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Algonquin Park: Track & Tower Trail/ Whiskey Rapids (Sept. 26th & 27th, 2016)

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Well, what a difference a year makes. No blog entries from me, no trips, no hikes (until this one, of course), BUT! – we did have a baby, so… y’all can understand why we had to take a bit of a breather. Now, baby is almost a year old, so we got him out on the trail as soon as we could and… he loves it! I mean… this kid L.O.V.E.S. being outdoors. Thank the Big Spirit in the sky for that.

And, before I dig into this short excursion, I’d just like to thank all y’all who’ve been checking this blog out while I’ve been away. The numbers don’t lie and it’s clear that there are a lot of you out there who are interested in these trails and parks, so keep checking back to see what new parks and routes get added.

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Whiskey Rapids Trail, Algonquin Park 2016

 

Not only has life been busy with the recent addition of our little boy, work has kept me going 6 days/week since the winter. Suffice it to say, I’ve been lucky to get a 30 minute walk in once every week or two, let alone a full day of hiking in one of our beloved provincial parks. So, when a rare two-day weekend presented itself, I immediately pitched the idea of a hiking getaway that was received very well and signed off on by the Mama Bear of our clan.

Usually, I’m all about the backcountry and tent/hammock camping but, for many reasons (i.e. – schedule, time of year, child under 1), we opted for the more civilized way of doing things and we got a hotel room in Huntsville and just popped in and out of the park over two days.

It was the beginning of the second peak season in Algonquin because of the fall colours, so we were lucky to get a room at all, and the park was quite busy.

We arrived early on Monday, got to check into our room early as well, and got into the park around noon. It was raining. Rain doesn’t stop us, though. I love hiking and camping in the rain. Well… let me clarify – I like hiking in a light rain and I hate setting up or breaking camp in a downpour but, I do love being in the woods in the rain. There is something about experiencing nature in all of her moods.

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Our little hiker enjoying his rain gear.

This is my 6th or 7th trip into Algonquin and, to date, I’ve only experienced the “Hwy. 60 Corridor”. I’ve only entered by the West Gate, never made it as far as the East Gate and all of my entry points have been either at the Western Uplands, Highlands Trail or the Canoe/Smoke Lake access point. In a word, my experience of Algonquin over the last 6 years can be described as: limited. Each time I come here, I only have enough time for the trip that I’ve planned and I always see the signs for Whisky Rapids, Track & Tower, Mizzy Lake etc. This time, I resolved to hike at least two more of the Hwy. 60 trails.

Whiskey Rapids is located 7.2 km into the park coming from the West Gate. It’s a 2.1 km loop that follows the Oxtongue River for about half of its length. It’s a quick hike, less than an hour.

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Viewing the Oxtongue River on the Whiskey Rapids Trail

The Whiskey Rapids gets its name from an incident that occurred (according to the trail guide), at the turn of the 19th century. A few log drivers had chipped in to buy a barrel of whiskey and have it sent to the Canoe Lake railroad station. Upon shipping it home, via the Oxtongue River, the two who had picked it up (and inevitably sampled it before getting it to camp), tried to shoot the rapids and failed. Good thing they tasted it beforehand, because that’s all they would ever get to enjoy from that barrel…

This is a great trail for those who are looking for shorter hikes that aren’t too challenging. Now – a word about the “difficulty rating” of the trails in Algonquin: they are very subjective. In my opinion, every single trail that I’ve been on, so far, has had sections that could be considered “strenuous” or “difficult”, depending on your own personal situation. Me? I have knees that need to be considered and neck/shoulders that constantly require attention in the form of yoga and/or stretches. I always, always hike with poles.

If you’re in your senior years, you should consider every trail to be strenuous inasmuch as there will always be roots and rocks under foot and sharp inclines/declines at any given time. The fact is: if you want to get to a view or a “lookout”, you’re going to have to climb UP. And then, once you’re done, you have to climb back DOWN. It’s the DOWNward climb that I find hardest on the knees.

If you take away one thing from reading any of my blog posts, take this piece of advice: HIKE WITH POLES.

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An average, well maintained trail. Full of roots and rocks. Slippery when wet.                     HIKE WITH POLES!!

If you have bad knees or a bad back, please don’t let this scare you off from hiking. Just be prepared. Even for a short hike like this, use poles, bring water and a good loud whistle. There are sections of just about every trail that will leave you a bit winded.

Of course, there will be plenty of youthful, vivacious, avid hikers out there who scoff at the idea of using poles or the description of these trails as “challenging”, but… who cares what anyone else thinks, eh? Just getting your butt out there is all that matters.

