Thru-hike of the 80 km La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park (without sleeping)

“Which campsite are you staying at tonight?” a fellow backpacker asked us as we hiked along the trail. When told that we were going all the way to George Lake, he replied, “No seriously, which campsite?” “Seriously,” Rebecca replied. And then the next morning, more than 24 hours into our hike, a woman in a group of four backpackers asked us, “So what campsite did you come from?” “Well, we started hiking at 6:38 yesterday morning and we’re going all the way to the end without stopping.” They looked at us incredulously. We wished each other well and parted ways.

View from The Crack.

The idea of hiking the entire 80 km La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park without stopping to sleep came to me as I considered different ways to train for Wilderness Traverse, a 24-hour adventure race. I have friends who had done the hike in one go before, and knew that it would provide an opportunity to practice exercising for a long period of time, to work out nutrition strategies, and to see how our team dynamics fared. We chose early October for our hike, and set about planning what we would carry with us, including food. I also got tips from my equally crazy friends, which helped us to settle on a counter-clockwise route (easier ending). I knew what kind of terrain to expect because I had previously hiked the entire trail (in 8 days going clockwise). The Friends of Killarney Park’s La Cloche Silhouette Trail Guide is a great resource, as is the park’s Backcountry Hiking and Canoe Route Map.

While my friend and adventure racing teammate Rebecca and I would be hiking (we are team “Define Lost”), our friend and support crew Jen would stay at base camp at George Lake. I would be carrying my Garmin InReach (satellite communicator) to allow our friends and family to follow our progress, and to get help if needed.

The Hike

We decided to start hiking approximately one hour before sunrise. Our alarms went off at 5 AM, and after oatmeal for breakfast and final preparations, we grabbed the last few snacks from the cooler and at 6:38 AM with headlamps on, we started walking! It was Tuesday, October 5. The temperature was supposed to reach around 17 degrees Celsius, and fall to around 12 C feeling like 11 C overnight. There was no rain in the forecast, and it hadn’t rained since we arrived on the Sunday. We were fortunate to have dry, cool conditions! The trail can be treacherous when wet.

Go time!

Killarney Ridge Section

Right off the bat we had to climb a hill – of course! The La Cloche Silhouette Trail goes up and down and up and down and up some more! We opted to wear our trail running shoes and to use hiking poles – I can’t imagine doing the trail without them. We carried 40 litre packs with 3 litre water bladders, plus a 600 ml squishable water bottle each with a filter that we used to refill our bladders. We had intended to use water purifying droplets but didn’t use them in the end. See below for a full packing list.

Our goal was to eat approximately 150-200 calories every hour. I had packed all of my snacks into individual portions, some sweet, some salty, and some other things. See below for a spreadsheet showing all the food I brought, and for info on what I ate – and didn’t! After hiking for hours and hours, some things became less and less appealing. We were reasonably successful at eating on schedule – at least earlier in the hike!

We learned early in the hike that our friends and family were not able to see our progress on the map as intended, however the update messages I sent were automatically accompanied by our location, so Jen was able to follow along with her Killarney map. In addition, each time I sent a message I noted how far we had walked and where we were (e.g. campsite number). It wasn’t until I came home that I realized my error – I had set my account to only share map data after November 1 instead of October 1! Lesson learned.

Beautiful fall colours.

The last part of this first section of the trail is the climb up The Crack, probably the most technically challenging part of the trail, as you have to scramble up rocks, including big boulders with no easy steps. We encountered a few people in this area. By the time we reached the top, we had covered 9.5 km. Unfortunately we had to walk through cigarette smoke as we crested the top, but then we were rewarded with beautiful views.

The next time we checked the InReach to see how far we had gone, it was only 12.5 km, which was rather demoralizing. We realized then that our loose goal of 30 hours was likely unattainable. From that point on we checked the InReach infrequently, so as not to be disappointed too frequently (but enough to share our progress with friends and family).

Using the data from my InReach, you will see that I was able to piece together a comprehensive picture of our progress along the trail.

Killarney Ridge Section Summary:

  • 6:38 AM – Left George Lake campsite #53
  • 6:53 AM – Eastern terminus of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail/Started Killarney Ridge Section
  • 7:02 AM – Sign to H54 (A. Y. Jackson Lake)
  • 7:13 AM – H53 (Little Sheguiandah Lake)
  • 7:36 AM – Sunrise
  • 7:44 AM – H52/H51 (Wagon Road Lake)
  • 8:32 AM – H50 (Sealey Lake)
  • 9:32 AM – The Crack

Silver Peak Section

Along the trail we saw an incredible variety of fungi. I didn’t want to slow us down by continually stopping to take pictures, but I did take a few. There was one kind of mushroom in particular that looked as if it had been coated with shellac – it was so shiny!

We saw a few people as we approached the trail to Silver Peak, but we had already planned to skip this climb (and the gorgeous views).

We knew that before too long we would be hiking in the dark. Mentally, it was hard to see tents set up at H38 and to know that we had to keep walking. Oh how nice it would have been to curl up in a cozy sleeping bag!

Silver Peak Section Summary:

  • 10:52 AM – Started Silver Peak Section
  • 11:32 AM – Sign to H49 (Little Superior Lake)/H48 (Proulx Lake)
  • 1:18 PM – H47 (Heaven Lake)
  • 2:04 PM – Sign to H46/H45 (Bunnyrabbit Lake)
  • 3:55 PM – Sign to H38/H37 (Silver Lake)
  • 4:55 PM – Intersection with trail to Silver Peak

Hansen Township Section

As darkness approached and we prepared to climb and then walk up high along the ridge for a while, we made sure to stop for water at David Lake so that we didn’t run out without access to more. I don’t remember how many times we filled our bladders during the hike, but I do know that we used lakes and fast-flowing creeks to do so. Our water stops were slightly longer than our other stops. When we didn’t need water, we stopped for 10-15 minutes to go to the bathroom, get more food from our packs to put into the accessible pockets at our hips, look at the map, rest our backs, and ask – again – why we ever thought this was a good idea.

After we left David Lake, we walked in anticipation of climbing and coming upon a long section of exposed quartzite rock. This is clearly what I was remembering from my previous hike along this part of the trail. In the darkness, navigation became more challenging. Our goal for hiking overnight was to make as much forward progress as possible and to not get lost! We followed the blue trail markers (only a few were reflective) and the rock cairns. A few times, we lost the trail and had to backtrack, but never very far! At one point in the night the trail started to seem less like a trail, and then there was a tree right in front of me that I had to push through to continue. At this point, despite being tired from lack of sleep, we realized we must have missed a turn and retraced our steps. Sure enough, we went down at one point instead of up. What were we thinking – of course we should have CLIMBED again!

