Experiencing the Ultimate
Sometimes things don’t go exactly as planned…
Every year as we schedule our summer and fall camping and travel plans, we always include either a completely new-to-us destination, or an activity we’ve never tried. One of our most memorable “new activities” in 2017 was my first-ever, mother-daughter canoe trip. With the help of Algonquin Outfitters, my 12 year-old adventure girl, Emma, and I set out in Algonquin Park to paddle across three lakes and camp two nights in the backcountry.
We aren’t new to canoe tripping as a family, but this trip was the first time Emma and I would be heading out without the additional support of my husband. So, when Algonquin Outfitters offered me the opportunity to sign up for their Ultimate Canoe Trip package, I jumped at the chance to have AO do some of the heavy lifting when it came to the preparation for our trip. Do I know how to plan trips, meals and gear? Yes. Do we own all of our own gear to outfit our trips? Yes. Was I more than happy to have someone else help with all of that, anyway? Absolutely! Using AO’s outfitting service meant less time packing and even less time cleaning up after the trip. All Emma and I had to do was make some decisions about food, pack our personal belongings and then show up. Easy, right?
Algonquin Outfitters offer a range of canoe trip packages, with the Ultimate providing a full-service experience before and after the trip. Our package included all of our camping gear, a canoe and paddles, maps and our food for the trip. The package also offers planning help which includes booking park permits. Emma and I had planned our canoe trip to Algonquin before we decided to use the AO outfitting services. So I already knew our route and had booked our permits before we started working with AO to plan the outfitting portion of the package. While I made it clear to them that I had booked our permits and planned our route, they checked-in a bunch of times to make sure we were ok and didn’t need their help with planning. I appreciated they wanted to help as much as possible!
The Ultimate package also included a stay in their rustic tent cabins at Oxtongue Lake the night before a trip. We totally took advantage of the tent-cabin perk. I really dislike driving for hours, and then paddling for MORE hours. It’s been my experience in the past that when I’m tired from driving from my home straight to the access point, I’m not at my best to paddle. (That’s code for: I will have no patience and a short temper and that will make everyone miserable). Staying at AO’s Oxtongue location meant we had a leisurely drive from home and no rushing to get to the access point. And once we arrived we had time to enjoy relaxing beside the Oxtongue River, where Emma went for a swim off the AO docks. We were also able to meet up with a guide to review a few things – like our equipment and the food we chose during the planning stage – the evening before our trip. This was perfect for saving time at the Outfitters the morning of our trip, which is when the guides normally go over the details of your package. The morning of our trip, we enjoyed a continental-style breakfast and hot coffee before we loaded up our gear and set-off for our access point. I cannot emphasise enough how nice it was to wake up refreshed, have breakfast available for us and coffee brewed, and only a short drive to our access point before paddling the wilds of Algonquin. Note – the cabin tents are VERY rustic. But, they are a good set-up for what you’re about to endure in the backcountry!
We had a lot of fun choosing our food for the trip. It was a simple process that only involved filling out a checklist of items, and we were impressed with our choices! I think the food was what we were most curious about when we arrived for our trip. Would the portions be big enough? Would we like the taste of what we had chosen? I’m happy to report that the food was great and the portions were huge. There was a nice mix of fresh food and packaged, dehydrated meals. We were never hungry, and actually came back from our trip with food left over.
All the gear you need for a backcountry canoe trip is included in the Ultimate package. AO uses the same quality gear they sell in their store, which we discovered when we had a hands-on tour of everything included in our package the night before the trip. I have to admit I was impressed with how organized everything seemed. Our trip wasn’t the only one being outfitted that weekend, and we were able to see how each group had their own section on a table in the outfitting room, with all the dry food and gear laid out. This is also where we got the first of a few of little surprises on this trip about the gear provided and learned some tips I’m going to pass along to you.
- The camp “chair” included in your package is NOT a chair with legs. It is a seat pad with attached back. This was absolutely fine with us, but the terminology might confuse some people.
- The water purification “system” is actually a supply of Aquatabs: small tablets that dissolve in your water. They definitely do the job of water purification, but leave a terrible taste. The drink crystals you receive with your food help mask the taste of the tabs a bit, but I still think they are really gross. To be honest, if I had known that we would be using these, I would have packed my own gravity filter into my pack.
The morning of our trip, we packed up our stuff, including the sleeping bags and liners AO gave us from our gear table the night before and made our way into the outfitting room. Not sure exactly what to do, we gave a staff person our sleeping gear, told them we were heading out on a trip and asked what we needed to do next. We met the guide who was prepping our gear and food and enjoyed some time eating breakfast and chatting with a couple who were also setting out on their trip that day.
