How to plan a menu for backcountry camping

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

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

Things to consider:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Trip report: Massassauga Provincial Park by canoe – a girls only adventure

After last summer’s successful girls only trip to Rain Lake at Algonquin Provincial Park, we decided to do it again, this time at The Massassauga Provincial Park.

Shortcut to more pictures: Massassauga Aug 2016 (click on one picture, then click on the little i to see the picture descriptions)

Day 1

We headed out early, stopping first at Swift Canoe and Kayak for my friend Cheryl to rent a Swift Keewaydin 15, and then at Oastler Lake Provincial Park to pick up our interior camping permit. We ate our lunch, then continued on to the Three Legged Lake access point, where, according to posted signs, we had 15 minutes to unload our stuff and get our vehicle out of the unloading/loading area. It took us 13 minutes. Phew.

We divided the 3 canoe packs between the 2 canoes (mine is a Swift Keewaydin 17), with my daughter Ailish (12) and I in our boat with Mae (11), and Cheryl with her daughter Anne (14) in the other. We pushed off, and away we went!

We paddled through Three Legged Lake, heading for the 370 m portage into Spider Lake and our awaiting adventure at The Massassauga Provincial Park. There are cottages and motor boats on this lake, but we didn’t encounter any issues. There were canoes going in both directions, but it wasn’t too busy. After about 2 km, we reached the portage. Cheryl and I each portaged a canoe, and went back for a big canoe pack. The kids carried the rest of the stuff (paddles, bailer, etc.).

Once back in the boats, we took a shortcut to the right of an island, and paddled for a little while longer before pulling over and having a quick snack. We continued on for a short while, reaching campsite #14 after about 1 1/2 hours of moving time (including the portage) and 4.3 km of paddling (plus 370m portage).

View of Spider Lake from way up high on campsite #14.

We spent the rest of the day at our campsite, setting up our tents, a tarp in case of rain, finding a tree to hang bear bags, exploring, swimming, and making our dinner (full menu here). The girls even made pottery out of clay from the lake. Anne spotted an endangered blue lined skink sunning itself on the rocks. We cooked our hot dogs on the campfire, and then had some s’mores. At 9:15 PM when the mosquitoes came out, we called it a night and climbed into our tents. Before the day was done, Cheryl had been stung by yellow jackets twice on her leg. There were yellow jacket nests on our site.

Cliff jumping at our campsite.

Site #14 is huge, with room for multiple tents. The site is way up high (the review we read said “don’t sleepwalk”), with a great view of Spider Lake. There was a fire pit with multiple grills, a picnic table, great jumping off rocks, and a nice rocky area at water level to sit on.

Day 2

On our second day, we didn’t even leave our campsite! We did a bit of a scavenger hunt, and spent a lot of time swimming, cliff jumping and reading. The girls also built a rope swing and took turns on that! In the afternoon a thunderstorm rolled through, but the thunder was distant and the rain short lived.

With the exception of 2 dinners, we cooked all of our meals on an MSR Dragonfly stove. In this picture, Cheryl is draining our pasta.

Once again, we abandoned our fire and headed for the tents by 9:15 PM when the mosquitoes started driving us crazy.

Day 3

On our third day, we decided to explore Spider Lake a bit, so we set out in our canoes and paddled into the wind, the kids in one boat, and Cheryl and I in another. We had a snack on an island just off site #9. We only paddled about 2 km.

Since Anne had spotted a five-lined skink, I hoped that I would spot one too by lifting up logs and rocks at our campsite – I never did, but I did spot this salamander!

Salamander at our campsite (maybe a Jefferson salamander).

Later, when the park wardens stopped by our campsite to check on our permits (they zoomed around in a small power boat all day long it seemed!), we chatted about skinks and they said that they often find them when they lift rocks up in the fire pits. I guess they like the warmth of the rocks.

During the day we made sure to keep the girls’ pottery in the sun, so that their works of art eventually dried.

Ailish’s small bowl and spoon at the right, which she put hot chocolate powder into. Anne’s big bowl in the middle, and Mae’s on the right.

At some point during the day I was stung on the back of my hand by a yellow jacket, and wow did it ever hurt! My hand also swelled up and I couldn’t make a tight fist. By the time I went to bed it was doing much better, and the next morning I was no longer in pain.

We enjoyed a very delicious dinner – mini tortilla pizzas – cooked on our campfire. In addition to tomato sauce, we rehydrated onions, pineapple, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes and zucchini. Everyone customized their own pizzas and they were a hit.

Ailish preps her pizza.

Later that evening, the girls became superheroes with capes, so we did a series of fun (and some downright ridiculous) group shots! Afterwards, with four of us in the water and Anne standing in ankle deep water about to get in, she had her toe nibbled by a small turtle. Thankfully it let go and swam away, allowing us to swim in the lake one last time.


Day 4

On our last day, we packed everything up, said goodbye to the annoying chipmunks that other campers must feed (and who ate through our tarps that we had connected with a rope tied around an acorn!), and did a bit more art before getting back on the water and heading for our vehicle. We saw and heard loons during our trip, and Cheryl heard an owl one night. With the skink, salamander, and small turtle, we did alright with animal sightings!

More clay art.
Heading out.


It took us just under 2 hours from the time we left our campsite to the time we arrived back at the shore, including the portage and a short snack break. The portage was very busy, with 6 boats (including us) all heading for Three Legged Lake at the same time, and others coming to Spider Lake. Even the put in/take out was pretty busy!

We had a fun trip!!

Related post: Menu: 4-day canoe trip for 5 people (2 adults, 3 kids)

Menu and cooking tips: Winter backcountry 4-day snowshoe adventure at Algonquin Provincial Park

Part of the fun of planning a camping trip is planning the food! For this 4-day trip along Algonquin Provincial Park’s Highland Backpacking Trail, my first winter backcountry trip, my friend Cheryl and I wanted to keep things simple.

Given the frigid temperatures of last February’s winter car camping trip (-17 degrees Celsius, feeling like -29 with the wind chill), we planned to do as little cooking as possible this year, while still having warm foods and beverages! Why? Cooking takes longer in the winter, burns more fuel, cold fingers don’t work as well and standing around is, well, chilly! The easiest hot meals are ones that only require you to just boil water, then add it to something and let it sit for a few minutes (e.g. oatmeal and dried fruit).

We cooked exclusively using an MSR Dragonfly stove, which thankfully worked for this winter trip (last year, it was just too cold to get our stoves going – somehow the fuel would not go through the pump). We did use the campfire to heat up our cheese buns one night!

