Trip report: 1st ever mother-daughter canoe trip, Ralph Bice Lake, Algonquin Provincial Park

At some point this summer, my 12 year old daughter suggested that the two of us could go on a canoe trip together. In fact, it must have been during our Massassauga Provincial Park girls only adventure in August, because that’s when we planned our menu for the trip. We originally decided on a 2-night adventure with no portaging, where we would stay on Magnetawan Lake at Algonquin Provincial Park. I made the reservation, and we were all set. However, when I told Randy from Algonquin Outfitters of my plan, he suggested that we could easily do a 2-night trip on Ralph Bice Lake (from the same access point), a trip that would involve 2 short portages. I checked with Ailish, she was keen to try it, so we changed our reservation and looked forward to departure day! We practised getting the canoe onto the roof of our van together, and while it may not have been pretty, I knew that we’d be able to portage just the 2 of us.

Shortcut to the slideshow! Click on one picture, then on the little “i” (see top right) and you’ll be able to read the picture captions.

DAY 1: Home to Park Office at Kearney Community Centre to Magnetawan Lake (access point #3) to Hambone Lake to Ralph Bice Lake.

After a 7 AM departure, we arrived at the Park Office at the Kearney Community Centre around 11 AM, where we picked up our backcountry permit, and heard that all 17 campsites on Ralph Bice Lake were booked for the night. I hoped that it wouldn’t be too hard to find an empty one, and that we wouldn’t have to paddle to the far end of the lake either. We drove about 40 minutes to the Magnetawan Lake access point and snagged an awesome parking spot (right next to the loading/un-loading spots). I untied the canoe right away, and decided to ask some men for help in taking the boat off the van. They both headed over to remove the canoe, but I clarified that I just needed one – I could do it with help! I thanked them and they continued getting their stuff ready for their own trip. Ailish and I ate our lunch, and then we carried the canoe and our 2 packs plus paddles, camelbaks, pelican case and knee pads approximately 50m down to the water – in a few trips! The access point was quite busy, with several groups plus a big one with what looked like a dozen adults in matching life jackets learning paddling skills on shore. We put our canoe into the water (there is space for 2 canoes, one on either side of a dock), and someone immediately put theirs right behind mine, essentially blocking my access to my packs. He realized what he had done, apologized and got my packs for me. We felt rushed to get in the boat and take off, but once we were away, it was all good.

Heading out on Magnetawan Lake.

Ailish was in the bow, and me in the stern. We paddled for about 2 minutes (really) before we reached the 135m portage from Magnetawan Lake to Hambone Lake. I asked my new best friends (the guys from the parking lot) for help again to teepee the canoe so I could get under it, and they gladly assisted. This became a theme over the course of the weekend. I was not above asking for help, and everyone I asked was very friendly and willing to assist us!

The paddle through Hambone Lake was slightly longer, but it isn’t a big lake. We got to the portage to Magnetawan Lake and I asked a couple for help. “Do you know how to ranger?”, he asked. I had no clue what he meant, so he proceeded to give me a lesson (and teepee the canoe for me).

Once we got onto Ralph Bice Lake, we decided that we would take the first available empty campsite. Once the lake opened up and was wider, we met the wind that I had read could be an issue on Ralph Bice Lake. We had to decide whether to go along the left shore, or the right shore, because I didn’t want to travel straight through the middle in the wind. We opted for the left shore, since the first campsite would appear sooner. As it turns out, we were really noticing the wind as we approached the first campsite, and were disappointed to see that it was taken. Looking into an inlet to the left, we weren’t sure if the campsite was taken – what turned out to be a log looked like it might be a canoe. Looking at the only other campsites we could see, one was definitely taken and one looked like it probably was, so we opted to go into the inlet. The problem was that a direct line to the campsite meant that the waves were hitting the canoe directly from the side, and we were not happy about that. So, I turned upwind and decided to overshoot the campsite and then turn back. It didn’t take long for us to realize that the campsite was unoccupied – yay! We eventually had to deal with side waves again on our final approach to the campsite. If you’ve been to this campsite, you’ll know that it has a very steep access, with a rock face all along the approach. Now picture us being pushed – repeatedly – into the rock as I tried to calculate how to step out of the boat onto the wet steep rock without falling into the water. It was only once we were safely on shore that my daughter told me that she was terrified I was going to slip and fall into the water and she was going to float out into the middle of the inlet in the canoe in the wind on her own! But we made it and no one got wet. It turns out those were the biggest waves we saw all weekend (of course). It had taken us just over 2 hours to get to our campsite from the time we first started paddling – a distance of 4.07 km paddling and 405m portaging (we did a double carry).

