Night Cruising Barron Canyon – 2016 Algonquin Canoe Trip, Part 4


Heading into Barron Canyon at twilight.

There weren’t enough hours in the day to explore Barron River Canyon, so we explored it by night as well.

Night cruising is a regular part of our yearly Algonquin canoe trips. In previous years, we camped on lakes and paddled out at night — listening to the owls and loons, rousting beavers from their lodges and stargazing.

Barron River was not amenable to that. The wide open section downstream of our campsite was fraught with boulders and sunken logs, so night cruising there would have been treacherous. However, upstream, in the two-mile canyon, there were fewer semi-submerged obstacles and most of them were near the banks.


New moon rising.

So we’d paddle up the canyon as darkness settled in, watching the granite walls fade from orange to black. Even without the color, the canyon walls were incredibly beautiful with their stark jagged shapes.

It had been hot that week and, in the coolness of the evening, you could feel the heat from the sun coming off the rocks. Stars and planets became visible in the darkening sky and — from our perspective — shifted with the movement of the boat. I was mesmerized by the silhouettes of trees along the canyon rim, which also seemed to shift as we drifted along.

Most nights we had the canyon to ourselves. One night, four young men in two canoes came out, too.

After we returned to camp, we built a small stick fire and sat out for about a half-hour before dowsing it and turning in.


Steve, who was sitting behind me in the canoe, showed me how to manipulate the exposure setting on my cellphone camera. It was nearly dark when I took this shot.

As I settled into my sleeping bag, savoring another fulfilling day in Barron Canyon, I heard the four young men go by. They were boisterous, clearly enjoying themselves, but not being rude or rowdy. Their tone or what words I could make out conveyed no negativity. I thought how wonderful it must be to have this experience so early in life, with so many years ahead of you and the promise of endless adventures.


Fire on the Lake — 2016 Algonquin Canoe Trip, Part Three


Ken and Steve inspect the aftermath of a forest fire.

The acrid scent of charred wood welled in the back of my throat as we paddled across High Falls Lake. I could almost taste it. Stark contrast to the subtle pine fragrance so familiar on Algonquin lakes.

A swath of charred treetops and stumps spanned the peninsula between the lake’s incoming and outgoing waterfalls. The charred ruins were flanked by dead pines, draped in brown needles.

Oddly, the understory plants that dotted the boulders on the forest floor seemed unaffected. This led us to believe that the forest had burned some time ago. But had it? After our trip, I Googled “High Falls Lake, Algonquin and forest fire” and found news accounts indicating that a fire “in the vicinity of High Falls Lake” had been officially declared out on Sept. 1, the day we arrived there. It had started Aug. 9, caused by human activity at a time when campfires were banned due to dry conditions.

I’m still trying to find out whether this was the same fire.

Fires are common in Algonquin’s predominantly pine forests. I’d love to learn more about how they are detected and extinguished. And whether those responsible for starting them are held accountable.

To be continued (my research and this series of posts) …


Dead pines and charred stumps across the lake from our campsite.


Ominous? I took this sunset photo before we discovered the aftermath of a forest fire.


Breakfast time at our High Falls Lake campsite. We spent the second night of our trip here before pressing on to Barron River Canyon. Looking at a seven-portage day — worth every step considering the enchanting world that awaited us.





Grand Entrance at Grand Lake – 2016 Algonquin Canoe Trip, Part 2

Chipmunks and Red Squirrels and Bears, Oh My!

Two-foot waves and high winds greeted us on Grand Lake at the beginning of our eight-day canoe trip into Barron River Canyon. To avoid starting our trip with a capsize and a swim, we tacked into the wind and paddled out far into the lake.


By evening, the wind died down and we were comforted by the sound of waves gently lapping at the shore.

The wind relented long enough for us to turn our two canoes around and ride the waves back toward our intended campsite along the east shore.

After turning around, I quickly realized the waves would push my 11-foot solo canoe off-target — north of the campsites that dot the shore. So I took another tack, putting it in a better position. Steve and Ken fared better with Steve’s tandem canoe. After their initial turn, they were in line to ride the waves into the campsites.

We didn’t realize then that a capsize probably wouldn’t have involved a swim. On the last day of our trip, after we returned to Grand Lake, Steve swam out a quarter-mile from our campsite — and stood up in chest-deep water.

Like the West Basin of Lake Erie, Grand Lake is shallow and a stiff wind can quickly whip it into a foaming frenzy.


Steve washes supper dishes.

I mentioned in the previous post that we started our trip at Grand Lake and wended our way to Barron Canyon through 10 boulder-strewn portages over two days — only to find another parking lot a short paddle and easy portage away.

However, it could well be that canoe campers are required to take the hard way in. The Canadians are funny that way. They like to weed out the wimps. After all, these are the folks who send us gun-happy Americans unarmed into bear-infested forests. To their credit, the Canadians do provide instructions on what to do if confronted by a predatory bear. The best thing to do, they say, is to make yourself look big as big as possible and make a lot of noise.

Defecating in your trousers apparently doesn’t deter an attacking bear. Neither does playing dead, according to the provided instructions. Instead, your best chance of convincing the bear to back off is to “fight it with everything you have.” It’s hard to fathom that, at that point, a pissed-off bear is going to be intimidated by a Swiss army knife and toenail clippers.

Imagine the scene at your autopsy: “Look here, eh. Poor fellow died with a pocket knife and nail clippers shoved up his rectum.”

Anyway, none of that happened. In fact, even the chipmunks and red squirrels were relatively well-behaved.

To be continued.



Like Tunneling Into a Picnic Pavilion — 2016 Algonquin Canoe Trip Notes

Part One — Ascent into Barron Canyon

Getting to Barron River Canyon was like tunneling into a picnic pavilion.

We came in by way of Grand Lake. It took two days and 10 portages. Steve, Ken and I paddled across bodies of water so small we barely got our hulls wet. We scrambled through four miles of boulder fields, lugging canoes and packs from one postage stamp lake or river segment to another — only to learn that there was another access point a short paddle and easy portage away.

But what fun would that have been?

Getting there is half the fun, they say. If that’s the case, no one had a better time than we did. Especially all those people who got there by by the short route — putting in at a parking lot near the inappropriately named Squirrel Rapids.

This is a diminutive set of rapids at the eastern boundary of Algonquin Provincial Park. How small are they? I couldn’t take a photo because I neglected to pack my macro lens. It would have been more appropriate to name them after a smaller life form, such as “Amoeba Rapids” or “DNA Rapids.”

In contrast, Barron River Canyon is spectacular — an intimate river valley nestled beneath 300-foot granite bluffs. It’s colorful walls, dominated by orange hues from lichen, echo in undulating reflections across the still water.


Barron River Canyon


Suck it up boys, I think our put-in spot is just over that big rock.


Waterfalls along one of our portage paths.



A real fixer-upper. Steve and Ken pause to explore an abandoned cabin near the falls.

To be continued …