We huff and puff as we make our way down a muddy, rocky path to Mahzenazing Lake at Point Grondine Park. Mosquitoes and all sorts of flies take advantage of our constraints: it’s hard to swat bugs when your arms are full of paddles and dry sacks or if you are carrying a canoe on your back. These feel like the longest 1,200 metres in our lives. The blue of the lake peeking through the trees is the most welcome sight.
But let me backtrack a little.
Straight to the point, Point Grondine that is
The plan to visit Point Grondine was hatched together with Fancy Boots during last year’s canoe trip to Killarney. Nestled between Killarney and French River Provincial Parks, Point Grondine is owned and operated by Wikwemikong First Nation. It offers both backpacking and canoe routes with access to Georgian Bay.
Booking a site here was a bit tricky because it is a relatively new park and there is little information available about campsites, their sizes, location, etc. After some deliberation, I decided to take my chances with site C3 along the Kaa-Gaa-gehns Water Trail. Turned out it was a good choice: the site was fairly big with lots of open space and good access to water. There was enough room for our two three-person tents. It could probably fit in three two-person ones as well. The site felt new. There were no clear tent prints, the ones you get with heavily used campsites, and the path to the thunderbox was barely visible.
Unfortunately, Fancy Boots couldn’t come in the end but our other friends joined us. They had their misgivings about the whole venture, especially when they learned about the portage at the beginning. “Why all the suffering?” were their exact words.
To wake up to a view like this, of course.
Getting there is half the fun
Our trip started on a beautiful Friday morning. It rained the day before but stopped by the time we arrived in Killarney, where we spent the first night at our usual site #7.
When I laid my eyes on familiar pink and white rocks framing Lake George, I could feel excitement bubbling up inside.
There were only a few things standing between me and a canoe at that point: breakfast, packing, a trip to Killarney Outfitters to pick up paddles and life jackets (canoes had already been delivered to the Point Grondine parking lot), and the portage, of course.
Point Grondine guide met us at the parking lot to answer all our questions and off we went into the clouds of mosquitoes.
Portaging is my least favourite part of canoeing, and I have a feeling I am not alone here. The only upside of starting your trip with the most difficult portage is that the rest of the route then feels like child’s play.
The put-in at the other end wasn’t very accessible so we used the rocks to the left of the portage to load the canoes. It all worked out really well except for me dropping my hiking shoe into the lake. (I should really work on my aim). The shoe was saved but it took two days for it to dry. Only to get into the water again as I was setting out on my morning solo paddle. Oh, well, getting your feet wet is all part of canoe camping. Good thing I had my sandals.
Our paddle across Mahzenazing Lake didn’t take long. We stopped to enjoy the sight of a small waterfall cascading down the rocks along the way.
About 40 minutes later we were at the next portage. This one was only 110 metres long bypassing rapids. The bridge across the stream offered an excellent spot for lunch and to catch up on reading. There were even freshly picked wild strawberries for dessert!
The put-in at the other end of the portage was easy but narrow and could only fit one canoe at a time.
After that the route followed Mahzenazing River all the way to Wemtagoosh Falls. It was my favourite part of the route: gliding through a meandering creek with rocks and trees framing a narrow strip of water and long strands of grass floating underneath like silky greenish hair of a giant water creature.
Wemtagoosh Falls at the end of this stretch was spectacular and also quite dangerous by the looks of it. Luckily, the sound of rushing water gave us a fair warning. After that we hugged the left shore and safely landed our canoe onto a narrow strip of sand. Our friends waited at a safe distance while we unloaded the canoe and followed suit.
The portage around the falls is only 45 metres long but requires some clambering over rocks, not an easy fit with a canoe. The put-in on the other side looked challenging with all the rushing water at the bottom of the falls so we walked a bit further and used a small quiet bay to load the canoes. After that it was only about 20 minutes to the site. A beaver showed up to lead the way.
All in all, the trip took us close to five hours with all the portages, a lunch break and the time spent at the waterfalls. It left us plenty of time to set up tents, make dinner and enjoy a beautiful sunset promising some great adventures over the next three days.
path of the paddle
The best part about a canoe trip is, of course, paddling. And we were planning to do a lot of it. We decided to stay at the same campsite for three nights and go on day trips to explore the area. I had plans to portage into Georgian Bay and do some paddling there, and then spend the next day exploring the inner lakes. Let’s just say we never got out of Lyle and Cedar Lakes. Somehow no one wanted to do any portaging.
We did attempt to cross into Georgian Bay. We even walked the entire length of the 364 metre portage. It was muddy and soggy, not to mention bug infested, and at the end we discovered choppy waters, a motorboat doing donuts and a row of trees in the water all along the shore making it very tricky to navigate. (Not sure if those are a permanent feature or a consequence of higher than normal water levels encroaching on the forest).