It took nearly an hour for us to heat up our frozen solid stew and chili. In future, we would freeze the meal in the shape of the pot, so that we could easily place it into the pot and have more surface area of the food touching the heat to speed up cooking! We would also move our cooking spot around – the snow melted and a “pit” formed, so much so that on our last morning, there was so much water in the pit that it extinguished the flame!

We made everything from scratch, preparing and cooking the meals at home, so that all we had to do while camping was thaw or re-heat things. For spring, summer and fall trips we dehydrate as much as possible so that we’re carrying less weight, but given that we would be pulling all our gear in sleds, the weight of our food (17.4 pounds) was less of an issue. We did dehydrate some of our food – the fruit for our breakfasts and for our evening snacks.

Most meals were packed in individual bags, labelled by day and meal (e.g. Saturday breakfast). It makes finding things in the food bag really easy!

Day #1: Home to Algonquin Provincial Park’s West Gate to Mew Lake Campground – hiked along Track and Tower Trail to Highland Trail to Provoking Lake West, pulling 70 pound sled (3.99 km)

Breakfast – at home

Morning snack and lunch – packed lunch

Afternoon snack – chocolate nut energy square

Chocolate nut energy square

Dinner – minestrone and cornbread (prepared at home) [Note: we somehow lost this on the trail, so for dinner we ate hot chocolate, and pilfered the dehydrated bananas and chocolate from Day #2, as well as some of the chocolate chip granola bars from Day #2.]

Evening snack – dehydrated banana and chocolate treat [See comment above – lost!]

Day #2: Day hike along the Highland Trail (6.2 km)

Breakfast -oatmeal and dehydrated fruit, gatorade (very cold!) and tea

Morning snack – trail mix

Lunch – bagels, pepperettes, cheese strings

Afternoon snack – chocolate chip granola bars, hot chocolate

Dinner – stew and cornbread (prepared at home and re-heated at camp)

Evening snack – none – eaten the day before

Day #3: Day hike along the Highland Trail and Old Railway Trail (7.1 km)

Breakfast – granola and dehydrated fruit, gatorade (using water that we had in Nalgene bottles overnight as hot water bottles – so, not ice cold!) and tea

Morning snack – chocolate chip granola bars

Lunch – apple peanut salad wrap (prepared at home) [Note: thawed out by carrying in our coat inside pockets for several hours]

Afternoon snack – trail mix, hot chocolate

Dinner – chili and cheese buns (prepared at home and re-heated at camp)

Warming the buns up on the campfire

Evening snack – dehydrated banana and chocolate treat

Day #4: Hiked from Provoking Lake West to Mew Lake Campground, pulling sled (3.6 km)

Breakfast: cranberry walnut couscous porridge and dehydrated fruit, gatorade (not freezing! and tea [Note: the hot cereal wasn’t hot enough for me, because we boiled water, added it to the bowls, and let the couscous absorb it – next time, I think I would actually cook the cereal]

Morning snack: – chocolate nut energy squares

Lunch: carrot raisin peanut wrap (prepared at home) [Note: thawed out by carrying in our coat inside pockets for several hours – we ate this back at the van at the end of our last day’s hike]

Afternoon snack: peanut granola bar [Note: we ate this on our way home]

Meal prep (we used 1 tarp from the top of a sled as a food prep area, and the other as a mat just outside our tent door)

Despite losing our first day’s dinner and evening snack, we had the perfect amount of food! We are getting good at food planning!

Notes on Melting Snow for Drinking Water

  • Avoid snow crawling with snow fleas!!
  • Be prepared to keep adding snow to the pot as it melts.
  • Bring a coffee filter, or be prepared to drink lots of little bits of wood and other things found on forest floors!
  • If you do it over a campfire, as we did at times, keep the pot lid on at all times, or you’ll end up drinking very smoky tasting water (with lots of floaty bits) as we did – yuck!

Favourite Backcountry Cookbooks

In case you’re interested, some of my favourite backcountry recipes come from the following cookbooks:

  • A Fork in the Trail by Laurie Ann March
  • The Trailside Cookbook by Don and Pam Philpott

My new favourites are:

  • Backcountry Cooking by Dorcas Miller
  • LipSmackin’ Backpackin’ by Christine and Tim Connors

Related posts for this trip:

Trip report

Packing list

Gear review: snowshoes and poles

Sled review


Hiking Algonquin Provincial Park’s Highland Trail: Faya Lake to Harness Lake to Provoking Lake East, 38.6 km in October 2015

This fall’s backpacking trip along the Highland Trail at Algonquin Provincial Park was to serve as an experiment of sorts in preparation for hiking the entire 80 km length of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park next spring. My friend Cheryl and I set out to do things a little differently in order to shed pack weight and yet still have a warm, safe, enjoyable trip. Did it work? You’ll have to read on to see…

Shortcut to the full slideshow: (Click on the 1st picture and then the little i near the top right if you want to read the picture descriptions.)

Day 1: Algonquin Provincial Park Highway 60 Highland Trail Access Point to Faya Lake (6.51 km)

After some last minute packing and rearranging of stuff, we headed out the door with both packs weighing 38.6 pounds, including a total of 11.5 pounds of food, or 1.9 pounds of food per person per day (starting with Thursday afternoon snack and ending with Sunday afternoon snack). Ultralight backpackers we are not, but we are trying very hard to leave behind anything we don’t truly need, and to be very careful with the quantity and kind of food we bring (while still enjoying a variety of tasty, healthy foods!).

After driving several hours to the park, we picked up our interior permit at the Mew Lake campground, and drove less than 5 minutes back to the Highland Trail access point on Highway 60. We were on the trail by around 1 PM.

Changing fall colours – maple leaves

In previous backpacking trips our packs weighed closer to 45 pounds each, so this time we left a few things at home:

  • pillow (used clothing)
  • knife and fork (used spoon + had swiss army knife if need be)
  • plate (used bowl)
  • water filter (used water purification drops only)
  • 2 nalgene bottles (used plastic ziploc)
  • 2nd GPS (brought only 1)
  • 2nd map (brought only 1)
  • waterproof map folder (used ziploc)

See our full packing list at the end of this blog post!

With forecasted highs of 11-12 degrees Celsius, a small probability of rain and nighttime lows of -1 to +5, we were in for some great hiking weather!

We met a few people on the trail, but nothing compared to the hoards of people parking along Highway 60 to see the changing fall colours and to do the various day hikes.

