Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Trip Log: Algonquin Provincial Park: Magnetwan to Ralph Bice Lake - July 5-7, 2017

Already exhausted and a little crabby, we pulled out of the Margaret Lake Access for the Frost Centre at just after 1pm.  We were starving and super thirsty.  Luckily, we weren't far down the road from Dorset, so we stopped at Robinsons for snacks and drinks, then continued our journey north to Huntsville where we topped up the car's gas and got onto Highway 11.

Finding the Kearney Community centre, and the permit office was easy, then we soon found ourselves on dirt roads reminiscent of the road into Achray.  To say the kids were less than pleased was an understatement.  I'm sure if they could have, they would have left me on the side of the road and went home.  Every time Chris saw water, he assumed we were there and told the kids this...and I, having the Jeff's Map for Algonquin on an app on my phone, had to tell them, no, we weren't there yet.

After about thirty minutes (I didn't keep super close track, so it might have been more) we arrived at the access point and everyone jumped out to stretch their legs.  Everyone was pleased to not have a lot of bugs swarming us at the parking area and this trend continued for the portages all the way to Ralph Bice.  There were mosquitoes and black flies, but not anywhere near as bad as they had been on the portage into Three Island Lake.

It didn't take us long to haul all our gear down the short trail to the launch.  We made quick use of the compost toilets before setting off and after a brief moment where I doubted my navigating skills, we rounded the corner for the first portage.

It should be noted that we switched up canoe partners for this trip.  Chris and Squatch took the Scott canoe because it's more stable with Biscuit bouncing around in it, and Bubbie and I took the Swift.

The 135m trail into Hambone Lake was a bit mucky, especially at the other end, but it was easy enough and the kids were in good spirits, running back for a second load of small items like paddles and lifejackets.  We didn't met some people but Biscuit barely paid them any attention until they spoke to him, then he got a bit skittish and hid behind Chris's legs.

Soon enough we were pushing off onto Hambone Lake.  Again, I had a few moments of doubt regarding the direction we were to go.    It was a bit windy, and I had a harder time taking a break from paddling to study the map closely without knowing Chris was there to keep us going at a good pace.

We found the next portage and quickly finished that one as well.  Once we got to the end, before we got into the canoes, I made Chris look at the map.  Ralph Bice is a big lake, and the lady at the permit office warned me it was often very windy, so we should stick to the shore.  I explained to everyone about the sites I'd seen pictures of online, and how if we kept to the right after the put in, we'd come to the beach sites, but that they were further away, and could be more likely to be full.

Chris decided we would stay to the left shore, and everything started out great.  The lake wasn't very wavy, there was a bit of wind but nothing major.  The first few sites were taken, and when Bubbie and I went to check out the next one (it was empty but didn't look very appealing) we turned around and Chris and Squatch were heading across the lake to the far shore.  We weren't sure if we should follow them, or keep going.  Also, because they didn't have a map, they were actually heading back towards the portage instead of on an angle that would get them closer to the campsites.

Furious and a little nervous, we kept going, but all the sites were either taken or very small and dark looking (which may have just been because the sun was sinking low behind that side of the lake, casting the sites into shadow.)  We came around the round island which had one site on it (site was taken) and were immediately in trouble.  The waves were crazy, the windy was throwing us around and I couldn't stop paddling long enough to look at the map and come up with a plan.  We couldn't even see the other canoe across the lake, so we had no idea if the dog had caused them to capsize or if they were sitting on an amazing campsite waiting for us to find them.  To make it even more frustrating, Bubbie had four stable flies biting her ankles and her arms and shoulders were cramping up.

We were close to the big island and the narrow channel.  I figured we could get to a site we saw was empty on the island and at least take a break, even though it meant crossing the lake.  I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned that I haven't ever learned how to stern paddle.  Chris knows how and so we jut paddle with him in stern in me in the bow.  Bubbie has taken her level 1 and 2 canoe certification and knows how to stern paddle as well, unfortunately she's had no experience in strong wind and big waves.

We made it halfway across to the island when Chris came around the corner, with just Biscuit in the canoe (my heart stopped for a moment, I'm not afraid to admit) and he told us that Squatch was at a great campsite waiting for us.  The next several minutes were dicy but we eventually made it to our home for two nights.  Bubbie was crying because her shoulders were so cramped, I was furious and somehow, Chris made it sound like us getting separated was because I had misunderstood.

After everyone calmed down, we got the tents set up and set about doing camp chores.  Chris had an incident while trying to hang the bear rope for the food which ended up being an ordeal that lasted a few hours.  I had bought a small dry sack to use for our ropes with the intent that for hanging the food, he would put a rock or something into the bag and use it to through over the tree branch rather than trying to tie a rock or stick to the rope. Since there was a piece of rope already over a perfect branch, he figured he'd use that and didn't take our ropes out of the bag, and instead used them as weight.  The rope fell off the branch, so he tied it to the bag and threw it back over...but the bag got stuck in the fork of a smaller branch and wouldn't come loose.  Now we couldn't even use a different rope because all the rope we had brought had been in the bag and the mosquitoes were out in force.  After an hour or so of trying to shake the bag loose, I was looking for something in the pack and found a brand new rope, still in it's plastic packaging.  We ended up using it to hang the food, and then we could work on retrieving the bag the next day, when the bugs weren't so bad.
playing "rock darts" at Ralph Bice Lake

Dinner had been made while this was happening.  We had set up the Eureka VCS16 bug shelter for the first time and we all sat in there to eat.  The kids had ramen (I'd left the store bought, camping meal Bubbie had picked out on the dining room table) while Chris and I had a greek rice and vegetable pilaf I'd made as an experiment.  It turned out really well, but I have a few changes and additions to make then I'll post the recipe.

We cleaned up and sat around the fire until the bugs got too bad, then headed to bed.

The next morning we all slept in.  I got up at one point (I didn't have my watch and my phone was powered down so I don't know what time it was) to let Biscuit out to pee, then we went back to bed.

