Canadian Park Hound

Outdoor Trips & Tips With The Novice Bushwacker

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

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

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

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Whiskey Rapids Trail, Algonquin Park 2016

 

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

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

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

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

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Our little hiker enjoying his rain gear.

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

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

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Viewing the Oxtongue River on the Whiskey Rapids Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Looking at Cache Lake on the Track & Tower Trail.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bye, for now! Happy Trails!

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Written by canadianparkhound

November 3, 2016 at 8:25 am

La Mauricie Nat’l Park (Les Deux Criques Trail), Shawinigan Quebec, August 2011

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About six weeks after my “One Week/Four Parks” Gaspé to Fundy car camping trip, I took a quick stop in La Mauricie National Park in the Laurentian Mountains. I was heading back home to Toronto with a friend who wanted to join me to hike Les Deux-Criques Trail.

We stayed at one of the campgrounds and, as is with all campgrounds in Quebec, the sites were very well maintained. It was busy but not crowded. The sites are well-treed and give enough privacy so as not to feel like you’re on display for all passersby.

The campsite at La Mauricie

Les Deux-Criques Trail is rated as “difficult” and I would agree with that. The difficulty has more to do with the 17km length and several demanding up and down climbs, sometimes over difficult rock. For the most part, it is very passable and well-maintained. Be sure to leave room to check out every lookout.

Les Deux-Criques Trail, La Mauricie, Shawinigan Que.

At one of the waterfalls along the trail.

One of the lookouts along Les Deux-Criques Trail, La Mauricie, Shawinigan Que.

Les Deux-Criques Trail, La Mauricie, Shawinigan Que.

Les Deux-Criques Trail, La Mauricie, Shawinigan Que.

Another small waterfall along Les Deux-Criques Trail, La Mauricie National Park.

A lookout on Les Deux-Criques Trail, La Mauricie, Shawinigan Que.

Not every lookout has a platform and a bench, but there are plenty of spots for a rest break along the way.

Lunch at a lookout.

Les Deux-Criques Trail, La Mauricie, Shawinigan Que.

A lookout along Les Deux-Criques Trail, La Mauricie, Shawinigan Que.

Les Deux-Criques Trail, La Mauricie National Park

We had perfect weather for the entire day and the entire hike lasted about 7 hours. If the weather is against you, the hike would be quite difficult through certain passages. It’s a great choice for a full day hike.

http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/qc/mauricie/visit/carte-map/snowshoeing_raquette.aspx#Mekinac

Kananaskis Country: Prairie View Trail, Barrier Lake – Sept. 2012

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Labour Day, 2012

I’m fortunate right now to be getting the chance to spend a few months in Calgary, so of course, my next hike had to be in the mountains. I’ve never hiked in a mountain range before and the options here are endless. One of the first things I did upon arrival was to buy a few trail books. I had never heard of Gillean Daffern before, but she and her husband Tony, are trail-blazers of the highest order. I bought the 2nd edition of their Kananaskis Trail guide (published in the mid-’80’s) at a used bookstore and, though it was exhaustive, I wasn’t sure how up-to-date it would be. Luckily, Gillean and Tony maintain one of the best hiking blogs I’ve ever come across at: http://kananaskisblog.com/

I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of trails that there are to choose from. My hiking partner and I decided to just get ourselves into K-Country and ask for trail suggestions at the Info Centre. The Info Centre at Barrier Lake is just a few short kilometres south of the TransCanada highway, on Hwy. 40. I had read previously that the folks there are super helpful and friendly and that info was bang on. It’s nice to encounter park staff who are avid hikers themselves.

While standing in line, we overheard the attendant, Bob, telling a group of fellow tourists how to minimize their chances of a bear encounter. Their was a sign in the lobby saying, “Bear in the area”, but I would imagine that you should always be thinking that an encounter is possible. Seems to me that a more appropriate sign might read as follows: “There are always bears in the area. We happened to see one of them recently.”

We asked Bob if he could recommend a good 3-4 hour hike with a lookout or two. He immediately pointed us towards the Prairie View Trail at Barrier Lake and described to a tee, what we would be looking for along the way. The signage is clear and the trail is wide and well traveled.