Rock cairn marking the trail.

We walked and walked and walked, and it seemed like we would never reach the quartzite ridge that I was expecting. We walked on quartzite, but then we went into the forest again, and then out onto the rock, and then into the forest – and repeat. It wasn’t as I remembered it. We kept walking. We didn’t check the map frequently in this section. At one point, we stopped for a quick break, looked at the map, and were overjoyed to discover that we had finished the Hansen Township Section! This called for high fives!! We were further along than we expected, and we got a massive mental boost!

At one point overnight I got cold during a rest break, so I dug out my blue puffy jacket, which did the trick! Otherwise I wore just a t-shirt and shorts for the entire hike, except for the very beginning when I had pant legs on as well.

Hansen Township Section Summary:

  • 4:55 PM – Started Hansen Township Section
  • 6:16 PM – David Lake water stop
  • 6:26 PM – Signs to H35 (Boundary Lake)/H34 (David Lake)
  • 6:56 PM – Sunset
  • 9:06 PM – Sign to H33 (Little Mountain Lake)
  • 10:16 PM – Sign to H32/H31 (Shigaug Lake)

Threenarrows Section

Sadly, the high from discovering that we were further along than expected didn’t last too long! It seemed we had been walking for quite some time, so long that I was sure we must have just missed the sign to H21. So when we eventually reached a campsite, we looked at the sign with trepidation… only to discover it said H21. So disheartening!

While I thought it might be scary to walk for 12 hours in the pitch dark, imagining all the creatures big and small that we might encounter, in fact I didn’t find it scary at all! And we saw some pretty cool creatures in the night. Low to the ground I kept seeing very small lights, which I knew weren’t fireflies. I wondered if they were just water droplets, and then I got close to one – it was a spider! Actually, it was the spider’s eyes that were reflecting the light from our headlamps! Once I knew what they were, I saw them everywhere!! One small plant had 3 spiders within a very small space. In the night we also saw 2 salamanders within a foot of each other right on the trail, as well as toads and a mouse. During the day, we saw (and heard!) countless ruffed grouse (one scared the heck out of me!), a pileated woodpecker, a bird that was likely an owl, a frog, lots of chipmunks and squirrels, nuthatches and a dragonfly. I also walked through many cobwebs! The only bear we saw was very close to the George Lake campground office the day before we started our hike!

At one of our overnight rest stops, we turned off our headlamps and looked up at the stars – wow! What a view! Not too much later, both of our headlamps gave warning flashes that the batteries were dying. We put new ones in and were back in business!

At one point, we had to descend a waterfall in the dark. The step down was too big for either of us to actually be able to take a step, so we had to bum scoot down. I thought my footing was solid, but my foot slipped on the wet rock, and I ended up on my butt in the water! Thankfully, it didn’t take too long for my shorts and underwear to dry!

It’s hard to describe what it was like to walk for 12 hours in the dark. It was long. It was tiring. I was counting down the hours until the sun would rise!

I was hoping that the sunrise would give us a big mental boost, but after the initial joy of seeing the sun coming up, it became overcast and there wasn’t much sun to celebrate!

Sunrise on the trail.

However, the sun was up and I was grateful! Our new goal was to finish before it set again (really!).

Threenarrows Section Summary:

  • 12:36 AM – Started Threenarrows Section
  • 12:43 AM – Sign to H23 (no lake)
  • 1:18 AM – Sign to H22 (unnamed lake)
  • 2:13 AM – Waterfall descent
  • 3:41 AM – Sign to H21 (Threenarrows Lake)
  • 5:12 AM – Signs to H20 (unnamed Lake) and H59 (Bodina Lake)
  • 6:47 AM – Sign to H19 (Threenarrows Lake)
  • 7:02 AM – Sign to H18 (Threenarrows Lake)
  • 7:38 AM – Sunrise
  • 8:02 AM – Sign to H17 (Threenarrows Lake)
  • 10:02 AM – H16 (Threenarrows Lake)/water stop
  • 11:06 AM – Sign to H8 (Threenarrows Lake)/start of long walk around the dam

Baie Fine Section

I mentioned the hills – the neverending hills – but I haven’t yet mentioned the mud! We each carried with us a 2nd pair of trail running shoes, with the intent that we would keep one pair dry. Before starting our hike, I envisioned changing into my spare pair for any necessary water crossings. However, within the first few km of the trail, our feet were already wet. There were so many creek crossings, and so many unavoidable puddles, that we never changed our shoes, and instead had wet feet the entire time. This, as you can imagine, is not ideal. But in case we got stuck on the trail for much longer than expected (e.g. if one of us got injured), I wanted to have dry shoes!

Rebecca tackling yet another creek crossing.

At some point, Rebecca started getting hot spots on her feet, which she treated with blister stuff. For me, the last 20 km were excruciating on my feet as I had developed blisters on the outsides of my baby toes. Downhills were the worst. I tried treating them (at which point Rebecca very briefly fell asleep while laying on her back with her backpack on!) but given that my feet were sweating and I continued to step in puddles and mud, nothing stuck!

Another thing that we both experienced during this hike was hearing and seeing things that weren’t there. So many times Rebecca or I would think we heard people talking. At one point (during the day, once we had hiked past the dam), I thought I saw someone in an orange jacket sitting along the shore in a chair. I looked again and only saw leaves. Just before we reached the Pig, I pointed out a backpack to Rebecca, which was sitting on the trail with no person in sight. But as we got closer, I realized it was a fallen tree. Other times I saw bear-like shapes (in bark, in trees). The mind sure does play tricks in times of sleep deprivation!

While the Baie Fine section of the trail was the flattest, it seemed to stretch forever!

A sinking bridge.

We kept thinking that we were getting close to George Lake and the bridge that marks the end of the trail (“Look! A clearing in the forest!”), but the trail just kept on going. And then finally, unbelievably, we saw the bridge! We stopped for a quick picture, then headed up the hill to the park road. Once we hit the road, wow! We had the strangest feeling in our feet. First, the road felt like it was moving, and second, the road was so incredibly hard on our feet!

We made our way to our campsite, where Jen was jumping up and down excitedly! It was so awesome to have a support crew waiting for us! She had cooked homemade macaroni and cheese for us, chopped up a whack load of vegetables, and offered to do anything we needed – get dry shoes and socks, get cold drinks, get clothes, anything! We plunked ourselves down in our chairs for a few minutes and had cold drinks. We removed our shoes, and hobbled to the comfort station for showers (me wearing Jen’s flip flops because I couldn’t tolerate shoes anymore on my blisters)! I even used a hair dryer (for the first time ever while camping), since I didn’t want to go to bed with wet hair. We sat at the roaring campfire for a few minutes telling Jen about our adventures before sleep called our names! Shoutout to Killarney Outfitters for having dry firewood! We bought lots after a disappointing campfire our first night in the park trying to get the wet park wood to burn!

