Georgian Bay seemed to be an intriguing place to spend some kayak time. On the north and eastern shores of this portion of Lake Huron, there are tens of thousands of small rock islands. With only a few cabins scattered here and there the eastern and northern sides of the bay seemed largely undeveloped, the area from Parry Sound to Killarney looked like a great place to spend a leisurely week paddling.
As usual I started my investigations on the internet. There didn't seem to be much information on the area. (Update 11/21/2007 - Things have changed a lot in the last few months. now there are many pages about kayaking Georgian Bay.) There is one site put together by some enthusiasts at Sea Kayak Georgian Bay and some outfitters White Squall and Killarney Outfitters. Woody's Kayak Trips had a trip report on a weather plagued trip to the Parry Sound region. There was a story and pictures of a boat trip through the islands some years ago and a few beautiful pictures on Panoramio, but that was about it.
So I read all that and then started to use Google Earth to try to get a sense of the place. Most of the satellite photos were low resolution, with the exception of some in the French River region. The French River was part of the old Voyageur route from the St. Lawrence River and the Atlantic out through the Great Lakes and into the rivers that drain western Canada east of the Rocky Mountains into Lake Superior. This area looked really interesting as did all the little rock islands along the shores of Georgian Bay.
Next it was to the driving directions to learn that it was 650 miles or so from my house to Parry Sound. The route looked to have lots of turns on secondary roads without much Interstate Highway as it made its way north through the valley of the Susquehanna river.
I started packing for the trip, getting out all the equipment and clothes for the trip. What I read made me think that the water temperature would be cool - 14 to 15 degrees Celsius or in the upper 50s Fahrenheit so I packed my wet suit and a hood just in case the few exposed paddles to the offshore islands got rough. Tent, sleeping bag, kitchen items, safety equipment, navigation equipment, clothes all set aside in a pile about two weeks before I left. Every once in a while I would think of something else and throw it in.
A couple of weeks ago I had broken my Greenland paddle performing an extended paddle C to C type roll. The joint where the two pieces came together had gotten worn and very loose over the past month or so. First the paddles blades would rotate as I stroked, then as the ferrule became more worn the paddle would actual flop around in the transverse mode. Now it was completely broken. I was contemplating how to fix it, primarily how to get the old pieces of the ferrule off. I have another ferrule around, but at the moment I could not find it. Then during a weekend kayak trip to Virginia, Lisa Giguere kindly offered to let me use her paddle. I knew that would be great as I wasn't likely to get mine fixed by then. I was afraid that paddling 150 plus miles with my Euro paddle would start up problems in my loosely attached shoulders, the reason I switched to a Greenland in the first place.
I checked out the little store downtown where White Squall sells equipment. Their trip and rental place is some 5 miles outside of town. They were closed at this hour and would reopen at 9:30 A.M. the next morning. I needed some charts that I had decided to buy from them instead of ordering by mail from an internet shop. So I had a little time to kill. I walked down to the harbor where there was an antique car show and a little festival going on. There were several waterside seafood restaurants there. The town and its residents had an older hippie like feel with yoga, natural food stores and various oriental and transcendental type massage practitioners setting up shop in the older downtown area. I went back to the intersection of the main street and the main highway, Canada 400, where there was a Walmart. I went in for some last minute supplies. I decided on something small from McDonalds then parked the van in the Walmart lot and slept in the back. The adventure would begin in the morning.
So with everything packed into the car, I left at 6:30 A.M and started driving up the Susquehanna River valley past York, Harrisburg, Selinsgrove and on into New York. I stopped at one of the launch ramps along the river off US 15. A low fog hung over the river which was wide and rocky with the low water level of mid summer. By 4:00 P.M. I was at the Canadian border and crossing into Canada north of Buffalo. Then I drove around Toronto on their new electronic license plate reading expressway. West of Toronto I caught the Canada Route 400 north for the last 100 miles to Parry Sound. It all went well except for the big accident in Barrie that clogged the roads for an hour traffic jam. I arrived in Parry Sound at 7:00 P.M.
Day 1 - 12.5 miles
I got going early the next morning and headed downtown again. A little local restaurant served up some simple fare with a choice of three entrees. I had pancakes. After that I walked around town. Part of the old train track has been converted to a bicycle/walking path. Along the path the riot of summer flowers was in progress. A plaque showed the layout of the town and the path. The path leads over to the boat ramp, the museum and the fire tower. I climbed up the five stories to the top for a good view over the town and Parry Sound.