After the slightly dramatic arrival, we unloaded the canoe, pulled it safely uphill, and set about figuring out where we would erect our tent, put up a tarp in case of rain, and hang the bear bag and hammock. As soon as the tent was up, Ailish got in and I set up a tarp and threw a rock over a tree branch for our bear bag. We explored our campsite, finding so many kinds of fungi! The variety amazed us – different sizes, shapes and colours in such a small area. We played some cards, read our books, had our homemade chicken noodle soup and homemade buns with raw veggies for dinner, and attempted – but failed – to start a small fire. All of the wood was wet. The previous campers had left wood all nicely piled and sorted by size, but we weren’t able to make anything burn for long. My MSR Dragonfly stove wasn’t pressurizing properly, so I was a bit worried we’d be cooking on the campfire all weekend – if we could start a fire – or eating cold food! Before heading to bed, we boiled water so that we would each have a 1 L hot water bottle (Nalgene bottle) in our sleeping bag overnight. I managed to make the stove cooperate. Day time temperatures for the weekend were around 15 degrees Celsius, and night time lows just above freezing. We were cozy in our winter sleeping bag (Ailish) and fall sleeping bag with fleece liner (me) along with our hot water bottles! After going to bed we heard loons and other campers trying to call to wolves.

DAY 2: Exploring Ralph Bice Lake

Early morning on Ralph Bice Lake.

After a yummy breakfast of oatmeal, dried fruit, gatorade and tea for me, and oatmeal/peanut butter/chocolate chips, dried fruit, gatorade and hot chocolate with marshmallows for Ailish, we explored Ralph Bice Lake a bit, including one of the islands near our site. We found some shrivelled turtle eggs there. We spent the rest of the day playing cards, putting up and using our hammock, reading, napping, collecting dry firewood, doing art and just plain relaxing!

Swing time!

Our lunch was bagels and mud with dried fruit, and our dinner tortilla pizzas baked on the fire (there were 2 grills at the campsite, one of which coated with tin foil worked perfectly). The pizzas were delicious. We also made banana boats on the fire, with bananas, chocolate, and marshmallows (no banana for Ailish)! While sitting at the fire (dry wood burns!) we noticed about 20-30 small fish jumping out of the water at the same time. And then again a few minutes later. We had no idea what kind of fish they were, or what they were doing! After hanging the bear bag for the night, Ailish decided she was hungry, so I got it down, and we had a snack of naan bread. Unfortunately, mine was mouldy! Yuck. We were in the tent before it got dark, but came out to have a look at all the stars. Ailish was impressed.

DAY 3: Ralph Bice Lake to Hambone Lake to Magnetawan Lake to home

Early morning on Ralph Bice Lake.

On our last morning, we ate our breakfast and then packed everything up. Ailish had missed her daddy and our kitties (not her brother), and was eager to be home! We paddled over to the portage to Hambone Lake, but because we were the only ones there, we had to manage the portage ourselves. It was slightly harrowing, but Ailish managed to hold the canoe up high enough for me to get under it. And then from there, the portaging was easy. We were paddling along, discussing the animals we had seen over the course of the weekend (a few mice – some in the thunderbox! – loons, squirrels, and the jumping fish) when we turned a corner in Hambone Lake and I spotted something moving along the shoreline. A moose – and it’s mamma!

Mamma moose and baby on Hambone Lake.

We headed – very slowly – toward the moose, watching them as they watched us. We didn’t get very close, and they eventually headed into the woods. Such a great experience for us. Ailish had never seen moose other than from the car before. We arrived at the portage to Magnetewan Lake, and I once again asked for help from a group of 4 men. The guy who helped told me that he has to teepee the canoe for his buddy to carry too. We got back into the canoe and finished our trip with the short paddle back to the dock. We had emptied the canoe and pulled it onto shore just before the guys arrived behind us. Ailish and I loaded everything into the van, one of the guys helped load the canoe onto the van, I strapped it on, and away we went!

We enjoyed our canoe trip and I look forward to another one just the two of us.

