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9/09/2022 3:59 pm  #1

May 2022: Rock Lake to South Galipo Lake Loop

Rock Lake to South Galipo Lake Loop :
ACCESS POINT START :  Rock Lake  (9)     |   ACCESS POINT FINISH: Rock Lake  (9)       
# OF DAYS / NIGHTS:  4 D / 3 N                  |    DIFFICULTY LEVEL:  Advanced
TOTAL KM: 52.9 KM                                    |   # OF PORTAGES (DISTANCE): 13 (9.4 KM)
Day 1 : Rock Lake (Access Point) to Clydegale Lake 

The winter months could not have dragged on any longer. The crew was itching to head out on our first trip of 2022 and thankfully all provincial parks in Ontario opened on time. This was going to be our first Victoria Day long weekend trip since the infamous Birchcliffe Cabin loop in May of 2019. The weather network was calling for wind and rain from Friday to Sunday, and we were bringing in another Algonquin Rookie, Evan’s friend Dan.

This trip was the scheduled route that was supposed to happen in May of 2020. Due to the Covid-19 closure that year we put this one on the back burner for a future spring adventure as we wanted high water levels. The goals of the trip were to check out the Galipo lakes, and to take Rich to Louisa Lake. Louisa was where Evan caught his first ever lake trout in 2017, and overall, it seemed like a beautiful lake to stay on. On that trip we had only passed through the lake, stopping only to eat trout for lunch on the southern point site. If we could, we were targeting this campsite or one of the western islands. Alas, Louisa will need to wait for another trip!
Since 2014 the group had only ever paddled on Rock Lake two other times. This trip was going to be the third time leaving from or passing through the Rock Lake access point. The craziest part, all these trips occurred within one year of each other! Generally, we avoid access points on highway 60 like the plague, but with our impromptu Madawaska day trip in 2021, and our last-minute October 2021 trip to Welcome it was getting quite repetitive! Wake up at 3:45am, meet the fellas and leave for the park around 4:00am, reach the Rock Lake access point as the sun is coming up, and paddle on to Rock around 08:00am. Most of that is awful, as no one enjoys early more wake ups and 3 hours drives… but that last part is why we keep coming back!
We finished unloading the truck, gave our new tripping member Dan a quick boat safety course, and pushed off towards Rock Lake. The first cast into the river near the put in landed Evan a nice little bass, the trip was starting on the right foot! Once we turned the last corner on to Rock Lake, we realized just how windy of a morning we had on our hands. Of course, with our luck (HA HA!) it was a head wind coming from the south-east. This was nowhere near the calm, fog encased paddle we had in the fall, and would be a nuisance for the rest of the day. We were paddling in the same direction for three straight lakes down to Clydegale, so we were crossing our fingers for calmer conditions in the afternoon. As most experienced paddlers know, that is rarely the case!
Fairly straight forward paddle on Rock Lake. It was a clear day so finding the pictographs was easy. Dan really liked those, and Ryan finally got to see them (he did not see them in the fall). Without the fog we could also see down to the south end of the lake and take in the massive rock face from a distance. We passed Rose Island and entered the bay toward Pen Lake. We talked about where the 3 km portage is located and how we were going to be coming back to Rock in several days… one of those moments of foreshadow I guess.
When we arrived at the first portage there was a pile of gear stacked up on the landing, and a boat pulled up slightly out of the way. Dan and I decided to fish a little bit at the bottom of the rapid while waiting for Rich and Ryan to catch up, and for the other group to gather their gear and clear the landing. This is the second time that I fished the bottom of this feature, and still not even a nibble. I need to bring worms into the park!
  We decided to do another quick search for the petroglyphs… and again all we found were moss covered erratics. We took Dan down to the see the falls, they really are a nice set! We passed the group on their way back to get gear, they were going in on a day trip fishing. This portage is a nice way to start the portaging for the season. Extremely easy, and just the right length to stretch the legs between paddling Rock and Pen. We finished the portage at the dock on the Pen Lake side and quickly loaded up for the long paddle.