Unfortunately Cheryl and I both had colds for this trip, so we were sniffling, coughing, sneezing, and blowing our noses as we went along! No wonder the wildlife sightings were minimal! I also found that the cold reduced my cardio and made the hiking more difficult than usual. And then there was the small issue of Cheryl’s as-yet-to-be-diagnosed sore butt muscle!

We stopped at some point for an energy square (see the full menu here:, and then found ourselves at our first campsite, the only one on Faya Lake! It was quite a ways off the trail too, so it was very private. We scouted out the campsite for potential bear bag trees, and after finding what we felt was the best one, I tried to throw a rock over the tree branch to then hoist our food bag up. It took just 3 tries.

Perfect rope tying technique

Cheryl started setting up the tent, and finally we put up a small tarp in case of rain. Then it was time to gather firewood, because we knew we’d need a fire to stay warm in the evening! We reheated some red peppers and carrots, and added them to some peanuts, raisins, and peanut dressing, which we ate with naan bread. Delicious!

Enjoying the peace of Faya Lake [Photo by Cheryl]
We were somewhat surprised to see the sun set behind the trees at 6 PM! Later we enjoyed our campfire with dehydrated bananas and mini Skor bars, and were in our tent by 8:15 PM! It was a bit cool in the night, but not too cold to sleep (though I had to wear long johns, a fleece sweater, and a winter hat).

Day 2: Faya Lake to Harness Lake (12.29 km)

When we woke up on Friday morning, we got changed, packed up our sleeping gear and took the tent down before letting the bear bag down from the tree and starting breakfast. I woke up with a headache, but thankfully breakfast took care of it. Along with a glass of very cold gatorade (which would have been nicer on a warmer day!), we had a cup of tea and some strawberry peach muesli (which helped to warm us up). We dehydrate, prepare and make as much of our food as we can, with most of our recipes coming from A Fork in the Trail by Laurie Ann March. Such a great book!

After packing everything up we hit the trail, heading for a campsite on Harness Lake – we didn’t know which one we would get, because you book the lake but not specific sites.

Thankfully this wasn’t the thunderbox at our campsite on Harness Lake (this was on Head Lake)!

We had trail mix for a snack and an apple peanut salad wrap for lunch, which we enjoyed along the shore of Head Lake. I was a bit lightheaded at lunch time, but felt better after we had eaten. I’m blaming it on my cold.

On Day 2 I saw a garter snake and a grouse (which took off before Cheryl saw them), then sent her to the front so that she could be the one to scare any bears off as we hiked (even though I was carrying the bear spray!). We had pretty much had enough hiking for the day when we reached what we thought would be our campsite for the night (after meeting a couple of men on the trail and them thinking it was unoccupied), only to find that it was taken! It meant that we had to backtrack and walk for another 5-10 minutes or so. Once we arrived at our campsite and set up the tent and bear bag we enjoyed a super yummy peanut butter chocolate ball.

Because of the cool temperatures, the chocolate was solid and hadn’t melted at all. So smooth!

Once again we set up a tarp, gathered wood for a fire and broke it all into small pieces, sorting it by size.

Wood ready to burn

We baked bannock and rehydrated quinoa spinach soup for dinner, saving some of the bannock for the next day’s lunch. Somehow we punctured our “water bag”, which I had carefully measured at home and marked so that we knew how much water to put in the ziploc to be 1 L or 2 L. We fixed it with duct tape, but when it sprang another leak, we started a new bag and marked our 2 L line with duct tape.


I’m not sure how we had the energy earlier to gather wood after such a long hike, but we were both glad to be able to enjoy another campfire (not to mention our Baileys and mini Reeces peanut butter cups). Friday night we were in bed by 9:15. I didn’t find it as cold in the night.

Quinoa spinach soup
Enjoying a fire to keep warm

Day 3: Harness Lake to Provoking Lake East (12.1 km)

Saturday morning we again packed up the tent and everything in it before having maple blueberry granola for breakfast with our gatorade and tea. I was mixing purification drops to add to our bag of water when one of the 2 bottles needed to make the mix ran out! “Uh oh!” I thought. Thankfully, we had a back-up plan – boiling water for 1 minute before using it. Unfortunately, we didn’t bring extra fuel for this purpose. Thankfully, we had other back-up plans – ask other hikers for drops, or make campfires and boil our water that way (and blacken/ruin the pot that is intended for use with a portable stove)! In the end, we managed to boil the water we needed without running out of fuel. Crisis averted.

Leaving our site on Harness Lake

We started hiking toward Provoking Lake East, through woods that could only be described as very very creaky! Many times we wondered “what was that?” only to decide it was one tree rubbing against another. We also quickly noted which way the tree would fall were it to crash to the ground!

Our morning snack was a very tasty honey mustard trail mix. We later stopped along the trail to have our lunch of bannock, hummus, dried peppers and dried fruit. At some point shortly after lunch, the zipper on my pants split wide open! We had visions of having to pull out the needle and thread to sew a new “bottom”, but I managed to get the teeth aligned again. Phew.

We saw a total of 5 grouse on Day 3 (all one at a time).

Sniffling through the forest I go! [Photo by Cheryl]
Once again, by the time we reached Provoking Lake East, we were ready to be done hiking. We had heard that a campsite on the peninsula was a really nice one, but we also knew it was the furthest away, and would likely be taken. So we decided to check each campsite we came to and decide which one to take. The first one was unoccupied, and it was an okay site, but not great. We decided to check the next site, which wasn’t far away. The site was much nicer, but the toilet was almost on the trail!! We debated going back to the previous site, but decided that it was unlikely many people would pass our site later in the day (having already found their own campsites), so we’d likely be safe sitting on the thunderbox in full view of the trail! (We were right.)

It took me 12(!) tries to get the rock over our preferred bear bag branch, but I wasn’t about to give up! We got the tent up, tarp up, and had a small snack. We found a huge amount of wood for our campfire within a very short distance of our campsite. After our dinner of bagel/egg/bacon/cheese wraps, we started our campfire by 6:30 PM (we were rather beat). We had our Baileys, banana and mini turtles and somehow managed to stay up until 8:15.

Day 4: Provoking Lake East to Highway 60 Access Point (7.7 km)

On our last morning, we had a treat – a Skor hot chocolate to accompany our gatorade and tortilla/egg/salsa wraps. Once everything was packed up, we headed out for the last time, this time toward the car. We took a 250m side trail to a lookout on the way back, which gave nice views of Starling Lake and Lake of Two Rivers.