Thank you Jen for being the best ever support crew, and Rebecca for always being up for an adventure, no matter how ridiculous.


Baie Fine Section Summary:

  • 1:06 PM – Started Baie Fine Section
  • 1:16 PM – The Pig (steepest portage in the park)
  • 2:57 PM – Sign to H6 (Cave Lake)
  • 3:02 PM – Sign to H5 (Cave Lake)
  • 4:27 PM – Signs to H4/H3 (Acid Lake)
  • 4:57 PM – Sign to H2 (Lumsden Lake)
  • 5:17 PM – Sign to H1 (Lumsden Lake)
  • 6:15 PM – Western terminus of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail/Finished Baie Fine Section
  • 6:24 PM – Arrived at George Lake campsite (35 hours and 46 minutes after starting)

As my friend Heidi said, “You are so ready for this but don’t underestimate the challenge.” She was right! While the trail is physically demanding, the hardest part for sure was the mental battle. The further we got into our hike, the more frequent our short breaks became, and the harder it was to get going again (physically and mentally)!

I wouldn’t recommend a thru-hike as a way to see the sights and appreciate the beauty of the trail, but it definitely gave us experience exercising for a long period of time, and taught us what foods we do – and don’t! – want to face after hours and hours of exercise. We also got a chance to test out our team dynamics over a much longer period of time than our longest race to date so far – approximately 14 hours.

What an experience!!


In planning our hike, we estimated that it would take us approximately 30 hours (a pace of 2.7 km/h). However, we wanted to bring extra food in case it took longer. Based on previous experiences racing, plus research we had done (including advice from friends who had done this before), we planned to eat 150-200 calories per hour. I brought 37 different snacks with me, a total of 41 servings. Near the beginning of the hike, I suggested that we play a game and try to remember the order in which we ate our snacks. I thought it might help keep us awake during the long night! But after eggs, bar, muffin, something, I stopped trying!

I ate the eggs first since they were not going to stay cold for long. My favourite snacks were the pickle, olives, moon cheese and dill chips! I also loved the lemon square. The further and further we got into our hike, the dryer and dryer I found some of the foods to be – for example, I had to wash down chickpeas, my PB&honey sandwich, and the Pro bar PB chocolate chip with water to be able to swallow them. And as we spent more and more time on the trail, sweet things appealed less and less to me. I could never face the chocolate bar, boiled sweet potatoes, Endurance Tap, and most of my homemade bars and energy balls.

While in the end I had too much food, I don’t regret bringing all of it. If one of us had been injured and we had been forced to stop on the trail, we would have needed it! I did learn, however, that I need more salty snacks and less sweet snacks.

At the suggestion of my friend Barb, Rebecca and I had each packed “mystery” snacks, to pull out when we deemed appropriate! Mine was so sweet that by the time we talked about it, neither of us wanted one! Rebecca had brought Goldschläger (Swiss cinnamon schnapps), which she thought could be helpful in the night if we were cold! We didn’t have that either.

Packing list

Note: I am not sponsored by any companies. I bought all of the items that I used.


  • Gregory Zulu 40 litre backpack
  • Topo Athletic Mtn Racer Trail Running Shoes 6
  • T-shirt, pants with lots of pockets and detachable legs, underwear, bra, compression socks


  • Tubbs hiking poles
  • Garmin InReach
  • Map in waterproof pouch
  • Compass
  • Bear spray (Rebecca also carried a horn)
  • Bear bell
  • 3 litre water bladder
  • Katadyn BeFree Microfilter with Hydrapak 0.6 litre flask
  • Water treatment tablets
  • Sun screen
  • First aid kit
  • Petzl Actik core headlamp
  • AAA batteries
  • Lightweight emergency bivy bag
  • Sunglasses
  • Cell phone
  • Flint and fire starter
  • Swiss army knife
  • Contact lenses and solution
  • Toilet paper
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Camera
  • Altra Lone Peak 5 trail running shoes
  • Running socks (2 pairs)
  • Hat – lightweight/squishy baseball
  • Hat – lightweight running
  • Hat – winter
  • Running gloves
  • Long john pants and long sleeve top
  • Blue puffy compressible jacket
  • Rain coat and pants
  • Food!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 1 (Trailhead to H2)

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

At the trailhead.

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


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

After my windy paddle.

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

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

One of the inukshuks on the trail marking the way.

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

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

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

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

Day 2 (H2 to Trailhead)

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

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

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

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

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

Wemtagoosh Falls.

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

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

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

Still smiling, despite the rain and bugs.

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

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

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

Here is the menu for my trip.

Here is the review of my KIHD Stove Ultimate.

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

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

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

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

Starting the tracking function of my Garmin Inreach SE+.

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

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

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

Our one and only campfire of the trip.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Did I mention the rain?

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

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

Screen Shot 2017-05-08 at 8.48.37 PM
This is the map page on my computer for my InReach SE+. The little dots are the log points, and the big dots (just a few) are the hourly tracking points. I was just learning how to use the device, so inadvertently stopped the trip for a segment of our hike.

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

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My 10 favourite things to do while camping at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

If you live in south-western Ontario like me, Sleeping Giant Provincial Park is far away -very far. But wait! It is so worth the drive! It is incredibly beautiful, and we have had some of the most amazing wildlife experiences there.

Here are my favourite things to do while camping at Sleeping Giant, in no particular order:

1 – Hike to the head and the top of the Sleeping Giant

Sleeping Giant has over 100 km of hiking trails for both day, and overnight hikes. We have been on close to 10 of them. The views from the top of the Sleeping Giant are spectacular!

View from the top of the Sleeping Giant

Starting the climb to the head of the Sleeping Giant. The trail is marked “extreme”.

2 – Do an overnight bikepacking trip

We have done 2 bikepacking trips at Sleeping Giant, which I have written about previously. These trips allowed us to get further into the park, since we could cover more distance by bicycle than on foot. We locked our bikes together, and continued on our way, walking to interior campsites on Lake Superior. Both times we were the only people camping in the area. There are 5 trails in the park that allow cycling:

  • South Kabeyun to the junction with Talus Lake Trail
  • Sawyer Bay Trail
  • Sawbill Lake Trail
  • Burma Trail
  • Pickerel Lake Trail


3 – Explore the Visitor Centre and attend programs

In addition to simply walking around the Visitor Centre and exploring the displays, we have attended scheduled programs, learned lots, and been entertained! We have learned about Silver Islet, an area of the park, been treated to a concert by a singer/songwriter, and taken part in a trivia night.

