Here is a complete list of what my friend Cheryl and I packed for an 8-day, 90k hike along the full length of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park, and notes on things we did not use.
Clothing (including what I was wearing):
3 pairs underwear
5 pairs socks
1 pair zip-off pants
1 long sleeved shirt
1 fleece sweater
1 rain coat
1 rain pants
1 winter hat
1 fleece gloves
1 long johns top and bottom
1 pair hiking boots
1 pair sandals
1 wide brimmed hat
1 bug jacket (not used)
compression bag for clothes/pillow
quick dry towel
1 six cup pot and lid
1 pot lid lifter
a few coffee filters if needed for water filtering (not used)
1 insulated mug
1 nalgene bottle (400 ml)
2 large ziplocs marked with a line at 2L for treating water
water treatment drops
2 water bladders (2 L size)
MSR Dragonfly stove
MSR Dragonfly stove servicing kit
Outback oven tea cosy
Outback oven scorch protector
Matches (several boxes)
700 ml white fuel split between 2 bottles of 325 ml (one filled up, one filled to the maximum fill line)
1 Swiss army knife
1 pocket knife (not used)
1 bear bag with bell on it (waterproof bag)
1 bear bag without bell on it (waterproof bag) (not used)
rope for hanging bear bag
homemade tarp plus thin lightweight rope
1 Sierra Designs Zilla 2 tent
1 MEC Perseus -7 sleeping bag
1 North Face -7 sleeping bag
1 silk liner
1 fleece liner
2 thermarests 3/4 length
2 compression bags for sleeping bags
2 bags for thermarests
2 headlamps with extra batteries
1 bear spray (not used)
1 bug spray (not used)
2 cameras with extra batteries
1 camera tripod
1 compass (not used)
1 GPS with extra batteries
2 cell phones
1 ResQLink emergency beacon (not used)
2 driver’s licences, credit cards and money
1 emergency kit (Gorilla tape, buckles, dental floss, notepad and pencil, matches, mini bungees, emergency blanket, firestarting materials, needle and thread, benadryl)
1 first aid kit (miscellaneous bandaids, gauze, tape, compression wrap)
6 rolls toilet paper (used 5 1/2)
2 backpack rain covers
1 lightweight saw (not used)
1 vehicle key!
Cheryl and I discussed everything we brought, and decided that we wouldn’t leave anything behind next time!
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…
Day 1: Algonquin Provincial Park Highway 60 Highland Trail Access Point to Faya Lake (6.51 km)
After some last minute packing and rearranging of stuff, we headed out the door with both packs weighing 38.6 pounds, including a total of 11.5 pounds of food, or 1.9 pounds of food per person per day (starting with Thursday afternoon snack and ending with Sunday afternoon snack). Ultralight backpackers we are not, but we are trying very hard to leave behind anything we don’t truly need, and to be very careful with the quantity and kind of food we bring (while still enjoying a variety of tasty, healthy foods!).
After driving several hours to the park, we picked up our interior permit at the Mew Lake campground, and drove less than 5 minutes back to the Highland Trail access point on Highway 60. We were on the trail by around 1 PM.
In previous backpacking trips our packs weighed closer to 45 pounds each, so this time we left a few things at home:
pillow (used clothing)
knife and fork (used spoon + had swiss army knife if need be)
plate (used bowl)
water filter (used water purification drops only)
2 nalgene bottles (used plastic ziploc)
2nd GPS (brought only 1)
2nd map (brought only 1)
waterproof map folder (used ziploc)
See our full packing list at the end of this blog post!
With forecasted highs of 11-12 degrees Celsius, a small probability of rain and nighttime lows of -1 to +5, we were in for some great hiking weather!
We met a few people on the trail, but nothing compared to the hoards of people parking along Highway 60 to see the changing fall colours and to do the various day hikes.
Unfortunately Cheryl and I both had colds for this trip, so we were sniffling, coughing, sneezing, and blowing our noses as we went along! No wonder the wildlife sightings were minimal! I also found that the cold reduced my cardio and made the hiking more difficult than usual. And then there was the small issue of Cheryl’s as-yet-to-be-diagnosed sore butt muscle!
We stopped at some point for an energy square (see the full menu here: https://kyraonthego.wordpress.com/?p=678), and then found ourselves at our first campsite, the only one on Faya Lake! It was quite a ways off the trail too, so it was very private. We scouted out the campsite for potential bear bag trees, and after finding what we felt was the best one, I tried to throw a rock over the tree branch to then hoist our food bag up. It took just 3 tries.
