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Powdered Whole Milk - At Last!

I've been searching for powdered whole milk ever since I got into portaging. I eventually located powdered skim milk at Zerhs but it lacked the fat content I wanted for both calories and flavour. I picked up a bag a couple of years ago, it was almost $10 and way more than I initially wanted to experiment with. In the end I used it all as I found it to be useful when cooking plenty of other recipes around the house, as I am not a milk drinker and don't keep milk in my refrigerator. After using up that first bag I was on the hunt again for whole milk powder, or even a 1 or 2% powder if such a thing existed. I was starting to lose hope and was expecting I'd have to grab some on my next trip to the states (like so many other camping supplies which I can only find there).

Today I finally found a source for the whole milk powder, it was at Bulk Barn all along! Funny thing is, I searched numerous Bulk Barns expecting it to be there but always coming home empty handed. The problem is I was searching the wrong part of the store, I was looking near all the other powders such as your sugars and starches, which made sense in my head. Where was it actually hiding? Right to the powdered drink mixes! It makes a lot of sense when you think about it, but still I never would have expected it to be hiding next to the fruit punch and iced tea powders!

In case you're wondering, the item number was #1224 and the label they give it is "Non Instant Whole Milk Powder." I also found this information on their website. There's several other useful ingredients I have found at Bulk Barn, but I'll be doing a separate post on that later this week! For now I've mixed up a cup of milk and put it in the fridge for the night (as per the directions). I was surprised at how well it mixed up, compared to powdered egg it reconstituted quite well and after just a bit of stirring there's no lumps; it has a very smooth a creamy texture. It's quite tart right now, but I'm hoping that mellows out after sitting in the fridge over night. I may also experiment with adding a touch of sugar to it. I'll post an update tomorrow!

The Saw-vivor - 3 Years In

I did a video a while back on some modifications and repairs I had done to my Saw-vivor. Despite this saw's shortcomings I have always been very happy with it and have no intentions of replacing it any time soon. However I have run into some serious frustrations stemming from the fact that I bought the 18" model rather than the 15" model. From what I understand TrailBlazer put out three sized models and everyone but me bought the smallest size, the 15" saw, so they either stopped or slowed production on the other models and their parts & accessories. This meant that no matter how much I wanted I was not able to find a sheath for the 18" so I ended up having one custom made, I had no issues finding one for the 15" model online but even that one I have not seen in stores.

The next big hurdle is the saw blades, I have not seen a replacement blade for this saw in about 2 years, I've checked MEC and a few different outdoor stores but none of them ever have the blades for my model. They almost always have a 15" blade in stock, but that is of no use for me. I've asked several times to have them ordered in but I never hear back. If I ever do see one I'll probably grab a couple as they may be the last I ever see.

First Hang of the Year

With our first burst of spring upon us my friend and I decided to go out on Friday night and brave a night in the cold and enjoy a nice warm camp fire. With the forecast only slightly above freezing (4*C at night) I brought along my 3 season quilts as well as my new 550 fill down vest that I picked up on clearance at MEC. Although I didn't think I needed all that down to keep me warm I was sure glad to have it, it ended up being one of the coldest nights that I've camped in my hammock. By the time the fire had burned down and we were ready to hit the sack we were both shivering so we had a quick mug full of cup-o-soup before retiring. My quilts kept me plenty warm and I was more than comfy in my hammock but after our trip I came home with a few ideas for modifications to improve my sleep system:

-High visibility zipper pulls on the bug net
-Small tweak to 20*F quilt suspension so it can be removed without taking down the hammock
-Sew a pocket into the side flaps to store the attached shock cord pull-outs
-New whoopie sling toggles
-Replace hex tarp guy lines with high visibility cordage
-Adjustable ridge line (this one has been on my list a while)

I'm already done the high visibility zipper pulls. I made them out of some bright orange paracord which has strands of extremely reflective material woven in. It's really hard to describe how reflective these ropes are, you almost need to see it to believe it. I will have no more issues finding the zippers to seal myself up for the night! I also dug out an aluminum tent peg sheath I grabbed at my last trip to MEC, I measured it out into two lengths and cut it in half before adding a small hole to one end on each half. Through that I then ran a short rope on each to help pull the toggle loose when the marlin spike hitch has bit down on it. I can't take credit for the design on either as I've seen both of those on several blogs. Hopefully I'll get a couple of more mods done before my next hang and I can make a video to show you all how it's working out.

