Trip report (and trip report video): 1st ever solo backpacking trip, at Point Grondine Park

I used to think that I would never want to camp on my own. After all, I’m afraid of what I can’t see in the woods at night, and in particular, of spotting glowing eyes looking back at me! But then I decided to try it – at least once! To be honest I was hoping not to spot any (very hungry just out of hibernation) bears while on my own, but I would have been okay seeing moose or anything else. Hearing packs of wolves this time was not high on my list.

I had heard about Point Grondine Park when it first opened, and thought it would be perfect for a 2-night backpacking trip. It’s on the Point Grondine Reserve in the Killarney area, and is a First Nations owned and operated park, with “over 18,000 acres of scenic natural wilderness landscape, old growth pine forest, stunning river vistas and six interior lakes to explore”.

From the trailhead there is a 5 km hiking trail loop called Merv’s Landing, from which you can access the 21 km Wemtagoosh Falls overnight hiking loop. There are 7 backpacking campsites available (all on the Wemtagoosh Falls loop), 2 of which are “premium” sites. I assumed this meant they would have better views, so I booked H2 for night 1, and H7 for night 2. There was not yet a map available of the trail, so I printed my own topographic maps from an Ontario government site. Later, a map was available from Point Grondine, but you could only pay for it while booking a site. Since I’d already booked mine, I was given a free copy (nice customer service!).

About a week before my trip, I received an email from the park notifying me that recent storms had knocked down many trees onto the trail, and that the interior maintenance crew was doing their best to clear the downed trees. A few days before the trip I got another email from the park, asking me what time I thought I would arrive. It seemed a little odd, but I learned it was because – if possible – a “Trail Guardian” would meet me at the trailhead. Then the day before my trip I received a phone call telling me that site H7 wasn’t ready as a premium site, but I could still stay there. I was also offered a free night’s accommodation for a future trip, since I wasn’t getting what I was promised. I had learned since booking that premium actually meant a wooden tent platform, built up fire pit, and a picnic table. I asked what I was supposed to do if no one was at the trailhead when I arrived, and found out that I should fill out a form and email it back to the park just in case (it provided such information as my emergency contact, tent colour, pack colour, etc.).

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For the first time, I decided to make a trip report video. Check it out, and let me know what you think of it.

Day 1 (Trailhead to H2)

Finally the day of my trip arrived, and I set out for Point Grondine. I arrived just after 12 PM, but there was no one to greet me, just 4 people and 2 dogs leaving after a day hike – oh, and about 1,000 mosquitoes!! They swarmed me as soon as I got out of my vehicle.

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At the trailhead.

The instructions I was sent said that the shortest route to the canoe crossing and the start of the Wemtagoosh Falls loop was to go left/west. Standing with Highway 637 behind me, facing the two possible trail start locations, this didn’t make sense because left was east. In any case, I decided to go left, since on the map it looked shorter. I was surprised that the trail started out as a gravel path. Eventually, I reached a lake and saw a trail marker, so I followed the trail until I realized it seemed to be taking a very long time to reach the canoe crossing. And then I started hearing cars. And then I returned to my vehicle! Oops. I hadn’t started on the correct trail after all (I had started on the canoe portage, right down the middle of the loop). It took a while, but I finally found the actual “left” start to the loop. I’m not sure how I missed it the first time, other than the gravel path being very welcoming!

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I set out again and within the first km I met a couple coming the other way, totally enveloped by bugs. The woman said to me, “It doesn’t get any better!” As I got quite close to the water crossing, there was a sign saying “Water Spyder Ahead”. Last year, there was a raft that you used, with a pulley system, to cross the 20 m body of water. The Water Spyder is no more, with the park website noting that canoes would be available for use. The instructions stated to tie the canoe off. So, I took my backpack off, grabbed a Souris River canoe (my first time paddling a Souris River), a lifejacket, and a paddle, and after putting the lifejacket on and my bag and hiking poles in the boat (and swatting the mosquitoes away constantly), I pushed off from shore and headed for the dock on the other side. However, it was windy. Very windy. And I struggled to solo paddle the canoe across the water. The boat was turning in ways I didn’t want it to turn! I was blown against the rocks once, but then managed to power my way to the dock. It was at this point that I realized there was no way I could leave the boat here, because 1) there was no rope to tie the boat off, and 2) the alternative was carrying the boat up a steep rock face, which was probably impossible and definitely dangerous. So I sat there for a minute or two, then paddled downstream and over to the shore, pulling the boat up on the land and flipping it over, with the lifejacket and paddle tucked underneath. I think it was here that I finally put my bug jacket on.

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After my windy paddle.

I hate hiking with the mesh on my face (it’s harder to see), but I really had no choice. I continued hiking, going up, and down, and up again. The terrain was definitely challenging in spots, and I was thankful to have hiking poles.

The trail was marked with a combination of small white signs on trees, ribbon in trees, inukshuks, and painted arrows on rocks. However, I found that there was not enough signage. Many times the trail changed direction and there was no sign warning of the change. It was frustrating at times.

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One of the inukshuks on the trail marking the way.

I reached campsite H1, which was marked with a campsite sign, but when I reached what I thought might be H2, there was only ribbon in trees. I decided to follow it, and sure enough, spotted the raised wooden platform of my first premium site (I had hiked nearly 10k). Hilarity ensued as I tried to set my tent up in the wild wind! (If you haven’t watched the video yet, do it.) I eventually gave up on the platform and set it up on the hill. I could have placed rocks in the corners of the tent, but I was worried that the tent poles were going to snap while I was trying to set it up!

I found a tree to hang a bear bag, tied my rope around a rock and threw it over a branch. I also set up a tarp in case I had to cook breakfast in the rain the next morning.