Cheryl started setting up the tent, and finally we put up a small tarp in case of rain. Then it was time to gather firewood, because we knew we’d need a fire to stay warm in the evening! We reheated some red peppers and carrots, and added them to some peanuts, raisins, and peanut dressing, which we ate with naan bread. Delicious!
We were somewhat surprised to see the sun set behind the trees at 6 PM! Later we enjoyed our campfire with dehydrated bananas and mini Skor bars, and were in our tent by 8:15 PM! It was a bit cool in the night, but not too cold to sleep (though I had to wear long johns, a fleece sweater, and a winter hat).
Day 2: Faya Lake to Harness Lake (12.29 km)
When we woke up on Friday morning, we got changed, packed up our sleeping gear and took the tent down before letting the bear bag down from the tree and starting breakfast. I woke up with a headache, but thankfully breakfast took care of it. Along with a glass of very cold gatorade (which would have been nicer on a warmer day!), we had a cup of tea and some strawberry peach muesli (which helped to warm us up). We dehydrate, prepare and make as much of our food as we can, with most of our recipes coming from A Fork in the Trail by Laurie Ann March. Such a great book!
After packing everything up we hit the trail, heading for a campsite on Harness Lake – we didn’t know which one we would get, because you book the lake but not specific sites.
We had trail mix for a snack and an apple peanut salad wrap for lunch, which we enjoyed along the shore of Head Lake. I was a bit lightheaded at lunch time, but felt better after we had eaten. I’m blaming it on my cold.
On Day 2 I saw a garter snake and a grouse (which took off before Cheryl saw them), then sent her to the front so that she could be the one to scare any bears off as we hiked (even though I was carrying the bear spray!). We had pretty much had enough hiking for the day when we reached what we thought would be our campsite for the night (after meeting a couple of men on the trail and them thinking it was unoccupied), only to find that it was taken! It meant that we had to backtrack and walk for another 5-10 minutes or so. Once we arrived at our campsite and set up the tent and bear bag we enjoyed a super yummy peanut butter chocolate ball.
Once again we set up a tarp, gathered wood for a fire and broke it all into small pieces, sorting it by size.
We baked bannock and rehydrated quinoa spinach soup for dinner, saving some of the bannock for the next day’s lunch. Somehow we punctured our “water bag”, which I had carefully measured at home and marked so that we knew how much water to put in the ziploc to be 1 L or 2 L. We fixed it with duct tape, but when it sprang another leak, we started a new bag and marked our 2 L line with duct tape.
I’m not sure how we had the energy earlier to gather wood after such a long hike, but we were both glad to be able to enjoy another campfire (not to mention our Baileys and mini Reeces peanut butter cups). Friday night we were in bed by 9:15. I didn’t find it as cold in the night.
Day 3: Harness Lake to Provoking Lake East (12.1 km)
Saturday morning we again packed up the tent and everything in it before having maple blueberry granola for breakfast with our gatorade and tea. I was mixing purification drops to add to our bag of water when one of the 2 bottles needed to make the mix ran out! “Uh oh!” I thought. Thankfully, we had a back-up plan – boiling water for 1 minute before using it. Unfortunately, we didn’t bring extra fuel for this purpose. Thankfully, we had other back-up plans – ask other hikers for drops, or make campfires and boil our water that way (and blacken/ruin the pot that is intended for use with a portable stove)! In the end, we managed to boil the water we needed without running out of fuel. Crisis averted.
We started hiking toward Provoking Lake East, through woods that could only be described as very very creaky! Many times we wondered “what was that?” only to decide it was one tree rubbing against another. We also quickly noted which way the tree would fall were it to crash to the ground!
Our morning snack was a very tasty honey mustard trail mix. We later stopped along the trail to have our lunch of bannock, hummus, dried peppers and dried fruit. At some point shortly after lunch, the zipper on my pants split wide open! We had visions of having to pull out the needle and thread to sew a new “bottom”, but I managed to get the teeth aligned again. Phew.
We saw a total of 5 grouse on Day 3 (all one at a time).
Once again, by the time we reached Provoking Lake East, we were ready to be done hiking. We had heard that a campsite on the peninsula was a really nice one, but we also knew it was the furthest away, and would likely be taken. So we decided to check each campsite we came to and decide which one to take. The first one was unoccupied, and it was an okay site, but not great. We decided to check the next site, which wasn’t far away. The site was much nicer, but the toilet was almost on the trail!! We debated going back to the previous site, but decided that it was unlikely many people would pass our site later in the day (having already found their own campsites), so we’d likely be safe sitting on the thunderbox in full view of the trail! (We were right.)
