Spring trip 2018

May 12-13, 2018
# of portages: 4
Total portage distance: 1110m
Total distance: 10.6km
Video Log:

The annual Vanguard trip is upon us! Permits were being issued on the Friday, and we got in on the Saturday. All week Shane (friend), Gwyn (wife), Ginny (dog), and I were fretting over whether or not we`d all be able to head into Algonquin for a quick shoulder season trip and we were not disappointed. Forecasts of rain gave way to bright sunshine and mild temperatures. We set off from Shane`s house in Kearney early on Saturday, stopping only for a quick bite at the Rise and Grill cafe which stocks the best food for a hungry camper.

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Shane heads out on Magnetewan

The drive in was actually really good. Low snowfall in the winter amounted a relatively smooth drive, no washouts or giant potholes to worry about. We were on Magnetewan shortly after 10am, with Gwyn/Ginny in the front of the Ewok and Shane soloing his red Kipawa. The lake was glassy, and it felt great to be out in the sun after a long spring melt. The going wasn’t silent though, as the woods were alive with avid campers eager to find their first campsite of the canoe season.

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Ice on Hambone Lake

Our first surprise was at the portage between Magnetewan and Hambone lake. Normally barely a blip on the radar, this turned into the hardest portage of the trip due to ice in at the Hambone end. This meant hacking through muddy fescue off the trail in order to get some open water. The highlight was carrying the dog around the mud because she’s little and the mud was ice cold, only for her to jump directly into it when we put her down in the canoe for loading. Once out on Hambone, the going was easy.

On Daisy lake, we paddled past a few intrepid fishermen and made tracks towards the island sites at the east side of the lake. We wanted a protected site, and having an island would allow Ginny to rip around off lead. The nicer site, close to the south end of the island, was occupied but we were happy to see the other site was open. It’s a medium sized and well-used site, with 3 good tent pads and a thunderbox waaay up a hill, bvut within sight of the fire pit. There is next to no hardwood lying around either, even with a windstorm and few campers on the prowl.

As we had some coffee/tea and waited for the afternoon sun, we explored the island and slowly set up camp. There was no rush, it wasn’t even noon yet. Chasing the dog around the island was fun for a bit, but she started disturbing the other camps (sorry Sandy!), so we put her on a long lead for most of the afternoon. By mid-afternoon we’d had our KD lunch and Gwyn was content in the hammock with her book and the dog, so Shane and I went out fishing. It wasn’t the most productive trip, but Shane managed to pull a splake out. Pretty fish!

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Shane’s trout

Back at camp the sun was quickly dipping below the treeline due to our proximity to the western shore, and the temperature followed it. As beautiful a day we could ask for was quickly turning to a mid-May night. We lit the fire and set about warming a coal bed for chicken dinner. Fun fact about cedar, it just disintegrates instead of turning to coal! This makes for a terrible heat supply for cooking, but we managed it despite the ashes (extra toppings). As the night got darker and the temps plummeted we turned in once our lumber started to dwindle, as we wanted to make sure there was plenty left over for the next morning.

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Dusk closing in

Sure enough it was a cold night, with the mercury playing with 0c. The next morning was a brisk, but sunny awakening. I quickly got coffee/tea going and the fire stoked up, taking time to figure out that this was probably why there was no early morning fishing occuring around the lake. As we ate breakfast of eggs, bacon, and cheese on a wrap the wind started to pick up. By the time we had everything taken down, there were white caps rolling along the south eastern section of the lake. We decided it would be best to put Shane, Gwyn, and Ginny in Shane’s bigger boat while I took the Ewok up myself.

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Together in Algonquin

To be completely honest, aside from the first 300m which I had to set my jaw and just power through, it was a doddle. The breeze quickly became manageable and the whole way back was as nice a paddle as I’ve ever had. I even got recognized from my Youtube channel on the Hambone-Daisy portage! What’s even better, the wind and weather had thawed the ice on Hambone’s portage which made the out very easy.

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Heading out on Sunday

Everything considered, the weather was the real star of the weekend. It was supposed to rain, but a pressure system kept that water over Toronto instead. The distance was perfect too. Not too far that it was draining to get to, and not too short that we may as well have car camped at Mew Lake. Hands down, this was one of the best Vanguard trips we’ve had.

