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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!

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

O.S.A. Lake, Killarney, May 15-18, 2013

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It’s been 2 years since the last canoe trip with my lady (see: Ragged Lake, 3 days/2 nights). After my first taste of Killarney last August (see: Killarney 3 days/4 nights), I just had to bring her to see the incredible scenery that this park has to offer. Knowing that O.S.A. Lake is usually fully booked, I called ahead with the intention of reserving a site. The person taking the reservation told me that there was plenty of availability for the days that we were planning, so I cancelled the reservation (to save on the extra fees) and was able to book three nights upon arrival at the George Lake access. The lake was indeed fully booked for the long weekend, so we had just hit that sweet spot in the schedule. Personally, I think that this is one of the best times of year to visit a park. The weather is generally favourable, the bugs aren’t crazy-making yet, and we leave the park as the throngs of ill-equipped party paddlers jam the lakes and portages.

Day 1

We arrived at the George Lake access point around 10:00 am. The parking lot was empty. We walked right in and booked three nights on O.S.A. Lake and the staff let us know that we’d have the lake pretty much to ourselves until Saturday (our departure date). After that, we drove down to the canoe launch where our rental canoe from Killarney Kanoes awaited us, and we were on the water by 10:30 am.

Side note: while we were getting our permit, I mentioned to the office staff that I had read a post on myccr.com (a terrific resource, I love the trip report forum), about a bear encounter on Muriel Lake a few weeks before. The staff hadn’t heard of it at all. I’ve never had a bear encounter or sighting, but it’s worth mentioning that you can get better information on sites like myccr.com than you can from some of the park staff.

The skies were clear and the wind was nothing more than a pleasant breeze. We reached the portage from George Lake into Freeland Lake within the hour. It’s a tiny 80m portage with a well-built dock right by a picturesque little waterfall. Looking back at George, the wind had just picked up and we were thankful to have avoided the choppy water that had just been brewed behind us.

Freeland Lake is calm and shallow by comparison (with no campsites) and it only took about 20 minutes to get from one end to the other. This early in the season it’s free and clear of vegetation, but I bet that changes quickly with the warm weather. The approach to the 380m portage into Killarney Lake wasn’t too mucky (another benefit to traveling early in the season), and the portage itself is very easy.

The water in Killarney Lake is quite transparent and beautiful. As you kick off, you’ll find yourself winding through little inlets, points and bays along the way to O.S.A. One of my favourite experiences while paddling in Killarney is the trick of the eye that occurs when paddling around a point with the quartzite mountains in the distance. The optical illusion of the scenery moving in opposite directions gives the feel of watching two back drops being pulled away to “reveal” the mountains. It’s as if you’re watching one of the oldest theatre tricks… two scenic flats being pulled by stage hands.

There are two portages from Killarney Lake into O.S.A. The first one is a 455m, but if you paddle a bit further into the shallow end of the lake, there is a much shorter (and flatter) 130m. We opted for the short portage. If you choose this route, be on the lookout for dead trees lurking just below the surface. Also, you’ll serve yourself best by choosing to go to the left of the beaver dam that sits in the middle (fewer trees that way). There is a low-lying section indicated on the map that we were just able to wiggle our way through into the last little bay of Killarney that gives you access to the 130m. (Note: on our way out of the park, this low area had the beginnings of a beaver dam being built, so it was a quick lift-over as opposed to a tight “scootch through”).

As we made our way through the short 130m portage, we were excited to finally lay eyes on the fabled O.S.A. Lake. We could hear the wind and the waves lapping at the shore. At the end, we were met with strong wind and a view of a very choppy lake. White cap choppy. For everything that I’ve ever read about O.S.A. (and believe me, I love to read anything and everything that I can find out about a route during the months leading up to a trip), I hadn’t read anything about how strong the wind can get on O.S.A. I’d read about George Lake being a bit of a wind tunnel, but nothing about O.S.A. That said – we were finally here! And it was stunning despite the wind and waves.

Determined to make it to site #29 (on the large island), we tackled the waves. Right out of the gate, I knew we were in for some trouble. We were in swells and white caps from the first moment. I wanted to turn back but it took some figuring to turn around in high waves without capsizing. The water is fiercely cold right now and the last thing I wanted was a swim and wet gear. Mercifully, the lake turned our canoe around and sent us back to shore.

