Our backcountry camping plans for the May long weekend were really starting to come together. First with our planned route to Harness Lake through the Cache Lake Access Point, and then with the weather. What a beautiful weekend to be outside!
We had all our gear packed up and waiting in the car with our canoe, Singing Wilderness, strapped on the roof rack. I even considered sleeping in the car with the anticipation of the first light of sunrise to hit the road and get this canoe trip started. My husband set the alarm for 5:00am with plans to be on the road by 5:30am, and arriving at the Canoe Lake Permit Office for their opening time of 7:00am. We had a good 30-minute buffer for any stops along the way (coffee, wildlife sightings).
We slept in. My husband’s alarm was set for 5:00am to go off on weekdays, and it was 6:15am by the time we left our place. When he woke me up at 6:00am, I shot out of bed, threw my clothes on and checked our list twice to make sure we had everything. I think I was still asleep!
It felt good to be en route to Algonquin Park. I was excited to explore south of Highway 60, and set off from Cache Lake for the first time. We decided to stay put on Harness Lake to try trout fishing and explore the area.
We were not too far behind schedule. That changed when I couldn’t find my husband at the Canoe Lake Permit Office. I went to get our permit for the weekend while he decided to go window shopping at The Portage Store. I wandered around the parking lot, went for a washroom break, stood by the car waiting and eventually walked down to the store.
“Babe, you won’t believe this deal!” He said all zipped and buckled up into a Kokatat Guide PFD (Personal Flotation Device).
He was right; I couldn’t believe it. Regular price $299 on MEC’s website, it was on sale for $99. Since last weekend when we took our ORCKA Moving Water Level 1 course, he hasn’t stopped talking about all things whitewater and the importance of our safety. I also bought a Kokatat Ronin PFD because I’ve been wearing one of those bright orange lifejackets. We ended up walking out of The Portage Store having spent $200 on $600 worth of PFDs!
The vibe in the car was all buzz as we went over the unbelievable deal we just got on our way to the Cache Lake Access Point. And, just as we were about to turn in, we spotted a moose.
I got out to capture a few photographs and turned around to see cars pulled off and people walking toward me with their ginormous camera lens! It was like they came out of nowhere! A storm of paparazzi.
We loaded up Singing Wilderness and paddled out onto the lake. It was so calm and beautiful. Calm enough to have a swarm of blackflies follow us across the lake. They too wanted to go on a canoe trip and follow our every move. We played the copycat game where I would run 10 feet to the left and they would follow. This went on and the words under my breath were foul. They can be such jerks!
We portaged 1640 meters into Head Lake. Well actually, I portaged 1640 meters, and B portaged 4920 meters (4.92 km) because he had to go back and get Singing Wilderness. It was a lovely portage though. It is a beautiful path on mostly level ground and we saw fresh wolf tracks and scat.
We paddled across Head Lake and up a creek to a 1035 meter portage into Harness Lake where we’d be camping for the weekend. Once again, B portaged 3105 meters (3.11 km) by the time he went back for the canoe. This was a more challenging portage with a good incline in a couple of places but then it flattens out.
It was a beauty day and warm. We could see a huge rock face down the lake on the east side and knew this would be a great site because it was exposed and would keep the bugs down if the wind was to pick up. We paddled across the lake and landed. I picked a bar of soap out of the water, and took a good look around the site to make sure it was suitable. I found one pair of gloves, a single glove, toothpaste in a box, and bits here and there. The site looked well used and not taken care of.
We took a quick break for lunch and I went to set the tent and innards up (Therm-a-rests and sleeping bags). When I was done I went to see how B was making out with our shelter and mesh room.
I glanced over at Banjo and couldn’t believe what I saw. Her face was so swollen that I could hardly see her eyes. My heart sank. I told my husband to look at Banjo’s face. Honestly, I couldn’t even look at her.
We were both terrified as we rationalized the whole situation. I whipped out our first aid kit to see if we had any antihistamines. Nothing. I told B to soak our microfiber towel in the lake and wrap it around her face to see if it would take the swelling down. He sat calmly with her and listened to her breathing. She was breathing fine. Good.
We both asked each other a million questions. What should we do? Did she get stung? What happened to her? Do we wait it out? Do we pack up and leave? What happens if we pack up and leave? Can she portage back out to Cache Lake? Do we stay or leave? What should we do? This went on and on, with no answers from each of us, and both of us getting frustrated.
Finally, I said, “okay, hold on a minute. Let’s make Banjo our number one priority right now.” Okay, my husband said. “What does she need right now?” I asked. She needs help, we both agreed. Now we were getting somewhere and starting to put a plan together. “Okay, so what do we have to do?” I asked again. My husband said that we have to leave to get her help. Okay, so we agreed to start packing up camp. I went back to the tent and packed up the sleeping bags, Therm-a-rests and tent.
During the few minutes it took us to pack up camp, we kept asking each other if we were doing the right thing. Do we really need to leave? We both wanted to stay so bad, but I kept reminding us of our first plan and that was to make Banjo our number one priority. Okay, so we really needed to leave.