It took me 12(!) tries to get the rock over our preferred bear bag branch, but I wasn’t about to give up! We got the tent up, tarp up, and had a small snack. We found a huge amount of wood for our campfire within a very short distance of our campsite. After our dinner of bagel/egg/bacon/cheese wraps, we started our campfire by 6:30 PM (we were rather beat). We had our Baileys, banana and mini turtles and somehow managed to stay up until 8:15.
Day 4: Provoking Lake East to Highway 60 Access Point (7.7 km)
On our last morning, we had a treat – a Skor hot chocolate to accompany our gatorade and tortilla/egg/salsa wraps. Once everything was packed up, we headed out for the last time, this time toward the car. We took a 250m side trail to a lookout on the way back, which gave nice views of Starling Lake and Lake of Two Rivers.
It started to rain as we hiked, but it was more of a mist and I never did get my raincoat out. We stopped for a snack where the trail crossed Mad Creek (Mud Creek?), and chatted briefly with 4 men in 2 canoes. I asked if they had a camera, so that I could take their picture. They said they didn’t. I told them that I could take a picture with my camera and email it to them. They declined. I asked how they could do a canoe trip without a camera, and one guy pointed to his head and said, “It’s all up here.” (Cheryl said, “They’re guys!”)
As for wildlife on Day 4, the most exciting thing we saw was a Blue Jay.
In the last 100-200 m of the trail, we encountered a group of 15-20 young teenagers, all carrying identical canoe-type packs that were way too big for them. One girl was so bent over we have no idea how she would be able to hike the 6+ km to the first campsite (assuming they were staying there). The adult at the front (tour guide?) and the 2 at the back had curiously small packs… it was rather odd. One girl looked like she could climb into her pack. Two kids were carrying huge jugs of water. What kind of outfitter…?
Despite our colds and the few challenges we faced, we had a great weekend! With a bit more work on the menu side to up the calorie content and decrease the weight of our food, we’re ready for Killarney! (We packed the perfect amount of food, with the exception of us eating Sunday’s lunch when we reached the car, and Sunday’s afternoon snack on the drive home. We never felt that we ate too much, and we didn’t go to bed hungry.)
In case you’re interested, here is our packing list for a 3-night, 4-day fall backpacking trip for 2 adult females (includes clothes we were wearing):
1 pair zip-off pants
1 long sleeve shirt
1 long johns (long sleeve top plus bottom)
1 fleece sweater
2 pairs underwear
3 pairs socks
1 rain coat and rain pants
1 wide brimmed hat
1 winter hat
1 pair gloves
1 pair sunglasses
1 pair hiking boots
1 pair sandals
1 pot 2 L
1 pot gripper
1 MSR Dragonfly stove with wind protector
1 325 ml fuel bottle (full)
1 scorch burner (modified version of the one from the Outback oven, which always slips off the stove)
1 pot cosy
1 pancake flipper
1 swiss army knife
1 single blade knife
parchment paper (2 square feet?)
hot pot square (thing you sit a pot on so as not to burn your table) (not used)
coffee filters for straining water (not used)
11.5 pounds, or 1.9 pounds/person/day (aiming to get that closer to 1.5 pounds/person/day)
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: https://kyraonthego.wordpress.com/?p=740
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!
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]
Bedtime snack – 1 dehydrated banana each, a few mini Skor bars [101g] and Baileys [278g – this was divided over 3 days]
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]
Morning snack – trail mix (homemade) [157g]
Lunch – apple peanut salad wrap (FT) [352g, includes container for peanut butter] and gatorade
Who knew it was possible to not only become emotionally attached to a snapping turtle, but to then witness its near demise all in one trip? But I’m getting ahead of myself! Earlier this year my friend Cheryl and I decided to take Ailish (mine) and Anne and Mae (hers) on a 4-day canoe trip. We settled on Rain Lake at Algonquin Provincial Park because 1) it was available, 2) it involved no portaging, and 3) Cheryl and I had been there before.