Wondering whether we should carry bear spray or not, Bob explained that, while its a personal choice, this was the time of year that the bears were focused on packing in as much food as they could before winter. Therefore, they were out looking for food. He also admitted to carrying bear spray with him on every hike. That was good enough for me, and I was happy to buy a canister. $45 and it fits on your belt. Of course, we didn’t see a bear as the trail was really busy. It was Labour Day and we expected to see a lot of traffic. Either way, I’m planning for multiple hikes in the Rockies and I’m always happy to have an extra can of spray to offer a fellow hiker.

In Ontario, I find having a can of bear spray or a bear bell jangling can get you some sideways looks by fellow campers. We have primarily Black bears to deal with and they aren’t Grizzlies. That said, more deaths have occurred with black rather than grizzly, but really, who’s keeping score? I hope to discard a full can of bear spray when its expired, untouched. As for the bear bell, I keep that going mostly to let fellow campers that someone is nearby. Some of the thunderboxes in Algonquin are pretty close to the trail, if you know what I mean.

The trailhead, crossing the dam.

The parking lot at Barrier Lake is 2 km south of the Info Centre. The trailhead is at the parking lot, beginning with crossing the dam. Once over and into the trees, you stick to the right and follow the signs.

It’s not a terribly long hike, about 6 kms up to the first peak, and you can take another 700m trail up to a second peak that gives you a full panoramic view. As it turned out, we only hiked to the first peak and were very satisfied with the 3/4 view of our surroundings.

The start of the trail is very well maintained and relatively flat. Wide enough to accommodate the heavy traffic in both directions.

Prairie View Trail

About 500m or so, before the first peak, the wide trail ends and confused us for a moment as we thought we had reached the end. The lookout was impressive. Soon though, we saw a group of people above us at the actual peak.

1st lookout on the Prairie Trail

1st lookout on the Prairie Trail

The last bit of trail up to the peak is quite steep, making me wish that I had brought two poles for each of us. As it was, we got by with one each. We watched several people face the challenge of coming downhill without the assistance of poles. I’ve said it before in this blog and I’ll say it again: I admire the strength of those who hike without poles, but my knees can’t take it otherwise. We were plenty happy to have the assistance of our poles on the way back down.

The “Prairie View” from the 1st peak.

view of Barrier Lake from 1st peak

view of the mountain valley looking west from the 1st peak.

another view from the 1st peak

another view from the 1st peak.

I don’t know what compelled me not to pack my hiking shoes for my trip out West. It was a poor choice for me to go at it in my Blundtstones as the insoles (albeit well worn already) got shredded on the descent. At least it wasn’t a long and arduous hike. All in all, it took us about 3 1/2 hours to climb up and back down.

I’m looking forward to more hiking in the Rockies. I can see what all the fuss is about.

Back at Barrier Lake at the end of the hike.

Prairie View Trail, Barrier Lake, Kananaskis AB at EveryTrail

Written by canadianparkhound

September 4, 2012 at 4:51 pm

One week, Four parks. Gaspe to New Brunswick. July 2011 Pt. 3/5 (Forillon Nat’l Park))

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Part 3: Forillion Day 2

Battle of the St. Lawrence, memorial plaque.

I find Forillon National Park to be exceptional. It is well maintained and though relatively small, it has a lot to offer. Seeing as we only had the day (and one more night), we chose to hike the trail to the tip of the park. The trailhead is at the parking lot at the end of the road, past the campgrounds. You really can’t miss it.

The trail starts at the look out point by the memorial plaque. It’s a quick ascent up the rocky path with the view of the St. Lawrence fading as you start to cut inland to cross to the other side of the point, heading towards the small community of Grande-Grave. This trail was once a portage for fisherman getting supplies between Grande-Grave and Forillon. What a treacherous portage when you consider the weight of the gear at that time

Hike route to the tip of Forillon

It’s a little over 9 km from the trailhead to the tip. Once you pass through Grande-Grave, you can follow the footpath that takes you closer to the water than if you were to merely walk along the road. We had plenty of whale sightings from the footpath, though, they don’t show up in any pictures.