The shallow, sandy bay at our site
Once everyone was up, I got out the stove and put on water to boil for coffee and hot chocolate, then started to make oatmeal.  By the time we were finished, it was almost noon.  By  the time we were cleaned up, it was time for lunch, but none of us really wanted the naan bread and peanut butter, so we snacked on granola bars and trail mix.

Chris managed to unstick the bag of rope, and he used two of the pieces to make targets on the ground, then he and Squatch spent the majority of the day playing "rock darts."  We followed the trail along the shore and checked out the beach, and realized the bay at our site was a shallow sandy haven that was perfect for just sitting in the water.  We were also able to wade across and check out the next campsite.  It was a little rough looking, with lots of downed trees but there were a few spots with nice views and they had a more direct access to the beach.

Dinner that night was a chilli recipe I'd made a few times in the Instantpot.  The kids liked it so I made a batch and dehydrated it a week or so before hand.  I also pre-cooked and dried some brown rice and then mixed them together and rehydrated it.  The corn never seems to come back very well, but it was tasty, especially with some hot sauce.

The weather forecast was calling for rain for the following day, and the lake had been so windy all day we hadn't been able to do any paddling.  We decided we would go to bed early so we could get up and get on the water before it got really bad.  Actually, at that point we were just hoping the wind and waves calmed down enough over night that we wouldn't be paddling in conditions like we'd been seeing all day.

rehydrated chilli and rice
I don't know what time we all went to bed, just that it was super early (we were guessing about 7:30.)  We were tired anyway, so it wasn't a big deal.  We had slept the previous night with the vestibule open and just hanging loose against the tent, but since it might rain over night, we zipped it up this time.

We might have been in the tent for ten minutes before we heard a crash.  Thinking it was our food bag, I crawled back out and saw that, no, the food was still high in the air.  There was nothing nearby,  no fallen trees that we could see, or animals.  I went back to the tent and spent the next hour or so hyper aware of every sound.   Truth was, we couldn't hear much other than the wind and the sound of the waves pounding against the rocks on the shore.  Every few minutes we would hear a popping sound, which was the waves and the logs over at the beach doing some crazy stuff.

At about the exact moment the sun dipped below the horizon, the wind stopped and the waves settled into a gentle lapping sound. The night was blissfully quiet and I actually managed to sleep.

Biscuit enjoying a breeze on Ralph Bice Lake
I was up early with Biscuit pawing at my sleeping bag.  It had rained a little bit earlier in the morning, but it seemed to have stopped for a while.  I took Biscuit out then crawled back into the sleeping bag and powered up my phone so I could check the time.  It was 7:15.  The lake was still calm (not glassy by any means) and the wind only picked up every little while for a few seconds at a time.  I wanted to get everyone up and get going, worried the wind would start up and stay gusty, but I also didn't want everyone to be all cranky so I held off for a bit.

Chris got up not long after I went back into the tent, so we got the kids up and started packing up.  It didn't take as long as we'd thought and we were back on the water, all of us hungry but eager to enjoy bagels from Tim Horton's in Huntsville.  The paddle back down Ralph Bice was slow.  The wind and waves were just enough to make it frustrating.  Bubbie and I had left first, hoping to get a head start so Biscuit wouldn't be as much of a bother.  He is at his worst when the canoes are within a close distance.  He barks and paws at the water trying to get closer to the second canoe so he can jump back and forth.  Chris and Squatch caught up easily thought.  Bubbie's shoulders were still sore and at one point she asked if we could switch sides.  I realized then how utterly useless I am paddling on the left.  My arm started cramping in about 5 minutes and I had no power to my strokes at all.  Something to work on.

When we got to the portage to Hambone, we took a few pictures with the portage sign and continued on our way.  We met a couple heading in, and spent a few moments talking to them.  They were heading into Little Trout Lake for the weekend.  They had been there before and enjoyed it a lot.

We made quick work of the portage and then the quick paddle down Hambone.  As we approached the portage to Hambone we saw people at the put in and so decided to hold back until they were finished so we wouldn't have to worry about Biscuit.  As we got closer we saw it was an older couple and their daughter who was probably in her early twenties.  Their canoe was so packed full there was barely room for them to sit.  The daughter sat at the very front, on the floor, facing her mother who was in the bow seat.  The father had a bit of a struggle getting in, but finally they pushed off and we unloaded.

When I got to the other end of the 135m portage, I heard voices.  Since the portage is so close to the launch, I wasn't sure if they were just around the corner, about to land any second, or still at the dock, loading up.  I ran back to let Chris know, totally forgetting to take the dog's leash with me.  Thankfully, the group of canoes wandered off towards the other side of the lake, and didn't head towards the portage until we were loaded up and on the water.  I'm not sure if they were lost, or exploring a bit.

We got back to the car, tired, sore and dirty but in much better spirits than when we had arrived.    It was just after 11, so we made pretty good time.  Other than the little hiccup when we got separated on Ralph Bice, we had a relaxing and successful trip.  The kids enjoyed everything, we had a nice site, the experimental meals I'd brought turned out well.  The only issues we had with food was that I hadn't brought much for lunch (or anything, figuring we would just snack on granola bars and trail mix) but I had also planned for us to explore a bit on the second day, so being kind of wind bound through me off a bit.  Also, I need to come up with a breakfast that is quick and easy, but isn't oatmeal.  For one thing, I can't stand instant oats, the texture of them makes me gag.  Second, oatmeal is kind of a pain to clean up, especially out of the bowls that came with our pot set.

Our order at Timmies might have been a little shocking.  The poor girl on drive thru sounded a little panicked, but we were all hungry and poor Biscuit hadn't had Timbits in a few days!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Trip Log: Algonquin Provincial Park: Mew Lake, April 16-17, 2017

Easter is one of those holidays where it can be tough to get time off work, but it's also an ideal time for us to go camping because the kids get four days off from school.  Originally, I had hoped to take the whole weekend off...then it was how to manage two nights, and by the time we ended up going, we could only get one night off of work.  Sucks, but at least one night is better than not camping at all.