The 130m portage is a pretty little place to spend an hour or two… we tied up the canoe and carried our gear to the leeward side of the portage to have lunch, listen to the weather radio and plan our next move. The weather report was telling us that a strong wind warning was in effect. 40km/hr gusting to 60km/hr. Since buying the weather radio, I’ve developed a bit of an addiction to listening to it every hour or so, and there was no mention of wind prior to our arrival. There had been no hint of strong wind until the moment that we were facing it. We decided to try again when it died down and make it to the first site (#28) by the portage.

After waiting about an hour or so, the wind was still strong, but the lake appeared to be a little less choppy. Foolishly, we decided to make another attempt. Our goal was to get out past the point to the southwest of the portage, thinking that the wind would push us to site #28. The wind was a *little* less intense than it was earlier and we did indeed make it out further than our previous try. I was doing everything in my power to keep the nose to the wind and not be blown sideways and into the water. We were paddling as hard as we could and moving backwards once we got close to the point. As we inched forward beyond the point we could see a canoe at #28 and a fellow sitting at the site, cross-legged, enjoying the view of two paddlers in the choppy water, moving 1 inch forward and 2 feet back. Once we saw that the campsite was taken, we struggled to get the canoe over to the shore and plan our next move.

It was as if Mother Nature was saying, “today’s not the day”. We sat on the point between the portage and site #28 for an hour or so debating our next move. Being hammock campers, we can sleep almost anywhere. We weighed our options of staying put, turning back to sling the hammocks at the portage or doubling back even further to Killarney Lake and picking the closest site. We were fairly certain that the park wasn’t full, so we chose to head back to Killarney Lake after a very quick and nervous paddle back to the portage.

The difference in the wind between the two lakes was remarkable. It was still windy on Killarney at times, but we were thankful to have a home for the night. Site #23 on Killarney Lake is the closest to the portage and has a covered thunderbox. Luxury. The wind did subside a bit for the night, but we stuck to a dinner of jerky and gorp rather than fire up the stove. A small campfire was had (and thoroughly doused) before turning in for the night. We fell asleep to an orchestra of loons, crickets, frogs and a lone wolf.

Day 2

We were up and on the water by 9:00 am, hoping that the folks at #28 on O.S.A. weren’t heading to the island site that we were aiming for. Being well acquainted with the 130m portage, we made quick work of getting our gear across and thrilled at the sight of an O.S.A. Lake that had mere ripples on it compared to what we saw the day before. There was still a bit of wind to contend with (and some nerves, I’ll ‘fess up to that), so we stayed close to the south shore, avoiding crossing in open water until absolutely necessary. The fellow at site #28 was sitting in the same spot, this time with his lady. We waved and said “good morning”, knowing happily that the odds on getting site #29 were good. If you look at the map, you’ll see that there is a larger, longer point to the southwest of site #28, putting you into open water again. There is nothing like a crosswind at a point to make you a better paddler…

The wind was coming from the northwest and the safest way to the large island with site #29 was to go around the leeward sides of the islands and approach it from the south. Despite the challenging winds, the vista that unfolds when you come past that large point is incredible. All of a sudden, you’re treated to a view of the bay and the large mountain that sits there covered with a huge stand of birch. Worth every trial and tribulation. This would be the view from our site for the next 3 days. We were beyond happy to arrive at site #29.

Our first order of business was breakfast. We lounged over coffee and gorp for well over an hour on the south side of the island. The wind was picking up again on the windward side and we’d had enough of paddling in it. There was a plan on the table to make a day trip to the infamous “Pig” for a hike, but we scrapped that in favour of exploring the island.

The island is just shy of 1 km long and is home to another, albeit retired, campsite. You can easily spend an afternoon exploring the place, climbing the rocks and finding great little spots everywhere. At the far end of the island, we saw evidence of a recent visit by a bear. There were distinct paw prints and then a full-body depression in the pine needles on the ground that looked like a springtime, bear version of a “snow angel”. That was our only sighting of any bear evidence for the entire trip.

