Fall Camping in Algonquin Park: Rock Lake with My Dog Elo (Part 2)
Date: October 4th – 6th, 2022
I knew before I did Part 1 of this trip that I might go back for a Part 2 soon after, but I wasn’t expecting it to be this soon. I got home from Part 1 on Sunday evening and after putting my gear away, taking a warm shower, and plopping myself on the couch, I opened up the weather forecast. The next few days were going to be around 20 degrees, mostly sunny, with nighttime lows around 5 to 10 degrees, which is very warm for October. To top it off, colours were almost at their peak (official peak ended up being October 5th, during day two of this trip).
There was only one issue. It was Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for Jewish people. I follow more of a progressive Judaism, celebrating only the high holidays and still only to a loose extent, but Yom Kippur is the one holiday that I’ve always observed every year, and it landed smack in the middle of the dates for this trip. I had a very stressful few weeks prior, dealing with a sick Elo (my dog) and getting very little sleep for the whole two weeks. I had to cancel two canoe trips because of it. This trip was likely going to be my last opportunity to go to Algonquin Park for the season, and it was a very rare opportunity with the ridiculously good forecast and peak fall colours. I decided that for the first time, I wasn’t going to observe Yom Kippur. I was going to seize the opportunity for both myself and Elo to go and enjoy the park and take a mental health booster from the prior few weeks that we went through.
I still wasn’t comfortable going into the backcountry with Elo since she was just getting over being sick and she was still on a special diet. So instead, I looked at the campground availability and there were tons of options. I booked a site at Pog Lake that seemed nice since it was near the shoreline. However, no more than 10 minutes after booking I found some photos and a video of the campsite, and it wasn’t all that appealing. I saw a great site available at Rock Lake (it must have been a last minute cancellation because it was a prime site), and since I was just at Rock Lake for Part 1, I knew that the view of the fall colours from the campground were spectacular. I cancelled the Pog Lake booking, took the small cancellation penalty fee, and then rebooked for Rock Lake.
Packing out was super easy for this trip since I had just gotten home from Part 1 a few days prior and hadn’t fully unpacked. Plus, since I would be car camping, I didn’t need to pack as efficiently as I would for the backcountry. I threw everything into my car on Monday, the day before the trip, and got ready to hit the road the following morning.
Day 1 – Canisbay Lake and Rock Lake Campground
I got on the road at about 7:30 AM and went straight to Canisbay Lake. The plan was to paddle around Canisbay, checking out all of the vacant sites, and then later in the afternoon I would check in to the Rock Lake campground. I had done the ‘pre check in’ online to input my license plate onto my reservation just in case a warden came by the Canisbay Lake parking lot while I was out on the water.
I arrived to Canisbay Lake just after 11:00 AM and there was another dog owner walking around. He was staying at the nearby campground. We chatted for a bit, but he let his dog off leash and it was getting Elo all riled up since I was keeping her leashed, so I quickly loaded my boat and set out onto the water. We circled Canisbay Lake going clockwise, checking out all of the vacant sites along the way, which was a total of 12 of the 16 campsites on the lake. Full campsite reports are at the bottom of this trip report.
There was a canoe trailing behind me by about 10 minutes, also circling the lake. I saw them stop to talk to each of the occupied campsites. Maybe they knew the people occupying the sites, but the more likely scenario was that they were just making random conversation with the occupants. I really wanted to tell them that it’s impolite to intrude on other people’s backcountry experience, but I kept my thoughts to myself and kept paddling. There would be some sort of irony to me ‘intruding’ on the paddlers experience to tell them not to intrude on the campers’ experience.
Canisbay Lake was beautiful. The western shore had a magnificent display of fall colours, making all of the eastern sites very enjoyable to stop at and enjoy the view onto the opposing western shoreline. The eastern shore itself wasn’t as colourful. Almost all of the campsites on Canisbay Lake had either a soft beach landing or a smooth sloping rocky shoreline. There were very few sites that I would have been unhappy camping at. The lake was full of nice sites, most of them being slightly above average for my preferences.
There were also tons of entrances connecting the water to the mainland, separate from the obvious campsite landings. Combined with the grassy areas across the perimeter of the lake, it seemed like Canisbay would be a great spot for moose to access the water for feeding purposes. Overall, I really enjoyed paddling Canisbay Lake and thought it was a beautiful lake with plenty of great campsites. The only downside with Canisbay is that it’s not very remote; you can hear sounds from the campground, and there’s consistent cell service throughout the lake.
