75 is the new 45 – well at least for my brother-in-law it is. We did 7 days, 3 sites and 6 portages and he rocked the trip – heading across the portages like he was born with a canoe on his head. My sister-in-law is a mere 72 but continues to be an inspiration for me. Up early for a swim, carrying packs I can barely lift, paddling, cooking great one-pot meals and entertaining the Border Collie for hours on end. She has always been able to stay up later than me, driven by her love of the night sky. I am looking forward to future trips; I just hope I can keep up.
This was the first COVID-19 camping year. The park was very busy, in fact, we were not able to book a fall trip because things were booked up into October. It seems like everyone is camping.
At the end of October we decided to buy new backpacks. The backpacks we wanted were no longer available in the colour we wanted but we found two at Wildrock Outfitters that worked. When we went in to pick them up the place was hopping. We got SealLine dry packs – more about those later. Everything camping was in-demand. It is so nice to see that people are rediscovering camping even if it is hard to get a site.
Because of COVID we cancelled many of our group trips this year including the girls’ trip, a trip with friends, and the kids’ trip. However, we decided to keep our week long trip booked for the end of August. We held on hoping things would improve. They didn’t really. So we decided to all ‘isolate’ for the two weeks before the trip, and social distance on the trip. I am so glad we went, it would have been a long winter otherwise. I just needed to be on the water and spend time with our long time paddling partners.
We spent the first two nights on site #5, one of the beach sites on Spider Lake. Then we headed to the island on Clear Lake for three nights; one of our favorite sites. Then back out to site #7 on Spider Lake for two nights, a site we haven’t stayed on in years.
Site #5 Spider Lake
Because we all love site #5 and it is close to the start of the trip, we decided to make it our first stop. When I booked this trip I forgot that I had a work commitment the first week. After a moment of panic I realized I could do the work from my phone. When I got to site #5 I was reminded that the cell service is not good on the site, even standing on the beach. A trip to the top of the hill behind the site has worked in the past, but not this time. However, I was finally able to get a signal, I just needed to relax and be patient. I got my work done and then had lots of time to relax, enjoy the sun, great campfires and great swimming.
We had a mouse issue. They climbed up our legs at the campfire and chewed holes in some very expensive gear (more about that in another post), but otherwise it was a wonderful start to the trip. I love walking up and down the beach, listening to the waves and feeling the sand between my toes. I am starting to appreciate walking out into the water for a swim, especially when it is calm and quiet.
We left Spider Lake for Clear Lake. It was the perfect day for paddling.
We have had some injuries on the portage into Frog Pond on past trips, but there is now a second trail which is not as steep or as ‘rooty’. We made it safely. We actually took some time to paddle around Frog Pond, something I have been wanting to do for years. It is a very pretty little pond. In fact I think the view from the portage is one of my favorites. Unfortunately the exit from Frog Pond on the other side is not as easy. This time we didn’t see anyone on either portage and didn’t encounter the mosquito swarm we have experienced on past trips. The exit into Clear Lake is always muddy and good for a few laughs. We are pros now though and there was no drama this time.
Site #34 Clear Lake
We have only been to the island on Clear Lake 4 times over the past 25 years. It is a hard site to book! The first time was so long ago there were two sites open. We were on the east side of the island and there were people on the west side (I am not sure it was officially a 2 site island but there were two sites.) The second time we were on the west side. The west side isn’t as pretty – in my opinion – but it has great sunsets. The last time we were on the Island the site was on the east side. This time we were on the east as well. Looking at the map this year it looks like the site is back on the west side. It is likely a good idea since the east is getting a little tired.
The east side of the island is just so pretty and I think the view down the shore to the island is one of my all time favorites – based on the 1000 pictures I have of it on my phone. Someone once said wide open views are nice but islands or points of reference give your eye a place to rest so it is more visually appealing. I agree.
BTW this year I got a Galaxy S10+ because the camera got a good rating. I LOVE IT. I still take my SLR but I only used it a few times. I also took a new charger a BatPower 90W Multifunction Travel Charger. It is heavy but perfect for people who want to use their phone as a camera.
We noticed several dead trees this year. One of my favorite trees on the point across the bay is in the water and several at the site are standing dead.
The KYBO is much further away than the last time, the fire pit needed cleaned out, but other than that the site looks the same.
Are you old enough to remember the scene in the original Planet of the Apes when Charlton Heston sees the Statue of Liberty on the shore? Well when I walked over to the west side of the island I thought of that image. There is a stump that has been there forever, but everything else had changed and grown over. The stump was the Statue of Liberty – everything else was unrecognizable. We did walk over for the sunset one night. Funny, a single cloud blocked the sun. It was still pretty just not as dramatic as we remembered.
We saw lots of frogs (watch where you are walking they are everywhere), a Gartner snake, squirrels, chipmunks, beaver, a huge fish near the shore, lots of loons (there is always a lot of loons on Clear Lake) and we saw some large (20 lbs) animal run past, with long reddish brown fur. It didn’t look like a fox. It will remain a mystery.
On the portage in on the first day we saw the rangers. They were wearing masks – how hot would that be? Anyway, they told us that there was a bear at a site on Clear Lake a few days before we arrived. No bear sighting for us! I am always glad at the end of the trip if we don’t see any bears.
