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8/08/2022 9:39 pm  #1


Weird experience on Pen Lake this past weekend

I had a strange experience camping on Pen Lake this past Friday night I would like to relate to the community here at A&A.

Allow me to me set the scene. My extended friend group had gathered on Pen for our annual camping trip. We ended up at Site 8, about halfway down the lake. It's a beautiful site dominated by a pine-studded rise divides the main cooking/tent pad area in the interior from the massive sand beach that juts into the lake. I set up my new backpacking tent on the pad on top of the hill to take advantage of the lake view, while the rest of my friends set theirs up down in the interior near the cooking area.

We were up late around the fire. I had fallen asleep in my chair while the last couple of our friends chatted by the dying embers. Most of the others had already retired to their tents. I woke up, saw that it was 3:00, said goodnight to the last of my buddies and trudged up the hill. I was just getting about to get into my tent when I heard the distinctive sound of a canoe grinding on the sand below. 

I could see headlamps down there on the beach, through the trees. What? I was confused (a little fireside brandy didn't help) and at first I thought it might have been a couple of the guys from my group, but that obviously didn't make any sense.

"Hey," I spoke softly, but with a touch of urgency, to my friends still around the fire. "I think there are people here."

I assumed it must have been some late night travellers who had lost their way or were having trouble finding an open site, and had intended to use our beach as an emergency overnighter. Their location on the beach suggested they had arrived from the south, either from Welcome or Clydegale - maybe further, if they were out this late. The site marker was on the other side of the peninsula, so it was conceivable that they didn't even know there was a site here, or, if they did, that it was occupied. If this had been the case they would have been welcome to stay for the night and/or we would have happily directed them to the open site about 300m away on the opposite side of the lake.

It was not the case. 

The people on the beach heard me as I called to my friends.

"Hey," a voice spoke to me as I half-stepped down the hill towards the beach. "You guys are on our site."

Again, confusion. Their site? The site had been completely empty when we'd arrived twelve hours earlier. 

"Sorry, your site?" I replied, approaching. The new arrivals were three people in their early twenties. The speaker was a slight blonde kid in a white t-shirt with sharp features and a clear voice, accompanied by a tired-looking young woman with blonde hair and long, red nails wearing a flannel shirt. A dark-haired guy with short hair rounded them out. 

"Yeah, man, " the blonde kid said. "We have this site booked." 

I assumed he was just confused. I started to explain that in Algonquin Park, unlike many (most) other Ontario Parks, you only book the lake, not the site. By this time four of my friends had come down the hill behind me. The blonde kid disagreed, cutting me off.

"Look," he told me, holding up his booking on his phone. His tone was one of insistent (if misplaced) confidence. "Pen Lake, site 125. This is site 125."

I could see the booking on his phone, and I again explained the peculiarities of AP. 

"Dude, there is no site 125, that's the lake number. The sites on Pen are only numbered from one to sixteen or seventeen or something."

"I know you think you're right," he shot back, "but you aren't."

We explained that we had been camping in the park for years, that we had ourselves spent the day looking for sites on the lake, that half a dozen other boats had cruised by our site earlier in the day and joked about wishing they'd snagged it before us. Nothing would convince them. As far as they were concerned, we were occupying their reserved site. 

"Why are you guys even up?" the dark-haired guy asked. We asked him the same thing. 

Now this was starting to get a little weird, and uncomfortable. Fortunately, my friends and I are a bunch of largish men on the edge of forty and all of us towered over the determined campers. 

"Well, we don't want a confrontation, so we'll go." Blonde Kid finally conceded. "But you guys are on our site. We'll find another place for the night, I guess."

We told them about the empty site less than a five minute paddle across the lake. They got back in their canoe and paddled off with a couple of last words - sharp, but not outwardly hostile - exchanged between the two groups. We watched as they reached the opposite shore, went past the open site, then turned off their headlamps. In the morning we could see what we assumed was their tent and canoe on a beach further along the shore -  but not a marked site. 

So overall, kind of a nothing incident. Or was it?

So much about this was objectively weird, and it left my friends and I feeling unsettled; a couple of them even refused to go to bed until the sun rose and they could see the "midnight marauders" set up across the lake. I had never had a late night encounter with other campers, let alone a disagreement over Park policies. It's weird and there are too many things that don't connect:
- If these were new campers, why were they paddling at 3 a.m.? 
- If they were experienced campers, why were they so insistently confident that they had booked our site?
- Why did Blonde Kid think that particular site (Site 8 on Jeff's Map) was site 125? Why did they think that particular location was theirs? 

And, the more chilling and logical next questions:
- What if they were lying and were actually there for something more nefarious?
- What would have happened if the campers on site 8 had been a couple, or a young family with kids, or basically anybody but a group of large adults? 
- What if I and all of my friends had been asleep?

