Canadian Park Hound

Outdoor Trips & Tips With The Novice Bushwacker

Posts Tagged ‘bear paw prints

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 theĀ extremely rare situationĀ 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.).

View from inside the Hammock (Guskewa Lake, Algonquin) IMG_1852

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

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