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.).
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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