Day 1: Thursday, August 6 – Huntsville to Kearney to Rain Lake, Algonquin Provincial Park
Before we could start our canoe trip, we needed one more canoe, so after a 7 AM departure and a few hours of driving, we stopped at Algonquin Outfitters in Huntsville where Cheryl rented a Swift Prospector 17 to go along with my Swift Keewaydin. We continued another few minutes to Kearney, where we picked up our backcountry permit, and then drove the last 23 km or so to the Rain Lake access point. After loading everything into the 2 canoes, we were off – Ailish and I in one canoe, and Cheryl, Anne and Mae in the other (we switched up the seating arrangements over the course of the 4 days). We had read good things about the island campsites (there are 2), but we thought it was unlikely they would be available. We headed for them anyway, keeping in mind another site 2 before the portage to Sawyer Lake that apparently had a lake behind it you could swim in and have all to yourselves. It turns out the island sites were taken, so we checked out option B. The “rear” lake didn’t have good access to it and swimming would have been very weedy (read leechy) on the “rear” lake and on Rain Lake. We decided to check out the site next to the portage, which was available, and maybe less desirable because of the canoe traffic passing by to reach the portage. It was a large site, had great big boulders for sitting down by the water, and seemed perfect! Plus we had no desire to backtrack and go to one of the sites we had already passed. This campsite was 5.89 km (approximately) from the put in. We set up 2 tents, with the girls (10, 11 and 13) in one tent, and Cheryl and I in the other. We also put up a tarp in case of rain, and after about 30 minutes of attempting to throw a rock (wrapped up in rope) over a tree branch 15 feet in the air (and re-tying the rope several times as the rock hurled itself into the woods), success! – a safe place to store our food. This was definitely the highest branch I’ve used for a bear bag – there weren’t many options at this campsite! At some point, we first encountered a snapping turtle in the water at our site, who the girls later named “Buddy”. Despite his presence, we decided to swim – with some trepidation.
The girls strung ropes between trees to walk on, and also made a very fun rope swing. We cooked hot dogs on the fire for dinner, and roasted marshmallows later on for s’mores. All in all, a good first day!
Day 2: Friday, August 7 – Rain Lake to Islet Lake via Western Uplands Backpacking Trail
In the morning, Buddy reappeared! After a delicious oatmeal breakfast, we paddled a couple hundred metres over to the portage to Hot Lake, where we left the canoes and joined the Western Uplands Backpacking Trail. We intended to hike until we reached Islet Lake or Ishkuday Lake, swim, have lunch, and hike back to the canoes. The “hike” was really a “walk”, as it was along a flat old rail trail. We met a woman and her 12 year old son on the way, and based on her recommendation, decided to check out the first backpacking site on Islet Lake – if it was unoccupied, we would eat our lunch and swim there. We were in luck! It was a big, beautiful site, complete with an awesome rope swing that swung over the lake. We had walked at the most 3 km to get there, maybe less.
We swam, ate our lunch, and even had a small fire because the previous occupants had not doused it – with just a few big breaths and some birch bark, we had a flame! When a couple of hikers came into view, we waved them over since we hadn’t paid to stay at that site, and while it might have looked occupied, it wasn’t! We finished our lunch and cleared out as quickly as we could, despite the very generous offer to stay for 2 hours if we wanted to! We walked back to our canoe, collecting firewood as we got close to the canoe so that we could have another evening campfire. We paddled over to a little beach at the end of the lake (very close to our site and the portage). The girls swam, but the sun wasn’t out, it was cool, and Cheryl and I were wimps. We had a delicious pasta dinner, during which Buddy convinced us that other campers must feed him, as he came out of the water and attempted to climb up the rock to share our food with us. So sad. Thankfully, the rock was too steep and he kept sliding back into the water. That night, while I was filtering water from the lake, Cheryl and the girls witnessed Buddy get attacked by a larger turtle. He went for Buddy’s head or neck, climbed on top of him, somersaulted around, and then seemed to pin him to the lake bottom. We all feared for Buddy, and two girls were in tears. Thankfully, about an hour later we saw 2 turtles surface (in different locations), one of them definitely Buddy, as he had a distinctive wheezing/snorting sound and only one nostril. However, we never saw him again…
(Since being home, I’ve done a bit of research and it seems that our “Buddy” may actually have been a girl, and the bigger turtle may have been a boy… and the violence may have been part of snapping turtle mating behaviour!)
Day 3: Saturday, August 8 – Rain Lake to Sawyer Lake
Day 3 started with a yummy pancake breakfast, and fun around the campsite. We headed over to the beach to swim, build sand castles and swat deer flies.
Next we did the short (300m) portage to Sawyer Lake, where we looked for a beach or rocky area to stop and have lunch. Before finding somewhere, we stopped at an unoccupied campsite to use the bathroom! We eventually found somewhere to eat, but it wasn’t a great spot – just enough room to get out of the boats, sit to eat, and watch helplessly as a roll of precious toilet paper tumbled into the lake (my bad)!
We headed back to our campsite, collecting firewood along the portage for a third and final campfire. We spent the rest of the day at our campsite.
When we first arrived at our campsite on Day #1, we found a hat and pair of sunglasses that had been left behind. On closer inspection, the hat belonged to “Kathleen”. So on our last evening, we each took turns sporting the hat and glasses and doing what we thought Kathleen would do.