Days 3, 4 and out…

We really didn’t do a whole lot on the third day aside from taking a short day trip through Muriel Lake (where the nuisance bear had been reported) into Artist Lake. It was clear and sunny and the water was tropical looking. So tempting to dive in, but the water was still about 4 degrees so… no swimming. We were hoping to make our way to Baie Fine for the day, but we couldn’t find the portage out of Artist Lake. We did pass a solo paddler who had come from that direction and he said that the water level was way down and that he had to pull his canoe for the better part of a kilometer. So, we decided to make our way back to O.S.A. and enjoy the rest of the day exploring the islands. It was easy to kill a few hours just staring at the horizon.

The next morning, we packed up and started the journey out of the park. Sure enough, the “May Two-Four” party paddlers were starting to clog the portages. It just amazes me to see what people will wear and carry into the backcountry. One very affluent looking family were wearing flip-flops, Chanel sunglasses, t-shirts and jeans. They looked miserable. Another pair of guys had a bear barrel full of liquor and smokes. It takes all kinds…

Killarney really is the “crown jewel” of the Ontario Parks.  My next trek into the park will likely be a loop that includes Nellie Lake. I’m counting down the days until the next…

Written by canadianparkhound

February 24, 2014 at 10:35 am

Sandbanks Provincial Park, September 2011

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Editor’s note: unfortunately, we lost our pictures of this trip. The photos used in this blog post are taken from a Google images search of “Sandbanks Provincial Park”.

Some weekends, you just need to get out of the city. For us, ‘some weekends’ = ‘many weekends’. However, it isn’t always feasible to put life on hold to the extent that is required for a backwoods experience in a place like Algonquin and, depending on the season, it isn’t always worth it (read: bugs). Sandbanks Provincial Park is the perfect park for getting to a beautiful beach with warm, clean water. Sure, the park is usually crowded, but it’s still the best Provincial Park getaway in Southern Ontario within decent driving distance of the GTA.

Beach at Sandbanks Provincial Park

Even though it was September and a week after Labour Day, the park was pretty full. We drove around the campground and were able to snag a good campsite that was private. It was set in from the road and had good tree coverage. Many of the sites in the loops are completely exposed and better for families or large groups. Every single site that abutted the beach was taken, primarily by truck campers and trailers.

Generally speaking, I’m not a huge fan of “car camping”. With the exception of our “Gaspé to New Brunswick” week long journey, we avoid car camping in favour of getting into the woods. That said, my girlfriend and I have been on the hunt for the best swimming hole within a few hours of Toronto. So far, Sandbanks is the only park where we’re willing to brave the crowds and noise to spend an evening.

Dune at Sandbanks

As soon as we set up our site, we went and lounged on the Dunes Beach at West Lake and swam until dinner time. Considering how busy the park was, we were happy to see that the beach wasn’t totally packed. The water here is warm and clean. It’s quite shallow for the first few hundred meters, making it very family friendly and ideal for frisbee-throwing.

After dinner, we headed for a sunset drive around the park and checked out the beach that is directly on Lake Ontario. The water here is more rough, not being protected by land the same way that West Lake is. Still gorgeous and great for strong swimmers.

The next day, we packed up our site and headed for the easy hike along the Cedar Sands Trail. There are many interpretive signs along the way describing the habitat and history of the Sandbanks.

We had a good dose of the beach and, as the clouds started to roll in, my girlfriend went into Lake Ontario for one more wrestle with the waves.

Beach at Sandbanks – Lake Ontario

If you’re looking for a great, quick getaway – this is it. Look no further. The only park (in my estimation), that comes close would be, Long Point Provincial Park (similar beach, although the water is better in Sandbanks).

Sandbanks Provincial Park:

Pros: swimming, beaches

Cons: heavily populated

Written by canadianparkhound

December 6, 2012 at 3:09 pm

Point Pelee National Park, Rondeau Provincial Park and the Lake Erie coast, June 2012

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The southernmost tip of Point Pelee National Park (and the southernmost tip of mainland Canada)

We needed a quick weekend trip outside of the city and, being the height of bug season, we chose to head south instead of our usual direction out of Toronto. Knowing that Sandbanks would be packed to the gills, we decided to check out what Point Pelee National Park and the surrounding area had to offer.

