Towering Conifers at Lake of Two Rivers

Towering Conifers at Lake of Two Rivers

Mid-September, following a week’s rain delay, we made our way to Ontario’s Algonquin Park for some fall camping. It had been over a decade since my husband and I had last camped, certainly before we got our current dog, Hannibal. Our plan was to spend three days in the Lake of Two Rivers campground, our first visit to that park, and enjoy some hiking in the many trails of the Algonquin Park. Situated between Huntsville and Whitney on highway 60, Lake of Two Rivers campground is a cathedral of towering conifers providing dappled sunlit throughout the day.

In preparation for our visit, we pulled out our almost-new tent from the basement to determine if we still had all the pieces, pegs and tie-downs, erecting it on the back lawn. I toiled in the residual summer heat to inflate the air mattress that would serve as our bed, checking for holes. Hannibal promptly crawled inside the tent and went to sleep on the buoyant surface, oblivious to the baking heat of that hot afternoon. Although new to camping, he apparently still knew how to find the most comfortable spot around.

Up the ladder, hidden on the top shelf of the garage shelving, Gary found the ancient portable barbecue that had been our main cooking source in the days when the economics of a camping vacation looked good so long as you didn’t have to walk too far to get to your campsite. Our box of camping utensils and essentials was emptied of mouse turds and its contents washed (or thrown out – who knew mice liked coffee filters?). We raided hubby’s brother’s camping equipment for two folding chairs and a dining tent, and packed up everything we should need into the car, with the dog bed on top of everything else. Riding high, Hannibal didn’t know what hit him!

By the time of our September visit the park was nearly empty, with most guests on sites near the beach in large campers that had been in place several weeks. The tent sites were a ghost town; having scrutinized the internet for recommendations, we knew we wanted one overlooking the North Madawaska river which feeds into the lake, and had a chance to choose from over ten options for a spacious one that suited us, ideally distanced from washrooms and other campers. We soon had the tent up, and stuffed with our belongings. With an air mattress, a small bag of clothes each and a dog bed, the six-man tent was only good for two tall North Americans and a dog. Of course we had an extra sleeping bag and some blankets as the overnight temperature was forecast to be quite cold.

Next was to set up the dining tent and situate the picnic table. The ideal in my dear husband’s mind is to have the picnic table in the dining tent to provide a bug-free dining environment (although by that point in the year, the mosquitoes were almost non-existent), but the borrowed dining tent was a pentagon and the table large enough to seat eight comfortably, so Plan B prevailed. We shuffled the table to what we felt was the optimal spot, nearish the fire pit, but not too close, and adjacent to the dining tent, so that those who might feel the need could easily slip inside should the threat of mosquitoes appear.

The dog was tethered to a long lead anchored to the picnic table, as required by park regulations. He readily took to the lounging phase that followed camp set up, snoring happily on the small pad laid out for him in the pine needles, only occasionally raising an eyebrow as one of the park’s many red squirrels rushed by, a trilling noise announcing its arrival. We set up the folding chairs and scrutinized the camp propaganda for the first choice of hiking trail, and then decided to take the dog to reconnoitre the rest of the campground. A full sandy beach where two pairs of intrepid canoers were launching was otherwise devoid of people, the temperature just a bit cool for sitting around in the sand. Making our way back through the park, we surveyed the various spots, weighing the merits of each site for a next visit, passed several times by cyclists making use of the well-signed trails within and between campgrounds. At the far end of the park was a well-appointed store and take-out restaurant that was doing a roaring business in ice cream.

By this point it was nearing the dinner hour and time to begin preparing one of gourmet (for us) meals we’d packed to enjoy al fresco. On the menu the first night were Gary’s homemade hamburgers on pretzel buns, accompanied by guacamole made in situ with some of our community-supported agriculture (CSA) share tomatoes and garlic. As the dusk fell, the birds quieted and soon the predominant sound was the crackle and pop of coniferous wood burning in our campsite. We drew our chairs closer to the fireplace as the temperature dropped, and Hannibal learned to find the least smoky spot around the pit.

As we made our way to bed, layering on the extra blankets in anticipation of the single-digit overnight temperature I felt the pleasant sense of exhaustion that a day spent outside brings. I heaped two blankets on the dog (who promptly shed them once my head hit the pillow) and nodded off. Early the next morning, before the sun was properly up, we awoke to the thud of unknown objects dropping on the tent and the ground nearby every few seconds. This continued as we held off getting up until warmer temperatures prevailed, warily watching our breath freeze as we exhaled in the tent. Hannibal decided the ideal spot was head first in the sleeping bag, but how he breathed is a mystery to me; his skinny but toasty self was none-the-less a welcome addition. The mystery thudding continued unabated until one of us decided a trip to the comfort station could be held off no longer.

With that, we began our day with a leisurely breakfast, fueling ourselves for the anticipated hike later that day. Our destination was the Bat Lake trail, which takes you around an acid lake, the ecology of which was nicely explained in trail literature provided at the trail head  We’d never done any hiking with the dog before, and given his dozen years we weren’t sure how he would take to it. But we loaded up a small pack with water for humans and canine and the camera and hiked our way over to the trail head  The trail was excellently signed and featured a variety of terrain, from forest floor, to climbing rocky shield, none out of reach from a reasonably fit adult or not too geriatric Pointer. I decided the dog was actually part mountain goat.  We made our way around the trail and trudged, hot and tired, back to our site for a well deserved beverage.  Resting our weary selves on the folding chairs, we noticed that the thudding sound had returned or rather, continued, now that we were back to hear it again.  Watching carefully, I saw the thud was caused by a falling pine cone; industrious red squirrels were bombarding the forest floor from 100 feet up, jumping from branch to branch to strip each tree of ripe pine cones.  They kept at it until nightfall.

Our final meal was lasagne, the heating of which demonstrated why we need a new camping pot.  With only one finger slightly burnt, I served it up along side a salad and garlic bread and home-made red wine in plastic glasses – a feast in the woods.  We finished up in leisurely fashion, with just enough daylight to get more water for dishes, cleaned up the campsite and made our way to another well-earned outdoor rest, thankfully much warmer than the night before.

The next day broke with the patter of rain drops on the tent roof, making our return that much easier – bad weather meant taking everything down as expeditiously as possible, tossing it in the back of the car, and heading out to the first breakfast spot we could find in Whitney.  With that our first camping trip of the new century was complete, but you can bet we’ll be back again this year.