4 – Search for animals

Several times at dusk we have hopped into our vehicle and driven slowly around the park, looking for creatures of the night! We were lucky enough to see a wolf (our first ever), an owl, a mama deer with two babies, and bunnies, just by driving around. Other times we grabbed our headlamps, and went for a walk at dusk, hoping to spot wildlife. I encountered a bear while running just outside the park one day, and another day, we saw a mama and 3 cubs at the entrance to the park! They were standing on their hind legs eating from the trees. Another day, we spotted a bald eagle just outside the park. I snapped quite a few pictures, one of which was a winner in the park’s annual photo contest!

“Bald eagle in flight”

Standing beside my winning photo in the Visitor Centre!

5 – Explore the nearby Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park

Just an hour away from Sleeping Giant is Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park, a day use only park featuring arctic plants which are usually found 1,000 km north. According to the park’s website, they survive because of the unique environment at the bottom of the canyon. The website also says that there are “Panoramic views of a 150 metre wide gorge and sheer cliffs that drop 100 metres straight down to the canyon floor”. There is a short trail and boardwalk that allows you to see the canyon from lookout platforms. We brought a picnic lunch and sat at one of the picnic tables near the tiny office, where you can pay for a park permit if you haven’t already paid for day use at another provincial park.


6 – Play at the beach

Enough said!

A shovel and hours of enjoyment.

7 – Mine for amethyst nearby

We drove approximately 45 minutes to Amethyst Mine Panorama, where we learned about amethyst mining, got to mine our own, wash it off, and buy a small amount. It was not too expensive, and we had a lot of fun doing it.

Looking for the best little pieces.

 8 – Visit the Terry Fox monument

The Terry Fox monument is located on Highway 11/17 (Thunder Bay Expressway). Terry Fox was an inspirational Canadian who ran across Canada to raise money for cancer research (the “Marathon of Hope”).


9 – Canoe and kayak in Mary Louise Lake

While the weather and waves can make paddling in Lake Superior rather challenging, Mary Louise Lake is a much smaller lake that is more friendly for paddling. It’s rare that my daughter has paddled a kayak on Lake Superior because of the frequent big waves, but Mary Louise Lake is more calm and kid-friendly!

10 – Explore the Lake Superior coastline

There are trails that hug the Lake Superior Coastline, and many opportunities to explore the beautiful coast! Pack a lunch, lots of water, your binoculars, camera, and curiosity, and head in any direction for an adventure you won’t soon forget!

One of two Spotted Sandpipers that we saw at Middlebrun Bay, on Lake Superior

Sea Lion at Perry Bay, on Lake Superior

What are you waiting for? Start planning your camping trip today!

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My 10 favourite things to do while camping at Lake Superior Provincial Park

It only took one camping trip to Lake Superior Provincial Park for it to become my favourite provincial park in Ontario! It may take 12 hours to drive there from my house, including stops, but it is well worth the drive. At Lake Superior I have car camped, canoe tripped and done backpacking trips. I cannot wait to return.

Here are my 10 favourite things to do while camping at Lake Superior Provincial Park, in no particular order:

1 – Visit the Lake Superior Coastline

Park your car at one of the many Coastal Trail access points within Lake Superior Provincial Park, and explore the coastline by walking the trail. In the past, we have walked through knee deep water to an island, where a pool of water collects and warms (sort of, depending on the weather of course). We even brought our backcountry stove and baked brownies on the little island! We have also gone swimming there. We have explored the coast like this many times, and are always amazed at the adventures we have! In fact, this is how we ended up finding bald eagles!

Lake Superior coastline

2 – Hike the Orphan Lake Trail

This 8 km long trail starts in a parking lot along Highway 17, makes its way around Orphan Lake, then down to Lake Superior. It’s not an out and back (there’s a loop), so there’s lots to see. More information on this and other hiking trails can be found here in a park guide. There’s a very pretty little spot along the Baldhead River that is perfect for a rest stop and a snack. One year, my daughter “caught” her first leech (on her leg) where the Baldhead River opens out into Lake Superior. Some random stranger helped us get it off of her. This trail has scenic lookouts and it joins the Coastal Trail. We like to swim in Lake Superior at this point – despite the river outlet and leeches!

3 – Watch the sun set on Agawa Bay

It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve watched the sun set on Agawa Bay – it is still gorgeous!!

The sun sets on Agawa Bay.

4 – Attend programs at the Visitor Centre

We have participated in some fantastic programs at the Visitor Centre, from learning about the Ministry of Natural Resources canine unit, to laying on the beach looking up at the night sky, to “ask an interpreter” nights, to listening to a guest speaker’s paddling adventures on Lake Superior, to watching a Bill Mason video. We have learned so much through the excellent daytime and night time programs.

5 – Visit the pictographs at Agawa Rock

As stated on the Friends of Lake Superior Provincial Park website, “The Agawa Rock Pictographs are enduring messages from the past. This is a sacred site where generations of Ojibwe have come to record dreams, visions and events.” You can see the pictographs by hiking a short distance of about 500 m, or you can access them by canoe or kayak. Note, though, that the wet rocks can be treacherous, and caution must always be taken when viewing them. One year, my daughter was convinced she was going to die while looking at them – i.e. that she would be swept away by a wave – she was so worried that she wanted us to take a “last” photograph together.

More pictographs
One of the many pictographs at Agawa Bay.

6 – Swim in Burnt Rock Pool along the Towab Trail

The Towab Trail is a 24 km return trip, but you don’t have to go that far! If you hike about 4 km, you come upon Burnt Rock Pool, which is where the Agawa River opens up a bit and makes for a great swimming place. There’s a current, so it can be quite fun to float down river! It’s an easy hike from the parking lot to this spot. The trail gets tougher later on, and if you’re looking for an overnight hike, consider staying in one of the campsites at the very end of the trail. My husband and I stayed in the one on top of the waterfall – it’s the only one there – and it was amazing!

7 – Do an overnight backpacking trip along the Coastal Trail

We have had such fun hiking along the Coastal Trail to backpacking sites along Lake Superior. One year, the only visitor we had was the resident otter! The hike was tough going though, as it was more like bouldering than hiking. Add big packs to our backs and our balance was a bit off. It was, however, a great experience. The coast of Lake Superior is incredibly beautiful.