It’s a solid 3 – 3 1/2 hour drive from Toronto right into the agricultural heart of Southwestern Ontario. You have to head through Leamington (the home of Heinz Ketchup) to get to the park gates. Point Pelee Nat’l Park does not offer any camping opportunities (it’s a tiny bird sanctuary, for the most part), so we got ourselves a motel room in town and drove to the park to catch sunset at “the tip”.

It’s a short trail from the parking lot, but the mosquitoes in the wooded sections made the most of their tiny window of opportunity with us. The pay-off, of course, was the beautiful little beach and sunset view that met us at the end. With only one other family there, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. This would be a perfect spot for lunch, but there are plenty of warnings against swimming in this area due to the strong cross currents that occur around this land formation.

Beach at Point Pelee on the west side of the park (not the tip)

Before the sun went down for the night, we took half an hour to walk along the other beach on the west side of the park. Great for “long walks on the beach” and views of Great Lake Erie.

On our way back to the motel, we stopped at an “All You Can Eat” fish place. It was NOT Paula’s Fish Place. I forget the name of the place, but if you’re driving towards Leamington from the park, this place is BEFORE Paula’s. Go to Paula’s. On our way into the park, we noticed that Paula’s was full of guests. The place that we went to was not full of guests. Without boring you with the details of our sterile meal and bad service, I’ll just offer to you that Paula’s Fish Place was probably the busier of the two for good reason.

The motel was no great accommodation either, so I’ll pass on suggesting it to you. Our idea was to get up early the next morning and, hopefully, catch the ferry over to the island. Finding info on how to get the ferry was proving to be a real challenge. My partner spent a good portion of our car ride from Toronto searching the web for ferry schedules, fees and contact info to reserve a spot. Again, without boring you with specifics, let me suggest that if you’re planning on visiting Point Pelee Island with no prior experience; call ahead and book your spot on the ferry in advance.

We woke up to meet the ferry operator as soon as the window was open. Driving into the parking lot and loading area, we could see that the line-up of vehicles and boat trailers that we may not be seeing the island. And again… I won’t ruin the scenery by describing in detail just how rude the girl in charge of running the window was to us. In a word: appalling. Suffice it to say; book well in advance.

At this point, my partner dubbed the area: Disappoint Pelee.

After a diner breakfast, we opted to drive the coast of Lake Erie and see if we made it home before anything caught our eye. As nice as Pelee Nat’l Park is, we’re not bird enthusiasts. Sure, birds are great to observe in their natural habitat, but we’re just not the type of people to crack out our khaki shorts and binoculars to spot birds (no disrespect to birders!)

Our first (and as it turned out, only) stop on our coastal drive was Rondeau Provincial Park, just a short drive north on the coast from Leamington. This area is a “birder’s paradise”, but we had just missed the peak season and the park was relatively empty. We made our way to the beach at the southernmost end of the park and camped out by the water for the afternoon with books, beer and (she, not me, went) swimming.

Our tent as a beach/sun shelter

This was our first opportunity to use our Black Diamond Mesa tent as a shelter. By setting up just the fly with the footprint (see picture above), and leaving out the tent, you can create a quick and easy ultra-lite shelter (or sun-shelter in our case). It was quite a scorcher on this day, so the shelter was fantastic.

Beach at Rondeau Provincial Park

Rondeau Provincial Park

Enjoying the beach at Rondeau Provincial Park

After several hours of getting sun and loafing about, we hit the road again with the notion of possibly staying in Port Stanley or Port Burwell. Port Stanley was a bit too expensive and boutique-y for our tastes. As a child, I had spent many days in Port Burwell, either going out fishing or killing time at the beach. As an adult, the beach at Burwell no longer appeals and I don’t fish anymore. There is a campground at Port Burwell, but again, it really isn’t the way that we like to camp. The only way that I can really enjoy the provincial campgrounds is if it is attached to a stunning beach (i.e. – Sandbanks), or if I need a place to stay on my way into the backcountry or on my way out (i.e. – Algonquin).

As for driving the coast of Lake Erie… the route along the shore takes you through some beautiful farm land which is definitely worth seeing. Next time (if there is a next time), we’ll make sure to have a few extra bucks to put ourselves up in a better than cheap motel or a decent B&B.

