Canadian Park Hound

Outdoor Trips & Tips With The Novice Bushwacker

Posts Tagged ‘Algonquin Park

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