What's in my Hunting Pack

  • Toilet Paper
  • Grohmann #2 Trout & Bird Knife
  • Grohmann Deer & Moose Knife
  • Sit Pad
  • Orange Marking Tape
  • Ear Plugs
  • Ear Muffs
  • Bio-degradeable Bags
  • Ranger Bands
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Latex gloves
  • 10 Shotgun Shells

And some assorted clothing depending on what weather I might expect, such as a toque, balaklava, gloves, socks, etc.

Algonquin Park - Aug 10-13, 2012

Day 1

After being up packing until 12:30am I slept until 4:30 and resumed some last minute packing. I was not as prepared for this trip as many of my previous ones. I had intended to be on the road at 5am but it was just after 6 when I started up the car. After filling up my gas tank and stopping for a coffee and a breakfast sandwhich from Timmies, I realized something I had forgotten and quickly dashed home. It was 7am by the time I was on the road again and bound for Algonquin Provincial Park.

After what could only be described as a long dry and hot summer I found myself driving in heavy rain the entire way there. In addition to the two accidents caused by the rain that I had to crawl passed there was the typical Toronto rush hour traffic I had hoped to avoid. Growing more and moe frustrated, I pulled over for a quick nap. After a 45 min snooze I pulled on the highway again and continued the crawl. I had told Opeongo Outfitters to meet me at the Rock Lake access point at 10am, instead I was calling them at 9:40 to tell them I was only just past Toronto. I told them it was looking closer to 12:30 before I entered the park.

All of my hinderances paid off when I finally got to the park, I spotted my first Moose on Highway 60, about 10 minutes past the Canoe Lake access points. It was a brief viewing, accompanied by about 20 other drivers who had abandoned their cars on the side of their road to Instagram everyone their pictures of the moose. Oh well. I can't blame the moose for moving on to greener pastures so quickly.

Shortly after that I found myself on a very bumpy mud road to the Rock Lake campgrounds and access point. I picked up my permit shortly after and there was no sign of my canoe or Opeongo Outfitters at the lake. So I ventured back to the permit house to attempt to call the girlfriend, but had no luck getting a signal or getting their payphones to take my credit card. I saw the Opeongo Outfitters truck drive by so I started head back to the Access Point, and caught him on his way out. He had left the canoe for me put not the paddle or the bailing kit. I signed the paperwork at the side of the path and he handed them over, and I went back to the lake to put them by the canoe.

But I still had to make a call so I had to drive back out to Highway 60 to say goodbye to the girlfriend. But of course I got the machine. By that point I was extremely frustrated as I just couldn't get ahold of her, and left her a message bidding her farewell. I went back to the access point, loaded the canoe and started off. At 3:30pm it was a far cry from the 10am I had planned on departing.

The stress of that melted away quickly enough. Rock Lake was beautiful, despite the numerous cottages and the campground occupying it. There were several large bluffs to admire and the wind was tame enough. I eyed a beautiful looking site by one bluff near the east end, thinking I may snag it on my last night. Then I head down the narrow river to the dam and portage. There was a rather rocky section that I struggled to get past, getting stuck on one rock, but finally made it to the portage. I think the rocks would normally be no bother but the water was so low everything was just under the surface. The portage had an extra few feet of coastline and there was what looked like some sort of dock that wasn't even in the water.

It was then that I realized I had no portaging yoke. What the ... ! You could see where it attached, but Opeongo Outfitters had neglected to supply the yoke or inform me that it was missing one. Suddenly the light weight solo canoe wasn't looking so light! I managed to adjust the seat to the middle position and rest that on my head, which was enough to get me over the 100m portage, but it wore out my core muscles and my neck, so taking the 2k portage on the way out was no longer an option. Looks like I'd be coming out the easy way. Since it was such a short portage I did three carries and had a snack at put-in.

It was looking stormy again but I didn't stop to put on my pack cover, though I thankfully put on the rain jacket. Despite the sudden downpour I was still quite happy, the lake was beautiful and full of bays, and I meandered across the northern shore for some time and then crossed to the southern when it narrowed. The first site I saw was not bad but had no decent trees for haning my hammock, so I sniped some of the prime pieces of firewood it had laying about and moved on.

