Trip report: 4 day Algonquin canoe trip from Rock Lake to Clydegale, Harry, Lake Louisa and back to Rock

Canoe trip planning presented a new challenge for me this year – for the first time ever, I was unable to read the paddling and portaging distances on my map! Thankfully, it was nothing my optometrist couldn’t easily fix.

My friend Jen and I decided on a route that would have us camping on lakes neither of us had camped on before. We planned to cover a little less distance than last year’s first trip together, when we did a 5-day canoe trip at Algonquin from the Magnetawan Lake access point to Misty/White Trout/McIntosh/Daisy Lakes. Our plan this year was to single carry every portage if possible, and in particular, the super long ones (2k-3k!).

Day 1: Rock Lake access point to Pen Lake to Clydegale Lake

Somewhere around 1 PM we pushed off the dock at the Rock Lake access point, with me in the stern and Jen in the bow. We headed for the portage into Pen Lake. I carried the canoe and Jen’s barrel, while she carried the big canoe pack, paddles and other miscellaneous (annoying) things. After that first portage, we changed things up slightly, adding more weight to the barrel, and allowing Jen to carry only the paddles in her hands. And just like that, our portaging system was set!

About to set out from the Rock Lake access point.

Pen Lake was completely new to me, and looking at it on my map (Jeffsmap – waiting patiently for the new Unlostify Algonquin map to come out!), it looked like a relatively big lake with little moose viewing potential. Was I ever wrong! Jen and I rounded a corner to see a young moose feeding in the water. We watched him for a while, and then continued on. We rounded the next corner, and spotted a second moose, a large female.

I love her eyelashes!

We left her, rounded the next corner, and you guessed, a third moose, this time at the Galipo River and portage to Welcome Lake! We were pretty amazed at our luck. Finally, we left this young guy and headed for the short portage into Clydegale Lake. We knew that all of the sites on the lake weren’t booked, so we knew there would be a site for us, but we didn’t want to paddle too far only to have to return if the sites were taken. We did end up having to packpaddle a bit, but we ended up with a great site not far from the portage back into Pen Lake.

Apple crisp.

We set up camp – our tent, bug shelter, and bear rope over a tree branch – and then jumped into the lake to cool off. It was quite a hot day! There was a cute little garter snake at our site, and a very pretty sunset. Jen cooked us foil dinners over the fire (potatoes, other veggies and cheese, with sausage in hers as well), and then very yummy apple crisp!!

We went to bed pretty tired, but we both had a terrible night’s sleep!!

  • Day 1 distance paddled: 15k (all distances approximate)
  • Day 1 distance portaged: 375m + 275m

Day 2: Clydegale Lake to Pen Lake to Welcome Lake to Harry Lake

We disassembled our tent, and boiled water for oatmeal, packing up the bug shelter and the rest of our things as we finished using them.

Did I mention the bugs? Oh my god. Mosquitos, horse or deer flies, and even blackflies! Despite bug spray with deet, over the course of our trip we were absolutely covered in bites, bumps and red dots. Even though we would re-apply bug spray for the portages (because that’s when they were the worst – often at the start/end) we were sweating profusely (well, I should speak for myself here!) and the bug spray was sweated away! I did wear my bug jacket around camp, but there’s no way I could portage with that thing on – way too hot even though it is only made of mesh! But the moose moments make the portaging and bug challenges worth it!

We set out from our campsite, with just a short paddle over to the portage into Pen Lake.

Oh, the places you’ll go!

We had a short portage and a long portage (2170m) on our way to Harry Lake. On the long one we encountered a big group of teenage campers doing multiple trips back and forth with their canoes and gear. Each and every one who passed me asked if I knew how much longer it was to the end. “8 minutes at my pace!” was my first answer. The only time I asked one of the kids how much longer I had to go, the answer was, “It’s a LONG way!” so I never asked again. Too demoralizing. At one point, two boys helped me to get the canoe back up after I had taken a much needed break!

Once into Welcome Lake, we were able to paddle right into Harry Lake without another portage, as they are connected by a creek. It was in the creek between Welcome Lake and Harry Lake that we saw another moose. I spotted the ears long before we got close.

Spot the moose ears as we paddle away!

By the time we got to Harry Lake, a poor night’s sleep, heat, and physical exhaustion caught up with Jen and she wasn’t feeling great. Once we chose our campsite, we set up the tent and she lay down for a while.

Dinner was awesome pizzas on the campfire. I think we were in the tent ready to sleep before it got dark!

Dinner view.
  • Day 2 distance paddled: 10k
  • Day 2 distance portaged: 275m + 275m + 2170m

Day 3: Harry Lake to Rence Lake to Frank Lake to Florence Lake to Lake Louisa

On day 3, Jen woke up feeling refreshed and awesome! Yay! Before leaving our campsite in the morning, I spotted what looked like a shoelace on the ground, but when I got closer, I realized it was a snake! Turns out it was a Northern ring-necked snake, one I had never seen before (the ring around its neck is not visible in this pic). We also had a loon family just off our site. I love loons and the varied noises they make, but 2 AM is not my preferred time to listen to them! One night we had very vocal loons calling back and forth to each other – one of whom sounded like it was right outside our tent door.

We paddled from Harry Lake into Rence Lake, and then did a short portage into Frank’s Lake, which continued on to Florence Lake. From Florence Lake we arrived at the portage into Lake Louisa, and boy was it ever muddy! Lots of evidence of people slip-sliding their way from the water onto the drier ground inland. Our sandals and feet were completely mud covered, and I went into the mud part-way up my calf. Thankfully, I didn’t fall. We carried the canoe together onto drier ground before beginning our portage.

Once into Lake Louisa, we knew that the hardest part of the day was behind us – now we just had to paddle to find a campsite. Jen had read some reviews of sites, so we scoped out various ones as we paddled by. We had heard that the lake can get pretty windy in bad weather, so we planned to get as close to the portage into Rock Lake as we could while still choosing an awesome site. We hadn’t seen a single person (other than each other!) all day long, and that continued on Lake Louisa. We pulled up to a campsite to swim, have our lunch, and relax a bit before finding a campsite for the night. I heard a man and saw evidence of people at one site, but never did spot anyone.

As we paddled along, I spotted something very dark against the green of the shoreline. “Jen, is that a moose?” I asked. She was impressed with my eyesight (thank you Dr. Ruhl – not only could I read the map but I could still see way into the distance)! We decided to go have a look, and sure enough, it was a big bull moose!! And just like that, we picked our campsite, the one 400m from the moose.

That’s one big bull moose!

We sat and watched him for a while, then headed over to our campsite. While setting up, we continued to sneak glances of him.

After setting up, we jumped into the lake for a swim, still watching the moose!

Spot the moose in between the tall trees on our campsite – this was the view from inside the tent.

For dinner we rehydrated some veggie soup that I had prepared, and Jen made bannock using my MSR Dragonfly stove. Yum. Then I made chocolate pudding which we added goodies to (peanuts, M&Ms etc.).

This was our first night not making a campfire, but honestly it was way too hot to sit by a fire. In fact, the first two nights when Jen cooked by campfire it was rather unpleasant being near it!

  • Day 3 distance paddled: 8k
  • Day 3 distance portaged: 320m + 1725m

Day 4: Louisa Lake to Rock Lake

The next morning I spotted a snapping turtle laying eggs on our campsite. She was there the entire time we packed up our campsite. As we paddled away, she swam by!

Snapping turtle laying eggs on our campsite.

We had a very short paddle over to the portage into Rock Lake. This one had an outhouse on the Lake Louisa side (it even had toilet paper!).

It was time for our last portage of the trip, a 3000m portage into Rock Lake. We planned to take 3 breaks, with me stopping when I needed to relieve my shoulders and back, and Jen stopping when she reached me. We had read that this portage wasn’t too difficult technically (not a lot of rocks and roots and ups and downs); rather, it was just plain long. So, we set off! When we emerged from the woods onto an old logging road, I spotted a weasel of some sort. A couple hundred metres later, I saw it again running along the trail. By 800m I was ready for a break but forced myself to continue to 1k. Jen caught me, but we didn’t stop for long, because the bugs were horrendous! We did adjust the stuff attached to the outside of the barrel though, transferring something (water?) to Jen’s pack, because it was swinging wildly on my back for some reason and yanking my back.

Another 800m later, I needed to put the boat down and take the pack off. But then I walked 1.2k without a break, and the portage was done! There were lots of bugs, but also tons of butterflies (White Admirals, apparently)!

We got back in the boat as fast as we could to get away from the bugs, and then paddled over to a campsite where we had a quick swim and snack before heading back to the Rock Lake access point.

Being a Friday, we saw lots of people paddling on Rock Lake as we were heading out. Over the course of the 4 days, we were lucky enough to see wildlife galore: 5 moose, 2 beavers (including one dragging a very leafy branch), loons, herons, a weasel, dragonflies, butterflies, woodpeckers, lots and lots of toads on portages and frogs in the marshy areas, turtles (3 or more), snakes, and a few too many biting bugs!

We made it!
  • Day 4 distance paddled: 10k
  • Day 4 distance portaged: 3000m

It was another great canoe trip at Algonquin Provincial Park!!