So, since Chris and I had to work Friday and Saturday, the kids ended up going to my parents house.  The plan was that Mum and Dad would drive them up Sunday and meet us at our site, we'd have easter dinner, and then the kids would stay and Mum and Dad would drive home.

Pine Martin - Mew Lake Campground
Since we were only going for one night, we got packed and ready to go in good time.  I think we left the house by 9:25.  We were chased down our street by a big male turkey, one of the flock (is a group of turkey's a flock?) that spent the whole winter in our little neighbourhood.  Of the five that were here, there's only the one male and one female now.  The male spent the whole winter chasing cars up and down our street.

It rained on and off the whole drive up to Algonquin, but it wasn't until we got to the West Gate that it began to get heavy.  I got our of the car to get our permit and was told they'd opened the Mew Lake gate house for the weekend so we were to get our permit there.  Mum and Dad were already there, parked at the start of  the trail by the garbage area waiting for us.  They let us know our site was empty...but it was a huge pond.  While Chris set up the inside of the  trailer for six people to sit, I walked to the bathrooms and to find the others since texts weren't getting through.  When I showed up at the parking area, they were gone, so I ran back to the comfort station, then back to the site.

The first thing the kids tell me is that they don't want to stay.  I thought they were joking. But it was chilly and wet and we couldn't actually find a place to put the trailer that didn't mean stepping out into 2 inches of water, so even though they had boots, they weren't keen on staying.  Mum and Dad weren't big on it either. As we discussed it, I was standing in the rain, getting wetter and wetter, and they all sat in the warm, dry cab of my Dad's truck.  Needless to say I gave in rather than stand there for too long.

As I was talking to them, Chris was trying to reposition the trailer onto a bit of higher ground.  He managed to succeed, sort of, and then when he went to unhook the trailer from the car, the key for the lock that he uses on the hitch snapped off, leaving us with no way to disconnect the trailer from the car.  This left us essentially stuck at the campground unless we wanted to haul the Boler with us, which we didn't.  It wasn't a big deal.  We had planned to run to Whitney and grab a few last minute things for dinner, but since it would be just Chris and I, we didn't really need extra food.  We'd have to make a run there on our way out to gas up but that was a problem for the following day.

flooded section of trail between the bridge and the rail trail
Since we were already soaked, and Biscuit was driving us nuts being cooped up in the trailer, we decided to just go for a walk.  We had our sneakers on still, and there was a good foot or two of snow on the ground in spots.  After snapping a few shots of a pine martin near the garbage area, we headed off down the trail.  The plan was to head across the air field, then cross the river at the bridge, head to the right down the railway tracks and come back via the backpacking trail and track and tower trail.

When we got to the bridge, we saw how high the water was compared to when we had paddled through in August.  We decided to explore further down the rail trail so turned to the left and continued to where the trail runs very close to the shore of Lake of Two Rivers.  Mostly this was to see how thick the ice still was, and it looked pretty solid.  We turned around and continued on to where the Highland Backpacking trail crosses, and turned down it to loop back to Mew Lake.  The solid part of the trail was only about six inches wide.  Anything on either side of that was soft and meant you would sink about 2 feet down into a few inches of icy slush. We didn't make it very far before Biscuit tugged Chris to the side and he went through the soft stuff.  Not long after that and we came to a part of the trail where the river had flooded up over, blocking our way, so we turned around and headed back to the airfield.

Now cold and hungry, we got back to camp and changed into dry socks, pants and warm boots, then Chris set about rigging up a bit of a shelter for the dutch oven.  Our Easter dinner plan had been to make beans and biscuits.  The meal usually feeds 6 with leftovers, so I had to cut back a bit in order to not have a huge pile of food go to waste.  It was yummy and very filling.

Beans and Biscuits - Yum!
Cleaning the dutch oven proved a little challenging as usual, especially since it kept drizzling on and off and I was concerned with the outside of the pot getting wet then rusting.

After dinner, we walked around the campground a bit, then headed back to camp for an early night.  We were both tired after several days of long hours at work, and our earlier hike.  Walking in snow that is solid one minute then collapses under you the next takes a lot out of a person!

Biscuit snuggled himself in between us and we had a great night's sleep.  The fireplace worked very well when it didn't have to try and combat temperatures in the -20s.

Flooded approach to the bridge over Madawaska
The next morning, we made bagels with the toaster oven like we did on our last trip.  This time we didn't have to thaw them first, which was nice.  Since we were in no real rush to get home, we decided to go back out again for another hike, this time going our usual way - head out past the garbage area and turn right onto the track and tower off shoot, then left onto the backpacking trail to the bridge.  The trail was much harder going than it had been a few weeks previous.  A lot of melting had taken place since our last trip and like the day before, we sank through several deceptively solid parts of the trail.  There were a few places where we had to build temporary bridges with downed branches because the whole trail had a creek running through it.

As we got closer to where the two trails cross, I saw that the water level was very high, as high as it had been a few years back when there was so much flooding.  And sure enough, when we turned onto the backpacking trail, we were stopped several meters from the bridge by rushing water.  The two sections of wooden platform were washed into their current position a few years ago, and were never put back into their proper place.  The water there was at least a couple feet deep.

Disappointed we turned around and headed back to camp.  With nothing left to do, we packed up and headed back to my parents house to get the kids and head home.  It was a little disappointing, having the kids back out on the trip, but sometimes it's nice to have some camping time to ourselves as well.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Trip Log: Frost Centre: Margaret Lake to Three Island Lake, July 4-5, 2017 (aka The First Hellish Portage We Experienced)

I'm going to get blamed for this trip for years to come, I can tell.  We started out planning to put in at Canoe Lake in Algonquin and go into either Teepee Lake or Little Doe Lake for two nights, but then I got to thinking about how the first portage out of Canoe Lake is so busy.  Biscuit with a lot of strangers?  Hmmm maybe not such a good idea.  So I studied the maps and decided that we could put in at Magnetawan Access and portage in for a few nights on Ralph Bice Lake.  It looked nice, it had good number of available sites still, and I'd seen pictures of some of the sites and they looked like they had actual sand beaches.