The next two or three sites didn't look worth stopping at, and I finally settled on an island site that looked gorgeous. There was a large rock face to sit upon and view the lake, a clam and foggy bay to the south east and a smaller island to look at. I landed at the site and found a nice fire pit and a table near it, then a decent hanging spot further up the hill. There was plenty of forest on the island and I could see no way to the other side where the second site was.

I had only 40 min to set up before it got dark so I went straight to work. I had the tarp up in no time but I couldn't get my hammock up, the loop on the whoopie slings had pulled through. Doh! I knew I should've put a bead or something on there. As I trie to pick at it with my pocket knife the mosquitos came in harder than I have ever seen in my life. I was running laps around the island so they couldn't land on me, eventually I suited up in my rain suit, hat, bug net and fire glove. But they all went for the exposed hand, and I was killing several with each swat.

Since I wasn't sure what to do about the hammock, I set up my bear line, tied up the canoe and continued to pace about the island. Finally, the bugs let off and I toyed with the whoopie slings some more. Eventually I decided I could only tie it up with a regular knot and would have to make a new whoopie sling when I got home. Thankfully the knots held all weekend and I was not forced to go to ground.

My new Under Quilt from Wilderness Logics kept me warm that night, and I fell asleep fairly quick. I didn't end up having dinner or a fire that night thanks to the late arrival and the confusion that accompanied it. I figured tomorrow was a new day and I'd figure things out in the morning.

Day 2

Day two was a peaceful day. It rained a whole lot and I hardly left my island but for a small paddle around it. But I enjoyed the day immensely. When I wasn't hiding under my tarp, reading in my hammock, I was buzzing around the site either making up some tasty treat, filming video, or doing some other task that quickly needed doing before the rain returned.

I had plenty of visitors that day, there were many red squirrels on the island and even more wood peckers. I dont think I'd seen a woodpecker first hand before this weekend but I saw a dozen before the day was out. Between them pounding on the trees and the squirrels sounding out in distress whenever I neared their tree, it actually wasn't that quiet there. But I still found that to be far more peaceful than my typical day.

Dinner that night was shepherd's pie, which this time I made with lamb. The dehydrated lamb was far tastier than the beef and made for an even more impressive shepherd's pie. I'm still drooling over it. I fore went the campfire a second night, not wanting to get wet or deal with the mosquitos again, and fell asleep around 9:30pm.

Day 3

I had high hopes of being up at 6am and being on the move by 8am. But I allowed myself a sleep-in after a restless night, and got up at 8. After a quick breakfast of oatmeal down by the lake, I packed up everything but my tarp and was just making some final arrangements to leave when it started to pour. So I found myself hiding under the tarp for another hour and a half before I was able to take it down and make a run for it.

I had a wonderful paddle for the first hour, I followed the north shore of Galeairy for a while and then crossed to the other about half way, allowing me to see the opposite shores of what I viewed on my way into Galeairy. The lake was rather flat and peaceful, except for one motorboat that insisted on tearing by full throttle, and the wind on one of the more open areas of the lake.

While crossing the large bay I pulled out the double blade and had some fun trying to master it. My legs got rather wet and I wore out my shoulder muscles rather quickly but I crossed the lake in no time at all. Before long I was arriving at the portage around the dam into Rock Lake. As I was finishing the portage 2 canoes with 3 each showed up and started to unload. Unfortunately such situations always force me to rush and I didn't have some things in the back as easy to access, I had figured after I passed this narrow rocky area I'd stop at the first site for lunch. Of course just as I was navigating around the rocks the sky opened up and I got drenched. I wedged myself on a rock and put my rain jacket on, not realizing at the time it was what was covering my boots and socks. I was already soaked so I should have just left it covering them. My pack cover was at least on so my bag didn't get drenched.

Somewhat frazzled and frustrated I ended up paddling past that first site in hopes of something more permanent. I knew that if I stopped I would end up sticking around long enough to dry out and eat, and wouldn't want to move after that. The next site was also taken, but I had a quick chat with the couple occupying it as they sat by the lake. They informed me that the site by the big rock wall was free, having just passed it up themselves. I thanked them and raced my way to it before anyone else had the chance to scoop it. It turned out to be an unimpressive site, despite it's spectacular view. I continued on my way across Rock Lake, passing several undesirable sites and several occupied ones. After investigating a couple more sites and not being happy I finally decided on one in a small bay. It turned out to be an amazing site.

This time i found myself at the site around 4:30 and had plenty of time to set up, make dinner and collect firewood. I had a big fire that night and dried out my boots, socks and jacket. I stayed up until around 1am before retiring ot my hammock.