I needed to ask a few questions about kayaking on the lake and the young lady was not able to answer them, but referred me to another young lady who led some of the White Squall trips. I asked about the water temperature and she said it was 16. I asked about tidal ranges if any. She said that essentially there were none. I asked about what the lake level did under strong winds. She said that even under a strong west wind the lake level would change no more than a foot. So that meant there were not tides to deal with and therefore no tidal currents. I asked about the falls and the portages on the French River and got some information on those. Cell phone reception out on the lake was only good for locations quite close to towns. For most of the area there would be no service. I got the Canadian number to cell phone weather just in case I got a signal.
Armed with this information I drove north to Bayfield Inlet where I planned to start my trip. Bayfield is the only place north of Parry Sound that has any free parking. There are very few places on the coast that have road access to the water. With the number of lodges and cabins on the islands near road access, parking appears to be a constant problem. Therefore, the local businesses have turned parking into a "cottage industry" if you pardon the pun. Everyplace has parking available but at a price of from $5.00 to $8.00 per day. The exception is Bayfield which has a small free public parking area next to a sand and gravel boat ramp.
I put the kayak in the water and checked for load balance. It was a little stern heavy, with the old style canvas sand alone tent in the rear section. But it wasn't extreme. I got in and floated out into the cove. There I got a picture of the first of many pond lily blossoms, the gorgeous white blossoms with light yellow centers floating in the midst of their parent green pads. I tested the water temperature. It felt really warm, maybe 74 or 75 degrees (23-24 degrees Celsius). Seemed like the White Squall information was a little off. But that just might be the temperature in this little cove and not out in the Bay proper in the deeper waters so I kept my light wet suit top on and did not wear the 3 mil Farmer John I had brought. I stuffed it behind the seat under the sea sock. I use a sea sock because my boat has no bulkheads. The sock keeps most of the water out of the rest of the kayak in the event of a capsize and exit. I was paddling alone and it was prudent to have it on although it is hot when the temperature in like this day in the mid 80's (30 Celsius). There was a slight southwest breeze blowing (Force 2) as I left the shore.
I got there and the parking was full except for some deep spaces where only one car was parked when two would fit. I unloaded the kayak from the roof and took out all the gear, even though I was not sure where I would be parking. As usual the pile of gear to be packed away looked as if it would never go in, but it did. I went down to the marina hoping to find a parking place that wasn't private, but no luck. The marina had parking for $8.00 per day or $48.00 per week. Strangely, if you wanted 12 days or more the last four days were charged at the full $8.00 per day. In any case with taxes that was well over a $100.00 for the trip, an expense that I didn't really want to take. I walked back to the lot. One of the people staying at the lodge who had taken up one of the double deep spaces was getting something from their car. I talked to her and she graciously allowed me to park behind her. She would be gone by the time I got back. I left a note in the window with my home phone number for emergencies and a plea not to park in front of me after my intended return date, August 2nd. If someone came and parked in front of me and then went out to the islands or on some other trip, i would be stuck in the lot perhaps for days, at which point the $8.00 a day parking fee would have looked pretty good.
I paddled out into the little harbor where the marina is located and started out into the long inlet the extends a more than a mile in to the open Bay. I had paddled about 200 yards when my mental checklist I was running came up with something that made me turn around. I didn't remember locking the car. I usually leave that until the very last thing otherwise I always have to unlock it again to get some additional forgotten item. I went back to the ramp, got out and checked the car. Sure enough I had forgotten to lock it. Thank goodness again for those launching routines that help keep everything in order.
Speaking of routines, there is one I added recently after an unfortunate incident in on a trip this past spring where I lost my water bottle. I now take a big drink out of my water bottle to create enough air space so that it will float should it go over the side. Today I couldn't do that because there was no water available on the docks of the marina or anywhere in the little settlement that I could find. I could see water pipes coming from some of the cottages and ending in the water of the lake. I guess they used the lake water for drinking but I could not tell if they were filtering it. The water looked fairly clear, but it still had a greenish cast to it. With only a few inches of soil on top the ice scoured granite, I was sure they would not be using septic systems, so it occurred to me there might be other reasons not to drink the fresh water here straight from the lake. I had a little water in the car and had drained that into the bottle I carry on my deck, but it would not be enough for the whole day. I figured I would stop somewhere along the way, get out my water filter pump and make some fresh water. So with some water in the bottle and a big air pocket. I was unconcerned as I left the shore.