I finished paddling on Canisbay Lake and arrived back at my car just before 3:00 PM. I drove past Rock Lake Road towards the town of Whitney to get some dry firewood from a place that was recommended to me during Part 1 of this trip. When I finally made my way back to the Rock Lake campground, I checked in, arrived at my site, and started setting up camp.
I was camping at Site #76, which was way better than where I camped during Part 1 of this trip, Site #86. Site #76 was larger, it had fewer neighbouring sites, it had direct water access, and it had a spectacular view of the fall colours on the opposing shoreline. I was very lucky to snag this campsite super last minute.
On one side of my campsite was a couple camping with a reactive dog. I asked if I could introduce Elo and they declined, saying their dog wasn’t always friendly. I respected their wishes of course and kept Elo on my site, away from their dog, but it didn’t stop their dog from occasionally barking at us anyways.
On the other side of my campsite was another solo traveller, a man named John who looked to be in his 50’s or 60’s. He introduced himself to me while I was setting up camp and boiling water to rehydrate my dinner.
I finished setting up camp and poured the boiling water into my meal, starting the 15-20 minute timer until my dinner would be ready to eat. I decided to start processing firewood during that time, so I got out my knife to open the bag of firewood.
And that’s when everything went downhill.
No matter how many times you do something, or no matter how experienced you think you are, sometimes accidents just happen. For the first time in my 10+ years of camping, I cut myself with my knife. It slipped out of my grip and went right into the tip of my thumb.
I instantly started bleeding. I couldn’t see how bad the cut was, but it looked like it went about 1/3 of the way through my nail.
I do carry a first aid kit with me of course, but I knew that timing was of the essence for something like this. Elo was tethered between trees so thankfully I was able to temporarily ignore her. I walked straight over to John at the campsite beside me and asked if he had a first aid kit handy. Cleaning and dressing the wound would be MUCH quicker with someone’s help compared to me attempting to do everything myself. I would have needed to get my first aid kit, sort through the items to get what I needed, and then open each thing one at a time, all with only one working hand while the other would have continued to bleed.
John was quick to help and handed me several alcohol wipes so I could clean the wound and wipe away the blood from my hands. I noticed at that time that I also cut my index finger in two separate spots, although both of those weren’t nearly as bad as the cut on the thumb. Once my hand was relatively clean, I put bandages on my thumb and index finger. There were still patches of blood covering my hand, but I kept my hand raised above my heart and it seemed like the bleeding had stopped.
Now what was I supposed to do?
Was it bad enough that I would need stitches? Was there anyone at the park that could help, or did I need to drive to the closest hospital? What would I do with everything at my campsite? Most importantly, what would I do with Elo?
One of the things that I appreciate about camping and canoe tripping is that it puts you in these types of situations where you need to be resourceful and make difficult decisions. For example, on a mid-September trip a few years back I was checking out a campsite and I noticed my canoe was floating off into the windy waters of Burnt Island Lake. I thought that I had secured the canoe well enough, but apparently, I was wrong. It was only 10-15 feet from shore but I immediately knew what I needed to do. I stripped out of my jacket and warm clothing as quickly as possible and jumped into the water, swimming for my canoe before it drifted too far away to retrieve. It was a very unpleasant, but necessary decision.
And now in this situation with my thumb, I knew exactly what I needed to do. I knew that I needed to organize my campsite and set out for the nearest hospital. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as it looked, but it was around 6:30 PM and it was too high risk to wait it out overnight in hopes that it didn’t need attention. I needed to err on the side of caution and get it checked by a medical professional.
I keep a very clean camp so there wasn’t much to do, but I threw a handful of things into my car, and a few other things into my tent. I didn’t know how long I would be gone for so I made sure nothing was left out in the open and I made sure that my tent fly was zipped up in case it rained.
Then I quickly ate my dinner. I didn’t know when I would get the chance to eat something next. I sat with one arm raised above my heart while I wolfed down my meal with my other hand. After finishing, I put Elo into the back of the car, and set out towards Highway 60 for cell service.
First, I called the hospital and they told me that everything would be closed at this time, and that the emergency was the only option if I felt like I needed to be seen by a medical professional. Then I called my family back home to let them know what had happened, and that I was totally ok but I was going to the hospital to get it checked out.