Trail to the tip of Forillon

It was an overcast day, which made it pleasant for a long walk but, like any good Maritime day, it threatened to rain most of the way.

View along the Gulf of St. Lawrence

When we neared the tip, the reality of rain was beginning to set in and we were started to worry about the 9 km return trip, while having to cut back through the forest and end with a challenging rocky descent back at the trailhead at dusk. Ah, the things you wish you would have thought about at the start of the hike…

View from the tip of Forillon

The rain held out for our visit to the tip, where we rested for a few minutes and had a snack. It’s an impressive view and worth the effort. It is possible to take an easier route that can be done by driving to Grande-Grave and through to the parking lot at the very tip of the park, skipping the hike from the campground side of the park altogether.

About ten minutes into our return trip, the rain started. It started out fairly gently, and quickly opened into a steady downpour. We were lucky enough to catch a ride with a sympathetic solo photographer who was camping nearby us. I’m happy to be ending this part of our blog by not having to recount a harrowing journey in the rain and dark, full of misery and blisters.

We spent our second and final night in Forillon playing cribbage by candlelight, sharing the communal building by our site with a young family, waiting out the rain together. Luckily, it didn’t pour all night, but it stayed wet. The next morning, we woke up and threw all of our wet gear, loose, in the back of our Honda Element. We’d dry it out in Kouchibouguac.

What I liked about Forillon:

– well maintained tent sites with more privacy than any park that I’ve experienced yet. The facilities are very well maintained.

– the viewpoints and sites are all worth visiting.

What I didn’t like about Forillon:

– nothing, it was all good!

 

Part Four: Kouchibouguac

Part Two: Forillon

Part One: Le Bic

Written by canadianparkhound

August 30, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Nose Hill Park, Calgary AB, August 2012

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Calgary’s northwest end is home to one of the largest municipal parks in North America: Nose Hill Park. With just over 11 sq. km, you’ll find well maintained trails and many footpaths that you can follow for hours. Within, you can find over 300 km of trails to follow. The park is open to hikers and cyclists and there is a large “off leash” area for dogs to enjoy.

Nose Hill is an interesting feature on the outskirts of Calgary as it gives you the opportunity to take in a panoramic view of the city of Calgary to the south, the flatness of the beginning of the prairies to the east and the magnificent Rockies to the west. Essentially, it’s a foot hill that lies before the mountains, but in an otherwise flat area, it gives you the opportunity to climb a few hundred feet and get a bit of a bird’s eye view, if you don’t have the time/chance to get yourself into the mountains. It’s a perfect spot for day hikes tailored to whatever length you wish.

For my first trip in the park, I hiked a counter-clockwise loop around the bulk of the circumference. The distance was just under 9.5 km and it took about 2 hours. I started out at the parking lot by 14th & Berkley Gate and crossed over to the west side, and then headed due south with a view of the Rockies to my right.

The main trail is paved and wide enough for hikers, cyclists, joggers, dog owners to move in both directions, with plenty of informal footpaths and bike trails for you to explore throughout. The peak itself is a large flat plateau of grassland. Beautiful.

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When you reach the south end of the peak, you’ll get a great view of downtown Calgary.Image

Turning back north, along the eastern edge of the park, you can opt for the footpaths that take you through more hills, or stay on the easier main trail. I took the footpaths and stayed on the edge of the park, enjoying the view on my way back to the car.

I love it when a city or town has a park within its limits that have hikes that can offer, a) privacy and, b) a multi-hour hike. My basic criteria for a good hike is one where I need my hydration pack and a snack. Nose Hill fits the bill. If you’re ever in Calgary, I would highly recommend taking a few hours out of your day to visit this fantastic municipal park.

Written by canadianparkhound

August 30, 2012 at 4:46 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!

Image

Written by canadianparkhound

May 19, 2012 at 5:58 pm

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

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October 5th

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

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


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

Lesson #1: Travel light.

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

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

Lesson #2: Hiking poles are not for sissies.

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

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

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

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

Lesson #3: Bring back-up footwear.

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

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

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

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

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

Oct. 6th, 2010

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

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

People spotted: 6 to 8

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

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

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

Written by canadianparkhound

May 23, 2011 at 12:17 pm