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Trip report: Killarney 6-day fall canoe trip from George Lake access point

My friend Cheryl and I headed to Killarney Provincial Park at the end of September with high hopes for our 8-day canoe trip starting at the George Lake access point, where we would paddle a route that included many new-to-me lakes. Cheryl and I had previously started a trip at this access point, but that was our 8-day, 90k hike of the entire La Cloche Silhouette Trail – we had never paddled in George Lake! Day 1: George Lake to Freeland Lake to Killarney Lake We were on the water by 2:30 PM, on a day that was rainy, foggy, and cool (high of 15C?). Nevertheless, the scenery was beautiful. We started out with Cheryl in the stern of her canoe, and me in the bow, but we would change that up over the course of the trip, sharing the power and steering responsibilities. We also shared the navigation, with me using my new Unlostify map, and Cheryl using the official park map.
Starting at the George Lake access point. [Photo by Cheryl]
Our first portage of the trip was a very short 50m into Freeland Lake, so we decided to carry the packs, and then go back for the canoe. However, our goal for the trip was to single carry (i.e. carry everything at once) all portages except for the tiniest ones, something we had never managed to do on a trip together before. In fact, I had never single carried on any canoe trip, but with a 3km portage on this one, it was a necessity!! We paddled through Freeland Lake and then portaged 430m into Killarney Lake, where we would stay the night. We didn’t have our eyes on a specific site, but we hoped to be fairly close to the portage to Threenarrows Lake, which we would tackle the next morning. As it turned out, we passed 2 unoccupied sites and then several occupied ones, which made us wonder whether we should backtrack to one of the empty ones we had seen, or go further and hope that there was a site available and we wouldn’t have to paddle all the way back later. We pushed on, paddling against the wind, and were relieved to find that site #24 was free! Phew. It had been raining all day long, and our wildlife sightings for the day included only a single frog!
It was a rainy, foggy, and cool start to the trip. [Photo by Cheryl]
We set up our campsite, putting up a 2-man tent, a small tarp for a dining shelter, and throwing a rope over a tree branch for our bear bag. This would be our routine when we reached each campsite. Then we boiled water for hot chocolate, added Baileys to it, and enjoyed a yummy energy square alongside it. Later we ate “Thanksgiving on the Trail” (essentially dehydrated chicken, with stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries and gravy) before climbing into the tent for the night. Overnight, there were thunderstorms for more than 4 hours, but we were fortunate in that the thunder and lightning never came close (though the rain did!).
  • Distance paddled: 7.96 km
  • Distance portaged: 50m + 430m
  • Campsite: #24
Day 2: Killarney Lake to Threenarrows Lake After a cup of gatorade, mug of tea, and bowl of hot cereal, we packed up our campsite and set off for the 3k portage to Threenarrows Lake. We had no idea how eventful our day would be!
Cloudy start to the day. [Photo by Cheryl]
It was a short 700m paddle to get to the portage. According to the time estimates on my Unlostify map, the portage would take us 2 hours if we single carried (we assumed that we were “typical” paddlers, not “relaxing” or “speedy” ones). This would mean that the person carrying the canoe would take the lighter pack, and the other person would take the heavier one (an uncomfortable, non-ergonomic canoe pack) plus the paddles and my camelbak. Cheryl took the canoe and her backpack, knowing that I was willing to switch part way if need be. We had already decided before we started walking that we would definitely be taking a few breaks along the way! This portage starts with a steep uphill, but then isn’t too bad really. It had streams, rocks, hills, slippery sections, creek crossings and tree obstacles to navigate. And there was rain at times. And thunder. We stopped two times for a few minutes to free ourselves from the packs and boat, and then continued on our way. At one point, Cheryl slipped and fell on a wet rock, but thankfully, she was not injured (she even managed to hold onto the boat). At the end of the portage, there is a short paddle across a small lake before another 430m portage! But once we were done the second one, we were into Killarney Lake…and facing a paddle into the wind…and whitecaps! At this point, I was in the stern. We approached a narrowing of the lake and felt the wind increase in strength. The waves were big, and the wind was pushing the bow to the right. We had hoped to go through the channel and head left. We paddled as hard as we could, but we could not turn the bow dead straight or to the left. The waves were hitting us broadside and the canoe was rocking. I briefly considered letting us get blown to the right shore where there was a bit of an eddy, and trying again to go through the channel. Instead, we allowed ourselves to float backwards, and decided to paddle hard (from a spot with less wind/waves) back to the left and into an eddy there, where we could regroup and decide on our next steps. We did not want to flip!! One idea was to make the little peninsula our campsite for the night (we wondered if it might even be the campsite we were looking for). Cheryl got out of the boat and scouted out the peninsula. She proposed that we portage our stuff over it to the other side, where there was a calm area for us to get back into the canoe and paddle around the left corner to the campsite (she had found it – but it wasn’t on the peninsula). We agreed that if we couldn’t paddle around the corner to the left (into the wind), we would instead turn the boat and ride the waves to another campsite on the other side (a different part of the lake).
Maybe a goose egg? We found this while portaging across the peninsula.
Thankfully, we had no trouble paddling around the point (we weren’t trying to fight our way through a narrow channel), and so we landed the canoe at the campsite and were grateful to be done paddling for the day. I’ve never been defeated by wind and waves before! We later saw three guys in a canoe make it through the channel, none of them wearing lifejackets!
A very windy day.
After setting up our campsite and hanging some things to dry, we sat down to have a snack, and were amazed at all the little bits of vegetation that were being pelted at us by the wind! Small boughs were flying, as were little bits like twigs. The wind was something else! We kept our eyes peeled for trees about to fall. Thankfully, none did at our site. Later in the trip, we saw many huge trees freshly fallen, both on campsites and on portages. It wasn’t until our trip was done and we were back at the George Lake office that we heard from a Park Ranger about a tornado in Ottawa that same day!!
Different kinds of fungi all over the place.
We “swam” to feel somewhat clean again, but the water was cold and air temperature not really conducive to warming up post-swim, so we just went in part way and splashed ourselves! The first time I opened the thunderbox lid, a salamander ran across the seat and fell inside! I apologized and hoped I wasn’t peeing on it. At some point, Cheryl spotted a glove sticking up from the ground, and was very relieved to not find a body with it!
  • Distance paddled: 1.35 km
  • Distance portaged: 3110m + 400m
  • Campsite: 43
Day 3: Threenarrows Lake We had planned to stay 3 nights on Threenarrows Lake, but hadn’t decided before the trip began whether we would change campsites every night, or stay put. Based on weather forecasts from my Garmin InReach (which communicates using satellites – no cell signal required), it looked like Day 3 would be a better weather day than Day 4, so we decided to travel on Day 3 to a different campsite – and get ourselves closer to the west end of the lake, so that we would have less distance to travel when we started moving again. This turned out to be our sunniest day of the whole trip. We slept in, and weren’t on the water until 11:30 AM. We headed west for site 45, then paddled in an upside down U shape, finally reaching site 46, which we briefly considered taking. But we decided to continue paddling against the wind (the majority of the trip, we paddled against the wind!), and to hopefully be able to stay on site 47 or 48. We were in luck! Both were empty, so we took site 48, the closest one to “the Pig” – the steepest portage in the park, which we would tackle on Day 5. We decided that Day 4 would be a “stay put” day.
When your feet get cold on a fall canoe trip and the sun comes out, you modify your paddling stroke. [Photo by Cheryl]
But before we reached our campsite for the night, we had an interesting encounter with a float plane! We were in the water near site H21 (a backpacking site) having a snack when Cheryl noted that a float plane seemed to be coming straight for us. In fact it did land in the lake, and proceeded to zoom past us through a narrow channel that we would soon be paddling in. Once we got around the corner, we saw that it was at a cabin – it had either dropped people or stuff (or both) off. We watched it take off again (safely out of its way) before we started paddling. Before setting up our campsite, we ate lunch on the rocks by the shore, and tried to warm our feet in the sun at the same time! Then we set the campsite up, and gathered wood for a fire. I used my stick stove to boil water for hot chocolate, and then we built a fire to make pizzas. They were delicious, with pepperoni, bacon, cheese, pineapple, peppers, broccoli, mushrooms and onions. YUM! DSC09184 We saw a beaver swim by our site while we were sitting at the water’s edge, but didn’t see any people all day long! After getting ready for bed, I climbed into the tent. Cheryl was part-way to the thunderbox when I heard a screech,  a howl, and then the unmistakeable sound of a Barred Owl. I yelled to Cheryl, “You okay out there?” She was. We still don’t know what happened – had it been me, I would not have continued on to the bathroom on my own! We heard Barred Owls again multiple times that evening and overnight, but it never sounded as close as it did the first time.
  • Distance paddled: 8.73 km
  • Distance portaged: 0 km
  • Campsite: 48
Day 4: Threenarrows Lake Since we weren’t changing campsites on Day 4, and it was quite cool out (down to 3C with the windchill according to my InReach!), we decided to go for a walk after breakfast to stay warm. We stuck close to the shore and headed in the direction of the Pig. We picked a path through the woods, climbing over branches, under tree limbs, around bushes etc. for about a kilometre. Then we turned back. Just before reaching our campsite I spotted a jaw bone on the forest floor. I’m not sure what animal it belonged to.
Jaw found on the forest floor.
We had a snack, then started a fire to try to warm up. It was too cold to just stand around. Unfortunately, it was too windy to get much heat from the fire. We couldn’t sit too close to it for fear of embers burning our clothes – unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened to me. I felt something burning my leg, and brushed the ember off my rain pants, but not before a small hole was burned into them. My pants underneath didn’t get burned, but now sport a small white patch. We had mugs of hot water to drink (I was rationing the hot chocolate, and didn’t feel like tea), and then went into the woods to have lunch, where it was a little more sheltered from the wind. We sat against big trees for backrests, facing the thunderbox just a few metres away. Not exactly scenic. We then climbed into the tent to try to get warm. Despite being inside my sleeping bag and wearing a winter hat and gloves, I was still cold! I wondered if I would be cold in the night (I had packed my summer sleeping bag, not realizing the temperature was going to drop so much). It was in the tent that we first started talking about the possibility of shortening our trip, because the weather forecast looked bleak – 80% chance of heavy rain for the last couple of days of our trip, and continuing cool temperatures. We studied our maps and tried to figure out how we could change our route. We didn’t want to stay on lakes that we hadn’t reserved, because that may mean someone with a reservation wouldn’t be able to find a site. This is more of a problem on small lakes – on large lakes, provincial parks often leave a few sites unreserved. Thankfully, I had my InReach, so what ensued was a 4 hour+ confusing text conversation with my husband, to see if he could change our route. Messages were being sent or received out of order, so it was funny at times (and frustrating). I learned my lesson: start each text with a time stamp! The Ontario Parks reservation line told Alasdair that once we started our trip we couldn’t change our route, but when he called the park directly, the Park Ranger was very helpful and got us the lakes we wanted! At some point during this conversation we forced ourselves out of the tent to make dinner (as Cheryl would say, the answer to the question, “Should we go in the tent?” is always no… because if you do go in, you never want to leave!). After dinner, we climbed back into the tent for the night! Once we knew that our reservation had been changed, we could go to sleep!
  • Distance portaged: 0 km
  • Distance hiked: 1.95 km
  • Campsite: 48
Day 5: Threenarrows Lake to Artist Lake to Muriel Lake to O.S.A. Lake After packing up our campsite, we set out for the Pig, a short paddle away. We had walked this portage before, when we hiked the full length of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail, but I’m pretty sure at that time we were glad we weren’t carrying a canoe! We decided that I would wear Cheryl’s pack and carry the canoe, but as soon as I got the canoe up, I realized there was a problem – I couldn’t tilt the canoe back, which meant I could only see the ground immediately in front of my feet. I walked for a short time like that, then realized it just wouldn’t work! Turns out with our slight height difference, or maybe just how the pack sits on me, it was too high, preventing the canoe from pivoting. Cheryl removed everything from the top of the pack, put it into hers, and bingo! I could walk and tilt the canoe and see in front of me! Kind of important if you don’t want to walk into big rocks, trees (!) or people. When walking this portage, you essentially climb the first half, then descend the second half. The ground is rocky – small and large rocks – uneven, wet in places, and very steep! The pictures don’t quite do it justice. I took a break part-way down, and then stopped again before reaching the end and turning to start the 650m portage to Artist Lake! We paddled through Artist Lake, where we reached a small waterfall at the other end. We decided to carry the packs first (140m), then return for the canoe. But we didn’t walk far before we realized that we couldn’t possibly be on the portage, despite having walked on a well worn path. It ended, and we were forced to cross the creek. We continued along the other bank, but it too seemed like a very weird portage. And the end was a steep climb up a bank. We wondered how we’d manage with the canoe. We realized that we must have missed the portage, and in fact, we did. We found the portage sign at the end and it directed us a different way. We hadn’t seen a portage sign when we arrived at the waterfall, but we weren’t surprised – not all portages seemed to be marked.
Pretty waterfall.
From here we paddled a very short distance to another short portage, which would take us into Muriel Lake. We paddled through Muriel Lake, did yet another portage, and then found ourselves on the shore of O.S.A. Lake – the sun had come out, but so had the wind! And you guessed it, we would be paddling against the wind as we tried to find a campsite. There were 4 campsites on the west side of the lake (where we were), and only 1 on the east side. We wanted to stay at the east side if we could, because then we’d have less distance to travel the next day, but we also didn’t want to paddle the entire way across the lake only to find that the site was taken! We stopped at one of the island sites and almost decided to stay – there were whitecaps on the lake and we were pretty much done with fighting wind for the day. But, we checked the weather, and the winds were expected to be the same in the morning, plus rain, so we decided to go for it and hope that the site across the lake was empty! As we paddled across, the whitecaps continued and a couple of times the waves broke over the bow of the boat. As we got closer to the site, we saw something that looked like a canoe… we hoped that it wasn’t. Eventually, we could see that it was a rock. Phew. We arrived at the site, couldn’t see a canoe, tent, or person, and said, “Hello?” No response. We had a site! This was our most scenic site of the trip, with a view of the mountains across the lake. It also had 2 private beaches, one on either side of the site. After setting up I made us some Baileys hot chocolate, and then we sat on the rocks at the shore planning future Killarney canoe trips! We made really yummy egg wraps for dinner, which also had tons of veggies, bacon, cheese, and salsa. As we were eating, the wind was blowing dark clouds in, so we made sure we were ready for the oncoming rain. We had already made ourselves an awesome kitchen shelter, complete with backrests!
Our kitchen shelter ready for the coming rain.
It turns out we were in the tent for the night before the rain came.
  • Distance paddled: 6.17 km
  • Distance portaged: 1280m + 650m + 140m + 170m + 590m
  • Campsite: 28
Day 6: O.S.A. Lake to Killarney Lake to Freeland Lake to George Lake We awoke to more rain on our last day. We cooked our breakfast and ate it under our kitchen shelter, then packed as much as we could under the tarp. Then it was time to finish packing the tent and tarp, and set out for the last time.
Wet, windy, cool end to the trip. [Photo by Cheryl]
We had two options for portaging into Killarney Lake, and we chose the one with a shorter portage plus a beaver dam lift-over (rather than the one with the longer portage).
Huge trees down at campsites and along portages like this one. [Photo by Cheryl]
We encountered a few canoes as we headed out, and then a large group of about 10 canoes of students near the end. We had two portages to tackle on our last day, one into Freeland Lake and then one into George Lake. We were travelling at a similar pace of two men that we had met a few days earlier, so we chatted with them for a bit at one of the portages. They made me want to go paddle in Alaska! While we had very few wildlife encounters this trip, they saw 2 wolves, a bear, moose, otters and some kind of weasel! They highly recommended that we paddle the more northerly parts of the park.
Back at the George Lake access point.
It rained off and on while we paddled, but when we arrived at the George Lake access point, it had stopped. It wasn’t the weather or trip we had hoped for, but we still enjoyed ourselves! After the canoe was back on the vehicle and all our stuff was packed away, we headed to the park office to get a refund for the nights we wouldn’t stay at Killarney. That’s when we heard about the crazy wind storm that blew through the campground the same day we were being pelted in the face with tree bits. Apparently the campground and office lost power for 60 hours, and downed trees in campsites meant that park staff had to cut them so that cars could be freed from campsites.
Mike Ranta at Herberts Fisheries in the town of Killarney. [Photo by Cheryl]
Once we left the park, we headed to the town of Killarney for fish and chips at Herberts Fisheries. I had never been to the town, but Cheryl had. We walked into the building and who did we see but Mike Ranta, a modern day canoe explorer (he has paddled across the country by canoe – with his dog Spitzy). He plans to do it again to raise awareness for Canadian vets. We enjoyed our fish and chips, then headed home. Killarney, we’ll be back!
  • Distance paddled: 7.58 km
  • Distance portaged: 130m + 430m + 50m
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Trip report: 5-day canoe trip at Algonquin Provincial Park – Magnetawan Lake access point/Misty/White Trout/McIntosh/Daisy Lakes