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Winter Camping 2018

Feb 17-18, 2018
Total distance: 5 km
Video Log:

Well, we tried it again.  Shane and I have a complicated relationship with winter, and hot tenting didn’t really jive with us this year.  Instead Shane spent a few weeks developing his own “Super Shelter” that we saw in use online.  The basic principle involves Mylar reflecting infrared heat into a closed shelter with a fire raging all night.  As with all aspects of winter camping, this was not as easy as we had hoped.
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All ahead forwards, to adventure!

Our journey started at the Mew Lake campground, which was hosting a plethora of winter activities for the long weekend.  Hot tents, igloos, animal tracking, fun for the whole family!  Past the hockey rink stood a path through the old airfield.  Abandoned in the 60s to let nature reclaim it, the airfield is one of the easiest to access relics of Algonquin and definitely worth a wander through.  We however were bound more eastward, along the old railbed towards Lake of Two Rivers.  We turned south along the portage to Provoking Lake and headed uphill.
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Algonquin’s old airfield

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!

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The beginnings of a campsite

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!

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Night 1, roaring fire

I don’t know if it was luck or skill, but we got some amazing lumber.  We processed it all down, and spent the day making sure we would be warm and comfortable for the night.  With the fire stoked up and the mylar lining reflecting all infrared heat down on us we crawled into our winter sleeping bags enjoying the pleasant warmth of the shelter.  I didn’t even wear my “sleeping toque” which I’ve found necessary in August.  We were very enthusiastic regarding the shelter.
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Morning, waiting for the sun to hit us

Well, it seems the super shelter needs a fire to keep warm, otherwise it becomes a fridge.  My bag kept me mostly warm, but it took me a while to find my hat.  Once that was on, life was pretty good.  Shane on the other hand was in trouble.  His bag wasn’t properly sealed and without boughs under the thin tarp his body heat leached straight into the ground.  Combined with the frost over our heads when we woke up, Shane was one cold cat.  Coffee helped.
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Lake of Two Rivers to Provoking portage

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.

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Provoking Lake

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.

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Lake of Two Rivers at dusk

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!

Hilly Lake

Sept 13-15, 2017
# of portages: 6
Total portage distance: 2890m
Total distance: 20.0km
Video Log:

My sister decided to get married at Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville, and being so close to the West Gate of Algonquin a plan was hatched. She was getting married on the 16th, and I was required to be there for the evening of the 15th. I took the Wed-Fri stretch off before the wedding so Shane and I could take a mid-week jaunt into the bush. Shane picked out the lone site on Hilly Lake as a destination because it was isolated and in the midst of some black-line portages. This trip would be a bit more of an adventure than the other trips we’d been on in Algonquin.

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Heading out on Park Lake next to Hwy 60

We met at the West Gate where we would be picking up our permits. It was unseasonably hot, and I was already regretting bringing so much fall gear. The leaves were turning, but it was already north of 15 degrees by 8am. Gathering our stuff into one vehicle, we trundled back along Hwy 60 until we were juuuuussst out of the park and found a spot to leave our vehicle by a snow plow turnaround which was marked on Jeff’s Map. I have to say I was a little worried about leaving the car right on the major highway like that, but it was no worse for wear by the end. It was on a short portage around a culvert, so we were basically right on the water.

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At the beginning of the last portage into Hill Lake

We set out onto Park Lake with high spirits.  We had no reason to see anybody else on our trip and it was through a part of the park we had found excitingly little in the way of information.  There was a very shallow bit between Park and Snow lakes, where I had to put a boot in the water and skateboard-scoot out boat forwards, but other than that it was clear and easy paddling.

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Hilly Lake from our site

Our first portage was a short doddle, nothing too crazy but definitely not a highway like on Canoe Lake.  Our biggest hurdle of the day was finding the portage from Greenwood Lake to Shawandasee lake.  On Jeff’s map, the portage is right on the point on the east end of the island, but after 30-odd minutes bushwacking around that point, we decided the best route would be to head to the southern roads and travel along that quickly while avoiding any traffic with extreme caution.  As we headed for the south-eastern shore, lo and behold we saw a hodge-podge of a sign hidden bag down a short path.  This path was one of the best portages I’ve ever been on.  Level, wide, and straight we made it down there in 20 minutes.  So much better than bushwacking!

