Back Country Canoe Trips, Part 4 – 2004 Summer of the Bears

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On continuing down memory lane……….during the winter months, my husband, sister and her husband and myself figure out where we would like to go next and what dates etc.  It was fun to research and decide the location in Algonquin Park.  This year we decided to go into Pen Lake.

To get to Pen Lake, you use the Access Point at Rock Lake.  Oh yeah, we’re in Algonquin Park again !   We paddled Rock Lake and portaged into Pen Lake.

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End of Rock Lake, heading into Pen Lake
Rock Lake into Pen Lake.  Another group was portaging out of Pen Lake
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Entrance to Pen Lake, taking a break after our portage

There were not many empty campsites on Pen Lake so we took a small site on the right side of the lake and set up.  It was not a great site but we were hoping that maybe people would leave one of the better sites in a day or two and we can move.  There are some lovely sites on this lake.  For info, you cannot reserve by site when you do Interior Trips in Algonquin Park.  You reserve by a lake.  So if there are 3 sites on a lake,once three individuals/groups book them, that’s it.  No one else can go stay on that lake.  We usually like to get a site where there is a lot of other lakes, rivers, etc nearby.  We use that site as our main home and go out early every morning until late afternoon/early evening on explorations.  We will portage/paddle into different lakes so we can see wildlife and other areas of the park.

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We didn’t do much this first day as it was rather late by the time we got here and got set up.  We checked out the area around our campsite and made dinner, had a campfire, all the usual things.  The next morning I woke up really early to the sounds of someone making noises by our tent.   I thought it was my brother-in-law Camille making coffee. He is an early riser so I was just thinking Great !  my coffee will soon to be ready !

But the sounds were weird, like a “pop pop pop snap” sound.  I thought I should investigate and so I poked my head out of our tent and lo and behold there was a bear about 10 feet from me.

So to back track a bit, the night before, Clint hung our barrel up in the trees, other people did not!  Hmmm who might that be?  Anyways that barrel was left by a tree outside our tent.  The noises I heard was a bear.  She had her paws around the barrel and her mouth on the lid trying to get the lid off.  And I know it was a female bear because she had 2 cubs with her !   I yelled for everyone to get up as I didn’t want to be the only person to get eaten by a bear haha and also I was hoping to get her to go away.  She ignored me like we were married…………..

Finally the other three got up and out of the tents and we stood together and watched as she dragged the bucket of food away from us, but not too far, and finally got it open.  She and her cubs ate what they could and then took off.  We were not able to recover much that’s for sure.  We cleaned up her mess and kept a good watch out for her to come back.

Later on that morning we noticed the people camping across the lake were packing up.  It was a beautiful site; long sandy beach and then back in the trees was the area to put the tents.  It looked pretty large from what we could see.  Clint and Camille hopped in one of the canoes and paddled over.  They had taken a chair and a few other items with them.  The people said they were leaving so the guys left the chairs and a few items on the beach so no one else would stop there.  They paddled back to our site and we quickly packed up and left for the other side of the lake.  What a great site !


2nd site on Pen Lake we stayed at

This was our beach where our 2nd site was located

We were here for a week and we did a day trip every day.  We would pack up a lunch and hit the water.

Pen Lake

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Me !  younger, fitter, likely dumber lol
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Heading to a portage, you can see the yellow sign at the end of the river

The mom bear and her two cubs were in our site every single day.  We would bang pots and yell and they would leave.  But about the 3rd day we were there, we went on a day trip and when we came back we found that the 2nd of my sister’s food buckets had been taken down from the trees.

We could smell the red wine when we got out of the canoe ! lol  And I’m not joking.

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We did a quick inventory of our food and what we had left and decided we would be able to continue our trip as we were there for a week.  So that tells you how much food and crap we pack in and out ha ha.  Plus we still had wine so all was good.

We would see the Park’s float plane flying around over the lake every day.  One day it landed and two rangers, or Park Wardens, were dropped off on the lake.  Their canoe was dropped and they paddled over to our campsite to see if we had seen the bear.  There had been numerous complaints about this habituated bear family bothering campers.  Um yup we see her, pretty sure she lives here with us, we see her that often.

We noticed in their canoe they had  rifles, a cage and some shovels.  I figured it out so I’m not writing about it…………… As a side note, I have to say when we left and returned to the access point where our trucks were, we spoke to a Warden there and told him about the bears and he said they would relocate the family, which is contrary to what the two guys on the lake told us.  It’s very difficult to relocate habituated bears.

Our canoes having a break

So it was an exciting time, I’m not sure whether or not to add a question mark after that sentence.   In retrospect, we all thought “why did we stay that whole week with the bear family? ” But we did………….. and we have great stories to tell and luckily we’re still all alive to tell ’em !

We headed out on our last or 2nd last day (it was a long time ago!) on this lake and back to Rock Lake.  There were a couple of campsites there and we stayed at one site for, I believe, two nights before heading home.  We hung all our food buckets well away from our site, down a path, way up high in the trees. Because you just never know…………..

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We walked the Booth Trail for some spectacular views.

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View of Rock Lake

So now to the funny part of the story………………….our first night at our Rock Lake campsite, we had dinner and a campfire and off to bed we went.  Now normally in the dark if I have to go to the washroom, Clint goes with me.  This was particularly true at Pen Lake because of the bears, in fact no one went anywhere alone while we were there.  So – the first morning at Rock Lake, I woke up super early and needed to use the facilities. Clint said you should be okay to go on your own, we are away from Pen Lake and the bears. So I did.  I came back to the tent and just as I reached our tent, I heard this weird sound.   I looked over and there was a bear standing by the tree sniffing our backpack, (which had no food in it).  I called out “there’s a bear out here” of course no one believed me.  But I was persistent and finally they all straggled out of their tents and we stood together and watched as a MOTHER BEAR WITH TWO CUBS searched our campsite.  And NO, it was a different bear.  This one was really skinny and had a big scar on her back leg.  What are the odds?

Good Lord another bear


At this point we hadn’t seen the two cubs yet
The food is not here, got it?
Please leave !  lol
Our food bucket hung way far away from our site !
Guess what tree this little guy is climbing?
Here are the two cubs having a go at the bucket.  Their mom has taught them well…..

So they didn’t get anything as there was nothing to get and we were packing up to leave the next day.  We did not see this bear or cubs again but I’m sure they were there someplace !

We call this the “Summer of the Bears” and I shall always remember this summer.  Good times……………..

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