After breakfast, we me our guide again at our assigned outfitting table where our Algonquin Outfitter’s canoe pack and food barrel was going to be packed. Happy to chat about our trip, the weather, the food and everything in-between, we didn’t pay as much attention as we should have when the guide added our items to the pack and barrel. If we had been paying attention, we would have noticed that a very important piece of gear didn’t make its way into our packs…. But we did get some great tips on key places to check-out on our paddle to the campsite.
With bag and barrel packed, another guide loaded the canoe onto our vehicle and showed us how to properly use the supplied straps to keep the canoe secure. Paddles, pfd’s, canoe pack and barrel were all loaded up along with our personal drybags and we set off full of excitement for the next stage of adventure.
I want to take a moment here to express how awesome ALL the staff at the Oxtongue AO were to Emma and I. They were helpful, knowledgeable, thoughtful and they actually seemed as excited about us going on this trip as we were! Their amazing attitudes contributed to our great feeling about doing the trip and using the AO Ultimate package. Even the prospect of a rain looming on the horizon didn’t worry us much.
We were out of the Outfitters early, we felt totally prepared and we knew we’d be about 30 – 60 minutes ahead of the rain forecasted for that day. With the tunes blasting as we made our way down the highway to our access point I was mentally going through checklists, our route plan and visualizing how perfect everything was going to be when I started to get a weird little, niggling thought.
I didn’t remember seeing the guide put sleeping bags in our canoe pack.
“Emma? Do you remember seeing the guide put sleeping bags in canoe pack?”
The look she gave me wasn’t very reassuring. And that’s when I fully suspected that we were about to head out on a two night canoe trip without sleeping bags. The rest of the drive was spent working out a plan on how to get ourselves sleeping bags and then hit the water while still trying to beat at least some of the rain heading our way.
Sure enough, when we reached the access point and checked our bags, we confirmed that the sleeping bags had been missed. And, there was no cell service in the access point parking lot. Like a well-played cliché, we made our way back towards the highway with Emma’s eyes glued to my phone’s screen in search of cell service bars to make a desperate call to AO. Luckily, we had hatched a plan so our communication with AO was short and to the point. The Outfitter offered to have replacement sleeping bags driven to us with a canoe drop-off, but it would take them about an hour to get to us. We offered a Plan B where we would drive to the Opeongo AP store, which was closer to our access point, to grab a set of bags ourselves. We chose this route, as it cut about 30 minutes off of our waiting time. All the while, I was mindful of the rain coming our way. We had already lost valuable, rain-free paddling time.
Was I annoyed with this turn of events? Yes. It was a sour note in what had been an otherwise perfect trip so far. But AO was very apologetic and we recognize that the guides are human and can make mistakes. Thankfully, we were able to get the problem resolved. But we learned a very valuable lesson: pay attention when someone else is packing your gear, no matter who it is and how experienced they are because mistakes can be made at any level.
Once we were on our way, our moods lifted and Emma and I quickly got into sync paddling our way across the lake. Our route started at Rock Lake (Access Point 9), crossed Pen Lake and ended at Clydegale. Most of our paddling was done in the rain, which made the portages wet and slippery. We were VERY grateful that our package included a lightweight Swift canoe and a Canoe Pack and Food Barrel that were relatively easy for the two of us to manage over the two portages.
When we arrived at our campsite, the rain had stopped but we were very happy to have food that was easy to prepare over the campstove provided for us, as getting a good, hot cooking fire was nearly impossible with the soaking wet wood on our site. All of our gear had seen many trips and was well used, but it was in good shape and had us completely prepared for the rain and chilly night of day one and the sunny day we experienced on day two.
Using AO’s outfitting service was a great experience, despite the sleeping bag glitch, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who:
- Doesn’t own their own gear
- Is trying a trip into the backcountry for the first time and can use the guidance and experience of a pro outfitter
- Is traveling from another province or country and is not able to bring their own gear with them.
Ultimately, the Ultimate package really does provide everything you need to get out into the backcountry, with an extra helping of knowledge and enthusiasm from the AO staff.
Other Useful Links
- Algonquin Provincial park
- Planning a Canoe Trip
- Algonquin Park Access Points
- Ultimate Canoe Trip Outfitting
- About Algonquin Outfitters
“Get Outside. Go Explore. Do Stuff!” Gayle is an outdoor/lifestyle blogger who wants to inspire people to get outside, go explore and do stuff. She’s a hiker, camper, paddler, snowshoer and geocacher who loves to get outside with her daughter and husband. Gayle’s blog, Sometimes Eventful is all about her adventures with her family in Ontario’s outdoors. Gayle is also the host of the #WeGetOutside Twitter chat, which runs every Tuesday from September to May.