Taking a photo of Starling Lake [Photo by Cheryl]
It started to rain as we hiked, but it was more of a mist and I never did get my raincoat out. We stopped for a snack where the trail crossed Mad Creek (Mud Creek?), and chatted briefly with 4 men in 2 canoes. I asked if they had a camera, so that I could take their picture. They said they didn’t. I told them that I could take a picture with my camera and email it to them. They declined. I asked how they could do a canoe trip without a camera, and one guy pointed to his head and said, “It’s all up here.” (Cheryl said, “They’re guys!”)

As for wildlife on Day 4, the most exciting thing we saw was a Blue Jay.

In the last 100-200 m of the trail, we encountered a group of 15-20 young teenagers, all carrying identical canoe-type packs that were way too big for them. One girl was so bent over we have no idea how she would be able to hike the 6+ km to the first campsite (assuming they were staying there). The adult at the front (tour guide?) and the 2 at the back had curiously small packs… it was rather odd. One girl looked like she could climb into her pack. Two kids were carrying huge jugs of water. What kind of outfitter…?

Bye bye Highland Trail!

Despite our colds and the few challenges we faced, we had a great weekend! With a bit more work on the menu side to up the calorie content and decrease the weight of our food, we’re ready for Killarney! (We packed the perfect amount of food, with the exception of us eating Sunday’s lunch when we reached the car, and Sunday’s afternoon snack on the drive home. We never felt that we ate too much, and we didn’t go to bed hungry.)

In case you’re interested, here is our packing list for a 3-night, 4-day fall backpacking trip for 2 adult females (includes clothes we were wearing):


  • 1 pair zip-off pants
  • 2 t-shirts
  • 1 long sleeve shirt
  • 1 long johns (long sleeve top plus bottom)
  • 1 fleece sweater
  • 2 pairs underwear
  • 3 pairs socks
  • 2 bras
  • 1 rain coat and rain pants
  • 1 wide brimmed hat
  • 1 winter hat
  • 1 pair gloves
  • 1 pair sunglasses
  • 1 pair hiking boots
  • 1 pair sandals

Kitchen (shared)

  • 1 pot 2 L
  • 1 pot gripper
  • 1 MSR Dragonfly stove with wind protector
  • 1 325 ml fuel bottle (full)
  • 1 scorch burner (modified version of the one from the Outback oven, which always slips off the stove)
  • 1 pot cosy
  • matches
  • 2 bowls
  • 2 spoons
  • 2 mugs
  • 1 pancake flipper
  • 1 swiss army knife
  • 1 single blade knife
  • parchment paper (2 square feet?)
  • hot pot square (thing you sit a pot on so as not to burn your table) (not used)
  • coffee filters for straining water (not used)



  • 1 backpack with water bladder
  • 4 rolls toilet paper (shared)
  • 1 2-man tent – Sierra Designs Zilla 2 (shared)
  • 1 fall/spring sleeping bag (mine the MEC rated to -7 and Cheryl’s to -20 something)
  • 1 thermarest
  • 1 headlamp
  • 2 AAA headlamp batteries (shared)
  • 1 tarp + 3 small ropes (shared)
  • 1 bear bag + non-stretchy rope (shared)
  • 1 GPS (shared)
  • 2 AA GPS batteries (shared)
  • 1 map + compass (shared)
  • 1 emergency locator beacon (shared)
  • 1 first aid kit (shared)
  • 1 emergency kit (small amount of duct tape, backpack waist belt buckles, needle and thread, shoelaces) (shared)
  • 1 fire starting kit (matches, cotton balls, long burning pouch) (shared)
  • water purification drops (shared)
  • 1 camera
  • 1 tripod (shared)
  • 1 bear spray (shared)
  • 1 sunscreen (shared)
  • 1 cell phone
  • drivers licence, health card
  • 1 pen and small notebook (shared)
  • 1 quick dry towel
  • personal hygiene items (toothbrush, contacts, medicine etc.)

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Backpacking menu: 3-night fall hiking trip along the Highland Trail of Algonquin Provincial Park

I heard a quote recently that I kind of like: “Life is what happens in between snacks.” For me, the journey and the food is the destination!

I recently returned from a 3-night, 4-day early October backpacking trip with a friend along the Highland Trail of Algonquin Provincial Park. You can read the full trip report here:


Cheryl and I are trying to decrease the weight of the food we bring, down to approximately 1.5 pounds per person per day. On this trip, we had 11.5 pounds of food, which worked out to approximately 1.9 pounds per person per day. We felt that we had the perfect amount of food – we didn’t go hungry, and we didn’t stuff ourselves either!

If you have any ideas on how to up the calorie content of our food while decreasing the weight, all while eating healthy foods, having a good mix of protein, fat, carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, and variety, I’d love to hear them!

We love the backcountry cookbook A Fork in the Trail (FT) by Laurie Ann March – her recipes feature heavily on our menus every time! (I have not met Laurie and was not paid to gush over her book!) We prepare/bake/dehydrate as much of our food as we can!

Day 1

Distance hiked: 6.51 km

Afternoon snack – quick energy bar (The Trailside Cookbook by Don and Pam Philpott) [155g – note: weights are given per food item, not per person – so here, 155g = 2 energy bars]

Dinner – carrot raisin salad with peanuts (FT), and 1 mini naan bread each (store bought) [380g, includes container for peanut butter]

Faya Lake in the background, Algonquin Provincial Park

Bedtime snack – 1 dehydrated banana each, a few mini Skor bars [101g] and Baileys [278g – this was divided over 3 days]

Day 2

Distance hiked: 12.29 km

Breakfast – strawberry peach muesli (FT) [356g], gatorade [223g, divided over 3 days and 2 meals/day] and tea [62g divided over 3 days]

Strawberry peach muesli

Morning snack – trail mix (homemade) [157g]

Trail mix: pretzels, cashews, yogurt covered raisins, smarties, raisins…

Lunch – apple peanut salad wrap (FT) [352g, includes container for peanut butter] and gatorade

Snack – chocolate peanut butter balls [126g]

Chocolate peanut butter balls

Dinner – quinoa and spinach soup (FT) [164g] and bannock (FT) [190g]

Bannock with quinoa spinach soup

Bedtime snack – 1 dehydrated banana each, a few mini reeces pieces, [107g] Baileys