Day 4

The last morning was certainly the most memorable. The sun was shining and the animals were out in full force. Some of my visitors include a hummingbird, a fearless chipmunk, an almost as brave red squirrel, a large bass at the waters edge, yet another woodpecker and several other unfamiliar birds. I couldn't bring myself to leave.

I was on the water around noon, and had a gorgeous day to warm me as I paddled out -- a rare treat! Usually Algonquin gives me a swift kick in the behind to see me out but for once it was co-operative. I followed the north shore of Rock Lake, only venturing further out when I neared the camp ground, I had no interest in seeing it. At that point I once again used the double blade to cross a bit faster. I kept a good pace for some time, but eventually was tired and switched back to my single blade, and took my time paddling the last bit and up the small river to the access point.

The access point was very busy and I was not interested in dwindling there. Within 5 minutes of landing on shore I had the car packed and I moved on to the shower house for a quick shower and change of clothes. I was out of the park and on Highway 60 within a half hour and began my long drive home.

The calmness that I had experienced the last few days quickly faded as I got stuck in two traffic jams on the way home, and got a nice nickle sized chip in my windshield from a rock a semi launched at me. But for once I was home at a reasonable time and had a few hours to unpack and relax before bed, and was back to work at 9am the next day.

Solo Trip Booked

Despite having the time booked off of work for over a month now I was slacking on the campsite permits and canoe rental. This was largely due to not having a route planned. I was thinking Rock Lake looked easy to get into and gave me several options for other lakes to portage into. After picking up Kevin Callan's Algonquin book and seeing he had several loops suggested for that area I ended up settling on entering through Access Point 9, going down through Rock Lake and into Pen Lake where I'd sleep my first night. From there on day two I would work my way south into Clydegale Lake for another night, then the next day I'd go back up through Pen Lake into Rock Lake where I'd spend my third and final night. Then on the Monday morning I would get up, jet across what was left or Rock Lake and head home. Of course life doesn't always go as planned...

When I called I quickly found that Rock Lake, Pen Lake and Clydegale were booked solid, with the exception being Rock Lake on my last night. I booked that and decided on a whim to go with Galeairy Lake the other two nights. After booking my permits I called Algonquin Outfitters and booked my canoe, I picked out a Bluewater Mist solo canoe. Not only was it significantly cheaper than a tandem kevlar canoe, it was about half the weight. So I'm eager to see how a solo canoe is to paddle, well, solo. At least it's a short trip in terms of how many kilometers I have to travel, it will be a good chance to try something new because easy day I can decide just how far I want to go.

So far the damages were totaling at $125 for the canoe, and $60 for the permits. This includes a $25 delivery fee on the canoe and a $10 registration fee for the back country permits. Of course this wont include the gas to get there and all the money spent on meals and other miscellaneous gear. But all and all this is looking to be one of the cheaper trips I've had into Algonquin.

6 more days...

Small MEC Haul

I was away in Montreal for a few days and while I was there I made a point of stopping at MEC to peek around. This one seemed slightly larger than the one in Burlington I usually frequent, but was pretty much the same inventory from what I could tell. I had hoped to pick up an Ursack while there but it seems they only sell it online, so I settled for a few odds and ends that caught my eye.

That's it, about $30 worth of gear and nothing too exciting. The only one I'm particularly excited about is the Tikka 2 case, I usually keep my light in my bag and pull it out before sundown so I have it ready, but I really like the idea of putting this on my belt before sundown so I have it close and ready, and I also like having a storage certainer for between season. Anything with straps or strings attached to it can become part of a tangled mess when stored away so I have always been fond of little pouches and other containers for storing such items. This one even has a small section for storing spare batteries, which is quite handy.

As for the large nalgene container, I think that may become a rehydrating container. Some things like gravel are best if they presoak for an hour or two before starting to cook dinner. If you rely on them cooking perfectly along with noodles or just by doing a quick bowl you may find yourself very disappointed come chow time. Previously I used my 1L nalgene water bottle for this but that left me without a drinking container for an hour or two, which was something I did not like. This is a bit of extra weight but other things can be stuffed into it inside of my pack, and will likely fit into my older pot set quite well.