In the final minutes of our hike, the rain started to come down hard. We got to the truck, dried off, and hit the road to enjoy a bit of a drive along the Hwy. 60 corridor. We checked out a few of the campgrounds, to see what the sites were like. Tea Lake campsite is small and had a number of good sites (although, it was closed for the season). We also checked out Mew Lake for the first time and it’s open year-round. A great place for RV’ers.

We headed back into Huntsville for dinner and a quiet night in at the Best Western. It feels a bit weird to give a hotel review on this blog, but: it was nice and I’d stay there again if I had to. The breakfast was decent. No complaints (except for the peak season price of $200/night). The rooms were modern and well kept.

 

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Looking at Cache Lake on the Track & Tower Trail.

The next day brought us better weather. Cool and crisp, but sunny and no rain whatsoever. We packed a lunch of summer sausage and cheese, a few granola bars and 2L of water. The Track & Tower Trail has been on my list for a while, so I was chuffed to get the chance to check that one off (apologies for the alliteration…). The parking lot at the trail head was pretty busy, but once we got on the trail, we only came across 6-8 other hiking parties over the course of the day.

The Track & Tower Trail is 7.5 km, round trip and is well worth the effort. There are many rewarding sights along the way, with the lookout at Post #7 providing an absolute stunning view of the park. The lookout is about 4-ish km in from the trailhead. Truly, one of the best hikes that the park has to offer.

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The lookout at Post #7 on the Track & Tower Trail.

One thing that always strikes me when I’m hiking is the *effort* that gets put into making and maintaining them. When I see a boardwalk several kms into a hike I can’t help but think of the folks who had to shoulder all of the tools and materials there to build it all.

The stairs leading up to the lookout on the Track & Tower Trail are impressive for this very reason. Maybe there’s an entry point that a vehicle can access that gets them closer than the trailhead but, still… that’s a lot of wood and nails to carry. Not to mention the saw…

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The stairs leading up to the lookout on the Track & Tower Trail.

Shortly after leaving the lookout, you’ll walk over the old railway track at Post #9 and be standing on a completely man-made hill, though, you’d barely be able to tell that it isn’t just a natural part of the landscape. It’s truly amazing how the area has healed itself in the last 100 years since all of the logging action. A testament to nature’s ability to recover from the damage that humans inflict on her.

After the railway bridge, you’ll hook up for a short while with the bike trail and then continue on, back into the woods for the final stretch of the Track & Tower Trail that takes you back to the trailhead/parking lot. It’s a good 2.5 kms, and you’ll pass by Grant Lake on your way.

Along this stretch, you’ll pass by a large rock face covered in moss. Our boy loved getting up close and feeling moss for the first time.

All in, with a bit of a break at the lookout and one by the river by the bridge, this hike took about 3 – 3.5 hours. It was a beautiful day and we took our time.

The time estimates given by the park maps seem overly generous. Maybe this is to account for very slow walkers and err on the side of safety.

Thanks again for checking in with Canadian Park Hound! Please check us out on Facebook fb.me/canadianparkhound and give us a “Like”. There are some big changes here that will be announced very soon and Facebook is the only place that I can post the panoramic shots that I take along the way.

Bye, for now! Happy Trails!

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Written by canadianparkhound

November 3, 2016 at 8:25 am

Canoe Lake to Tom Thomson Lake, May 2015

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Yes… it has been awhile, hasn’t it? Ah, life. It gets in the way of camping. Finding the time to get into the backcountry is a real challenge. Luckily, I made sure to *make time* last month and I got back in the proverbial saddle and hauled ass into the bush once again. This time, I made the pilgrimage. I mean *THE* pilgrimage. That’s right… Canoe Lake. Granted, Canoe Lake is probably the most traveled lake in all of Algonquin, and the chances are good that most readers have kicked off here more than once. Anyway, it’s an iconic place. Here’s my take on it…

Day 1:

After a week of cooking and dehydrating food, packing and re-packing, we got in the car at 5:00 am and headed north. We made great time and were booking our permit at the Canoe Lake access by about 9:30. And, for the first time ever, stopped for breakfast at the restaurant above The Portage Store. Why not? The scenery is great and it was going to be the last feed of fried eggs for a few days.

This really was a trip of a few firsts. Without getting too expository here… this was my first time on Canoe Lake and it was my partner’s first canoe trip in her adult life (she had been on a 5-day trip to the park way back in highschool)… and she’s expecting our first child this fall! Our first family canoe trip, as it were. As such, I planned a route that wasn’t going to be too demanding, and one that would enable us to get out quickly if necessary. After all, we were carrying precious cargo.

So, our permit had us staying on Tom Thomson Lake the first night, Sunbeam Lake on the second and Burnt Island Lake for the third and fourth nights. We’d paddle out the loop through the Joe Lakes and back through to Canoe Lake. Well, that was the plan anyway… but I digress.

