Burnt Island Lake, Algonquin

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Burnt Island Lake
I’d noticed a nice campsite on the backside of an island on other canoe trips, and was impressed with how almost hidden from view it was. Canoes would pass straight to and from a nearby portage landing, and not through the narrow and curving small strait, separating the island from the mainland. And so with this semi-secluded backwater site in mind, in 2012 my wife M and I decided to make this Algonquin island our destination for a week in September.
We had to carefully slalom through day tripping canoes at the Portage Store access on Canoe L., but soon found open water ahead. The first carry is an easy broad laneway bypassing a dam. This bottleneck of trippers can be frustrating, as canoes, paddles, and junk is often left laying anywhere carelessly, so I wasn’t yet in the best of moods. Approaching this first trail take out, I overheard a couple of young bucks in a canoe behind us muttering some smarmy remarks suggesting they’d beat us old $@#&’s to the portage. I bristled at the insult, and so leaned forward and whispered to M… “Kick it.” Kick it we did. I was throwing the canoe up onto my shoulders to follow M across the single carry as the young bucks were just grinding up to the gritty landing. Minutes later my portage mantra of “Don’t piss me off “ changed to “Serenity now” as we pushed out onto Joe L.
That plea for peace did the trick, and the canoe crowds thinned as we angled northward to our first campsite, only a mile or so up the shore. It was a gamble choosing an early first night, with only a short portage between us, and the rest of humanity. Surprisingly, there were only two other canoes to pass by our site that day. M found a warm rock in the sun, and balanced a good book in one hand, and a glass of wine in the other, while I swam, and swam, and swam away my foul traffic snarled mood. The incessant marauding red squirrels and chipmunks kept us on our toes while we cooked dinner.

We rolled into our tent early, and slept well.
My grumpiness was gone by morning, and after a quick breakfast of porridge and tea, we were finishing our short trip through the 3 Joes to the Burnt Island L. portage. The Baby Joe L. take out is very pretty, and I always linger too long here.

With our holiday destination barely a mile away, M suggested we get a move on. Despite being heavily loaded for this trip, the short portages made single carries easily doable. We were in luck! As our canoe plied the quiet backwaters, we saw the two campsites were empty.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon swimming, reading, and sipping mugs of tea with our toes in the warm shallows. I filled a garbage bag with broken glass and other shameful trash, while we walked the perimeter of “our island.” We saw no other paddlers that day. I daydreamed of future trips here, with crews of children and grandchildren playing around this near north idyll of ours. I thought nothing could possibly spoil my blue-sky happiness.

And then it rained. Well first of all, a sneaky soft wind dragged clouds across the sky, and without my noticing as I bent over our cook stove, the temperature plummeted. Then it rained. Hard. I hustled to adjust our tarp city, and put on warmer clothes.