Day 4: Sunday, August 9 – Rain Lake to Huntsville
On our last morning, we had fantastic egg/veggie/bacon wraps to start the day. After packing up camp, we swam one last time, trying out a fallen tree as a jumping off spot. We also walked along the shore to the portage to Sawyer Lake, looking for a lost ziplock bag of Anne’s kleenexes and some rope… but we never did find it. We loaded everything into the 2 canoes and headed for the van. We really lucked out with the weather – it rained on 2 separate occasions over the 4 days, but for no longer than 2-5 minutes, and only a light sprinkle! We didn’t see any moose, bears or foxes, but we were amazed at the number of mice running around the campfire as the sun went down!
Canoe tripping with kids adds its own challenges, but we had tons of fun!
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!
Day 1: George Lake Campground, Killarney Provincial Park, La Cloche Silouette Trailhead to Cave Lake (H6) — 8.4 km
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.
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:
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!
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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I started seriously considering winter camping last fall, and it wasn’t long before my friend Cheryl and I had picked a date and started planning our trip. We agreed that we wouldn’t go if a snowstorm was in the forecast, but hadn’t discussed the temperature at which proceeding with our trip as planned bordered on the ridiculous. Despite Friday’s forecasted high of -17 degrees Celsius (feeling like -29 with the windchill), we headed north, for Mew Lake at Algonquin Provincial Park. List-makers and super-planners that we are, we were still surprised by some of the weekend’s happenings…
Friday – Day 1
After picking up Cheryl at around 7 AM, loading her stuff into the van, and stopping for hot drinks at Tim’s in Waterdown, it was clear sailing until just before Barrie, when the “check engine”, “TRAC OFF” and “VSC” lights went on in my van. This necessitated a short detour to the Barrie Toyota, where we were greeted by a very enthusiastic service person with a clipboard who encouraged us to have coffee, hot chocolate, cookies, and a visit to the bathroom while we waited. This was no ordinary bathroom. In fact, in my opinion, far too much money was spent decorating it! And the TV seems a bit extreme. In any case, she wished us well in our camping adventures and said to us, “Don’t die!” One hour and $90 later, a false alarm was declared and we were on our way! Cheryl thought I was looking quite fashionable in my spandex running pants and hiking boots, but I had nothing on the woman in the waiting room with the huge fur hat. We were thinking it might come in handy in Algonquin…
After stopping at the Huntsville Tim’s parking lot to eat our packed lunches, we filled up the gas tank at the junction of Highways 60 and 35, and arrived at the West Gate of Algonquin (km 0) around 12:45 PM to get a camping permit. We learned that there were “a few people” camping there already. After another few minutes of driving, we arrived at the Mew Lake campground (km 30), the only one open for winter camping. We had a bit of trouble finding our way to the actual campsites, ending up at the wood lot instead, so we grabbed a bag of wood ($6.50) and a bag of kindling ($4.50) from the small wood shed, dropping our money in a little metal honour-system payment box. We drove past 4 yurts (heated permanent tent structures with bunk beds) that all seemed occupied (one even had a “hot tent” set up beside it – a tent with a stove in it with an exhaust pipe), and when we reached sites 83-94, right on Mew Lake, we checked them all out before choosing the one right across from the vault (no flush) toilets (site #90). There were a couple of other tents set up in these sites – we weren’t the only crazy ones! The comfort station (which we soon learned was the warmest place in the campground) was about 650 m away, was heated, had flush toilets, warm running water, a shower (which we did not use), and a laundry room with washers, dryers and a laundry tub. Right next to it was a skating rink with hockey nets, sticks and pucks and a campfire nearby. We didn’t see anyone use the rink, but they did flood it regularly and it seemed to be in good shape. Not too far from the comfort station, a quinzee had been built in one of the sites – I never did remember to crawl inside it!
Within about an hour of our arrival, we were greeted by a pine marten in the snow bank between the men’s and women’s toilets. It didn’t stay long but was quite cute. We set up Cheryl’s winter tent, and put our sleeping pads, sleeping bags, pillows, and blankets in as well.
Did I mention it was cold? Putting up a tent while wearing big mittens is not easy. My hands were too cold to just wear fleece gloves, but I had to keep removing my mittens and expose my flesh to snap things together. It was also challenging putting the tent pegs in, but we managed. For at least one Cheryl attached a rope to the fly and pegged it down away from the tent where we could actually get the peg into the ground. We opted not to set up a tarp (to cover a cooking area), but we did bury a 10 L water bottle in a snowbank, because Cheryl had read that the snow would insulate the water and keep it liquid. We put another bottle in the van, and one in the laundry room. Any thoughts on what happened?