We finished breakfast, went downstairs to rent the canoe (16′ ultralight Kevlar – spend the extra few bucks… your back will thank you), loaded up, parked the car and kicked off. Ah, wilderness!

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Full disclosure – I’m a full on Tom Thomson nerd. The mystery, yes. The mystery of his death intrigues me, but I’m even more fascinated by the man himself. I couldn’t help but imagine Thomson as I paddled into Canoe Lake. It’s what I went for, and I was immersed in my imagination right away. Heavy canoes and packs… art supplies, food, dishes, fishing gear, canvas tents… respect, man… Respect! I try to go as ultralight as possible. How they traveled back then just makes me wince at the thought.

We kept to the east end of the lake as there was some chop to the water and this was my partner’s first time in a canoe in decades. We passed by sweet cottages and one even had a woman painting the landscape on a canvas and easel set up on her dock. We passed her silently, so as not to disturb her.  A beautiful sight. The wind was strong enough to make us take the long way around to the entrance into the Joe Lake portage, but that was fine by me. I suggested that we take in the Tom Thomson cairn if possible. However… we couldn’t find it. I couldn’t figure it out. I double and triple checked the map, but we couldn’t see it. Ah, well. On the way back, I promised myself.

Admiring the cottages all along the way, we found the sign directing us to Joe Lake and made it easily to the sandy approach of the portage. It’s an easy 360m. Didn’t even change out of the canoe shoes into the hikers. It’s flat and, with the exception of a slightly mucky spot, there aren’t any roots or rocks or uphill sections. It’s a breeze.

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Within half an hour, we were ready to go on the other side of the portage and kicking off into Joe Lake.

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Along the way, there are some really impressive cottages to get jealous of and daydream over. Keeping to the left of the lake, we paddled by Camp Arowhon, through Teepee Lake, Fawn Lake, Little Doe and found the left turn into Tom Thomson Lake. A mostly completed beaver dam prevented us from paddling straight through, so we had to get out and drag the canoe over in order to continue into Tom Thomson.

Tom Thomson Lake

According to the “Names of Algonquin” book issued by The Friends of Algonquin:

Named (1958) in honour of Tom Thomson (1877-1917), pioneer artist of Algonquin Park, who drowned in Canoe Lake in July 1917. A move to have a lake in Algonquin Park named after Thomson was started by the Canadian Federation of Artists in 1946. The proposal was strongly supported by the late Mark Robinson, at that time retired Park Ranger and Acting Superintendent. It was Robinson who proposed that this lake, formerly known as “Black Bear Lake,” would be appropriate to carry the name. Thomson travelled and painted over much of the area surrounding Canoe Lake and there is no reason to believe that Tom Thomson Lake was in any way special to him.

Once we hit Tom Thomson Lake proper, we were facing some strong winds. We forgot about checking any of the sites along the south and western parts of the lake and seeing as the first three were taken already (some good sites there, by the way), we inspected the fourth one (on the north side of the creek that heads into Bartlett Lake). It was a decent site, but we could hear the guests across the way, who were high school kids with a teacher. We weren’t crazy about the idea of having to listen to them all day and night, and the wind was pretty strong blowing right through the camp. Out of curiosity, we continued onto Bartlett Lake to see what our options were.

Bartlett Lake is a small lake with 4 campsites, at the end of which begins a series of portages. Completely sheltered from the wind, we decided to set up camp here instead of on Tom Thomson Lake. We chose the 3rd site on the south east side of the lake.

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After setting up camp, I got straight to preparing dinner:

Thai Noodles with Peanut Sauce

All measurements are just ballparked here. I can’t find the original recipe and I tend to modify as I go anyway. Measure to suit your own taste.

1 cup egg noodles

1/4 cup mixed dehydrated veg (i.e. – corn, peas)

1 teaspoon garlic salt or powder

1 teaspoon ginger

1/8th teaspoon chili flakes

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons peanut butter

Combine all ingredients in a pot with about 1 1/2 cups of water. Soak for 15 – 20 minutes then add medium heat. Allow for rehydration, adding water if necessary. If it’s too watery, just keep on the heat and allow it to reduce a bit.

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It’s amazing how great food tastes in the bush. Even a package of Lipton’s Cup-A-Soup will lift your spirits, but if you put even a small amount of effort into creating your own backcountry menu, you’ll be over the moon with the return on investment. One of the great joys in (my) life is eating real food out in the middle of nowhere. The thai noodles were spectacular.

Sun began to set, we cleaned up and hung our “bear bag”. The mosquitoes and just arrived days before we did, so we dove into the tent pretty much right away. As we settled in, my partner remarked at how surprised she was with the workout that her arms received that day. At this point I said, “You know… being pregnant and all… you’re in charge of this trip. If you want to head back at any point, just say the word. I won’t be disappointed. Safety first.” Our surroundings were beautiful and the workout wasn’t so hard on her that she couldn’t continue, but the bugs were… a challenge. We decided to sleep on it and see what the next day would bring.

