High Adventure Canoe Trip 1 – Overview

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For the last nine years every summer our Scouts pile into a van and drive north to Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park for a week-long high adventure canoe trip. Our crews typically cover 40-50 miles of paddling and portaging during our stay. Two years ago we started alternating these canoe trips with a trip to Kandersteg International Scout Center every third year.

Here’s the background information on how we make this happen. In this first of three articles we’ll discuss the logistic concerns and planning.

The Park
Algonquin Provincial Park covers 4700 square miles in east-central Ontario accessed by 1200 miles of canoe routes. This magnificent wilderness is one of the premier canoe destinations in the world.

Our trips are in the back country with canoe-in campsites and require reservations. Our routes are planned and reserved several months ahead of the trip.

In a park the size of Algonquin there are almost limitless choices for a week-long trip. The park is so large that you’ll want to choose an access point within reach of your overall schedule – it can take many hours to drive to the some of the more remote access points.

Many things are factored into route choices but the chief consideration is the size and experience of the crew. As a rule of thumb consider that an inexperienced crew is theoretically capable of 40-50 miles in six days of travel but a shorter route is probably best.

One or two portages away from most of the access points you’ll see fewer paddlers and more wild life. Big lakes mean the possibility of higher winds and big waves. We’ve navigated up to 2 foot waves well for some long stretches but it can be very challenging and even dangerous.

Jeffrey McMurtrie has created a fantastic, freely available map of the park.

Who Participates
We require Scouts to be 13 years old, be able to complete the first class swim test and have reasonable experience camping. We take a maximum of three adults in our crews of seven or nine and allot these adult spots as follows:

  • First Choice – Advisors (Each crew requires at least one adult over 21 who has been on at least one other Canada trip with our troop)
  • Second Choice – Adults who are registered volunteers with our troop and have a son attending
  • Third Choice – Adults who have a son attending and are not registered volunteers.
  • Fourth Choice – Adults who are registered volunteers and do not have a son attending.

We talk about these rules of thumb when we first promote the trip so everyone understands our expectations and limitations.

Algonquin Outfitters maintains three different locations within or very close to the park. AO is the clear choice for pricing, service and selection of gear and have never disappointed us.

For the first two trips we chose their full outfitting plan that included all the gear and food we would need for the week. All we had to do is show up with our clothing and minor pieces of personal gear.

When it became evident that this would be an on-going program we invested in our own gear and started planning our own menu to give our Scouts the opportunity to plan a week’s food for the trip. The gear we rented and the food provided by Algonquin Outfitters was all first-rate.

The Genius of Odd Numbers
Algonquin Provincial Park limits the number of people in a campsite to nine. A seemingly insignificant factoid but this limitation inspired a central idea – odd numbered crews can get away with a single trip portage.

Our crews are typically 5,7,or 9 (we’ll do 4, 6, or 8 in a pinch but that means one extra trip on every portage). With our plan each crew member has a portage pack or a canoe to carry:

5 Person Crew – two canoes, three portage packs.
Canoe one – 2 paddlers,  2 packs
Canoe two – 3 paddlers, 1 pack

7 Person Crew – three canoes, four portage packs.
Canoe one – 2 paddlers, 2 packs
Canoe two – 3 paddlers, 1 pack
Canoe three – 2 paddlers, 1 pack

9 Person Crew – four canoes, five portage packs.
Canoe one – 2 paddlers, 2 packs
Canoe two – 3 paddlers, 1 pack
Canoe three – 2 paddlers, 1 pack
Canoe four – 2 paddlers, 1 pack

Middle Men
Using our plan one canoe carries three people and a pack so at any given time one of us is not paddling. I was warned away from this because the person in the middle would get bored but we’ve had no complaints so far. The middle man can be changed out as often as needed. If we encounter windy or difficult conditions the weakest paddler becomes the middle man, if someone is sick or injured they become the middle man. It all works out in the end.

The Crew Calendar
Our planning begins in February; we announce the trip and start signing folks up. The deadline for signing up is the end of March and the crews meet twice a month to plan and prepare.

We’ve discussed driving up in our own vehicles but analyzing the costs and logistics makes renting 15 passenger vans much more sensible. It limits the number of vehicles, and drivers required, cut’s down on fuel costs, and is generally easier on everyone.

The Trip Itinerary
Our trips last nine days. We’ve discussed longer trips but asking adults to take much more than a week of vacation has been our limiting factor (a hidden cost of the trip). Here’s an outline of the trip:

Friday – Meet at the church – drive to a motel just outside the park. The trip is about twelve hours altogether and isn’t as bad as it sounds (see the map below)
Saturday –  Up early and off to the outfitter’s base. Stop in to the park office for permits, draw our gear from the outfitter, pack up and we are on the water before 10AM.
Saturday– Friday – Into the back country of Algonquin for the next 7 days.
Friday – Out of the back country in the morning, return gear to the outfitters, showers at the outfitter’s base, into the van and off to a motel in Niagara Falls.
Saturday – Tour Niagara, and off home (we arrive home late in the evening).

Here’s a map of our diving route with motels marked:

View Algonquin Park Directions  in a larger map

The whole megillah costs $650.00 a person all-inclusive except for meals while we are travelling to and from the park. Here’s a basic breakdown of costs based on 12 participants:

Outfitter  $176.00
Food  $80.00
Lodging  $69.00
Niagara Tour  $18.00
Transportation  $190.00
Park Fees  $50.00
Sat Phone rental  $32.00
Crew Gear allowance  $35.00
Individual Cost  $650.00

This article is first in a series discussing our high adventure canoe trips;  part two discusses personal gear and clothingpart three describes the details of portaging, part four describes our canoe kitchen.

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