Our campsite on Lake Superior!

8 – Watch for wildlife

We have been lucky enough to spot some incredible wildlife at Lake Superior, including a bear while out running alone (terrifying, not exactly lucky!), and juvenile bald eagles along the Coastal Trail.

A juvenile bald eagle watches us from above.

9 – Explore the rugged coastline of Lake Superior

Pick a spot, any spot, and go for a hike. Check out the rocks – see the history! Such a beautiful shoreline.

From boulders to beaches to forests, the coastline is amazing.

10 – Swim in the huge waves at Agawa Bay

We love swimming in Agawa Bay, but it takes us a few days to get accustomed to the frigid water! The most fun is when the waves are huge.

Love those waves!

Trust me when I say that Lake Superior Provincial Park is an amazing place. And then, go see for yourself!

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Overcoming fears: hiking through “what ifs” and a fear of heights

Do hiking, canoeing, backcountry camping or car camping force you to face your fears? In this guest post, my backcountry camping partner Cheryl explains her mental battles. She wrote this after our 8-day, 90k hike along the La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park.

I truly believe this hike was equal amounts mental and physical. Maybe more mental.

And it started before I put one boot on the trail.

In the days leading up to our trip, my brain was overloaded with all possible “what ifs”, each involving various degrees of plausibility. What if I twisted an ankle four days in. What if a bear ate our food. What if someone got sick. What if a monster serpent of Loch Ness proportions emerged from Three Narrows and swallowed Kyra whole, leaving me alone and without the Personal Locator Beacon, that was, in an ironic twist wrought with chapter-ending suspense, carried by … Kyra.

You get the idea.

At night, in the tent, I would listen to podcasts that I had downloaded at the last minute, to distract my mind from the next day’s hike. 

The words, “almost 30-metre vertical descent”, printed in bold lettering on our map to describe a steep section of trail after H21, weighed on my mind for the first three days.

Cheryl on Three Narrows Lake, contemplating the next day’s 30-metre vertical descent?

This trip, more than any others I’ve done, taught me to “be” in the moment. Breathe. Experience. Enjoy the journey. I reminded myself to do this throughout the day.

Kyra is right: I’m not a fan of heights. 

Sometimes, in the midst of descending a steep, rocky section of the trail near the top of a mountain peak, and fighting a heavy pack that always seemed to push you forward, looking out into the distance was scary.

I learned to focus on the path in front of me. One step. Then another. And maybe, in a moment of either planned courage or unfortunate miscalculation, I’d sneak a peek at the stunning view that extended below my feet.

Some days were long, and we were exhausted by the time we reached camp. I think the human body, and the inner spirit, is designed to just keep going, when there’s no other viable option available,  like asking Kyra for a piggy back out.

I’m very proud of our accomplishment. And, oddly, I am both relieved that I’m home, and sad that I don’t have one more day in front of me, in Killarney.


Cheryl at the bottom of the 30-metre vertical descent.
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Trip report: 8-day, 90k early May hike along the entire length of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park

After 2 previous 4-day hiking trips along the La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park (1st trip 2 days in clockwise, 2 days out, and 2nd trip 2 days in counterclockwise, 2 days out), I knew that I wanted to hike the entire trail in one go. My friend Cheryl and I did some research and finally settled on an 8-day route from May 5-12 (after ice out but before the black fly season!). While most people seem to hike it in less time (some in 3 days!), we wanted to actually enjoy ourselves and not experience a torturous backpacking trip. This would be our longest one to date. We booked the campsites in December, but couldn’t reserve for the first night because reservations weren’t accepted for dates earlier than May 6. Thankfully, when we arrived at the park around noon, our preferred first night’s site was available!

The La Cloche Silhouette Trail is challenging, rewarding and beautiful. There are constant ups and downs, including some difficult ascents and descents. For more background information on the trail, check out the Killarney Outfitters site.

Shortcut to the full slideshowClick on the first picture, and then on the little “i” so you can read the picture descriptions.

Despite cutting back as much stuff as possible, our packs still weighed between 45 and 50 pounds each at the start of our trip (including 2L of water per pack).

Related posts:

Day 1: George Lake campground to H7 (Topaz Lake)

  • Distance: 10.9 km
  • Time hiking (actual moving time): 3 hours 19 min
  • Time stopped (to admire the view, catch our breath, have a snack or lunch, chat with other hikers or canoeists, take a pee break!): unknown (did not track until day 3)
  • Hiking speed: 3.3 km/h
  • Highlight of the day: treacherous approach to the campsite

One of many creek crossings. [Photo by Cheryl]
On our first day, we hit the trail by 12:45 PM, under clear sunny skies and temperatures close to 20 degrees Celsius. We had expected to find a bit of snow on the trails (based on reports of trail conditions at Algonquin Provincial Park), but only spotted small patches here and there. We crossed 5-10 streams, but never had to remove our boots and socks to cross in sandals (as we had to last year). We also crossed one very large beaver dam, just one of many beaver dam crossings along the trail. Part way up “the pig” (the steepest portage in the park), we turned onto the 500m side trail to our campsite. We somehow missed the end of the side trail, instead picking our way along the side of a cliff dangerously close to the water rather than hiking along the cliff top. During our hike we saw a heron, turtles, frogs, a grouse, a muskrat and a butterfly. By the time we arrived at our campsite, I had a blister on my right heel. We set up our tent, found a tree suitable for hanging our food in a bear bag, threw a rock over it (tied to our rope), and made our dinner. We were beat, and had no interest in gathering wood for a campfire! All we burned was a piece of parchment from our dinner! We realized days later that we should have been burning things as we went along instead of carrying them (e.g. toilet paper that we used on drippy noses). A beaver swam past our campsite. There were spring peepers close by, very loud for a time, and then all of a sudden becoming quiet. Each night we read a description of the section we had hiked that day, and looked at highlights for the next day’s hike. Before climbing into the tent for the night, we heated up a cup of water for Cheryl to massage her sore butt (pre-trip injury), and continued to do this every night. Overnight she either heard an owl or heard Stuart McLean talking about an owl on a Vinyl Cafe podcast!