At about 2:30 – 3:00 am, I woke up to Nicole sitting upright trying to kill a rogue mosquito. “Are you OK?”, I asked. “This f***ing mosquito won’t DIE! I have to pee. My back’s sore. The baby’s doing a gymnastic routine. I am NOT A HAPPY CAMPER.”, was her reply. I couldn’t help myself, but I laughed so hard at hearing the “not a happy camper” line used in the correct setting. I’d never heard the phrase used while actually camping. It works well in its intended setting. I said, “well, go pee… we’ll wait until sunlight to make any decisions.”

Day 2:

When morning finally came, she had slept the worst of it off and I made chocolate chip pancakes to take the edge off.

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Nicole felt much better and we talked about what to do with our day. Our planned route had us portaging through to Sunbeam Lake and spending the night there. Environment Canada was forecasting a thunderstorm that afternoon, so we opted to stay put and just rest. We ate and paddled and napped. We didn’t see a single canoe come through to access the portage.

At this point I want to address a comment that I received on an earlier blog post about straying from the itinerary that we gave at the Permit Office. A reader expressed some concern about the perception of disrespect to fellow campers by veering from “the plan” and possibly depriving others of a site.

If, and I have to emphasize *if*, we were ever in a situation that had us taking up the last available site on a lake that we weren’t booked on and another group came along needing the site and held a permit for it, we would most definitely concede and offer it up (weather and safety permitting, of course). If it were an unsafe situation to leave, we would make room and offer all the hospitality that we could. That said, I have never, ever, found myself in a situation like this. Especially in Algonquin Park, whenever I amend my original plan, I’ve always been the only person on the lake with extra campsites aplenty.

That night, we ate pasta with ratatouille and tomato sauce. Sorry, no pictures. Again, we hit the sack agreeing to decide on the next day when we woke up. For this trip, we bought two new Thermarest sleeping pads. Nice, thick red ones that velcro together and provide amazing comfort while sleeping on the ground. I usually prefer to sleep in a hammock, but these pads are great for tent sleeping. They’re bulky and heavy, but easy enough for a canoe trip.

Day 3:

Upon waking, Nicole knew that she wanted to leave the backwoods despite having a better sleep the night before. There were some clouds and again, Environment Canada was calling for that elusive thunderstorm to hit. Portaging in the rain would have been too much, and ensconcing ourselves deeper into the bush wasn’t appealing to my mosquito-weary partner.

We packed up camp and pushed off back into Tom Thomson Lake, retracing our steps back through to Canoe Lake. Determined to find the cairn to Thomson, it was much easier to spot coming from the other direction. In fact, I had to laugh at my ability to miss it the first time through. It’s really quite well marked and obvious.

We came down the other side of Canoe Lake on the way back to the Portage Store, passing Camp Wapomeo and the old site of the village of Mowat. I daydreamed of the places that Tom Thomson would have graced back in the day.

Sure, we didn’t get through our planned itinerary, but it was our first “family” canoe trip. Mom’s safety and happiness was the most important thing for me and we’re really looking forward to heading back as a trio. Even though we cut the backwoods camping short, we did stick around for another day driving through the park and getting a motel just outside of Dwight that evening. The following day, we visited antique stores and saw a few more sights. The locals that we encountered were all complaining about how fierce the bugs were this year. So… that helped ease the pain of the welts we were sporting…

In my estimation, it was a great trip. I got a few days in the backwoods with my partner, and I finally got my Tom Thomson pilgrimage.

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Written by canadianparkhound

July 25, 2015 at 12:10 pm

Aren’t you afraid of bears when you sleep in a hammock?

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This post was inspired by a comment that I received today. Andrew asked, “never concerned about animals (bears) when sleeping in a hammock??”. 10 times out of 10, whenever I mention that I sleep in a hammock I get asked this question, so fair enough. Here’s my perspective on the question.

Yes, I concern myself with animal encounters. No, I’m not worried about them.

I came to find out about hammock camping after researching solo tents. Previously I only had a 3-man tent and I quickly discovered just how heavy it was for solo tripping. I checked out the Hennessy Hammock, read the reviews, testimonials, watched a bunch of clips on YouTube and decided to take the plunge. The sales guy at MEC did make a crack about being a “bear sausage”, but that didn’t deter me. My first hammock was the Hennessy “Ultralite”. I’ve since added the “Expedition” model to my gear.