The canoe and 8'x8' tarp protected gear and firewood, and served as a break against the driving wind and rain, while the 12'x14' tarp was a snug shelter for our cooking and eating area. I was pretty proud with my tarp set up, as my awning funneled cold rainwater to a downspout, and emptied into a growing puddle next to our fire pit. The exposed fire pit. Ah ha! I’d neglected to protect that. M asked if we were going to have a fire that night. Glumly looking at my faulty tarp layout, the sheets of rain, and the growing pond in front of us, I suggested getting a head start on the booze supply instead. Tiring of the scene, we finally crept into our tent for the night.
Sometime in the night we were awoken by the sounds of the arrival of a camping circus come to town. It sounded like someone was pitching camp on our island, fighting off wild animals, and cursing a sonofa you know what. We went back to sleep, I reconsidering my portage mantra selections. I did get up in the night, for a call of nature. Near the shore I thought I saw a movement. When I peered through the lashing rain I saw a tandem pair swiftly drift past, like ghosts in the dark! By the time I found my voice to call out to them, they were gone. Were they real, or were they spectres?
The next morning, our double burner propane Coleman stove made us feel like chefs, as M and I scrambled eggs, baked bannock, and fried bacon. Well, it smelled like bacon. It kinda looked like bacon. It almost tasted like bacon, but it was turkey bacon. M wanted to surprise me with this new breakfast idea. On behalf of every red-blooded male worth his salt, I took one for the team, and tried some “healthy alternative to bacon.” Mm. It wasn’t so bad.
The skies cleared enough for a quiet solo. I came across our new neighbours on a mainland hunt for firewood. We exchanged greetings, and I asked them about a trail I wanted to find. They gave me directions, and we went our separate ways. Much later, these three fellows sauntered over to our site to introduce themselves. It seems the stormy setup the night before was an adventure and a half. Raccoons had timed their pantry raid perfectly, as these poor guys were fighting rain, wind, the pitch-black night, and cleverer mammals than these canoe campers. Oh well. At least I now knew who was the sonofa…
The weather cleared, our tarps quickly dried; even our campsite pond drained away. The day was filled with swimming, reading, and napping. I struggled and failed to light an evening fire. Instead we sat by the lake, and waited for the stars. I could see a faint glow of our new friends’ fire through the trees. The Hemlocks sighed, while the waters lapped the shore. M slept soundly. I lay awake, smiling at the late night battle for a food pack. You know who were having way too much fun with these guys. I wish I’d room in our food barrel to offer them help.
During our stay, we decided to wander the site of an old hotel. The Minnesing Hotel was built as a grand lodge, accessible by wagon road to a Grand Trunk railway station not far away, on Joe L. The Minnesing, along with Nominigan Camp, were affiliates of the Highland Inn on Cache L. The Highland was built in 1908, and was a crown jewel in the growing tourism industry of the Muskoka area.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algonquin_Provincial_Park
http://www.algonquinmap.com
Changing times, and changing economies eventually brought about the demise of these great hotels. The forest is gradually reclaiming the Minnesing property. Rusting boilers and crumbling brick, cement and stone is all that remains.




Our curiosity satisfied, M and I went for a paddle around the lake to feel some sun on our faces. Another lazy afternoon faded to evening shadows, and another sumptuous dinner was enjoyed down by the lakeshore.

More wine. More star gazing. More sound sleeping. I listened to another night of hijinks next door. It was better than television. Those guys sure were keeping those raccoons well fed and entertained.
For our last night on Burnt Island L., our friendly neighbours invited us over for a bonfire. We passed bottles of various contents and levels, while we shared histories and laughter. It was a good night. They were good company. I slept right through any nighttime roughhousing. Darn.
The camp breakdown duties were done in resigned silence. To pick up our spirits, I promised M a picnic lunch on our way out. We bid our friends a fond farewell, and paddled away. I paused for a fascinating conversation with a couple on the first portage, who’d cancelled their kayak circumnavigation of Ireland, to try “open canoeing” here in Algonquin! Whew! I was tired and invigorated just hearing about their travels. What a wonderful pair of paddlers they were! She was nervous of bears though. Tongue firmly in cheek, I assured her that there were worse things that go bump in the night. She looked quizzical, so I pointed towards our approaching friends. They’d broken camp, and were making their way to this carry. I said “Ask them about food fights in the dark.” I spied a 60L barrel amongst their gear, and so assumed they wouldn’t have nearly as much fun as our camp neighbours.
Retracing our route, and at a slow and lackadaisical pace, M and I finally pulled up to an island’s smooth granite slope on Joe L. Securing the canoe, we crawled up, and commenced picnicking. Our old Burnt Island friends chided us as they glided past “Aren’t you two ever gonna leave? Ha!” Not if I could help it. The Canadian Shield face under my feet soaked up the sun, and warmed me through and through. The warmth of precious northern sun, ancient stone, and timeless sky, filled me up. M sat with a whimsical smile on her lips, gazing across the water. I chose this tranquil spot to take a final plunge. The cool, deep water felt exhilarating, and served to sustain my euphoria for just a while longer. That was my last swim in Algonquin waters, and it was memorable.
The sun beat down on us, as we cut through a wavy Canoe L. The water was the richest navy blue I can remember, and looked impossibly deep. We kept our PFDs on, and did our best to make this crossing the slowest we’d done to date. With our Algonquin island holiday safely stashed away in our memories, we drove home in happy silence.
 
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Joined
Sep 8, 2012
Messages
197
Location
Toronto
I loved your trip report. Lots of small details that paint a great mental picture. Knowing exactly the spot helped, too. Thanks for posting that.
 
Joined
Feb 1, 2013
Messages
483
Location
Ontario
Great trip report with wonderful details. I can relate to the "tarp pride"...also have set it up only to realize that everything drained towards the firepit.
 
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