The thing about backcountry camping trips is that you can never really know ahead of time the adventures you’ll have! Taking that first step away from the car at the beginning of my 4-day snowshoe trip last week at Algonquin Provincial Park, I had no clue that I would a) do something really stupid, and b) hunt a thief!
Day 1: Mew Lake to Provoking Lake West, via the Highland Trail (3.4 km)
After stopping at the West Gate to purchase our backcountry camping permits, Cheryl and I parked at Mew Lake and loaded all of our stuff onto our 2 homemade sleds. I was eager to try out my modified sled, which I altered this summer to include more attachment points and more rigid poles. In addition to a winter tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, clothing and toiletries, cooking gear, food and emergency supplies such as a first aid kit, we had with us an axe, a saw, and 2 bags of kindling, which we purchased at the wood lot.
It was around -5 degrees Celsius, under a sunny sky!
We headed for the Track and Tower Trail, and then the Highland Trail, which we would hike until we reached Provoking Lake West. It was a Thursday, so there weren’t too many people around. We walked for 3.4 km before setting up camp, which is a much slower process when your fingers are cold and you’re trying to do things with gloves on! We got the tent up, found a tree to hang our food from little critters, and decided we were too tired to gather wood to make a fire. Before dinner, I took my GPS and headed out for a run, because I’m doing the #FebruaryChallenge, and having set a goal for myself of running a minimum of 1 km every day in February, I couldn’t let a little winter camping trip get in the way!
We were in the tent early the first night, and despite each having 2 one litre Nalgene bottles full of hot water, I was cold and didn’t sleep well – it was around -17 degrees Celsius overnight. Cheryl was fine, so I’ve come to the conclusion that I need a better winter sleeping bag. Mine is rated to -20C, but even with the addition of a fleece liner, it’s not enough.
We brought our winter boots (which we wore around camp) and our hiking boots (which we used with our snowshoes) into the tent at night, so that they didn’t get frosty overnight.
Day 2: Day hike along the waterfront of Provoking Lake West (1.5 km)
After breakfast I set aside our morning and afternoon snacks, and we put our carrot raisin peanut salad wraps into our coat pockets to thaw for lunch. We grabbed a sled and headed into the forest to find deadwood, so that we could have a fire that night. When we got back to our campsite, I found 2 Ziploc bags in the snow around a tree – definitely not where I left them. It was then that I realized I had left our morning and afternoon snacks on a tarp, an open invitation to hungry little critters to come enjoy a snack! While there were little holes in the bag holding our afternoon snack, the snacks themselves were edible, but one of two morning snack bags had disappeared, along with the big bag that had held it all. We looked for footprints, and decided that the thief must have been a pine marten! We went on a hunt, not really expecting to find our snack, but thinking we might find the empty bags. We followed fresh footprints, but they went everywhere, including into trees! We never did find the snack – thankfully, Cheryl shared her morning snack with me! I did, however, later see the pine marten jump from a tree onto the ground, in the area we had been searching!
Later we chopped our wood and broke it into little bits, preparing it for our evening fire.
In the afternoon, we went for a walk on our snowshoes along the waterfront, checking out some of the summer campsites. This was my second winter backcountry camping trip using my Tubb’s Women’s Elevate snowshoes and poles, which I got at Algonquin Outfitters in Huntsville. They are awesome! We ended up back on the Highland Trail, where we ate our still frozen wraps – next time, we’ll need to heat them up a bit at breakfast!
The snow on the trees was very pretty that day, but the sun was melting it and it was falling on us over and over again! Not so nice down the back of your neck though…
At some point, I also ran for a set amount of time (equivalent to a 1 km run), in loops around and around or campsite.
During dinner I looked up and saw a pretty pink sky. I quickly headed for the shore, and the sky got even prettier. Later we successfully made a fire, and enjoyed a snack with Baileys. It wasn’t as cold that night, and while I was cold at the beginning, I warmed up and slept quite well!
Day 3: Day hike along the Highland Trail to Provoking Lake East (5.5 km)
After breakfast we decided to go for another snowshoe hike, this time along the Highland Trail toward Provoking Lake East. We wanted to check out the summer campsites. We had barely walked 300 m when we both realized we were seriously overdressed! In fact, the high that day was +10C, so we stopped on the trail and stripped off some layers! We could have hiked in shorts and t-shirts. The sun was knocking down what snow remained on tree branches. We had lunch at a beautiful campsite, sitting in the warm sun.
After we returned to our campsite, I decided to do precisely what I wasn’t supposed to do (we only live once!) – toboggan in my very well marked “This is not a toy. This product has no steering or braking mechanism.” sled. Laughter ensued.
Again, I did a timed run, this time running a line back and forth, back and forth.
I also turned my homemade stove into a stick stove, and attempted to boil water. I did melt a full pot of snow, and it did start to warm up, but I lost interest (and patience) in continually feeding the sticks into it. There were more interesting things to do, such as build a snowman! After dinner, we had another fire, and burned most of the wood we had gathered.
It was so warm in the tent, that we had to strip layers off in the night!
Day 4: Provoking Lake West to Mew Lake (3.4 km)
We packed up everything inside the tent and started heating water for breakfast while we continued packing as much as we could. We met quite a few people on the way out, more so as we got closer to Mew Lake.
In the last stretch before reaching Mew Lake, I fed chickadees out of my hand. Back at Mew Lake, I ran 1 km within the campground!
It was a fun trip, despite the wild swings in weather. We were very fortunate to have gone last week, because while the snow was melting and shrinking and falling off tree branches, there was still snow! This weekend, with temperatures in the mid-teens in south-western Ontario, things may be messy at Algonquin!
If you’re wondering what we ate on our trip, breakfasts were hot cereals; lunches were wraps and homemade crackers, dehydrated hummus and dehydrated veggies; dinners were chile, minestrone soup, and spinach and quinoa soup; snacks were trail mix, granola bars, dried fruit, chocolate, and energy balls; and drinks were water, gatorade, tea, coffee, and hot chocolate.
I’m already looking forward to next winter’s trip!
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