I actually feel safer in my hammock than I do in a tent. When it comes right down to it, you’re wrapped in nylon and you find yourself in the extremely rare situation to have a predaceous bear clamped down on your ass… it won’t matter which shelter you’re in.

That said, I’m not worried, but I do concern myself with the idea and take precautions.

  1. I keep my site fastidiously clean and I hang my food in a well sealed bag as far away from my sleeping area as possible.
  2. I never eat in my tent. Ever.
  3. I carry bear spray.

The great thing about the Hennessy Hammock (and why I feel safer in it than a tent), is that the upper half of the hammock is “no see-um” mesh and you can see outside (even with the fly up) much easier than if you’re in a tent. You have a wider range of vision and therefore, more reaction time if you do in fact get an unwanted visitor to your site. There is a ridge line inside the hammock that you can clip handy items to (ie. – bear spray, hunting knife, air horn etc.).

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I have yet to see a bear.

Famous last words, perhaps. My feeling is that, if it should come to pass that I meet my end by bear attack or by a mauling from a bull moose during the rut (or a deranged wolf that hasn’t eaten in months)… at least they’ll have a helluva story to tell at my funeral. I’m not sure that cancer or a car crash would be a more desirable way, even though those situations are more likely (statistically speaking).
I visit the backwoods knowing that I’m not on the menu and that I need to give the true inhabitants of the woods a great deal of respect and a wide berth. I haven’t seen a bear during my travels yet, but I’d like to… from a safe distance, of course.

During my last trip (blog post to come), we did see clear evidence of a bear visit on the island that our site was on. I’m sure it took one whiff of us and gave us the wide berth.

They’re out there though. No doubt about it. When I came back from a solo trip a few years ago, this is what my car looked like…

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Written by canadianparkhound

February 7, 2014 at 4:31 pm

Poll question: Killarney or Algonquin?

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Written by canadianparkhound

December 26, 2012 at 11:45 am

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

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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!

Image

Written by canadianparkhound

May 19, 2012 at 5:58 pm

Algonquin: Ragged Lake, 3 days/2 nights, May 18th – 21st 2011

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Wednesday May 18th, 2010

In the seven months since our last visit to Algonquin, we’ve been planning the canoe trip that was to have happened in the fall. After getting our asses kicked on the Highland Backpacking Trail, we had a real appreciation for how big and challenging the park could be. We decided to go for an easy, straight-forward canoe trip with very little portaging and we wanted to hang out at one campsite for our entire stay.

We spent months looking at the map and planning various routes. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine to read trip reports by fellow paddling enthusiasts and get ideas from them about routes, food, techniques etc. Unfortunately, our schedules only allowed for Jill and I to be able to get away over the May 24th long weekend. Everything that I had read screamed “stay away!” at this time of year, but if we didn’t take this opportunity, we’d be out of luck until the late fall. So, we planned ahead, and decided to brave the tourists, black flies and rain.

After our last trip, I wanted to invest in some better gear and spent the weeks leading up to the trip acquiring some new necessities (Black Diamond Vista tent, compression bags, dry bags, stuff sacks, map cover… it really adds up!). On the way up to the park, we stopped at the new MEC in Barrie where I convinced Jill to ditch her Coleman sleeping bag and go with the Drake 0 degree down-filled bag (I was the one who was going to be carrying it on the portage after all).

We arrived at the park late on Wednesday (6:45 pm) and decided to just check out the Smoke Lake and Canoe Lake access points and chat with the girls at the permit office to make sure that we were OK to camp without reservations. The park was pretty quiet and they assured us that we’d have no problem getting out early and getting a site before the weekend rush.

We debated car camping for the night, but the weather was pretty terrible. We found a great roadside motel in Dwight called the Dwight Village Motel (which we highly recommend!), went for beer and wings at the Cookhouse Saloon (also recommended) before living on trail mix and couscous for the next few days.

Thursday May 19th

I woke up at 7:00 am to light, but steady, rain. We waited out the rain until 11:00 am and went to get our permit and rent the canoe. The Canoe Lake access was pretty busy with paddlers, but not too crazy. Unsure of when we wanted to leave the park, we got a 4-day permit ($70 for 2 people) through to Sunday and rented the canoe for the same amount of time ($180 with life jackets and paddles). We opted for Smoke Lake – Ragged Lake to avoid the obvious traffic that would consume Canoe Lake in a day or two.

We were carrying a lot this time, but since we were “canoe camping” with only one short portage, there were a few luxury items aboard.

Lesson #1: Don’t get cocky.

When deciding on which canoe to rent I went with the 15′ Kevlar standard which was about $38/day. The difference between that and the Ultralite was about 10 pounds and $8. Plus, the rental guy told me that the 15′ was more sturdy than the Ultralite. I’ve been canoeing for years, but Jill hadn’t been in one since she was a kid. Portaging 10 extra pounds didn’t sound like so much at the time, so I went with stability on the water over comfort on the portage for our first open water experience together with all of our new gear.

