I was asked to participate in a canoe trip this past Summer (2017) with a group of guys I mostly had never met before, in a place I had never been before and had no problem saying “yes!” The opportunity to experience something new in a familiar situation was all too enticing. The itinerary was four days and three nights on the Lady Evelyn River and Lady Evelyn Lake in the infamous wilderness area known as Temagami. This area lies in Northern Ontario, close to the Quebec border about 1-2 hours north of North Bay. Seven of us arrived in Mowat Landing around noon on a Monday morning in August and were paddling up the Lady Evelyn River an hour later, looking for our first campsite of the trip.
This wilderness gathering of men was organized by a couple of men from Bethany Community Church in St. Catharines, Ontario. As I mentioned before, this was not a trip consisting of close friends – I knew only one of the seven men! This was a group on a mission: to enjoy some canoeing, fishing and camping while getting to know some new people and getting to know ourselves a little bit deeper through a study from the book of Joshua.
During the trip we experienced a little bit of everything. There was plenty of good food to eat and thankfully there was only one portage to carry it over. We mostly enjoyed sunny skies and warm temperatures, but also got caught canoeing in a downpour and spent an entire evening huddled under a tarp, around a smokey fire and contemplated how early was too early to just go to bed. We got to spend a playful afternoon (swimming, eating, fishing & resting) on an island on Lady Evelyn Lake, but had to quickly head back to camp after seeing the sky quickly change from blue skies to dark clouds in a very short time. As I alluded to before, we did not manage to outrun the rain. We experienced some great campsites, good conversations, plenty of opportunities to swim and fish, one cold night followed by a beautiful morning of heavy mist on the lake and an intense time of self reflection and meditation while reading through and discussing the experiences of Joshua.
“I will not be afraid, I will not fear, for You alone are a shield about me.”
Here is a link to watch the short film made during this trip.
There is no such island in Killarney, but in my daughter’s mind we were on Mosquito Island for the duration of our shortest canoe trip to date.
We drove up to the park for the weekend to host a film screening of Wilderness Trails at the park amphitheatre. Scott (co-creator of the film) and his family joined us for lunch (fish & chips) in the town of Killarney before we headed to the park to set up our camp sites. After supper we headed over to the amphitheatre to set up equipment and do a sound check. What a perfect setting to watch the film we made of our hike on the La Cloche Silhouette Trail. Thank you to Rachelle from K.P.P. and the Friends of Killarney Park for bringing us up to show our film!
Since we were already in the park we thought why not a short canoe trip. The following morning we set off to the Bell Lake access point to canoe to the only lake we could reserve (last minute planning) that was close enough for our ‘one nighter’ – Grey Lake.
This was to be the kids (ages 3 & 5) first experience with a portage – 595M from the east side of Bell Lake into Grey Lake. They were excited about the hike because each of them had been allowed to bring their own backpacks. So off they went, down the path, deeper into the forest as I walked close behind them, weighted down with a pack on both my back and front and a camera in one hand. Thankfully I had one free hand because the mosquitos did not take very long to zone in on the two inexperienced mosquito swatters. So with that free hand I swatted mosquitos away from my son and daughter while they walked as fast as their little legs could go. When we finally arrived at the end of the portage, I dropped all my gear and quickly retrieved the bug spray while I listened to my daughter confidently announce, “I do not like Mosquito Island, this is the worst day of my life!”
Site 239 on Grey Lake is a fantastic spot to camp! Nice views down the lake to the east, a couple of good tent pads and a few different options for swimming. We swam for an hour or so that afternoon, enjoyed a supper of salad, steak and potatoes, the kids wandered all over the site, looked for frogs, climbed rocks and later we all enjoyed a warm fire & conversation on a cool summer night with good friends. I know that my daughter had earlier said that it was the worst day of her life, but from the looks of the activities from the rest of the day (watch the film), I think it might have been one of the best days of her life – even though she seems to mostly recall the mosquitos.
“There’s a place, a garden for the young
To laugh and dance in safety among
The shimmering light in the shade of the trees”
(Josh Garrels / Morning Light)
For the past eight consecutive years, I have taken my kids on a canoe trip in Killarney Provincial Park. This place is truly “a garden for the young” and the young at heart. We spent four nights and five days, away from our daily routine, with just our canoe, paddles, backpacks, a bit of food, a few clothes and a heightened sense of adventure. The air was fresh, the lakes were glassy blue, the forest alive and the company – simply perfect! There are moments for contemplation and solitude here, but away from the distractions of our day to day lives, we have so many opportunities to connect and strengthen relationships. This is one of my favourite ‘playgrounds’ and we have many fond memories of time spent here.