Day 3

Distance hiked: 12.1 km

Breakfast – Canadian maple blueberry granola (FT) and dried fruit [284g], gatorade and tea

Morning snack – honey mustard gorp (FT) [179g]

Honey mustard gorp – I bought regular pretzels and made a honey mustard sauce, which I drizzled on the pretzels and then baked

Lunch – bannock (FT) with hummus (rehydrated), dried peppers, dried fruit [160g] and gatorade

Mango, red pepper, bannock and hummus

Afternoon snack -quick energy bar (The Trailside Cookbook by Don and Pam Philpott) [174g]

Dinner – bacon and egg bagel with veggies [308g]

Filling for our bagels

Bedtime snack – banana chips, a few mini turtles [118g] and Baileys

Day 4

Distance hiked: 7.7 km

Breakfast – huevos rancheros (egg/salsa/cheese/tortilla wrap) (FT) [258g], gatorade and toffee coffee hot chocolate (FT) [145g]

Huevos rancheros (egg/salsa/cheese)

Morning snack – pizza trail mix (FT) [155g]

Pepperettes and sundried tomatoes plus seasonings and other stuff made this pizza-like

Lunch – black bean dip (FT) and dried peppers [147g] with homemade crackers [143g] and gatorade (ate at trailhead)

Afternoon snack –  fruit leather and beef jerky (ate on drive home) [106g]

Other than eating Sunday’s lunch and snack after our hike was done, we estimated food quantities perfectly. Any tips would be greatly appreciated!

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Hiking Killarney: Epic Boot Fail, Stream Crossings and Animal Encounters

Another late ice out, another canoe trip converted into a hiking trip! What was supposed to be a 4-day Massassauga Provincial Park adventure turned into a 4-day backpacking trip along the La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park! I’ll remember this trip for the epic boot fail, stream crossings, and animal encounters!

Shortcut to the full slide show:

Day 1: George Lake Campground, Killarney Provincial Park, La Cloche Silouette Trailhead to Cave Lake (H6) — 8.4 km

Seen on the side of the road just before turning into the George Lake campground

For the first time, we headed out without a reservation – this caused mild concern, but I assured Cheryl it would all work out! By the time we cancelled our canoe trip, Killarney was no longer taking reservations for backcountry sites (flood watch?), so we had to hope that not too many others planned on hiking when and where we were intending to. After an early morning start, we were at the George Lake Campground office by noon and paid for our backcountry permit – we had hoped to camp on H6 the 1st night, H16 the 2nd, and H6 the 3rd. As it turned out, H6 was booked for the 3rd night, so we chose H5. If you haven’t been to Killarney, you wouldn’t know that the hiking campsites are quite spread out – if one is booked, you might have to hike much further to the next campsite. But H5 and H6 are near one another, so it wasn’t a big deal.

Cheryl and I were due for some good weather camping for a change, and the weekend delivered! The forecast was for +9 to +15 degrees Celsius, and pure sun!

We were at the trailhead just before 1 PM on Thursday, April 30, heading in the recommended clockwise direction (last year, we did a 4-day trip in the counterclockwise direction from “the Crack” parking lot – much more challenging terrain). When we opened the trunk of the car, we discovered that my cambelbak had completely emptied – it seemed to be absorbed by cardboard lining Cheryl’s trunk, but the wet cardboard didn’t seem to be as big an area as you might expect…

A very excited woman seemed thrilled to take our pictures at the trailhead. Cheryl had decided to leave her sandals in the car to save weight, so I did the same – I could just wear my boots at the campsite! And then…

… well, we headed out, enjoying our hike through the spring forest. Cheryl had brought a walking stick with her, and found me one early in our hike. The ice was out on all the lakes, but there were a few small patches of ice in the forest. We encountered many stream crossings, some easier than others. We heard the distinctive thumping of ruffed grouse many times, but didn’t actually see many of the birds. We stopped for a carrot date bar snack, and within about 200 m of our campsite, I experienced an epic boot fail.

The rubber sole of my right boot separated except for the toe area!

I managed to flop my way to our campsite on Cave Lake (H6), and understood why I had wet feet! I took my boots and socks off and put them in the sun to (hopefully) dry before morning. We were disappointed to find that someone had left a big garbage bag hanging from a tree, as well as a deflated raft, a hat and a small bag! We put up the tent, the bear bag, pumped water from the lake, and heated up our pre-cooked butter chicken and naan bread, which we ate with carrots. Yum! I had forgotten to pack the “scorch protector”, which lifts the pot up off the stove a bit, so we had to be careful not to burn our food. We also discovered that my camelbak had mostly emptied onto Cheryl’s sleeping bag, which was pretty wet! Thankfully, there was enough sun to dry it before bedtime. After dinner we cut one of the lightweight tarp ropes into 3 and melted the ends so the rope wouldn’t fray. We were counting on these pieces to hold my boot together!

We enjoyed the sunset with our Baileys, dehydrated banana, chocolate treats, and one bat fly-by. There was also something making loud noises and splashes in the water, but we weren’t sure if it was a fish or a beaver! We were accompanied by a few very large mosquitoes, but they weren’t really biting. I had a great night’s sleep!

Day 2: Cave Lake (H6) to Three Narrows Lake (H16) — 11.4 km

The morning started with a big cup of gatorade and whole wheat cheesy mushroom pancakes with tea. We packed up camp (sleeping bags were damp at the feet), put on dry socks and boots (!), and headed back out on the trail. Not long after we started, we reached a stream that seemed impossible to cross without either getting wet feet or taking our boots off and crossing in bare feet. We chose the latter. We picked the slowest moving water with the least slippery rocks, and managed to cross without falling in! After drying our feet and reassembling my boot, we were off! It wasn’t long before I stepped in mud (the trail was very wet in places!) and my foot was soaked all over again. Sigh. We heard – and then watched – as a limb fell from a tree just off the path. We met 2 women who had camped at Topaz Lake the night before (H7), and based on their description of the lake, we decided to take a detour and eat our morning snack there. We left the trail midway up “the Pig” (the steepest portage in the park) to go to Topaz Lake. We enjoyed our trail mix and dried fruit while admiring the blue-green water. Later we stopped at a man-made dam to have our lunch – homemade sesame seed crackers with hummus, dehydrated peppers, and a few leftover carrots. It was delicious! We continued on our way, and were shocked to discover that the blue trail markers appeared to be sending us across this:

You try balancing a 40-pound pack on your back as you walk across this jiggly log!