It doesn’t seem to matter how much planning and preparation goes into my backcountry camping trips – something always seems to happen that I hadn’t foreseen!

This 5-day canoe trip at Algonquin Provincial Park (Magnetawan Lake access point on the West side of the park) was to be my 1st canoe trip since the fall of 2016, when I did a trip along the Tim River, also at Algonquin. And this time, I’d be paddling with my new(ish) friend Jen, who I met through social media connections. I was slightly paranoid while prepping food, as Jen is Celiac, so I had to be extra careful in my choice of ingredients. Lists made and prep done, it was time to start the trip! The forecast looked great, though we would be starting at the tail end of a heat wave. Drinking lots of water would be key.

Day 1: Magnetawan Lake access point to Misty Lake, through Hambone Lake, Acme Lake, Daisy Lake, the Petawawa River and Little Misty Lake

We picked up our backcountry permit at the Kearney office, and set out for the Magnetawan Lake access point.

Ready to push off the dock at the Magnetawan Lake access point!

In terms of gear, we had 1 canoe pack, 1 big backpack, a waterproof bag of food, a small backpack with water and stuff (Jen), and a camelbak with water and stuff (me). And of course a canoe, 3 paddles, a bailer, throw rope, painter, and 2 PFDs (worn at all times in the canoe). We knew that we wouldn’t be able to single-carry everything on the portages, so instead we would walk each portage 3 times (1st time with canoe and gear, 2nd time empty-handed, 3rd time with the remainder of the gear).

We pushed off the dock and headed for the first portage, about 500m away. Starting our trip on a Tuesday meant that there weren’t many other canoes around. We paddled through Hambone Lake toward the portage to Acme Lake, and thankfully the water was high enough that we could keep paddling and skip the portage. It was on the portage from Acme Lake to Daisy Lake that I had my first adventure.