I waffled back and forth between doing two nights on one lake or the first on Ralph Bice, then a second night on Little Trout Lake, but in the end, decided to just relax for the day.  When I went to book it, on the day before we intended to go, I was greeted with an error message saying the reservation didn't meet the required window?  I was confused, but a little digging into the regulations revealed that Algonquin's interior requires you book by 9pm two days before your intended arrival.  I'd had no idea!

So I had to regroup again.  We had thought we would go to the Frost Centre on the way back and do an easy night on a little lake, so Chris suggested we just flip it.  Do a night at the Frost centre, then head up to Magnetawan Access.  I went back to the maps, now actually kind of excited because doing it this way meant we were already part way up to the Algonquin Access which should give us a head start for getting to a good site.  Since we would book a Frost Centre site, based on a specific site rather than a lake, there was less rush to get out the door (which turned out to be a good thing, since we were still not fully packed, despite having the whole previous day to find and prepare things.)

I had picked out a few sites that were easy to get to.  No big lakes to cross, no long portages. I had originally thought about a couple of the sites right on St. Nora Lake, but Chris vetoed those, saying he wanted to get at least off the access lake.

The kids tent at Three Island Lake, Frost Centre
I showed him pictures and he really liked the little island site on Three Island Lake.  I warned him the portage was a bit longer than what we had done, but he said he'd be fine.  Since we were taking two canoes, he'd be portaging both while the plan was for me to take both the big packs, while the kids took their packs.

We didn't get much of an early start, but the paddle across Margaret Lake was quick and we pulled up to the portage ready to go.

The first issue was the mud.  After a short but easy climb we got to a section of the trail where the mud was thick, deep and swarming with mosquitoes.  We managed to bushwhack around without much trouble but the bugs followed us along the trail.  After another minute or two, we reached a logging road.  It was at this point that Chris set down the one canoe, in a clearing just off the road and went back to get the yellow pack.  (We quickly realized I couldn't even lift the bigger of our two packs...some rethinking on how we distribute items will have to be done.) Also, we met up with two men who were coming out of Three Island, and Chris wanted to make sure we hadn't blocked off the put in for them.

Shortly after we crossed the road, we came to a stand still.  With mosquitoes and black flies (and deer flies probably) like a cloud around us, the kids and I stared at a whole lot of recently downed trees.  So recent, in fact, the leaves hadn't even started to wilt.   The whole area looked like a tornado had gone through in the past, but there were a lot of really recent, really big trees blocking the trail.  We dropped our packs and scouted around for a sign of where others had went.  Finally, we scooted around a wall made by a trees roots, ducked under a fallen tree, and then climbed over a few...and we were home free...except then the trail went through more mud, a lot of raspberry bushes and a nice big patch of ferns, all of which were havens for even more mosquitoes.  As the lake came into view, the underbrush thinned out and we got a bit of breeze to keep them away but that only thinned them out a little.  Chris came back a minute later with the pack, then headed back for the canoe he'd brought part way in.  We ended up launching it with the kids gear and letting them paddle out onto the lake so they were at least out of the bugs while Chris and I went back for the last items (the second canoe and the food bag)
Biscuit contemplating a swim to escape the bugs

Chris was dripping sweat and blood by the time we got everything into the canoes on Three Island.  He was also cursing a bit.  Nobody was happy, knowing we would be enduring that portage again the next day.  Even the sight of the cute little island site we would be camping on, didn't cheered us up.

Chris and Squatch went for a swim.  Bubbie was going to but then we spotted a leech, so she changed her mind.  I got started on supper.  On a previous trip I had taken a box of Beef Taco hamburger helper and instead of adding hamburger, added peppers, beans, lentils and corn.  This time, I didn't even bother adding the seasoning packet since I'd dried a can of Chili spiced diced tomatoes.  I did add a few tablespoons of nutritional yeast to give it a cheesy texture, but don't tell them!  So basically I bought a box of Hamburger Helper...just for the pasta...might have to rethink that one for future trips...anyway the meal was really good...though there wasn't quite enough since I sort of spilled a little bit on the ground.

Early morning on Three Island Lake
When we arrived at the site, Chris was surprised to see a stack of firewood sitting beside the fire pit.  We got a fire going to help drive off the bugs, though they weren't as bad in the middle of the lake.  Since we hadn't gotten a very early start, the sun was getting low, and once it sank behind the trees, the bugs came out more aggressively, so we doused the fire and settled into bed.  None of us were looking forward to the next day.

I woke early.  I'm not sure what time exactly, but Biscuit figured it was time to get up, so I crawled out of the tent with him, taking along the cameras.  The lake was glass and there was a little bit of wispy fog dancing along it's surface.  I love mornings like this, and it kind of bums be out that everyone else sleeps through this beautiful time of day.  I'm pretty much always alone, waiting for everyone else to pop their heads out of the tents.

I watched a few loons circle the island, and a few birds flit around the trees above me.  It was relaxing, and yet  I was anxious too.  I knew once everyone else got up, we'd be heading back to that portage, and it was already getting hot.

This is the third island, where a campsite used to be
We opted not to make breakfast, though the option of granola bars was there for everyone.  Since we were heading to the Magnetawan Access in Algonquin for two nights, I wanted to get an early start and I knew if we waited until I made breakfast and cleaned up, we would be very late getting there.

So we packed up and headed back onto the water.  The trip back was just as miserable as the trip in had been.  Poor Chris had to make three trips, I made two.  After the first trip, I loaded the kids and a few of the packs into the canoe and told them to paddle out a bit like they had on the way in.  This kept them out of the bugs but it also left them sitting in the hot sun.  Chris had thought it would be a good idea to put one of the rain coats on, since the sleeves are elastic, and bugs wouldn't be crawling up his arms.  It worked, but by the time he got back with his third load, he was sweating so much it literally looked like he'd just poured a bottle of water down his shirt.  It was kind of scary and I was a bit worried about him.   We loaded up quickly and headed for the car where there were two bottles of sports drink (which were miraculously cold...)

