Welcome to the account of the now-annual Hyndman Algonquin Park spring canoe trip, always held in May and always a welcome rite of passage into spring.
The timing of this trip - always in May - is highly variable: snow and ice melt conditions, participant availability, and weather are all factors. This year - 2017 - southern and eastern Ontario experienced an extended bout of cold and extremely rainy weather (in fact, to the point of serious flooding in many areas of the province). This extreme weather had lingered well into the first bit in May. So, although the lakes of Algonquin Park were snow-free, this weather shut out our plans for a first-week-of-the-month outing.
Shall Lake Access Point
So, we pushed the date to the second weekend in May. All parties were still available, and the weather.... well.... it wasn't perfect, but it was definitely better than the hypothermia-inducing cold soaking that we'd have experienced the week before. We decided to take our chances and go for it.
Speaking of "our", we were pretty much the normal crew that goes along on these trips these last few years: Jenn, Arn, Gosia, Nel and Kai; David, Nancy, and Emma; and myself.
It took us about three hours to drive from Arn's place to the Shall Lake access point north of Madawaska. Although we had started from this point on previous trips, Arn had planned a different itinerary - one that involved a destination even he and Gosia had yet to visit: a moderately-sized body of water known as McKaskill Lake. It was a there-and-back sort of route, with the main challenge being a fairly long 2.4km portage near the far end.
The forecast for the weekend was relatively poor but not horrible: moderate temperatures and long stretches with a very decent change of light rain or drizzle. So far, the sunny weather in Ottawa had given way to a textured overcast, but no rain.
Would a canoe fit?
Even here at the start point, there was evidence of the heavy rains that had plagued Ontario over the past month or two: often one puts the canoes in to the west of the access road bridge and paddles under it (if they wish to go east). This wasn't possible today, as the water levels were so high, it looked as if there would not be enough clearance to paddle a boat under the bridge. Well, maybe, but it would be dicey. We decided to not roll the dice and put in in a different location on the right side of the bridge (for our intended direction).
We were on the water before 5pm - a great time for having started out in the afternoon from Ottawa. The sky was still holding its water, and winds were virtually none-existent. Excellent paddling conditions.
We quickly paddled out into the main body of Crotch Lake and turned north. Our objective was easy and short, as it usually is on these Friday evening paddles: head as far along the lake as possible and set up at a nice campsite. No long distance stuff, no portaging.
It took us less than an hour of paddling before we arrived at a nice site on a small island in the middle of the north end of Crotch Lake., and by 6pm our tents and much of our camp was set up. Kai even took charge of the Holy Hyndman campfire and had it crackling in no time.
The entire evening turned out to be very pleasant. It did not rain at all, and the temperature - although a bit cool at about 13C or so - was mitigated by the fact that there was basically not a breath of wind.
We would have played a round of some sort of game, but the games bag had been forgotten back at the car. With a blend of enthusiasm and coercion, Dave and Arn paddled off back to the cars to fetch the bag - for even if we didn't play tonight, we'd have games material for the remainder of the trip.
We were grateful for the enjoyable weather conditions as the evening wore on, staying up until well after dark. We knew full well that the forecast almost assured some extended rain during the weekend, so any dry time such as this was to be enjoyed.