After having my afternoon snack, I gathered wood for a fire, and then built my new KIHD stick stove. I had made some fire starters a few days before the trip, and decided to use a wax coated cotton ball this time. I broke tiny pieces of wood off the pile I had gathered, and put it into the stick stove (which I had placed inside the fire pit). It lit on the 2nd match, and within less than 10 minutes I had boiled 1 litre of water. I made hot chocolate, and added the rest of the water to my butternut squash soup to rehydrate it. I ate that along with homemade sesame pepper crackers for dinner. Yum. I got the fire going again and boiled 1 litre of water for a hot water bottle in my sleeping bag.

I decided to go to bed early, rather than build a bigger fire, because the bugs were still bothering me (though not as much at this windy site!). Yes, I was in the tent at 6:30 PM! When I eventually tried to go to sleep, I couldn’t! There were people zooming around the lake in a motor boat, playing loud music. It was very annoying. I think it was probably 11 PM before I fell asleep. The loons were quite loud in the night, but otherwise, silence.

Day 2 (H2 to Trailhead)

When I woke up at about 6 AM, I could hear rain gently falling on my tent. I got an updated weather forecast on my InReach, which told me that the chance of rain was 80% on Day 2 and 60% to 70% on Day 3. I decided that I would hike to my next campsite, and decide there based on the rain and the bugs whether I would stay another night or hike all the way out to my vehicle.

I packed up everything inside my tent, packed up the tent itself, and moved everything under the tarp where it would stay dry. I took my bear bag down, had a big cup of gatorade, and then boiled water for tea and for my oatmeal. Once my KIHD stove had cooled and my dishes were done, I packed everything else into my bag, took the tarp down, and headed out!

Given that I was considering packing it in and going home on Day 2, I could have just gone out the way I came. However, since I drove all that way to see Point Grondine, I wanted to hike the entire Wemtagoosh Falls loop! I set out for H7, in the rain but dry under my rain gear. Quite early in my hike I slipped stepping up onto a wet boulder, falling and having my pack land on my left shoulder. It was a bit sore but manageable. After that I was even more careful with my footing – rocks were wet, logs were wet, and I didn’t want to risk falling again. Whenever I stopped (or even slowed down!) I was swarmed by bugs, so I hardly stopped at all. After 4 hours of hiking I did stop to get my snack out of my pocket, but ate it as I walked (not easy to do while carrying 2 hiking poles). I never saw campsites H3 or H4, but did spot signs for H5 and H6. There were lots of ups and downs, some very steep, and some requiring some very careful manoeuvring. At one point I had to squeeze myself between 2 rock walls and pull myself up.

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It was challenging to squeeze between these rock faces while climbing a steep hill.

The prettiest spot on the trail is definitely Wemtagoosh Falls. It would be a pretty spot to stop and have lunch, if one could stop without being attacked by mosquitoes and black flies. They were so bad I had them in my eyes, ears (!), nose, and mouth – I lost count how many I swallowed.

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Wemtagoosh Falls.

At some point I spotted a grouse on the trail, and later, a tiny toad. I saw moose scat a few times, and some carnivore scat, but not much else.

Before I reached H7 I had pretty much already decided that I was going to keep hiking and go home on Day 2. Hiking in the pouring rain, and being swarmed when I stopped was not exactly fun. I knew that I would eventually reach a fork in the trail, where turning right would take me back to the canoe, and turning left would take me back to H1 and H2, where I started that morning.

It was taking a very long time to get to the canoe, and the longer it took, the more frequently I looked at the InReach app on my iPhone, scrolling on the map and trying to figure out where the turn would be. Unfortunately, I started to have a problem scrolling. I figured it was because my screen was wet, so I stopped, dug the toilet paper out of my bag, ate bugs, and wiped the screen off. It had me in the Bahamas. Oh to be in the Bahamas. I was concerned, not knowing exactly where I was and why I hadn’t reached the canoe. I continued to hike. To my horror, I came upon a campsite which I decided had to be H1 (they were not numbered). I had missed the turnoff to the canoe. I had expected to see a sign saying “Water Spyder Ahead”, or some other indication that to return to the mainland you had to turn right. But I saw nothing. I stopped, got out my map and compass, and based on the 2 islands that I could see and the direction I was facing (north), I confirmed that I had to be at H1. Seeing that I had a cell signal, I called my husband to tell him that I wasn’t sure where the canoe was, and that I had to backtrack. I had been keeping him posted using the messaging function on my InReach, but calling was faster! It was good that someone knew I was off track. Since I had come from the canoe to H1 yesterday, I knew that if I took the trail back I should find the canoe. However, I was worried that I would miss the canoe (again!) and continue on to H7. I told myself to just stick to the left. If there was any split in the trail, I had to go left. It took a while, but eventually, I spotted the canoe. I cannot tell you how relieved I was!!! I knew from that point I would find my way out. Aside from the mosquito swarming, crossing the water was much easier this time, as it wasn’t very windy, and I knew exactly where to land the canoe.

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Still smiling, despite the rain and bugs.

On the other side, I decided that when I got to the trail junction I would go left (west), so that I could walk the small section that I missed on Day 1! That way, I would walk the entire length of the 2 trails – and then some!

Because of the bugs I never did stop to eat my lunch, but as I was nearing the end of my hike, I was getting very hungry! The last bit seemed to take forever, but eventually, I arrived back at the trailhead. PHEW! According to my InReach, I hiked about 16.5 km.

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I’m glad I went out alone, but I won’t be giving up my camping partners any time soon!!

Watch for upcoming posts covering my menu for the planned 3 days and a review of my KIHD stove.