So that idea was nipped in the bud. The one-kilometre portage into Bejeau Lake wasn’t even part of the discussion.
Even without going far, Cedar and Lyle Lakes offered endless opportunities to explore with all the nooks, crannies, little bays and islands. And explore we did: solo, in pairs and as a group.
Glacier carved bedrock, small islands, big islands, tiny landing strips with barely enough space for one person.
Picturesque bays carpeted with water lilies. Imposing pines stretching their furry branches all the way to the sky. Trees clinging to the rocks with their twisted roots.
We followed narrow meandering streams discovering more waterfalls, and paddled along sheer walls of rock.
We met gorgeously terrifying dock spiders and a simply gorgeous leopard frog. Our son made friends with a dragon fly.
We surprised a few herons, who immediately took flight, and had beavers flapping their tails at us.
We were lulled to sleep by loons and woke up every morning to a trilling bird song.
We even got a visit from a giant snapping turtle. (Good thing it happened on the last day or there would have been no swimming.) He hoisted our canoe on his back like a true descendant of a turtle that holds what is now known as North America.
We couldn’t have asked for a better weather and even a bit of rain on Sunday morning did little to dampen our spirits. Plus it provided spectacular backdrop for photos and opportunity to catch up on some sleep.
Paddling into the sunrise
Dawn is my favourite time of the day, that is if I manage to wake up this early. I am not a morning person. Still on every trip I try to see at least one sunrise because nothing beats the dew washed beauty of an early morning.
This time I entertained the idea but didn’t make any arrangements, i.e. didn’t set an alarm clock. Nature, however, set its own alarms for me in the form of a bird song intermingled with mosquito buzz. When I opened my eyes around 4:30, their black outlines dotting the outside of our tent were the first thing I saw. Between mosquitoes and a strong desire to go back to sleep, I spent about half an hour considering a version of Hamlet ‘s dilemma: to go or not to go. The trick in those type of situations is to unzip the tent door and peek outside. Purple-orange streaks splashed across the sky and a misty breath of the morning are usually enough to forget about mosquitoes and sleep. This time I even got a beaver gliding right by our site. Nature really put on a show for me. It would have been rude to refuse the invitation.
I hopped into a canoe (getting my shoe wet in the process as I already mentioned before) and was on my way. The beaver was gone by then but I met about ten of his friends during my two-hour paddle. I didn’t cover a long distance, mostly just sat there watching the sun roll out from behind the trees pushing the remnants of the night away.
The morning mist coiling over the lake, I could hear the Earth breathe: slowly, evenly, in and out, so I slowed down my breath to match hers.
With perfect reflections in the water, I experienced a real “through the looking glass” moment, convinced that if I flipped my canoe upside down I’d find myself in an identical world with the same trees and rocks lining up the shore, same beavers poking their heads around, same lake “monsters” snoozing along the edge.
I kept wondering what that other me, the one gliding through the underwater world, was like. And maybe I did flip over without even realizing it because the person that crawled back into the tent two hours later was different: calmer, more balanced, more relaxed.
All the ways to have fun with a paddle
A paddle is, of course, made for paddling. But you’d be amazed how many other uses kids can find when taken away from their screens: like splashing, balancing and catching bugs that fell into the water to “rehabilitate” them on the shore. The most entertaining activity, however, was testing the “force” – pushing the paddle into the lake blade first and waiting for it to jump back out.
There was also reading, painting, swimming.
And measuring the depth of the lake using a rock and a string because you can always find time for a bit of math.
Nourishing the body… and the soul
Cooking food in the backcountry is, of course, entertainment in its own right. This time, inspired by new cook wear, we decided to move beyond the usual dry soups from Bulk Barn and go for something more creative. And because the cook wear was ultralight, we could could bring some heavier food items, like shrimp.
We made pancakes with dried blueberries for breakfast and even brought a bit of maple syrup to go with them.
On our last day, we made pita pockets with cheese and tomatoes, which according to our younger campers were just as good as a grilled cheese panini from Tim Hortons. They were much better, of course, but I will take it as a compliment.
There were s’mores, the camping staple.
And for the first time ever – bannock. Our friend did some research to find the best recipe, brought the ingredients and after a couple of not very successful attempts we got the most delicious bannock on a stick.
The best part of any meal was, of course, enjoying it on our rocky terrace with a view.
The trip was magical in every possible way. My only regret was not seeing a moose, although we did spot a bear by the side of the road on our drive back. By the time we emerged out of the woods, we were tired, bitten but happy, ready for Killarney’s “World Famous” fish and chips from Herbert Fisheries and traditional post-camping ice-cream.
As we were pulling into the driveway back home, a radio commercial came up. “Do you want to give your kids an unforgettable vacation?” asked a chirpy male voice. “Take them camping,” replied our son from the back seat.