a peek inside the fishbowl

21 Jul, 2009

Camping 2009 vignette #3 – The Canoe Trip

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Photography|travel talk

The man from the park office probably thought we were doomed. He certainly recognized us as beginners.

I struggled to hoist the canoe down from the top rack and he kindly jumped in to intercept it before it tipped over and landed on my foot.

Mark was quietly worried that we hadn’t told anyone where we were heading. (“That’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re going on a long canoe trip,” he said. I suggested we should have left a message in the yurt.)

I know what Mark was thinking, and I know he wanted to tell the park officer where we were going but didn’t want to preface it with anything that included the words “in-case-we-don’t-show-up.” Instead he casually asked how long the trip is to the waterfalls/natural waterslide area of High Falls.

The reply: two to three hours. Only later did we think to ask whether that was ONE WAY or return.

We assumed we knew where we were going. Thankfully, Mark chose that very moment to casually point across the lake.

“So that’s the way we go, right?”

“OH NO,” said the park ranger. He pointed out a small, almost invisible part of the edge of the lake. “See that rock, that’s the way you need to go.”

We collected our things and set out.


Here’s a map to help illustrate what I’m talking about. (If I prevent ONE person from canoeing out to the wrong lake I will be very happy.)

Before I continue telling this story I’d like to point out that we have actually canoed before. We have been renting a canoe once or twice a year for 7 or 8 years. We sort of know what we’re doing but we’re not experts. We’ve certainly never portaged.

This trip included one 30m portage.

I knew it was going to be a long trip. I had my doubts, but I was willing to take the challenge.

The four of us paddled hard to cross the first lake. I had my doubts about whether we were going to make it. It was a bit of a slog. We’d almost crossed the first late (that was Grand Lake) when one of my children realized aloud that she didn’t fill up her water bottle LIKE I HAD REPEATEDLY ASKED.

And then the second child piped up, realizing the same.

I had packed our lunches and snacks/fruit for the afternoon and ONE container of water (which I estimated to hold about a litre.)

We pulled over and disembarked to mull over our dilemma. Our options were thus:

  1. 1) We could turn around and go home.
  2. 2) We could turn around, get water and paddle back out again.
  3. 3) We could keep going.

Oh what a muddle. I was seriously annoyed with the girls for not listening to me and angry with myself and Mark for not actually checking to see whether or not they had brought water.

We figured if we rationed we could make our water last. If there was an emergency we’d have to beg water off another camper. Or drink lake water and expect a case of runs as a result.

Sarah was crying, she was so desperate to go. I looked at the map. With four of us paddling we’d crossed part of Grand Lake in about 20 minutes. I thought we could chance it. The weather was clear and the lake was so calm it was glassy smooth in some parts. I had major doubts but we decided to forge ahead.

I could practically see the headlines:


Two hours later we made it to High Falls. Victory for Team Tomkins!

We did it!

It is a lovely place. It’s a series of waterfalls linked together with big shoulders of rock and pools of water. Some parts make a natural waterslide, so you can slide down the slippery rock into the churn.

Mark at High Falls

At the one pictured above there’s a current that takes you out a bit and you have to grab onto a rope to climb out.

Thank god we had lifejackets. The slide is a little hair-raising for little kids (and I admit, for me) but it was fun to try.

It was crowded with likeminded families (“crowded” being a relative term since living in the yurt had afforded us people-free camping) and the weather was fine.

We spent some time hanging around and exploring the pools.

jumping into the water at High Falls Achray

thirsty raven at High Falls Achray

Soon the sky started to cloud over and we started to make our way home, past some pretty landmarks (like this bridge from an old abandoned railway line):

abandoned bridge

… there was a bit of rough water but it was mostly smooth:


… so there was lots of time to catch tadpoles and wade in the shallow water around the edge of Grand Lake on the way home to our yurt.

It was the great day that almost didn’t happen. I wonder if the park officer was glad to see us?


8 Responses to "Camping 2009 vignette #3 – The Canoe Trip"

1 | ian

July 21st, 2009 at 9:44 am


At least it turned out fun in the end – looks like a great spot! Whereabouts is it? My girls are huge on canoeing – everyday when we’re out camping they’re asking to go out…

2 | Jen

July 21st, 2009 at 9:57 am


What a beautiful spot! Just took my daughter canoeing for the first time this past weekend and she loved it.

Glad it all worked out for you guys.

3 | The Veg Next Door

July 21st, 2009 at 12:15 pm


For whatever reason your mock headline made me laugh. It looks like you guys had a great time. Great pictures. I admire anyone who can camp and looks forward to it.

4 | Meg

July 21st, 2009 at 1:23 pm


Way to go!!!! I have done that paddle a few times-not easy but so worth it. One time my daughter sliced her knee-had to do a really quick paddle back (2.5 hrs) and head to the Pembroke hospital for 5 stitches. Thankfully a resourceful person (not me!) had thought of bringing a first aid kit. We are not going to high falls this year, but looking at your pics sure makes me want to.

5 | Sharon

July 22nd, 2009 at 8:00 am


LOL! KIds always never do what we ask…I can repeat till I’m blue in the face and stillhave to check and get
I was going to but forgot!
Glad things went ok…and it looks like fun!

6 | Patti

July 22nd, 2009 at 10:17 am


You have sold me! What a fabulous spot and to think this all comes with a yurt too.

7 | andrea

July 22nd, 2009 at 11:26 am


Ian: the campground is called Achray. It’s one of a few within Algonquin Park.

8 | Exotic butterflies in Ottawa? You betcha! >> a peek inside the fishbowl

October 8th, 2009 at 8:23 am


[…] at the Fishbowl for any length of time you’ll know that I really enjoy our family traditions: summertime camping adventures, feeding the birds, making our own pizza for movie night, birthday cakes and breakfast in bed, […]

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (23) and Sarah (21). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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