Instead, we avoided certain disaster by walking further along this:


We eventually reached our campsite on Three Narrows Lake (H16), only to discover what on quick glance appeared to Cheryl to be a body stuffed in the base of a tree trunk (it was a sleeping bag – why it was there, we’ll never know). We also found a very tilted toilet quite close to the trail! Otherwise, the site was nice but not as big as our previous one, there were no flat rocks at the water to sit on, and it wasn’t West facing, so no great sunset viewing! We set up camp and cooked our minestrone soup and cornbread, then enjoyed the fading light (and nearly full moon) with our Baileys, bananas and chocolate! I think it was Day 2 that also saw my left boot fail!

Day 3: Three Narrows Lake (H16) to Cave Lake (H5) 10.9 km

An egg/bacon/veggie wrap, cup of gatorade and a mug of tea is how we started the day. We packed up camp, and then headed back the way we had come, toward Cave Lake and site H5. We crossed the beaver dam again, and had a morning snack of beef jerky and dehydrated applesauce at campsite H8. We did the boot-less stream crossing again, where we encountered a group of 4 women and 1 man, and wondered how they could possibly carry everything they needed in the small packs they had! They even had a dog which would entail carrying dog food! This is where we ate our lunch (pepperettes, cheese sticks, leftover hummus and cornbread, and gatorade). At one point, we turned a corner and there was a young deer lying on the trail. It took a while before she got up, and then she took a couple of steps – toward us! She scratched her head, had a snack, and then finally took off!

I told the deer that she wasn’t exhibiting very good life sustaining behaviour!

Just a few metres further on, we finally saw a ruffed grouse while it made its thumping noise. It looks and sounds like this:

We reached our campsite on Cave Lake (H5), and were really impressed with it! It was big, West facing, with great rocks, a private toilet, and no garbage! We were hot from hiking, so I decided to “swim” (dunk – first before I was ready, the second time intentionally). It felt great! Cheryl had a “sponge bath” (didn’t dunk). It was warm enough that we just lay on the rocks on the sun for a while. After getting into dry clothes, we boiled some water for our Skor hot chocolate with marshmallows, and ate a harvest oat bar with it. We enjoyed the sun, the view, the rock backrests and the busy beaver, before finally deciding to make our pasta carbonara for dinner. It was the only “miss” of all our meals. I would have liked less pasta, more veggies and sauce. Cheryl would have preferred less pasta, more bacon, and more sauce. We won’t make that one again! We enjoyed the beautiful setting sun, and you guessed it – Baileys, bananas and chocolate – before climbing into the tent for the night! Before falling asleep we heard an owl, but weren’t sure what kind it was.


Day 4: Cave Lake (H5) to George Lake Campground — 8 km

On our last day, we had a bowl of oatmeal, dried fruit and nuts, gatorade and tea for breakfast before packing up and heading back to the car.


We stopped for a snack of homemade jerky and energy squares at campsite H3 on Acid Lake. It looked like a great site for kids, with deep water for swimming. We heard a barred owl as we were hiking, and experienced a few drops of rain – the only rain all weekend! It wasn’t until we reached the car that we had our lunch of granola and dried fruit.

It was a great weekend. We packed the perfect amount of food, had awesome weather, very few bugs, and managed to deal with my epic boot fail! In addition to the animals already mentioned, we saw: loons, ducks, geese, hawks, chipmunks, squirrels, a water snake, turtles, frogs, a crayfish, and heard woodpeckers, bullfrogs, and tons of spring peepers.

Next time, we’ll try to muster up the energy to forage for wood and make a fire! We’re dreaming of hiking the entire 80 km trail in one go!

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Homemade beef jerky – backpacking snack or expensive cat treat?

This spring’s late ice-out means that my planned early spring canoe trip to The Massassauga Provincial Park has turned into a backpacking trip (on an as-yet-to-be-determined trail, depending on flood conditions), and a need for one more snack per day (Cheryl and I learned while hiking the La Cloche Silouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park that backpacking – at least on that trail – necessitates a higher daily caloric intake than a canoe trip)!

So, I decided to make beef jerky! I’ve eaten it before, but never made it, so this was to be an experiment. Either it would turn out great and we’d take it backpacking, or the kitties would get a very special treat.

So, I started with flank steak. I froze this piece for about 5 hours to make it easier to slice.

I only used half of this for the beef jerky. If no one liked it, I didn’t want to have a huge amount of it and waste $15 worth of meat.

I trimmed fat where possible (fat doesn’t dry, and it makes the beef jerky spoil sooner), and then I sliced it as thinly as I could.

Fat trimmed away

I put the beef slices into a pyrex dish and covered them with President’s Choice Gourmet Original Barbecue Sauce (about 250 ml). I mixed it all up, then dumped the beef into a container, put a lid on it and stuck it in the fridge! I let it marinate for more than 24 hours, and then put the slices onto the dehydrator trays.

I used the meat setting of my Excalibur 2900 series 9-tray dehydrator, which is set at 155 degrees Fahrenheit or 68 degrees Celsius. I filled 4 trays, spacing the beef out so as to maximize air flow. I left the empty trays out of the machine. I had read that I should use non-stick spray on the trays, but wasn’t sure about that so didn’t bother.

Ready to go into the dehydrator

Ready for dehydrating.

After about 4 hours, I checked the meat and it may have been done, but I wasn’t sure, so I left it longer. It was nearly at the 6 hour mark when I preheated the oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit, then transferred the meat from the trays onto a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper. Thankfully, it wasn’t hard to peel the meat off the trays.

What it looked like after 6 hours of drying.

Why the oven step? I read on a website from the University of Wisconsin that to safely make beef jerky at home, one should heat it for 10 minutes in an oven at 275 degrees Fahrenheit after 4-6 hours of dehydration.

All done!

So, after all that? Was it any good? Here’s what the first 3 taste testers said:

“It’s pretty good, but when you have too much of it, the yumminess wears off.” – Ailish

“I like the meat part of it, but I don’t like barbecue sauce.” – Keaghan

“I’ll probably like it if I try it because anything Kyra makes is usually amazing.” – Alasdair, as suggested by Ailish.

And me? I love it. It’s sweet, very sweet. But yum!

Cheryl, you can give your verdict shortly.

Trip report: Algonquin Provincial Park by Canoe – Smoke Lake to Big Porcupine Lake to Harness Lake to Little Island Lake, October 2014

I think I’ll remember this 3-night, 4-day canoe trip for the forgotten food, the endless portages, the numb feet, and the rolling geese!