The lighter is just a basic refillable lighter, you don't see those for a dollar that often and my local MEC doesn't have them. So I just tossed it in the pile. The SplashGuard is something I never thought I needed until I saw it, for about $2 I added it to the pile without much thought, looking back I can recall a few times where I got a face full of water when I tried to take a swig too quick. I think they were also twice the price at the outdoor store in St Catharines so it appeared to be a good deal. As for the CrunchIt, I wasn't thrilled about the price, $7 seemed like a lot for what appeared to be a glorified bottle opener, but I had a few empty JetBoil canisters at home that needed to be recycled, so I thought I probably should get it over with and buy one.

That's it, as I said, nothing too exciting but I enjoyed the trip none the less. It was nice to see a different MEC, there's one in Toronto I've walked by a few times but have yet to check out, so this was my first time going to a MEC outside of Burlington. I also think this was one of my cheapest trips to MEC yet, so that's also an added bonus :)

Algonquin Park - May 13-16, 2011

Day 1 - Up the Corkscrew River

We left earlier than usual in order to get to the park a few hours earlier and hopefully avoid the winds that can pick up later in the day on Canoe Lake. However we ended up making a pit stop in Huntsville that put us behind schedule, during our drive up our minds were racing trying to make sure we had everything and sure enough we had thought up a few things that we had forgot to pack. So after a short trip through the grocery store we waited out front of the LCBO for it to open, when the lady unlocked the door at 8am we rushed in to grab a couple of tetra packs of wine and a small bottle of scotch. In the end we would be very glad to have them as they kept us feeling warm on what turned out to be a very cold trip.

We arrived at the Canoe Lake access point shortly after that and picked up our permits, canoe and unloaded the car. Just as we were about to get in the canoe it started to rain, so we were forced to put on our rain gear before we even had our paddles in the water. From there we ventured out on to Canoe Lake and before we knew it we had reached the north end and were venturing up the Corkscrew River (also known as Potter Creek). At the mouth of the creek was an abandoned bridge leading to a logging camp of which we could see no trace. Further up the river was a beautiful limestone bridge that was still in use. As we worked our way up the creek it slowly became more and more narrow until we reached the first portage. By then the rain had long since stopped and it had become rather hot and muggy. The portage was rather miserable as the result of this however it proved to be a short and easy portage. Once we reached the other side we found it was accessible by a dirt road, so one could potentially skip Canoe Lake if they had someone to drop them off (there is no parking there). From this point on the river was much more narrow and was a never ending series of snake-like bends as you worked your way towards Potter Lake. The current was very subtle and the water was plenty deep at that part, easing our fears that we'd struggle working our way upstream due to current or low water levels.

Despite the relatively small distance, it took us several hours to work our way up the river. Although it may have only been a kilometer or two in a straight line, once you factored in all the curves and bends it was probably 2 or 3 times that in actual traveled distance. There was very little wild life to see, with the exception of several trout that passed under us and a heron we spotted. However it looked like prime moose spotting territory. The center area was cleared of trees and only had long grass and small shrubs, evidence that the river had once been much larger in size. All over we spotted game trails leading up to the water or trampled flora. We had to lift over a few beaver dams as well on our journey up the Corkscrew River.

The second and third portages were rather short, both offering a way around some rapids which did not look very challenging. If you were going the opposite direction and the water was high enough you could probably run them. We did have a rather comical experience on one of those two portages, we had just finished the portage and were pushing off from shore when my paddle snagged on the rock I pushed off from and was pulled from my grasp. Before I had a chance to react it shot down the rapids we had just worked so hard to portage around. With me being in the back my friend at the front had to struggle to paddle us back to shore where I jumped out and ran down the portage, only to reach the other end seconds after my paddle was spit out from the rapids. Thankfully as it drifted down stream it caught on a branch that hung across the river. I tried to make my way up the shore to the branch in hopes of retrieving it, but was unable to work my way through the thick brush and bramble that inhabited the shore line. So we were forced to carry the canoe back over the portage, and then paddle back down the river to retrieve my paddle. With it finally in hand we did the portage one last time and carefully pushed off from shore.

The last stretch of the river was the toughest, the water was shallower and the current was much stronger. In some cases we had to pole the boat in order to cross some shallow areas and in others we had to take two or three attempts to pass as the current could get very strong in some narrow areas. When we finally reached our last portage we encountered the most difficult of such cases, and spent at least 20 minutes trying to get our canoe that last 10m to the portage. The water was shallow enough that we could have walked the boat up to the portage but in May the water is quite cold and neither of us wanted to get our feet wet.