Since arriving home, I’ve learned that Ralph Bice wrote a book called “Along the Trail in Algonquin Park”. I’ve put a hold on the book at my local library, and I look forward to reading more about the man for whom Butt Lake was renamed (his favourite lake in Algonquin).


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

Instead of a traditional trip report, I’ve drafted a list of my favourite things to do while car camping at Grundy Lake Provincial Park. I’ve been there many times – it’s my 2nd favourite place for car camping (after Lake Superior Provincial Park).

In no particular order:

1. Do the jumping off rocks on Gut Lake

With the water level lower in Gut Lake, the jumps were actually further this summer.

The jumping off rocks are accessed from a path between sites 22 and 24 in White Spruce campground. The best part is that there are small jumps and big jumps, so there’s something for everyone brave enough to jump a couple of feet (or 15!). You can jump while wearing a lifejacket if you want to. There are ropes to help you get out of the water. Sometimes, all but one of us swims back to the dock by the Ampitheatre and we walk back to our campsite from there – the last person gets stuck carrying everyone’s sandals, towels etc.

2. Hike the Swan Lake trail

This trail is just 1.5 km long, but has some beautiful terrain and opportunities to spot wildlife – in particular at the start/end. There are frogs, snakes, turtles and more to be found. One year, we spotted 23 turtles sunning themselves on logs.

Rush hour at Grundy Lake.

3. Participate in the many fabulous programs put on by the park staff

We have done many programs at Grundy, from Art in the Park, to guided night hikes (no flashlights) looking for glow worms and listening for owls, to musical performances, presentations by turtle and snake researchers, and lots more. There are programs for families, kids, and adults only. The staff are fantastic and the programs educational!

Mosaic art.

4. Canoe or kayak from Grundy Lake to Gut Lake

In past years the water levels were higher, so that we could actually paddle between the two lakes. Now you have to get out of the boat and drag it to deeper water several times as you go. It’s still fun!


5. Swim at the main beach

We miss the floating dock that used to be at the main beach, but we still enjoy swimming there and building sandcastles.

6. Spot wildlife

In previous years, we have spotted turtles, snakes, foxes and raccoons, but this year, we had a different sort of visitor close to our campsite (twice). Unfortunately the bear didn’t seem too bothered by people. Early morning and dusk can be great times to see animals, but you can also see things in the middle of the day. Take a look in a wetland area and see what you find!

In the campsite directly across from ours.

7. Ride bicycles to the Grundy Lake Supply Post for an ice cream

This year, our bike ride became a ride for 3 and drive for 1 when Alasdair got a flat on his mountain bike. It took us less than 20 minutes to ride there from our site, and our ice cream was inexpensive and delicious!


8. Run (or bike or walk!) to Pakeshkag Lake

I had a 90 minute run on my training schedule, so I headed first for Pakeshkag Lake. It’s a pretty quiet dirt road, which gets more scenic once you pass the last of the campgrounds (Poplar). On my way to the lake, which ended up being about 5 km from our campsite, I spotted a grouse and an endangered Blanding’s turtle! And lots of annoying flying things, one of which stung me on the ear. There were a few people fishing when I got to the lake. This is also one spot where you can access some of the park’s backcountry canoe sites, which we have done a couple of times before.

9. Drive 10 minutes north to explore the French River Provincial Park visitor centre, suspension bridge, and hike the 4 km trail to the beautiful Recollet Falls

The French River Provincial Park visitor centre is very nice, and also has a small gift store. The trail to Recollet Falls is not difficult, but rewards you with a beautiful view. Be sure to walk across the suspension bridge too and have a look at the spectacular French River!

10. Drive 1 hour north to Sudbury to spend the day at Science North

I can’t say enough about Science North. It is just fantastic. The staff (called “Blue Coats” for the blue lab coats they wear) are terrific. The mini shows (for example, about flying squirrels, complete with jumping squirrels) are short, frequent, and fun. There are different exhibits to explore, hands on activities (including the ability to hold things like giant snails and tarantulas!), an IMAX theatre, and even a “Nature Exchange“, where kids can trade points for cool things like rocks, dried butterflies, and bird nests! Bring something from home (not from a Provincial Park), trade it for points, and then find something you like to bring home. Or, if you have nothing to trade, do a quiz (one time only), finding the answers in the exhibits on the Nature Exchange floor, earns points, and then trade! Kids can even do research at home, put together a project, and bring it in for points. We spent the entire day there on our last visit, and could have spent even longer. Usually, we head for Science North on the first bad weather day of our trip.