We passed 2-3 canoes of people in the North end of Pen and had a neat encounter while passing the campsites right before the “teeth”. Dan and I paddled by, noting that people were camped on the site, and when Rich and Ryan passed the campsite, I thought I heard the faintest “Single Malt…”. I asked Dan if he heard it, he was not sure and by the time we swung the canoe around it looked like Ryan and Rich were having a conversation with someone on the shore. We paddle back, and we all had a quick conversation with “Steve” (if memory serves) and a friend of his. He had read some of our trip reports before and it would have been nice to stop and chat a little longer. He sounded like he knows a thing or two about the lake and fishing in general. He did also mention seeing a rod in the boat during our fall trip last year and reminded us not to target trout out of season! We waved our goodbyes and passed the “teeth” into the main part of Pen Lake.
(Note to reader: We know and follow all zone 15 fishing regulations when in the park!)
Last fall we stopped at a campsite on the west shore for lunch, but we remembered seeing a nice beach point on the east shore that would be a better lunch spot. We made our way upwind to this spot and pulled in for a quick bite. As we stood there, munching on trail mix and cliff bars, we witnessed the wind increase and whip the lake up into some serious white caps. We have paddled in worse but being early in the year and not overly warm out we discussed the next stretch of paddling. Dan did not have much canoe tripping experience, so we scared him with a few of our boat over boat recovery stories and pushed off!
The going was slow, but steady. The waves were directly into the nose of the canoes and the gusts were manageable, so we didn’t have much difficulty in keeping the boats straight. It was just hard at times to keep the boats moving forward. Towards the end of the lake Dan and Evan pulled into the lee of the last large island to make sure Rich and Ryan caught up safely. As we approached the final portage of the day, we noticed a couple of guys fishing the end of the rapid. We watched the closest fisherman land a small trout as we climbed out of the canoes. He confirmed my earlier thought… we need to start bringing worms into the park!
The P275 was new to us but proved to be like many others in the area (like the 275M from Pen to Galipo River for example). Easy trail to follow with a gradual incline for most of its length. There is a water fall right at the Clydegale end that cuts into a deep channel that is worth the effort to see. It is impressive to see at the top, but more beautiful from the bottom end. The water flows through the tight channel with quite a bit of volume and with water streaming down the moss lined walls it had a subterranean grotto feel.
Now that the portaging for the day was complete, we were in high spirits as we pulled into Clydegale Lake. Another big lake, oriented in basically the same direction, so the paddling experience was essentially the same as Pen Lake. The lake started with a little swampy bay to our right, but once past the first point it was another head down slog. The campsite on the right point looked like a nice spot to camp. It has a big exposed sitting rock with a beautiful view down the lake. W had our hearts set on the southern island campsite though. On the right shore we also saw a large bull moose swimming into the wind along the shore. He must have heard us coming and before I could get the camera up, he climbed the rocky shore and disappeared into the bush. We really haven’t had any moose swimming encounters, so that was intriguing.
We stopped around the midway point (before the lake turns to the right), and again in the lee of the big island in the south, to allow the slow pokes to catch up. We had not seen another soul on the lake so far, but it was now the moment of truth. Did we paddle the entire lake, hoping for the nice campsite at the end, just to turn around and paddle back? The answer is no… we pulled out from the lee and headed over to the island campsite which has a big sitting rock and an excellent beach landing. It also has a formidable view of the entire southern end of the lake. The wind was flowing from that direction into the site keeping any spring bugs at bay.                The campsite was nearly perfect. One of the import things was the proximity to our 2km portage into Little Canoe Lake tomorrow morning. We also found a trail off the back of the site that led towards the elevated north side of the island. It ended on a nice flat rock with a view back up the lake. The fire pit area was big and flat, and there were plenty of well-spaced trees for the 4 hammocks. We unpacked and spent the remainder of the afternoon and evening enjoying our time around camp. We cooked up an amazing kabob meal, drank a little too much, and celebrated Ryan’s 30th birthday with some thoroughly smashed cupcakes from the Metro bakery. Overall, a great way to welcome Dan to the tripping life, and to start the 2022 season. Only downside was the subpar thunderbox situation… but that was an issue for another day… tomorrow morning in fact.



