Georgian Bay - down the Key River to the Bustards and Fox Islands
August 3rd to 10th, 2012
The Bustard Rocks and Island Lighthouse.
Georgian BaySwirls in Rock. That's an 18 foot long kayak, BTW. Georgian Bay shoreline - landing can be interesting! Georgian Bay is a wonderful sea kayaking destination of magnificient proportions. North-south glacial action over predominatly metamorphic and sedimentry rock of the Canadian Shield has created thousands of shoals, fingers, islands and inlets. Beautifully shaped, carved and folded pink and red ortho-gneiss mingled with pink and grey para-gneiss makes for hours of fascinating viewing.
Typical Georgian Bay shoreline
A glacial erratic of iron bearing limestone over a meter (40 inches) in diameter
Erratics and smaller rocks deposited by receeding glaciers round out the mix. Although technically part of Lake Huron, Georigan Bay is often considered the sixth Great Lake as it is large enough to create its own weather, waves and currents. With such dramatic landscapes, great photography in the morning, evening and stormy weather warrants taking good equipment. Just sitting on a rock watching the morning sunrise with a cup of coffee or enjoying the evening sunset with a single-malt makes the entire trip so worthwhile.
Friday, August 3thWe spent seven hours driving on Thursday (complete with obligatory coffee breaks), then paid over $30.00 to set up our tents in what can only be described as an old RV trailer junkyard. So the next morning we were very glad to drive into Camp Doré on the Key River. There we were met by Jim, a very helpful and friendly guy who, for a nominal fee, let me park my truck there for the next 8 days in safe surroundings and graciously allowed us to launch from his dock.
Heading out on the Key River 8:15 and hoping for good weather.
Doug in open water heading for Dead Island.
Off and paddling by 8:15 even though it was a little challenging and time-consuming to get everything packed. I sure hope packing gets faster and easier by day 8! The day started overcast but soon turned hot and cloudless. 15km later, we arrived at Key Harbor and then paddled in open water until our first camp.
First light at campsite 913.
Looking north of C913 towards C914 and C915.
Our first camp, C913, is almost due west of the Key River and just north of Dead Island. C913 is a lovely site and, perhaps, the best in the area.
A fox visited us early in the evening, prompting us to put all of our food back into the kayak holds. We were also fortunate to see eagles overhead on several occasions.
None of the 3 campsites in this area are signed but just looking for a decent place to land, usually in a small bay, is a good marker. As well, Geogian Bay "tent-peg" rings will confirm a camping site. As the entire area is mostly solid glacial rock, there is no way to use tent pegs so wrapping string around a rock is the only way to keep a tent in place. So rock rings means tents, therefore campsites. C914's exact location is problematic and, due to low water, C915 would have meant dragging the kayaks to access.
Saturday, August 4thRed sky in the morning, sailors take warning. The incoming storm at Campsite 735 Off to the Bustards. We finally found campsite 735 after spending some time searching various bays. It's a great site. The best landing is on the north side which was also a good place for a swim. As it was about 35°C in the sun, it didn't take us long to have that swim. After setting up the tents, we spent the rest of the day in the shade - thankful that we weren't out paddling on the water. Everything cooled off at night as we had lots of wind and rain.
Sunday, August 5thDoug heading to the Bustard Rocks and Lighthouse. The Bustard Rock Lighthouse The day dawned overcast and windy but we wanted to get to the Bustard Island Lighthouses, nonetheless. Rather than go around the south part of the islands where the winds had created some good-sized chop and would, potentially, push us into rocks, we decided on the northern route as it would be sheltered for most of the way before open water. It was a good move. As soon as we left the Gun Barrel Channel, the wind and chop dropped our speed down about 3kph with the chop keeping us very alert. We finally arrived, got ashore nearby, had a break and finally headed back the way we came rather than face the southern route. It was still quite the ride back through the Gun Barrel with a following sea and some large waves kicking us sideways. On the other hand, the wind pushed our speed up to 8kph, sometimes as high as 11kph.