We related this incident to every passing canoe the next day just in case anybody else had a similar encounter. All - probably 10 boats throughout the day - agreed that it was a strange thing to have occurred. What does the AA community make of this strange encounter?

EDIT: Sorry, this should probably be in the Ethics section, not Trip Planning. Can mods move it? I can repost there as well if needed. 
 

Last edited by El_Dude_Brother (8/08/2022 9:46 pm)


For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.
 

8/09/2022 12:22 am  #2


Re: Weird experience on Pen Lake this past weekend

Strange.  Obviously  they were clueless about the park.  (and there are no site numbers - the numbers we use are an AA PCI invention)

Only thing I had that came close was years ago  on Hogan when a European couple pulled up around 11:00 PM, not having  realized that a 3.75K portage takes a bit more effort than a similar hike.  Obviously let them share the site.

 

 

8/09/2022 5:42 am  #3


Re: Weird experience on Pen Lake this past weekend

My wife and I occupied that same site on Pen. We had a group of late teen/early twenties show up at 11PM. They showed no sense of entitlement, asked nicely, and I did not feel it safe to turn them away in the dark. So they stayed on the beach-side. I had to tell them to shut-up at one point during the night. I felt old - I asked them to please not turn me into a dad. We left the next morning before they woke.

I have now adapted - large site? Nice beach? Main thoroughfare? Pass. 

Last edited by scratchypants (8/09/2022 5:45 am)

 

8/09/2022 6:37 am  #4


Re: Weird experience on Pen Lake this past weekend

Last summer we were on Mink staring up at the stars around 11pm when I noticed a dark shape moving through the water in front of our site. Paddlers at this hour? The couple ended up coming into our bay asking if there were other sites available on the lake. 

No clue I said but there was a lot of traffic that day so it may be difficult at this hour to find one. Where are your flashlights I asked? Apparently they were buried deep in their dry bags.

We ended up letting them stay the night at our site and also having to give them a midnight crash course in backcountry camping. 

They were eating snacks in their tent while setting up, trying to blow up a queen sized air mattress with only their lungs. Dude was trying to start a fire using only large logs to cook some dinner (unsuccessfully). They had a cooler full of food that we had to instruct them to place well away from camp. Complete disaster.

The next morning I woke around 6am to hear them taking down their camp. I heard some laughter which makes me think their trip wasn't going to be a complete write off. I recall the girl asking her partner if they could just tow the air mattress behind the canoe so she wouldn't have to blow it up again. By 7am they were gone without a trace. My regret is not getting up to witness the canoe towing away the mattress...

 

8/09/2022 11:27 am  #5


Re: Weird experience on Pen Lake this past weekend

I've had the same thing happen to me where people showed up at my site thinking they booked that specific campsite, only for me to explain to them that isn't how it works. But that was in the late evening around sundown, not 3 AM. If you're curious I go into detail about the encounter here at the end of the Day 2 section: https://algonquinbeyond.com/trip-reports/solo-on-linda-lake-again/ 

A simple solution on your end would be to show them your booking confirmation. It will say the same "Site 125 - Pen Lake"

Based on them showing up at 3:00 AM, I'm willing to bet they were out for theft purposes, and the "You're on my site" was their backup plan in case they got caught. Or they were just completely new campers who believed they were right, and just coincidentally happened to be jerks at the same time.

While it's not legal to use bear spray on a human, I travel solo and I keep my bear spray on me at all times. In a worst case scenario confrontation like this, I'd rather deal with the consequences of using it on a human vs. using other self defence mechanisms like my survival knife, which could be fatal.


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8/09/2022 12:23 pm  #6


Re: Weird experience on Pen Lake this past weekend

Spooky stuff. Wondering if park staff were alerted and had feedback? People can be weird and no telling what their story is. Doubt that it will come to light.

 

8/09/2022 12:53 pm  #7


Re: Weird experience on Pen Lake this past weekend

Benefit of the doubt, if it was a Friday night and they were first time campers I could see them a) showing up at 3 am on Pen if they’d gotten a late start from the city and b) not understanding the booking system. That said, the whole thing sounds really weird and I can easily believe there was something shadier going on. Glad it was you guys and not a young family or someone solo they ran into because it sounds like it could have gotten worse if the other group had felt more confident in the confrontation.