Day 2 : Clydegale Lake to South Galipo Lake 

We went into this trip knowing that Day 2 was going to be the toughest day. It was planned out to be approximately 5.5 km of portaging in a very short amount of time, with the last 3.2 kms being an unofficial portage with some bush bashing on each end. Due to copious amounts of beverages the night before (it was a birthday party lest we forget) and a wrong turn on the portage, it became an EXCEPTIONALLY long day.
It all started on a windy Saturday morning on a little island on Clydegale Lake. Our fearless travelers were rising from their hammocks with heads like cinder blocks from scotch and cider. In a feat of pure determination Evan and Dan whipped up the breakfast wraps and coffee, and the lads packed up for a day of hiking…
We left camp a little later than normal, with a stiff prevailing breeze. We were not too upset with the wind today, it would hopefully keep the bugs and heat down while portaging. It did not take long to reach the first portage of the day, a 2035m non-maintained portage into Little Canoe Lake. The landing was a little muddy, and we assumed not a whole of campers make the trek into Little Canoe. There are no campsites on the lake, and unless the fishing is off the hook (pun intended) we couldn’t see why someone would elect to portage over 2km one way just to see it. The portage is not difficult, but it is long. Most of the way is old bush roads, and only once did we need to put the gear down and check to confirm the correct path (two bush trails connected, and it was not 100% obvious which was the correct way to go). By the time we reached Little Canoe the wind had receded, and the cloud of bugs we brought out was impressive. We quickly loaded up and headed to the middle of the lake to try and escape but Little Canoe Lake is indeed little. It is a pleasant enough lake, but we only paddled about half of its length down the right shore. Coming off a 2km portage, getting hammered by bugs, and trying to find a nice spot to bushwhack up to another 3.2 km portage is not the ideal environment to deeply appreciate your surroundings.
We passed by a small opening to what appeared to be a swamp on our initial paddle down the shore. We could not find a more suitable landing to start our bushwhack so we returned to this opening. It consisted of an initial carry over from the lake to the swamp, then a small paddle through the weeds towards the actual shoreline 40-50 feet from the rest of the lake. We had to get out the saw and cut some small, downed trees to allow the boats to pass, and needed to walk/drag the boats the final 10-15 feet. Rich put trail marking tape on some trees to hopefully assist future whackers.
The shoreline is steep up to the road. We climbed straight up the hill with the bags and after about 5 minutes we made it to the road. We then returned to the swamp for the boats and had a little more trouble weaving the boats through the tree filled climb. Overall, it was an easy bushwhack and we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. It was nearly noon, so we decided to have lunch to knock some of the food weight down before the big march. We had Jeff’s Map of the route, as well as the satellite image below. So, we sat and ate lunch while discussing the various features, turns and landmarks to look for on the upcoming portage to avoid becoming lost. Evan had also brought his GPS (which we normally don’t bring to Algonquin), but we found out the GPS had the Northern Map for Ontario still installed from the 2019 Wabakimi trip. This was believed to be a minor setback, but we will circle back on this momentarily.

The road you start on is a large logging road, well maintained and wide enough for two vehicles to pass. We quickly made a right hand turn at the first intersection which let us know exactly where we were. We single carried up and over a few big rolling hills, over a nice-looking creek, and eventually made it to another intersection. So far the map and sat images were easy to follow and matched what we were seeing. We turned right and started out on a much narrower bush road still feeling confident in our direction. Around the halfway point between the last big intersection and East Galipo we had our first real head scratching moment. The main road turns sharply to the left and heads up a steep hill. On the right-hand side is a clearing (one of many clearings where piles of logging brush are stacked) with a small opening in the far tree line about the size of an ATV. We put the boats down, looked at the maps, and incorrectly assumed we were directly below the “3” in the “3160m” on Jeff’s Map (blue dot on the map below). Meaning we did not want to take the small trail north towards the creek, we wanted to stay on the main road a little further. What a mistake! We should have spent much more time making this decision, but like Garth Brooks correctly said, we could have missed the pain, but we would had had to miss the dance.
So, on we go. Up the hill and none the wiser. We got to a small bit of water on the left which we skirted around and then we hit another unmarked trail leaving the ever-narrowing road on the right-hand side. We were getting good at just sticking to the main road by this point, so we didn’t even put the boat down this time and just walked right past. Moments after that we came to a little slice of South Algonquin heaven, which we will forever refer to as the “Five Points”. It was aptly named, and we did come out of there looking like extras fromthe movie Gangs of New York.

