2008 Grand - Lower Spectacle - Clover - Stratton - Grand

Friday, August 8th - Day 1

We arrived at Achray on Grand Lake in the early afternoon.  The heavy rains that plagued the drive here had subsided and the sky had begun to break up a bit and the rain held off for the rest of the day.

The access point at Achray was busy as usual for a weekend in the summer.  I knew most of the people would be headed down St. Andrews way and didn’t expect to see anyone else on the route we were doing until the last day.

Leaving Achray we paddled across the lake to Carcajou Bay.  It’s a nice area through there with some nice campsites and a falls at the end of the bay.

To get around the falls we did a 90m portage then a half a dozen paddle strokes took us to the other side of the river to the 220m portage.  Once over the portage we headed west down a short stretch of the river that brought us into Lower Spectacle Lake.  On the Canoe Rout Map it shows only one campsite on the north shore but there is another marked site on the south shore.  I reported this to the Park after the trip so hopefully it gets added to the next printing of the map. 

We checked out both sites and decided on the southern site.  After we set up camp another party appeared on the lake but they continued on to Upper Spectacle.  It looked like we would have the entire lake to ourselves.

Lower Spectacle Lake Campsite.

 After a good steak dinner and had camp cleaned up and the food pack hung, we headed out in the canoe to explore the lake and did some fishing but with no luck.

The rain continued to hold off so we had a bonfire and enjoyed the rest of the evening.  I was just hoping that the rain would hold off for the next couple of days.

Saturday, August 9th - Day 2

It hadn’t rained overnight but the clouds this morning looked ominous.  We had breakfast and broke camp quickly before the rain came.  It wasn’t long before they did.  We had just passed the 220m portage when the skies opened up with torrential rain.  Fortunately it only lasted about three minutes and that was it for the rain for the rest of the day.

The paddle down the creek was picturesque and good moose country but we didn’t see any.  The 335m portage was easy enough and we were quickly back on our way.

A 20-25 minute paddle brought us to the next portage, a 2010m low maintenance that would take us into Turcotte Lake.  Being low maintenance I was a little concerned about the condition of the portage.  Other than a wet, muddy section at the start and being a little over grown, the portage was actually in good condition and we finished it in good time.

A short paddle across the lake and a 130m portage took us into Guthrie Lake.  Guthrie is a nice little lake with a couple of campsites and an old ranger cabin on it.  The ranger cabin is not refurbished and not part of the rental cabins found throughout the park.  The cabin is definitely in the state of disrepair but it was evident that people had stayed there before.  It’s too bad this cabin hadn’t been refurbished with the others as it would be a nice little place to stay.

After a quick lunch at the start of the 120m portage we made our way across it and into a little unnamed lake and from there a 660m portage brought us into Clover Lake.  This was our destination for the day.  There are five sites on the lake and we were the only ones there so we took our time paddling around the lake checking out each site.  We settled on the northern most site on the west shore with its nice high, sloping rock face.  Normally I wouldn’t take a site on the western shore as I like the evening sun but it had been cloudy all day and it didn’t look like it was going to clear up anytime soon.

Clover Lake Campsite.

 While sitting on the rock enjoying the afternoon I spotted something swimming across the lake.  Through my binoculars I could see it was a deer.  I’d seen moose and bear swim before but never a deer so it was a rewarding experience to see it traverse the lake.

After dinner we headed out for a paddle and some fishing but with no luck.  Afterwards a campfire rounded out a good day.

Sunday, August 11th - Day 3

After a quick breakfast we broke camp and headed off across the lake to our first portage, a 455m into Pogonia Lake.  From there is was a quick paddle across the lake to what was suppose to be a 560m portage into an unnamed pond. 

The portage started out fairly well but the trail quickly became lost in an alder swale.  Putting down the packs I bushwhacked for about 20 metres until I found the trail again.  Back on the trail we exited the forest into a beaver meadow, where once again the trail disappeared.  I surmised that we had probably gone the necessary length of the portage but there was no body of water to be seen anywhere.  Putting down the packs and canoe we took a break and surveyed the scene hoping that the trail we had followed out of the alder swale was indeed the portage.  It didn’t take long to spot a portage sign on the trunk of a long dead tree.  There was nothing written on the sign except and arrow pointing to the left.  Taking a long look down the beaver meadow we could spot another portage sign about 200 metres away.  Loading up again we skirted the edge of the meadow.  While the terrain was flat we had to watch our footing as the grasses and sedges were about knee high and hidden underneath were old logs and small stumps which posed a tripping hazard.

Beaver meadow portage.

 The trail left the meadow and climbed up a small rock outcrop and continued on for several hundred more metres before finally terminating at Grasspink Lake.  Our 560m portage had easily turned into at least a kilometre portage.  I guess the warning on the Canoe Route Map is correct, low water conditions on MacDonald Creek can make travel difficult.  If you look at Canoe Route Maps published over the years you will noticed that the portages from Clover Lake to Little Tarn Lake change quite frequently.  Despite having an up-to-date map the portages had obviously changed.

