I went on my eleventh canoe trip in Algonquin Park this weekend. It was a short trip with the kids from the leadership program at Camp Woolsey, and just went in to visit a spot called High Falls. High Falls is a popular spot that can be either canoed or hiked to, with a natural water slide and a rock over a deep pool which is perfect for jumping. I think I've been to High Falls six times. The first time was during my first canoe trip, in 2005, when I was 13. It hasn't changed a bit (aside for the water levels varying from year to year). Below are pictures I took of High Falls in 2005 (on a disposable waterproof camera) and 2015.
Like I said, I was 13 on my first canoe trip. The camp, run through Woolsey, was called Passport to Adventure. It was a five day trip, starting at the Achray campground and ending at the Barron Canyon. The two previous years I had done camps at Woolsey that involved a canoe trip about 6 hours up the Ottawa River to Fitzroy Campground. They were called Get Your Feet Wet, and Let's Make Waves. The first year I went alone, but the second year I went with two of my friends from Guides, Sarah and Laura. We then signed up to do Passport to Adventure together.
The following summer we went back to do Passport to Adventure II, a ten day trip! It was amazing, we crossed beaver dams and went down winding rivers. I specifically remember one day we were really excited about seeing a plane, because we hadn't seen anyone in days.
Then, I took a break from Algonquin canoe trips. Laura, Sarah and I did the leadership program the next in 2007 (which didn't include a canoe trip back then!) and then became staff. By our second summer working we were all lifeguards, but somehow I lucked out and became the canoeing lifeguard. By 2010 I was running the waterfront camps I had done as a kid. During this time I bought a new paddle and my own PFD.
I wasn't supposed to go back to Algonquin Park. But in 2011 I was pulled aside by the camp director and told that one of the staff on trip wasn't feeling well, and it was likely I would have to go out the next morning and trade places with her. That happened, so I went out and jumped into the middle of a 5 day Passport to Adventure trip.
The next year, I was actually supposed to go on one of the trips. In Algonquin, there's a rule about how many people can stay on a site. There were so many kids signed up for the 5 day trip that they would have to split the group in half, which meant taking along four staff (two for each site). I was prepared for that trip. What I wasn't prepared for was what happened earlier in the summer, when a lot of the senior staff got sick. I knew one of the trip staff (the same staff member I had joined the year before), was sick. So when I was pulled aside before evening program one day, I knew what was going on - I was going on the 10 day trip the next morning.
It was incredibly overwhelming at first. I called home and had to explain to my mom where to find some of my trip stuff that I didn't have at camp.The trip was incredible. There was a drought that summer, which mean we couldn't have fires, but it also meant we didn't have any rain. We had three great kids, and we didn't have a lot of gear. I learned how to properly solo portage the canoes (the other staff, Sundew, preferred carrying the packs and I preferred the canoes, which worked out perfectly).
The next trip happened a week later. Between the two, I went to buy a knife for my PFD (Sundew and I had talked a lot about how nice they were on the last trip). The trip was meant to be the regular 5 day route, but forest fires in Algonquin made us change it up a bit. It was still a great trip, and I got to go with Sundew again.
I took another break from Algonquin Park after that summer, and it wasn't until 2015 that I went back again, for the leadership camp's trip. I wasn't a lifeguard by then, but I had the trip experience, and like in 2012 we had to split into two sites. We stayed on Stratton Lake and visited High Falls. The trip was fun - the other two leaders were my friends, and I knew quite a few of the leadership kids pretty well.
In 2016, I was the Day Camp Director at Woolsey. We were trying to figure out who to schedule for the 5 day trip that summer. It was no longer called Passport to Adventure, but the route was the same - Achray through Stratton and on to Barron Canyon. Sundew was coming back to volunteer, and we were sending along one of our younger staff, Tarzan (one of the leadership kids from the year before), but we needed another adult. I looked at the list of staff and joking said, "It's got to be me." No one else on the staff team that year had tripping experience, but I was a director, I couldn't go. But the more we thought about it the more we realized, yeah, it had to be me. So I got to go on another canoe trip with Sundew!
In 2017, I was still the Day Camp Director, but we ran a canoe trip in late June. Once again the group was big enough that it needed four staff, so I was invited along. That was the trip when I realized that I react to black flies bites way more than I react to mosquito bites. It was a slightly different route than I was getting used to, but it still put in at Achray. It was also fun because as well as the usually tripping canoes (they're much lighter) we brought along some of the "white boats". My favourite canoe happens to be on of the white boats, named Phantom. Phantom was the first canoe I ever used, way back in Get Your Feet Wet. This trip was also the first time I went on a canoe trip as an adult with Vicky, who had been one of my leaders back in 2005!
The next year I got to go on two trips! The first was another spring trip in late June, with Vicky again. The second was the leadership trip, again because there were so many kids they had to split into two sites. Not that I was complaining about another chance to visit Algonquin Park and High Falls! This time, I knew three of the leadership kids because they had gone on the trip with Sundew, Tarzan and I in 2016.
(Some interesting notes about the pictures above. The old boat in the same on we passed in 2016, but it was sticking upright then. The two bracelets on my paddle are both pretty significant. The blue on is from the 10 day trip in 2012, and the orange one is from my 10th trip.)
This past weekend, I once again got to go on the leadership trip. This time I thought to bring along a notebook so I could write about what happened. Vicky and I went along with two international staff, one from England (Galaxy) and one from the States (Pebbles). Galaxy was on the leadership trip last year as well. We got a beautiful site on Stratton on the point, with water on both sides. We saw beavers, two bald eagles, and loons. We went to High Falls, and filled our water bottles with ready-to-drink, chilly water from an underground spring. The trip was, as they all are, fantastic and relaxing.
Because I had my notebook, and I knew I was going to write this post, I started to think about the things I really love about canoe tripping. It isn't just the beautiful scenery, although that is a huge reason. I like how when you're in the park, you can forget about all the stressed from the outside world, because you can't do anything about it. You can just relax, and get from point a to point b. I like how time seems really slow, but fast at the same time. You can sit and chat for hours and not get bored, and not realize how much time has passed. I like how strong I feel after portaging a boat, and knowing that I'm capable of doing it.
I was once told that the trips Girl Guides run are some of the biggest youth trips you'll see in the park with women leaders. When I thought about it, I realized that was true. I've seen many big trips of kids, even some other trips with all girls except for the leaders. It makes me really grateful that I became the go-to staff to send on canoe trips back in 2011. As a kid I could have never imagined how important canoe trips would become to me.