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Ragged Lake, Algonquin Park (November 9-11, 2000 - no photos)

I arranged to meet Jay in Algonquin Park on the 11th in order to test paddle the ultralight cedarstrip Bob's Special he built (I am planning to build a lightweight canoe of my own). Just the excuse I needed to squeeze in one last canoe trip this season. I had never paddled this late in the year. I knew it would be cold and rain was in the forecast. Still, I couldn't resist. So I drove up early Thursday morning.

I arrived at the West Gate of Algonquin Park to collect my permit. The attendant told me I was going to be the only person on Ragged Lake. Indeed, he said I was the only person heading into the interior that day. During peak season Ragged Lake is one of the busier destinations. But at this time of year it was as remote as anywhere else in the Park.

I put in at the Smoke Lake access under drizzling rain. One other vehicle was in the parking lot. I later discovered it was a cottager burning leaves and closing up for the winter. The shoreline of Smoke Lake is dotted with many gorgeous little cottages - some old and some quite modern looking. As I neared the opposite end of Smoke Lake I came upon three Otters frolicking in the waves. I stopped paddling and watched them swim around my canoe. They would dive together and pop up somewhere else nearby. They watched me and made snorting sounds as their heads bobbed above the waves, as if asking me to join them for a dip. A few minutes later and they disappeared beneath the waves. They must be hardy little mammals to be able to enjoy themselves in that frigid water. I was paddling close to shore because I knew I was a goner if I capsized any more than a couple of hundred metres from land. Maybe they knew this too and they were taunting me.

I reached the portage to Ragged Lake at the south end of Smoke Lake after a two hour paddle from the put in. As with most of the heavily used areas of the Park, this portage trail was in very good shape. A canoe trolley could be used on this trail without any trouble. Unfortunately, I had to do the portage the old fashioned way. By the time I got my canoe and gear to the Ragged Lake end of the portage, I was soaked - more from sweating than from the persistent rain. After hauling my gear I walked part way back up the trail to collect wood. The Park attendant told me the campsites on Ragged Lake were picked clean of dead wood because it is such a busy area. So I broke up a felled cedar tree hoping the fine end branches would burn well despite the rain. With my canoe heavily laden with gear and wood I set off to find a campsite on Ragged Lake.

I am always amazed how one portage can make the difference between wilderness and civilization. Ragged Lake was quiet and deserted. I had my choice of campsites and the entire lake to myself. There was no let up in the rain so the first thing I did when I selected a camp was to set up a small tarpaulin. Once that was done I could work sheltered from the rain. Getting the fire going was a little more problematic. By now the wood I collected at the portage was thoroughly drenched by the rain. The fine end branches of most coniferous trees is usually quite flammable. But my first attempt with a Vaseline soaked cotton ball as a fire starter proved fruitless. So I tried stuffing a couple of fire starters to get the tinder going. Another failure. So I tried paper from my journal. Still the tinder would not catch. This called for desperate measures. I dug out my propane stove, fired it up, and set it under the brush. After about 5 minutes the tinder stayed alight and I had myself a fire. Once the fire was going strong, even the wet wood eventually burned.

It rained all night and all the next day. Rain in the city is a nuisance. Rain in the wilderness seems so much more natural with a beauty of its own. Rain falling in the forest makes a lovely sound compared to rain falling on pavement. 

Of course, I would have preferred fine weather, but I didn't mind the rain too much. I had an extra set of warm dry clothes so I was at least comfortable. Even so, I was relieved when the rain finally stopped about 8 PM on Friday night. But then the temperature dropped considerably.

I was delighted to find snow falling when I emerged from my tent on Saturday morning. This continued for the rest of the day. I had never been canoeing in the snow before so I was delighted. As I paddled back on my return journey I had a big smile on my face the entire way. "Yes", I told myself grudgingly, "this is my last canoe trip of the season."

As planned, Jay was waiting for me in the parking lot and we went for a short paddle in his Bob's Special. I had a sense right away that it wasn't the canoe I wanted to build.