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Fishing wasn’t bad

Aside from a few beaver dams here and there, and a bit of creek navigation, it’s not hard to get to Hilly Lake.  Let me tell you, it’s worth it to get there too!  The lake isn’t very scenic like Booth Lake is, and you can still hear roadways in the morning when all is still, plus there’s a ton of large animal activity around, but the site is nice and the fishin’ is bitchin’!  Our site could easily accommodate 3 tents, and there was a cold little stream a short walk down the beach to grab water.  Someone had brought in aircraft cable and set it up as a mainline for tarps if you needed one.  The thunderbox was stable and clean.  It was nothing like I imagined our little camp in the middle of nowhere-Algonquin to be like.

Good, wide, flat site

The fishing was great too!  Bass of all sort and perch.  Nothing I had read said that, so you heard it here first.  Hilly Lake might have trout in the spring, but in the early fall, come set for hungry bass.  All times of day they were biting, and we didn’t have to go too far to find them.

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Sunset

We passed the time idly, there was no good spot for swimming unfortunately, but we took a trip upstream to Bluebell lake.  It’s a pretty little lake and there’s rumors of a site opening there next year, but it’s tough to get to.  Lots of lift-overs and beaver dams as you go against the current.  I wouldn’t suggest making a slog from the west to turn around here.  Our food was good and quick; chicken burritos with a pre-made rice mix, eggs and bacon, pepperette wraps, beef kabobs with instant mashed potatoes and rehydrated corn, and “just add water” pancakes.  Very good, filling, and fresh.

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Snow lake, our last portage of the day on the way out

Heading out was very easy, as we knew exactly what we were looking forwards to and we were going with the current in the squeezed rivers.  We got back to the car which was no worse for wear and headed off to my sisters wedding.  A shower was very well received by myself, and the people who were in my general vicinity.  Hilly Lake, wonderful little trip!

Smoke Lake to Parkside Bay

July 15-16, 2017
# of portages: 2
Total portage distance: 480m
Total distance: 23.4km
Video Log:

Sometimes you can only get out for a night, and sometimes that’s all you really need. Just one day in the sun, where you can go swimming and fishing without a care in the world except when to eat dinner.

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Shane gets ready to head across Smoke Lake

Such was the case this weekend. Between work and life, it looks like I won’t be able to head out on a properly organized trip from until (gulp) September, so I fit this in when the opportunity arose. Joining me was Shane, my wife Gwyn, and our little dog Ginny. This wouldn’t just be the dogs first time camping, but her first time in a canoe at all! We were decidely excited and a bit nervous as we unloaded gear from out car at the Smoke lake put in.

Smoke lake is a gigantic, one of the biggest bodies of water I’ve had to paddle in Algonquin so far. We were lucky that it was water, calm, and inviting as we pushed off from the boat launch which services the cottages that dot the lake. I should also note here, before I go any further, that while picking up permits at the park office I was recognized again from my Youtube videos and postings on the Algonquin Adventure forums. It’s always a treat to see that people actually look at these ramblings, if you see an off-red canoe with an Ewok on the front, feel free to say hi!

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Ginny isn’t entirely sure about canoeing, but she likes boats!

Anyways, back to Smoke Lake. We paddled south, with Gwyn wrangling the dog (who was doing fine in her new experience), and Shane soloing his long red canoe. The portage was initially steep but well-trodden going up about 3 flights worth of stairs in the first 100m. Once you’re over the hill, you’re basically at the beach head of Ragged Lake.

Ragged Lake is a very pretty, medium-sized lake of many bays. There are islands made of sand, as well of granite, large open sites and tiny camps stuck up a hill. With the ease of access, I’d say it’s slightly less well-used than the Joe lake system north of Canoe lake. We careened gently past people making breakfast on coolers and took pleasure in the warm sun. Near Crown Bay, there was a system of submerged logs and stumps, showing just how high the water used to be before the dam, it is easy to navigate through these days though.

