This fall’s backpacking trip along the Highland Trail at Algonquin Provincial Park was to serve as an experiment of sorts in preparation for hiking the entire 80 km length of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park next spring. My friend Cheryl and I set out to do things a little differently in order to shed pack weight and yet still have a warm, safe, enjoyable trip. Did it work? You’ll have to read on to see…
Shortcut to the full slideshow: https://goo.gl/photos/8E5DnYZoRzy4k2Ck9 (Click on the 1st picture and then the little i near the top right if you want to read the picture descriptions.)
Day 1: Algonquin Provincial Park Highway 60 Highland Trail Access Point to Faya Lake (6.51 km)
After some last minute packing and rearranging of stuff, we headed out the door with both packs weighing 38.6 pounds, including a total of 11.5 pounds of food, or 1.9 pounds of food per person per day (starting with Thursday afternoon snack and ending with Sunday afternoon snack). Ultralight backpackers we are not, but we are trying very hard to leave behind anything we don’t truly need, and to be very careful with the quantity and kind of food we bring (while still enjoying a variety of tasty, healthy foods!).
After driving several hours to the park, we picked up our interior permit at the Mew Lake campground, and drove less than 5 minutes back to the Highland Trail access point on Highway 60. We were on the trail by around 1 PM.
In previous backpacking trips our packs weighed closer to 45 pounds each, so this time we left a few things at home:
- pillow (used clothing)
- knife and fork (used spoon + had swiss army knife if need be)
- plate (used bowl)
- water filter (used water purification drops only)
- 2 nalgene bottles (used plastic ziploc)
- 2nd GPS (brought only 1)
- 2nd map (brought only 1)
- waterproof map folder (used ziploc)
See our full packing list at the end of this blog post!
With forecasted highs of 11-12 degrees Celsius, a small probability of rain and nighttime lows of -1 to +5, we were in for some great hiking weather!
We met a few people on the trail, but nothing compared to the hoards of people parking along Highway 60 to see the changing fall colours and to do the various day hikes.
Unfortunately Cheryl and I both had colds for this trip, so we were sniffling, coughing, sneezing, and blowing our noses as we went along! No wonder the wildlife sightings were minimal! I also found that the cold reduced my cardio and made the hiking more difficult than usual. And then there was the small issue of Cheryl’s as-yet-to-be-diagnosed sore butt muscle!
We stopped at some point for an energy square (see the full menu here: https://kyraonthego.wordpress.com/?p=678), and then found ourselves at our first campsite, the only one on Faya Lake! It was quite a ways off the trail too, so it was very private. We scouted out the campsite for potential bear bag trees, and after finding what we felt was the best one, I tried to throw a rock over the tree branch to then hoist our food bag up. It took just 3 tries.
Cheryl started setting up the tent, and finally we put up a small tarp in case of rain. Then it was time to gather firewood, because we knew we’d need a fire to stay warm in the evening! We reheated some red peppers and carrots, and added them to some peanuts, raisins, and peanut dressing, which we ate with naan bread. Delicious!
We were somewhat surprised to see the sun set behind the trees at 6 PM! Later we enjoyed our campfire with dehydrated bananas and mini Skor bars, and were in our tent by 8:15 PM! It was a bit cool in the night, but not too cold to sleep (though I had to wear long johns, a fleece sweater, and a winter hat).
Day 2: Faya Lake to Harness Lake (12.29 km)
When we woke up on Friday morning, we got changed, packed up our sleeping gear and took the tent down before letting the bear bag down from the tree and starting breakfast. I woke up with a headache, but thankfully breakfast took care of it. Along with a glass of very cold gatorade (which would have been nicer on a warmer day!), we had a cup of tea and some strawberry peach muesli (which helped to warm us up). We dehydrate, prepare and make as much of our food as we can, with most of our recipes coming from A Fork in the Trail by Laurie Ann March. Such a great book!
After packing everything up we hit the trail, heading for a campsite on Harness Lake – we didn’t know which one we would get, because you book the lake but not specific sites.
We had trail mix for a snack and an apple peanut salad wrap for lunch, which we enjoyed along the shore of Head Lake. I was a bit lightheaded at lunch time, but felt better after we had eaten. I’m blaming it on my cold.
On Day 2 I saw a garter snake and a grouse (which took off before Cheryl saw them), then sent her to the front so that she could be the one to scare any bears off as we hiked (even though I was carrying the bear spray!). We had pretty much had enough hiking for the day when we reached what we thought would be our campsite for the night (after meeting a couple of men on the trail and them thinking it was unoccupied), only to find that it was taken! It meant that we had to backtrack and walk for another 5-10 minutes or so. Once we arrived at our campsite and set up the tent and bear bag we enjoyed a super yummy peanut butter chocolate ball.
