The closest interesting I could find was Georgian Bay. Some internet exploration and a book by Kas Stone had me convinced that a 12 hour ride to the lake would be worth it. Fortunately, Keri had a conference in Toronto so we decided to combine her work with some pleasure.
It was clear from my reading that the further north we went would result in a more remote feeling. But it could also easily add another three hours to the commute. We settled on an area just north of Parry Sound (birthplace of Bobby Orr!). The broad area is known as the 30,000 islands region. The specific area we sought out is bounded by the mainland and the Mink and McCoy Islands that lie about 4 miles off shore. We had as a backup plan the Massasauga Provincial Park. It is a water access only area that is much more protected. Our plan was to go there if the weather was looking iffy wind wise.
The expected air temperatures were 80 during the day and 60 at night. The water temperature was a balmy 70 degrees. The combined data from buoys and Parry Sound indicated the winds typically build onshore to about 10+ knots in the afternoon. It seemed very manageable. What was unknown was what it would be like. How easy would it be to find camp sites? What distances should we realistically plan for?
The weather forecast was looking favorable over the full four day, three night paddle we had planned. We launched out of Dillon Cove Marina about 10:45 AM. We were initially in an area with summer houses but they were not cheek to jowl as they are around here. And many were on small islands accessible only by boat. It was a Wednesday so there was not a huge amount of pleasure boat traffic. Within the first half hour we met another couple that was returning from a week in a cabin that they paddled out to. We gathered a little reconnaissance of the typical weather patterns and got their thoughts on the prettiest spots.
Our destination for the first evening was somewhere in the Hertzberg Island area. We stopped for lunch on Twin Sisters Island(s). Then we wandered in the cove near Osawa Island. This was the first time we could really appreciate the beauty of the area. There still were a few cabins on this island but there were little coves and passages to get lost in. We stopped for a break on Kneller Island before we headed out into the wind and open water to the west.
Back in our boats, we passed through a narrow passage to open water. Within about 50 yards I noticed a black bear walking the shore towards where we were just napping. Keri had the camera so I started pointing aggressively to get her attention and get her to take some pictures. We watched the bear for about 3 or 4 minutes while it popped in and out of cover while it was exploring the shore. This brought on a volley of “did you know there were going to be bears?” from Keri. (I knew there might be but I’m not too concerned about black bears and I really didn’t expect to see one.) A reasonable compromise of “we’re not camping on an island that we KNOW there are bears on” was reached.
We landed on Little Elm Tree Island. It wasn’t the best Island to camp on but we were tired and ready to stop. The tent was “pitched” on a gentle “pitch”. The gentle pitch felt like a hill as our slippery down sleeping bags slid down on the sleeping pads. And pitching a tent here meant piling some rocks on the tabs where tent pegs usually go.
We planned on having chicken the first night and steak the second. But the warm weather had melted all the ice and left the food warmer than we were comfortable with. We disposed of the chicken and ate the steak with onions, potatoes, and mushrooms. We were in bed before sundown (9 pm).
The forecast on the marine radio (that I could only hear if I held the radio above my head) involved high wind warnings building throughout the day and subsiding by noon the following day. This left me a little concerned about being stuck out on the McCoy Islands if the front lagged. Given that we had never been there and any exploring we did would be interesting we decided to circum navigate Hertzberg Island instead. We passed through Frederic Inlet. This was another area with some tasteful cottages. Cottages interesting enough that Keri paddled up onto a rock while looking at a house instead of looking where she was going. (She claimed it wasn’t there earlier). Back on the inside, we started looking for our next night’s camp. We stopped and decreed McCormick Island acceptable but kept poking around looking for something better. I was avoiding Hertzberg Island itself because I was sure it was big enough to be home to a few more bears.
We ended up settling on McCormick. We chose a site that would protect us from the predicted NE and East winds. This made both cooking (heat actually reaches the pan) and sleeping (less tent flapping) more relaxing. We swam a bit and explored this somewhat larger island. The nice thing about swimming was you came out clean! Not salty and sticky. For dinner, the Pasta Primavera we planned for the last night moved up a day.
The site was perfect protection from the wind and we woke to a steady but dying wind just as it was forecast. Our destination was south of the put in somewhere along Franklin Island. This route brought us back by some cottages. These were by far the most posh ones we had seen so far. But Franklin Island, like Hertzberg, is crown land and there are large stretches of open space. We found what I am convinced is one of the nicest camping spots on the bay. We overlooked many of the bald granite islands that characterize the area as well as the Mink Islands well off shore.
I was prepared to deal with mosquitoes on this trip but it turned out flies were really the problem. We paddled out to one of the off shore “rocks” to get away from them. While standing on the rock I was thinking about this blog and how I would comment on the conditions. The size (100 miles by 50 miles) of Georgian Bay means that waves can build to a good size, but they don’t linger. Within about 20 minutes of these thoughts the winds went from calm (hence the fly problem) to about 15 knots out of the NW quickly building a decent chop. Although this is very manageable to most of the experienced sea kayakers it could definitely have taken a novice explorer by surprise. And fighting this wind would certainly make a trip to the Minks an arduous journey.
For dinner, the chicken chilly we planned on eating the first night turned into vegetarian chili on the last night. One thing of note on this island was the spiders. Their webs were tenacious and strong like spectra rope. And they were spanning any available branches. At one point we counted nearly 20 on one 6 foot tall tree/bush. By morning their webs had strained out dozens of midges.
Interestingly, when we woke up we could hear a dull buzz. I thought it might be a generator running on some distant island. Or maybe it was a swarm of bees somewhere on the island. Finally Keri noticed that there was a swarm of mosquitoes about 20 feet above our heads spanning 100’s of feet. Fortunately, they really seemed to have no interest in us.
We packed up early because it was a Saturday. We wanted to get off the water before it got busy with weekend boat traffic. We also wanted to get on the road for our long commute back.
Georgian Bay is a 12-14 hour ride. When I compare the experience to other places I’ve been it ranks pretty high. It was beautiful. Swimming and bathing in fresh water is a joy. It is certainly worth doing it once and I’d go again in a minute if the opportunity presented itself. The only things it lacked were the ocean swells and the ability to gather seafood that you get on the New England coast.
July 18, 19, 20, and 21. Paddled 8.5, 8.5, 8.5, and 3.5 miles. Water temperatures were in the low to mid 70s. Winds generally 10-15 in the afternoon through evening.