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Heading north towards Parkside Bay

As we rounded north again up a small channel to Parkside Bay, the wind had started to funnel down into our faces. This made life difficult for Shane, spinning his canoe round in circles as he tried to get out of the lee. Gwyn and I wound up tying the nose of his canoe to the back of ours, using our weight and keels (the Ewok has 3!) to keep his boat from catching the wind too badly. We were quickly into Parkside Bay, and grabbed the first site that looked nice.

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Parkside Bay

Our site had a large beach area to lounge around on, while the firepit, cooking, and sleeping areas were tucked back up a berm in the woods. In the shoulder seasons it would be nice to be able to stay out of the weather, but this weekend we spent most of the time out on the beach, lazing around. We fished, made silly videos, and I think the main goal was to relax. The dog did cute dog stuff.

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Designated dog, does cute dog stuff

As night started to fall, Shane and I had to head out into the steady wind from the west and try to grab some good firewood. We spotted a pile of driftwood that promised tempting spoils, so we went to investigate. We settled on a rather large log that had washed ashore and quickly dumped it in the canoe to start processing at the campsite.

Dinner that night was a Shane Souter special. Potatoes baked in coals, with a delightful mix of baked beans and ground beef on top. Being as we were all very tired and hungry, it was a great meal. I was very tired by this point. I hadn’t spent so much time in the sun all year, and was ready for bed as soon as the sun went down. Shane and Gwyn stayed up a little bit longer, but I was asleep by 10:30 which is very rare for me. We knew we wanted to be up early, as there was nasty weather forecast for the next day.

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Human, I’m ready to go home!

Sunday morning was surprisingly glorious. The lake was glassy still and the sun was up but not hot. It was one of the few times we could pack everything up in the dry too, which was nice (hadn’t really had that luxury since the hike-in trip to Maple Leaf lake). We didn’t even take time for breakfast, just a few hot drinks, and were on the water by around 9:15. This meant we felt the need to push the pace and race to the car before rain and lightening stranded us somewhere.

We were amazed as we plodded back through Ragged Lake, that the whole lake seemed to have filled up. Every nook and cranny was filled with rental gear, Canadian Tire tents, and 3-seat canoes which looked like clown cars as they tried to make their way across open water. Luckily, there wasn’t too much boat traffic and we were through the portage with nary a traffic jam to be had.

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Our site stretched pretty far down the lake

Making our way back across Smoke lake was a slog. It’s around 5.5km, but you can see the whole way to the access point. The dog wasn’t whining like she had on the way in, resigned to her fate as a canoe-dog, and we set out eager to get some food. About two-thirds of the way down the lake, the rain started to pitter-patter around us, but it was mostly to a scattered shower. We made it to the very busy access point around 11:30 and tired. Running that far with no calories really took it out of us. Avoiding the summer camps taking canoe after canoe off of trailers and buses, we packed up and were quickly on the road.

It was a pretty good weekend despite the mad dash to the finish. Gwyn really doesn’t like lightning and if the wind picked up like it had on Saturday, Shane would have struggled across the big water on Smoke, so there was no real indecision or regret to get out ASAP. All together, it was a great trip to a part of the park we haven’t been before. Ginny the dog slept for days afterwards.

theTWOfour 2017 – Tim River to Big Bob Lake

May 20-22, 2017
# of portages: 8
Total portage distance: 4550m
Total distance: 16.4km
Video Log:

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The Tim River put-in

This year I made an executive decision regarding the May 24 weekend to take the crew to Algonquin park again. The 24 is always a big deal, so I made sure to find a good trout lake and decided on Big Bob Lake, a part of the park none of us had been to before and close enough to the Nipissing River that I could almost guarantee brook trout.