There were two hospitals located about equal distance away, but in opposite directions. I chose to go east to Barry’s Bay since the western option was in Huntsville and I thought it may be busier (aka longer wait times) due to being closer to popular cottage areas. Both options were a 1-hour drive away. I kept my hand above my heart the whole time while driving to continue to help stop any bleeding.
I arrived at the hospital and checked in to the emergency centre at around 7:30 PM. I still needed to feed Elo. She was still on her special canned diet, meaning I had no idea how I would open the can to feed her with only one hand. As I was telling the receptionist at the emergency that I needed a few minutes to feed my dog, a lady behind me overheard and said she would come help me. The lady had several dogs of her own, including a new litter of puppies. She helped me open the can and even took Elo to the grass to pee while I was getting the dinner into her bowl. She was extremely kind and I was very thankful to her.
I waited about one hour before seeing a nurse, who cleaned the wound and gave me a tetanus shot. I was told I could go and check on Elo and stay in my car for 30 minutes, and then to come back and see if the doctor would be ready to see me. I felt terrible for Elo; she was in the back of a car, in the dark, in a weird new environment. But she’s such an amazing pup, she was calm and quiet the whole time. I took her for a short walk and then had another snack for myself.
I went back after 30 minutes and only had to wait a short while longer before seeing the doctor. I actually saw a med student first, who took a look at the cut, asked me some questions, and then explained that either glue or stitches would be viable options, while explaining the pros and cons for each option.
By the time the doctor saw me, there was a heart attack patient on their way to the hospital. Keep in mind this is a small hospital with only one doctor, so I was told I basically only had two more minutes of the doctors time. If I wanted glue, he could do that right away, but if I wanted stitches, I would be waiting a very long time.
He said normally they would do stitches, but the glue should be ok too. He also told me that the 1/3 of my nail that I saw cut was likely just a surface scratch and that I probably didn’t go all that way deep through my thumb. Lastly, he told me it was a good thing I cleaned and dressed it right away and then kept my hand above my heart the whole time, because it did indeed stop the bleeding very quickly and prevented it from being a lot worse.
After the glue and dressing were applied, I was told to keep it bandaged for 3-4 days. I needed to keep it clean and dry during that time, and I needed to avoid using my thumb for at least one week. But I was told that I didn’t need to pack up camp and go home. They said that as long as I felt comfortable, I could finish the trip. I just obviously couldn’t paddle or go out on the water.
I felt terrible for Elo the whole time. But when I got back into my car just after 10:00 PM, she was just lying there waiting for me. She looked totally calm and comfortable.
I drove very cautiously the whole way home since I was warned about deer on the road, and I had actually seen one at the side of the road on my way to the hospital. I was admittedly nervous about sleeping in my sleeping bag inside of a small tent with Elo beside me, but I was surprisingly not in any pain and I decided it was better than packing up camp close to midnight and then driving 3 hours to get home. Ironically, my sore arm from the tetanus shot was bothering me more than my thumb.
I got back to camp at 11:30 PM. I still needed to do a few things before going to sleep. I changed into my night clothes, took Elo for a short walk, cleaned her food bowl to prevent bacteria from growing (I was being very anal about stuff like that while she was recovering from being sick), and then finally took an Advil before getting into the tent.
Day 1 was pretty wild.
Day 2 – Rest Day and Recovery at Rock Lake Campground
I slept surprisingly well, all things considered. The combination of paddling under the hot 20 degree sun for 3.5 hours on Canisbay Lake, combined with the hectic and stressful evening at the hospital, with 6+ hours of total driving throughout the day… I guess it knocked me out good!
I still wasn’t feeling any pain in my hand. I was keeping my thumb locked in place and avoiding using the rest of my hand as much as I could, so other than the occasional light throbbing, I barely felt it. I think the cold temperatures outside helped as well. It was almost like a permanent ice pack. However, my shoulder was still sore from the tetanus shot.
I woke up feeling confident and I decided to stay for the second night, as planned. I didn’t feel like the thumb or arm was limiting enough to make me go home. I couldn’t paddle or be out on the water though, that was for certain. I briefly entertained the idea of doing a hike (I still had Centennial Ridges and Track and Tower Trail on my ‘hope to do’ list for the season) but I quickly disregarded that plan. I didn’t think carrying a backpack while hiking for hours with a sore arm/shoulder, while trying to control an energetic dog, was the smartest thing to do while simultaneously trying to make sure I didn’t make my thumb any worse. Plus, it was going to be another 20+ degree sunny day and I wasn’t sure if sweating underneath the wound dressing from the hike would fall under the ‘don’t get your thumb wet due to chance of infection’ restriction.
