Canadian Park Hound

Outdoor Trips & Tips With The Novice Bushwacker

Algonquin: Western Uplands Trail Loop #1, 3-day solo hike. May 9-11, 2012.

with 19 comments

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Day 1, (Wed):

Each camping trip is a lesson in keeping the load light. The last few backcountry trips have really broken my back. Determined this time to do as little damage to my body as possible, I found myself buying little bits of ultra-lite gear and necessities all along the drive to Algonquin (i.e. – compression bag at Outdoor World in Vaughan, micro-fleece thermal shirt at MEC in Barrie, 50 ft of 1/4′ cord at Algonquin Outfitters just outside of the park). Even though I was ready to go first thing in the morning, the hippies at MEC don’t start work until 10:00 am. This makes for a late start in the park.

I had hiked the Western Uplands trail once before, (Sept. 2011) and planned to hike it clock-wise in 3 days/2 nights. At that time, all of my gear was 3-person, since I bought stuff for my girlfriend and I to use together. Often, her schedule doesn’t allow her to come along, and I don’t want to miss the pre/post bug season. Within 10 steps of my car in the parking lot, I knew that I was in for a painful hike. I don’t think 90 lbs is an exaggeration and I’d be willing to guess that it was close to 100 lbs. The pack was ill-fitted and again, I had brought enough food to last a month. Why I brought two books, I’ll never know. I can’t get through more than a page or two before falling asleep.

I changed the plan immediately. I was no longer going to hike the loop. I decided to find the first campsite I could find, spend two nights and carry the massive load out again. I’ll cover that trip in another blog, but the nutshell version is: I stayed on a great site on Maple Leaf Lake for 2 nights and hiked back out.

For this May 2012 hike, I was already familiar with the trail to and from Maple Leaf Lake. I had read somewhere previously that hiking the loop counter-clockwise had fewer hills and valleys to cover from the Guskewa Lake -> Ramona Lake side. When I reached the West Gate at 1:30 pm, the sky was grey and the rain was steady. I got my permit for 3 nights/4 days with sites booked at Guskewa Lake, Norah Lake & Maggie Lake.

I finally hit the trailhead with my new lighter pack (MEC Ibex 65) wearing my Integral Designs yellow siltarp poncho and made for Guskewa Lake. It took about 1.5 hours to get to Guskewa and I set up camp on the first site.

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Campsite at Guskewa Lake

The Hennessy Hammock is my new shelter of choice. I had taken our 3-person Black Diamond Mesa tent on the last solo journey and it took up a lot of space and weight. I love the Hennessy Hammock. By far, hands down, the *best* sleep I’ve ever had camping. It’s a better sleep for me, ergonomically speaking, than my bed at home. I bought one for Jane, too, and she loves it (we tried them first at a friend’s place in the Oak Ridges Moraine).

You don’t have to worry about level ground, water/moisture, bugs, chipmunks and the comfort factor is ridiculous. It’s a bit of a challenge to get used to positioning yourself in your sleeping bag, but once you’re settled in, it’s all good. I bought the “Super Shelter” insulation (undercover, foam pad) and added a layer with an emergency “space” blanket. For a sleeping bag, I have the 0 degree drake down-filled bag from MEC with a silk liner.

The rain had stopped by the time I reached the site at 4:00 pm and though it called for thunderstorms throughout the night, it didn’t rain for the rest of the trip. It was too wet for a fire and after a dinner of granola bars and irish whiskey, I went down with the sun and slept fitfully until about 6:00 am. I had rigged the tarp a bit too high in order to fit the Hennessy fly underneath thinking that it would add a layer of protection against the wind. It didn’t work very well. The fly that comes with the Hennessy isn’t very substantial and lacks any decent tie-out that can withstand lots of wind. I’ll be upgrading and ordering one of the flys offered directly from the Hennessy website. In the meantime, my 8’x10′ siltarp (Integral Designs), worked just fine, and I went with just that on the 2nd night, forgoing the Hennessy fly altogether. That first night was cold and windy, though. My 0 degree bag and silk liner was just keeping me cool, not warm.