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Heading out into sunshine

 

As always with an west-side launch, we staged from Rancho Relaxo, gathering there Friday night to re-distribute gear among various bags. We learned early Saturday morning (~2am) that we would be down a paddler and had to cram many things into small packs and leave things behind. It also meant I’d be paddling solo, which wasn’t too bad I suppose, but it meant more work for all of us. We woke up early on Saturday morning and managed to get things as packed up as we could before heading to the new Rise and Grill in Kearney while I grabbed permits down the road. After slamming back a great breakfast we toddled down the road to the Tim River access point. The road was in great shape and there was plenty of parking available to us.

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Adam and Shane on Chibiabos lake

We set out around 9:30am feeling good. Bryan and Colin were in Bryan’s H20, Shane and Adam in Shane’s Kipawa, and I was soloing the Ewok into a light breeze. Finding the first yellow sign of the day, the awkwardness of the initial portage set in. Everyone was shaking off rusty shoulders and figuring out how to best carry the gear. Shane and Adam were having a lot of trouble with the food barrel and Shane’s pack, so they wound up double portaging into Chibiabos lake a 345m walk with a steep climb on the Tim Lake side. We passed a crew which said they were staying on Big Bob as well, and that lit a fire under us to get there and secure a preferred site.

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Putting into Big Bob after a 790m portage

Chibiabos is a great little lake, with two sheltered and secluded sites. I’m definitely going back there, maybe for a late-season trip to hunt for trout. The next portage started at a dock at the far side of the lake and took us 320m over a logging road which was a first for all of us. Staring at Indian Pipe lake we had a bit of water and kept pushing to our next walk. We figured the next portage was just about 1500m with a little pond to paddle across in the middle. Although these are “low-maintenance” black line portages, they were in good shape. Little in the way of blow-downs and well trodden, there are red line portages that aren’t in such good shape at this time of year. The two longer portages were unremarkable, and I single-carried them without needing a break.

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Heading west towards our site (on the far point)

We sent Bryan and Colin ahead on Big Bob to scope sites while I went back and helped those struggling with the food barrel. The obvious site is one the eastern-most part of the lake, straight out from the portage. High up on a rock, we saw Bryan looking pensive as we made our way over. Apparently the site is a bit small, and all the tent pads were in bowls which would fill with the rain predicted on the second day. Also, the wind was coming out of the east and the site would get none of that, which would mean the bugs would destroy us (although they were remarkably good so far). We were very far ahead of the crew chasing us, and decided to look elsewhere on the lake for a site.

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Hard at work around the site

With the wind going with us westward, I decided paddling was for chumps and deployed my ground tarp as a sail, cruising to the west end of the lake in luxury. The southern site looked really overgrown and buggy in the forest, so we bet it all on the far peninsula site on the west end of the lake. It turned out to be worth the gamble, as the site caught a breath of wind, was spacious yet protected, and had a wealth of firewood and trees to hang tarps from. In the heat of a Saturday afternoon, we set up camp and had some lunch. We puttered the afternoon away, gathering firewood, exploring the area, and I hung out in a new hammock I got from my wife for Christmas. We tried fishing during the day to no avail, but as evening descended on the lake and the mayflies came out, we managed to hook some trout from both shore and the canoe (which was awesome). Dinner was kabobs on the fire, and we ate like kings because we were a man short but kept the portions allotted to him. As we fell asleep, there was a light breeze picking up.

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Fishing luck on the first night

Sunday could only be characterized as a rainy day. We managed to get up early as the rains were just starting up and patchy, getting breakfast cooked and coffee in us between showers. We passed the time idly. There were various construction projects, including a useful table for cooking dinner under the tarp. The fire was kept alight and hot with a rock overhange/roof system. I napped through the worst of the wind and rain, staying warm and dry in my sleeping bag. The tarps held fast, a fact that amazed me as the main tarp was my old, melty, not-entirely-waterproof, green and brown one. The old girl held up remarkably well! The wind and rain toned down around dinner time and we managed to have a half-decent night around the fire, only occasionally retreating a few feet away to the dry security of the tarp. We went to bed with rain lightly battering our tarps and tents.

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Enduring the rain

The next morning I was awoken by the hard flapping of the tarp over my tent. The wind had shifted 180 degrees (into our face again for most of the paddle, yay), and I quickly roused to get coffee and pancakes going before any sort of storm might come in.  We packed up as best we could again, keeping the wet stuff separate and dry stuff dry, then head out up Big Bob lake. I’d like to say the portages back were uneventful, and they WERE mercifully well drained, but I went on a little adventure on my own.