Once again we set up a tarp, gathered wood for a fire and broke it all into small pieces, sorting it by size.
We baked bannock and rehydrated quinoa spinach soup for dinner, saving some of the bannock for the next day’s lunch. Somehow we punctured our “water bag”, which I had carefully measured at home and marked so that we knew how much water to put in the ziploc to be 1 L or 2 L. We fixed it with duct tape, but when it sprang another leak, we started a new bag and marked our 2 L line with duct tape.
I’m not sure how we had the energy earlier to gather wood after such a long hike, but we were both glad to be able to enjoy another campfire (not to mention our Baileys and mini Reeces peanut butter cups). Friday night we were in bed by 9:15. I didn’t find it as cold in the night.
Day 3: Harness Lake to Provoking Lake East (12.1 km)
Saturday morning we again packed up the tent and everything in it before having maple blueberry granola for breakfast with our gatorade and tea. I was mixing purification drops to add to our bag of water when one of the 2 bottles needed to make the mix ran out! “Uh oh!” I thought. Thankfully, we had a back-up plan – boiling water for 1 minute before using it. Unfortunately, we didn’t bring extra fuel for this purpose. Thankfully, we had other back-up plans – ask other hikers for drops, or make campfires and boil our water that way (and blacken/ruin the pot that is intended for use with a portable stove)! In the end, we managed to boil the water we needed without running out of fuel. Crisis averted.
We started hiking toward Provoking Lake East, through woods that could only be described as very very creaky! Many times we wondered “what was that?” only to decide it was one tree rubbing against another. We also quickly noted which way the tree would fall were it to crash to the ground!
Our morning snack was a very tasty honey mustard trail mix. We later stopped along the trail to have our lunch of bannock, hummus, dried peppers and dried fruit. At some point shortly after lunch, the zipper on my pants split wide open! We had visions of having to pull out the needle and thread to sew a new “bottom”, but I managed to get the teeth aligned again. Phew.
We saw a total of 5 grouse on Day 3 (all one at a time).
Once again, by the time we reached Provoking Lake East, we were ready to be done hiking. We had heard that a campsite on the peninsula was a really nice one, but we also knew it was the furthest away, and would likely be taken. So we decided to check each campsite we came to and decide which one to take. The first one was unoccupied, and it was an okay site, but not great. We decided to check the next site, which wasn’t far away. The site was much nicer, but the toilet was almost on the trail!! We debated going back to the previous site, but decided that it was unlikely many people would pass our site later in the day (having already found their own campsites), so we’d likely be safe sitting on the thunderbox in full view of the trail! (We were right.)
It took me 12(!) tries to get the rock over our preferred bear bag branch, but I wasn’t about to give up! We got the tent up, tarp up, and had a small snack. We found a huge amount of wood for our campfire within a very short distance of our campsite. After our dinner of bagel/egg/bacon/cheese wraps, we started our campfire by 6:30 PM (we were rather beat). We had our Baileys, banana and mini turtles and somehow managed to stay up until 8:15.
Day 4: Provoking Lake East to Highway 60 Access Point (7.7 km)
On our last morning, we had a treat – a Skor hot chocolate to accompany our gatorade and tortilla/egg/salsa wraps. Once everything was packed up, we headed out for the last time, this time toward the car. We took a 250m side trail to a lookout on the way back, which gave nice views of Starling Lake and Lake of Two Rivers.
It started to rain as we hiked, but it was more of a mist and I never did get my raincoat out. We stopped for a snack where the trail crossed Mad Creek (Mud Creek?), and chatted briefly with 4 men in 2 canoes. I asked if they had a camera, so that I could take their picture. They said they didn’t. I told them that I could take a picture with my camera and email it to them. They declined. I asked how they could do a canoe trip without a camera, and one guy pointed to his head and said, “It’s all up here.” (Cheryl said, “They’re guys!”)
As for wildlife on Day 4, the most exciting thing we saw was a Blue Jay.
In the last 100-200 m of the trail, we encountered a group of 15-20 young teenagers, all carrying identical canoe-type packs that were way too big for them. One girl was so bent over we have no idea how she would be able to hike the 6+ km to the first campsite (assuming they were staying there). The adult at the front (tour guide?) and the 2 at the back had curiously small packs… it was rather odd. One girl looked like she could climb into her pack. Two kids were carrying huge jugs of water. What kind of outfitter…?
Despite our colds and the few challenges we faced, we had a great weekend! With a bit more work on the menu side to up the calorie content and decrease the weight of our food, we’re ready for Killarney! (We packed the perfect amount of food, with the exception of us eating Sunday’s lunch when we reached the car, and Sunday’s afternoon snack on the drive home. We never felt that we ate too much, and we didn’t go to bed hungry.)