We all agreed the site was cool but we wouldn't be coming back again until the portage was cleared and the bugs had died off.

The following week, Chris and I were driving back from Dorset and noticed a great deal of fresh blowdown in the area just north of Margaret Lake.  My parents had told us that a few days after this trip, they got a really bad storm, so we weren't sure when these trees feel, in the same storm that knocked trees across the portage, or the storm a few days later.  Either way, the area got hit pretty good with wind lately, so hopefully the people responsible for maintaining the routes will be out clearing the trails soon.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Trip Log: Algonquin Provincial Park, Mew Lake, March 13-14, 2017

I hate admitting to have given up.  For a while, I considered writing this trip log as if we had stayed the second night, but I hate the thought of lying even more, so here it is, we wussed out and headed home a day early.

There were multiple reasons for this, but I'll get to that later in the trip report.

We arrived at the West Gate at 4:30pm, half an hour after they closed.  I knew they were closed but I suggested to Chris we stop in and see if there were further instructions posted for people with reservations arriving late.  As I was reading the sheet on getting self serve permits for people without reservations, the woman working the gate house saw me and let me in.  Bonus!  This meant we wouldn't have to drive back out and pick up the permit in the morning.

Not long after we arrived at Mew Lake.  I had promised everyone I hadn't picked a site that was right at the bathrooms, but when we got there, the site we had, was pretty much right across the road from the comfort station.  I swear, when I was booking it, it looked further down the road...  Anyway, the kids hid in the car while we got the electric fire place going, but everything in the Boler was cold because we had been getting temps of -21 for the past several days at home.  The cushions that make up the larger bed actually had ice under them and were frozen to the fibreglass.  It looks like this spring we are going to have to do a lot of work on the little camper, because water is clearly getting in somewhere.

We have two pieces of an old 2 inch thick foam mattress topper that Chris and I put on our bed to make it a bit bigger since I tend to fall off the outside edge a lot, especially with the dog.  Normally we can roll them up and stuff them in the compartments under our bed, but they were so frozen stiff (and a bit wet in a few spots) that they wouldn't roll, so we ended up having to store them in the car while the bed was set up as a table.  While we were setting up though, Chris put them on the roof of the car.  Yeah, we are the super classy campers...

Also the super unprepared campers.  I realized the morning we left that I must have donated my old winter coat or tossed it.  This left me with a not-warm-at-all pea coat, or a bush jacket.  I chose the bush jacket because it at least could close up higher on my chest.  So yeah, there we are surrounded by people in nice, warm parkas and I'm wearing a bush jacket I got on sale at Giant Tiger.

We got the kids into the trailer, but the fireplace was really struggling to warm the place up.  It was -21 according to the weather report posted in the laundry room.  Thankfully there was no wind, as the trailer is less than perfect when it comes to drafts.

While everyone else sat in the relative warmth of the Boler, I braved the cold and made dinner, sloppy joes and instant mashed potatoes.  Normally, we would butter and toast buns in a frying pan, but with only two burners, and it being so cold, I knew I couldn't toast enough for us all in one batch.  Since we wanted to all eat together, we settled on mashed potato.  The kids were't impressed with them though.  Also, we could have made the sloppy joes with toast.  Chris had the idea of bringing our toaster oven from home.   We figured if it worked out well enough, we'd buy a little one that was just for in the Boler.

After dinner was cleaned up, we started to play a game of Sequence when Squatch started to get a stomach ache.  I walked over to the comfort station with him and waited for him to finish.  We picked up the game again, and a few minutes later, again, he got bad stomach cramps.  So again, I walked him over and this time waited in the laundry room.  I'd be able to hear if anyone flushed and could pop my head out to see if it was him, but otherwise I'd stay warm.  While I was there, I saw the Environment Canada weather report and saw that the next day was supposed to be just as cold but very windy on top of it.  My stomach dropped.  When I'd booked the trip, a few days before we'd left, I had checked the weather.  At home. we'd been getting a lot of days of -20 and strong winds, but the reports for Algonquin looked a lot nicer, closer to -11 and sunny.  I had a feeling nobody was going to be happy the next day.

After the second bathroom trip, we got back and the game was packed up and Chris was setting up the beds.  This is such a chore, and involves a lot of shuffling, frustration and complaining.  Eventually we all got into bed and everyone read for a little bit, then we turned off the lights and called it a night.

Squatch woke up around 4 and got out of bed to check the time, he also told me he was very cold.  I realized he had a t-shirt on and no socks, even though I'd given him a nice dry wool pair after he was in bed so he wouldn't get them wet walking on the Boler floor.  After a brief argument, I got him to put his sweater into his sleeping bag for a minute, then to put it on.  The next morning both kids had said they were cold through the night.  This was the point I started thinking maybe we should head home early.  I knew if they'd been cold when there had been no wind, they'd be miserable with cold wind whipping in through the gaps around the door.

We made our bagels, which had frozen solid over night.  We had to run them through a toast cycle to thaw them enough to cut in half, then toast them  We also had a box of corn pops that we just handed around.  I made coffee and hot chocolate, but the wind was picking up a bit and kept blowing the stove out.  I admit to being a little depressed at this point.  It seemed like nobody was having fun, and we were likely to end up sitting in the trailer all day reading or playing on phones/ipads.  Luckily, Chris got everyone dressed and insisted we do a short hike to the water fall.

There were protests.  Neither of the kids wanted to go outside at all, but we talked them into it, and headed out to the start of the trail.  When we got to the garbage area, I saw some movement and we realized there was a pine martin in the tree.  We spent quite a while taking pictures and then another one showed up.  They chased each other around for a while then scampered off out of sight.

We made our way to the bridge along the backpacking trail, and stopped to photograph a gray jay who was curious about us.  Normally we just head back, but we decided to continue on along the backpacking trail for a little ways.  The kids started to complain a bit, but kept going.  After a few minutes, we came to the rail trail.  I tried to check the map on my phone and the battery, which had been full when we left, died almost instantly.  We ventured to the right for a little ways, then came back and went to the left.  When we went to the left, we came across a sign for the Bike trail with a map, and I realized we were close to the bridge that you would cross if you were taking the Old Railway Bike Trail.  We opted to cross there and head back over the airfield and back to camp.