The last portage was the most challenging of them despite being a long flat dirt logging road. You'd expect it to be the easiest without any inclines or rocks to trip on but I found the scenery to be quite boring and thus I had a harder time keeping my mind busy as we worked our way up the road. Like all the other portages that day we did a double carry, meaning we had walked the road three times before we finished the portage. There were plenty of moose tracks and droppings on the road, so we knew our four legged friends weren't far away. There was also quite the chorus of frogs singing as we passed one small wet area next to the road.

By the time we pushed off into Potter Lake the sun was starting to set. The lake was as flat as glass and offered us one of the most memorable views I've experienced in Algonquin. We had the pleasure of spotting a beaver swimming next to one island, marking my first actual beaver sighting (though I couldn't begin to tell you how many beaver dams I've crossed). We worked our way up the lake slowly, enjoying the view as we scoped our some potential sites. We were not thrilled with any of them and eventually settled on the last one we encountered. We would have doubled back to some of the ones we'd skipped if we had time, as we were not thrilled with this one either, but it was getting quite dark and we still had to set up camp and make some dinner.

For dinner we made some steak fajitas over the fire and had a few sips of wine before we went to bed. Just as we were getting ready for bed it started to rain so we quickly set up my Siltarp II over our tents and went to bed. Unfortunately we did not use a ridge line as the positioning of the trees around us did not allow for it. I fell asleep that night listening to the frogs chirping and the rain hitting the tarp.

Day 2 - Portaging in the Rain

I woke up around 8am after a poor night's sleep. My hips and back were sore from the hard ground and eventually I gave up on getting any more sleep. When I opened up the tent I was surprised to see that the tarp had blown down exposing Dave's tent to the rain. Two of the guy lines had been tied to small saplings or branches that were not ideal but were our best options. They did not hold up well and the ropes broke free. I repaired the shelter and started prepping for breakfast. Dave woke shortly after me and despite his tent being exposed he did manage to keep everything dry.

We had bacon and egg burritos for breakfast that morning along with some coffee to warm our spirits. We listened to the forecast on a small radio and it predicted that the rain would stop by 1 or 2 in the afternoon so we decided to wait it out. That proved to be a mistake as the rain never let up, we did not break camp until 4pm that day and it was still raining hard. We knew we'd have a real challenge getting to camp before sundown but we did not have far to travel that day so we decided to risk it, not wanting to spend another night on that site.

After a quick paddle back across Potter Lake we crossed the first portage into Pathfinder Lake. The portage was short and easy, despite the large puddles we had to dodge. Pathfinder Lake was surprisingly windy but we managed to navigate through the network of small islands and find our way to the far end where a large beaver dam sat next to the portage. This was a relatively short portage which lead us into an unnamed beaver pond where we had the pleasure of seeing a few beaver mounds but no beavers, though we did hear a tail slap as we approached the mound. The start of the portage was slightly flooded thanks to another beaver dam, but I suspect it could be far worse when the water levels were higher. In any case, we were able to pass and began the longest portage we had done thus far (2.9km).

The portage took much longer to travel than hoped, thanks to some rather slippery slopes and a long distance. Just as we were starting the second carry we encountered a spruce grouse strutting its stuff in the middle of the portage. I was able to film a short clip of it despite the lighting not being the greatest. After that we continued down the portage, as I did my best to spot any potential snags for Dave who was behind me with the canoe. It had grown quite dark at this point and from under the canoe he could not see much. We were able to make it to the end thanks to our headlamps and a well defined path. Though this was my first portage in the dark it certainly would not be my first time setting up camp in the dark, but I was more concerned about finding a site. Having been on a lake in the dark before I was not eager to do the same again. Little did we know the portage connected to one of the sites, but we would not discover that until the next morning. We loaded up our canoe and carefully navigated our way out of the remainder of the river and into Tom Thomson where we took the first site we found. We figured we'd be best to sleep there and get up and find a better spot in the morning. We did not bother with a fire that night and instead chose to cook over our stove and go to bed after a few sips of scotch to warm us up.

Day 3 - Windbound

Though the rain had finally stopped the wind had came in it's place. I had struggled to stay warm in the nigh with the wind tearing through my tent. I woke up fairly early and did some exploring on my own while Dave slept. It was then that I found a trail connecting the site to the portage we had done the night before. When I came to the actual portage I found several sets of tracks indicating that a moose and some sort of pawed animal had been to that spot for a drink since we were last at it. After returning to the site I put on some more layers and laid down for a couple more hours sleep.

