Despite having traversed Algonquin’s interior many times from May-October I never had once tried out winter camping, until now. I suppose it was the initial purchase of snowshoes that I decided, “hey, I might as well get some use out of these”. So with a steady heart I threw out a general Facebook message and sure enough snagged two good friends who were up for the adventure. Not one of us had ever been winter camping, but we decided if we brought enough backup fuel, really good sleeping bags, and went in expecting the worse, what could really go wrong?
Thursday, March 6
We had packed our bags the night before and were all set to depart early at 7am, until we realized that the Huntsville LCBO didn’t open until 10, affording us another hour of sleep. We had recognized the unusual amount of snow even close to Toronto, but it was nothing compared to even 2 hours north. The more we drove, the higher the sidewalls of Hwy 11 became. We stopped at Algonquin outfitters to pick up our sleeping bags and tent and headed for the trailhead.
We had our snowshoes and backpacks strapped on and took off at around 1pm. Our plan was the blue 19km loop in 3 days, which I figured easy since I’d completed the yellow 35km loop in 3 days this past Autumn. While in the fall you are amazed by the vast array of colours, the winter offers its own beauty in the pristine nature and sense of solitude you feel being surrounded by so much white. Although the beginning of the highland trail offers a few steep climbs, the initial 5.6km can be accomplished in roughly 2 hours time. We had picked a perfect day, -7 and completely blue skies, it certainly livened the winter drawls. Before we knew it we’d reached where we’d planned to camp and decided to get everything set up.
We’d all done our research leading up to the trip but a few rookie mistakes couldn’t be avoided.
We decided to build a fire right on top of the snow and enjoyed watching a 4ft crater being formed over several hours while we tried to salvage any remaining embers by constantly stoking the fire, needless to say we burnt a lot of wood until the snow finally gave way to earth. Another necessity would be an axe or auger, as melting snow takes an incredible amount of time, and burns an incredible amount of fuel if you’re not doing it over the fire, a fresh water source is definitely appreciated. We set up camp and enjoyed a massive amount of pasta before being witnessed to a beautifully clear night that lined the sky with stars. After a long hike and a warm meal we crawled into our massive down filled sleeping bags and we’re quickly asleep.
Friday, March 7
Although we’d decided originally we were going to pack everything up and make the next 9km we’d come to the new conclusion that we’d leave the camp where it was and simply take a long day hike. The benefit, no heavy packs and we might as well make use of the fact that we can walk across the lake to any destination, a luxury only afforded when winter camping. It was also +1 degree with a clear blue sky, today was meant to relax. We slept in until about 10am and ate a hearty breakfast of oatmeal before taking off for one of the highland’s lookout points on the Eastern point of the blue loop. After a wrong turn and quick detour we arrived to see a beautiful expanse and eat enough Lipton Sidekicks for 12 people under a hot sun. During our walk we’d bumped into 6 guys on their 12th annual trip, who had even decided to bring in cans of beer on sleds, we knew they were beauties. Once we returned we decided our woodpile needed tending too, so we each took turns finding and sawing any dead trees we could find until we knew we had enough for another long night. Despite there only being 3 of us, our constant snowshoe trails would suggest that there were many more people camping all around us. However, it’s the quiet sense of solitude, especially in the winter is perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of winter camping. After being visited by our experienced friends we decided after a delicious dinner of potatoes, salami, and Pad Thai to head over and say hello. Seeing there camp was the only thing that made me feel as though we didn’t know what we were doing. They had a wood stove, heating a massive tent area, built with simply two tarps, and A-frame log structure, and a snow shovel – they had also cut wood in October and covered the pile in a thick plastic. We enjoyed their luxurious style for about an hour, listening to stories from the previous trips before enjoying the 20 minute hike back across the late and sitting by our own tinfoil lined fire pit until we’d exhausted our woodpile and decided it was time for some zzz’s.
Saturday, March 8
We took our time this morning. Waking up slowly as the sun lifted higher into the sky we realized we had yet another gorgeous blue day on our hands. We ate another meal of oatmeal and slowly got our camp packed an cleaned up. Instead of following the blue loop back to the parking lot we decided to cross the lake and take the portage to the track & trail cross-country loop, and connect with the highland trail farther north –giving ourselves not only an easier hike, but a change of scenery from our entry route. I’m all for crossing large territory when backpacking, but it seems that winter camping is much more of a base camp style, providing you the ease to take day hikes and come back to a prepared camp. After a healthy 2 hours we arrived back at the car with big smiles and sweaty backs.
Our first winter camping trip in Algonquin had gone flawlessly in our opinion, and while we had potentially the most perfect 3 days weather-wise, it’s the right mindset and a good group that makes a winter camping experience truly enjoyable.