“The times are changing, I can feel it in my bones
Cause I’m standing on the edge of the other side of all that I’ve known
It’s been a long time coming, I take one last breath
With my eyes open wide, smiling up into the skies, it begins with a step”
(Josh Garrels / Run)
As a Dad, I could sense that times were changing and if I couldn’t feel it in my bones, I could feel it in many other ways. It seems that not that long ago I held my kids until they begged to be let down to run off to their next adventure. My son had recently turned eighteen and is no longer a boy. Picking him up and holding him for any prolonged length of time is now unfortunately awkward. I know there is nothing magical or religious about the moment you turn a specific age, but at some point in a boy’s life, things must and will change.
A launch: is a point at which something begins, or to launch: is to put into operation or to set in motion. So at the launch of his voyage into manhood, we decided to embark on a new place in the park to celebrate the occasion. We have never been to the infamous Grace and Nellie Lakes in all the years of canoeing in the park. At first, the long paddle into the park and the 1000m+ portages kept us away when the kids were younger. Later on the excuse was it added so much more time onto our already long drive. It was finally time to take that metaphorical first step and journey into the unknown. This particular unknown was not necessarily scary, but when you have loved the past canoe trips so much, the unknown can be a bit intimidating and exciting all at the same time.
I have the same sense with my kids growing up and becoming responsible for themselves. It is a bit intimidating and yet there is the potential of so much that I am excited for them. May you take that first of many steps toward all that God has created you to be. It has been a joy to have had the responsibility of setting the stage for this launch into the next stage of your journey. May the fires that burn inside you provide for you more than mere warmth – but purpose, direction and meaning.
If anyone is in the St. Catharines area on Saturday, April 8, 2017, mark down in your calendar to attend the premiere showing of Wilderness Trails. Location of this event is in the Fireside Room at Bethany Community Church (1388 Third Street Louth, St. Catharines) at 7:00PM. You can order tickets through me, at $5.00 each. There will also be a display of photographs from the trip and DVD’s for sale. Doors open at 6:30PM.
I am in the middle of packing for tomorrow’s 5:00AM departure. This has been about 6 months of planning and preparing for my biggest project to date – film and photograph the La Cloche Silhouette Trail in Killarney Provincial Park. Meals have been organized and dehydrated, camera gear has been tested and minimized, clothing and shelter has been carefully considered and minimized – I guess everything has been minimized for the sake of my back and my knees. I will meet up with Scott (presently in the park on a canoe trip) tomorrow at Killarney Outfitters to pick up a few items, discuss last minute details and hopefully hit the trail around 1:00PM. First night will be spent at H7 on Topaz Lake. I am already anticipating swimming in that lake and jumping off the cliffs into the clear blue waters. The rest of our stays will include: H19 on Three Narrows Lake, H21 on Three Narrows Lake, H33 on Little Mountain Lake, H35 on Boundary Lake, H37 on Silver Lake, H45 on Bunnyrabbit Lake, H49 on Little Superior Lake and finally H53 on Little Sheguaindah Lake. For any of you not familiar with Killarney Provincial Park, here is a link to Jeff’s Killarney Map, included is the trail we will be hiking. The picture below was taken from H8 on Kirk Creek from a trip this past spring.
There will be many stories to tell, photographs and video clips to share all before the final film is made and film screenings/photo exhibitions are happening. I think this is one time when it is not appropriate to say “break a leg!”
I know – the title of the film sounds a little presumptuous and all encompassing. Another option, ‘My Wilderness Portrait’ (to me anyways) sounded too juvenile. I usually spend way too much time oscillating between titles until I get frustrated and (in this case) just go with my first instinct. This film is made from the perspective of the canoeist (me) while spending time in the wilderness. Now before all the hardcore bush craft people out there send me their comments about what is and what isn’t wilderness and how my campsite resembles a hotel room, please don’t! I have a great respect and admiration for the bush crafters who go to great lengths to ‘really live off the land’. My enjoyment is more so found in the delight of the senses, when camping in the wilderness – the sound of the waves lapping on the shoreline, the colours of the evening sunset, the feel of a hand made cherry paddle slicing through the water, the peace of relaxing on shore in the quietness of wilderness and the mystery of the dancing flames of a camp fire. I wanted to show the beauty of wilderness much like one enjoys a well crafted portrait of someone they love. There are many aspects of wilderness that I have probably not included in this film or ever experienced myself. Just as a face has many looks to it, this is a very unique portrait of a specific location, time and point of view in the Canadian wilderness.