I paddled out from the little cove and headed down the inlet. I soon picked up the markers of the boat channel that winds through the islands from Parry Sound to Killarney. This channel is marked frequently as it winds among the islands and goes out into the bay to return to the shelter of the rocks whenever possible. Markers are placed to keep the boats away from hull threatening rocks and shallows. Some of the passages are very tight with sharp turns. It is a very interesting trip that many boats and yachts make each year. I would see quite a few of them during my trip.
Drawing less water than the boats using the channel, I cut across the markers and in and out of the granite islands. There are literally tens of thousands of these small rounded granite rocks sticking up out of the water, or almost out of the water, in this section of Georgian Bay. The shores of this inlet with its high banks were a little more regular than most I would encounter. There were only a few islands, but every point seemed to have a cabin or two on it. Some were quite large. I had seen a sign offering new cabins available on the bay in the $300,000.00 to $500,000.00 range. Seemed like a lot for a vacation.
Finally I reached the open bay and could look north toward my destination for today, Byng Inlet. The water was calm and still surprisingly warm, 21 degrees Celsius I would say, as far down as I could reach. it still could have been cold some feet down, but the surface stuff was very pleasantly warm. I turned north inside the line of buoys marking the boat channel to the north.
Around 6:30 P.M. after nearly six hours of paddling I selected one little cove that was protected from the open Bay to the west and found a nice flat rock for camp and a nice shallow flat area to get out of the kayak. Getting out of the kayak here can be a very big problem. The granite itself is smooth in a macro sense, but the crystals in the granite give you some traction even when wet. Almost all the rock is rounded and smooth from the glaciation. Some of the rocks can be quite high with very steep, almost vertical, smooth sides. So you have to find a low one to get out on. Although the granite itself is not all that slippery, when the algae grows on it, it is slicker than cat crap. Even on a relatively flat rounded piece of granite, you can step out of your kayak and find yourself sliding back into deep water, losing control of your boat, and/or falling on your ass.
After about 5 miles and a couple of roasting hours in my dark red wet suit heating in the full sun, I had drained my water bottle. I was nowhere near an island and my initial thought of stopping to filter water was not going to be practical. The water looked quite clear out here and there was nothing about to pollute it. I was getting quite dehydrated since I had finished my water about an hour ago. I decided to go for it and drink directly from the lake water. With some trepidation and thought that this was probably stupid and I might have to pay for this with a roaring case of the trots, I drank a good bit of the lake water. It tasted OK of course but that never is a reliable test. I paddled on for hour or more then I turned in toward shore and began paddling through the rocks and small passages near shore. There certainly were a lot of them, with very complex channels oriented in a southwest northeast direction - the direction of the glacial retreat.
So I found this flattish rock with about 10 inches of water over it. I eased my kayak onto the rock, braced with my paddle behind the cockpit and placed one leg onto the rock. I stood up gingerly and lifted my other leg out of the kayak. I had it about half way up out of the cockpit when my down foot started to slide on the slick rock and the distance between the foot in the boat and the foot on the ground began to go up. From past experience, I know this to be a situation without a happy ending unless quick action is taken. A commitment to the boat or to the ground is the only solution. Since I was closer to being out of the boat than in I made a big effort to get the other foot out and down onto the gently sloping rock. I was able to stop my slide and get both feet onto a small crack in the rock that provided some traction. The boat had been pushed off a little to the side and had left the first of many white marks of gel coat on a chunk of granite several inches under water. Using my paddle, I retrieved the boat and holding onto the bow toggle I stepped gingerly onto the dry section of the rock. I was easily able to lift the bow up and get about half the kayak onto the flat rock ledge parallel to the water's edge. I reached over and brought the stern also onto the rock. The 150 pounds of gear in the boat made this quite an effort when you couldn't let the hull touch the ground. I unpacked the gear and brought it up onto the higher level of the little rock camp site. Once I had emptied the kayak I brought the empty boat up onto the higher rock, just in case the information I had gotten at White Squall about the lake level was no more accurate than the temperature information.