We decided to head to the visitor centre for lunch, mostly just as a way to warm up.  On the way back to Mew Lake we stopped at the Spruce Bog Board Walk Trail to try feeding the birds.  Squatch wouldn't keep his gloves on, because no birds would land on them, and I was starting to get worried and irritated.  My hands were frozen with gloves on, so I knew his had to be even worse.  We weren't getting many birds anyway, so we headed back to the car and tried a bit more there.

I was trying to get everyone to get back into the car when I looked towards the trail and saw a fox just sitting there watching us.  My first thought was that it was kind of odd behaviour, so I ushered Squatch back down from the snowbank he was standing on.  The fox calmly walked around the car, came within 5 or 6 feet of us and began eating all the birdseed previous visitors had tossed around.

A little cold, but in good spirits, we headed back to the Boler and turned on the fireplace again.  Crackers were handed around and I headed back outside into the cold to make dinner.  I had planned to make a sort of tex mex thing over rice.  Basically it was canned beans, corn, green chilies and tomatoes thrown together into a pot.  Unfortunately, all the canned items were frozen solid.  I was able to scrape most of them out, but that meant that the corn and beans weren't drained and so I had to boil them longer so the meal wasn't all soupy.  With the temps now dropping, and the wind whipping through camp and blowing out the stove every little while, it seemed to take forever to get the food hot, let alone have it boil down a bit.

Eventually, we were all cozy in the trailer eating and I brought up the possibility of going home.  It was around this time that the stove stopped working.  Chris went out and checked the plug and it turned out the switch on the electrical hub had kicked off.  Not a big deal but in the middle of the night?

Nobody argued against going home, but my big concern was that Chris would make fun of me the whole time.  It was about 7pm and already we were cold, even with the fireplace pumping out heat.  So we called it, did a quick lock down of the stray gear, and got back into the car to head home.

All in all, I don't regret going, nor do I regret leaving early.  The trip proved to be a valuable learning experience for us.  We now know that the Boler needs a bit of work done before we can comfortably camp in very cold weather.   But we saw lots of wildlife, and had a good time.  We were able to leave on a good note rather than in the morning when everyone had spent a miserable night, which would have left us all with a negative impression of the trip.  Now, when we look back we will remember that, yes it was really cold, but we saw two pine martin, a fox and had a great time.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Trip Log: Algonquin Provincial Park: Cache Lake to Little Island Lake, August 24-25, 2016

I have to ask, are there any other campers out there who are as bad at planning a trip as us?  The morning of this trip, we had packed up our Boler from 2 nights at Oastler Lake Provincial Park, and then taken the kids to my parents house.  The plan (if you can call it that) was for Chris and I to head out for one or two nights of canoe camping.

Now, the problem with not planning ahead for a canoe trip in the summer in Algonquin is that you end up with very few lakes that you can get to with a late start, that still have sites available.  At first we'd thought maybe we'd put in at Canoe Lake and head up to Little Doe, but when we got to my parents to recheck availability, Little Doe was booked up.

So we set out, having decided to skip Algonquin and head to the Frost Centre.  It would be a shorter drive, and we could pick a site and be assured we were getting something decent (or as sure as you can be from the pictures on the reservations website.)

The whole drive up, I was reevaluating, and as we pulled into the office for the Haliburton Water Trails, I suddenly decided I'd much rather go to Algonquin.  My reasons were mostly due to our planned destination in the Frost Centre, Nunikani Lake.  My Mum had paddled there in high school as part of the school's outer's club, and had loved it.  It had always been on my list of places to go, but with Biscuit being so nutty in the canoe, and knowing we'd have to cross Big Hawk Lake, which was a pretty big lake but also well populated with cottages, the idea of struggling on a long paddle, on a windy day...with didn't appeal to me at all.  We were already getting a late start, and forecast of rain, I think we made the right call.

So we settled on Little Island Lake, via Cache Lake.  We set out under gloomy skies, at about 5pm.

The paddle in was nice.  There was a bit of wind but nothing we couldn't handle.  I take the brunt of Biscuit's enthusiasm as he likes to put his front paws up on my seat and peer over my shoulder.  When the wind is in his face, it's like he's going for a ride in a really slow car.  Of course this hinders my paddling a bit, and when he bites at the water I end up with a soaked back, but we haven't been able to get him to just sit calmly in the canoe.  For a while, we thought if we took him out enough he'd get more calm but after 3 years of car rides, he still goes crazy every time, so I'm not holding out hope things will change on their own in the canoe either.

Paddling past the island campsite on Tanamakoon, we saw a father and three young girls fishing.  All the other sites on this end of the lake looked to be taken, but we were headed further in, and so kept on, past Camp Tanamakoon, through the narrows and around the corner to our first portage.  It was a short one, only 120m, and had a nice sandy landing with only a few rocks to watch out for.  There was a short hill then the rest of the trail was level.  Chris carried the canoe while I carried the lighter pack and all the loose items (paddles, camera stuff, solar panel) then he came back for the bigger pack.  I admit I felt bad about that.  The plan was for him to carry the canoe and the light pack while I carried the big one so we wouldn't have to do multiple trips.  I'll have to get into better shape over the winter, because I could barely lift the big pack out of the canoe!

At the end of the trail, Chris got a little concerned.  "This is the lake?"  I forget sometimes that he doesn't spend as much time looking over maps as I do.  Not only that, he was driving and listening to me rattle off possibilities and so it would be easy for him to jumble up all the "portage into this lake" stuff I was saying.

At the portage - Sheriff Pond to Little Island Lake
After I assured him that Sheriff Pond wasn't our destination for the night, we loaded up and headed out for the very short crossing.  The next portage was directly across the pond, and it was easy to find given the trail cut through lily pads.  Unfortunately the take out was not fun.  First you paddle around a fallen log, presenting you with two possible places to put the canoe, separated by another fallen log.  Both are riddled with rocks, and surrounded by black, stinky mud.  Biscuit tried to hop onto the log and ended up getting muddy right away.  As Chris and I were trying to figure out the best way to get to dry land without sinking to our knees in muck, Biscuit kept hopping in and out of the canoe and got absolutely everything we owned streaked with black.