The last canoe trip I did was all about the firsts that my daughter experienced. This trip I enjoyed a few firsts of my own!
I have never been on a canoe trip all by myself. After hearing reactions from people I’ve told, that I spent Thanksgiving weekend alone (just me and my canoe), I can see why it is such a rare event in people’s lives. I have always wanted to, but I prefer to share the experience with someone else. As an introvert, I do like my time alone, but I’m not anti-social. I survived the solitary experience and rather enjoyed it. I did find that night time was a bit challenging, especially with sunset at 6:30. The nights were long because of the shorter days so I went to bed earlier than I normally would have, but not until watching a fire for a few hours. Paddling solo is a bit slower compared with two in a canoe. This was not a problem though, since I was in no rush to be anywhere by a specific time. Meal time was rather self indulgent – chilli as spicy as I like, lunch only if I wanted and supper time when it suited me. One other thing I noticed about camping solo, is that I am not certain whether my thoughts stayed in my head or as the trip gradually progressed, they slipped into the audible realm. My neighbours were nowhere close, so I guess it will remain a mystery.
I have wanted to try hammock camping for a few years now. I just recently purchased a D.D. Frontline Hammock with the intent to try it out on this solo trip. I am a stomach/side sleeper and have been hesitant to rush into sleeping in a hammock. Not until reading that side sleeping is possible in a hammock, have I been willing to risk the purchase. It will take getting used to, but it is more comfortable than sleeping on my back in a tent! I liked the difference in size/weight compared to packing my 3-man tent. My favourite part of sleeping in the hammock is the ability to strategically place the hammock with the best view with little regard for flat or dry ground. I set up my hammock close to the shore so as to take advantage of the magnificent view of the lake. With sleeping on the ground, you have usually only a couple of choices on where to set up a tent and near the shore is rarely an option because of the sloped terrain. For those of us with a tendency toward the OCD spectrum, the issue of gear storage is a new challenge. Next time I will need to bring a small tarp to place on the ground below the hammock to place gear and shoes, especially if the ground is wet. I usually don’t look forward to rain, but I believe I will enjoy packing up a dry hammock, instead of a wet tent when that time comes.
CEDAR CANVAS CANOE
I felt as if I were driving a 1973 Porsche 911 Carrera. Now, I have never driven one, but I have an imagination. The Red Chestnut Prospector (rented from Algonquin Outfitters) is a masterpiece of craftsmanship and design. I found myself numerous times pausing in the middle of the lake and simply enjoying sitting in this canoe. I have always rented the lighter weight kevlar canoes and this would be my first experience with a cedar canvas canoe. To my surprise, the canoe was lighter than I had imagined. Perhaps it felt that way because of the infusion of adrenaline caused by having use of this canoe for the weekend. The desire to build one of these is now even stronger, after having spent a weekend in one. Here is a quick link to watch the film.
This was my daughter’s third canoe trip. This one was a little different – just the two of us – father and daughter.
She loves camping – in fact she often tells me that, “Daddy … I love camping!” She’s my little helper. She volunteers to help gather firewood, chop firewood, set up the tent, filter water from the lake, cook the meals, build the fire, do the dishes and load/unload the canoe. She especially likes exploring around the site, swimming in the lake, playing with sticks, pine combs, rope or anything she can get her hands on and throwing rocks in the lake.
At 3 years old she did great! For the first time (on this trip) she paddled by herself, roasted her own marshmallow, jumped in the lake unassisted and helped prepare the meals.
A canoe trip alone with a young child does have it’s challenges. Paddling on a windy lake is not an easy task, portaging requires much more effort and time and supervising her (by myself) so that she does not wander off becomes a full time job with one that is so adventurous.
I’m not sure when her and I will head out into the wilderness again just the two of us. But when it does happen, I know that I will cherish it as much as I did this trip. Hopefully she will be able to carry more than just her paddle by then.
How do you plan a canoe trip with a 5 month old and a 2.5 year old (still in diapers)? Unless you plan on portaging a sack full of used diapers, you pitch the tent and stay put for the duration. So that’s what we planned way back in March, 5 months before the actual trip. In the back country of Killarney Provincial Park, you call that far ahead to ensure you get the reservations you want and hopefully on the lakes you want. Bell Lake had plenty of sites to choose from and is one of the few access points into the park. That meant we could go from the truck to the canoe to our site with no portages.