Once we were both up we made some breakfast and debated what to do. The wind was quite strong and the lake was very choppy. Neither of us felt like packing up the camp or canoeing so we chose to say on that site, as it was on the lake we had reserved though it was not an ideal site. In retrospect I wish we had switched sites and found one a bit more protected from the wind, as we suffered all day. For most of the day I wore all my clothing, with even my rain gear on top, and still could not keep warm. The temperature was not that low but the wind really chilled me to the core. Plus my tent was facing the water with little shelter it. Dave's tent was facing mine with the back of it to the water so he was quite a bit warmer. We spent the day playing some games we had brought and drinking, as well as cooking several meals to keep warm. We never did light a fire on that site as the fire pit was down by the water and it was far too windy there.

That night I slept with all my clothing on, and did manage to stay warm, despite the wind never letting up.

Day 4 - Down the Oxtongue

When we woke we were sad to see that the wind was still just as strong. Despite this we had to pack up our camp and hit the water. So we had a quick breakfast of oatmeal and coffee before heading on our way. Once we reached the Oxtongue River the wind seemed to subside. It was not our first time down the Oxtongue so we made good time. As we passed Teepee Lake we decided to check out Gibraltar Rock. After climbing to the top and snapping a few pics we were on our way again.

As we approached the Canoe Lake portage the rain returned to keep us company. The portage was extremely busy and we spotted one crew of people portaging with everything but the kitchen sink. The most laughable thing they had brought along was two 24 packs of bottled water. I can only wonder if they also bring sand to the beach. Before long we were back on the lake and quickly made our way across Canoe Lake, which was also quite windy. We arrived at the portage around 4pm eager to have a warm shower before hitting the road only to find out that the showers and washrooms did not open until the long weekend, which was the next week. So we changed into dry clothes in the parking lot and started our long journey home, stopping at a restaurant along the way for a quick bite to eat. It was about 2 in the morning before we returned home and I thankfully had a few extra days off afterwards to re-cooperate.

Despite being a wet and windy trip we did enjoy ourselves and immediately began dreaming about our next trip.

Glenridge Quarry Naturalization Site

View Larger MapFor years I've been meaning to check out the Glenridge Quarry Naturalization Site. I drive by it almost every day and it's right on the escarpment so I knew it'd be worth checking out. I've been to the Queenston Quarry several times but this one was filled in long ago (with garbage, literally) and then turned into a park. I had stopped there once before but after taking 20 steps I decided it was too cold and windy and went somewhere else. Once again, the wind was strong but it was warmer so I decided I could endure it. There isn't much here in terms of trees and I imagine that the wind is all coming off Lake Ontario, whipping up the escarpment and picking up some serious speed as it crosses this barren stretch of land. In any case, be prepared and wear a wind breaker.

You should also be prepared to do a lot of walking without much to look at. Unlike a forested area this place lets you see off for a long distance, meaning by the time you get close to something you've already been staring at it for 20 minutes. But that doesn't mean there's nothing worth looking at! There's a cool little geological studies area aimed for kids and then there's a pond area with a nice walkway built out onto the water, with plenty of fish, birds and tadpoles to entertain you. Other than that there's a massive hill you can climb up to see the view, and a splendid view it is. You can see across Lake Ontario to Toronto with the CN Tower being the most obvious building, and if you turn to your right you can see Niagara Falls with the Skylon Tower being it's most obvious landmark. As far as I know, this is the only spot where you can see the two sister towers simultaneously. Unfortunately there are a lot of trees blocking your view of St. Catharines but there is still much to see. There's also a nice observation area up top where you can take a break and hide from the wind, which is horrendous up top!

First Test Hang of the Year

Finally got out for a full night of stealth camping. What originally was supposed to be a Friday night hang became a Saturday night hang, and even with an extra day to pack it was still a scramble to get my gear ready and out the door on time. I arrived just as it was getting dark, about 8:20pm (Sunset was listed as 8:46 on Google). I worked my way down into the gorge to my little campsite and quickly had the hammock set up. I struggled with the one marlinspike hitch, I'm not sure why but I had to take a break on that strap and go do the other, which I got on the first attempt. Then when I went back to the first strap it still took another 3 or 4 tries before I got that knot right. I don't know why but I'm still struggling with this knot. But in any case I had the hammock up quicker than I'd have a tent up and I proceeded to light a fire as it was now getting very dark.