Shortcut to the full slide show:

Day 1 (Thursday): Smoke Lake to Ragged Lake to Big Porcupine Lake

After driving for about 3 1/2 hours, my friend Cheryl and I picked up our interior camping permit at Algonquin Provincial Park‘s Cache Lake access point, and were relieved to see that the list of “bear disturbances” didn’t include the lakes we intended to stay on!


With permit in hand we drove directly across the highway to the Smoke Lake access point, parked pretty close to the water, ate our lunch, and began carting our stuff to the dock. It was at this point that 4 or 5 minivans pulled up and a whole bunch of people got out. They were all holding cameras or ipads and immediately started snapping pictures of each other, the lake, trees, close ups of leaves, etc. They were incredibly loud – I’ve never seen anything like it at an access point! Cheryl noticed that there were walkie talkies in the vans, so they were definitely travelling as a convoy! After they were gone, we asked the only couple around if they could take our picture before we set off. They turned out to be on a 3-week trip from Germany, and were equally amazed at the convoy!

Smoke Lake is a big lake with lots of cottages (hence the fishing boats behind us) but no campsites.

The weather forecast didn’t look great for the trip, with rain likely to start on day 2; however, we started our trip dry, under cloudy skies. One of the great things about fall canoe trips is seeing the changing colours.

Where we paddled we saw more yellow and orange than red, but there was some around.

We missed the “peak” of the sugar maple colours by 1 week, apparently.

From Smoke Lake we portaged into Ragged Lake, where I was surprised to find a fully enclosed wooden port-a-potty! From Ragged Lake, we portaged into Big Porcupine Lake. We had the option of doing another portage within Big Porcupine Lake to cut down the distance we would have to paddle to get to our first campsite (we were aiming for one near the portage to the next lake), but we opted to paddle the extra 3k instead. I think it was a wise move, as we did a whole bunch more portaging in the next few days! We found this lone Painted Turtle on Big Porcupine Lake, basking in the tiny bit of sun we saw all weekend.

This Painted Turtle apparently didn’t get the memo that it’s fall and he should soon be burrowing down deep into the mud to make it through the winter!

Once we arrived at our island campsite (around 5:30 PM), we set up one of the lightweight tarps that I made so we’d have a kitchen shelter in case of rain, set up the tent, found a good tree to hang our food away from hungry bears fattening up for winter hibernation, threw the rope over the branch, and then collapsed. Well, I don’t think we did, but might have felt like it!

We enjoyed a delicious tortilla pizza dinner, but were too beat to search for wood and make a fire. We did sit on the rocks for a while listening to the sounds of Barred Owls near and far. The sounds were echoing off the lake as well, which was very cool. While sitting on the rocks I saw a shooting star, and then Cheryl and I both saw lights in the woods across the lake that didn’t seem to make sense, since we hadn’t seen anyone around earlier. The next day we would discover what it was!

Day 1 totals:

  • Total distance travelled (by canoe and portaging): 15 km
  • Number of portages: 2
  • Distance portaged: 240m Smoke Lake to Ragged Lake + 590 m Ragged Lake to Big Porcupine Lake

Day 2 (Friday): Big Porcupine Lake to Bonnechère Lake to Phipps Lake to Kirkwood Lake to Pardee Lake to Harness Lake

The next morning we weren’t able to start the day off as we usually do on backcountry trips, with a big cup of gatorade, because I forgot it!! We soon discovered that I also forgot the cheese for our cheesy mushroom pancakes. Let’s just say they left a little to be desired! (By the way, forgetting things is very uncharacteristic of me! I am the Queen of lists!)

I noticed that some little critter had chewed into Cheryl’s utensil bag and paper towel bag. That was nothing compared to what happened overnight Saturday…

We had a short paddle over to the first portage of the day, which would take us into Bonnechère Lake and through something called “Devil’s Razor”. We weren’t sure what it was going to be but finally realized it might have the potential to slice the canoe in half when we got close to it – sharp rocks  that you had to pass over in a narrowing of the lake. Thankfully, we got through it unscathed!

Did I mention we did a lot of portaging? We used Cheryl’s 2 canoe packs, one heavy (read “ridiculously heavy” on day 1, so heavy it was nearly impossible to stand up once you got it onto your back, but once you did, walking with it on was okay) and one “light”. The person with the canoe carried the light pack, and the person with the heavy pack also carried 2 of the 3 paddles (one strapped in canoe) and our bag of miscellaneous stuff that we used in the boat (bailer, throw line, GPSs, maps etc.). The portages got very interesting on Saturday…

Cheryl tackles one of the many portages. I love the leaves in this one.

From Bonnechère Lake we paddled through Phipps Lake, Kirkwood Lake, Pardee Lake, and finally into Harness Lake, where we planned to stay the night. We wondered if we’d see anyone all weekend on the lakes, but we finally did, a couple from Pittsburg who camp at Algonquin every fall. It turns out the headlamps Friday night were theirs (not gigantic fireflies).

Have you ever seen a Canada Goose roll? Well, it is the weirdest thing to see! We paddled through a gap in one beaver dam, but had to lift over a few more on Friday. In between 2 beaver dams, we encountered a group of 10-20 Canada Geese, many of whom were doing somersaults in the water. And cleaning themselves. And rolling again. It was odd!

While watching the geese, Cheryl’s hat and sunglasses blew off her head into the lake. Thankfully they floated while we lifted the canoe over the beaver dam and made our way into the lake.

Late Friday afternoon it started to rain while we were paddling, and then it rained off and on until we were driving home on Sunday!

After arriving at our campsite and doing the usual set-up, we hung out under our tarp to stay out of the rain, and had a fantastic bowl of minestrone soup. Unfortunately, we discovered that I _also_ forgot the butter for the cornbread, so we couldn’t bake it! What a disappointment! (Lots of our recipes come from A Fork in the Trail by Laurie Ann March. Another favourite book of mine is The Trailside Cookbook by Don and Pam Philpott. Look for a separate blog post sometime soon on meal planning, recipes and dehydrating for backcountry trips.)

Cheryl cooks dinner sheltered from the wind and rain (we used a 2-tarp system Friday night).

We didn’t even consider having a fire, given that it was raining! But we did have our Baileys and mini Reeces peanut butter cups.