So, I decided to play it safe and have a lazy day at camp. The plan was to literally have no plan at all and spend the day enjoying the weather, the fall colours, and just being in Algonquin Park.
After walking Elo and stuffing my face with some banana bread, I drove up to Highway 60 to get cell service. I wanted to let my folks back home know that I was feeling fine and that I would be staying the second night.
The drive back was very cathartic. I was listening to Ekki Mukk by Sigur Ros, and with the combination of the early morning sun hitting the beautifully coloured trees on the dirt road, while thinking about everything else that had happened recently, it was a really special moment.
When I got back to my campsite, I thanked John for his help the day prior. I figured out how to use the can opener without my thumb and then I fed Elo, had some more breakfast for myself, and then made myself a coffee. It was an incredibly relaxing morning watching the sunshine gradually brighten the rolling hills on the opposing shoreline of the campsite, while slowly providing more warmth with each passing minute.
I decided to go for a long walk with Elo. We walked to Campground A and circled the campground a few times, enjoying the views and exploring the area. When we came back to our campsite at Campground B, my neighbor a few campsites over was using a drone. Not only were they not allowed to be flying the drone, but the constant buzzing from the motor was extremely annoying. I walked over to their campsite and told them that it wasn’t allowed and that they needed to stop.
For the next few hours Elo and I just relaxed at our campsite. I brought my chair and sat at the small beach at the front of the site, letting the heat of the sun encompass my shirtless body with warmth. I let Elo get her feet wet in the lake but I didn’t want her going for a full swim. After sitting in the sun for a while, we went into the tent for a short midday nap.
It was so hot outside on Day 2. I’ve spent the previous five or six years in either Algonquin Park or Killarney around Thanksgiving, and I had never had temperatures like this. Mid to high teens a couple times, but never 20+ degrees and sunny. Finding out after the trip that October 5th (Day 2) also happened to be the official day of peak colours made it an even more rare and special experience.
The next few hours were exceptionally lazy lounging around the campsite. I made myself a dehydrated dinner at around 4:30 PM and after I finished eating, cleaning, and organizing a few things, I then fed Elo and took her for a walk.
John had rented a pack boat from Algonquin Outfitters and he told me that he was considering purchasing a solo boat in the near future. My canoe had been strapped to the roof of my car since I finished paddling on Canisbay Lake the day prior, but I told him I’d be more than happy to let him take it out for a test paddle so he could compare it to the Swift pack boat.
He decided to take me up on that offer, so with his help we took the canoe off of my car and he set out for a paddle while I decided to drive back to Highway 60 for cell service. I wanted to once again let my family at home know that everything was ok, and also check the forecast for the evening and the next day. By the time I finished all of that and drove back to my campsite it was around 7:00 PM. John was finished paddling by the time I got back, so I had him help me strap the canoe back onto the roof of my car before the sun had fully finished setting.
I obviously didn’t plan on processing any firewood, so I gave my large supply of wood to John so it would get put to good use. He invited me to sit with him by his fire for the evening, so once I had everything organized around my campsite, I decided to join him.
There was a gorgeous three-quarter moon hanging in the sky, with a powerful glow reflecting across the waters of Rock Lake. Most of the stars were hidden behind the illumination of the moon, but there were unique cloud formations filling the sky that provided a beautiful backdrop alongside the glowing moon while John and I had some fireside conversations.
I took an Advil before going to bed on Day 1, but on Day 2 I opted for a different type of medication. Whiskey by the fire of course. A couple ounces of whiskey is basically the same thing as Advil, right?
It was almost 11:00 PM when I decided to call it a night. Elo was tethered to the picnic bench at John’s campsite so that she was able to lay right beside me for the evening. I untethered her, put my food barrel into my car, took Elo for a quick walk, and then headed into the tent.
Day 1 was pretty hectic and non-stop action. Day 2 was the exact opposite, and I loved it.
Day 3 – Leaving Rock Lake Campground
Once again, I slept decently well overnight. The couple ounces of whiskey and later-than-usual bedtime probably helped. I woke up around 7:00 AM and got out of the tent to a relatively warm October morning. The first night was low single digits and was quite chilly, but the second night was high single digits and was pretty comfortable while wearing my ultralight down jacket. I fed Elo, had a quick bite myself, and then took Elo for a walk. I organized a few things that were lying around inside my car and then went back into the tent for a quick nap.