Having done a portage longer than what we expected we had already incorporated the 210m into Grasspink Lake.  A short paddle across Grasspink brought us to a short portage around a jumble of rock and logs clogging the river.  Again this portage was a little longer than what the map described.

From there a very shallow stretch of river brought us to the 425m portage that would take us to Little Tarn.  If the summer hadn’t been as wet as it was the stretch of river here definitely would not have been passable.

The portage into Little Tarn didn’t pose any problems and the open body of water was a welcome sight.  A pair of loons greeted us on the lake as the sun began to make an appearance as the clouds began to break up.

There is only one campsite on Little Tarn and it’s quite a nice one but alas our destination lay ahead to the site on Tarn.

From Little Tarn a nice stretch of river brought us into Tarn Lake.  Tarn has some nice high cliffs on the eastern side of the lake indicative to Algonquin’s east side.  There is only one campsite on the lake and that was ours for the night.  Unfortunately the site is not very good.  It is set amongst a stand of cedars, next to a small flowing stream making it fairly shaded.  It also has a poor waterfront and is quite damp due to the low lying terrain.

Given that it was only around noon, and not wanting to spend what was shaping up to be a good day at the poor campsite, we decide to push onwards to Stratton Lake, our destination for tomorrow night.

We had a quick lunch at the start of the 4304m portage, fueling up for what I expected would be a hard portage.  The length didn’t bother me as much as the terrain.  Having talked to a couple of the staff at the Achray campground the previous month when I was there for work they said that both ends of the portage were pretty much uphill with a flatter section in the middle.  If this was the case then I hoped the worst part of the portage was at the beginning.

I figured that the portage would take us about 2 hours, give or take, with 15 minute shifts and 5 minute breaks in between.  Fortunately our uphill section was fairly manageable.  It was a steady climb up but no real steep sections or tricky footing.  The middle section was wet in spots as the trail wound through a spruce/balsam forest.  Some of the wetter sections had rickety old log boardwalks at best.  Other times you had to gingerly step from stray log, to root, to slippery rock to get around some of the mucky sections which I imagined would end up around your knees if you fell in.

Mid-way through the portage we came across another party heading in the other direction.  A group of young guys who looked like they were having a tough time of it and seemed even more dejected when they found out that they still had about and hour and a half to go.  I assumed they were heading for Little Tarn as we had reserved the only site on Tarn for that night.

Eventually the trail started its decent towards Stratton Lake.  Even though the trail was now heading downhill it was definitely not easy.  This section was much steeper than the start of the trail and the path seemed to follow a rock strewn stream that trickled down the hill, making for some very treacherous footing.  No wonder those young lads seemed so out of breath when we met them if they had just tackled this part going uphill!

Things began to dry out and the trail more manageable the closer we got to the lake.  Eventually we crossed over the old rail bed and to the campsite that shared the end of the portage.  The portage had taken us just a little over two hours.  I was glad we had been going in the direction that we did and the hill going in the opposite direction would have been a killer.

Our new destination for that day was St. Andrews Lake and I hoped there was a site available as we didn’t reserve that lake for that night.  I had been through St. Andrews a few times before and camped there once.  The site I was hoping for was the one at the south east end of the lake next to the little river that flowed into St. Andrews.  It’s a great site getting the sun all day and evening and has a great beach.

St. Andrews Lake seemed uninhabited as we paddled across it to the portage to Stratton.  At the start of the 75m portage into Stratton I found an olive drab bath towel and a pair of tearaway sport pants.  I don’t know how people leave such large items behind on a canoe trip but I always seem to find things like that when I canoe.

The portage to the little river that leads into Stratton is a breeze, especially after the 4305m one we just finished.

Coming out onto Stratton I was disappointed to find that the great site that I wanted was occupied but I wasn’t at all surprised.  There were still some sites open and we took one on the north shore to maximize the amount of sunshine we’d get for the rest of the day. 

The site was fairly large and flat and you could tell that it gets heavily used but it had all the amenities that you need at a site.  It even had a cable strung between two trees for hanging your pack.  This is common on some of the interior sites out of the Achray area as there aren’t any sufficient trees to hang a food pack.  Our site was a prime example of that, tall Red Pine with no sufficient branches lower down, all of which were surrounded by small aspens.

After setting up camp we enjoyed the rest of the day with a much needed swim followed by soaking up the rest of the afternoon sun.  

Monday, August 12th, - Day 4

Variable clouds greeted us after a restless night.  After a hearty breakfast we took our time breaking camp.  Winds were calm as we paddled up Stratton Lake.  A short paddle through the narrow section at the head of the lake brought us to the short 50m portage that took us back to Grand Lake.

The clouds and wind had increased as we crossed the lake, threatening to rain once again.  We reached the access point just before noon, about an hour and half paddle from the site.  Despite the weather it was another great trip with Dad.  I can’t say I’d want to do that look again just because of the portage between Stratton and Tarn lakes but I’d definitely revisit some of the smaller lakes we paddled through along the way.