Day 2 totals:

  • Total distance travelled (by canoe and portaging): 11.4 km
  • Number of portages: 4
  • Distance portaged: 200m Big Porcupine Lake to Bonnechère Lake + 60m Phipps Lake to Kirkwood Lake + 715m Kirkwood Lake to Pardee Lake + 145m Pardee Lake to Harness Lake

Day 3 (Saturday): Harness Lake to Head Lake to Cache Lake to Tanamakoon Lake to Little Island Lake

Our third day started with an awesome egg/bacon/veggie wrap and a warm cup of tea!

I went a little crazy with the veggies in this one – I dehydrated a whole bunch of mushrooms, broccoli and red peppers, but the proportions were perfect – 2 eggs, 3 pieces of bacon, and a whole whackload of veggies.

Saturday brought lots of rain, a drop in temperature, wind and constantly changing skies. From overcast to a brief moment of sunshine, to ominous grey clouds, we saw it all. And at one point, we were gliding along the water at 7km/h without even paddling (our moving average – canoeing and portaging combined – was 4km/h).

We had the added challenge on Saturday of portaging through nearly knee-deep mud, cleverly hidden under freshly fallen leaves! It was crazy! One minute you’re walking along, and the next, your legs are sinking (and in my case – your sandal is suctioned to the mud!). Let’s just say it was… interesting! And to make things even more fun, we experienced our longest ever portage – 1640m! I knew that my shoulders would need a break part-way through this one, but I was not expecting a canoe rack in the middle of the woods! Thank you to whoever put that there!! I was able to duck out from under the boat and rest for a few minutes before attempting to continue… attempt, because at first, when I tried to squat down under the canoe I knocked it off the rack and watched it tumble to the ground! Oops. On that second half of the portage, I was thinking, “I just did a half ironman 2 weeks ago – I can carry a canoe on my head for 12 minutes!”

A moment of disbelief when I saw this!

The other method I used to get the boat off my head, before realizing that I could just as easily twist and put it down on the ground, was to teepee it.

Perfectly placed trees.

By Saturday afternoon, I was cold and my feet were numb. So numb that I wondered how my feet were holding me up! I put my paddling gloves on and that helped my poor fingers – should have done it sooner!

By the time we chose an island campsite on Little Island Lake, we were more than ready to get out of the canoe for the day! We didn’t eat our lunch until 5:30PM (mini pitas, hummus and baba gannouj), after arriving at our campsite, because the skies were ominous, it was pouring, and we really didn’t want to sit in the rain on a portage trail eating. At one point we did canoe over to shore on Cache Lake and hide under some trees, sheltered from the pounding rain. We hoped it would let up!

Just a little wet. Thankfully, my raincoat fits over my layers of clothing and lifejacket.

Shortly after arriving at our campsite, we discovered 2 new “friends” – one, a very brave chipmunk, and two, a very annoying red squirrel! We decided to carry our food bag around the campsite with us, or hang it from our bear bag tree! To warm up we had some peanut butter hot chocolate, but the red squirrel found the spoon (a couple of feet away from Cheryl) and decided to try some. Later, when the hot chocolate was done, I saw the squirrel running away with Cheryl’s cup!

After setting up camp, we went on a search for wood, and while we were doubtful that the wood would light (it had been raining, after all), we thought we’d give it a try. Before lighting the fire though, we had an awesome chili dinner with mini pitas. And of course, it started to rain! We scrapped the fire idea. It went from sunny to overcast to a full starry sky and then overcast with rain in a short timespan!

We did enjoy some more Baileys and mini Reeces peanut butter cups in our tarp kitchen, fending off our rodent friends! Before going to bed, we made a new friend – a mouse. We noticed that he brought his friends along with him… so we’re not really sure who was to blame for what we discovered on Sunday morning!

Day 3 totals:

  • Total distance travelled (by canoe and portaging): 12.5 km
  • Number of portages: 4
  • Distance portaged: 1035m Harness Lake to Head Lake + 1640m Head Lake to Cache Lake +120m Cache Lake to Sheriff Pond + 320m Sheriff Pond to Little Island Lake

Day 4 (Sunday): Little Island Lake to Smoke Lake

Sunday morning started with me discovering that Cheryl’s mug had been chewed by the mice! Not only had the cloth cover been chewed, but they actually nibbled away at the hole the liquid comes out to make it bigger so that they could get inside!

Not too happy!

Our delicious breakfast was a dehydrated banana, a bowl of homemade granola with rehydrated peaches on top, and a warm cup of tea. We don’t always cook the last morning, but it was c-c-c-cold (7 degrees Celsius, which we were able to see on the thermometer/whistle/compass that Cheryl found on one of the portage trails on Saturday).

With only a few kilometres of paddling between our campsite and the van, Sunday would be an easier day than the previous 3. However, it rained, it poured, the wind it blew! We had 2 portages to do, the second of which ended up being my longest portage without taking a break (895m). I was determined not to stop. When 4 men approached me coming from the other direction, I said to them, “Tell me I’m almost there! True or not, I don’t care!” One man replied, “You’re almost there! It’s true.”

It was quite a paddle on Smoke Lake – we had sun for a very brief time, but mostly it was pouring rain and the wind was strong. We looked like drowned rats at the end!

Still smiling after all that rain.

We were thankful for dry clothes waiting for us in the van (but me, not so much the mouse-chewed kleenex boxes that we found!!!).

We drove over to the Cache Lake access point, and used the comfort station bathrooms to get dry! And then we ran through the pouring rain to the permit office to buy a sew-on patch of Algonquin…. and we were wet again! We did eventually dry off, and it took a while, but my feet finally thawed out.

It was a fun weekend despite the weather, but Cheryl and I both agree that we’d prefer less paddling/portaging to allow for some time to explore in and around our campsites and the lakes we actually stayed on!

Day 4 totals:

  • Total distance travelled (by canoe and portaging): 5 km (approximately – forgot to take a picture of the GPS and drove home with it still on, which slightly affected our totals!)
  • Number of portages: 4
  • Distance portaged: 225m Little Island Lake to Kootchie Lake + 895m Kootchie Lake to Smoke Lake

Trip totals:

  • Total distance travelled (by canoe and portaging): 44km (approximately)
  • Number of portages: 12
  • Distance portaged: 6.185km
  • Shortest portage: 60m (not including beaver dam liftovers)
  • Longest portage: 1640m

We used the Algonquin for Canoeists Southern map by Jeff’smap. His maps are fantastic!

Before eating our carrot raisin peanut pepper salad on Sunday, we decided to frame the section of the park that we paddled. The peanuts represent our campsites!

Can’t wait for my next canoeing adventure!