After taking 20 min to get the fire going good enough that I could leave it while I set up my tarp, I went back to work. I had brought my Integral Designs Siltarp II out tonight as I'd never used it with my hammock, I always figured it was too big and I had liked the Hennessy Hex Tarp. This ended up causing me a lot of frustration, first of all I forgot to grab my short cuttings of paracord, I was used to the hex tarp having little pockets with enough rope tucked into them. I ended up having to spend 30 minutes "cutting" rope with a lighter, all I had was one 50' hank of paracord which had been for hanging my food bag. The next issue was that my tarp was all stuck together after being stuffed in its stuff sack all winter. The silicon sealing I had put on it ended up causing it to stick itself really good -- I've regretted sealing this thing ever since I got it. After I got it all unstuck and and finished all the tie-outs I was saddened to see that it was not nearly as big as I had envisioned it to be. I had come very close to getting the $65 Siltarp I but convinced myself to spend the extra $60 for the larger tarp at the last minute, so I am very glad I did that. With a little bit of adjusting I found that the Siltarp II was just big enough to make me feel rain secure underneath... But now I'm really itching to upgrade to Hennessy's silnylon version of their hex tarp and keep this one for a general wind / rain tarp.

With everything set up I sat and drank some wine, read a few chapters of A Dance with Dragons on my Android phone, and eventually turned in around 1:30am, much later than I intended. By then it had cooled down considerably so I looked forward to cozzying up in my sleeping bag. I did not get the blissful sleep I had hoped for. I still don't feel as though I slept a wink, having never dreamed the whole night. I feel as though I blinked and it was 4am and I had the overwhelming urge to pee. Nothing worse than getting out of the Hammock at four in the morning but I saw no other option. I never got comfy after that, I lost all my body heat and had a hard time warming up again. I was just lying in my mummy bag with the top part around my chest open (I can't seem to get into it properly in the hammock) and then I had draped a sweater over my chest area. This had worked well on my 7 day solo last summer but I also took a sleeping pill each night to ensure I slept solid. Since I was not portaging the next day sleep was not so critical so enjoyed some wine instead. My arms I had to tuck in at my sides, with the edges of the bag covering them, that kept me warm but I grew very restless of the "skeletal position" I was in and opted to leave them out and kept trying to get my feet comfy in their restricted end section. Even with what felt like a proper diagonal sleeping position my legs keep cramping and I was generally just driven nuts by having my feet side by side the whole time.

I tossed, I turned, I hardly slept. I had aimed to be up at 6 when the sun rose but since I finally had fallen asleep I let myself go to 7:30am. I woke again with the incredible urge to pee. I don't think it was the wine because I usually don't have a problem with that, I think it was a combination of all the water I drank the day before and the cool dampness that set in later in the night. In any case, I was exhausted still and was so uncomfortable that I could not bare to stay there any longer. I didn't bother to make coffee and breakfast as planned, instead I had the camp packed up in 20 minutes flat and I marched out of there to my car. On the way home I got a large coffee from Tim Hortons which warmed my insides and once I got home I took another nap. This would not do if I were out in the back country and had many kilometers to travel that day!

So, despite the crummy night's sleep I had I would consider the trip to be a success. I was out there mainly as a test hang, this was my first night sleeping with the whoopie sling setup. I had set it up before and laid in it and read for a few hours so I was confident in it holding me up but it was definitely nice to see how easy it went up and down compared to before. On top of that I spotted several issues that need solving before I feel confident going out for another solo trip in Algonquin. Those are:

Issues Identified:

      Feet are cramped
      Not warm enough
      Not enough rope
      Siltarp II sticks to itself

    Possible Resolutions:

        Need an under quilt
        Need an over quilt
        Need to keep pre-cut, and lighter rope lengths with my Siltarp
        Dust seams of tarp with baby powder

      These are absolutely critical for my next trip and the quilts are not cheap. I'll have to fork out some serious dough here to get a good down quilt set, something I had hoped to avoid for the time being. Without my feet so constrained in the ends of the bag I think I will be comfier, as well as better insulated -- so it will solve both issues thankfully. I'll be going on another test hang next Friday so instead of bringing my mummy bag I think I'll bring two blankets I have so I'm not confined in my bag and my chest isn't exposed. And hopefully I can get through the night without a piss break!

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