Our feet got pretty cold on Friday when we weren’t moving around. Over the weekend I changed my socks frequently (when they felt damp) and occasionally used foot warmers. I once tried to wear 2 pairs of socks, but no kidding it took about 5 minutes per boot to get my foot in them (and by that time, I was sweating buckets on top!).
We decided to go for a hike, so we headed from our campsite toward the Old Railway Multi-use Trail, which is a 16 km trail from Cache Lake to Rock Lake. We hadn’t been walking long when I spotted a Gray Jay in the trees, so I pulled out some bird seed and we attempted to feed the birds from our hands. They weren’t biting, but once we threw the seed down onto the ground, two birds were all over it. We walked along the old Mew Lake airfield, enjoying a delicious trail mix as we went (I ended up just pouring it into my mouth so that I didn’t get my fleece gloves wet – and me cold – when I stuck the food into my mouth!), and when we reached the Old Railway trail we headed East. We retraced our steps and headed back to our campsite, walking about 5 k in all.
Cheryl used her axe to chop some of the wood into smaller pieces (even the kindling), and we decided that we’d need more kindling so I drove off to get another couple of bags. We built our campfire and discovered that not only was there snow on the wood, but some of it was frozen together and other pieces had thick ice chunks on it. Not exactly ideal for building a fire! We eventually got a good fire going, and managed to heat up the frozen minestrone soup that I had made at home, and toasted our homemade cornbread too. We also boiled water to put in Nalgene bottles to have in our sleeping bags overnight. It was so cold out though that we ate our dinner in the van (which was marginally warmer – we didn’t turn the engine on)!
It was dark by this time, and with a clear sky, the stars were beautiful. The moon was very cool too, just a tiny sliver but the entire moon was still visible.
We gathered our dirty dishes, our washing tub, dish soap and cloth, and made the 650 m trek to the laundry room to fill our tub with warm water. You’re not supposed to do dishes in the sink, and in summer I would never do my dishes there (food could clog the drain), but we did our dishes in our tub and dumped the “grey” water in the toilet next door. Those few minutes in the laundry room allowed us to warm up! We headed back to our site, grabbed all our clothes (mine in my big red bag and Cheryl’s in her barbie tub!) and headed back to the comfort station! We decided we’d rather change there – in the warmth – than in the tent! We knew that we needed to remove all our clothes and change completely to avoid going to bed in anything that might be damp and therefore cold!
To keep our cameras, GPS’s, and batteries warm (and my contact lenses safe in their cases), we put them in bags and slept with them in our sleeping bags! Ever cuddle a camera before? As well, I put the liners of my boots in a cloth bag in my sleeping bag, so that they wouldn’t get frosty! When we got into the tent and finally into our sleeping bags with all our stuff (including our hot water bottles!), I was warm at first. I was wearing 1 pair of socks, 2 long john bottoms, 1 fleece pajama bottom, 2 rain pant bottoms (accidental – I meant to take them off!), 1 long john top, 1 merino wool top, 1 fleece pajama top, 2 fleece sweaters, and 1 winter hat and 1 pair of fleece gloves! I had one blanket under my Thermarest, and 4 on top of me. My sleeping bag is rated to -20 degrees Celsius, and I had an extra fleece liner in it that I made. Despite all this (it’s a wonder I fit in the bag), it wasn’t long before I was feeling cold. From the waist down I was warm, but my upper body was cold. Not so cold that I was shivering, but I wasn’t comfortable, and I was having trouble falling asleep. With Cheryl telling me not to fall asleep if I was cold, and our Toyota friend telling us not to die, it’s no wonder I lay there forever, trying to fall asleep! In fact, I honestly felt like I did not sleep at all Friday night, but in the morning Cheryl said that she had heard a really loud noise in the night (maybe ice cracking?) and asked me if I heard it – I didn’t respond, so I must have been asleep!
Saturday – Day 2
In the early morning we could hear snow falling gently on the tent. I lay in my sleeping bag listening to birds singing. When my bladder was full to bursting, I convinced myself to get up. My boots were frosty in the tent, but not the liners I had slept with! There were a few cm’s of freshly fallen snow, making the trees very pretty. According to the van, the temperature was a balmy -13 degrees Celsius! We walked to the comfort station to change, where the day’s weather forecast was posted as a high of -8 – things were looking up!
It was amazing how fast our 2 L Nalgene bottles full of gatorade started to freeze. By the time breakfast was done, I was drinking slushy liquid.