Jen carried the canoe, and me my big backpack. We put the canoe down on the dock, but after Jen headed back to get the rest of our gear, I decided to put it into the water, since the dock wasn’t too big and I didn’t want to block anyone who needed to use it. I lifted the canoe into the water, stepped away from the dock, and no… the canoe did not float away. I grabbed my backpack, stepped into the water to load it into the canoe, and sunk down with my right leg up to my waist in muck!! My backpack ended up in the water, but everything inside it was in waterproof bags, so nothing got wet or damaged. Just my ego, as this entire ordeal was witnessed by a couple in their canoe! Thankfully I was not injured, and I was able to extricate my foot (and sandal!) from the muck. What a start to the trip!

We paddled through Daisy Lake and along the Petawawa River, which was twisty and narrow and my kind of paddling (except for the deer and horse flies). We continued through Misty Lake and Misty Forks, where we encountered our first moose of the trip! He was a young one, and was exactly where we needed to paddle in the river. We sat and watched him for a while, and then eventually he headed into the woods.

First moose sighting, a young male.

The first few sites on Misty Lake were taken, but we managed to find a great one. We set up Jen’s 3-man tent, her bug shelter (a welcome refuge from the mosquitos, deer and horse flies), threw a rope over a tree branch to hoist our bear bag and safely store our food, boiled water to rehydrate quinoa spinach soup in Jen’s Kelly Kettle (so cool!), and cooked bannock using Jen’s Trangia stove, and then made apple crumble for dessert. We also cooled off in the lake!

Delicious quinoa spinach soup and freshly baked bannock for dinner.

We were exhausted, but for some reason, neither of us could fall asleep! It may have been the bullfrogs calling loudly all night long, it may have been the loons calling for slightly less time, or it may have been that we were overly tired. Who knows, but I do know this – I slept less than 4 hours that first night! I love the sound of bullfrogs and loons, but not in the middle of the night!

  • Distance paddled: 15.7 km (Note: all distances for paddling and portaging are approximate, based on Jeffsmap Algonquin map and my Inreach data.)
  • Distance portaged: 6.3 km
  • Wildlife highlights: moose, snapping turtle, muskrat, frogs galore in the water, and toads galore on the portages

Day 2: Misty Lake to White Trout Lake, through Misty Forks, Petawawa River, and Grassy Bay

We woke up a little less rested than desired, but we were keen to get moving and see what kind of adventures the day would bring us. We ate hot cereal for breakfast, and laughed at ourselves for packing tea. It was so hot out that tea was the last thing I needed! While sitting on the shore eating our breakfast, a snapping turtle swam by. A good start to the day!

We packed everything up, and headed out. Just a few minutes after paddling away from our site, I spotted a moose on the far shore of Misty Forks, and quickly realized there was a little one as well – a mama and baby. How lucky were we?! The baby was small – definitely born this year. It was the smallest moose I had ever seen in the wild. We eventually continued paddling and after our first portage of the day, continued along the Petawawa River. There was the most amazing looking grass in the river – and so many frogs just sitting on top of it at the surface of the water.

It was so hot that the deer flies and horse flies were out in abundance! We used bug spray with Deet, but it was only marginally effective. We were sweating profusely, so we were likely just sweating it off!

I tried hard to drink water frequently so that I didn’t get dehydrated. The portages were more challenging in the heat and humidity, and the bugs didn’t help! It’s so frustrating to be portaging the canoe and to be unable to reach a spot that the bugs are attacking!

We ate our lunch while sitting in the canoe once we found a spot where we weren’t being swarmed by bugs.

Before we got to White Trout Lake, we spotted yet another moose (#4!). On White Trout Lake, we headed for the campsites on the East side. Randy from Algonquin Outfitters helped Jen and I to choose our route, and made some campsite suggestions too. Based on his advice, we found a great site!

By Day 2, we had our routine set – arrive at the campsite, pull everything onto shore, jump into the lake to cool off and feel somewhat clean again, and set the campsite up.

Thankfully, we both slept much better the second night! Before falling asleep, I heard a Barred Owl.

  • Distance paddled: 15.1 km
  • Distance portaged: 3.9 km
  • Wildlife highlights: snapping turtle, mama and baby moose, other moose

Day 3: White Trout Lake to McIntosh Lake, through Grassy Bay, and McIntosh Marsh 

When I got up in the morning, I decided to pull out my bug jacket – I should have done it earlier on the trip! While the bugs still buzzed all around me, they couldn’t get me. Visiting the privy was much more bearable!!

Jen cooked us a delicious breakfast of pancakes, bacon, and copious amounts of maple syrup.

We started paddling back the way we had come the day before, but eventually headed further West into McIntosh Marsh. It was here that we spotted a loon with 2 babies. As we approached, the mama loon lifted her wing and one baby scooted underneath. At one point, one baby was by her side, and the other on her back. So cute!

Photo credit: Jen

We checked out a few campsites on McIntosh Lake before we settled on one. The things we wanted most in a campsite were good swimming (not weedy/leechy), and West facing for direct evening sun and potentially awesome sunsets!

The sky was clouding over, and eventually we heard thunder, but it was to the South and East of us, and we never got rain. However, the temperature dropped and the humidity disappeared, and with it, the majority of the deer and horse flies!

While making dinner, I discovered that the dehydrated salsa I had to add to our egg, veggie, bacon and cheese wraps was actually dehydrated tomato sauce! Oops – I guess I mixed it up with the food for my September trip at Killarney. At least it was a tomato base and went well with the wraps.

After dinner each night, I would add contact lens solution to my case, which I would then put in my pocket and keep there until bedtime, so that I didn’t forget to get solution out before hanging the food and our toiletries (I learned the hard way). But this time, I accidentally took my contact lens out. It was windy, and after the first few attempts at putting it back in my eye failed, I asked Jen for help, worried that the lens would blow away. But before I could finish my sentence, you guessed it – the lens blew off my finger! I saw it fall, and while we spent at least 10 minutes looking for it (including shining a headlamp at the general area we were in), we never did find it. Thankfully, I always travel with spares! I learned a valuable lesson – always put my contacts in and take them out inside the tent!

After the contact lens incident, we had a fire so that Jen could bake a birthday cake on her reflector oven to celebrate Algonquin Park’s 125th birthday. While it baked, we roasted tiny marshmallows – a first for me! I’ll definitely do the mini ones again – the same fun with less sugar overload! Plus the outer part gets crunchy and while you expect a soft middle, there’s nothing there. Try it. At one point, Jen attempted to rotate the cake, but tipped it into the campfire by accident! We lost half the cake (it was still more liquid than solid at that point), but it didn’t matter! We still enjoyed a delicious birthday cake.

  • Distance paddled: 11.6 km
  • Distance portaged: 3.9 km
  • Wildlife highlights: mama loon and 2 babies

Day 4: McIntosh Lake to Daisy Lake, through Timberwolf Lake, Misty Lake, Little Misty Lake and the Petawawa River

On Day 4, we paddled a short distance from our campsite to the portage to Timberwolf Lake, where we spotted yet another moose! This one was on shore, but then started swimming toward the portage as we were paddling toward it. We waited in the canoe until she was gone, then paddled the last bit to shore. We were careful on the portage, knowing that she was near, and not wanting to get in her way.

On the portage from Timberwolf to Misty Lake, I had to climb through and over downed trees. At one point, I stood there holding the canoe over my head, with just trees and branches ahead of me. I asked Jen if I had maybe not paid attention and lost the trail, but nope, she said the trail ended at the downed tree. So I climbed through it! Later, I had to sit on a big downed tree in order to get over it.

When we arrived at Daisy Lake, we found that site after site was already occupied. It was Friday night, and we knew we were competing with people just starting their trip, and those ending it the next day. However, we had booked a site on the lake and knew there would be one for us. In the end there were 3 empty, and we chose a big one with a great spot for swimming.

We cooked pizzas in tinfoil on the campfire, and then homemade pudding, also on the campfire (with yummy toppings of peanuts and M&Ms).

This campsite had a few resident chipmunks who were brave and very interested in our food! It also featured garbage strewn all about, from toilet paper piles to plastic bags, contact lens cases and tampons! So sad and disgusting.

We settled into the tent for our last sleep of the trip.

  • Distance paddled: 14.8 km
  • Distance portaged: 4.5 km
  • Wildlife highlights: moose, mergansers (ducks)

Day 5: Daisy Lake to Magnetawan Lake, through Acme Lake and Hambone Lake

Our last day would be our shortest travel day. After a little photo shoot at our campsite, we set out for our last few lakes and portages.


Remember the muck I stepped into at the end of the portage from Acme Lake to Daisy Lake? Well, when we reached the portage at the end of Daisy Lake, we spotted the infamous dock, and once we got close, but before we could give a warning, a paddler stepped into the muck on the other side of the dock, and sunk down deep! Unfortunately for him, he was also carrying the canoe above his head! “Are you okay? Let me know if you need help.” I said. He said he was fine – he just needed to get his foot out!

See that dock behind me? It’s there for a reason.

At the other end of the portage we met a Park Ranger, who along with what was probably a student, was headed to Daisy Lake to do maintenance at the campsites. He asked if any portages needed work, and we told him what we had found. I also told him the story of my fall into the muck, and the guy we just saw do the same thing. He said, “Always test the ground with your paddle.” Lesson learned!

We met the fall-into-the-muck-paddler at the next and last portage, where he told us that his family was disappointed that they had missed his fall. He was nice enough to take a few pictures of us, including the one below!

And just like that, we arrived back at the Magnetawan Lake access point, our trip over.