All in all, we got out of the city for a weekend…. and reaffirmed our love of exploring the backcountry.

Written by canadianparkhound

September 2, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Killarney: (Carlyle-Johnnie-Bell/3Mile-Balsam-Deacon) 4 days/3 nights. August 6th – 9th 2012.

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I’m beginning to notice a pattern in my camping habits. The schedule that I start out with as a plan is rarely (if ever), the schedule that ends up being the trip that I end up taking. This particular trip into Killarney started out on paper as 6 – 7 day trip, but ended up as a 3 night/4 day stay for a variety of reasons. My friend Danny joined me and this was the first time that either of us had been to the park.

Killarney Provincial Park is beautiful and busy. Very busy. We were lucky to get permits for 6 nights just walking in without reservations on the day, but I wouldn’t recommend doing it this way. Next time, we’ll book well in advance.

Johnnie Lake access point

Day 1 (Carlyle Lake):

We arrived at the park around 10:00 am, having left Waterloo at 5:30 am. The staff at the permit office on George Lake were very helpful in choosing a route, but the pickin’s were slim as the park was nearly full. The plan at this point being for 6 nights, we were given the following route:

Day 1: Carlyle Lake – Day 2: Bell/Three Mile Lake – Day 3: Deacon Lake – Days 4 & 5: Balsam Lake – Day 6: Boundary Lake – Day 7: out.
We put in at Johnnie Lake between 12:30 – 1:00 pm and paddled into Carlyle Lake. It was a quick paddle (less than an hour), with a small beaver dam that we had to get out and walk over. The wind was strong coming into Carlyle and Danny had already realized that he had too much gear, so we landed on the first site that we came across. (Site #60).

Making dinner at the Carlyle Lake site

Our route had us doubling back through Johnnie the next day, so we planned to make a pit stop at the car and dump the unnecessary gear. If you’ve visited this blog before, you’ll notice a theme of “too much gear”. I’ve never dreamed to be an ultra-lightweight interior paddler or hiker, but now that the sport has its hooks in me, I’m quickly realizing that traveling light is the way to go for a whole host of reasons. This was Danny’s first time in the backcountry and I was supplying all of the gear and food, if only to keep the weight down. I prepared dehydrated meals and we used both of my Hennessey hammocks. I sent a very sparse list of necessities (clothing, toiletries, book… no more) to Danny a week prior to our trip, but… he’s his own man and prefers to make his own lists. Anyway, the decision was made to stop at the car and dump gear on our way past the access point the next morning.

Campsite at Carlyle Lake

Our site, the last one on Carlyle Lake before heading into Johnnie, was a nice one with a great rock formation that came out to a point, facing a small island with a sweet cottage on it.
After a meal of cheesy beefy macaroni with homemade tomato sauce, we cleaned up, hung our food bag and went for a paddle around the island at sunset.

Rock formation on Carlyle Lake

We ended the evening with a small campfire and were in our hammocks by 10:00 pm.

Day 2 (Carlyle-Johnnie-Bell/Three Mile):

We woke up to cloudy skies and light wind. The forecast had called for the next two days to include rain with possible thunderstorms in the evening. Knowing that we had a significant day of paddling ahead, we loaded up the canoe and readied to kick off. Just before we left, Danny turned around to adjust his backpack, and in doing so, set off a cloud that was unmistakeably bear spray. The canister only discharged for about 2 seconds, but that was enough to set us up for a challenging next several hours which we couldn’t even begin to imagine this early in the day. Suffice it to say, we had a brief conversation about the need for safety when traveling and handling bear spray and Danny had a cough and burning eyes and ears to scold him.

We stopped at the Johnnie Lake access as planned for Danny to do a gear dump. What with the intense burning and general misery of having just gassed yourself and your buddy with bear spray, the gear dump took a bit longer than initially hoped for. We were back on the water by about 12:30 pm.

Heading out on Johnnie towards Bell happened without too much of a headwind. Johnnie is a nice lake that zig-zags its way towards Bell. You get to pass quite a few cottages along the way. It’s hard not to envy those lucky cottage owners!

A quick storm approaches towards the end of Johnnie Lake.