Making a new friend.

There are many more things to do at Grundy Lake! Watching beautiful sunsets from the Maple campground rocks, the rock slides in the Maple campground, volleyball on the beach, fishing (including learn to fish programs), backcountry camping, biking on the campground roads, exploring the 7 lakes within the park, playing baseball against park staff, hiking the Beaver Dam trail and Gut Lake trail, and more! Try it – you’ll love it.

You might also want to check out:

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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)

Trip report: 8-day, 90k early May hike along the entire length of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park

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

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

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

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

Related posts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our dry kitchen shelter.

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

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

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

Sunset on Shigaug Lake.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Trip report: Winter backcountry 4-day snowshoe adventure at Algonquin Provincial Park

Lost food, howling wolves, whipping wind, mystery footprints, snow fleas, a campsite visitor, rolling sleds and snowshoe adventures – what more could a 1st winter backcountry camping trip need?! Last weekend I spent 4-days/3-nights camping at Algonquin Provincial Park, with a basecamp of Provoking Lake West along the Highland Trail.

Shortcut to the full slide show (click on one image, and then on the little “i” to read the descriptions)

Provoking Lake West.

Day #1:

After paying for a backcountry permit at the West Gate, my friend Cheryl and I headed for the Mew Lake campground, where we bought 2 bags of kindling, ate our lunch, loaded our sleds (see our packing list here), put on our snowshoes, and headed for the Track and Tower Trail, which would take us to the Highland Trail and our campsite for the weekend. I had borrowed a pair of Tubbs Women’s Elevate 25″ snowshoes and Tubbs snowshoeing poles from Algonquin Outfitters in Huntsville (snowshoe and pole review here).

We weren’t sure exactly how far we would walk before we set up camp for the night, but we were aiming to be close enough to a campsite that we could use the toilet.

In comparison to last year’s winter car camping trip during an extreme cold weather alert, this weekend promised to bring more reasonable temperatures! Daytime highs were to range from about -2 degrees Celsius to -9, and nighttime lows down to -15. Minimal snowfall was in the forecast.

Having never pulled a sled with gear before, we weren’t sure how difficult it would be. My sled was approximately 70 pounds, and really, it wasn’t too hard to pull it behind me (see my sled review here). However, going up very steep hills was another story! At one point we had to help one another get up the hill, me pushing Cheryl’s sled from behind, and then her doing the same for me.

Sometimes our sleds tipped over (and rolled!) as we walked, but after righting them, we were on our way again. We didn’t realize until dinner time that at some point in our trek to our campsite, our dinner and evening snack fell out of the sled (it was packed separately, not in the canoe pack with everything else)! We didn’t starve, but we did have to raid food from future snacks for dinner. See our menu here, and what we ate that first night!

Provoking Lake West.

We ended up choosing a spot on Provoking Lake West to set up our tent, after hiking for approximately 4 km. We changed from our hiking boots into our winter boots, set up the tent, cooked our dinner, “washed” our dishes with snow, hung our bear bag, and went to bed! Normally we tie a rope around a rock and throw that over a tree branch to hang the bear bag, but with small rocks buried under the snow, we spotted a cooking pot that someone had left behind, and I threw that over the tree branch! It worked great. I was cool that night (not shivering, just not quite comfortable), so I didn’t sleep as well as I could have. And getting out of the tent twice to pee didn’t help!

Day #2:

After breakfast, Cheryl made some adjustments to her sled, because some bolts fell off and rendered the hooks useless – she replaced them with rope. We headed out for a day hike, wondering if we might find our lost dinner and evening snack! We never did (did a person find it? an animal? we’ll never know!), but we enjoyed hiking along the Highland Trail (6.2 km) and looking for wildlife in the woods – we saw lots of different kinds of footprints, but no animal sightings other than a few birds. We didn’t even see any people! We ate our morning snack and lunch along the trail, and cooled down quite quickly when we stopped to eat! All weekend we were removing layers of clothes and adding layers depending on what we were doing. When we returned to our campsite, we had a hot chocolate with our afternoon snack, and then took a sled with us to gather wood for a fire. Cheryl used her saw to cut bigger branches from fallen logs. We made our dinner, and while it cooked we built our fire. When we weren’t actively doing something, like gathering or splitting wood, we got cold quickly!