  • Distance paddled: 3.2 km
  • Distance portaged: 0.6 km

One thing we loved about the route we did was the variety of areas we paddled through: little lakes, big lakes, winding rivers, lily pads, gorgeous grasses, beaver dams requiring us to lift over them, rocks in shallow waters requiring us to walk and pull the canoe alongside us, dead calm water, wind and whitecaps (well, I wouldn’t ask for this!).

We were surprised one day to find that we had cell signals on McIntosh Lake! The rest of the time, Jen and I used our Garmin InReach devices to communicate with our families and friends to let them know that we were okay.

I highly recommend this route, but be prepared for lots of portaging!


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Winter food planning for camping adventures

Are you considering going winter camping for the first time, or are you looking for new food ideas to make your winter camping trips easier?

Check out my guest blog post on the Algonquin Outfitters blog, “Winter food planning“.  I give tips for simplifying and pre-trip planning.


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Menu review: Hiking the full length of the Coastal Trail at Lake Superior Provincial Park

Curious to see how the planned menu for my hike of the full length of the Coastal Trail at Lake Superior Provincial Park compared to our actual menu, whether we were satisfied with the food we brought or had constantly rumbling tummies? Read on!

The planned menu is posted just below, but additional information can be found in my original post on the menu.

Where we planned to use a recipe, you’ll see a (F), (L) or (T) after the recipe name (and the corresponding page number). The books are as follows:

  • A Fork in the Trail by Laurie Ann March (F)
  • LipSmackin’ Backpackin’ by Christine and Tim Conners (L)
  • The Trailside Cookbook by Don and Pam Philpott (T)


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All changes to the planned menu are indicated in red text in the table below. We made a few changes before the trip:

  • naan bread replaced corn bread and bannock, because it weighs less and required us to bring less fuel (to bake the bread) – however, there is something to be said for warm, freshly baked bread on the trail!!
  • store bought trail mix replaced pizza gorp and honey mustard gorp because Cheryl ran out of time to prepare them
  • homemade energy bars replaced Harvest Oat Squares because Cheryl’s daughter made them and saved her time!


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My favourite meal was Thanksgiving on the Trail, which is essentially turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberries and gravy. I would definitely make it again!

Our most memorable meal may be our egg veggie/bacon/cheese wraps… as soon as I added boiling water to our dehydrated eggs, they turned bright orange… we tasted them, and they weren’t eggs, but Kraft Dinner cheese powder!!! Not sure how that happened. I’ve never intentionally bought Kraft Dinner cheese powder before. Must have been a mix-up in a bulk bin!

Pasta Alfredo with dehydrated veggies and sauce, and topped with Parmesan cheese.

The only meal that needs adjustment in the future was our rice cereal on day 5. It wasn’t filling enough as is, and could have used more fruit or nuts.

Overall, we were happy with our food choices! We did come home with some leftover trail mix, and some of the food from day 8.


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Packing list: Hiking the full length of the Coastal Trail at Lake Superior Provincial Park

Here is a complete list of all the things we had with us on our hike of the full length of the Coastal Trail at Lake Superior Provincial Park. We brought separate gear for car camping at Agawa Bay our first night (but didn’t end up car camping), and our last night. I didn’t use any of the separate gear, other than bringing blankets into the tent when I thought it was going to be quite cold with the wind (it wasn’t).


Clothing (including what I was wearing):

  • 2 bras
  • 2 pairs underwear
  • 3 pairs socks
  • 1 pair zip-off pants
  • 2 t-shirts
  • 1 long sleeved shirt
  • 1 lightweight MEC Uplink hoodie
  • 1 rain coat
  • 1 rain pants
  • 1 winter hat
  • 2 pairs fleece gloves
  • 1 pair dish gloves to keep fleece gloves dry
  • 1 long johns top and bottom
  • 1 pair hiking boots
  • 1 pair sandals
  • 1 baseball hat
  • compression bag for clothes
  • sunglasses
  • quick dry towel
  • toiletries
  • 1 watch


  • 2 bowls
  • 2 spoons
  • 1 dishcloth
  • 1 six cup pot and lid lightweight
  • dish soap
  • pancake flipper
  • parchment paper
  • 2 insulated mugs
  • 1 nalgene bottle (400 ml)
  • 2 large ziplocs marked with a line at 2L for treating water
  • water treatment drops
  • 2 water bladders (2 L size)
  • MSR Dragonfly stove
  • MSR Dragonfly stove servicing kit
  • KIHD stick stove
  • 1 flint
  • Outback oven tea cosy
  • Outback oven scorch protector (not used)
  • Matches (several boxes)
  • 700 ml white fuel split between 2 bottles of 325 ml (one filled up, one filled to the maximum fill line)
  • 1 Swiss army knife (not used)
  • 1 pocket knife
  • 1 bear bag with bell on it (waterproof bag)
  • 1 bear bag without bell on it (waterproof bag) (not used)
  • rope for hanging bear bag
  • homemade tarp plus thin lightweight rope x5
  • food!


  • 1 Sierra Designs Zilla 2 tent
  • 1 MEC Perseus -7 sleeping bag
  • 1 North Face -7 sleeping bag
  • 1 pillow
  • 1 thermarest 3/4 length
  • 1 thermarest full length lightweight
  • 2 compression bags for sleeping bags
  • 2 bags for thermarests


  • 2 headlamps with extra batteries
  • 1 bear spray (not used)
  • 1 sunblock
  • 2 cameras with extra batteries
  • 1 GoPro
  • 1 camera tripod
  • 1 park map
  • 1 compass (not used)
  • 1 GPS with extra batteries
  • 2 cell phones
  • 1 Garmin InReach SE+ satellite 2-way communication device
  • 2 driver’s licences, credit cards and money
  • 1 emergency kit (Gorilla tape, buckles, dental floss, notepad and pencil, matches, mini bungees, emergency blanket, fire starting materials, needle and thread)
  • 1 first aid kit (miscellaneous bandaids, gauze, tape, compression wrap)
  • hiking poles
  • pen
  • 5 rolls toilet paper (used 3+)
  • 2 backpack rain covers
  • 2 whistles
  • 1 lightweight saw
  • solar charger
  • 1 vehicle key!



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Trip report: Hiking the full length of the Coastal Trail at Lake Superior Provincial Park

Wow. What a hike! Lake Superior never disappoints.

Lake Superior Provincial Park has been one of my favourite provincial parks in Ontario ever since I first discovered it in 2010. The natural landscape of the park is simply stunning. Approximately 1 1/2 hours north of Sault Ste. Marie, it’s quite a drive for me to get there (more than 10 hours), but so worth it! Read the blog post I wrote called My 10 favourite things to do while camping at Lake Superior Provincial Park. Or Channelling my inner artist at Lake Superior Provincial Park. I love this place!

In previous visits I had hiked different sections of the Coastal Trail, which runs from Chalfant Cove in the North to Agawa Bay in the South, but I had never hiked its full length – or anything close to it! With my husband and kids I hiked from Katherine Cove north to Robertson Cove, spending one night camping in the backcountry. We loved it, and I was eager to explore the entire trail with my friend Cheryl.

The park describes the Coastal Trail as follows:

  • The most challenging and demanding trail in the park, the Coastal Trail takes you along the high cliffs and rocky beaches of Lake Superior. The trail extends from Agawa Bay to Chalfant Cove.
  • The trail ascends and descends over cliffs and rocky outcrops and crosses beaches of boulders and driftwood. Use extreme caution when hiking this difficult terrain. The rocks can be very slippery, especially when wet with dew, fog or rain. Windblown trees may obstruct the trail.
  • Blue, diamond-shaped symbols mark where the trail enters forested areas. Rock cairns mark exposed sections. Generally the trail hugs the coastline. If you lose the trail, continue along the shore and eventually you will find the trail again.
  • South of Gargantua, the Coastal Trail is extremely rugged and very demanding. Between Gargantua and Rhyolite Cove the trail climbs over 80 metres (260 ft.) to spectacular vistas over the lake.
  • The park’s geology is most dramatic on the coast where waves have exposed the rock shoreline. Rhyolite and Beatty coves are particularly interesting. Along the way, sand and cobble beaches are nestled in coves, providing shelter for campsites.
  • All backcountry campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Campsites along the coast are shared by hikers and paddlers.
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From Friends of Lake Superior website:

Hiking the Entire Length of the Coastal Trail

Take a look at my video trip report(Note that in a couple of sections the heavy wind makes it a bit hard to hear what I’m saying. Just turn the volume up! I’ve also added a bit of text so that key information isn’t missed.)

Day 1: Thursday, September 28 (South-western Ontario to Lake Superior Provincial Park)

At 6:06 AM we were on our way to Lake Superior! We stopped into the Twilight Resort just south of the park to confirm our shuttle for the next morning. We had arranged to be driven from the Visitor Centre at Agawa Bay to Gargantua, where we would start our hike the next morning by hiking the northern section of the trail. However, we made good time driving to the park, so we decided to ask whether we could get a shuttle that night instead of the next morning. Our shuttle driver agreed, so after paying, we headed for the park and the Visitor Centre to pay for our backcountry permit, get changed into our hiking gear, and wait for our 5:30 PM pick-up. Before we left, we chatted with the Park Interpreter, who gave us some tips, and told us to come back once we were done to let her know how it went.