The “Five Points” is where all roads converge in the park. It is a clearing in the woods, with deep tracks from the logging vehicles, piles of logs and brush, and 5 distinct trails leading out like a wagon wheel. As soon as we stepped into the clearing we had a strong suspicion we were going the wrong way, but in for a penny in for a pound was the theme of the afternoon. We should at least confirm this is NOT the way, as no one wanted to backtrack too far down the portage if the lake was actually around the next bend in the trail. Spoiler, it wasn’t. We split up, dropped our gear and we walked all the trails. Some were short and looped back around rather quickly. Others we followed for 20-30 minutes to arrive at a dead end. Best we could assume was the machines had been in to set up future logging trails for later in the season, as there was no substantial evidence of freshly felled trees. On top of this, a massive storm arrived quite quickly and dumped a ton of rain and wind on us right when we decided to give up on the Five Points. At the time we just ducked down under the trees and laughed at our bad luck. Unbeknownst to us, this storm would rip through most of Central Ontario knocking out power for days in some areas. Unlucky for Dan, who spent the next 2 months working to clean up the mess!
The cherry on top of this wonderful afternoon happened when we decided to finally backtrack. We decided to go back to the last trail we buzzed past to give that a quick search. Dan and Evan got to the intersection and unloaded gear and boat but Rich and Ryan were not following. Eventually they came up the trail, double hand carrying the boat… the yoke on Rich’s boat had completed sheared off both gunnels! We were essentially lost, somewhere in the middle of a 3.2 km portage, two days into a four-day trip and now one of our canoes was going to be a real pain to carry. Our filtered water was gone, and we had not seen any suitable water source for some time. It was approaching 5pm and morale was incredibly low. So, we decided to crack into a couple of ciders and wet the whistles while discussing our options.
We hiked up the trail without gear and after 30 minutes came to a dead-end swamp. On the hike back to the bags we noticed a large hill off to our right. We hiked to the top of that, and Ryan turned on his phone to see if we could get any cell reception. Viola, google maps showed us using the tiniest sliver of service that we were well south of where we needed to be. Instantly we all harkened back to the fateful turn of the road up the hill and realized the error in our ways.
Dan and Evan marched there with one boat and gear, and Ryan and Rich slowly followed double carrying their boat. Dan and Evan dropped their canoe at the corner, and within 20 minutes on the new trail had found Bushwhacker’s Pond and could see what had to be East Galipo. What a relief… By the time we returned to get the canoe the other guys had arrived at the corner as well. Dan rigged up a stick which worked surprisingly well as a temporary yoke, and the group headed back up the trail with a little extra pep in their step.
The bushwhack down into East Galipo was much more difficult than the previous whack. Instead of trees nicely spaced out, it was tightly packed Cedar. Also, it was getting later in the evening, so the bugs had reappeared and were especially hungry. We busted our way down and loaded as quick as we could. The cloud of biting insects could not diminish the elation we all felt to be out of the woods with water under the boats! We paddled up the lake and it appeared we were on the right body of water. The narrows were where they should be, Little Galipo looked about right. It wasn’t until the final portage of the day, with its little yellow sign looking so nice, did we get final confirmation that we were back on track!
A quick 215m portage up and over into South Galipo through the fading light, and on to our home for the night. There is only one campsite on South Galipo, which we had booked for the night. The lake was calm, and the relief was real. We pulled up to the campsite to find that it was relatively small, but it would do for the night. Rich and Ryan hung their hammocks to the left of the massive white pine, and Dan and Evan hung theirs in the trees deep behind the campsite. The cool features of this site include a massive birch tree near the thunder box (like the tree at the Tom Thomson grave on canoe lake) and the world’s freshest Thunder Box. You could smell the freshly cut wood on approach and I swear it gave off a faint glow in the day’s dying light.
  Everyone was exhausted and sore, and dinner was cooked using headlamps. The shepherd’s pie was excellent, and the few sips of scotch did the trick. We briefly looked at the maps and discussed some possible changes to our route for the next day. We all packed it in shortly after supper, the moment the comedy special ended. It was a long, hard day and it could have been avoided with a little more attention to detail … and the correct Southern Ontario micro-SD card! Lessons are never learned the easy way and the four of us will have something to joke and reminisce about for years to come.