Chris finally got him to shore and tied him to a tree, so we could unload the canoe.

The trail wasn't tougher than the first portage.  It wasn't bad, but it starts with a fairly steep hill, then keeps going at a lower grade.  For someone who isn't in great shape, it involved a fair few stops to catch my breath, where as Chris just powered through it without so much as a gasp.

Little Island Lake has two options for putting your canoe back in the water.  When the trail branches, if you go straight, you'll come to the official put in (where the sign is.)  This is a nice sandy beach, but there are several big rocks to watch for.  The unofficial put in, takes the short trail to the left and has a sandy area next to an old log jam.  The climb down is a little big steeper, but there are no rocks to contend with.

Being at our destination lake, with the sun quickly setting and the skies looking like they might open up at any minute, we were pretty eager to make camp.  The mainland site was taken, so we paddled around the island, knowing there should be at least 2 sites available.  From the put in we went to the right, and the first island site we came to was available but involved climbing up an incredibly steep hill.  I wouldn't even call it a hill, it was an almost perfectly vertical climb up a pine needle covered dirt wall.  We couldn't see the site itself very well, though it looked like there was a decent clearing.  We moved on, and saw that the next site looked nice, but was already taken.

The third site was empty, and we decided to take it.  It was a nice site, with a large open area and a few nice sheltered spots for the tent.  It even had a table which had seen better days.  If it had been better weather, we probably would have swam.  Chris did consider it but it was getting dark, and we had to get camp set up and start dinner.

We set up the tent beneath the cover of two big cedar trees.  Biscuit is getting better at not walking all over the tent as we try and set it up, but it still has a few muddy paw prints on it.  We were actually hoping it would rain a bit so we could see how well the new MEC Camper 4 holds up in bad weather.

Stew rehydrating
With darkness closing in, and not wanting to clean up in pitch black, I didn't let the food sit as long as it should have.  I'd made a stew with beans, butternut squash and corn, and it was still fine, but a few of the squash pieces were a little chewy.  I'll be honest though, I couldn't taste a darn thing.  As much as I really wanted to be canoe camping, there was a part of me that wished Chris had agreed to just set up at a campground for a night or two because I really felt like crap.  Summer colds are such a pain.

After cleaning up, Chris got a bear rope hung and secured our food and then scouted for wood  Surprisingly, for an island campsite, he was able to find a decent number of small branches on the ground and using 2 of my precious tissues as starter, we enjoyed a brief fire before turning in.

I didn't sleep much.  Part of this was because of my cold.  By the time we went to bed, I was down to 3 tissues and I was trying to conserve them.  The toilet paper we'd brought had been a small, partial roll, so it wouldn't last long either, and I didn't want to use it up incase we needed it for it's normal purpose.  So between not being able to breath, and listening for night life, I mostly tossed and turned all night.  On the plus side, Biscuit was refreshingly calm.  Usually he paces and sucks on our sleeping bags until they are a slobbery mess, but he slept quite well on the bed of clothes Chris made for him, though at some point he got up and flopped across our feet.

It was a warm night.  I spent most of it on top of my sleeping bag, especially once I had a furry foot warmer.

By morning, we hadn't had the expected rain or storms.  Part of me was grateful we weren't packing up a wet tent, and part of me was a little sad we hadn't really put the it more fully to the test.

Chris got up and retrieved the food bag.  Poor Biscuit went with him and ended up stepping on a sand wasp nest.  He got stung a few times and ran right back to the tent where he licked his wounds.  I put on water for coffee and we ended up eating just apples and some fig bars rather than making up oatmeal.  It didn't take us long to break camp and head back out on the water.

As we rounded the island, we decided to check out the last island site and were surprised it was empty.  It didn't look bad, but we liked ours better.  We could see people at both parts of the portage, and decided to hold back and let them get on the water before we got too close.  One group looked to be day trippers in three canoes, possibly from the lodge on Cache Lake.  The other was a family with two canoes and 3 or 4 little girls.

Before we left, I had decided to use the day pack I'd brought along to carry all the little items, leaving us with a much easy portage.  During our packing, we had thought we'd do two nights and spend a day exploring, so I'd brought my new little MEC day pack.  I stowed the goPro and the solar panel in it and that made a huge difference.  Now we had three packs, the paddles and a Pelican case.  I was able to carry the two smaller packs and the camera, Chris carried the big pack and then went back for the canoe where he'd lashed the paddles.  Not only was it much easier not having my hands full of little items, it meant less to worry about losing at the start or end of a portage.  Now if only we could get the weight of the big pack down...

We also got smart about loading and unloading the boat.  At the muddy end of the trail at Sheriff Pond, Chris got the canoe in place, then I brought him the packs.  Since Biscuit follows Chris like a shadow, he stayed in the canoe and didn't once jump out.  This made the process so much less stressful and we were quickly on our way again.

We didn't run into anyone on the way out, and after a brief tour of the back part of Tanamakoon, we headed back to the car. Both of us were tired and starving, and Chris really wanted to swim so we went east and stopped at the Two River's Store for snacks and cold drinks (which weren't really cold at all) and then to the Two River's Picnic Area to swim.

All in all, a good, albeit brief trip.  We learned a few things and came up with some ideas for lightening our load a bit more.  We'd brought our cold weather sleeping bags, which aren't any bigger than our normal bags, but they are a bit heavier.  I just didn't want to risk being wet and cold all night again like on our trip to Tanamakoon, and since it was calling for rain...

We plan to make a smaller mess kit for when it's just the two of us as well.  Also, we took far too much food, again because we had originally thought we'd be going for two nights.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Trip Log: Oastler Lake Provincial Park - August 22-24, 2016

Sunday night before our vacation started, we still hadn't decided what we were going to do.  I wanted to do a longer back country trip, the kids suddenly decided they were afraid of canoe camping, and wanted to just relax in the Boler, and Chris seemed to have no opinion on the subject at all.