Our driver arrived in a pick-up truck and we headed for Gargantua. It was a 20 minute drive to Gargantua Road, and then 42 minutes of speed, bumps, sudden braking, swerving, and general roller-coaster like driving. I guess it comes with the territory when you’ve been running shuttles for 30 years and know the (single lane!) road like the back of your hand. We were so relieved to get out of that truck, both of us feeling pukey.


We walked a mere 300 m to our first campsite on Lake Superior. We set up a tarp in case of rain, our tent, and a bear bag rope over a tree branch. We were surprised to find tiny black flies (not the black flies I’m familiar with) attacking our heads and making us itchy. Thankfully, we only saw them the first night.

At midnight we awoke to the sound of thunder far in the distance. Over the next hour or so, it got progressively closer, until it was very very close. Heavy rain started, and with it, puddles formed in our two vestibules. Then Cheryl noticed that there was water flowing below our tent floor – and a lot of it. The water accumulated more quickly on Cheryl’s side, so she tried to hold the tent footprint up to make sure the water went under it. Once the storm passed and the rain nearly stopped, we decided to move the tent. We couldn’t believe it when we moved it and saw that the only puddle in the campsite was the one where our tent had been – at a depth of about an inch of water! We moved the tent to higher ground, and were shaking our heads because when we set the tent up, it didn’t look like a depression to us! Were we ever wrong. Thankfully, everything inside the tent stayed dry!

Day 1 hiking summary: Gargantua road to 1st campsite (300m)

Day 2: Friday, September 29

On our first full day of hiking, we were up at 7 AM and on the trail at 9:15. We find that it always takes us about 2 hours to get going, from the moment our alarm goes off to the first step away from our campsite. Our routine was to pack up everything inside the tent before getting out of it, pack up the tent, cook a hot breakfast (you can find our full menu here, and a review of the menu here), and then pack up the tarp, kitchen stuff and everything else. Two hours seems like a long time, but very little of that time is us just sitting there enjoying our hot cereal and tea!

We headed north for Chalfant Cove, hoping to be able to also see Warp Bay and Devil’s Chair on our way back. We thought that Chalfant Cove was 7 km from the Gargantua Road, but we learned as we hiked and read the distance markers that it was actually 7 km from Gargantua Harbour, which was 2 km from the road. So, our hike would be even longer than expected. The hike was easy but boring, through woods that seemed never-ending. There were very few points that were scenic. We had decided to do Chalfant Cove first at the recommendation of the Park Interpreter, and if there was time, to do the other “fork” of the trail on the way back. By the time we reached Chalfant Cove, which was very underwhelming, we pretty much knew we would be heading straight back to the campsite. We had already hiked 10 km! There was one pretty spot close to Chalfant Cove – Indian Harbour, and a nice set of rapids in the woods, but that was pretty much it. The return hike was long, and perhaps even more boring. Our feet were getting sore from the hard ground. Once we reached our campsite, we made dinner with my KIHD stick stove, had a campfire, and headed for bed. We shared a hot water bottle. The only people we saw that day were 3 people staying at the campsite next to us – they seemed to be “car camping” (including shuttling their kayak from their site to the road by car). We saw 2 grouse during our approximately 7 hour hike. We hiked between 6 to 8 hours every day.

Day 2 hiking summary: Gargantua north to Chalfant Cove and back (20.4 km)

Day 3: Saturday, September 30

On our second full day of hiking, we made good progress at the start on pretty flat ground. Our pace slowed when we hit the hills and the technical sections, which required us to carefully pick our path across the rocks and boulders. There were many many ups and downs, and carefully plotting the next footstep or placement of our hiking poles was mentally exhausting. This section of the trail had spectacular views and over 80 metres of climbing. I spotted a creature that could have been a pine marten, or an otter, or mink, or maybe even something else. I only caught it’s back end as it scurried up a hill. We reached Rhyolite Cove, which is an interesting spot from a geological point of view.

We didn’t quite get as far as we had hoped to, which was half way between Gargantua and Orphan Lake, approximately 10 km. Instead, we managed just 8.8 km and were a bit discouraged, thinking that if the rest of the trail was as difficult, we might not be able to hike the entire thing.

Day 3 hiking summary: Gargantua south to south of Rhyolite Cove (8.8 km)


Day 4: Sunday, October 1

Since we had hoped to get half way to Orphan Lake on Saturday (but didn’t), we wanted to get as close to Orphan Lake as we could on Sunday, our third full day of hiking. The night before we decided to set our alarm for 5:30 AM, and to be on the trail by 7:30 (by which time there would be enough light to hike), but before we went to sleep I changed the alarm to 6. We were heading out at 8 AM, and once again made good progress to start. But then… well, let’s just say things didn’t go exactly as planned. We were following the blue trail markers when we reached huge boulders with no blue marker and no cairn to mark the way. We carefully picked our way down the boulders, but we were headed precariously close to the edge of the rocky cliff, and figured this couldn’t be right. But when we looked back, the blue marker was perfectly positioned for people hiking south to north, so we figured it must be correct. The rocks were wet, and the “path” too close to the lake for comfort – not to mention impassible in our opinion! We picked our way higher along the rocks and eventually had to turn into the woods, because we couldn’t go further south. We hoped that we would find the hiking trail in the woods, but instead, all we found were more boulders and drop offs and challenging bushwhacking (and no trail!). We decided to bushwhack back to the last blue marker (navigation 101: go back to where you last knew where you were), and to try – again – to go down the boulders. It took a while, but we eventually made our way to the blue marker. Climbing down the rocks the second time was faster, and then when we went a bit closer to the water, we saw a cairn and that the path wasn’t quite as treacherous as we thought!! PHEW. We were back on track. We figure we lost 30-60 minutes in this section.

After this section, we made good progress. Sometime in the last hour I chose the wrong rock to stand on and fell forward, landing hard on my right knee. At least that’s what I remember. Cheryl asked me if I fell forward how come she found me facing another way. Who knows! My knee was not happy on the uphills, and eventually developed quite a bruise, but ibuprofen and sleep seemed to help. The pain was completely gone after a couple of days.

We ended up at a campsite just north of Orphan Lake, which meant that we had gained ground and were getting back on track distance wise. We saw many dragonflies on this day, but no people. It was also very windy and wavy.

We used my stick stove again to cook dinner, but didn’t heat up a hot water bottle – it was too warm out!

Day 4 hiking summary: South of Rhyolite Cove to North of Orphan Lake (11.5 km)

Day 5: Monday, October 2

On our 4th full day of hiking, we were up in the dark again and hiking by 8 AM. There was a really pretty sunrise! Spot the relatively new windmills in the picture below.

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Sunrise north of Orphan Lake

We reached the Baldhead River and Orphan Lake trail quite quickly, and then began hiking the Bald Head. We expected some pretty views as we climbed higher and higher, but didn’t get many good vantage points through the trees. For once we were both hungry shortly after beginning our hike – our breakfast wasn’t filling enough! We stopped for a snack at a campsite just after the Bald Head, and then as we continued our hike we started to hear cars – the trail was getting close to Highway 17. Our shuttle driver had told us that once we started hiking south from Gargantua, the Orphan Lake trail would be our first opportunity to bail if need be. We’d have to hike the trail to reach the road, but it would only be a few kilometres. The first time the Coastal Trail reaches the road is at the Coldwater River. We had lunch at a campsite just before the river, and then when we reached it, we debated taking our boots off, putting our sandals on, and walking through it, but instead opted to just follow the trail to the road and back to the lake. The only people we saw on Day 5 were in cars at the Coldwater River.

At some point during the hike I was stung on the back of my leg by a wasp or yellow jacket. I hadn’t seen the nest on the ground, but Cheryl spotted it after I walked past it, and as she commented, I felt the sting! Then I saw the wasps or yellow jackets flying around it. Cheryl made a break for it and came through unscathed.

Three sizes of rocks coming together at one spot.

We had to do lots of bouldering after lunch, pretty much until the trail comes out at Robertson Cove. I had hoped to be able to camp here, because it’s such a beautiful spot, but we didn’t know if the timing would work out. Lucky for us, it did!

Robertson Cove from the north.

We set up camp, and then “swam” in one of the pools of water on the “island” (it’s not really an island because there is a sand spit that leads to it). In reality we splashed ourselves “clean” and froze in the cold water! I didn’t want to get my hair wet in case it didn’t dry before bedtime. I changed into clean clothes for the first time since our hike began, and after rinsing the dirty ones, hung them to dry.

Because our hike was shorter, we actually had time to just relax in the tent for a while. It was awesome! Eventually, we got out of the tent to make dinner, which ended up being my favourite meal of the trip – Thanksgiving on the Trail. It was essentially turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberries and gravy! YUM.

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Pretty proud of my tiny toothbrush – I cut a regular sized one down to save weight.

After a tiny bit of rain began to fall, we ran around grabbing our stuff from bushes and branches so it wouldn’t get any more wet. Thankfully, the rain was short lived and we enjoyed another campfire before heading for bed.

Day 5 hiking summary: North of Orphan Lake to Robertson Cove (9.6 km)

Day 6: Tuesday, October 3

On our fifth full day of hiking, we set out early again in hopes of getting as close as we could to Sinclair Cove. It was another windy and wavy day, with the sound of the thundering waves a constant background noise, except when we were hiking through the woods.

For the first time in several days, we saw moose scat.

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After just under 3 km, we reached Katherine Cove, where I spoke to someone other than Cheryl for the first time in days! I asked a man from Manitoba to take our picture.

I was impressed by the new toilets in the parking lot. It’s amazing what days in the woods makes you appreciate. I could be extravagant with toilet paper!