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Menu for 4-day early May hike of Western Uplands Trail at Algonquin Provincial Park

One thing I love about planning for a backpacking trip is planning the food! My friend Cheryl and I decided on a menu for this trip, then split up who would prepare what. We cooked, baked, dehydrated and then froze everything. Finally, Cheryl brought her food to my house, where I verified that it was all there, and organized it all into Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4. Our trips always start after lunch, so we pack all our food away in our bear bag except for our afternoon snack on Day 1.

For breakfast, we boil 2 L of water, using it for tea/coffee and hot cereal, and the remainder, if any, for warming up the little bit of dish water we use in our pot.

For lunches, we always have no-cook meals.

For dinners, we sometimes bake fresh bread like bannock or corn bread, or cook something like eggs, but otherwise we usually just boil water to add to something like pasta or soup.

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Food ready to go!

This trip though, we didn’t exactly follow our menu! What started out as a 4-day backpacking trip turned into a 3-day trip because of the cold and wet conditions. You can read the trip report here. Below you will find our planned menu, and then what we actually ate!

Planned menu for 4-days for 2 people

Day 1

Afternoon snack: trail mix

Dinner: spinach quinoa soup with bannock

Evening snack: dehydrated fruit and chocolate

Day 2

Breakfast: oatmeal with dried fruit + tea/coffee + gatorade

Morning snack: pizza gorp

Lunch: leftover bannock from Day 1 dinner with cheese, nuts, jerky, dried fruit

Afternoon snack: harvest oat squares

Dinner: pasta Alfredo with bacon, veggies, parmesan

Evening snack: dehydrated fruit and chocolate

Day 3

Breakfast: granola + tea/coffee + gatorade

Morning snack: trail mix

Lunch: apple peanut salad wrap

Afternoon snack: energy squares

Dinner: egg wraps with bacon, veggies, salsa

Evening snack: dehydrated fruit and chocolate

Day 4

Breakfast: strawberry peach muesli + tea/coffee + gatorade

Morning snack: harvest oat squares

Lunch: tomato flatbread, hummus and cheese

Afternoon snack: pizza gorp

 

Drinks

gatorade

tea and coffee

hot chocolate

Actual menu for 3-days for 2 people

Day 1

All meals as planned + hot chocolate before dinner

Day 2

Breakfast as planned

Morning snack as planned

Lunch as planned

Dinner (at this point, we decided that we didn’t want to spend any more time outside in the freezing cold under a tarp in the pouring rain to cook our dinner): wraps with dehydrated veggies and dehydrated salsa (not rehydrated – a little hard to eat!)

Evening snack: harvest oat squares

On Day 2, we organized all our food into stuff we would eat, and stuff that would require cooking and we would bring home.

Day 3

Breakfast (knowing that we had to hike 20 km to cut our trip short by a day and get back to our vehicle, we opted for an early start and a no-cook breakfast): Day 4 harvest oat squares + gatorade

Morning snack: Day 2 evening snack dehydrated fruit and chocolate + Day 3 morning snack trail mix + Day 4 afternoon snack pizza gorp

Lunch: Day 4 Tomato flatbread and cheese (no hummus) + gatorade

Afternoon snack as planned

Dinner: Day 3 apple peanut salad wrap

Leftover food

Day 2 pasta Alfredo with bacon, veggies, parmesan

Day 3 granola

Day 3 egg from wraps

Day 4 strawberry peach muesli

Day 4 hummus

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Trip report: 4-day early May hike along the Western Uplands Trail at Algonquin Provincial Park

As our 4-day hike along the Western Uplands Backpacking Trail at Algonquin Provincial Park got closer, the weather forecast continued to deteriorate. The forecasted temperature dropped (10C on Day 1 to 2C on Day 4) and the likelihood of rain increased, so much so that Environment Canada issued a rainfall warning for heavy rain. And yet we still set out for our early May adventure…

Day 1: Rain Lake access point to Brown Lake (13-14 km)

After picking up our backcountry permit at the Kearney park office, where we were assured that even low-sitting vehicles have been getting through the Rain Lake road, we headed for the access point! We ate our lunch in our vehicle (and spotted a vole while doing so!), then started our trip.

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Starting the tracking function of my Garmin Inreach SE+.

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All smiles as we start our trip, warm and dry and energetic.

After crossing Rain Lake on a wooden bridge, the trail follows an old railway bed for nearly all of the first 8.7 km, at which point you reach the 3rd (and top) loop of the Western Uplands Backpacking Trail and need to proceed in either a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction (you can also access the trail – and loop 1 – from Highway 60). We were headed for Brown Lake, so we went in a clockwise manner. The next 4 km takes you through the forest, up and down and up again. With all the rain in recent days, the trail was very wet in sections, requiring us to carefully choose our steps so as to avoid getting a soaker. There were also stream crossings to manoeuvre by picking a path along partially submerged rocks and logs. We found the trail lacking in signage, and many times we had to consult our map to figure out which way we should probably go. Since we were hiking so early in the season, there was new growth everywhere in the forest, including on the trail – it hadn’t yet been beaten down by hikers’ feet. So without very many trail markers in trees, we found it quite frustrating at times (suggestion: when the trail turns, put a marker!). Perhaps it would be easier to follow the trail in the summer!

We reached the first campsite on Brown Lake, but having looked at a map posted along the trail, we thought there were 3 campsites and decided to continue to the last one to shorten our hike the next day. We met 3 men at the 2nd campsite, who warned us about a stream crossing they had done earlier, having travelled in the counter-clockwise direction. They said that they had to build a bit of a bridge with trees but that it wasn’t too stable and we might still get wet feet. We continued on to the next campsite, but soon realized there wasn’t one. We returned to the 1st one and settled in, setting up our tent and tarp, and throwing a rope over a branch for a bear bag. We had decided that we didn’t feel like scavenging for wood to make a fire, so opted to not have one at all. I set out to make hot chocolate on our MSR Dragonfly stove, but soon discovered that we had a problem – (insert guilty party’s name here) accidentally packed only 1 of 2 required bottles of chemicals to treat our water (they work together), meaning that we would have to boil all of our water to avoid getting sick from nasty tiny critters invisible to the naked eye. We debated scrapping our plans for hot chocolate so that we could save fuel, but then decided to have a campfire because 1) it wasn’t raining (yet), 2) wood was dry (still), and 3) we may not have brought enough fuel to boil all our water for 1 minute! So we gathered wood, and had a great fire, boiling as much water as we could use for hot chocolate, dinner, breakfast, and to carry with us the next day. We had a delicious dinner of spinach quinoa soup and fresh bannock. Yum. Full menu for the trip is here.