 

8/09/2022 1:00 pm  #8


Re: Weird experience on Pen Lake this past weekend

That is helpful that at least you were a bunch of guys, would have been creepier for me with my family there I'm guessing - and all of us sound asleep.  I think just completely inexperienced campers paddling to what they thought was their spot based on the reservation map.  If you aren't used to the Parks booking map it does look like you are maybe getting site 125 halfway down the lake - only one green triangle on the lake, sweet!  Couple that with lack of interest in reading and voila.  As far as the timing goes, it always takes way longer than you budget for to get on the lake especially when dealing with friends and a bunch of uncertainties - where is Access Point 9 etc.  They probably parked in the Rock Lake campground and launched from the beach.  Amazing that they found Pen in the dark but GPS does have its uses : )

 

8/09/2022 1:54 pm  #9


Re: Weird experience on Pen Lake this past weekend

Two years ago we had a similar, but far less hostile, experience on Travers.  A couple approached our site in the evening looking for site "313".  I explained the story about reserving the lake not the site and pointed them to some sites that were open.  They thanked us and paddled away.  I wonder if the new website not showing the number of permits per lake adds to the confusion for first timers?

 

8/09/2022 3:20 pm  #10


Re: Weird experience on Pen Lake this past weekend

GordK wrote:

  I think just completely inexperienced campers paddling to what they thought was their spot based on the reservation map.  If you aren't used to the Parks booking map it does look like you are maybe getting site 125 halfway down the lake - only one green triangle on the lake, sweet!  Couple that with lack of interest in reading and voila.  bunch of uncertainties

Thank you, I took a look at the map and the green arrow makes a lot more sense as to why they were so confident. They also could have slept on the unmarked beach because they were trying to avoid taking somebody else's site.

If they were genuinely confused I feel bad for them - it must be a terrible feeling to think your site is illegally occupied. I'm thinking they may have gone to the other side of the lake where there was service, realized their mistake, and pushed off to find an actual site elsewhere on the lake (and potentially away from us to avoid any embarrassment). 

 


For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.
     Thread Starter
 

8/09/2022 3:26 pm  #11


Re: Weird experience on Pen Lake this past weekend

this really spooks me out. I couldn't imagine being there on a site with my gf and then say 4 big dudes rolled in and forced us to move at 3am.
What is wrong with people. We go into the park to check out and escape this crap. Urrrg.
 

 

8/10/2022 4:04 pm  #12


Re: Weird experience on Pen Lake this past weekend

A similar situation occurred to myself and my mom on Annie Bay in 2020. Earlier in our week a motorboat loaded with young guys came up to us trying to land stating that they had booked that site. They were newer to the park and we calmly explained how APP works and that you book a specific lake - not site, despite the reservation code. They were friendly and eventually carried on thankful for the advice.
A few days later in the late evening near dusk a couple in a canoe with no PFD's on (we didn't see any in the canoe either but they possibly had them stashed) in rough water paddled up to our site. This day had high waves and wind and water taxis were long gone at that hour indicating they likely paddled from the Lake Opeongo access point. They were a couple in their early 20's and the female angrily announced that we were on their site. I again calmly explained to them how APP works. The female was adamant that they booked the specific site and we were on it. We went back and forth a little with me keeping my cool and the male started chiming in. I made the mistake of commenting that they were the second group that week to say this, in an effort to lighten the mood, which only provided fuel to the fire for the female thinking we were wrong and she was right. We have camped in the backcountry for over ten years and I again explained how the bookings worked. She wanted to show me her permit which I encouraged her to do and stated I would go get mine from our bags, though this was up hill and quite far away (it turns out we forgot it in the car of course but that was not discovered at the time and I had a picture of it saved on my phone if need be). However, she could not immediately find hers which only frustrated her further and she then declined for me to get mine and compare. I could see the wheels turning in the males head at this point likely starting to realize we knew what we were doing and that the female was misunderstood. We are two women in our 30's and 60's and the female announced that we were obviously 'campsite stealers' and hoped we enjoyed our trip on THEIR site. We even attempted to direct them to the nicest site on the lake with a beach which had opened up that day. They were obviously frustrated, tired, and probably hungry. They started pushing away while the female, now irate, yelled and swore at me. As they paddled off I loudly encouraged them to check in at the permit office at the end of their trip which would verify what we were saying (I realllllly hope they did this, I would have paid to see her reaction). The female continued her tirade and they went in the opposite direction of the nice site setting up elsewhere. Afterwards we looked on line and it looks like the small green triangle for Annie Bay coincides almost exactly with site # 2 on the lake where were staying so it makes sense that they felt they booked that site. At the end of the trip I spoke with a park ranger, emailed APP, and have commented on their social media about this issue. They have since put out a post that included information about this first come first serve policy but not everyone reads the regulations/rules or follows social media unfortunately. 
As for your own experience - it seems that the triangle for Pen lake is similarly placed as in our own scenario (I've stayed on that site and it is great!!) and am inclined to suggest that they were simply majorly disorganized and honestly thought it was their site even though it was 3am. Over the years we've run into more and more backcountry 'partiers' that seem out of place and unknowledgeable about the park. While I was never concerned for my safety in this confrontation, and luckily it was not 3 am (I would not have had the same tone surely) I am certain we will hear more of this as people aren't necessarily required to check in at the permit office anymore and can easily rent or borrow equipment without needing to knows this information about bookings. I'm glad everything turned out for your trip despite the problematic visitors! 