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Nothing else to do on a rainy day, might as well build something

With Adam and Shane continuing to struggle with fitment of the barrel harness in Shane’s yoke, I offered to help them double carry while Bryan and Colin went on ahead (no sense in waiting around and getting bug bites). On the portage from Indian Pipe to Chibiabos lake, I told the crew behind me (Shane/Adam) I didn’t want to block up the dock end of the portage and would see them on the trail to Tim Lake. I also gave Adam my pack in exchange for the barrel which I could manage better. With them behind me getting ready to get out of Indian Pipe, I took to the trail, huffing and puffing. Turns out I didn’t see a fork in the trail and wound up about 300m past where I was supposed to turn, making life a bit panicky as I picked my way back. Shane/Adam were nowhere to be seen, assuming I had hauled ass to Tim Lake. So I was now behind everyone, while the people in front of me thought they were lagging behind. I rolled through the last portage as fast as possible, only to discover on of my sandals had slipped its Velcro and I needed to do the portage again! Luckily I found it half-in Chibiabos, but on my way back nature called forth the might of the dinner from the night before. With nothing but a sandal in my hand, I had to fashion toilet paper out of carefully selected foliage and headed way off the trail behind a large stump to do my business. Lighter and with all my gear accounted, I set out into Tim Lake with no sight of any of my compatriots. I was WAY behind, and knew I had to make up time because they would worry I had flipped or gotten eaten by a bear or something. Now, though, I was fully headed into a increasingly strong wind. As I headed up the Tim river, the wind barreled down the canyon into my face and sleet started to numb my hands. I was very happy to see the take out, and my friends were relieved they didn’t need to come rescue my dumb ass.

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Adios Big Bob.  Pictured: Shanes’ wind-block shelter & Bryans’ table

We packed up quickly, and headed down the trail, saying goodbye and discussing what to next year. Adam took home the Chewbakka Bigfish Trophy for catching his first brook trout, and we were all satisfied that the work of portaging was worth the reward. Although the weather didn’t cooperate, we still had a great time.

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The Big Bob 5

Delano Lake

May 13-14, 2017
# of portages: 4
Total portage distance: 2220m
Total distance: 10.5km
Video log:

 

This year was one of the latest I had left heading into the bush, probably because the winter camping trip in February helped keep the cabin fever off. Shane and I were hoping to get a site at famed trout fishery Hilliard Lake off of Cache, but it was booked so we went one more lake deep to Delano Lake.

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Our first look at Hilliard Lake

As usual, we spent Friday at Shane’s place in Kearney, and the forecast spelled rain in big bold letters. We looked online and saw that someone had booked into the site for Friday night, and being the only site on Delano, we opted to have a nice breakfast before heading out at a leisurely pace. We didn’t want a repeat of last year, being forced to wait and watch people pack up for an hour or two in the rain.

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Hilliard Lake portage exit

Unloading the car at Cache lake, we had a reprieve from the drizzle we drove through on Hwy 60 and decided to head out immediately. We were happy to be out in no wind, minimal rain, and warm-ish air. It was a simple paddle across the lake to the last remaining frontier we had to conquer in Cache Lake, the portage to Hilliard Lake.

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Delano Lake, from up on our campsite

We saddled up for our first portage of the year knowing roughly what to expect. The bags were packed well and the going was easy, if not uphill. The whole trail leads up, and up, and up to Hilliard with the remnants of a bench and portage stand about halfway through. This was a well-worn path, obviously used by the cottagers on Cache as well as day-trippers hunting for trout.

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The burbling creek behind our site

Hilliard itself is a very pretty little lake with only one site on it. It was occupied, but looking through the trees we could see it was a large site able to accommodate a large party. It seems it is desirable for good reason. Dotted with little islands and spread over two main branches, Hilliard won’t blow up in big wind and anyone can have a good time here.