We packed everything and everyone up in the canoe and paddled across the lake to the portage into Head Lake. And so began an incredibly long day, not just for Banjo, but for my husband who had to do 2 carries. It took us 4.5 hours to get from Cache Lake to the campsite on Harness Lake and another 4.5 hours getting back. It was a hot day and I made sure we both had lots of water and snacks to keep us going.
We stopped people along the way looking for drugs. But wait, can Banjo take Benadryl? I know dogs can’t take Advil or Tylenol (unless it’s buffered), so now I was hesitant to give her anything until I could speak to a vet on the phone. We paddled by campsites on our way out to see if anyone had a dog and if they did, ask whether they had any antihistamines. There were dogs, but no one had a first aid kit put together for their pet either.
We kept an eye on Banjo. She was in good spirits considering. She was breathing fine, she was walking fine, she ate, she laid in the water while we waited for B to finish the portage, she went #1, she was wagging her tail, and I even caught her trying to get a stick out of the water. She was a real trooper.
By the time we got back to the Cache Lake Access Point it was 6:30pm and B had done 16.06 kilometers of portaging. I took the car and drove along Highway 60 trying to get cellphone reception. Once I had reception I searched the internet for local vets. They were all closed. My heart sank. I just wanted to speak with someone about what I could give her. I called the Huronia Veterinary Emergency Clinic in Barrie because it said they were open 24 hours. I was unable to get advice over the phone about medications because of insurance purposes. I was beside myself. We had just spent 4.5 hours coming out of the backcountry with Banjo, I was pulled off on the side of the road in Algonquin Park, it was now after 7:00pm, and I needed advice! I was mad.
I then called the Huntsville Animal Hospital and reached an answering service. I spoke to a wonderful person who said that I was dealing with an emergency and she would put me through to the vet on call for Bracebridge Animal Hospital. I spoke to Kellie who was amazing! She told me that I could give Banjo 2 Benadryl capsules (based on her size) of 25mg every 8 hours (Benadryl ONLY though with diphenhydramine). I drove back to Cache Lake to pick my husband and Banjo up and drove to Bracebridge where we could get to a pharmacy to get Banjo help.
We saw another moose.
We got back to Bracebridge at 9:00pm and gave Banjo her first dose of Benadryl and dropped her off at home while we went to find some dinner. The only campfire I had over the weekend was a candle lit on our table at dinner.
Could we have stayed on Harness Lake? No. Even though Banjo was breathing fine and in good spirits, she was still in pain. What if she swallowed an insect and it stung her throat. Real problems could have happened. We wouldn’t have even enjoyed ourselves out there anyway because we would have been worried about her.
It took over 48 hours for the swelling to come down.
So, why did this all happen and why weren’t we prepared? Because we figured that since we live only an hour from the west gate of Algonquin Park, and we were just out for the weekend that nothing bad would happen. Also, I bought B a new first aid kit for Christmas and didn’t transfer Banjo’s stuff into that new kit. I had put something together for her last year. We thought the medical first aid kit we brought with us would suffice.
We were unprepared. Not only with the proper first aid items, but also with knowledge about what medications she can take. This is a good example of what you might have to go through if you were faced with an emergency in the backcountry. It could take you 4.5 hours or longer to get back out. The safety of ourselves and our pets is something to take seriously. Banjo has been canoe tripping since we brought her home as a puppy and this has never happened to her, so why would I think it would happen on Harness Lake? Because an emergency can happen at any time.
B and I spent the first part of Sunday making up a new first aid kit. This time equipped with items that Banjo could need, but also other items for us. A lesson learned last weekend at our ORCKA moving water course is why bring items in your first aid kit if you don’t know how to use them. True. A full investigation went into our emergency kit as we took things out and added things in.
My advice to you? Look through your first aid kit and make sure that all the items haven’t expired. See what is in there. Do some research about other items you could add. Does your kit have an antihistamine? Do you have tums or other items to help with digestion? Do you have antibiotic ointment? Is there after burn cream? These are all things to consider and look into. Just because we have a first aid kit, doesn’t mean it is properly equipped for the type of adventures we take. Also, if you’re with other people, are they allergic to medications, do they take medications, do you need to know about their medical history if something went wrong out there?
I have written a separate post on what items we have in our first aid kit and what items we have for Banjo. This whole experience has made us both want to take a wilderness first aid course. Knowledge is power.
We spent a lot of Saturday night and Sunday morning talking about ways to get back in the canoe and out in the wilderness. The ideas were relentless with both of us unable to make a decision. Then, remembering to make Banjo our number one priority, we decided that she should rest in the comfort of home and we would find something else to do for the remainder of the weekend. We went for a drive up to Parry Sound and across Highway 518 to Highway 11.
We explored the Seguin Ghost Town, Sequin falls…
… and saw another moose.
Sunday night we walked down to the beach in Bracebridge, took a dip in the Muskoka River, hung out on the public dock and watched the evening set. It turned out to be a great weekend after all despite our misadventure in Algonquin Park.
And how is Banjo doing? She’s top notch!
Thanks for reading and please feel free to share with any friends who like to have adventures with their pets.