Towards the end of Johnnie Lake, the thunder signaled some serious business and we pulled on our rain gear just in time for the onslaught. We pulled over to the shore and debated our options. During a small break in the torrential downfall, we made a break to one of the two campsites nearby. Perhaps not the smartest thing to do with the threat of lightening, but we saw another canoe making the same choices and decided that we’d take those odds. We finished setting up a tarp just in time for the rain to stop. The sun came out, and all of a sudden, the burning from the bear spray that had gotten on our rain gear and canoe bag that we unloaded during the rain, took the pain to a new level. We chilled out on the campsite for an hour and once again, debated our options.

Temporary rain shelter on Johnnie Lake

I use a quick and easy method for keeping my tarp taught on a tight ridgeline. I’ve attached an alloy climbing ring (MEC – $4?) to a loop of rope using a prusik knot and clipped it to a carabiner attached directly to the tarp.

As you’ll see in the pictures, we took a belt of whiskey and decided to push on. We had no desire to turn back, our permits were strictly for the next lake and it was pushing 3:00 pm. We had to find our home for the night.

The portage into Bell Lake is a short one (300), but you will have to do short one (10-15. We did a full carry, just picked up the canoe, bags and all and dead-lifted it) around a beaver dam just prior to the actual portage. The portage goes through the parking lot at the Bell Lake access and has a wide, flat nice entry point into Bell. There is also a park office here as well as an office for Killarney Kanoes.

Our plan was to stop at the first site that we liked. We canoed the length of Bell, checking out each site and each site was taken. We entered into the narrower Three Mile Lake by 4:30 and found each and every site taken, except for the very last one at the end of the lake. After setting up and getting our dinner ready, it finally occurred to me that my bear spray rash and the burning that accompanied it was pretty much gone. Good to know, eh? Note to self: the pain and discomfort of a quick blast of bear spray will dissipate by the end of the day. Unless you touch your eyes…

Sunset on Three Mile Lake. Site #70

We set up our hammocks by the water again. The Hennessey Hammock really does help ease the pain of a backwoods trip. So comfortable.

Inside the Hennessey Hammock

Campsite on Three Mile Lake

Day 3 (Three Mile-Balsam-Deacon):

Having covered a lot of our distance the day previous, we took our time over coffee in the morning before setting out for Balsam Lake. Aside from the 30m portage into Balsam, we could only see having to deal with a low-lying area getting into Deacon. Easy-peasy.

The portage from Three Mile Lake to Balsam Lake (looking into Three Mile)

During our 10:00 am coffee, a couple canoed our way and asked if we were staying the night. They were relieved to find out that we were soon to be on our way since ours was, still, the last available site on the lake. We invited them to set up while we packed, but they opted to hang out a ways down the shore and enjoy the morning on their own. We pushed off and promptly lost 45 minutes by paddling up the low-lying creek to the south of the low-lying area that approaches the portage into Balsam. So glad to get out of the low-lying creek, I thought to myself, “thank God that’s over with. I won’t do that again.”

We finally found our way into the right creek leading us to the portage. When we approached we met a group of 4 guys carrying their canoes over the old cart track, coming out of Balsam. They told us that there wasn’t a soul to be seen on Deacon or Fox Lake (they spent the last night on Fox) and said that they thought Fox was the more scenic of the two and to watch out for the wasp’s nest that was on the site if we did make it that far.

Balsam Lake as seen from the end of the 30m portage from Three Mile Lake.

It took about an hour and a half to paddle the length of Balsam and, once again, every single site was taken. We were certain of our course into Deacon and there was no way that the map could be wrong. However, once in the low area, we felt as if we were up the wrong creek again, just like we started out the day! Danny kept asking me, “are you sure?“, but the map couldn’t be wrong. It was hard to tell at the roughly 0.5 km distance to the “shore”, but I reassured him that we needed to follow the path through the lily pads. We were navigating the canoe more like a gondola in a river of mud. The stench of putrid organic muck right at the surface had me worried at the notion of standing in it if need be. We finally reached a point where the muck wasn’t as bad as it was in the middle and we could jump out and scout ahead to see if there was, in fact, a passage into Deacon. We were in deep and out of options it seemed, if there wasn’t a passage.