Day 2 (Thurs):

I loafed in the hammock for a couple of hours as the sun started to warm the site up and finally got up around 8:30 am. Within 20 minutes I heard voices from a group of students on some kind of research trip. They stopped at the creek crossing for about 30 minutes, yelling measurements to each other and finally carried on up the trail. Camp is pretty quick and easy to take down with the Hennessy Hammock. Once you get the hang of it and come up with your own system for packing and rigging, it’s a lot of fun. I had a granola bar breakfast and waited for the students to carry on before using the Thunderbox. One thing I noticed about the trail is that many of the Thunderboxes are really close to the main trail. In early Spring, without much foliage… just remember: fellow hikers appear really quickly on the trail and you won’t even hear them coming sometimes.

My destination for the day was the lone site on Norah Lake. I intended to scout as many of the campsites on the other lakes as time and energy would allow.

The trail itself is a great workout and a good mix of pretty scenery with some challenging and technical passages (i.e. – rocky inclines/declines, large boggy patches of shin deep muck that require hopping from rock to rock or a balancing act as you walk across trees and branches left by other hikers.) There were lots of fallen trees that hadn’t been cleared yet and presented some real challenges while carrying a heavy pack (yes, it was lighter, but it’s still too heavy!). Some trees, you could just straddle over, but some required crawling under that would require taking the pack off. I did notice out of the dozen or so people that I encountered throughout, that I was the only one using hiking poles. I can’t imagine hiking without poles and admire those who just hike using nothing but the strength of their legs. Having bad knees, I’m thankful for my poles several times every hour. They act as railings on tricky rocks climbing up or down. They also kept me from getting any soaking wet feet while crossing creeks, brooks or balancing on my way through a washed out trail.

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Ramona Lake has a couple of nice sites on it. I would definitely book a site at this lake on a future trip.

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I stopped for a quick lunch at the first site on Ramona Lake and was back on the trail. The scenery of the trail doesn’t vary much and there aren’t any lookouts. There are a few lakes and a few campsites. I didn’t bother checking out Panther Lake and bailed about halfway into the Eu Lake side trial because it was too wet to pass through for a casual glance.

I had been hiking for the better part of 4 hours and was getting pretty tired and sore, so I made sure to check out the sites at Oak Lake in case I didn’t like what I found on Norah Lake. I wanted to have a Plan B. The sites at Oak Lake weren’t great and they were right at the portage. There was a fair amount of moose scat on the tent pad on the one site and both sites were very close and exposed to the windy lake. I was tired and really hoping that the Norah Lake site wouldn’t be a let down.

The side trail to Norah Lake is a steep one and then you have to walk over a beaver dam to get across the small pond that separates the trail from the lake. There was a fallen tree obstructing the trail entry into the site as well, but once that was overcome, it was worth it. It’s a nice site that has a fire pit up top and a steep incline down to the water. There were two other “unofficial” fire pits that previous campers had set up. One was at a spot closer to the water and one had been built on a big rock that over-looked the lake. It was a pretty obvious spot for someone to build a little fire while watching the sunset. This is where I boiled my dinner (Lipton’s cup-a-soup) over my MSR whisper-lite.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any more pictures from the hike since my iPhone (meaning: my camera) had died and the solar charger that I was testing (the PowerFilm from MEC) totally failed. Ah well. I have memories.

I would highly recommend this site to anyone trying to decide. It’s the only site on the lake and the closest site would be at Oak Lake to the east (20 minutes) and Maggie Lake to the west (1.5 hrs). The view is sweet and there were decent tad pads and hammock options. There was a little bit of unburnt garbage in the fire pit, a broken beer bottle and some broken sunglasses. Moose scat was present at various spots throughout, but not too bad.

After my dinner of soup, whiskey and trail mix, I hung my food bag, watched the sunset and went into my hammock. This time, previously mentioned, I used just the 8’x10′ silnylon tarp, tied it down lower to the ground and had no problems with wind. It was a clear night and I slept like a baby.

