Sleeping Under the Stars: Rock Lake to Galeairy Lake, Algonquin Park
We woke on the mid-spring morning with the sun with the canoe loaded and the car packed for our trip into Algonquin backcountry. Finn, at eleven months, continues to have a little early morning nap – usually just around the time I’m hoping for my morning tea, which more often than not goes down in a gulp or hours later quite cold. Just as we had hoped, this nap coincided with our trip north to Huntsville and then through Algonquin Provincial Park on highway 60.
Unfortunately, the night before we set off Finn nursed through much of the night leaving me with unsettled and inconsistent sleep. We suspected teething woes. I worried about how this would affect my energy levels for the gruelling day of paddling and portaging ahead, but by this point sleep-deprivation was still common enough for me and I trudged on.
Arriving at the Rock Lake Park Office just after it opened at 8 am, we were full of optimism and excitedly asked office staff about the fishery, bugs and wildlife while we checked in. Afterward, we made our way to the Rock Lake access point (#9). Here we met with swarms of black flies that we, and more frustratingly, Tess couldn’t escape. Finn donned his bug suit and I threw on my bug net, but the black of it seemed to attract them more. Despite this, we posed for a quick timed photo before we were lifted away by the bugs (as you see, poor Tess couldn’t catch a break and wasn’t in the mood for a photo).
Joel planned a trip that was manageable for our first backcountry trip with Finn, but that still offered a bit of a challenge for us. We travelled from the Rock Lake Access Point through Rock Lake with a hope of seeing Aboriginal pictographs that were to be found along some cliffs. While we couldn’t spot the pictographs, it made for a nice spot to cruise and enjoy a snack in the canoe before paddling to the 100 m portage take-out that would lead us to Galeairy Lake. Opting to forego the longer trip toward Penn Falls to see the petroglyphs, after our snack we made our way to the portage and dam that would take us to Galeairy Lake.
There were moments along this trip when I wondered at the truth behind the idea of coming into Algonquin for “untouched” wilderness. In truth, this space has been utterly touched over the years of its settlement. The logging of this and other parks was a huge industry for the area, and decades ago the waterway leading up to the dam we were approaching would have been filled with logs being sent down stream toward a railway that you can still see remnants of along the 100 metre portage we were to use. These dams are also used today as a preventative against invasive species, or so my outdoorsy husband tells me. The motorized boats aluminium boats that zipped around Rock Lake also surprised me and countered the idea that we were entering a sacred and preserved space. More than a few times on this trip I was struck by the realization that true wilderness is a rare find these days.
Once we landed at the portage, we took some time to let Joel fish and Tess swim before setting off in search of our chosen site on an island on Galeairy. Arriving at the site in the heat and full sun of midday was a bit of a trial. I was in desperate need of some food, which Joel well knew and was prepared for. He pulled out his MSR stove to boil some water and within 30 minutes had warm Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai for me to refuel on. A good husband knows that the key to backpacking is to keep your companions, and the woman breastfeeding your child, well-fed!
The rest of the day was spent setting up our site, collecting wood with which to build a fire, and getting ready dinner over the campfire.
From the portage landing to the island on Galeairy Lake, a beautiful yellow butterfly fluttered all around us, and I found myself wondering when I had last spotted a butterfly that colour – or one at all, for that matter. These beautiful creatures fluttered all around us on the island in which we stayed and seemed to follow us back tot he portage landing. It seems a shame that we should only experience something that should be as commonplace as a butterfly only in these secluded areas.
(The David Suzuki Foundation describes “How to turn your yard into a pollinator haven” here.)
For dinner, we feasted on steak and quinoa-stuffed peppers, while Finn enjoyed his organic puree pouch on daddy’s knee. This meal has been a favourite of ours while portaging since we went on our first trip as a couple to the Barron Canyon on the east side of Algonquin Park.
Keeping an eleven month old occupied and safe in this environment is no easy task. We discovered that the canoe was an entertaining and safe place for Finn to play as we made an island our home for the next while.
With temperatures in the high twenties at the peak of the day, we comfortably enjoyed the weather as the sun set and the evening clouds brought the promise of rain. Through all of this, from the bugs at the launch to the travel by canoe to life at our site, Finn never expressed discomfort or difficulty adjusting to our surroundings. When it came time to put him down for the night, his initial excitement could be contained inside the safety of the tent, and soon enough he was asleep for the night. Joel and I woke in the early hours of the morning at the sound of a thunderstorm over our heads, but the noise didn’t disturb Finn.
Here Finn is wearing one of our favourite new pieces of clothing, the “Hug a tree, kiss the sea” tee. It’s sustainably made in Canada with super soft organic cotton by Wolf Pup Threads. Millennial Mama readers can snag this tee for 20% off using code: HUGATREE
In the morning, we woke to a calm morning with clouds overhead. Joel began to rebuild the fire from the night before and played around with his fly fishing rod, while Finn and I ate breakfast, explored the water’s edge or while Finn napped in the Ergo Baby carrier on my back.
Just as Joel was about to take a morning dip in the water, this big old guy peeped his head up to scope out what must be his favourite sunning spot.
As midday approached, and the weather warmed, we decided to pack up our site and meander our way back home in time for Finn’s bedtime later that evening. We began to take down Joel’s careful construction of our temporary home so we could make our way back to the portage and Rock Lake.
During the voyage through Galeairy Lake, I was able to help Joel with the paddling, and we made quick work of the distance. At the portage, Joel took the time to cast a few lines with his fly fishing rod. I whiled away the time singing (loudly) to Finn, partly to entertain him and partly to alert nearby wildlife of our presence there. So, I was surprised when my rendition of “Barbara Ann” echoed back to me from further down the lake. Slightly embarrassed, but lighting in the bit of fun, we greeted the two portagers and their dog who were heading into Galeairy Lake after us. What an uncommon experience to have been the only ones on the lake at the time.
After we launched into Rock Lake, Finn – now an expert mini paddler – and I supported Joel through a rocky patch before Finn gave into his urge to nurse to sleep. So there we were, in the thick of a long paddle, and with Finn in my arms Joel was on his own. This is probably my favourite part of the trip, and not just because I got to kick back, snuggle my baby, and enjoy the view. Here, Joel and I got to enjoy one another’s company and fully take in our surroundings.
With Finn asleep in my arms, the conversation between Joel and I was light, yet thoughtful. Together, we marvelled at the storm cloud that was visibly becoming more bulbous before our eyes, and that, thankfully, passed on by us to rain down elsewhere. Sprinkled like confetti all over the lake were cottages I was surprised to find in a provincial park. These cottages, which are sometimes better described as cabins, boast varying states of decay, use and misuse. As we passed each, we speculated about the owners and the stories of how these cabins came to be grandfathered into being here or what we might do were we to have a cabin in the park. Of course, I imagined a writer’s retreat and Joel dreamed about the fishing adventures he’d have here with Finn.
On the way through the park we stopped by Lake of Two Rivers Cafe and Grill where I had the most delicious pulled pork poutine even Joel, with his club wrap and caesar salad, couldn’t resist stealing fries from.
While it’s now been more than a week since our trip, we find ourselves missing our time in the woods. It’s a place that brings us calm and in our hectic days, such a getaway is so very welcome.
Until next time, Algonquin.
Throughout the process of planning and implementing this trip, we’ve had so much support from so many of you wishing us well and expressing interest in this trip. Your well-wishes mean so very much to us – THANK YOU! To all those who feel the pull to do something similar, give in. You can do this too! Certainly it’s a lot of work, but we think it’s worth it.