 

8/11/2022 8:15 am  #13


Re: Weird experience on Pen Lake this past weekend

          several years ago in june after a late park opening because of you know what,, while staying on Louisa lake late in the  afternoon, i was approach by 2 canoes.  i was fishing of off the point that our campsite was located on,,  there were 5 people with broken english telling me that they had to go on our site to look for something that was marked on a scavenger hunt map,, that was stashed at the back of our site,, 
   i told these people that sorry this is our site and that we would be leaving early in the next morning and that they are welcome to search for the treasure after we leave.  this is during the covid period. 
    they were not to happy about my reply and were getting little frustrated with me .  at this point i was concerned at how far they might push the issue.  my tripping partner walked over and asked what the problem was all about ,, and he repeated my line that they can visit the site after we leave in the morning,
    this really did not seem to matter as they chatted back and forth (but not in english) we had no idea what was going to happen, until my buddies dog trotted up the stone point and checked out the scene,, 
    after seeing the dog the pesky tourists backed off and paddled across the lake to a empty camp site and looked around there for a while,,  
   they told me that the treasure was 75 meters from the stone point,, i paced it off after they left and looked around and found some tag tape,, my friend andrew moved some pine needles away and pulled out a bottle of booze of some kind,, we just buried the bottle and had a good laugh,, these people were camped at the far end of Lousia  ,we watched  them as they paddled back to their site,, a dry night for all,, l.o.l.
  where do people get the nerve to make demands like that,,,
   this spring it was something a little different,, we had people pull up in canoe and go fishing from our campsite,,  again like w.t.f.
   

 

8/11/2022 8:28 am  #14


Re: Weird experience on Pen Lake this past weekend

Spru85 wrote:

At the end of the trip I spoke with a park ranger, emailed APP, and have commented on their social media about this issue. They have since put out a post that included information about this first come first serve policy but not everyone reads the regulations/rules or follows social media unfortunately.  

The most frustrating part is that it's such an incredibly easy change to fix this.

On the email confirmation it says "Your site is reserved" then followed by the booking where it shows on the left column "Site 1, Site 2, Site 3 etc." and the righthand column titled "Site Number".

Literally all they need to do is use the word "Lake" instead of "Site" and it would clear up so much confusion.


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8/11/2022 9:25 am  #15


Re: Weird experience on Pen Lake this past weekend

I tried sending an email about this problem, to the management contacts at the park I used a few years back. It seems everyone I knew has either retired or moved on, as the emails were bounced back with "no such recipient".

In desperation, I've resent the following email to the generic "info@algonquinpark.on.ca" which used to go to the visitor's center ...

_______________________________________________________________________________

Please pass on to those with authority over reservation system.

The reservation system's way of referring to one's booking on a numbered lake is apparently continuing to confuse some first time backcountry campers.

Could you please read over the following Algonquin Adventures forum thread? ...


https://algonquinadventures.boardhost.com/viewtopic.php?id=3609

The actual postings explain the confusion better than me trying to rephrase them.

The way the confirmation documentation states "Site 125 - Pen Lake" or "Booking location 59 - Rain", coupled with the presence of the lake number and a tent symbol on the booking website's maps, appears to be giving a misimpression to inexperienced first-time campers that they have a site-specific reservation.

Perhaps a less ambiguous "a non-specific site on Pen Lake - 125" or "Booking location, a non-specific site on Rain - 59", coupled with a repeated accompanying explanation of how the system works, would prevent such confrontations.

Thank you,

Barry Bridgeford

http://www.algonquinadventures.com/
905-751-****

 

8/12/2022 12:21 pm  #16


Re: Weird experience on Pen Lake this past weekend

@ trippythings. I have asked that exact question as to why can’t they change the word “site’ to ‘lake’ to a park ranger, and got the following answer: the form is being used in all the parks, so nothing can be done about it, as many parks are site specific backcountry sites.

 

8/12/2022 12:45 pm  #17


Re: Weird experience on Pen Lake this past weekend

tentsterforever wrote:

@ trippythings. I have asked that exact question as to why can’t they change the word “site’ to ‘lake’ to a park ranger, and got the following answer: the form is being used in all the parks, so nothing can be done about it, as many parks are site specific backcountry sites.

"so nothing can be done about it,"....maybe add a second form? It's a quite simple, easy to implement solution.

Certain parks have site-specific bookings while other parks have lake-specific bookings... the system is tailored just fine for that. Campgrounds vs. backcountry sites have different fees... the system is tailored just fine for that. It should just be one more simple piece of logic in the workflow i) if site-specific booking, send Confirmation Email A, ii) if lake-specific booking, send Confirmation Email B.

Adding a second email automation variation would be way easier to implement than anything that needs to be implemented in the booking system itself (like the two examples above).


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