At the beginning of May, the grade 11 classes headed out on their 4 day canoe trips. With winter ending very late this year, the lakes had just been freed from ice only a couple of days before. This promised two things, very cold water and no bugs. The late snow melt and the amount of snow would also give us higher then normal water levels.
The weather for the two trips promised to be a real mix of sun, rain, wind and temperatures that would fluctuate between the freezing nights to early summer warmth. A true spring in Ontario and during the trips, we saw it all.
The first trip came in with wonderful sunshine. The longest and toughest day of their trip saw them start at Squirrel Rapids, travel through the Baron Canyon to Opalescent Lake. Quite the trek, which included the longest portage of the trip, done in a great time. Four hours of hard work paid off, as we just beat the rains to set up camp and have the tarps to hang out under.
The second day started with a lot of wind, but it was dry, allowing us to dry off our tents and equipment before packing them up. This day was also a big day with a few short paddles intermittent with a few long portages. The day started with one student injuring his finger, bad enough that a trip to the hospital was warranted. As the student and I made our way for some treatment, the rest of the crew completed the day just in time to claim the best spot on Stratton Lake. When we returned in the evening, the camp was well set up. From the stories, they had to race another school for the site and a major thunderstorm hit as they were trying to set up the camp.
The third day was a relax day. With most of the distance travelled, we were staying on this site for two nights. A nice relaxed breakfast, followed by a few runs down a little swift around the last portage of the day before, topped off with a swim at the natural water slides at high falls. The slides were the highest I have had ever seen them and the water was the coldest I have experienced them there, but that didn't deter the majority of the group to go for a little dip.
The final day was a relaxed paddle out to meet the next crew that would be coming in for their trip. The relaxed paddle was made a little more challenging by the wind that was starting to kick up. Although it was nothing compared to what the 2nd group would be facing as they started their trip.
Grand Lake proved to be quite a challenge to cross, as the winds were hitting the beach directly. A first attempt to cross as a group had to be abandoned, as we were just taking on too much water in the big waves. A short portage up the shoreline got us into a better spot for a short crossing to a wind protected shoreline and a much easier paddle. That was until we hit the extreme wind coming out of Carcajou Bay. This proved to be a real challenge in steering and canoe control for a few of the groups. Everyone did very well in the circumstances, but it was not quite what most of the students had envisioned for the start of their trip.
The second lake, Stratton Lake, was way more enjoyable, as the wind was in our backs and it was strong enough to blast us down the lake at high speed. With a perfect blue sky, all were glad to make it to our campsite for the night, which was wonderfully left set up by the previous group. A quick Quesadilla dinner brought the energy right back and for a great evening under the stars. The next day started the same way the previous one had ended, without a cloud in the sky.
We knew it wouldn't last, so we took the opportunity to go for a visit to the water slides and the waterfall at High Falls. About half of the group decided to give the water slides a try, which was still extremely cold, but the warm sun made it easy to warm back up. The afternoon saw us travel across 4 portages, with a few short paddles in between, to Opalescent Lake. Just before we finished our last portage, the rains moved in. We had just enough time to put up our tents and collect some firewood before the rains really set in for the night. It meant an early night for most of the students.
The third day started off dry, it almost looked like the clouds would break up. It gave us just enough time to take down our equipment while dry, which is always more pleasant. Now we would have had a completely dry start to the day if breakfast didn't take 4 hours to make. A wonderful pancake breakfast took the record for longest breakfast to prepare. By the time we cleaned up and were on the water, it was lunch time. Luckily, the day was not a long travel day, although we would be starting off our day with the longest portage of the trip. Throughout the morning we heard rumblings in the sky and most of the time it came from Base Petawawa, as the army was practicing, but heading into our 2nd and final portage, those noises changed slightly, along with the colour of the sky. What followed was a lot of rain in a very short amount of time. A quick tarp shelter was erected, as well as, a number of students hiding under a canoe that was propped up on a fallen tree. Once it finally looked like it was slowing down, we packed up and loaded the canoes, only to be hammered by a 2nd wave and a 3rd wave of extreme rain. When we knew that the lightning had finally passed, we headed on the water. As soon as we were on the water, the rain stopped and we had a great paddle through the canyon to our final campsite.
We were again allowed to set up our camp while it was dry before the rains would again set in for the evening. Similarly in the morning, we were able to break up camp before the rains returned one final time. By the time we got on the water, the winds had died down and the rains had stopped, leaving us to admire our canoes reflecting off of a mirror like lake. A great way to end our trip.