Algonquin South

Paddling the Panhandle

It was early October when we headed to Elephant Lake Road just past Harcourt and got our interior camping permits at Pine Grove Lodge.  We then proceeded to the Kingscote Access point (#15) to dropped off our gear and three paddlers. The driver of our party returned the vehicle to Pine Grove Lodge as we had arranged for a taxi to bring him back to the access point.  Our vehicle was left at the lodge as we would be returning there, via the York River and Benior Lake, at the end of the trip.

Our adventure started at Kingscote Lake. We paddled to the far north shore of the lake and set up camp. Kingscote isn’t particular an interesting lake, but it was very private as we were the only group on the lake. The next morning we headed toward Big Rock Lake via a 1300 metre portage. The lake offers a great scenic view a  huge rock cliff for which Big Rock Lake gets it’s name. We pressed on by taking the 660 metre portage to Byers Lake. We met a couple canoers who were coming from Byers Lake and they warned us of a very steep and slippery hill coming up on the trail. Since the descending hill was smooth grass which was thorough soaked from the recent rain, we put our poly canoe bottom down and easily slid it down the grassy hill. It wasn't so bad after all. I'm sure it must have been a little more treacherous going up, being so slippery and steep. 

From Byers Lake, we paddled North and set up camp on the east shore of Branch Lake near the Scorch Lake portage. After setting up, we hiked to Scorch Lake for a view.

I had to add that before I left on this weekend trip, I monitored the local weather closely. On the day we left, the weather report claimed no rain was in the forecast. I foolishly relied on this a reduced some raingear to lighten my load. It rained most of the weekend. Needless to say, that was the last time I relied on anything the weather reports have claimed. Although I do still monitor the weather, I know do it as entertainment. It amazes me as to how wide of the mark the weather forecasts can be.

That night, we were treated with a serenade from a chorus of wolves all around us as they howled to each other all over the area. Some, I’m sure, were within a 100 metres from our campsite. It was very exciting.

The next morning was Sunday. We were quietly enjoying our early morning breakfast and coffee we heard a lot of noise coming from across the small lake. The noise was getting louder as the source was getting closer. To our amazement, a few pick up trucks with trailers behind them arrived on the shoreline directly across from our campsite. A party of about 8 very loud individuals were arriving at what looked like a hunting camp with their stacks of cases of beer, aluminum boats and their hunting gear. The chainsaws soon started along with some early morning partying. We later talked to a couple of them and they informed us that they were moose hunters and were preparing for the season opening which started the next day. Previous to this encounter, I was under the impression that only certain aboriginal groups were permitted to hunt in Algonquin Provincial Park. I think I will avoid this area during the hunting seasons.

We later broke camp and headed down the York River. It continued to rain for most of the day.

The York River from Byers to Benior Lake is very scenic. There are beautiful rapids and waterfalls, particularly High Falls. There is also a section known as the gut where the river cuts through a narrow gorge. Because of the scenery, we were taking our time enjoying the river and taking photographs. We lost track of time and soon realized that we would have to kick it up a notch if we wanted to get out before dark. However, it was already too late. We ended up paddling the last portion of the river in complete darkness. It was quite a chore to find our way as the river twisted and turned. When we finally arrived at Benoir Lake, our troubles were not yet over. We had no idea where the Pine Grove Lodge was as we had never been on this lake before. We combed the shoreline for over an hour.

The highlights of this trip was, for us, the night of the howling wolves. It was an evening that will never be forgotten. Another feature was the York River and from Byers Lake to Benior Lake. It was truly scenic and I can’t wait to return to spend more time enjoying it’s beauty.