We tried to use Cheryl’s MSR Dragonfly stove, but it wouldn’t work. The white gas was still liquid (not frozen!) but for some reason we couldn’t get it into the pump, and therefore we couldn’t cook with it. We had brought mine as well, but had the same problem. We’ll be doing some research on using them in winter! So, we ate the dehydrated bananas that we didn’t eat the night before, and we built a fire to cook our awesome oatmeal with nuts and dehydrated fruit. It was 10:30 AM before we ate! We also had tea, and while standing and drinking mine, something flew at my head and landed on it – I yelled “ah!” or something like that and proceeded to shake tea all over my coat! I realized when it flew away that it was just a Chicadee, either thinking I was a tree or looking for me to feed it!
We checked the water jug in the van and it was frozen, but the water in the snow bank was still liquid!
We walked to the comfort station to do our dishes (saw that our water jug was still there), and then got ourselves organized to go snowshoeing (Cheryl has her own but I was borrowing my mom’s). We headed for the trail head, which was next to the big garbage bins on the way to the comfort station. There we found a woman with a camera, a very big lens, and a tripod. She was taking pictures of something in the trees. Turns out it was a pine marten, which she said often went into the garbage bin to get food (and sometimes nap!).
It was adorable. And very hard to photograph, because it jumped from branch to branch and moved so quickly! We chatted with Erika for a while and watched the pine marten, hoping it would come out of the tree and onto the snow to get a better shot. It did eventually, but my pictures didn’t improve!
We headed along the same trail as Friday, but turned onto the Track and Tower trail on our way to the Highland Trail. We encountered some Chicadees who were happy to eat sunflower seeds from our hands. The Highland Trail was meandering and beautiful. I had a déja vu moment and realized that the part of the trail we were walking was the same part I walked with my dad in the fading October light a few years ago when we camped at Mew Lake at Thanksgiving with my parents – Alasdair had gone for a long run and overestimated how far he could go in the daylight remaining – when it got late and dark we went searching for him and were very relieved to find him (as he was to see us)! Cheryl and I are hoping to do a backcountry hiking trip on this trail in the fall. We passed one tent along the trail, with 2 sleds that would have been used to pull gear. No one was there. Later we encountered 2 men snowshoeing in the other direction and learned it was their site (you can backcountry camp anywhere in Algonquin in the winter except on summer camping sites – backcountry camping is a different rate/night than car camping at Mew Lake), and they showed us pictures of a lookout further up the trail, but we didn’t have enough time to make it there this time. We had our mud tortilla wraps for lunch, and then turned around to head back. When we reached a steep hill we had climbed earlier, I decided it would be fun to slide down it on my bum rather than potentially slip on the snowshoes. It was great fun! Later we met the 2 guys at their campsite and asked them to take our picture.
The weather was quite pleasant for our snowshoeing trek – it was probably -8, with lightly falling snow at times. All told we walked about 7 k.
When we got back to our campsite we drove 10 minutes to the Visitor Centre (km 45), which Cheryl had never been to. We had a hot chocolate and briefly looked through the gift shop and museum, but we were pretty tired from our sleepless night! We headed back to Mew Lake, bought more kindling, and headed back to our campsite. Sadly, I discovered that I must have left my green fleece hat behind at the Visitor Centre! I had 2 other hats with me though, so it wasn’t a disaster (just disappointing!). Before making our fire for dinner, we talked for a while to Jane, our neighbour, a woman (50s?) who was camping on her own for a week. She had taken some survival courses and had all kinds of tips for us.
Dinner was chili and cornbread, with Baileys, Reeces Pieces and banana chips for dessert. We could actually sit and enjoy our fire for a while, because it wasn’t freezing cold out! We heated water for our Nalgene bottles and put them in our coats until bed – very nice body warmers! We buried the water jug that had been in the laundry room.
We walked to the comfort station to do dishes, and I watched 2 pine martens chase each other in the trees for a while. Different people were there with huge lenses and flashes taking tons of pictures. We returned to the comfort station to change, where I realized that I had lost a sock – one of two that I had stuffed in my coat. We walked back to our campsite with a headlamp on (we had been walking in the dark until this point) and found it – back at the tent door! Saturday night we both slept much better – I was warm!
Sunday – Day 3
At 6:30 AM I got out of the tent for a quick trip to the toilet – I had the clever idea the night before to put my hiking boots (not winter boots) at the tent door, so I didn’t have to get my boot liners out of my sleeping bag to get up to pee in the night! I went back to sleep and we got up around 8:30. Our half filled water bottle (the one from the laundry room) was quite slushy when I dug it out – maybe we didn’t bury it enough? Cheryl tried her stove again but it still didn’t work. So, we built a fire with the wood Cheryl had prepared the night before. Our fire was slow – painfully slow – in getting going. We ate banana chips and leftover Reeces Pieces, and drank our gatorade while we waited! I even got an ice cream headache from one particularly cold gulp. Eventually the water boiled and we were able to rehydrate our fruit and add some water to our granola/milk powder mix. It was scrumptious, though we had a record late breakfast at 10:45 AM! This time, I was prepared for birds landing on my head while I drank my tea! As we were finishing our breakfast a couple walked by and we talked to them for a bit – they had intended to backcountry camp with a friend, but he bailed and they wimped out, so they car camped instead.