Day 2: H7 (Topaz Lake) to H17 (Three Narrows Lake)

  • Distance: 12.0 km
  • Time hiking: 3 hours 46 min
  • Time stopped: unknown (did not track until day 3)
  • Hiking speed: 3.2 km/h
  • Highlight of the day: “swimming” in Three Narrows Lake

On our first morning waking up at Killarney, we packed up everything in our tent before getting out of it. I took down the bear bag, and while Cheryl packed up the tent, I cooked breakfast. This became our morning routine. We loved our cup of gatorade, hot breakfast and tea each morning. We soon learned that it took us about 2 hours from the time we decided to get up to the time we started hiking. We heard several grouse as we hiked, but saw very few people. We encountered a dead deer on the trail. We ate lunch at H16, where we noticed that the sleeping bag we had found in the base of a tree last year was still on the site. By the time we arrived at our campsite (120m off the main trail), I had blisters on both heels! It was a hot day (+20 degree Celsius), so I decided to “swim” as soon as we got to our campsite. In my bra and underwear I did a cannonball into the water, then got out as fast as I possibly could. It was c-c-c-cold (remember, the ice just melted days ago)! So refreshing! Cheryl got wet without submersing herself. There was enough sunlight and heat left to dry my clothes and hair before bedtime. We had a hot drink to warm ourselves up, and continued to do this most afternoons, from tea to “specialty” coffee (instant coffee with milk powder and some sort of chocolate treat added in). We crawled into the tent before it was dark, but came out one last time to pee before falling asleep! This too became a routine.

Using a warm pot to soothe a sore muscle. [Photo by Cheryl]
Day 3: H17 (Three Narrows Lake) to H21 (Three Narrows Lake)

  • Distance: 9.52 km
  • Time hiking: 3 hours 10 min
  • Time stopped: 1 hour 22 min
  • Hiking speed: 3.0 km/h
  • Highlight of the day: yellow-spotted salamander

On day 3 we woke up to the sound of raindrops on our tent. Thankfully we had put up a tarp the night before (and continued to do so every day for the rest of the trip, just in case), so we had a dry area to cook and eat our breakfast. At times we hiked through the pouring rain, but we were dry in our rain clothes, and our packs were dry under their rain covers. We saw another dead deer on the trail. We chose H21 because a friend told us we had to stay there. It was 460m off the main trail, and seemed to take forever for us to get there. Mind you, the last couple of kilometres every day felt like that! The site is on a point, and other than a nearby cottage (no one was there), it was a great site. However, it was so wet and windy that we decided not to put our tent on the site, and instead to walk back up the side trail and set it up in the shelter of the woods. It worked out great, but meant that we had to walk 165 steps (yes, I counted!) to reach the toilet. We set up a tarp for the kitchen shelter, and Cheryl went looking for a rock to reinforce one side of it – she lifted a big rock up, and found a yellow-spotted salamander (aka Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma Maculatum))! Of course, I tried lifting up other rocks to see what I could find and never found anything. The rain stopped and we were able to enjoy the setting sun down at the point. We watched some birds of prey flying high in the sky. I saw an unidentifiable small animal scrambling across some rocks on the other side of the lake. Because we spent time in the woods and at the point, we carried our bear bag back and forth with us – just in case! We enjoyed a hot cup of tea in the afternoon. There were a few black flies, but they weren’t biting. This was the only day where we didn’t see a single person other than each other! I saw a bat just before getting into the tent, and heard a Barred owl in the night. We also heard a bird in the night that may have been a Whippoorwill. Some days we were also treated to the beautiful, haunting sound of loons on the lake.

Our dry kitchen shelter.

Day 4: H21 (Three Narrows Lake) to H32 (Shigaug Lake)

  • Distance: 11.0 km
  • Time hiking: 4 hours 6 min
  • Time stopped: 3 hours 33 min
  • Hiking speed: 2.7 km/h
  • Highlight of the day: 30 metre cliff descent and climb up waterfall

On day 4 I fell on my butt within the first kilometre of the hike (down a wet rock). Thankfully, I was fine.  We would have had many more falls without our hiking poles! This was the day that we would descend a 30m cliff and then climb up a waterfall on the other side of the creek. Reading the description we had visions of descending a very steep cliff and ascending an equally steep rushing waterfall. It didn’t turn out that way. We needed to be careful where we put our feet on the descent, but it was not bad at all (Cheryl had worried about this part for days, as she is not a fan of heights). On the other side of the creek the path continued for a ways before eventually turning up the waterfall. It wasn’t exactly like Niagara Falls, and we only had to step a short way up into the falls before the trail turned to the side. Later we decided to see if we had cell signals, and lo and behold, we did! We were able to connect with our families and tell them that we were okay. Cheryl heard a mystery big animal along the trail as we sat having a snack, but we never did see anything. After following an 800m side trail to our site, we were relieved to finally arrive. I swam again. We were quite hungry and our pasta/veggie/parmesan dinner hit the spot!! At this site, the toilet was so far that cairns guided our way up the hill – I measured and it was 190 steps from our tent. When we got into our tent for the night, we put on multiple layers of clothes, because it was very cold! I wore long johns (top and bottom) plus my pants, a long sleeved shirt, a fleece sweater, hat and mitts. Even my -7 sleeping bag didn’t keep me warm. Cheryl and I were both cold, so eventually we covered ourselves with a thin metallic survival blanket in hopes it would keep some heat in. We’re not sure it worked, but when the sun came up, we started to roast! Other nights we were able to sleep in underwear and a t-shirt!

Sunset on Shigaug Lake.

Day 5: H32 (Shigaug Lake) to H35 (Boundary Lake)

  • Distance: 9.1 km
  • Time hiking: 3 hours 13 min
  • Time stopped: 2 hours 17 min
  • Hiking speed:  2.8 km/h
  • Highlight of the day: lunch at a small stream

On day 5 we enjoyed eating our lunch along a little stream, where we put our bare feet in the (cold) water. By now we both had blisters on our heels, and our sweaty feet meant that bandaids would not stick to them for long. We changed our socks frequently during the day (those 5 pairs came in handy!) but still the bandaids fell off. I’d love to hear your recommendations on the best bandaids for blisters and sweaty feet! At our campsite (700m off the main trail) I swam again, this time falling back in while trying to get out! We smelled a campfire and discovered that there was a smouldering log in our fire pit. We had a very luxurious kitchen shelter, complete with log backrests – so nice, as our backs weren’t too happy otherwise! I used some Gorilla tape to repair rips on the backside of my rain pants, which I must have ripped while scrambling down rocks. We heard owls again in the night, and we also heard wolves or coyotes just after we got into the tent. They were very far away at first, but were definitely moving closer. It was kind of spooky!