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Delano, from just west of the site

Our next portage wasn’t as nice as the last, it had blow-downs, slippery rocks, and muddy creeks to traverse. Luckily it was a short 350m jaunt, so it took no time. We got to the dock marking the end of the portage into Delano and marveled at our home for the night. Around the corner on the northeastern corner of the lake we found our site up on a rock overlooking the rest of the lake.

It’s a nice site to be sure, firepit out with a view of the lake, contoured rocks and benches to site on, plenty to explore and a cooking area protected from rain and wind.  It was a little unnerving to see a moose skull nailed to a tree by the tent pads, but soon it became our mascot (the mandible and femur were neat too).  We got the tarps up as quickly as possible so that we would have a dry area if the skies opened up, then started to relax.

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The rear of the site, during a rare break in the rain. Creek in behind

Between short bouts of showers and overcast, we tried fishing from shore, kajiggering with the tarp so that it was rock solid, and eventually gathered firewood. There were semi-marked paths all over the place leading to Cache Lake which we followed to many downed trees. We found a solid, thick section of hardwood (I think it was a beech) and throughout the afternoon we took turns chopping up a section of it. High quality hardwood with a bit of punty softwood burns great, and made for a perfect cooking fire.

That eventual fire would come in very handy later, because halfway through cutting up our wooden treasure the deluge began. Luckily we were battened down fairly well, clothes and tents still in the portaging packs, because it seriously rained. With no wind though, it came straight down onto the leaky tarp we sat under and we didn’t mind. After about half an hour or so, the cold rain backed off and we decided to get the dinner-fire going.

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With the rain clearing up, sunset was rather pleasant.

With dinner of grilled chicken, roast potatoes, and a Sidekicks pasta dish in our bellies the sun started to come out to gives us a bit of a sunset. We stayed close to the fire after nightfall, because it got good and cold, but we were more than comfortable.

The next morning I slept in a bit, although my perception may have been skewed. With the past two trips, the sun rose around 7:30-8am! Regardless, I got up and made some coffee and busied myself with breakfast and gathering things to leave. Roused by coffee, Shane was soon up and we drank under the tarp and waited out the rains last little huzzah as it was actually a nice morning.

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Our site from the water on the way out

I fished as we paddled back through Hilliard and Cache, catching nothing but still just enjoying the feel of a fishing rod under my leg bouncing rhythmically with the spoons action. Despite the rain and the lacklustre fishing time, I had a great time finishing the entrance lakes accessible through Cache. It’s an area I’ll probably be back, but we have been to this area quite a bit. We’ll probably explore other areas of the park for a while.

We didn’t have long to wait until our next trip either, which helped keep our spirits up paddling out. In less than 5 days we’d be back out and about for the May 24 weekend a bit farther north.

Winter camping hot tenting!

Nov 28-29
Distance: ~5km

We’ve all been there, sitting at home beset on all sides by the winter menace. For years I’ve taken this as the way it is, grumbling at my lot in life until May when I can go canoeing again. This year though, the planets aligned and I was able to try hot tenting in the dead of winter.

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This warming hut marks the head of the Minnesing trail

Shane and I rented a Snowtrekker tent from Algonquin Basecamp, an outfitter in Kearney who really bent over backwards to help us have a good time. They walked Shane through how to put everything up nicely and threw in extra gear we might need (like a little shovel). All kitted out, we drove along Hwy 60 to the head of the Minnesing bike/ski trail.

The Minnesing ski trail is completely unmaintained, making it perfect for snowshoeing or more adventurous cross country skiing. As we were to find out, it has a lot of dips and streams throughout its long loops, making it exceptionally difficult terrain summer or winter. We each pulled one toboggan. Shane had one which has more contoured but without lashing points allowed things to fall out easily. Mine was longer and made of high-density plastic, but with no runners underneath it was prone to slipping off any kind of incline. I lashed things down rather loosely and off we went.

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Our pulks, slightly tied down

Initially, the going was easy (isn’t it always?) and we marvelled how much better it was to drag gear than carry it like we had in November. Sure, it wasn’t as easy as canoeing, but it certainly was smoother than hauling things around! About 20 minutes in though, we came across what we dubbed Calamity Hill. This steep-ish hill was where we cut our teeth with the sleds. They had a propensity to fall over, often into moving water, and we were very much unimpressed with this. We managed to man-handle our load past the rocks and up the hill where we rested and I re-tied all my knots so they were much more secure. I had the wooden box with our stove in it and the large Tupperware bin full of gear so lashing was fairly easy.