Chopping kindling into smaller bits.

In fact, we were in our tent for the night by about 7:15 PM – it was warmer in there! We boiled water to put in Nalgene bottles so that we could have hot water bottles in our sleeping bags overnight – that, and slightly milder temperatures meant that I slept much better. The hot water bottle made for a cozy sleeping bag! That night we heard wolves howling very far in the distance!

Day #3: 

First thing in the morning when I got out of the tent to pee, I saw movement on the hill and thought it was a squirrel. I later saw that it was a pine marten looking for food. Unfortunately, I wasn’t wearing my contacts so I didn’t get a great view of it! I did grab my camera from the tent and got a few (blurry) photos – they move so fast! Once again, we headed out for a day hike after breakfast. This time we headed for the Lookout over Starling Lake and the Lake of Two Rivers. From there, we took a portage down to the Lake of Two Rivers, and walked along the Old Railway Trail toward the Mew Lake campground. I decided to check to see if I had a cell signal, and when we discovered that we both did, we called home for a quick chat. During our 7.1 km hike, we saw only 2 people – a couple walking dogs on the Old Railway Trail. Once again we had our morning snack and lunch on the trail. Back at camp, we had our hot chocolate and afternoon snack. Since we didn’t really wash our dishes (dish soap was frozen), I had 3 drinks in 1 – remnants of gatorade and tea when I drank my hot chocolate! We gathered wood, chopped more of our kindling, started our chili, and built a fire. Despite a whipping wind and snow blowing horizontally in the afternoon, the evening improved and we managed to last until about 8:30 PM before we headed for the tent with our hot water bottles! The temperature must have been even warmer overnight, because we were both warm and could have shed layers!

Letting the sled down before me – and watching it tip.

Day #4: 

On our last morning, we spotted 3 people crossing Provoking Lake West, but fairly close to the shore. They were wearing snowshoes and either wearing big backpacks or pulling sleds (or both!). After breakfast we packed up camp and headed out, with Cheryl spotting a snowshoe hare not too far from our campsite – it’s a wonder we didn’t see other bunnies, since there were tracks everywhere! It was a 3.6 km walk directly back to our vehicle. I had hoped to be able to feed sunflowers to chickadees, grey jays or blue jays, but no luck. The few chicadees we saw couldn’t be coaxed closer, we didn’t see grey jays, and the blue jays were in the midst of the paparazzi – we arrived back at our vehicle to see 10-15 people with cameras and huge lenses photographing pine martens in the trees. It was a funny sight.

We ate our lunch in the van, and then we headed back to Algonquin Outfitters, where I ended up buying the snowshoes and poles!

At the Lookout over Starling Lake and Lake of Two Rivers.

It was a great 1st winter backcountry camping experience. For future trips, we would:

  • bring kindling again
  • not bring a 10 L jug of water
  • camp within reach of a toilet again
  • make slight modifications to our sleds
  • pack all food in the canoe pack – no loose things!
  • hike the Highland Trail again, or perhaps try another trail!

We’ll be back!

Related posts for this trip:

Packing list

Menu and cooking tips

Gear review: snowshoes and poles

Sled review

Algonquin Outfitters blog guest post: Canoe tripping with kids

Head on over to the Algonquin Outfitters blog to see my guest post on canoe tripping with kids! The article is based on a canoe trip I did this summer on Rain Lake at Algonquin Provincial Park with my friend and our 3 girls, ages 13, 11 and 10.

Rain Lake, Algonquin Provincial Park

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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Trip report: 4-day girls only canoe trip on Rain Lake, Algonquin Provincial Park (rope swings and snapping turtle friends)

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.

Shortcut to the full slide show:

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.

Buddy the snapping turtle

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.

Thank you to whoever put this up – and left it! [Photo by Cheryl]
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.

Fun at the beach on Rain Lake [Photo by Cheryl]

Ailish practices her solo canoeing skills

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)!

Mergansers on Sawyer Lake

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.

Doing dishes in the setting sun [Photo by Cheryl]
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.

Clearly I am not a dancer [Photo by Cheryl]
Day 4: Sunday, August 9 – Rain Lake to Huntsville

Early morning view from our campsite on Rain Lake

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!

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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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!