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Our one and only campfire of the trip.

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Short-lasting pretty sunset on Brown Lake – before the rain!

Possibly the best feature of this campsite was the fully enclosed toilet – 3 walls, a door, and a roof! Who cares that the door didn’t shut?! Someone had tied a rope to the handle, and Cheryl modified it so that it could be hooked onto a nail so the door stayed closed. From the outside, we pushed a log against the door to keep the inside dry!

Within 5 minutes of us climbing into the tent for the night, the rain began. With 2 very short exceptions, it continued to rain for more than 40 hours!

We had one Nalgene bottle with us, so we filled it with boiling water, and after Cheryl’s feet warmed up, I had it for the rest of the night. Unfortunately, I was still cold and had trouble sleeping (despite my sleeping bag rated at -7C). In the night the loons were quite loud, but I didn’t mind! We also heard a beaver slapping its tail against the water a couple of times.

Day 2: Brown Lake to West Otterpaw Lake (6.5 km)

We woke up to pouring rain, so we cooked our breakfast under our tarp. We packed up camp, and set out for West Otterpaw Lake.

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Much of the trail looked like this. Note the useless bridge!

We knew that we would encounter the stream that the guys warned us about “just around the corner”. Turns out we hiked for quite a long time before we found it. Rather than crossing the stream where they had apparently cut down a live tree (!) and lay it across the water, we chose to cross further downstream, where we could use a combination of partially submerged rocks and logs to cross. Would the rocks be slippery? Would the logs move? We picked our way slowly, very slowly across the stream, and safely made it to the other side. I was very thankful for my hiking poles! It would have been next to impossible to cross without them.

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One of many stream crossings – this one perhaps the most harrowing.

The temperature was such that whenever we stopped, even to quickly eat a snack, we got cold. It took hiking for 10 minutes or more to warm up again. Unfortunately, Cheryl and I brought shells for our gloves that eventually soaked through, meaning that we couldn’t keep our hands dry and warm. I had extra pairs of gloves, but if I wore them in the pouring rain, they would be soaked within seconds!

When we originally planned out and reserved our route, we fully intended to hike 16 km on Day 2, going the long way past East End Lake and Loft Lake before arriving at West Otterpaw Lake.

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We saw moose poop all over the place, but no moose! I did spot this antler though!

But then driving up to Algonquin, we wondered whether we really wanted to hike 16 km. We decided that we would figure it out as we were hiking. In the end we decided to shorten our hike by walking along a portage to Lady Slipper Lake, and following the trail to Gervais Lake and then West Otterpaw Lake. We thought that we would set up camp and then go for a day hike, hiking along part of the trail that we had originally intended to cover. However, once we arrived at camp, we had no desire to go anywhere. It was still pouring rain, and after setting up camp, we climbed into our sleeping bags, eventually got warm, and never wanted to leave them!

From 2 PM until we went to sleep that night, we tried to keep warm in the tent, going out only a couple of times to use the toilet and hang our food bag. And by toilet I mean seat without a lid, which meant that it was soaking wet wood that I refused to sit on – instead, I hovered.

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Look how close the moose was to pooping in the toilet! For those unfamiliar with backcountry toilets, that wood all over the ground is the lid.

It was raining so hard that as soon as you pulled your pants down, your backside and exposed clothing started to get wet! Not fun.

At some point that afternoon, I think, I spotted a hare between our tent and the toilet. It was very cute, hopping off into the woods.

While we had originally planned a 4-day trip, we started discussing options for shortening our trip. We could pack up right away and hike as far as we could back in the direction we came, spending the night on another lake and hiking the rest of they way out the next day. Or we could wake up early the next day and hike 20 km out to our vehicle. Or we could continue with our trip, facing another full day of hiking in the pouring rain, where the temperature was expected to drop again, and where we weren’t sure whether our rain gear would eventually soak through with all the rain! Our plan had been to stay on Weed Lake that 3rd night. We were worried though that our fleece sweaters would get wet and we would lose our layer of warmth. And to be perfectly honest, camping in freezing temperatures in pouring rain is not fun! I would rather have had colder temperatures and snow. At least we would have been dry and been able to wear gloves. That evening, while out of the tent to hang our bear bag, it started to snow! It was a rain/snow mix.

We decided to head home early, getting up at 6 AM the next day and hiking 20 km out to our vehicle. This would be further than either of us had ever hiked with 35+ pounds on our backs. We knew that it was doable, with the last 8+ km mostly flat.

We also scrapped plans to cook any more meals, not wanting to hang out in the cold under our tarp to cook. Instead, we poached our snacks and no-cook lunch from Day 4, and ate those for dinner and breakfast the next day.

Once again we filled our Nalgene bottle with boiling water, and this time, despite the cooler temperature, I slept better!

Day 3: West Otterpaw Lake to Rain Lake access point (20.7 km)

We were up at 6 AM and on the trail by 7:20 AM. Packing up the tent and tarp takes longer when your hands are frozen and don’t work right! Our rain coats and pants were still soaking wet in the morning – they hadn’t dried off at all overnight (not surprising).