We arrived fairly early in the day so we could afford to be a little picky about the site we would occupy for 5 days. After turning down site 79 ( a beautiful view from high above the lake, but not very kid friendly) we agreed on site 79, just across the narrows where Bell Lake mysteriously turns into Three Mile Lake. The weather forecast predicted rain everyday of our trip so the large tarp was brought instead of the more compact version that usually accompanies us. Thankfully our paddle in was warm and sunny – very inspiring – despite the gloomy forecast of cold and wet. The site was large and open, yet sheltered enough to have a sense of privacy. It was a great site to be at since we would be here for 5 days. It was at the south west tip of what used to be an island, but now (due to lower water levels) it is the end of a peninsula, with a beautiful view from 3 sides of our camp site. You could watch the sun rise and set, all from the same spot by the fire. We had one open shoreline to the east as well as one facing west. So when we did have sun, we could go to either side to enjoy the warmth of the sun and the corresponding view.
During the evening on our first night, I was setting up the camera to take a family portrait and then the unexpected happened. No bears, no broken bones or the realization that we’d forgot toilet paper, but something much worse – my daughter and I were in a bit of battle of wills and the tripod got knocked over with the camera firmly attached at the top. The camera survived but the lens did not. My only other lens was a 100mm macro – not very useful for filming the family canoe trip!
On our second day, we experienced something brand new to our canoe trips. We had guests stay with us for the day and over night. Friends of ours had booked their trip back in March and it coincidentally overlapped on Bell Lake for 1 day. It was a lot of fun having good friends pull up in their canoes, share a site and have a sleep-over. The visit got even cozier when the rain started and we moved under the tarp by the fire to cook our homemade pizzas and tell stories until we could no longer keep our eyes open. My friend also resurrected my family canoe trip video that evening, by loaning me one of his camera lenses.
Our guests did not have to tear down and paddle out in the rain. The rain had stopped over night and that was to be the end of the rain, but not the end of the cloud cover. We decided to paddle with them to the end of the lake and then head back for some lunch. My creativity had found new hope, so while the family rested after lunch, I took my newly borrowed lens and spent a few hours exploring and filming from the canoe. Killarney is already a very quiet place (except for the flotillas of canoes that pass by with kids singing as if no one else can hear), but during the rainy times it is measurably more quiet. It was so quiet that from out in the lake, the present gentle breeze seemed louder than usual. As I explored the coastline around the north part of Bell Lake, the lack of sounds seemed to enhance every sound that I made with my paddle. Speaking of my paddle – this was the one I carved this past February at a workshop taught by Bruce Smith. I really enjoyed using this finely crafted piece of cherry wood, instead of the usual rented blue and yellow plastic paddles.
We didn’t bring much of anything for the kids to play with. They were quite well entertained with whatever they could find such as a pile of rocks to move, birch bark to chew on, frogs to chase, stones to throw in the lake, firewood to collect, dishes to throw in the lake, my daughter washed her hands in the lake close to a hundred times and the list could go on. Since we were not portaging, we could afford to pack a bit more food than usual. We ate very well! Swimming wasn’t an every day activity because of the cold, wet weather. We still found plenty to do, even with staying on the same site for the entire trip. We really got to know that site very intimately, as you would with anything or anyone you spend so much time with.
Another first for this trip was the notable absence of my 2 oldest boys. This was the first time in many trips I have been in Killarney without them. From their point of view however, this was a summer with no Killarney canoe trip. There’s always next year, another chance for new adventures and to create new memories once again.
In the fall of 2013, a friend and I set out to canoe the lakes of Killarney Provincial Park, for the first time during the cooler months of the year. We had only been in the park during the summer months. I also had a vision of creating a short film on the essence of wilderness camping. I know that many people have never heard of this type of vacation, let alone ever participated in it. One of my goals was to show what wilderness camping is all about.
I wanted to break down the experience in all it’s fundamental parts, illustrating what goes on and the possibilities that can be found in a wilderness experience. We were ready for frost in the mornings and rain during the day, but what we got were sunny days and warm evenings for late September weather in the park. Those are not stunt men swimming in the lakes that time of year – that is indeed us testing the waters. The only disappointment of the trip was that it was too short. Usually we spend close to a week, with our respective families, and this trip was only 2 nights away. We did experience a typical canoe trip though: lots of paddling – on five lakes, a few portages – short and long, a bit of swimming, reading, resting, hiking, plenty of good food (thanks Sharon!) and two extremely peaceful sleeps. Wilderness camping is not as simple as I portray in the film. I didn’t show all the preparation that goes into packing, trip planning and making reservations, dehydrating and meal prep as well as travel plans. During the trip and long after, all the planning and preparation are always worth the effort. The memories are priceless, unique and very rewarding. What are some of your favourite wilderness camping memories?