Day 3 : South Galipo Lake to Welcome Lake 
TOTAL KM: 15.6 KM   

We woke up to a miserable, rainy morning on South Galipo. Everyone was moving slow after our big day of hiking the day before. Dan and Evan made the usual breakfast of egg/bacon wraps and made several pots of coffee to take away the chill. Rich woke up with a massive headache, so he was extra slow moving… and grumpy.
We left our campsite with a light rain falling and made our way over to the Galipo River. We portaged the P85 to West Galipo, through the only campsite listed for that lake. The campsite is not the greatest, being right in the middle of a short portage and all, but it was more spacious than the South Galipo site. I doubt many people portage through this campsite each year, so it would suffice. On the West Galipo end of the portage there is a little falls, which we attempted to fish the bottom of without success. 
The paddle up West Galipo was superb, minus the constant cold rain. The lake feels remote, and with only one campsite I think it would make a quite little spot to hole up for a few days.  We entered back into the Galipo River from the north end of the lake, and immediately noticed some significant beaver lodges and activity.  We saw many lodges that Dan started calling “Beaver Castles” due to their height and prominence on the riverbank. We knew the river was going to narrow, become shallow, and get swampy before emptying into Rence. In reading reports and watching other videos, the section after the P75 could be the trickiest to navigate.  We paddled and lifted over the P20 and portaged the P180. The portage signs in this part of the park all seem to be torn off or on trees that have fallen, but the take outs and put ins are obvious. The portages themselves are standard river variety, narrow, rocky, and not overly long or difficult.
There is one section where a pull over is required, and the river after the pull over is just shallow enough to require you to walk the canoes. Evan thoroughly enjoys this if the river bottom is nice and sandy. This section is perfect for this. Rich on the other hand, in his headache induced mood, enjoyed the morning’s river walking significantly less. The section of the river where we anticipated the swamp to be was much better than we expected. The water level was high, and we paddled through without issue. Plenty of birds, especially annoyed geese, serenaded us as we paddled by. At the end of this stretch we got to see why the water was so high, and where the beaver kings had been working. The beaver dam at the P165 is one of the most impressive dams we have ever seen. The length of the dam is moderate, but the height of the dam is astounding. From the bottom side of the dam to the top it is well over 12 feet high. We were thankful for the volume of water this bad boy was holding back and would not want to be downstream if it ever let go!
The plan for today was to see how the morning goes and by the time we reach Rence a decision needed to be made. Do we continue our original plan and head to Louisa for night three, or do we turn at Rence and head to Rock Lake through Welcome? We obviously would rather go to Louisa, as that was one of the highlights of the trip plan and Evan was looking forward to returning to this beautiful lake. The downside was the length of the portaging to get there, and back to Rock with the broken canoe. The option to camp on Welcome and return to Rock was less appealing but less portaging, and it would mean approaching lakes close to an access point while being off permit. We sat on the awesome westernmost campsite on Rence and chewed on this decision while eating lunch. What an amazing campsite… we would like to return to this rock one day and spend the night. After about half an hour the decision was made, we would avoid Louisa and roll the dice on Welcome Lake. If the lake was full, we would just carry on into the night and return to the truck.
The route from Rence to Welcome is nice and easy, especially paddling with the wind at your back. The river between Rence and Harry is another sandy bottomed stretch, with a depth of 3-5 feet in most parts. The water is really clear, so we spent a lot of this section staring down at large schools of suckers swimming past. We tried to land one with plastics and small spoons (what we had on the rods at the time) to get a closer look at one. None of us had ever seen this many suckers before in Algonquin.
Harry Lake is another beauty spot for an easy weekend. It does have a few more campsites on it, so it would not feel as secluded, but the beach on the east side is top notch. The privacy at the site might be annoying for some though, the river to Welcome Lake passes really close to the campsite. From experience, while sitting on the thunder box you can hear and faintly see canoes passing. Dan and Evan stopped on the beach (the campsite was vacant) and relaxed while the boys caught up. Several canoes worth of people passed the beach and we made sure to let them know we were shortly moving on in case they wanted the beach.
We passed guys fishing the river between Harry and Welcome, and watched one land a trout. Secretly I was hoping for a sucker, so I could see it while gliding past. By the time we reached Welcome the clouds in the west were threatening more rain, and the wind was picking up behind us a bit. This was the time for the dice to stop tumbling. We headed to the middle of Welcome and made sure to note which campsites were taken, and which were not. Only one campsite on the western peninsula was open, plus the two campsites south of the portage to Pen. The lake had room for three more groups… we might get lucky.
We elected to camp at the campsite close to the P2170. The plan was for Rich and Ryan to carry the broken canoe over the portage this evening to make our last day a little faster. We had stayed on this site last fall, so knew what to expect for accommodations. It also allowed us to sit on the beach and watch people enter and exit the lake from the portage to our right, and from Harry across the lake. We were not going to unpack until after dark in the event someone needed the campsite.
The rest of our afternoon/evening was spent sitting in our chairs on the beach, eating treats and drinking cider. We only had one more group pass us, headed to the open campsite south of our position. When it was dark, we pulled our gear out and quickly set up our hammocks and made one of Evan’s favourite dinner meals… rehydrated pulled pork wraps with Sweet Baby Rays and crispy onions! Rich really is getting good at making our meals. We had a fire going later in the evening, but the rain decided to return. We retreated to our hammocks relatively early and set the alarms for a bright early rise.