We had a couple of storms which made for some beautiful skies, with strange clouds. We swam in the channel often – it is the best place to swim. We also sat on the rocks and read and had some lovely campfires. Overall we had good weather. We did lots of paddling but the wind was strong. We went to get wood across the lake and getting back was a challenge with the high waves. There is no firewood on the island though.
The storms happened at night. I have a love hate relationship with storms when I am in a tent. So beautiful and terrifying all at the same time. Near big water like Georgian Bay you also get the rumbling effect. During the evening we had some dark skies, wind and distant thunder, but not much rain.
When it was time to move on we were grateful for another nice day. It was a shock paddling down the channel in Spider Lake seeing two rangers in boats wearing masks. It is easy to forget about a pandemic when you are in the forest. It was a bit surreal.
Site #7 Spider Lake
My husband and I had been to site #7 on Spider Lake years ago and we loved it. It is a cozy site. We went late September and had a lot of rain and very cold temperatures but we still loved the site. I think it is the campfire sheltered by rocks down by the waters edge that makes it magical and a perfect fall site. Number 7 is in a bay, off the main route, behind a large rock at the shore. It is on a large point that is easy to talk and very pretty.
My brother-in-law and sister-in-law hadn’t been to the site before and I kept telling them it was small so they were surprised when we arrived. I was surprised too, because it was bigger than I had remembered. On our first trip I think the site seemed small because of the rain. It rained so much that the water level rose and flooded an area that looked like an ideal tent site, which is how we knew to keep our tents close together on higher ground this time. The flood took away a lot of the walkable area and we spent a lot of time under a tarp, which also makes a site seem small.
Because the site is not as private as the Island there was no skinny dipping. Although the site is sheltered, the swimming area faces the other site in the bay. It is hard to really see people, they are far away and the site is back from the water, but we didn’t have much privacy from each other either. However, we also figure with a collective age of 262 years it is time to stop worrying about things – generally. Women know that our bathing suits are thick (and bulky to pack) and take forever to dry. I always pack two if I have room so I don’t need to put on a wet bathing suit but they do take up space. In the picture below you will see a bathing suit drying on the rocks.
We called this trip the mushroom trip – I didn’t think we had that much rain but we have never seen so many mushrooms. In fact we had a day of rain and I think the mushrooms arrived the next day – do they really grow that fast? So many different kinds. I have no desire to eat wild mushrooms (a bad family experience with false morels) but I love the different colours and shapes and sizes. The white ones actually seemed to glow in the dark. However, on two of our sites there was a smell we couldn’t identify. When we realized it smelled like mushrooms left too long in the fridge we guessed…hoped…that it was rotting mushrooms we were smelling.
The path to the KYBO at #7 is not all that clear. The forest is wide open but you can’t see it easily. Someone put small tags in the trees that I didn’t even notice until it was dark and saw they glowed, like a runway through the trees. Very handy at night and it didn’t interfere with the ‘view’ in the daytime.
This site is on a large point, with a very open forest and lots of firewood if you walk back far enough. I do like open forests, nothing can sneak up on you.
One of the reasons I have such fond memories about #7 was the firepit. It is right down by the water. It is very cozy. As I mentioned, the last time we were on #7 was a very cold and wet September weekend. This time it was a hot August so it was very warm by the fire, the rocks really hold the heat.
The rock between the site and the lake offers a lot of privacy and a great place to sit to enjoy the view of the bay. Even though the rock is high and steep, there are two flat takeout areas and a great swimming area. You can actually walk in then push off from the ledge. Perfect for getting out as well.
My sister-in-law pushed off the ledge just as a snapping turtle swam under her. We all went swimming after taking a few turtle pictures. I don’t worry about having a toe chomped, but I don’t want to get too close to those nails. I am always happy to see turtles. I love the little nose holes and the moss that grows on their shells. We have noticed that we don’t see as many as we saw years ago. We have also noticed that they are much smaller than in the past; this was just a little guy.
When it is time to leave, it is always hard to believe and always sad. We left early enough so that we had time to paddle the shoreline and explore before heading to the portage.
On the portage in on the day we arrived we only saw a few people and everyone was social distancing. During our trip, we didn’t see anyone on the portages in and out of Clear Lake, but on the portage out to 3 Legged Lake at the end of our trip it was incredibly busy. It was mid day on a Monday and I counted 24 people coming and going at the shore. There were even more people on the portage. It was impossible to social distance and no one was wearing masks. It was a very stressful way to end our trip.
We did see some amazing kids on the portage, all carrying their own stuff. One very young person was carrying a canoe – amazing. He was doing the portage in flipflops – yikes. We also met four people carrying 3 cases of beer. Bottles and cans are not allowed in the park but they made no effort to hide them. Did they not know the rules or were they just not too concerned?
On the portage, I found myself feeling very judgmental. Not a great way to end the trip either but a great experience to meditate on.
As mentioned, we cancelled the kids trip to Crab Lake, but my brother-in law and sister-in-law held on to one of the sites. They invited us to join them. What a great opportunity to extend the camping season. It was nice to end this trip knowing we would be back with them in a few days.
We finished the trip differently this year. No trip into Parry Sound for burgers. We just packed up and drove home. No stops along the way for food just lots of leftover snacks – nuts, Pringles, cookies and a chocolate bar – you know the things that will help keep us healthy.