There is nothing quite like the experience of wilderness camping. To fully enjoy this kind of adventure you must: leave behind all that is not essential, enjoy your own company, abandon looking perfect, cooperate with your fellow travellers and have a healthy appreciation for God’s creation. In wilderness, you will discover who you are – both the good and the not so good! This is the place where relationships are deepened. Personal interaction is done face to face and in real time. Everything out here is done with purpose, there are no social niceties making decisions for us. The trip takes a bit of planning ahead of time, since you are essentially setting up a tempory home where ever you decide to set up camp. Following your route and schedule is important, but flexibility is a must when the unexpected inevitably surfaces. In wilderness, it is much harder to hide from your own thoughts. Out here we have fewer distractions to keep us from wrestling with those questions many of us attempt to avoid. Enjoy the photos and keep wrestling.
While writing this I am listening to Josh Garrels’ newest CD, Love & War & the Sea In Between. If you are interested in a sound track for this post click here and play.
Welcome to our front porch. This is where things happen in the wilderness. We come here to pump our drinking water for the next day, to read a book (if we are having a rare lazy afternoon), to swim, to enjoy a hot meal at the end of the day, to talk (yes men do talk – occasionally), to watch the loons swim by, to watch the sun set and then lay on the smooth rock, pick out constellations and watch for shooting stars. It may not be the most exciting place to be on these trips, but it is one of the most satisfying places.
Making meals can either be drudgery or a culinary delight, depending on your frame of mind. For us, supper is an event. Because we don’t have to rush out to a meeting after dinner we can take as long as we want to cook and enjoy our food. This supper prep gave my wife time to read while our soup was rehydrating. My sons and I were probably out doing something manly, like hunting for marsh mallow sticks!
I think we have lost the ‘fine art’ of playing. Out in the wild we have the chance to explore new things, on land and in the water. Sometimes an afternoon swim is exactly that – an afternoon of swimming. You can’t shove a ‘pool’ like this in your back yard!
There is no need for lawn chairs here! After a swim, leisure time continues with a snack, maybe a rest or possibly……………more swimming.
If you are an exercise freak, like my wife, this is the place to be. Not only can you hike all day up and down the mountains, swim back and forth across crystal clear lakes, you can paddle and portage until you fall down from exhaustion. There is no shortage here of physical activity to keep you healthy and fit. I have a dominant side when it comes to paddling, but after a while even it gets tired and I ask my wife if we can please switch sides.
My son took this photo of me while I was wading in knee deep water, photographing a rock wall (see second photo from the end). I mentioned earlier that it was important to cooperate with your fellow travellers. I am always conflicted when I come to places like this. I want to spend every waking moment photographing and filming and yet I want to be fully present with my wife and kids. I believe we have found a balance in cooperating with each other by respecting each others individual time and desiring and initiating group time.
I once saw a group of young men loading their canoes with water cooler jugs of water. They obviously knew the essential ingredient of a wilderness trip. I don’t think anyone told them that it wasn’t necessary to carry a few hundred pounds of water with them. Then again, maybe they like exercise a lot more than I can imagine. One of our after dinner rituals is to filter some water for the next day. None of us find it a chore to do this, especially sitting on shore with a view like this!
When my sons were old enough I bought them each their own camping knife. I had one when I was their age and I’m certain my Dad and Grandpa, each had their own as well. I think this is one of the preliminary rituals of a boy becoming a man. I still find it fascinating that a knife and a stick can capture a boys imagination when it has to compete with all of their electronic devices.
You know that your sons are getting older when they can jump off cliffs like this (or your 5 year old has an unhealthy lack of fear). You also realize that you are getting older because of that hint of hesitation in your brain telling your body to jump off the cliff.
Seeing this photo would make your terrified to throw yourself off of the cliff or compel you to climb back up faster so that you can do it again. I’m not sure which we like better; the falling or the impact of the water and making a splash?
While you are out on the water, you get a different perspective on your surroundings. You see things that you could never see when you travel by land. The only way to explore this rock wall up close, was to do it from our canoe.
In the introduction I had mentioned about being flexible. At the end of a portage we found this small waterfall. Stopping to enjoy this was not on the schedule. It was far too tempting to pass up the opportunity to play here for awhile and especially cool off. Two years later, we find ourselves back at the same spot. After having anticipated resting here and cooling off, we were disappointed when we saw the water level had dropped and there would be no ‘freshening-up’ here!