I was ready to rent the roof rack when the rental guy told me that most people just do the 300m portage across the highway. Why not? Considering that the portage from Smoke Lake to Ragged Lake was less than that (290m), why not do it and see what it feels like, eh?

Lesson #2: Portaging is hell on the shoulders.

We were a bit nervous when we saw a large group of teenagers hanging out on the dock on the Smoke Lake access. As it turns out, they were a highschool group from Brighton who had just come in from a 4-night stay in the park. Great to see a class dedicated to outdoor sports! They had a great time and caught their own trout.

We finally pushed off around 12:30 and made our way down the west side of Smoke Lake, getting disoriented once before getting to the portage. Seems we passed Molly Island without noticing and I misread which bay we were in. It wasn’t until our return up the east side that we saw the narrow between the island and the mainland.

There were a few motorboats on Smoke Lake but only one canoe coming out of the portage. A couple who had spent 2 nights out and warned that the portage was buggy and muddy. Fantastic. Bugs are slow torture for Jill.

As soon as we landed at the portage the clouds opened up and dumped a deluge of humid rain on us. It was muddy and buggy as reported. It was around this time that I remembered the rental guy telling me how steep and uneven the portage could be. Sure, it’s short, but it’s no escalator ride. Jill tripped once, falling in the mud with a heavy pack on her back. I, foolishly, was carrying the canoe and the 120-litre expedition bag on my back. Upon reaching the other end, we waited out the rain with a tetra-pack of wine.

Once the rain stopped, the bugs and flies came out and chased us out of the dam/portage and into Ragged Lake. We took a quick peek at the campsite just by the portage and saw that it was haven for flies and wasn’t the kind of site that you’d stay any length of time at.

We chose a site on the east side, just across from the tiny island that you *can’t* camp on. It was a beautiful site with a great fire pit. This site would be ideal for a group of 4, but we had it to ourselves. We pitched the tent right away and got our new down-filled bags in there to stay bone-dry. The site had lots of dry wood available and nice options for hanging your bear bags far away from your tent. We didn’t have time to cook anything warm since the clouds were telling us that they had more in store for us. The rain came and we napped, thankful for the rest, and curious to see if our new tent was indeed waterproof.

Lesson #3: When buying a new tent, do yourself a favour and buy the footprint as well.

We didn’t buy the footprint. In the gear buying mayhem that carried on in the weeks previous to the trip, I managed to forget the footprint. I had even written myself a note to buy it at the Barrie MEC on the last day, but forgot the note in the car while in the store.

We did, however, buy a used tarp for $10 at the canoe rental store in the park. We used this as our groundsheet and quickly learned that having the tarp so far out as to funnel rain under your tent was a bad thing. The tent, thankfully, is waterproof. And, our luxury items, self-inflating sleeping pads, provide great insulation in the damp and cold. The down sleeping bags work like a charm.

There was a break in the rain and we were able to get out for an evening paddle to check out our immediate surroundings. It was beautiful yet brief. We got ourselves into the tent for the night and it rained off and on until morning. The sounds that night were really wild. Mostly loons, bullfrogs and crickets, but an enormous orchestra to be sure. Jill felt something thudding by the tent in the wee hours and there were some tracks. Couldn’t tell if it was a deer or a young moose, but the prints were definitely not bear or anything large.

It was a night full of nature on Ragged Lake and we had it all to ourselves. The only other people that we saw on the lake were one canoe with three teenage boys who were only out for the day to fish. They passed our site after 7:00pm saying that they were trying to get back to the rental store. My guess is they camped at the site by the portage that night.

Friday May 19th

We don’t fish and we’re just learning how a day passes in the backcountry, so we spent the first half of the day just tending to our camp. Drying out the tent, figuring out how to rig a tarp, building a smoky fire to keep the flies at bay, etc. In the afternoon we went out and paddled around the big island in Ragged Lake to check out its 5 campsites. There were one or two that seemed worth looking at, (and they would all suffice if there weren’t any other options), but our trip convinced us that we had found the best site in the area. There are a few other sites that seem well-maintained with nice views, but ours was on a point allowing for all-day sun, nice shade, two swimming spots,  and a large clearing with a great fire-pit built up against a large boulder. A good amount of benches for sitting and spreading out gear. And, most important, it’s flat.

Lesson #4: Bring more food than you’ll need to eat… but don’t bring a one-month supply for 2 nights.

There was so much planning and work to do ahead of time, I made real rough estimates of how much we would need of everything food-wise. I bought a new cookset (GSI Dualist) and used the cups in the set as measurement for the dry goods like; flour, israeli couscous, smarties. I used the cups without noticing that they actually have measurement lines right in the cup. My portions were, let’s say, generous.