We decided not to do our dishes and to just wash them at home. We packed up camp, and Cheryl noted that my front left tire looked like it was bulging from low pressure. We agreed that we’d fill it up at the first opportunity. We talked to Jane again, who told us that the plank salmon she’d cooked for dinner the night before didn’t quite go as planned – the plank caught fire!
We left Mew Lake and headed for the Mizzy Lake trail (km 15), which we intended to snowshoe before driving back home. There was only 1 car in the parking lot. We knew we didn’t have time to walk the entire 11 k loop, so we planned to walk for a while and then turn around. The trail was another beautiful one.
We followed boot prints for a while, but eventually met the couple after they turned around and then we were walking in newly fallen snow. We didn’t see or hear a single live creature in the woods (though we did see various animal tracks) until we were on our way back – maybe even mostly back – when I heard and saw… a bird. We started looking for a log to sit on to have our lunch, and almost immediately discovered a bench along a boardwalk on Mizzy Lake. We had to clear the snow off of it, and lower ourselves down to it to sit because of the amount of snow on the ground, but it gave us a great view – of trees and snow falling – no animals!
After a quick stop at the Huntsville Tim’s, we were on our way home. And then, as we were driving south on Highway 11, we heard the womp womp womp of a flat tire!! Yes, we forgot to fill the tire. I steered the car into the merge lane, but couldn’t get off the road because of big snow banks. Twice I tried to move the van further to reach a driveway but didn’t want to damage the van any more. After calling Toyota roadside assistance, and deciding that it made more sense to be towed to the nearest Toyota dealership within 300 km, rather than have the spare tire put on (that can only be driven a short distance at low speeds, and wouldn’t get us home), we waited for the tow truck driver to arrive. We were closer to live traffic than we would have liked! Within an hour Chris from Gravenhurst Towing showed up, and Cheryl and I agreed that tow truck drivers don’t get paid enough!
He had to park his truck partly in the live traffic, and was walking in harm’s way. He came to check whether the U hook on the front of our van was factory installed and therefore okay to tow the van up the flatbed truck with. I told him that we had it welded on to hold our canoe (40 lbs, not the weight of a van!) so he decided to attach elsewhere! He towed us about 20-30 minutes to Sunrise Toyota in Orillia, which of course was closed on a Sunday. Chris was great though, waiting to make sure we had a taxi coming before he left us, and making sure we knew to check the key slot to see that our key envelope was actually deposited correctly. I told him I’d be writing a trip report on my blog, so what would he like to say? He said he didn’t know, that he didn’t really know what a blog was. 🙂 In any case, THANK YOU Chris and Gravenhurst Towing!! We got a taxi to the Highwayman Inn, bringing our clothes, cameras and other valuables with us – including our extra food we had packed, some of which we ate for dinner (told you we are planners!).
Monday – Day 4
I called Toyota at 7:30 AM, as soon as the service department opened. I pleaded our case – that we had been winter camping in a tent and were stranded at a hotel. I was told that as soon as “his bodies” were in, they would look to see what the van needed. Leonard from Toyota called during breakfast to tell me that yes, I needed a new tire! Unfortunately, they didn’t have any, and their tire delivery guy wouldn’t do his rounds until 1 or 3 or even later. He said he’d call if they found a tire from a neighbouring business. While waiting for Toyota to call, I wrote my trip report! I started doubting whether we’d get home that day, given that I still hadn’t heard anything after 11 AM. But around 11:30, Leonard called to say that he had driven to Barrie Toyota to pick up a tire (THANK YOU LEONARD!) and that the van was almost done. PHEW! The Toyota shuttle came to get us, and we were on our way home at 12:15 PM. We rolled into Waterdown just after 2 PM.
This weekend I learned 5 ways to warm up in frigid temperatures: 1. wear 2 thick pairs of socks and attempt to squeeze feet into boots, 2. snowshoe up a steep hill, 3. attempt to squish a snowy tent into its factory issued bag, 4. drive long enough for the van engine to warm up, and 5. go to the comfort station!
Despite the rocky start and ending to our weekend, we had a fantastic time and will definitely go winter camping again – and eventually, in the backcountry too. We need to master operating our stoves in the winter, first!