From the time we reached Katherine Cove until we arrived at the Sand River, where the trail curves inland to the road, and then back again to the water, we walked on sand beaches. It was such a beautiful area, one that I had barely explored before. It’s environmentally sensitive, so there are no campsites in this area. We tried to walk on the wetter sand, because usually it was harder packed and easier walking. But it was a fine line between easier walking and getting wet feet from the waves!

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At the Sand River, we had a snack, and debated walking across the river in our sandals, but it looked too deep, so once again, we took the trail up to the road. For a while, we followed 6 little birds who were eating something being washed in from the lake, but as we got closer, they would fly a little further away.

We stopped at a campsite for our lunch, and then continued on our way. While eating our lunch, we spotted 2 ducks swimming side by side, continually diving down then almost immediately coming back up. We’re not sure what they were – not loons, not cormorants. In any case, they were fun to watch. The wind was very strong, so at different points we had to time our rock crossings so that we didn’t get soakers. At our campsite we “bathed” again, but it was c-c-c-c-cold! We picked the best of the 3 poor tent locations, and were glad that we only had a 2 man tent. Anything bigger wouldn’t have fit. As it was we were on quite a slope, and had roots under the tent floor. It was our worst campsite of the trip, but we did manage to put a tarp up over a rock which provided dry seating during a thunderstorm!

Speaking of thunderstorms, this one came very close to our campsite too. So close that we were under the tarp discussing the point at which we would go into the woods and crouch down on 2 feet, assuming the “lightning position”. I have since found an excellent source of information for backcountry campers from the US government called Backcountry Lightning Risk Management.

The storm passed eventually, and while we never did use the wood we had gathered for a campfire, we got into the tent without getting soaked or fearing for our lives.

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Hiking summary: Robertson Cove to North of Sinclair Cove (13.9 km)

Day 7: Wednesday, October 4

Our 6th full day of hiking was supposed to be our last, but time would tell how much ground we would cover! The rain from the night before meant slippery rocks from the get go. We walked along the beach where we were camped, but because of the wet rocks, strong wind and waves lapping the rocks at the shore, we decided to bushwhack our way straight up a hill. It wasn’t easy. We walked a short way in the woods, then headed back down, where we picked our way along the rocks (mostly out of the lapping waves) and then found the trail marker sending us back into the woods.

Each day, I thought that the hardest part of the hike must be behind us, but each day, I was surprised with new challenges on the trail.

On day 6 we decided to take the 300 m or so side trail to see the pictographs. I have visited them a few times, but never in such high waves. There’s no way I would walk out onto the rock to see them. In fact, the park closes them in mid September due to the weather, and removes the chain that you can use to make your way across them. There are signs along the trail that read, “Death and injury have occurred when highly unpredictable waves have washed visitors off the rock ledge while viewing the pictographs. Extreme caution is necessary at this site. Rocks and ledge are slippery.” I was able to see the first couple from the base of the stairs.

We did a lot of squeezing between rock faces (at challenging angles) after the pictographs, and carefully picking our way up and down rocky cliffs. This section scared us before we even started it when it said that the 7 km to the Agawa River (a few km’s before we would reach Agawa Bay and the Visitor Centre) would take us 6 hours! I thought in my mind that even when we are going slowly, we aren’t that slow! It was 10:45 AM at that point.

In fact, it only took us 4 hours to cover that distance, and when we reached the Agawa River, we knew that we could push on and reach Agawa Bay and the Visitor Centre. The last few km’s were tough mentally, because while the tough climbing was done, and only relatively flat trail was left, the trail seemed to go on forever. We were ready to be done.

It was just after 4 PM when we arrived at the Visitor Centre! We did it. We hiked 80 km in the 6 days we had originally planned on. It wasn’t easy. As Cheryl said, it was the hardest parts of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park over and over again (we hiked the entire thing in spring 2016). The Coastal Trail at Lake Superior was exhilarating, breathtaking, challenging, mentally and physically demanding, exhausting, scary, and ever-so-empowering.

After our rather unremarkable finish (no bands playing, no crowd cheering), we went inside and chatted with the Park Interpreter and employee of the park store, and asked the Park Interpreter to take our picture outside.

We paid for a night of car camping, picked a campsite on the lake, and had a hot shower! Afterwards I made myself a cup of hot chocolate (Cheryl had already had a coffee from the Visitor Centre) and then we made our quinoa soup which we ate with homemade crackers. And to top it off, we ate homemade apple crisp. Yum.

It was super windy that night, but we were cozy and dry in our tent!

Hiking summary: North of Sinclair Cove to Visitor Centre at Agawa Bay (14.8 km)

Day 8: Thursday, October 5 (Lake Superior Provincial Park to south-western Ontario)

Our alarm went off at 6 AM on our last morning, because we had a long drive ahead of us. We packed up our things, and off we went.

In summary:

  • Each day we hiked between 8.8 km and 20.4 km, which took from 6 to 8 hours.
  • We saw dragonflies, birds, grouse, and some kind of weasel, but no bears or moose.
  • The weather mostly cooperated, with us never having to hike in the rain. The night time temperatures were warmer than expected, and day time highs mostly comfortable for hiking hours on end. I’m not saying we didn’t sweat!
  • The ground varied from sand to dirt trail to tiny pebbles to slightly bigger rocks to larger rocks to big rocks to boulders to cliffs! You name it, we walked/climbed/ scrambled on it – some footing was solid, and other steps required physics calculations! We learned to step where our foot would “catch” if a rock moved or our foot slipped.
  • The terrain included flat portions, but many many ups and downs and more ups. We hiked around a corner to see yet another hill to climb.
  • We couldn’t have done it without our hiking poles.
  • The Lake Superior coastline is incredibly beautiful.


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How to plan a menu for backcountry camping

Are you considering going on a backpacking trip or a canoe trip, but aren’t quite sure what you would eat?  There are lots of things to keep in mind when you’re designing your menu, but really, it’s not that hard! You can buy everything ready to eat from the grocery store, or do like I do and prepare, cook, and dehydrate everything myself. If you’re looking for sample menus, look here.

Fresh banana, dehydrated strawberries, kiwi and mangoes, and fresh cooked chocolate chip pancakes.

Things to consider:

  • How many people will be on the trip?
    • Some meal ideas, like individual pizzas, might work for 2 or 3 people, but not for 5 or 6 because of the length of time it takes to cook each pizza (unless you’re bringing multiple stoves or are cooking on a grill over a campfire).  Pasta, on the other hand, scales up nicely.
  • Will you be bringing food just for yourself, or sharing meal prep and cooking?
    • Be prepared to compromise on the food you eat.
  • How many days is the trip?
    • For a 2-day, 1-night trip, you could bring frozen meat for your dinner (e.g. steaks or chicken breasts), but if your trip is longer than this, you’ll have to bring other sources of protein (such as beans), or bring freeze dried or dehydrated meat or eggs. Food safety is really important. Don’t let your frozen food get warmer than fridge temperature (at or below 4 degrees Celsius or 40 degrees Fahrenheit) before you cook it.
    • Consider how long that fresh pear will last in your bag before it’s a mushy mess! Some fruits and vegetables last longer than others, such as apples, carrots, and peppers.
  • What time of year are you camping?
    • If you’re camping in the snow, you don’t have to worry about food spoiling, but remember that everything will freeze – frozen peanut butter doesn’t spread very well!
    • Will you want a hot beverage to warm you up?

      Warming up with a bag of rehydrating fruit.
  • How many main meals a day will you have?
    • Will you have main meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner, with snacks in between? A main meal at breakfast and dinner, eating frequent snacks in between? A quick snack at breakfast and bigger meals later? I have main meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a morning snack, afternoon snack, and evening snack.
  • Will your main meals be hot meals, or will some be “cold”?
    • I always have a hot breakfast and dinner, but a no-cook lunch, which means I can eat it wherever I happen to be when I’m out exploring.
    • If you want to get going quickly in the morning, you might want to consider having a no-cook breakfast.
  • Do you want to prepare food to eat while you’re out exploring?
    • Cooking is one thing, but do you want to have to assemble meals, chop vegetables etc., or would you prefer a ready made meal?
  • Do you want to be able to eat without stopping?
    • Will you be happy to sit down and take a break from hiking or paddling, or do you want to eat something without stopping, such as trail mix or an energy bar?

      Sometimes I pre-make this at home, wrap it up, and on the trail all I need to do is eat!
  • How much variety in your menu do you want?
    • Are you happy eating the same thing for breakfast every day, or do you like to change things up? Are you sick of oatmeal by the third morning, or is it comfort food for you? For a multi-day trip I may bring the same snack for a couple of days, but otherwise, every meal is unique.
  • Are there special dietary needs or restrictions?
    • For example, is someone on a low salt diet? Celiac? Allergic to nuts? Can’t get through a camping trip without s’mores?
    • Some meals and snacks are easy to customize for individual tastes – for example, individual pizzas can be loaded with veggies – or not! Trail mix can be heavy on the nuts – or goldfish!
  • How can you incorporate healthy foods like fruits and vegetables into your menu?
    • Dehydrated fruits and vegetables can be snacked on as is, or rehydrated to go along with meals. For example, I love eating dehydrated bananas first thing in the morning, and having rehydrated strawberries and other fruits in my hot cereal.
    • Look for prepackaged meals that include vegetables, or buy them on the side.