Day 3 (Fri):

I woke up around 8:30 am feeling completely refreshed and any of the previous days aches and pains had largely been erased. I had spent the night mulling over my latest packing mistakes and missing my lady. I do love camping and being outside, but those sunsets and sunrises make me want to get home to tell her all about them if I can’t have her there with me. So, I looked at the map and decided to forego a day hanging out on Maggie Lake and just spend the day hiking my way out. I knew that I was in for a long, heavy hike and made a Plan B of staying at Maple Leaf Lake should my body or the weather take a turn for the worse.

As I filtered water at the shore, I got to see something that will last with me forever. Early morning, clear sky not a cloud to be seen. In the east you could see the sun, and in the west you could see the moon. 9:30 am. Gorgeous.

I broke camp and got back on the trail at 10:15 am. I reached Maggie Lake by 11:50 am. Maggie is a big and beautiful lake. I wouldn’t mind staying there at all. I stopped to change and have a handful of gorp and left around 12:25. Shortly after hitting the trail again, I realized that I had gone through the full 2 litres of water already on the hike from Norah. I stopped at the next site and had a bigger lunch of gorp and filtered 3 litres of water (2 in the hydration pack and I filled my 1 litre nalgene). I was on my way to Maple Leaf Lake by 1:25 pm.

The hike from Maggie Lake to Maple Leaf (going the counter-clockwise way) is full of rocky hills and is, thankfully, more downhill than up and it took a little over 2 hours. There are more lakes and creek crossings on this part of the trail. I reached Maple Leaf Lake by 3:15 pm. Along the way, I saw a bag of garbage left at the foot of the sidetrail into Little Hardy Lake and a pair of sweatpants hanging off of a tree a little further down. I didn’t spot any wildlife except for chipmunks.

After Maple Leaf Lake (I didn’t stop), I was familiar with the rest of the trail and enjoyed the differences of the trail from full foliage to almost bare. All things considered, I do enjoy the park the most in full bloom.

I got back to the parking lot at 5:50 pm to find the hood of my car covered in muddy bear prints. My most favorite Algonquin souvenir ever!

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Written by canadianparkhound

May 19, 2012 at 5:58 pm

19 Responses

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  1. This is a great report! Very well written and informative. Thanks for sharing. The bear prints on your truck are over the top amazing! wow. tess

    tess

    May 20, 2012 at 5:06 pm

  2. This looks like a fun trip. I like the tarp set up. Thanks for sharing.
    -Andy

    Andy

    July 16, 2012 at 5:58 pm

  3. Thanks for sharing your trip – it brought back some great memories for me as well. I also planned to cover this entire trail in 3 days this past May, but fell just short. I’m sure I’ll try it again one day though…. My wife and I just did the entire Highland Backpacking trail in Algonquin this past weekend (3 days, 2 nights) – if you haven’t already done it, I’d highly recommend it (try to get a night in at the Faya Lake site if you can).

    Here’s a link to my blog detailing my Western Uplands hike in May if you’re interested…

    http://wu3bt.blogspot.ca

    Cheers!

    Rich

    Rich

    September 24, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    • Is the Faya Lake site suitable for swimming?

      Adriana

      July 18, 2013 at 11:29 am

      • Sorry for the delay in responding. I missed this comment somehow. I didn’t stop at Faya Lake, so I don’t know if it’s suitable.

        canadianparkhound

        February 7, 2014 at 3:45 pm

  4. Question about the Faya Lake site on the highland trail – can you swim from this site?

    Adriana

    June 25, 2013 at 9:42 am

    • I have stayed on this site. It really is an incredible one. You can dive into deep water from smooth rock shoreline BUT you will come out covered in leeches. Thats how it was in 1999 there. May be different now.

      Rob

      June 7, 2014 at 9:18 pm

  5. never concerned about animals (bears) when sleeping in a hammock??

    Andrew

    February 7, 2014 at 12:24 pm

  6. We are considering hiking the trail in May starting from the hwy 60 access. Was the trail super wet in May?
    Thanks,
    Dan

    Dan

    March 25, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    • Hi Dan, it wasn’t too bad, but Spring came very early that year. I was already sleeping outside in the hammock by March 12 of that year.

