across the lake from each other; however the two sites could not have been more different; a rock cliff and a beach.
So why did you book a site on a cliff when you had a bad knee, you ask?
Well, I am not really sure. Wishful thinking perhaps? Was I thinking it would be better by the time we left for the trip? It was definitely a lesson in accepting help and letting go. For my paddling partners it was a lesson in patience. Good thing they love me!
We spent the first four nights on the cliff, Site 14. We have always avoided 14 because it is next to the channel that everyone needs to pass through to get anywhere else in this section of the park. We thought it would be busy and therefore, not very private. No skinny-dipping! Also, did I mention it was on a cliff. We also avoided it because of the climb.
We were happy to discover that the timing of the trip worked for everyone and we were all able to start out together and the portage was quiet. We met one family with a dog that was on leash and like our dog, still working on his social skills.
We arrived quickly and found that there was a really good landing at the site; the lake bottom was sandy and there was a big flat area to unload and put the canoes. However, from there it was straight up a steep hill to the site.
I was not able to carry anything because of my knee, so yes, I was feeling guilty for booking the site. No one complained as they helped me get my stuff to the top of the hill. Going down the hill was actually harder, which is often the case. It was slippery because it was needles and leaves, no rock to offer a solid foothold. There were trees to help if I started to fall, but that is not all that reassuring. Now keep in mind our group ranges in age from 56 to 74, so you may not find it as challenging if you are still a spring chicken.
We were sure rewarded when we got to the top. What a beautiful site. The view was amazing, we had two fairly flat tent sites and a lovely kitchen area with a campfire pit looking out over the lake.
We found that there was a rocky path down to the lake from the kitchen area. We used that path to fetch water. It wasn’t really easy, but the rock made it easier than the hill down to the canoes. About halfway down the hill there was a lovely spot to sit and look out over the channel. Apparently this is where people can also access the ‘jumping rock’ if they are so inclined (we weren’t so inclined).
Our arrival day was sunny and warm however the weather forecast was calling for a storm in the night. About 9:00 we started to hear thunder in the distance. It was raining a bit as we sat by the fire. We could hear people talking, then we saw a canoe in the bay. The person in the front was reading a map with a headlamp. They found the channel and started paddling toward us. I walked down to the ledge and chatted with them briefly. They were heading to a site at the far end of Spider Lake. By now, it was close to 9:30 and very dark. They explained that they had never been to the park before so things were slow going. They also mentioned that they were aware of the storm brewing.
Spider Lake is not all that easy to navigate in the daytime with the bays, channels, twists and turns, so I would never try it at night, even though I know the lake well. These young folks were as happy as can be and left with a cheery goodbye. About 30 minutes later we were rushing to the tents to avoid the rain, thinking about these campers who would still be on the water. We were also thinking about being on a cliff in a storm. Over the years we have met many nighttime paddlers, it just does not seem fun to me at all.
We had some great morning swims with mist on the water. We wandered around the paths exploring the site. It is a fair size point with a very pretty and open forest. You can follow the water back into the channel a long way. It was a good site for finding wood; it appears that a lot of trees have fallen in storms over the years.
We had a great few days on this site, although the weather was not very warm. What we discovered about this site was its complete lack of sunshine. OK, maybe not a complete lack, we did have a bit of morning sun which was nice. We sat down by the water for breakfast on a few mornings. In the afternoon we sat on the edge of the ledge to get the sun, but we had to keep moving our chairs.
We did a lot of paddling and exploring because we didn’t know this end of the lake well. We checked out some of the other empty campsites and explored the little bays.
The site was actually very private. We could hear people paddling past but they didn’t know we were there unless we were down by the water.
It was windy up on the hill so the stick stove was a bit of a challenge, but it would be a great site during bug season.
All and all it was a great site. Although every time we needed to go to the canoes I think I might have heard people cursing me under their breath. We could have put the canoes on the rock near the swimming area, but it would have been harder getting in and out and they would have been in the way.
Our big move day involved a 10 minute leisurely paddle across the bay. We were heading to Site 5, our favorite beach site.
We could actually see Site 5 from Site 14 so we knew when the people left. That made deciding when to leave easier. We used binoculars and felt a bit like creepy neighbours.
The beach site has been one of our favorites for many years. I think we have stayed there 3 or 4 times now. Being able to have a hammock and tent next to the beach is pretty nice. Sitting by the campfire near the beach is also excellent. The big bay makes the night sky viewing spectacular, lying on the beach looking at the stars or going for a late night swim is pretty cool too.
There was a very large tree down where we normally put the canoes, and near a tent site. It was a bit eerie.
We had sunshine and clear nights, although a lot of high winds – the price for having a site facing west. I guess we wouldn’t have the beach if it wasn’t for the winds. The bonus of facing west was the full days of sunshine. We were enjoying the sunshine after being on Site 14. We had one very hot day but the wind kept it comfortable.
Early morning swims followed by sitting on the beach with coffee waiting for the sun – which arrived at 10:00.
One day we hiked the portage into Canoe Lake. It is such a pretty portage. We have always wanted to explore Canoe Lake; maybe next time.
One day, we paddled over to Site 16 for old time sake; we stayed on 16 a lot in the early days. We saw a group of campers practicing ‘rescues’ and having fun.
My sister-in-law never paddles in the stern and she decided she wanted to try so one afternoon we went out paddling. She did an AMAZING job and loved every minute of it. She was a natural. She and her husband have been paddling together for over 30 years, and they will now need to negotiate stern and bow.
We had an interesting cloud formation on our one rainy day. The water was so still you could see how far the sand extended. After the rain stopped we went out to enjoy an amazing evening paddle and the sunset. We paddled around the bay and took lots of pictures. It always amazes me how close things seem when the water is calm; waves make things seem much further away.
We had lots of waves on the day we were leaving. It was a bit of a challenging paddle out. We got to the portage and it was fairly busy. At one point I moved off to the side with my dog because he is not great with people and after a week camping it takes him a while to adjust again to meeting strangers. I could hear a woman telling everyone in her group how to portage. As she walked past me, she stopped to give me advice on how to train my dog so I wouldn’t need to get off the trail when we met people. Oh my, it was hard not to respond.
Back to the car, into Perry Sound for burgers feeling grateful for a great trip with great company.
I am so fortunate to have such a great brother-in-law and sister-in-law to paddle with. Campfires, sipping sangria, paddling, storytelling, chatting about food, it is all good. However, we were all painfully aware that our brother/brother-in-law was no longer with us. We told stories, had some laughs about things he said and did over the years, but mostly we were lost in our own thoughts at those times when the hole in our group was the most obvious – dinners and campfires. He added such drama with his fishing tales, his reminiscing about past trips and his endless bear stories.
Our trips have changed, but our trips are still so special and I enjoyed every minute. Whether I was hobbling up a hill, sitting under a tarp during an all day rain or battling high winds out in the canoe, I appreciated where I was and who I was with.
I’m already starting to plan next year’s trip.