Saturday, September 10, 2011

Weathering 5 days in Algonquin back country

Over 5 days and 4 nights we tackled the Western Upland backpacking trail - loop 1, 2 and part of loop 3 - this past Labour Day Weekend. We entered the Park Saturday morning to pick up our back country permit at the West Gate on Highway 60. The warden informed us that no bears had been sighted recently and that "mostly we deal with campground bears because front country campers often leave feed out."  With that assurance we made our way to the trail head at km 3, parked and changed into our hiking garb.
Eu Lake at dusk. There is only one camp site at this lake.

It was very hot, so we were thankful that the trail is in the trees, reducing the temperature somewhat. Still, we worked to stay hydrated as we headed up toward Eu Lake for our first night's camp. With our late-morning start, we were glad to have less than 4 hours on the trail.

We set up camp - a few rain drops made us hurry - then relaxed by the lake, made dinner and a campfire before heading off to sleep.

Overnight the rain hit and by morning it was torrential. While our interior tent stayed dry we realized we had set up in a basin where water gathered in a large puddle underneath one side! Still we managed to take down without too much trouble, packed up and with peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast we headed out on the trail to Pincher Lake South.
Spectacular sunset over Pincher Lake.

This second day was tough with packs weighing around 45 lbs, lots of rain and heat along the way. We worked the single track trail which is more rugged on the second loop. Jan saw a black bear just off the trail south of Samos Lake, about 2 hours from our camp site. She says it looked at us rather quizzically and trotted off when we backtracked to give it some space. We arrived at Pincher an hour before dark after close to 8 hours on trail. With the wild weather we got treated to an amazing sunset while we set up camp, strung up the tarp as a wind barrier, pumped water, cooked dinner, and ate into the dark.

Inga setting up the dragonfly at Brown Lake camp.
The next day, we had an option for a long hike (8 hours) or a shorter hike (4 hours) to reach Brown Lake. We opted for the shorter hike which kept this trip fun. We enjoyed Pincher Lake a little longer in the morning. We hiked through wet grasses and ferns on tight single track on this third loop. The rain held off - the wind picked up. When we got to our campsite at Brown Lake, situated in a quite open set up, the wind was whipping the spray off the lake. We got out gloves and toques, and layered clothes to stay warm. Our dragonfly stove with its bit of wind shelter performed well and we enjoyed a super tasty hot dinner.

The further we got into the park the fewer people we encountered. While we saw 4 groups on day 2, we met no one on day 3.We did see plenty of wildlife evidence along the trail though and a few foot steps, too.

Day 4 would be a long day, similar to day 2, so we aimed at an early start, and sort of got one. A lone hiker came down the trail and walked into camp to get water. He hung out and chatted as we had coffee and Jan's dressed up oatmeal. It was nice to see another human. He headed off as we packed up. We needed to cover about 19 km to get to Thunder Lake. We planned on 8 hours hoping for something closer to 7. We headed back to the second loop and then around the eastern part of the trail. We passed some beautiful lakes and toward the end of our hike ran into our breakfast companion and another couple of hikers.
Jan dries socks at the camp fire on Thunder.

When we got to Thunder Lake in 7 hours and 17 minutes (!), we were happy.  It had been a pleasantly warm day, it was dry, the trail was quite fast to hike even as it featured plenty of steep ups and downs. I did manage to slip off a log and went deep into a boggy puddle with one leg. Quick action meant that most of the liquid stayed out of the boot at least.  Still the added moisture made my already chewed up heels a little worse; Jan meanwhile developed a sizable blister on her big toe. Moleskin, second skin and tape served to halt further damage.

We enjoyed another gorgeous campsite, again with no one else in sight. We made a lovely dinner, took some photos, stretched a little, and were excited that our food supplies had dwindled as planned so we would not carry much extra out the next day. It would be a 11-12 km hike, making for a shorter day again. We stayed up by the camp fire late, as we dried socks, ate and chatted. We were about to spend our fourth night in the bush and felt good about how we had been coping with all the weather and the Park had thrown at us.

Our Twin Peaks tent once again proved its weather worthiness - in the 1.5 years we've used it is has seen us through the Adirondack High Peaks, Bolivia, Peru and Chile and now Algonquin. We used both our dragonfly stove and our tiny Doite Fireman backup stove we got in Chile last December to best effect. Packing everything in dry sacks kept our clothes and gear dry and allowed me to pack the tent wrapped in our tarp inside my pack regardless of wetness. Our new bear barrels for food, toiletries and garbage worked very well. Jan's portion packaging of our food worked great.

Self-portrait before hiking out from Thunder Lake.
We're so pleased :)
On our final day's hike out we did not see anyone on the trail: it was Wednesday and most people's long weekend had ended two days earlier.

This part of the trail is by far the easiest; flatter than all the other sections.

Now, we are looking to Algonquin's other, shorter back country trails and hiking the few kilometers of the Western Upland trail we didn't get to this time.

The stats:
70 km
26 hours on trail
Backpack Day 1: 45 lb and Day 5: 38 lb. Jan's was just a bit lighter.

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