      Some parts of the trail were washed out and I had to walk around, so I would definitely plan on lots of water this year.

      Which loop are you planning to tackle?

      canadianparkhound

      March 25, 2014 at 5:34 pm

  7. I enjoyed reading this! I just did a solo hike to Maggie Lake East, where I camped one night, then hiked out the next day, via the western side of the loop (hilly and muddy, both ways; 22km round trip…). I was carrying about 35-40lbs (which included 4L of water and 2 days of food plus extra). No issues on the trail but I’m glad I had my food in a bear barrel, as the raccoons tried very hard to get at it.
    I woke up, heart pounding, in the middle of the night, when “some animal” started growling just outside my tent. It wasn’t a bear, but it took me a long while thinking about it to conclude it was raccoons growling and barking, in addition to sounding like rummaging pigs. I didn’t sleep much, with all the raucous, and especially the terror-inducing growling. As a friend of mine said, “The worst enemy of the solo hiker/camper? Paranoia…”

    hbarrette

    July 13, 2014 at 2:36 pm

  8. I enjoyed reading this! I just came back from an overnight solo trip – I hiked to Maggie Lake East, camped overnight, hiked out via the same route (western side of the trail – hilly and muddy… 22km round trip). I was carrying about 40lbs, which included 2 days of food (plus extra in case) stored in a small bear barrel, a one-person tent, and 4L of water (which I trusted more than having to treat lake water, doable since it was only a 2-day trip), a small stove and ways to treat water if I needed to.
    I had a late start so arrived at the site around 7:30pm, set up camp and made dinner, then put the bear barrel about a 100 yards away, and went to sleep around 10pm.
    I was awakened at midnight, heart pounding, by “some animal” growling just outside my tent… It wasn’t a bear, but I didn’t really want to see what it was… There were definitely lots of raccoons rummaging around – they sound like pigs – as well as squirrels scampering up trees while “chirping” madly. The growling occurred a few more times during the night, occasionally accompanied by a weird barking sound… The next morning, I could tell my bear barrel had been attacked. After some thought (and YouTube research) I’ve concluded the growling and barking were made by (an) angry raccoon(s)… However, in the middle of the night, I was thinking it was something bigger and more sinister than a raccoon…! As a friend of mine said, “The worst enemy of the solo hiker/camper? Paranoia…”

    hbarrette

    July 13, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    • Thanks for the comment! I’ve heard chipmunks outside of my hammock that sounded terrifying in the moment!

      canadianparkhound

      July 14, 2014 at 12:15 pm

  9. Hi there! Great post! We’re looking to do this hike around Canada Day this year, have you been on the trail in June/July? It will be our first time on this trail, and we’re looking to do it in 3 days/2 nights if possible–I was wondering if you think it would be feasible to hike all the way in and camp at Ramona for the first night, provided we got an early start, and reach Maggie East (or West?) for the second night? I can’t seem to find a map with distances marked on it.
    The other issue is our dog, she’s great on the trail but it sounds like there is a lot of wildlife, do you think it’d be wise to bring her/do you know anyone who has brought a dog in the past?
    Thanks!

    Chenoa

    April 2, 2015 at 12:39 pm

    • Hi! Thanks for the comment!

      Yes, it is possible to do it in 3 days/2 nights. That’s how long it took me to do the loop, and I did it in that direction. And, yes, it’s totally possible to reach Ramona on the first night and Maggie on the second. The map that you get from the park (or at MEC), will have the distances, though, they won’t tell you about things like flooding and blow-down obviously. You could probably reach Ramona in a few hours. There are some nice sites there, I recommend it. Maggie is really nice, too. That said, the site that I stayed on at Nora Lake is the only one there, so it’s very private. I liked it.