Using my new Garmin InReach SE+, a satellite communicating 2-way messaging device that can also summon emergency assistance (rescue), we informed our families that we had modified our route and were intending to hike all the way out that day. They confirmed that they had received the messages. So far, I love my InReach!! Peace of mind for me and my family.

Hiking out the way we went in meant that we would have to do the stream crossing again that was a little harrowing the first time (it probably took us 30 minutes to figure out where to cross safely!). However, I found it easier the 2nd time, maybe because I knew I could do it. We eventually arrived at our Day 1 campsite, and used the luxurious toilet with a roof and door! We continued on our way, and were later stopped in our tracks when we reached a stream that was totally impassible – without walking through it! We spent a while – a long while – walking upstream and downstream, evaluating our options for crossing it. We couldn’t remember how we did it on the way in, but figured the water was so swollen that likely we just picked our way easily over rocks. But now, we had to weigh the options – cross over rocks with fast flowing current, and steps a little too long for our liking? Or precariously balance along a log 2 feet above the stream (not in my lifetime!)? Or take our gaiters, boots and socks off, roll up our pants, put on our sandals and walk through the stream. Yup, the last option. The water was cold, but not quite as freezing as I expected it to be. I was worried that we wouldn’t warm up! But we used our quick dry towels to dry our feet and continued on our way! Phew.

And speaking of gaiters, we were so happy to have brought them. Several times we had to step into puddles or streams and never once did I get a wet sock! Love my Outdoor Research gaiters and my Salomon Quest hiking boots!!

Once we reached the old rail line, we knew we would make it to our vehicle! However, the last few km’s were hard on our feet. The packed ground was surprisingly painful. It seemed that the end would never come. The pouring rain continued, and each time we turned the corner, we saw more trail… we thought the bridge would never come!

But finally, we spotted the bridge! A couple of guys heading out on a canoe trip were at the access point, and one of them agreed to take our picture. Amazingly, I was still dry under my wet rain coat and pants!

 

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Did I mention the rain?

Another time, I would not set out on a trip with such a terrible weather forecast. We were colder than during our winter snowshoeing trip this February.

Nevertheless, this trip presented us with several challenges that we were able to overcome! Algonquin, I’ll be back!

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This is the map page on my computer for my InReach SE+. The little dots are the log points, and the big dots (just a few) are the hourly tracking points. I was just learning how to use the device, so inadvertently stopped the trip for a segment of our hike.

I saw today that Algonquin has closed the Western Uplands Backpacking Trail and the Highland Backpacking Trail due to flooding – I’m not surprised!

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Gear review: Drill Deck – Freestyle Swim Training & Drill Game for Triathlon

A planned short break from swimming after the 2016 triathlon season turned into a 4+ month break when I couldn’t get motivated to get back into the pool more than once or twice. It didn’t help that my local Y’s swim schedule changed, with no more Monday to Friday 12 PM swims. This had been the perfect time slot for me. Instead, I would have to shift my lunch hour, or swim at 5:30 AM, which has been very unappealing lately.

In February I was contacted by Drill Deck to see if I would be interested in trying out their swim game – the Drill Deck Freestyle Swim Training & Drill Game for Triathlon. It sounded intriguing, and I wondered if it might provide some inspiration for me.

My free copy of the game arrived in the mail in March, and one morning shortly after 5:30 AM, I was at the pool ready to try it out with my friend Rebecca.

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Essentially, you roll the 2 dice, which determine whether you will swim laps or do a drill, and how many laps of the pool you do it for. If you’re doing a drill, then you draw a card from the deck, and do the drill you’ve chosen. Then you roll the dice again to determine whether you will swim laps or do a drill… and repeat.

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Colour-coded drill cards

The cards are colour coded by area of focus, so if on a specific day you really just want to focus on one thing – e.g. speed – then you can just pull out the appropriate cards and choose from them. The categories are:

  • Stroke
  • Breathing
  • Body position
  • Kicking
  • Open water sighting
  • Speed

Each card gives a description of the drill, and then a tip.

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Example of a drill card

Rebecca and I had fun trying out the game after swimming some warm up lengths. We even cheated a few times when we rolled “LAP” but really wanted to do drills – we overruled the game.

I have continued to use the game in my swims. Since I previously had semi-private swim lessons with a coach, I have tried many of the drills included in Drill Deck before, and was familiar with how to do them. If you weren’t sure what they meant, the Drill Deck website provides additional information for each of the drills, including videos.

Drill Deck doesn’t replace a swim coach, but it can definitely reduce the monotony of swimming endless lengths of front crawl. Sometimes, I’m perfectly happy to just get a specific swim distance done in a given amount of time, but other times, it’s nice to try some drills that I might not think of on my own, and to do it in a fun way.

I would recommend the game to someone who gets bored easily swimming lengths, or just needs a bit of inspiration to get back in the pool.

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A newbie orienteer, and an interview with Orienteering Canada

Recently I was approached by Orienteering Canada, who was interested in interviewing me as a newbie orienteer and blogger of my orienteering* adventures. [* Orienteering is “a competitive or noncompetitive recreational activity in which participants use a map and compass to navigate between checkpoints along an unfamiliar course (as in the woods)” according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary.

Orienteering Canada provides leadership and resources to those involved in Canadian orienteering (athletes, coaches, officials and volunteers).

You can read the interview here. See why you, too, should try orienteering!

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Race report: Don’t Get Lost Raid the Rib Orienteering Race

It’s amazing how one wrong turn can change everything! Saturday was to be my 2nd time doing an orienteering race with Alasdair and our friend Rebecca, after last fall’s Raid the Hammer. We arrived at Ball’s Falls Conservation Area in Jordan, Ontario for race kit pick-up, where we each got a t-shirt, a package of oatmeal, race instructions, 3 race maps and a waterproof map cover, and then a race bib and SI timing chip for our team.