The low lying bog between Balsam & Deacon. Behind Danny, you’ll see about 500m of muck. We managed to stay in the canoe up until the end of the lilypads.

Sure enough, we found fresh footprints and saw how close we were to Deacon. Again, we deadlifted the canoe and carried it in short spurts to the lake. Mucky, tired and wet, we landed on the first island site on Deacon to spend the night. As we unpacked the canoe, we thanked that group of 4 guys on the Balsam Lake portage for the helpful info about the wasp’s next on Fox Lake… and wondered aloud why they kept the part about the boggy portage into Deacon to themselves.

Heading into Deacon Lake

We figured, quite certainly, that we’d have the lake to ourselves, but around 6:30 pm, we saw a canoe make its way out of the bog and into Deacon. As they got near to our site I called out to them, “how was that?”. “Holy f***!! What was that?!” was their reply. We chatted briefly with the campers and they marveled at how busy the park was. They were headed to David Lake the next day and thought that it was perhaps a bit too much work to get in and out of Deacon for a one-night stay. I guess Deacon is a bit of an “overflow” lake for last minute campers, or for those who are looking for more solitude than the bigger lakes.

Cooking shepard’s pie at the site on Deacon Lake.

For dinner, we polished off a cheesy beefy macaroni and a package of shepard’s pie. After cleaning up and hanging the food bag, we hung out by the water’s edge where I gave my feet a much needed soaking.  The noise of my feet in the water attracted a small school of fish and one large turtle who came right up to us for a close-up.

The turtle who came for an after dinner visit on Deacon Lake.

Home for the night on Deacon Lake. Site #123

Day 4 (Deacon-Balsam-Three Mile/Bell-Johnnie-out):

Overnight, the weather turned from clear to overcast and windy. When we woke up, we decided over coffee that we didn’t want to spend the next two nights on Balsam Lake or do all of the portaging over the following days with the amount of gear that we had. Having paddled the length of Balsam the day before, we were acquainted with it and we weren’t totally thrilled with the idea of hanging out on the same site for two days (or even one) with the wind that was beginning to pick up. We opted to pass on making a hot breakfast and agreed to make the push to paddle all the way back to the Johnnie Lake access point, retracing our route rather than attempting the loop through David Lake with all of its portages. This meant that we would only have to deal with the bog between Deacon and Balsam and the easy 30 metre portage from Balsam into Three Mile, as well as the 300 metre between Bell and Johnnie.

Packing to start the trip from Deacon back to Johnnie.

Using the map of Killarney and my compass (which has markings to measure in kilometers on a 1:50,000 scale map), I calculated that we had about 29 km to cover and budgeted between 6-7 hours for us to complete the journey. Luckily, we had a tailwind for the majority of the trip and covered the distance in 5.5 hours. At the Bell Lake portage we met 4 older women in 2 canoes who were setting out (at 2:30 pm!) for David Lake against a strong headwind. I’ve since wondered many times about how they fared on such an arduous task so late in the day. There were a few tricky crosswinds to be encountered during the trip as we came around the occasional point of land and a couple of challenging headwinds in some areas, but the wind pushed us through large waves during the home stretch on Johnnie.

At the Johnnie Lake end of the 300m portage from Bell Lake.

Filtering a couple of litres of Lake Johnny water before heading home.

We made it to the George Lake permit office in time to get our refund for the remaining unused days, and the staff told us that we had made the right decision in leaving early as the weather was only going to get worse. Within the hour, the rain came and stayed for two days (according to the Environment Canada webpage). The rain stayed with us for almost the entire drive back home.

Even though the trip was cut short by a few days of our own accord, we were very happy with what we’d undertaken. Aside from the bear spray incident, we considered it to be a success. I told Danny that my definition of a successful canoe trip is when you: 1) don’t dump the canoe and gear and, 2) have more fun than stress. This was definitely a success.

People spotted: Dozens.

Wildlife spotted: Loons. A turtle.

Unnecessary gear: Books (again… why do I think that I’ll get bored?), backgammon board.

Gear wishlist: Weather radio

Written by canadianparkhound

August 18, 2012 at 5:44 pm

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!

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Written by canadianparkhound

May 19, 2012 at 5:58 pm