      As for a dog, I’d say that only you would know whether or not your dog is up for it. Personally, I’m a dog person, but I couldn’t really trust mine (she was a Border Collie/Shepard mix… too much of a herder and too independent to take out into the bush). I have seen people with dogs out there though, and I think it really depends on the individual dog/breed/temperament. I think that there are pros and cons that you’ll have to weigh, but if your dog loves the great outdoors, challenging hikes and staying close by your side, you could have a great time. Yes, there are bears, and that can be a concern, but there are other critters to think about too (skunks, foxes, racoons), so… it’s really hard to say. But, I have (almost always, be it canoeing or hiking), seen other campers with dogs in the backcountry with no issues.

      As for the time of year, I’ve never been in June/July. I tend to stick to Spring and Fall because of the mosquitoes and black flies. They can be intense up there in the middle of the summer.

      I hope you have a great trip. Drop a line when and tell us how it went!

      All the best!

      canadianparkhound

      April 3, 2015 at 4:49 pm

  10. I appreciate the feedback from your trip. I am considering Norah lake. Though I have to be honest. From reading this, I became slightly perturbed. It seems (emphasis) as if you plan your hikes with little consideration for others.(It is possible you had booked a plan B, I suppose.) A casual “Plan B” at some lake could leave a tired hiker or hiker(s) after a long day on the trail finding that they don’t have a site available where they expected to. Perhaps I am unaware of a special type of permit that allows such flexibility. I am not jumping to any conclusions, and I am quite open to hearing your response.

    Ray

    June 1, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    • Hi Ray,

      Thanks for the comment. First of all, you should definitely spend a night on Norah Lake. It was a great site when I visited a couple of years ago. If you go, please come back and tell us how it went.

      As for having a “Plan B”, I’m glad that you raise the topic. I could write an entire blog post on the subject, and I imagine that I probably will now that you’ve brought it up. In the meantime, I’ll give you my thoughts in a nutshell.

      It’s worth pointing out that, on this particular trip, I didn’t actually exercise my “Plan B”, I stuck to the plan that I gave at the Permit Office. If anything, I came out a day earlier, leaving a site free. That said, there have been trips where I’ve deviated from “Plan A”. In fact, my next blog post about my most recent trip, will explain this in detail. We stayed for two nights on a lake that we hadn’t booked. I have no problem with taking a camp site on a lake that I haven’t booked. While canoe camping, I’ve utilized a “Plan B” due to wind every time. As a hiker, I’ve only diverted once and that was because I had a pack that was too heavy (I stayed at the first site I found and walked back out the next day). To put it another way, I’ve only gone with “Plan B” when it was a matter of safety or injury. I can also justify camping at an alternate site if all other options were truly inadequate. And, in my experience out there, you do come across some sites that are not well-maintained, or inhabited by wildlife. It’s about having the ability to adapt to the situation, rather than sticking to the letter of the permit. Also worth mentioning – it has *never* been a problem for me to change my plans like this. With only one exception, in all of my backwoods experience (which is not to say that I have a ton of experience, I’ve been out a fair bit, but there are people out there who are truly avid, regular trippers. I’m lucky if I get out once a year), I have never once had a problem with taking a site. I never go during peak periods anyhow. I avoid sharing the park when it’s busy. I’ve rarely had more than one other party around me. Usually, I’m lucky enough to be on the lake alone. I plan it that way. I’ve never had anyone approach who I’ve put out.

      In fact, during one of my Killarney trips (a park where you really need to honour your permitted route because the sites are limited and the park is often busy), I let the next campers start setting up while we were leaving the site (the lake that we were booked to stay on).

      I do think that it’s important to honour the party had the permit in the first place, should the occasion ever rise though. I would always accommodate a fellow camper who needed to share a site for reasons of safety or exhaustion.

      Thanks again for the thoughts. I’ll expand on this in the next post.

      Cheers.

      canadianparkhound

      June 1, 2015 at 9:41 pm

      • Thanks for your detailed and well thought out response, and I appreciate that you acknowledge this to be an issue. My first experiences in the backcountry were in the rocky mountains, which utilizes a system to ensure that campers can expect to have a site available. I look forward to your next post, that will examine the matter at depth.

        Cheers,

        Ray

        Raymond

        June 10, 2015 at 1:07 pm


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