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Rebecca and I during pre-race planning.

We chose to do the “half” raid, meaning that we would have 3 hours to get from the start location (which we would get to by school bus) to the finish at Ball’s Falls, while finding 11 mandatory controls and as many optional ones as we wanted to. Miss a mandatory control and 15 minutes is added to your time.

We estimated based on previous races (Raid the Hammer, the Snowshoe Raid and the S.T.A.R.S. War snowshoe race) that we should be able to cover 10 km within the 3 hours. I pulled out a piece of string, and set out to map our route based on a new technique that I learned in the Don’t Get Lost Next program for adults – based on the scale of the map(s), figure out the length of string that we could run, and then lay it out on the map(s) on our proposed route, allowing us to figure out exactly how many of the optional controls we should try for!

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Using string to plan out our route based on the distance we can cover in 3 hours.

We decided that we would not look for the 4 controls in the E=MC squared section (must have been hard for Alasdair to give up on these, given his love of math and physics!), nor the 5 in the slopestyle section. To get points in any one of these sections, you had to find all the controls in that section. Instead, we decided to start with control 1, then proceed with 2 to 5, skip the optional Bermuda triangle, do 6 to 8, find dogbone controls if we had time (3 pairs of controls that had to be done sequentially, but you do 1, 2, 3 or none of the pairs), 9, 10, one or more of the 6 controls in the matrix section if we had time (we doubted that we would), then 11 and finally the finish. We highlighted our route on our maps, and were ready to go!

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These were the 3 maps for this race. From right to left, map 1, map 2, map 3. The yellow highlighting shows our planned route.

We headed to the bus as the rain began, and drove the short distance to the race start. The forecast was for a high of 22 degrees Celsius, so rain wasn’t a problem!

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On the bus on the way to the race start.

In chatting with a few teams before the race, we knew that we wouldn’t be the only team heading straight for control 1. We were shocked though when the race began and we were the only team to turn around and run along the road to get to control 1, while every other team headed into the woods. The road route looked shorter to us, and we had verified with the race organizers before the race that we were allowed to take that route. It was not a surprise to us that we were the first ones to arrive at control 1, but we were still amazed! It took us less than 5 minutes to find the control, while the other teams who headed there first took 9, 16 and 17 minutes.

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At control 1.

We took off for the next section, which was a tricky one in which 6 circles were drawn on the map, but we would find only 3 controls here (numbers 2, 3, and 4). We guessed that the race organizers would be sneaky, and wouldn’t put the control at the first circle. We didn’t find anything where the control would be had it been placed there, but we were confident in our navigation, and moved on to the next circle on the map. We were running through brambles and getting all scratched up, but we didn’t see a soul or hear anyone either. Again, there was nothing at the second circle. Had we been less confident, we likely would have spent much longer looking for a control that wasn’t there. It was at the third circle that we spotted control 2, which required us to climb a rocky wet section.

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At control 2.

Control 3 was at the next circle, and then control 4 was at the 6th and last circle! We were feeling pretty good as a team, having found every control quite quickly, and we still hadn’t been overtaken by other teams. By 47:30 (elapsed race time), we had found 5 controls, and things were going great! It was here that we made our fatal error! With every other control, we took a bearing, and even if we ran on a trail, we paid attention to the bearing. For some reason, we looked at the map, and thought it would be easy to just run the trail to control 6. We didn’t take a bearing. We followed the trails on the map, running through some very thick gooey mud, and eventually turning right and following the trail… only it took way longer than we thought it should to get to control 6, and before long, we realized we weren’t where we thought we were. It took us a full 56 minutes to get from control 5 to 6, including us scratching our heads and trying to figure out where we went wrong, backtracking, taking a different route and looking for a different creek, and finally deciding to just go west and hope we hit the creek. It was around this point that we finally saw another team – running in a direction we didn’t want to go. We figured that we must have accidentally ended up in the Bermuda triangle section!! According to the race instructions, “Rumour has it that some teams have entered and never been seen again. The map has been simplified. We got rid of all those things that get in the way: trails, vegetation, boulders. Who needs them!” It was then that we realized the trail we turned right onto wasn’t the one we wanted (we turned too soon), that others had been removed from the map, and we forgot that little detail until too late!!! Heading west, we saw another team, and then we heard and finally spotted the creek, and knew that we had found ourselves!! I spotted control 6 across the creek, and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief.

We arrived at control 6 at the same time as another team, and from that point until the end, we were never too far from another team. It really was great in the first 47 minutes when we were all alone in the woods!

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Just one of the pretty spots on the course.

The next two controls, 7 and 8, were straightforward to find. We reached the dogbone section, and decided to go for 1A and 1B (had to be done in sequence, in that order, with no other controls in between). We very quickly found 1A, but then we realized that we probably didn’t have time to get 1B – it was a little too far. So, we scrapped that plan and went for 2A, which was very close to a pretty stream. We figured that we could head for 2B and then from there 9, which would mean that we didn’t earn any points for 1A.

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Approaching control 9. Alasdair being Alasdair. [Photo courtesy of Don’t Get Lost]

Finding 9 involved a tricky descent to the bottom of a waterfall. We opted to cross the water on top of the waterfall, and climb down the other side. Some teams descended on the near side, which was steeper and potentially more treacherous! They slid down on their bums.

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The biggest of the waterfalls on the course, and the location of control 9.

After 9 we were able to run much of the approximately 900 m along the Bruce Trail to the aid station. It was here that I found my favourite candy coated chocolate Easter eggs, which were in a milk jug and just calling my name! It was the first food I’d had all race. Yum! There was no gear check (we were carrying some mandatory gear, such as a first aid kit, whistle, etc.), so we weren’t there long. I did have a quick cup of gatorade, and off we went again.