Overlooking Little Mountain Lake. [Photo by Cheryl]
Day 6: H35 (Boundary Lake) to H37 (Silver Lake)

  • Distance: 11.1 km
  • Time hiking: 3 hours 33 min
  • Time stopped: 2 hours 49 min
  • Hiking speed: 3.1 km/h
  • Highlight of the day: mama bear and baby bear

On day 6 we were wakened by an owl that must have been in a tree above our tent! While eating our breakfast we watched a Common Merganser couple swim by, with what we can only imagine was another male swooping in to try and woo the female away. The male of the couple would have none of it, and did an admirable job defending his mate. Eventually, the challenger flew away. Even though we had already hiked the Silver Peak trail during a previous canoe trip to the park, we decided that it wouldn’t really be hiking the entire trail unless we hiked it too! So, we set out for the side trail, but left our big packs at the junction with the main trail, and hung our food in a bear bag. We carried food, water, and our valuables with us. Not 200m up the trail, Cheryl realized that she hadn’t hung her toothpaste etc. We decided not to go back. By the time we reached the top of Silver Peak, there were only 2 guys there, but we had passed many coming down. In fact, we saw 15 people that day (the most of any day of our trip). We had cell signals again, and enjoyed our lunch at the top. The views are spectacular. When we were near the bottom of the hill, we started looking for our backpacks and bear bag. Just before the final switchback, I spotted a mama bear and cub – the cub ran up the hill, but the mama bear just wandered along slowly. We waited a short time, then continued down the hill. We were relieved to eventually see our things, and to find out that even if the bears had checked out our stuff, they didn’t do anything to it! I swam again at our campsite (140m off the main trail). In the evening, Cheryl spotted a beaver, and we watched it go onto the shore just across from our campsite and find something yummy to eat. Cheryl heard the beaver slap its tail a few times in the night.

At the top of Silver Peak. [Photo by some guy from Barrie!]
Day 7: H37 (Silver Lake) to H48 (Proulx Lake)

  • Distance: 11.9 km
  • Time hiking: 4 hours 4 min
  • Time stopped: 2 hours 20 min
  • Hiking speed: 2.9 km/h
  • Highlight of the day: “reward” of chocolate from Ted from Hamilton

On day 7, we decided to stop for lunch at H47, which was right on the trail. However, when we got there, there was a man and a dog. It turned out that they were just resting, waiting for the man’s son and nephew to hike “the Crack”. The 11 year old dog wasn’t able to make the hike. We got talking to Ted from Hamilton, and he told us that we deserved a reward! He gave us part of a chocolate bar, 2 delicious pieces each, which we ate after our lunch. Thank you Ted from Hamilton!!! What a treat. We chatted with him about different canoe routes, and finally we packed up and headed on our way. At our campsite (400m off the main trail) I had trouble for the first time all trip hanging the bear bag. I managed to loop the rock over the branch twice, getting it stuck. Luckily, I was able to get it unwound, so that we didn’t have to cut the rope. At that site alone there were 2 ropes in trees that people had gotten stuck. There was a hum from the black flies (lots of them), but they were hanging out over bushes and not bothering us. We used the last of our bandaids in the morning. From then on, we had to improvise, using gauze and gorilla tape!

Writing my day’s notes at Proulx Lake. [Photo by Cheryl]
Day 8: H48 (Proulx Lake) to George Lake Campground

  • Distance: 14.8 km
  • Time hiking: 4 hours 40 min
  • Time stopped: 1 hour 31 min
  • Hiking speed: 3.2 km/h
  • Highlight of the day: completing the loop!

For the first time all trip, we set our alarm to make sure we got an early start. We were on the trail by about 8:45 AM, hoping to get back to the park office before it closed at 3:30 PM. We knew that we had a long day ahead of us, including a 5 hour drive home at the end! The day’s hike was split into 3 sections: from our campsite to the top of the Crack, from the Crack to the Crack parking lot, and from the Crack parking lot to the George Lake campground. Finally the black flies were starting to annoy us – flying around our heads when we stopped (and a bit when we walked), but not biting. We encountered a group of high school students and their teacher from Michigan at the Crack, whose school has been doing the same trip since 1960! We carefully picked our way down the big boulders. Once we reached the turn off to the Crack parking lot, we saw a sign saying that we had just 6 km to go to reach the George Lake campground. Yay! Unfortunately, that 6 km turned into a few more! That last section of hiking was fairly flat, but we were pretty ready to be done hiking, and the end couldn’t come soon enough. We stopped for lunch, and eventually, we reached one last very steep uphill and an equally steep downhill (which Cheryl’s knees really did not like) before we came to the end of the trail. We knew that we had to walk through the campground to our vehicle, parked at the other trailhead, but we weren’t sure exactly how to get there. We managed, but it added 1.8 km to our trip!

Just one of many delicious meals on our trip! [Photo by Cheryl]
In the end, we hiked 90.32 km! We enjoyed our time at Killarney, and while the hiking was difficult at times, the trail was beautiful. Different sections of the trail brought different kinds of trees, different kinds of rocks, and different spectacular views! It is such an amazing place! Check out the Killarney Provincial Park page on the Ontario Parks website. It’s well worth a visit!

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Trip report: Hiking Ben Lomond, Rowardennan, Scotland

As part of our trip to the United Kingdom in 2014, we spent 10 days in Scotland, including 1 day hiking Ben Lomond. My husband and I were confident that at 11 and 9 years old and in great shape, our kids could manage the hike.

The night before our hike we slept at a bed and breakfast in Dumbarton (about 30 minutes by car from Glasgow), so we started our day with a full Scottish breakfast. We didn’t feel as bad about all that grease knowing that we had a long hike ahead of us!

One very greasy traditional Scottish breakfast to power us up the munro.

Ben Lomond (from the Scottish Gaelic: Beinn Laomainn or “Beacon Mountain”) reaches a height of 974 m and is situated on the eastern shore of Loch (lake) Lomond. It is the most southerly of all the munros, and is closest to the rural area of Rowardennan.

What is a munro? A munro is a mountain in Scotland over 3000 feet high (914 m). According to Wilderness Scotland, “Sir Hugh Munro was an original member of the Scottish Mountaineering Club (SMC) and in 1891 he wrote an article for their journal with a definitive list of all the mountains in Scotland over 3000 feet, using maps and taking barometer readings at the top to check their heights, whose summits were of “sufficient separation” from their neighbouring tops. He did not define exactly what “sufficient separation” was and this has lead to a great deal of debate. His original list was made up of 538 summits with 282 being “Munros”. It is not clear when these mountains became known as Munros, but the popularisation of “Munro-bagging” seems to have started with the publication of a book by Hamish Brown, Hamish’s Mountain Walk , in 1974. It documented his four month self-propelled journey (apart from some ferry crossings) round all the Munros.”

After our greasy breakfast, we drove to Rowardennan, where we parked at the Rowardennan car park for a very nominal fee. The 12 km roundtrip starts close to public toilets and a small information centre. In fact, you can’t even see the mountain from the parking lot.