After scoping out all the possible trips we could do in Algonquin where we could stay on an access lake, or only one portage in, we quickly realized there weren't a lot of sites available that met those requirements, or the portage would be a long one, at which the kids again put their foot down.

Finally we decided to do two nights of Boler camping, then leave the kids to visit my parents, and Chris and I would do two nights of canoe camping...again, not having an actual destination in mind.  At about midnight, we decided to check out Oastler Lake Provincial Park, since there was one waterfront site available and it wasn't ridiculously far to drive (read previous trip logs to hear more about our misadventures towing the Boler over longer distances.)

Packing for two trips, with radically different needs was a bit of a struggle but we were out of the driveway by about 1:30pm, surprisingly in good spirits.  This whole last minute packing for a trip always makes me crabby but I managed to stay up beat this time.  We weren't in a big rush, we had a site booked, and we would be exploring a new park.  All good things.

There was a few minutes of concern as we went through Bala.  There is a place where you turn left and immediately go over some railroad tracks.  In the gap between the tracks, the road has sunk and the trailer hitch bottomed out and sounded like it might have been damaged.  Chris got out and checked it out and all was fine.  This, coincidently, is where the whole hitch ripped off the frame on one side on our aborted trip to Grundy Lake last year.  Once we made it past the little park by the police station, where we'd stopped before and realized the state of the hitch, we all relaxed a little bit.

table with a view: Oastler Lake Provincial Park
We arrived at the site just before dinner time.  Our first impression was that the site was very small and not very private, but what it lacked in those areas, it made up for in scenic views.  We parked the Boler just at the edge of a meter high cliff where a picnic table was perched.  Down the hill was our own little slice of waterfront, where we could launch a canoe or go swimming.  Unfortunately, the whole time we were there it was extremely windy, so we didn't even take the canoe off the roof of the car.

Dinner that night was veggie burgers and salad, which we ate on our table with a view.  The sunset wasn't spectacular, but the stars were bright and many.  After the kids went to bed, Chris and I went down and just enjoyed the peace...I saw a shooting star.

Unfortunately, peace at Oastler Lake is a fleeting thing.  While the campground was surprisingly quiet given how close together the sites were, the trains going by all day and night was anything but tranquil.  For Chris, who had lived for a few months in a town where trains went by that frequently, it was extremely annoying.  For me and the kids, it was kind of a novelty...that made it hard to get a good night's sleep.

Oastler lake has no hiking trails, and with the wind up, we didn't feel like canoeing so we pretty much just relaxed all the next day.  Chris took a nap, played ukulele, and the kids read and drew.  I woke up that morning with a doozy of a cold, so I was quite content to lay in a chair with my feet up and just do nothing.  That worked for a while, but we somehow are down to only two chairs...and guess who also really likes to sit in them and relax...

Can you tell who has pull in this family?
We did walk around the campground and checked out the park.  I took Squatch to the beach, then shortly after we got back, Chris took both kids down for a swim. We saw a water snake sunning itself on the rocks at our site.  I tried to take a picture but it got into the water and then kept poking it's head up at us before swimming away.  It was just one of those trips where you don't do anything...and it was awesome.  In fact, we were so lazy, we ended up driving into Parry Sound for dinner rather than cook.  Okay, part of the reason for this was that in our frenzy of packing, I didn't realized I'd brought pasta for both lunch and dinner.
water snake just off shore at our site

 We actually contemplated staying for another day, but in the end, Chris and I decided we did want to go canoe camping, and so the next morning, after coffee and bagels, we packed up and headed to my parents house to drop off the kids and the Boler.

Our feelings on this trip were a bit mixed.  The park itself was nice, though the sites were small and lacking in privacy.  The trains kept everyone from sleeping, but then again, so did Biscuit.  The comfort stations were great, and there really isn't anywhere that you aren't close to them (maybe the river side lots?)

Some of the river side lots were better for privacy, but calling the little creek a river was stretching it a bit.

I think, over all it was a good trip.  And I think I could convince Chris to go back again, provided he got some ear plugs.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Day Trip: High Falls Trail - Southern Algonquin Park, July 4, 2016

There's a lot of information out there on Algonquin's hiking trails, most of which covers the interpretive trails along the Highway 60 Corridore.  We've done a good chunk of those trails, but not many of the others...come to think of it, we hadn't done any of them before now.  Our trip to Achray a few years back had been too buggy for Mum who has bad reactions to all types of bug bites so we ended up not doing any trails.

My brother, Jeremy's visit had to include some kind of trip to Algonquin.  While he wasn't all that keen on camping, a day trip with good photography opportunities was okay.

The plan was to do the High Falls Trail, near the Kingscote Lake access because neither he, nor my parents had been there before.  The trail is fairly short (about 2km each way) and we hoped it wouldn't be very busy.  We packed a picnic and headed out.

Chris and I had taken the kids to Kingscote for a few nights of camping, so we knew generally where we were going, and finding the parking area for the trail head was pretty easy.  With several pounds of camera gear weighing us down, we got started.

High Falls in Southern Algonquin
The majority of the trail is very easy.  It's flat, not many rocks or roots to trip you up, and is pretty shady.  Once you get to where the trail approaches the river though, things change.  Watch your footing for sure.

There's lots of odd rock formations to photograph, as well as the falls.  Jeremy's new model of iPhone lets you do slow motion video, then set it as your lock screen.  When he holds his finger on the screen, it plays the video.  Mine doesn't do that, but it does let me take slow motion video.
High Falls itself is lovely but stopping to take pictures ended up being very buggy, so we didn't stay as long as we would have liked.  Once back at the cars, we headed to the Kingscote Lake access and had a picnic.  There were no other cars in the parking lot, and nobody at any of the walk in sites.  It being so close to Canada Day we had expected at least some people to be around.

After lunch, we stopped at the Pine Grove Point Campground for ice cream and cold drinks.  Just a nice relaxing day in Algonquin.