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Calamity hill

We hauled for the next hour or so, honing our skill getting through tight squeezes and along narrow ledges. The good thing about winter camping is that when you get tired you just have to get 30m off the trail and you’re home! We selected a small plateau that overlooked Canisbay Lake and started setting up camp.

First, we dug as far down as we could to avoid things sinking as they heated up. This also helped with levelling the floor off. The tent went up very easily over an A-frame pole structure, and we got things going inside to keep them out of the snow which was falling all day. We were cold, tired, and wet so we set about having a coffee. I had brought my MSR Pocket Rocket, and in the cold it did work, but just barely. The fuel was slushy and even at full tilt just managed to heat the snow to a low boil. Never really liked that stove, should have just brought the Whisperlite.

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Getting things up and running

After a life-affirming coffee, Shane set about erecting the stove inside the tent while I trekked down to the lake to get some spruce boughs to sleep on. Even the small hills proved a strenuous exercise, but snowshoes really helped me out here. 1-2 inches of floatation vs 1-2 feet of tent-poling? Easy choice to bring them. By the time I brought back my first load, Shane had the stove all set up and ready to go. At the suggestion of the guys at Algonquin Basecamp, he had used provided wire to attach 4 sticks to the bottom as a means of stopping the stove from sinking into the snow. It’s hard to describe, but basically it was a set of snowshoes for the stove! There was still much to do though.

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Shane sets to drying wood and melting water

We both attacked the chore of bough gathering, before grabbing firewood. There was a large maple down near our camp, so we grabbed lumber from that, splitting what we could. Shane was the wizard of the fireplace that day, expertly stoking the fire and fiddling with the door to keep as much heat going efficiently while keeping the smoke outside (harder than it sounds).

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Canisbay Lake

We had lunch of grilled cheese on english muffins, and that really restored our depleted energy. Before long we had all the wood chopped up for the night, our bedding laid out, and a system to continuously melt water going. We could finally relax and enjoy ourselves.

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Our tent as dinner warms on the stove

Dinner that night was a pre-made stew from my pressure cooker at home which was already in a sealed pot so all we had to do was set it on the stove in preperation for dinner. We cleaned up dinner quickly and were ready for bed nice and early. The day had really sapped our strength. Our sleeping systems were in the same order (starting on the bottom): Snow, boughs, tarp, Thermarest, -20 sleeping bag. It was surprisingly comfortable and warm, I really enjoyed it. When I woke up the next morning, Shane had already gotten the fire going and my thermometer read 10 degrees above 0, better than some late summer temperatures.

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Morning, digging out from under snow

Breakfast and coffee were nice to have in the tent with nothing to set up. Real bacon this time, none of that microwavable stuff! With our bellies full, we reversed the process of setting up (minus digging in) and before 11am we were on the way we came. I found the trip out very tough physically, but it got easier that closer we got to the parking lot as the terrain levelled out. Calamity hill was definitely easier to go down than up, but was still a challenge. It didn’t help that there was fresh snow everywhere, slowing down our sledging.

Looking back, we were very green and I think we were ambitious taking on the Minnesing trail. Next time I think we’ll take the railbed from Mew Lake campground for flat terrain to haul across. Also, everything takes longer in the winter. Gathering wood, cooking food, boiling water, setting up the tent…it all just takes so much out of you! I don’t want to make it seem like I didn’t enjoy it, I’m definitely going to go again, it was just significantly more work than I had expected.

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Enjoying the wilderness, despite a bit of cold.

Also, I have no idea why anyone would willingly subject themselves to a cold-tenting trip when hot-tenting is available. The extra size and work was definitely worth it to be able to cook, eat, and live comfortably in the tent. With the shorter days, you’d either be forced to have a gigantic fire outside for heat, or go to bed early and wake up late (and miserable).

I learned a lot in this short 24-hour trip.