Lesson #5: When cooking a meal in the bush, make only as much as you can eat.

It wasn’t until we saw the last five mouthfuls of spicy Israeli couscous with cheese sauce sitting at the bottom of our pot taunting us that we asked ourselves, “what are we going to do with this?” It also took me this long to realize that I had packed enough food in Jill’s pack should the Rapture actually happen this weekend. We were stuffed and we didn’t want to add this to our garbage so early. Lesson learned. Pack light. Eat up. Stay clean.

As a “gateway” campsite, we saw a few canoes come by in the afternoon and early evening, some going to Big Porcupine and others to Parkside Bay. A group of four guys camped at the site across the water on the west side, south of the portage into Wisp Lake. Another soloist was at the site down the way on the south side and the site to the east of us towards Archer Bay had a tent and a fire going as well.

It was quiet and the night sky was clear. The temperature was 20 degrees in the day and not much below 10 at night. The down sleeping bags were great and the Black Diamond Vista has great air circulation for the mixed weather that you get in Algonquin. Again, we slept off and on throughout the night, being woken by loons and bullfrogs at random times. The campers were quiet.

Saturday, May 20th

Our permit was good until Sunday, but we could see the traffic starting to come our way. We were already of the mind to leave the park wanting more and the black fly bites were distracting us from the many beautiful moments that pass while living in the woods. There was a Dad with two kids in a canoe floating by checking out sites when I offered ours up to him before the crowds came. He thankfully took it and said that there was another canoe with three more kids and their Dad in their party. We were thankful to be able to pass the site onto a group who could use it well over the remainder of the long weekend. They told us that the portage into Smoke Lake was pretty busy. That proved to be an understatement.

Lesson #5: They don’t lie when they say that Algonquin is busy on the long weekend.

Our campsite was only a 15 – 20 minute paddle from the portage, but in the time that it took us to get to the portage, we passed at least 6 to 8 canoes with varying loads heading into Ragged Lake. At the portage, there were 2 canoes pushing off and two more coming down the trail. I left Jill with the packs at the dam while I carried the canoe, and only the canoe, to Smoke Lake. On the way, I passed almost a dozen people in various groups carrying some of the most ridiculous things. One guy was carrying a case of wine. I hope it wasn’t full of glass bottles, but it was clearly his job to carry a cardboard box full of liquor. There was a girl coming up the portage carrying an armload of beach gear, pinching a bag of Doritos in her free hand. At the bottom of the Smoke Lake side, I felt sorry for the 12-year old kid holding the other end of the 75-litre Coleman cooler that his old man put the hotdogs and beer in.

There was a guy sitting at the bank of Smoke Lake having a smoke and finishing off a tallboy of Coors Light. I asked him how he was doing and he told me that his back was “f****d”. Apparently his canoe kept going to the right no matter how hard he paddled on the left and he’d zig-zagged all the way here from the access point.  I couldn’t tell if he was joking and I thought it best not to laugh.

On my way back to get Jill, I passed the guy who carried the box of liquor for his party. Turns out, they wanted him to carry their bags, too. Mr. Zig-Zag and his party carried in a 13-pound Broadstreet 6-person tent.

Lesson #6: Camping “ultralite” takes time and practice.

Lesson #7: Bring a hat. No matter what. Bring a hat.

I didn’t bring a hat. I have lots of hats. Different hats for different occasions. I have hats for camping and canoeing. I didn’t bring either of them. Why? In a last ditch effort to go “ultralite” (save, of course; 2 self-inflating sleeping pads, 3-person tent, 1-month food supply, cribbage board, 2 decks of cards, 2 books, flashlights galore…), I chose to ditch the hat. Again, you ask, “why?”. Because…. I believed that what the weatherman said on Tuesday night would stay true on Saturday.

Lesson #8: Pack for rain and shine in Algonquin. It’ll all happen. Probably within the hour.

The paddle back to the Smoke Lake access point from the portage was great. We got totally sunburned and it couldn’t have been more beautiful. We passed at least another 6 to 8 canoes that were heading towards the portage. There were a few motor boats out on Smoke Lake taking advantage of the super calm water and sunshine.

We saw Molly Island and went through the narrow and enjoyed the views.  The Dot and Dash islands are worth noting as you head out or come back in.

That last 300m portage back to the Portage Store is a real… can’t wait for the next trip!

People seen: two dozen or more (mostly at the end of the trip)

Wildlife seen: Loons, fish. Heard lots. Maybe even a wolf?

