Who knew it was possible to not only become emotionally attached to a snapping turtle, but to then witness its near demise all in one trip? But I’m getting ahead of myself! Earlier this year my friend Cheryl and I decided to take Ailish (mine) and Anne and Mae (hers) on a 4-day canoe trip. We settled on Rain Lake at Algonquin Provincial Park because 1) it was available, 2) it involved no portaging, and 3) Cheryl and I had been there before.
Shortcut to the full slide show: https://goo.gl/photos/HCWnS3Rv3MY6kYff7
Day 1: Thursday, August 6 – Huntsville to Kearney to Rain Lake, Algonquin Provincial Park
Before we could start our canoe trip, we needed one more canoe, so after a 7 AM departure and a few hours of driving, we stopped at Algonquin Outfitters in Huntsville where Cheryl rented a Swift Prospector 17 to go along with my Swift Keewaydin. We continued another few minutes to Kearney, where we picked up our backcountry permit, and then drove the last 23 km or so to the Rain Lake access point. After loading everything into the 2 canoes, we were off – Ailish and I in one canoe, and Cheryl, Anne and Mae in the other (we switched up the seating arrangements over the course of the 4 days). We had read good things about the island campsites (there are 2), but we thought it was unlikely they would be available. We headed for them anyway, keeping in mind another site 2 before the portage to Sawyer Lake that apparently had a lake behind it you could swim in and have all to yourselves. It turns out the island sites were taken, so we checked out option B. The “rear” lake didn’t have good access to it and swimming would have been very weedy (read leechy) on the “rear” lake and on Rain Lake. We decided to check out the site next to the portage, which was available, and maybe less desirable because of the canoe traffic passing by to reach the portage. It was a large site, had great big boulders for sitting down by the water, and seemed perfect! Plus we had no desire to backtrack and go to one of the sites we had already passed. This campsite was 5.89 km (approximately) from the put in. We set up 2 tents, with the girls (10, 11 and 13) in one tent, and Cheryl and I in the other. We also put up a tarp in case of rain, and after about 30 minutes of attempting to throw a rock (wrapped up in rope) over a tree branch 15 feet in the air (and re-tying the rope several times as the rock hurled itself into the woods), success! – a safe place to store our food. This was definitely the highest branch I’ve used for a bear bag – there weren’t many options at this campsite! At some point, we first encountered a snapping turtle in the water at our site, who the girls later named “Buddy”. Despite his presence, we decided to swim – with some trepidation.
The girls strung ropes between trees to walk on, and also made a very fun rope swing. We cooked hot dogs on the fire for dinner, and roasted marshmallows later on for s’mores. All in all, a good first day!
Day 2: Friday, August 7 – Rain Lake to Islet Lake via Western Uplands Backpacking Trail
In the morning, Buddy reappeared! After a delicious oatmeal breakfast, we paddled a couple hundred metres over to the portage to Hot Lake, where we left the canoes and joined the Western Uplands Backpacking Trail. We intended to hike until we reached Islet Lake or Ishkuday Lake, swim, have lunch, and hike back to the canoes. The “hike” was really a “walk”, as it was along a flat old rail trail. We met a woman and her 12 year old son on the way, and based on her recommendation, decided to check out the first backpacking site on Islet Lake – if it was unoccupied, we would eat our lunch and swim there. We were in luck! It was a big, beautiful site, complete with an awesome rope swing that swung over the lake. We had walked at the most 3 km to get there, maybe less.
We swam, ate our lunch, and even had a small fire because the previous occupants had not doused it – with just a few big breaths and some birch bark, we had a flame! When a couple of hikers came into view, we waved them over since we hadn’t paid to stay at that site, and while it might have looked occupied, it wasn’t! We finished our lunch and cleared out as quickly as we could, despite the very generous offer to stay for 2 hours if we wanted to! We walked back to our canoe, collecting firewood as we got close to the canoe so that we could have another evening campfire. We paddled over to a little beach at the end of the lake (very close to our site and the portage). The girls swam, but the sun wasn’t out, it was cool, and Cheryl and I were wimps. We had a delicious pasta dinner, during which Buddy convinced us that other campers must feed him, as he came out of the water and attempted to climb up the rock to share our food with us. So sad. Thankfully, the rock was too steep and he kept sliding back into the water. That night, while I was filtering water from the lake, Cheryl and the girls witnessed Buddy get attacked by a larger turtle. He went for Buddy’s head or neck, climbed on top of him, somersaulted around, and then seemed to pin him to the lake bottom. We all feared for Buddy, and two girls were in tears. Thankfully, about an hour later we saw 2 turtles surface (in different locations), one of them definitely Buddy, as he had a distinctive wheezing/snorting sound and only one nostril. However, we never saw him again…
(Since being home, I’ve done a bit of research and it seems that our “Buddy” may actually have been a girl, and the bigger turtle may have been a boy… and the violence may have been part of snapping turtle mating behaviour!)
Day 3: Saturday, August 8 – Rain Lake to Sawyer Lake
Day 3 started with a yummy pancake breakfast, and fun around the campsite. We headed over to the beach to swim, build sand castles and swat deer flies.
Next we did the short (300m) portage to Sawyer Lake, where we looked for a beach or rocky area to stop and have lunch. Before finding somewhere, we stopped at an unoccupied campsite to use the bathroom! We eventually found somewhere to eat, but it wasn’t a great spot – just enough room to get out of the boats, sit to eat, and watch helplessly as a roll of precious toilet paper tumbled into the lake (my bad)!
We headed back to our campsite, collecting firewood along the portage for a third and final campfire. We spent the rest of the day at our campsite.
When we first arrived at our campsite on Day #1, we found a hat and pair of sunglasses that had been left behind. On closer inspection, the hat belonged to “Kathleen”. So on our last evening, we each took turns sporting the hat and glasses and doing what we thought Kathleen would do.
Day 4: Sunday, August 9 – Rain Lake to Huntsville
On our last morning, we had fantastic egg/veggie/bacon wraps to start the day. After packing up camp, we swam one last time, trying out a fallen tree as a jumping off spot. We also walked along the shore to the portage to Sawyer Lake, looking for a lost ziplock bag of Anne’s kleenexes and some rope… but we never did find it. We loaded everything into the 2 canoes and headed for the van. We really lucked out with the weather – it rained on 2 separate occasions over the 4 days, but for no longer than 2-5 minutes, and only a light sprinkle! We didn’t see any moose, bears or foxes, but we were amazed at the number of mice running around the campfire as the sun went down!
Canoe tripping with kids adds its own challenges, but we had tons of fun!