Feb 17-18, 2018
Total distance: 5 km
Video Log: Coming soon!
Not far up the trail we found a nice sheltered vale with plenty of standing dead trees to harvest for firewood. We found the flattest spot to pitch out shelter and set about making a nice winter home. We broke up as much of the icy snow as we could, packing down more as we went. I had brought a tarp I usually put down as a footprint for my summer tent in order to keep all the gear visible and out of the snow, it was really useful for this kind of work. Shane’s super shelter went up very quickly and easily, just using a few lengths of paracord it was a ready to go!
After establishing a quick camp, with little more than the shelter established and an area for my stove to be set up we had some coffee and started to get a fire going. This meant we had to spend our time looking up for broken limbs. The best way to find a dead tree versus a hibernating tree is to look for large broken limbs with no new growth near the top. By no means did we want to destroy more than absolutely necessary, especially a live tree. Not only would it be bad for the ecosystem, but green lumber burns terribly!
We gathered a bit of wood after a couple of hot breakfast snacks to warm us up, before heading down the portage we had camped next to. According to Jeff’s map, there’s a lookout over Starling lake. Shane and I have really started to realize there’s so much of the park we haven’t seen because we’re lazy and just hang around the site. So this lookout really appealed to us, and we headed out with everything we needed to enjoy a coffee in the heart of Algonquin Park.
Heading uphill, we traversed a neat ridge before taking a turn north off the highland backpacking trail towards the lookout. In the deep snow heading around 10-foot rocks was slow going, but the view was to die for. Overlooking not only Starling Lake, but also the airfield through which we had trekked earlier the lookout was totally worth the calorie expenditure.
After enjoying the vista over a hot coffee, we turned back down the trail towards our makeshift home. Downhill was much easier. We also turned towards Provoking Lake, which is accessible to canoeists but only has sites for hikers. It’s a bigger lake, and we only took in one bay. The sites we saw seemed overgrown, even for the winter, but I’m sure they’re more than comfy in the summer.
We headed back down the hill across the portage to our little camp. As we got closer to our camp we noted standing dead wood that was ripe for harvesting. We spent the afternoon processing lumber and enjoying the local scenery. As we ate dinner, we pondered our dwindling pile of firewood. In order to have a comfortable sleep through the night, our super shelter needed to have firewood going throughout the night. Without a larger wood pile, we would be facing another frosty night.
Eventually, under the cover of darkness we decided to break camp and head back to our vehicles. We didn’t make the decision lightly, but we decided that the only benefit of staying over would be to say we did it. On the other hand, we would be facing traffic, cold, possible rain, and worse skiing conditions. Camp was struck very quickly and were one the trail to Mew lake within half an hour.
I found skiing a lot easier this time, without the weight of the food it was far simpler to balance. Aside from forgetting my shovel in the Mew Lake parking lot, everything was quite simple in getting back, with darkness hiding the splendor we had seen earlier.
Looking back, there’s a few things I can take away from this experience. As with before, everything is always harder in winter. I think that a heat source that is within reach of your sleeping area is critical if you want to consider hot tenting. Otherwise, you will need a properly vented tent to avoid a frosty morning. Getting off the snow as much as possible also helps, whether it be by logs, cot, or boughs. It was definitely a learning experience, can’t wit to try it again!