The route to control 10 was very pretty, along a fast flowing creek and more of the Bruce Trail. We ran and ran and ran some more, then started wondering if we had overshot the staircase to climb the escarpment. We knew there would be a second staircase if we missed the first, and really we wouldn’t lose time. But time was running out and we weren’t sure we would make it within the 3 hour time limit. Then we spotted the staircase, and we knew we would finish in time! We slowly climbed the steep stairs. It wasn’t long before we found control 10, then with less than 10 minutes left, we decided to just run to the finish and to scrap finding controls within the matrix section. It was a section where teammates could split up (for most of the race course, you have to be a maximum of 25 m away from your teammates), but we were all happy to just finish! We climbed a hill to control 11, ran to the finish, and we were done! We had covered 11 km.


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Finishing as a team! [Photo courtesy of Don’t Get Lost]

After changing into dry clothes, we enjoyed the post-race BBQ!

Had we not messed up on control 6, we likely could have found all 3 dogbones, and likely a control or two in the matrix section. We figure that we wasted at least 30 minutes on control 6.

In any case, we had tons of fun and overall were pleased with how our race went! I’m feeling much more confident in my navigation, and a couple of times Alasdair and Rebecca had to tell me to wait for them.

Such fun. Can’t wait for the next team race!

Results (found here)

Time: 2:53:11

Points: 50 (Points were only awarded for optional controls. Dogbones were worth 50 each. We didn’t realize this before the race, but it wouldn’t have changed our approach.)

Placing: 13/17 co-ed teams

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Trip report: My very first backcountry kayak camping trip (at Algonquin Provincial Park)

Back in August 2012 I suggested to my friend Cheryl that we do a canoe trip together in Algonquin. She was game, and after briefly considering bringing our combined four kids along, we ditched that idea and decided to go alone – in her two sea kayaks. We picked a weekend in late September, consulted people more knowledgeable than ourselves about Algonquin, got route recommendations, and learned that when kayak-tripping, fewer and shorter portages are best (had we not been told this, we would have soon come to that conclusion ourselves). We settled on a 2 night 2 lake trip, and set to planning all the gear and food we would need. I told myself not to look at the weather forecast, but as the days got closer I couldn’t help it. The forecast got worse and worse, but we were going anyway!

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Setting out under ominous skies.

Day 1 (Friday)

We picked up our backcountry permit in Kearney and headed to Algonquin Provincial Park, which was along a road that quickly became a gravel road. It took a while to drive the 25 km to the put in on Rain Lake. We were a bit surprised to see lots of people at the put in, including what looked like a huge group of teenage girls with many boats and lots of gear. Would there be any campsites left? Thankfully, they were camping at the put in and wouldn’t be competing for sites (it turned out there was lots of choice for us). The rain didn’t start until we arrived at the put in – of course – but it didn’t rain too much and most of our gear was packed in “waterproof” bags. (It’s not clear who won the bet for the last mini reeses pieces bit – Cheryl, who said it would start pouring at the put in, or me, who said it wouldn’t – it rained, but did it pour?)

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Map of where everything should be packed – simplified things for portaging!

After test-packing the boats back at home before the trip, and making a map to remind ourselves how it all fit in, it didn’t take too long to get ready to go – about an hour from the time we arrived at the put in. We headed out, enjoying the fall colours as we paddled. We checked out some campsites along the way, aiming for one of two island sites (apparently one has the fireplace from an old ranger cabin which has long since disappeared), but decided on a different one when the one island site we could see was occupied. Our site was about 5 km from the put in. It was private, big, and had a great rocky area on the shore for sitting on.  It even had a table for food prep, and a bizarre spinning arrow nailed into a tree…? 

After setting up our two man tent, we set to hanging a bear bag to keep our food high off the ground overnight. It was a first for both of us, since normally my husband did the bear bag when we camped! We had fun, but it wasn’t easy – the instructions sounded so simple, but the trees were never the right distance apart, didn’t have branches at the right height, or had way too many branches in all the wrong places. In the process we managed to avoid any head injuries, but we did snag the bag of carabiners in a V shaped space of a tree, and wondered how the heck we were going to dislodge it (far too high to reach and climbing was out of the question). Cheryl found a huge branch and stripped it of excess branches so it weighed slightly less than a tonne. Then we eventually got it upright and managed to poke the rope loose. Oh my, that was fun! (I now use a simple 1 rope method!)

We reheated delicious stew for dinner, discovered that my water pump was not functioning (had to boil lake water instead), and attempted – but failed – to start a fire with wet wood (and dry paper). Somewhat discouraging, but we reassured ourselves by being convinced that the fires we could see across the lake must have been started with accelerants. Instead of sitting by the fire, we sat on the rocks watching the stars, looking for the bizarrely elusive big dipper, saw some satellites, at least one shooting star, and a… flare?! It seems someone set one off on a neighbouring lake (hopefully they didn’t actually need help, because we weren’t going anywhere in the dark!). I had never heard or seen one before – wow, it was bright. Good thing our fire wouldn’t start – I saw a mouse run through the fire pit.

Overnight was cold and the rain poured down on us, but we were dry in the tent. We heard Barred owls hooting – at least one close, others further way. Very neat. Some loons were also very noisy in the night or early morning.

Day 2 (Saturday)

In the morning we made pancakes for breakfast, and just before sitting down to eat I went down to the water to wash some maple syrup off my fingers (should have used my tongue!!!) … only to slip in while wearing my shoes and thick warm socks. Two soakers and I knew my shoes would never dry. Back to sandals it was (thankfully, I had brought 3 pairs of socks)! I was so looking forward to having warm dry feet. After breakfast we were taking down our campsite when a bungee cord snapped back and cut my thumb – ouch! 