So now I was camping on a flat rock with a few shrubs sticking up out of long cracks in the otherwise smooth pink granite. I set up the tent, stripped down out of the wet paddling clothes and dried off in the sun. Not all the rock was granite and not all was smooth. But the vast majority was the pink granite.
I got out the pan, made dinner and ate. The sun was going down very late. I was well north of my usual latitude and Georgian Bay is far west in the Eastern time zone. Sunset wasn't until after 9:00 P.M. With a clear sky to the west, an orange glow and then a pink cast lit up the western half of the sky. Once the sun went down, the light sky lasted for another hour. A beaver came swimming down my little pool in front of the camp. I was surprised to see a beaver this far away from the woods and mainland and wondered what he was doing out here where the small branches and shrubs they graze on seemed to be in rather short supply.
It didn't get truly dark until after 10:00 P.M. It was long in the tent however because the mosquitos had arrived in droves. Where they had come from was a mystery as I had thought I would not have to deal with them out here on this nearly barren rock on the edge of this large lake.
Day 2 - 20.1 miles
The next morning saw an armada of mosquitos sitting on the screen of my tent awaiting my departure. I had forgotten to bring the repellant into the tent with me. It was packed in one of my dry bags inside the kayak, mockingly close and yet so far away. I waited until the sun was well up and still the mosquitos were there. Although they didn't appear until shortly before sunset they were out long after sunrise and in much greater numbers. I had also forgotten to take the pee bottle into the tent so I had already given blood to the ecosystem during the night.
When it became clear that they were not leaving anytime soon, I put on a long sleeve jacket and long nylon pants and exited the tent, heading immediately for the chemical warfare bottle. Liberally doused with juice I smelled like a giant lemon citronella candle. But it seemed to be holding them off. A perfunctorily cold breakfast, a quick pack of the kayak and I was off to the bug free peace of the open water.
From there I headed north again across some open water to the Cunningham Islands where once again I was following the small boat channel as it weaved in among the islands. Next was Champlain Island and then the various little islands to the west and north of that island. Once again I needed to search for an appropriate place to get out for lunch. This time I located the other type of structure that allows one easier access to the land - a rock dock - deep water alongside a straight and fairly low piece of flat rock. Such a place allows you to pull up alongside the rock and get out on it using the same techniques you would on a man-made dock. There is much less to hold onto however, so your technique must be good. You also need to watch out for the sides of your kayak as the rock can scrape off some gelcoat if you let it touch.
I headed north following the markers for the boat channel. Here the channel was split - one part for larger boats that needed more depth and a wider channel and a narrow twisting channel that went inside of the islands and close to the lighthouse. I chose the latter working around the island for a good view of the first and most picturesque lighthouse of a string of lights and ranges along the southern shore of Byng Inlet.
I stopped for lunch, a bit of sun tanning and a swim. The water was most pleasant, not even cold enough to note when jumping in from the warm rocks. The water down about six feet was noticeably colder, perhaps as much as ten degrees. So during a big storm with a lot of vertical mixing the water would get colder.
After lunch I left the small islands and headed out across four miles of open water to the Bustard Islands. Perched on a last small rock before heading out into the open channel were two fellow kayakers, one with a red hat and one with a green hat. They looked like port and starboard running lights on a rock ship.
I followed the twists and turns of the small leads, making a complete circle around one of the little outcrops. Back in the calm of the protected leads lilies grew in profusion and long strands of submerged aquatic vegetation grew from the bottom. I saw a pike or perhaps a pickerel lounging over the top of the long strands of grass growing up from the bottom.
I arrived on the eastern side of the Bustard Islands. There are many little channels there and lots of rocks just under the surface of the water. In rough conditions there might be some difficulty getting into the calmer waters of the narrow channels. But today only a little concentration was needed to keep from running up on one of the submerged stone monoliths.
I set up camp, had a nice long swim, dried off and cooked supper. A long countdown to dark after the sun set behind the trees of the larger island to the west went by with only a few mosquitos appearing. This time I had remember all the items I had forgotten the night before so I had a peaceful sleep. there were few mosquitos out all night and i did not have to listen to the incessant humming on the screens.
After coming back out to the bay and then back in the leads into the interior I found a nice flat rock with a small rock dock and got out to set up camp. The little island I was on had a huge street of dark rocks and big white vein of quartz and some grey granite running through the pink granite that made up the rest of the island. The color contrast was quite striking, but so was the composition and texture.
On to Part 2...........