After my nap I made myself a coffee and had a very slow-moving morning. The sky was overcast and there was some wind, so it was a bit chilly, but nothing too unpleasant. The sun started to appear later in the morning just as I began to pack up camp. It was slightly difficult to do certain tasks like rolling and folding my tent, footprint, and sleeping pad with my injured thumb, but it wasn’t anything too troublesome. My thumb had honestly barely bothered me throughout Day 2 and Day 3 since I wasn’t using it at all. The soreness in my shoulder from the tetanus shot was for sure more annoying.
After slowly packing camp and loading my car, I sat and enjoyed the breathtaking view from the campsite for a little while longer. I had until 2:00 PM to vacate the campsite, and while I didn’t plan on staying until then, I was definitely in no rush to get moving. I took Elo for one last walk, and then got in the car at around 12:00 PM to start the drive home.
It was a bittersweet drive home. I was disappointed about the injury of course, but I was grateful that it didn’t ruin the trip and that I was able to spend the full time enjoying the park. The final drove home through Highway 60 provided more sweet than bitter, with its magnificent display of colours. Elo slept the whole drive home.
I didn’t know until I checked the reports after I got home, but official peak for the fall colours was on October 5th, which was Day 2 of this trip. I did however notice that the colours were brighter and more vivid during Part 2 of this trip compared to Part 1. Combined with the fact that I had 20-degree sunny days and pretty warm overnight temperatures, it was a pretty insane forecast to pair with peak fall colours.
The view from the Rock Lake campground was ridiculously beautiful. Across from the campground on the western shoreline were tall rolling hills of deciduous trees, providing a beautiful display of ranging colours. It was especially beautiful early in the morning as the sun would rise in the east and shine bright onto the western shoreline.
Elo seemed to really enjoy herself. She had lots of fun trying to chase squirrels all over the campsite and would easily tire herself out from the many failed attempts at catching them. She was a little bit more protective of me than usual, making some quiet low growling noises as people walked by. It was mostly in the evening when it was dark, and it was quiet enough that the people walking by probably didn’t even notice. But otherwise, she was extremely well behaved at the campsite, in the tent, and especially while waiting for me at the hospital. I am very lucky to have her.
This was by far the laziest trip I’ve ever had. I was happy that I got to spend the first day paddling around Canisbay Lake before injuring my thumb, but Day 2 and Day 3 were pure laziness. It’s not like I had much of a choice anyways. I truly relaxed and enjoyed the moment with Elo and the beautiful fall scenery. It was a nice change from my normal type of tripping.
But the most important takeaway from this trip is that accidents happen. That’s why they’re called accidents. You should always try to prevent accidents from happening to the best of your ability, but it’s just as important to have a plan in place in case something goes wrong. I’m lucky that this injury happened while I was car camping and I had quick access to medical help (relatively speaking, since it was still a 1hr+ drive). If I was alone in the backcountry, it would have been much worse. I would have needed to clean and dress the wound myself, and then actively monitor it and assess next steps. If I was close enough to an access point and I was able to paddle out, I would do that. However, if it was serious enough that I couldn’t travel, I would use my Garmin InReach Mini to communicate that I needed help.
Side note about the Garmin InReach Mini. This injury is a perfect example of why two-way communication devices are extremely important compared to one-way communication. Personal Locator Beacons (PLB’s) and other devices like the older generations of SPOT only allow one-way, non-customized communications. With one-way communications, if you press the emergency SOS, the people on the receiving end wouldn’t get any more detail about the emergency. In this situation, if I actually needed to call in an emergency rescue, I would be able to explain that I needed assistance exiting the park, but that I was in stable condition with enough food and supplies. This way, the rescuers wouldn’t put themselves in harm’s way and emergency resources could be triaged accordingly.
Overall, I was very happy that I decided to do this last-minute trip and I was very happy that I decided to stay for the remaining days after the thumb injury. I realized that the injury was karma for skipping the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur.
A blood sacrifice was made.
*The images below are of my thumb. Probably NSFW. Click each image to reveal.
Day 1 while waiting in the hospital ER. This was after several alcohol wipes.
Day 4 after taking the dressing off for the first time. Finally, air!
Day 18 after the scab from the glue fell off, revealing a smaller scab underneath.
Day 24, the nail breaking apart and the skin around the scar peeling.