In case you’re interested, here is our packing list for a 3-night, 4-day fall backpacking trip for 2 adult females (includes clothes we were wearing):
- 1 pair zip-off pants
- 2 t-shirts
- 1 long sleeve shirt
- 1 long johns (long sleeve top plus bottom)
- 1 fleece sweater
- 2 pairs underwear
- 3 pairs socks
- 2 bras
- 1 rain coat and rain pants
- 1 wide brimmed hat
- 1 winter hat
- 1 pair gloves
- 1 pair sunglasses
- 1 pair hiking boots
- 1 pair sandals
- 1 pot 2 L
- 1 pot gripper
- 1 MSR Dragonfly stove with wind protector
- 1 325 ml fuel bottle (full)
- 1 scorch burner (modified version of the one from the Outback oven, which always slips off the stove)
- 1 pot cosy
- 2 bowls
- 2 spoons
- 2 mugs
- 1 pancake flipper
- 1 swiss army knife
- 1 single blade knife
- parchment paper (2 square feet?)
- hot pot square (thing you sit a pot on so as not to burn your table) (not used)
- coffee filters for straining water (not used)
- 11.5 pounds, or 1.9 pounds/person/day (aiming to get that closer to 1.5 pounds/person/day)
- full menu can be found here: https://kyraonthego.wordpress.com/?p=678
- 1 backpack with water bladder
- 4 rolls toilet paper (shared)
- 1 2-man tent – Sierra Designs Zilla 2 (shared)
- 1 fall/spring sleeping bag (mine the MEC rated to -7 and Cheryl’s to -20 something)
- 1 thermarest
- 1 headlamp
- 2 AAA headlamp batteries (shared)
- 1 tarp + 3 small ropes (shared)
- 1 bear bag + non-stretchy rope (shared)
- 1 GPS (shared)
- 2 AA GPS batteries (shared)
- 1 map + compass (shared)
- 1 emergency locator beacon (shared)
- 1 first aid kit (shared)
- 1 emergency kit (small amount of duct tape, backpack waist belt buckles, needle and thread, shoelaces) (shared)
- 1 fire starting kit (matches, cotton balls, long burning pouch) (shared)
- water purification drops (shared)
- 1 camera
- 1 tripod (shared)
- 1 bear spray (shared)
- 1 sunscreen (shared)
- 1 cell phone
- drivers licence, health card
- 1 pen and small notebook (shared)
- 1 quick dry towel
- personal hygiene items (toothbrush, contacts, medicine etc.)
Follow me on Facebook: Kyra on the Go: Adventures of a Paddling Triathlete
Follow me on Twitter: @kyraonthego
Follow me on Instagram: @kyraonthego
7 thoughts on “Hiking Algonquin Provincial Park’s Highland Trail: Faya Lake to Harness Lake to Provoking Lake East, 38.6 km in October 2015”
Great trip report Kyra; loved the read & the pics. I printed out your gear list to help me with mine. I don’t see anything in the list that I would leave out. My pack usually weighs approx 40lbs. To lessen the weight I could get a lightweight pack & a lighter tent and save probably 3 or 4 lbs. My tent is a MEC Quail Plus (5lbs) and pack approx 4lbs. I usually pack more more food & a tetra pack of wine. Tnx for the report. Jim
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks for the feedback Jim! Me too – I could buy a lighter tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad and even a lighter pack (mine is 5 pounds empty!), but without buying new equipment, I feel like I’ve done all I can. 🙂
I’m planning my first solo, multi-night backpacking trip, and looking at Highlands. I’m wondering if you can offer any pros or cons, re. direction. You guys went more-or-less counterclockwise, and knowing what you do now, would you do it that way, again, or recommend clockwise?
Thanks for all the details about gear and food. I’m usually a paddler, and generally the camp cook for a group of 4-8 people, so minimalism is new to me. 🙂
Hey! Yay for the first solo backpacking trip!! I don’t really remember the Highland Trail being more difficult one direction versus the other. Have an awesome trip!!
Hey! So sorry, just noticed your comment now. Unfortunately I can’t be of much help – I’m not sure if one way would be better than the other. It’s all pretty hilly. 🙂
Hey Guys. Do you think the provoking lake part of this trail is doable with a offroad stroller? My wife and i are planning to do the 18km loop with our 4.5 year old and 2 year old over 4 days and i know they wont be able to walk the whole time HA.
Let me know what you think
Hi Dan! I don’t remember the Highland Trail being suitable to a stroller, even an off-road one. But you may want to ask others as well. 🙂 Many parts of it are narrow.