Day 4 : Welcome Lake to Rock Lake (Access Point)
TOTAL KM: 11.7 KM 

We woke up to a really calm, foggy morning. Evan was up first and made a pot of coffee and lit a fire to try and take some of the chill away. Breakfast today was just a simple oatmeal with extra dried fruit and some assorted nuts. Mix that with some powdered milk and hot water and you have yourself a delicious, warm, stick to your ribs sort of breakfast. By the time we packed up the sun had burned off most of the fog and it promised to be a nice sunny day.
Rich and Ryan walked the shoreline to the portage, while Dan and Evan paddled. The P2170 is very familiar to us now, we have walked it three times in 7 months. We did notice it was extra muddy in some sections due to the recent rain but most of this can be avoided by skirting around the edges. By the time we reached the end of this portage the fog was gone, and the temperature was the warmest we had on the entire trip. After several dreary days, and plenty of rain, we all delighted in the sunshine.
We quickly paddled the river to the next portage and then spent some time showing Dan the large waterfall at the top end of the P275. After we finished the portage we all walked back to the bottom end where the set of waterfalls empties into a small pool. It was a nice, shaded area so we fished and hydrated for a little bit. Our thirst was satiated but no fish were caught. The put in on this portage is not one of our favourites… it is very rocky and not ideal for fragile canoe bottoms or ankles. We all managed to load and push off without incident though.
The paddle up Pen and Rock was uneventful. We made much better time paddling up them than we did paddling down them on Friday. We passed another group of people on the portage. We found their canoes on the Pen side and the group of people resting on the Rock side. We had already seen these falls many times, so we were on and off the portage as fast as one could. By the time we entered the main bod of Rock Lake the wind had picked up a bit. Naturally it was directly into our face, the exact opposite direction from our paddle in.
We made it back to the truck without incident, and thus ended our annual spring trip. Dan was very glad to have joined us on the adventure since he had another child on the way! We decided to treat him to some Mad Musher on the way home but later found out it was closed!!
We also started getting messages from friends and family (and Dan’s employer) about the severe weather that had ripped through Ontario. We let everyone know we were safe and sound, but it was shocking to drive home taking in the wind damage to trees, hydro poles, barns, and houses.  
When this trip ended we only had one other trip plan in the oven, and that was a weeklong trip down the French River. Hopefully we can get another trip to Algonquin planned for 2022!





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