Monday, August 6thDoug in quiet water before heading out on the southerly circumnavigation. The southerly route. Lots of waves and rocks. We woke up to a lovely morning, albeit with a good southerly wind. Doug thought that circumnavigating Tanvat Island, looking for the three other registered campsites in the Bustards, would be a nice paddle. The southern unprotected leg proved to be a fun challenge reminiscent of a roller-coaster with lots of spray from waves crashing on rocks and us trying to avoid those same rocks. Short but fun. Truthfully, I was quite glad that it was short. It was a good day for local fauna as we spotted several eagles and Doug even spotted a mink looking for crustacians in quieter waters. The other campsites were very small as they had room for either one or two tents at the most.
Tuesday, August 7thAfter the storm at Campsite 918. The rainbow after the storm. Today we decided to pack up and head over to the Fox Islands to look around and find other campsites. The weather wasn't all that nice - overcast with wind and chop - no surprise there! It was fun once we arrived at the Fox Islands as finding a route into calmer water and away from crashing waves was a tad challenging. Campsite 916 was not to be found, so we headed back into the main channel with its gusting wind and big rollers. Again, following seas proved a challenge with the odd large wave pushing our kayaks sideways in time for another to hit us broadside. One caught Doug off-guard and over he went. Thank goodness for our emergency recovery training. In only a few minutes Doug was back in his 'yak and we were heading for calmer water to regroup. After that, it was up an inner channel to Campsite 929 (small, not overly impressive) then back down to Campsite 917 (okay but landing could be an issue). We finally went over to Major Island and Campsite 918. This site has a quiet bay and room for perhaps 3 tents. There was a fair amount of motor boat/SeaDo traffic during the day which was disconcerting although things quieted down close to sunset. And what a sunset! It appeared as if we would be hit by an incoming storm but all we got was dark clouds and wind for a short while followed by an amazing rainbow.
Wednesday, August 8thSome mornings start wonderfully. Some mornings could use a fog horn and light house. Moved camp again. This time we wanted to head west to the French River and stay at Campsite 719 on Depot Island. 719 is relatively nice with room for 4 - 5 tents. After setting up camp, we headed a bit further west again to find three more campsites. C720 is a good site. C721 is really small and situated on a small island with almost no shade or wind protection. C722 is monsterous with room for 10 - 15 tents near the camp area with another acre of flat but open rock nearby. The landing is about a 100 meters south of the actual camp.
Thursday, August 9thWith deep water and steep shoreline, landing can be an issue. Even on the better landings, some gelcoat was always left behind. Time to start heading back. The weather took a turn for the worse - again - as usual - so just to play it safe, we decided to make the return to Highway 69 in two days rather than one long problematic one. Therefore it was back to Campsite 913 which will put us within 25k of the truck. Today was a tough slog - open water, winds gusting to 22kph and beam(side) waves. Our experience with white-water canoeing came in handy for wave reading and balance.
Ted and Doug enjoying the good weather.
Blackberries. I ate the black ones.
We arrived at 913 fairly early so I went for a hike to try to find Campsite 914. No official sign but several places had fairly decent bays for landing and some nearby flat areas had rock "tent-peg" rings so more than just the official site is being used. Many areas were covered with low-lying juniper brush which is a good place for both mice and the elusive Massassaga rattle snake. As the wind was too strong to hear any potential rattler warning and as I had only low cut approach shoes on, I decided to turn back before reaching Campsite 915. The reward for the hike was a small find of highbush blackberries which I readily ate and thoroughly enjoyed as can be seen by the lack of mature berries in the photo.
Friday, August 10thThe calm in sheltered water before heading out into big water. Finally arriving in Key Harbour and quieter water once upriver. More open water, more quartering waves and the wind in our faces again. Such fun - or not! Another slog but we got some relief after we started up the mostly sheltered Key River. Our original plan was to camp overnight at Campsite 931, the only Key River campsite, which is only 5km from the truck. C931 is an acceptable site except that there is quite a bit of motor boat traffic during the day. We also noted that a couple of inconsiderate persons had used exposed rock near the water-line as a toilet. We decided to carry on to Camp Doré, load up and head home. I'd still use it for a last camp that would allow for an early morning drive home, but would make sure that I had sufficient water before entering the Key River.