      Fresh cooked pasta with rehydrated green and red peppers and tomato sauce.
  • Consider favourite snacks as a pick-me-up when the going gets tough.
    • You’re likely expending a lot of calories on your backcountry trip! A bit of junk food may be just what you need to push through a tough afternoon – or day!
  • Are you backpacking or canoeing? How much food weight do you want to carry?
    • If you’re trying to lighten your food load, consider adding freeze dried or dehydrated foods to your menu.
  • How many calories do you need each day?
    • It’s a good idea to know how much food is enough to keep you happy and energized (it may take some trial and error)! I have learned that I burn far more calories hiking than canoeing, so I need to plan accordingly.
  • What cooking equipment will you bring with you?
    • Will you be cooking on a campfire with a grill, or using a portable stove?
    • Will you have a single pot, or are you bringing a frying pan or a 2nd pot?
  • Do you plan to simply boil water to rehydrate things (such as prepackaged dehydrated meals), or will you be baking fresh bannock?
    • If you’re just boiling water, you’ll use less fuel, but there’s something to be said for freshly baked bread on the trail!
  • How much food prep and cleanup do you want to do at your campsite?
    • After a long day of hiking or paddling, will you want to assemble a complicated meal? Do you want to deal with cleaning up messy pots or pans filled with bacon grease?

      Shelf-stable pepperettes and cheese sticks.
  • What is your budget?
    • Can you afford to buy prepackaged dehydrated meals, or will you stick to basics like oatmeal, beans, pasta and rice dishes?
  • Are you able to dehydrate your own meals?
    • Not only can you control what goes into the food you eat, but you can lighten your load too!
  • Are there things you can’t bring into the backcountry?
    • For example, at Ontario Parks, you’re not allowed to bring cans or glass bottles.
  • Is there a fire ban?
    • If fires are prohibited due to a high forest fire risk, your menu will have to change radically!
  • What will you eat if your trip runs longer than expected?
    • Plan to bring an extra meal or two, just in case!

dsc05808Examples of the food you can easily find in a grocery store or bulk food store:

  • oatmeal
  • dehydrated eggs
  • dried fruit (e.g. raisins, cranberries)
  • dehydrated fruit (e.g. apples, mangoes)
  • nuts
  • shelf stable (unrefrigerated) pepperettes
  • hard cheese (lasts for days on the trail – wrap in cheesecloth or parchment)
  • tortillas
  • crackers
  • peanut butter and other nut or seed butters
  • granola bars
  • energy bars
  • pasta
  • rice side dishes (e.g. rice and beans, or rice and veggies)
  • instant mashed potatoes

Energy square (with a view)!

Look for a post soon on how to organize and pack the food for your backcountry trip, so that you aren’t rifling though a big bag or barrel of food each time you go to eat something, don’t take up any more room in your pack than you need to, and reduce the weight as much as possible.

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Menu for fall 6-day hike of the entire Coastal Trail at Lake Superior Provincial Park

Variety is the spice of life, right? When I’m camping in the backcountry, I don’t want to eat the same food every day, and I most definitely don’t want to eat bar after bar after bar! I want food that is (mostly) healthy, homemade, delicious, nutritious, filling, and different, while being as lightweight as possible!

Eating some delicious soup with tree bark, since someone forgot to pack spoons!

This fall, I will be hiking the full length of the Coastal Trail at Lake Superior Provincial Park. My friend Cheryl and I are planning to cover the 65+ km in 6 days, but will carry food for a 7th day if need be. The trail goes through the forest, across sandy beaches, rocky beaches, small boulders, big boulders, has endless ups and downs, and boasts some incredible scenery along the shore of Lake Superior. I have hiked parts of it, but never the full thing.

Our plan is to hike from north to south, starting at the Gargantua Harbour access point, hiking the northern end of the trail (to Devil’s Chair and Chalfant Cove), and then hiking south toward the Visitor Centre.

We have planned out our menu based on past trips, knowing how much food it takes to keep us energized and raring to go, and keeping in mind our food preferences! We like to use lots of fruit and vegetables, but have some treats too. It took some experimentation but after many backpacking trips, including an 8-day hike of the entire La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park (trip report, menu, and menu review available at this link), we’ve figured out what works for us.

Some of my favourite books for backcountry meal prep are:

  • A Fork in the Trail by Laurie Ann March (F)
  • LipSmackin’ Backpackin’ by Christine and Tim Conners (L)
  • The Trailside Cookbook by Don and Pam Philpott (T)

Where we’re planning to use a recipe, you’ll see a (F), (L) or (T) after the recipe name (and the corresponding page number).

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Some meals are tried and true recipes, while others are new things we’re trying for the first time (such as “Thanksgiving on the Trail”). You might have noticed that we’re not really “cooking” very much. For the majority of our meals we’ll be boiling water to add to things (such as oatmeal) or to rehydrate things (such as chili). We will be baking cornbread and bannock, as well as eggs and bacon. Designing our menu as we have means faster meal prep, and less fuel required.

Between now and our trip departure, we’ll be slicing, chopping, cooking, baking and dehydrating our meals! Cheryl and I have split the food up so that we each prepare approximately half. We’ll keep everything in the freezer until departure day, when we drive more than 850 km north! The first night we’ll car camp at Agawa Bay, and then start our big hike the next morning after a shuttle to our starting point.

You can bet I’ll be blogging about our trip, including a full trip report, menu review, and packing list. Stay tuned!

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Field testing my new stick stove, the KIHD Stove Ultimate

I had to wait nearly 3 months to try out my brand new stick stove, the KIHD Stove Ultimate, which I bought at the Outdoor Adventure Show in Toronto in February. I intended to take it to Algonquin in early May, but the weather looked horrible and I figured all the wood would be wet. It was a good decision. It was wet – very wet – along the Western Uplands Trail!

Two weeks later I set out on my very first solo backpacking trip, a hike at Point Grondine Park on the Point Grondine Reserve. My stick stove was tucked nicely inside my pot, which also held the rest of my “kitchen” stuff (bowl, spoon, dishcloth, dish soap, water treatment drops, fire starters, matches, hand sanitizer, flint). I did bring my MSR Dragonfly stove as a back-up, in case the wood was wet or I couldn’t boil water!

Before I describe my experience with the Stove Ultimate, here’s what the KIHD website says about it:

For settings where wood is plentiful and burning it will not cause damage to fragile ecosystems, this wood burning stove allows you to travel without carrying fuel and it packs down to the size of a pancake.

The individual titanium panels easily fit into place during setup and the unique locking mechanism lock it together. The low square design focuses heat upward, directing it to the pot for quick, efficient cooking.

  • Made of ultra-light titanium, a material that withstands long-term heat without damage.
  • Designed for pots no larger than 1.5L.
  • Removable access door can be inserted or removed for air-control and for refuelling.
  • Assembled dimensions are 11.0 x 11.0 x 12 cm carrying case.

Technical Specifications

  • Made with 20 gauge Titanium 20
  • Weight: 0.529 Lbs (240g)
  • Packed size is 11 x 11 x 12 cm
  • Carrying case included
  • Made in Canada

There are 9 pieces to the stove, and it is very quick and easy to assemble. At Point Grondine, I set the stove inside the designated fire pit (the pictures above with stones were from a separate testing elsewhere). Using only my hands (no saw or knife required), I broke tiny pieces of wood off the dead branches that I gathered from my campsite. I set some in the stove – in a haphazard way – and then since I had brought homemade fire starters with me, I put a wax coated cotton ball in the middle of the stick pile.

On the 2nd match, the fire lit! As soon as I was convinced it was going to continue burning, I put my pot with water on the stove, and covered it with the lid. I continued to feed the fire with progressively bigger sticks. I even had a bit of the fire going outside the stove, which I would shove inside with another stick. I didn’t use the door at all. I used my 2L pot, and within 9 minutes I had boiled 1L of water. I made hot chocolate, and added the rest to my bowl of dehydrated butternut squash soup. Once it was ready, I ate it with homemade sesame pepper crackers. Yum.

Later, I boiled another litre of water to make a hot water bottle for inside my sleeping bag. I left the stove for a few minutes until it had cooled, and then I put it away. My only complaint about the stove is that – not unexpectedly – it quickly went black, and my fingers got messy packing it away. It does, however, come with its own cloth case to keep the blackness from getting the rest of your gear wet (or from scraping your pot).

I used the stove again the next morning to boil water for tea and oatmeal. This time, it was raining, but I cooked out in the open and it worked just fine. The pot completely covered the fire, so my dry wood (kept under a tarp overnight) stayed dry.

I was surprised at how little wood the stove used. I left a big pile for the next campers.

After my trip, I took my stove to my parents’ house to show them how neat it is. And of course I couldn’t sustain enough heat to boil water as quickly as when I had been camping. I’ll blame their wood! This time, I played with the door after boiling the water just to try it out. It was easy to put on and remove. I wondered whether it would be too hot to the touch, but it was fine.

What the inside of the stove looked like after burning.

I can’t see myself switching over completely to a stick stove for my canoeing and backpacking trips (wet wood, environmental impact), but I do like the idea of bringing it along, and carrying slightly less fuel, knowing that if the weather is good, I can cook a few meals on the stick stove. It’s fun and it beats the loud noise of my MSR Dragonfly! The stick stove is also a great back-up in case my Dragonfly pump fails, my fuel is spilled, or any other stove calamity strikes! It is very light weight, and so compact! Bonus that it fits inside my pot. I’m looking forward to using it on my next trip!

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