Unnecessary gear: Books, Cribbage board, 90% of the food

Gear wishlist: Personal floatation device, paddle, MSR simmerlite stove

Written by canadianparkhound

May 23, 2011 at 8:40 pm

Algonquin: Highland Backpacking Trail, Oct. 5th & 6th 2010

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October 5th

Originally, this trip was planned as a 3 day/2 night canoe trip on Lake Opeongo, but due to scheduling conflicts we had to make our first trip to Algonquin (and first *ever* backcountry camping trip) a quick overnight visit. Since we were short on time, we didn’t hike the entire trail, or do the loop. Still, the hike to Provoking Lake is a great overnight getaway and we’d head back to the Highland Backpacking Trail anytime.

We left home (Stratford) at about 4:30 am, arriving at the park around 9:00 am. To access the Highland Trail, you must first go to the Mew Lake Campground to get your permit. The trailhead and parking lot is about 1 km to the west of Mew Lake @ km 29.7.


The temperature when we set out was just below zero and quite chilly. As you’ll see in the picture below, we were backpacking with gear that was intended for a canoe trip.

Lesson #1: Travel light.

She’s carrying an overstuffed backpack with three wool blanket-rolls tied to the back (in lieu of sleeping pads), and He’s carrying a 120-litre canoe bag on his back. This picture was taken by a fellow hiker (Ken), who caught up with us at the first lookout on the trail. Ken took one look at our gear and asked, “is this your first time in the backcountry?” Yes, Ken. Yes it is. 😉

The Highland Trail is described as “difficult” by other hikers who have taken the time to write trip reports, and we can testify to that. The first section of the trail up to Provoking Lake is beautiful, varied and quite challenging in a few areas (especially when carrying packs that are anything but “ultra-lite”). There is a section that we dubbed the “Stairway To Hell” as it is very rocky and a very steep climb. I would say that it’s about 2 to 3 kms into the trail.

Lesson #2: Hiking poles are not for sissies.

We decided to take the trail to the west of the lake and look for a campsite. It took us roughly 90 minutes to hike from the parking lot to the lake (including a rest break). We ran into Ken again while looking for campsites, and it was good to know that we had an experienced camper within earshot. Ken was helpful with tips on hanging a bear bag (i.e. – hang it as far away from your campsite as you can).

We found a site that was quite pretty and open. It was set on a huge slanted rock that, while impressive, was a real challenge to walk safely on considering all of the fallen pine needles.

After setting up the tent, we decided to boil water right away. Camping gear is expensive and we decided to save buying a water filter until a future trip. The water from Algonquin lakes are, by most accounts, safe to drink when boiled.

When Jill tried to scoop up a pot of water from the rocky shore, she slid right into the water, up to her shins! It was cold, her feet were soaking wet. Lighting a fire seemed to be our priority now.

Lesson #3: Bring back-up footwear.

Making the best of the situation, Jill went for a swim while I finished boiling the water and started the search for firewood. There was enough wood for us to have a fire for the night, but the pickings were pretty slim. We may be novice, but we knew enough to only take wood that had fallen to the ground. After a dinner of soup and bannock, we brushed our teeth and went to hang the bear bag.

Hanging a bear bag is a bit of a challenge for the new camper. Choosing an appropriate tree was tough, but after about 30 minutes of searching, we found an obvious spot that had been used previously. After several attempts at getting the rope over the branch, we managed to hoist our ridiculously heavy bag about 10 feet off of the ground.

Lesson #4: It’s OK to hang more than one bag if you’ve got a heavy load. There’s plenty of space in the woods.

Jill managed to dry her boots out around the fire and we enjoyed a clear night full of stars. Our sleeping bags, while entirely inappropriate for backpacking (2 Coleman’s weighing 7 pounds total), were very effective at keeping us warm overnight. The temperature may have dropped to zero at some point, but we woke up to a balmy 4 degrees with sunny skies.

Lesson #5: Wool blankets are not a good alternative to a sleeping pad.

Oct. 6th, 2010

Waking up around 8:30 am, we prepared a breakfast of tea and bannock, packed up our camp and hit the trail doubling straight back to the parking lot. Clouds had begun to gather and we had some light rain on the trail. Again, it took us about 1 1/2 to 2 hours to hike back to the trailhead. We stopped for a break by a well maintained seating area by a bridge about halfway back. There were a few day-trippers having lunch there as well.

Ultimately, we had a great time and enjoyed practicing our backcountry skills for the first time. We regularly do day hikes and enjoyed the chance to take in some of Algonquin in the fall. Looking forward to the next visit.

People spotted: 6 to 8

Wildlife spotted: 2 ferret-like animals ran past us at one point. A few loons on the lake.

Unnecessary gear: Almost everything save tent, rope, stove & food.

Wish list for next trip: Down-filled sleeping bags, compression bags

Written by canadianparkhound

May 23, 2011 at 12:17 pm