Going through the gate to control the movement of cattle/sheep.

An excellent, detailed description of each section of the hike can be found on the walkhighlands website.

While we were hiking in July, we made sure to bring raincoats with us for warmth and dryness, just in case. We each carried a hydration pack filled with water, as well as lunch and snacks. We weren’t the only ones hiking Ben Lomond that day, but it was a weekday so it wasn’t too busy.

While walking up the steeper sections we were pretty glad that we weren’t carrying mountain bikes!! We’re not sure how far they got, but these cyclists didn’t make it to the top.

We were rewarded with beautiful views as we hiked. As you can see in the picture below, the summit was obscured by fog as we climbed.

We hoped that the clouds would clear by the time we reached the summit…

We were amazed at how high up the munro the sheep were. They were all over the place, with some quite cute young ones. If you’re interested in learning about sheep farming, check out the book The Shephard’s Life by James Rebanks, or follow him on twitter @herdyshepherd1. So interesting!

Three of many sheep we encountered along our hike, even high up on the munro.

The path up was very windy, with rocky footing that wasn’t too difficult to manage. There was even a small group of people doing trail maintenance while we were hiking.

See if you can spot the tiny people near the top right of this picture.

The best views by far were those from the summit. We were fortunate in that the fog did clear for our time at the top, where we enjoyed our lunch and the 360 degree views.


In the picture below you can see Loch Lomond in the background. At the summit there are fantastic views of the length of Loch Lomond and far into the hills to the north and the Trossachs to the east.

We made it!

As expected, the trek back down the munro was significantly easier and took far less time. It took us around 5 hours to hike, plus time spent at the summit.

At the bottom, we enjoyed delicious Flake bars, something that the kids and I had never eaten before. Alasdair had fond memories of them from his time in Scotland as a kid.

I would highly recommend this hike! It was a great first munro for the kids.

Trip report: Backcountry bicycle adventures (bikepacking) with kids at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

Have you ever considered a backcountry camping adventure by bicycle? That’s exactly what my husband, kids and I did – and loved it.

At the trailhead for the Kabeyun Trail

In July 2012, during our first visit to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park (1,400 km from home), my husband and I decided to go on a backcountry adventure by bicycle with our kids, who were days away from turning 10 and 8. We consulted the park maps to figure out which of the many trails permitted bicycles on them, and made our plan. We also had to pay for interior campsite permits before heading out.

Since we had been car camping at the park, we had to pack up our sleeping things and take down our tent. We packed all of our backcountry equipment, food, clothes etc. into 2 big backpacks for my husband and I, 1 smaller one for my son, and 1 school backpack for my daughter.

We left our car camping site and drove to the trailhead for the Kabeyun Trail.  We biked 6 km on our mountain bikes along the trail, which wasn’t exactly flat and even – there were numerous hills and obstacles to cycle around. There were frustrating moments, and there were tears! At times, progress was slow, and we were walking rather than biking. 

When we reached an interior campsite, we left our big backpacks there (where we would spend the night) and biked another 1.5 km to the Talus Trail, where we locked our bikes in the woods. And then our adventure by foot began! We hiked 4 km to the top of the Sleeping Giant’s feet – 228 metres above Lake Superior. What a view!

We then hiked 4 km back to our bikes and biked 1.5 km back to the interior campsite, where we slept at a beach site at Tea Harbour. With rope and logs, the kids pulled each other around. While inside our tent, we were lucky enough to see a deer walk between the lake and our tent! 

The next morning, we saw a little skunk at a nearby backcountry site. After packing all our things, we biked 6 km back out to our vehicle with our big packs to end our 25 km backcountry adventure! By doing part of this backcountry adventure by bicycle , we were able to see more of the park in less time.

The next year (2013), when our kids had just turned 9 and 11, we did another July biking/hiking adventure at Sleeping Giant.

Getting everything ready

Again, we had to pack up our sleeping stuff and tent, make sure we had all the necessary backcountry gear, food, clothes etc., pay for our interior permit, and then we headed to the trailhead for the Sawyer Bay Trail. Unfortunately, Alasdair popped the tube on his super old mountain bike earlier in the trip, and changing the tube on this bike is not exactly a do-it-yourself project! So, while the 3 of us biked 6k along the Sawyer Bay trail with our big backpacks on, Alasdair hiked it.

Going over a fallen tree

At some point during the ride, our daughter suffered her first injury of the trip (I think) – she had a bike spill that I didn’t see but heard. She landed on her face and banged her legs up pretty well too. She did not want to continue but soldiered on.


We locked our bikes together and headed on foot to our campsite for the night on Talus Lake (1.5k). It turned out to be a very steep, hard climb, and we arrived at the campsite to find a very disappointing “site” – there was nowhere obvious to put the tent, it was very buggy, and there were big leeches visible in the water! Rather than set up camp on Talus Lake, we decided instead to hike the 1.5k + 300m back out to Sawyer Bay and sleep on Lake Superior. It was a great move. We were the only ones there (other than a few boats moored in the bay). We decided to scrap our initial plan of hiking further to the head of the Sleeping Giant (the trail was marked “extreme”) and to do it the next morning instead.

Trail to the head of the giant marked “EXTREME” (only attempt if in good physical condition – according to the trail maps)

We “swam” in Lake Superior (it was so cold that we essentially dunked under and got the heck out of there!), set up our tent, had dinner, and built an awesome fire from wood gathered along the trail not too far from the campsite. We enjoyed delicious homemade chocolate pudding with yummy toppings. 

The next morning after breakfast, we vacated our campsite, hid our backpacks in the woods, and hiked the pretty steep trail to the head of the sleeping giant – the round trip was approximately 5k. Once again, we had beautiful views from the top of the Sleeping Giant!

Thunder Bay in the distance

When we got back to our campsite , we “swam” again, before hiking the 300m back to our bikes, and biking 6k back out to the trailhead. 

It was another fantastic adventure!!

I highly recommend bikepacking with kids. A few tips:

  • don’t overload the kids’ backpacks – their balance will be affected, and too much weight on their backs is not good for them (plus they will complain incessantly!);
  • bring as little stuff as you possibly can, while making sure you have enough food, water purifying capability, and clothing to stay warm and dry;
  • don’t forget a bike pump and spare tubes;
  • choose your trails carefully – recognize that some don’t allow bicycles, and others may be too challenging for bikepacking with kids; and
  • allow time for multiple breaks, keeping food and water handy at all times!

Happy travelling!

My 10 favourite things to do while car camping at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park.

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