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We loaded up the boats again and headed over to the 310 m portage to Sawyer Lake. It was a difficult take out spot, rocky and awkward. And of course we had an audience, with two guys coming from Sawyer Lake to Rain Lake. We hauled the boats onto shore, unloaded some of the gear into backpacks, and each carried a big backpack and the yellow boat. It was heavy and we had to keep stopping every few feet, it seemed, as our fingers failed us! It was at this point that Cheryl asked if I was cursing her for bringing the kayaks instead of the canoe! We went back for the red kayak and re-loaded everything into the boats. The guys had recommended a campsite to us, so we headed for that one – at the far end of the lake (about 1 km away). As we headed over we waved to people at one campsite, and continued paddling as the wind picked up like crazy. We paddled through waves that I wouldn’t have liked in the canoe. I overshot the campsite and had to turn back into the wind, for another awkward take out without a nice landing spot for boats. However, we managed, and found ourselves at a huge, very exposed campsite! Later it was so windy there were whitecaps. We set our tent up way up on the hill, at what must have been a 45 degree angle! We opted for a sheltered site over a flat one. We set up the tent, a tarp over the kitchen “table” and strung up another bear bag (I think it took less time than at the first site!). 

It was c-c-c-cold in the wind and rain. It rained off and on all day long. When it started to pour, we headed for the shelter of the tent. While we were in there, cosy in our sleeping bags, it started to HAIL! Yes, the weekend had it all.

In the late afternoon/early evening, I was wearing every piece of clothing I had brought with me, except my bathing suit! I had 6 layers on the top, including fleece pyjamas, 3 on the bottom, my winter hat and gloves, and I was still cold! We’re not sure but we think without the wind it was about 4 degrees Celsius. We had warm beverages and went on a moose hunt to get warm. We didn’t find moose but did find moose poo (very close to our toilet and tent!) and other animal scat. There were also lots of cool fungi.

Just before dinner we had 3 otters visit us just off our site – they swam away but not before “talking” to us. Very cute.

We had an amazing chicken salad for dinner and chocolate pudding for dessert. Yum. Later, when the rain had stopped, we sat on the rocky point and star gazed. We also looked enviously at the two fires across the lake, which we were sure had to have been started with accelerants! We both opted to use “hot paws” toe warmers overnight, but didn’t find them too useful. I wore 5 layers on top to bed, and 2 on the bottom, with my winter hat and gloves and yes, I was still cold! I decided that I needed a new sleeping bag. Cheryl was shedding layers!

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Delicious dinner!

Day 3 (Sunday)

We decided to have a cold breakfast and a hot lunch at the car since we wanted to get out before any crazy wind and waves hit Sawyer Lake.

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It took about 2 hours from the time we woke up to the time we paddled away, heading for the portage back to Rain Lake. The water was warmer than the air, but there wasn’t yet too much of a wind. We hauled our boats on shore, and this time, decided to take an extra trip to portage all the gear. I also decided to portage with my camera (which I hadn’t done the day before).

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I learned my lesson on this trip, and now I carry my camera everywhere when I camp, even to the loo!

We walked first with only the packs (no boats). We went back for the yellow kayak, and then on our way back, gathered yellow leaves for a bit of arts and crafts on the trail. We got back to Sawyer Lake, and while Cheryl unloaded the red kayak, I started to spell out Rain with the leaves, having remembered to do so because our friend Doug asked Cheryl if we were going to spell something with rocks or sticks as I usually do. Had he not asked her, we likely would not have thought about it, and we wouldn’t have taken the extra few moments to pick up all the leaves. All of a sudden I heard a grunt, which I first thought was either Cheryl making noise moving the boat, or a bear! I turned around, and almost immediately saw antlers! I knew then that it was a moose. It was not far away, in the bush, and as I called to Cheryl, it headed down to the water. It stopped, looked at us, and sauntered through the lake, over to the other shore and up into the woods. Very very cool! It was about 15 – 20 feet away from us. I had resigned myself to not seeing a moose, so this was even cooler.

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Had we not done an extra trip with the gear, and the gathering of leaves, we might not have seen it at all! I finished with my arts and crafts and we headed over to Rain Lake. We got back into the boats and started our 6 km paddle to the put in. It was windy at times – very windy – and c-c-c-cold! Our hands lost feeling and I couldn’t make mine do what I wanted them to do! As we were paddling out, we heard some crazy grunting in the woods. We figured it was either a very angry bear, or a moose mating call – and settled on the latter. We heard it a few times. We had been warned before our trip that Rain Lake can be a tough paddle on the way out because of the wind, and boy were they right! Rain Lake is a wind tunnel!

We finally made it back to the car, and enjoyed some hot oatmeal for lunch, along with tea and coffee. We “met” the four men who were camped at the accelerant fire site across the lake from us on the 2nd night, and they insisted that all they used was dry wood… and this air thingy that they wind up to provide wind to the fire (rather than blowing on it). They said they were “this close” to bringing dry wood to the girls (us) the night before but because they didn’t see any smoke from our site, they figured we weren’t even trying to build a fire (correct – we didn’t try since all the wood was soaking wet). We packed everything back into the car, and headed back to civilization.

Other animals that we saw on this trip Algonquin: slugs, a chipmunk, herons, crows, loons, mergansers, a grasshopper, one lone frog, a dragonfly, miscellaneous small birds, ducks, unidentified flies. 

All in all we paddled about 15 km, and walked about 2.5 km with the gear. Despite the crummy weather, we enjoyed ourselves and the wilderness that is Algonquin. We both agreed that another night would have been ideal – less packing up and moving and more relaxing. 

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Back at Rain Lake put in.

If you’re interested in reading more about kayaking tripping, check out the guest post I wrote on the Algonquin Outfitters blog.

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