Friday, 23 May 2014

3 day solo hike on Algonquin Park's Western Uplands Trail in support of ALS research


What a winter...

I'm especially looking forward to getting out for 3 days of exercise and fresh air to partake in what is becoming an annual event for me.  My goal is to complete the entire perimeter of the Western Uplands Trail in 3 days/2 nights, solo.  In a nutshell, 75 km of heavily wooded backcountry trail dotted with many scenic lakes, ponds and streams. If past hikes are any indicator, I don't expect much, if any, human contact during most of the trek.
What's not to love?

This trail has been traversed  by me on some of my past hikes, but this year's outing will be an extra special one for me for two reasons...
1.  I am dedicating this hike to my father in law who passed away from ALS (Lou Gehrig's) last year after a valiant struggle with the disease.
2.  Assuming I complete it, this will be the longest distance I will have ever covered in a consecutive 3 day period.  This personal challenge is tied in with point 1 above...

With one week to go, I have started assembling the items I will need for the 3 days.  As an advocate of both light weight and comfort, I do my best to keep my weight down while having the gear to setup a comfortable camp.

I was asked whether I could provide photos of the backpacking gear that I use, so here goes:

In addition to what I'll be wearing, my clothing supply includes:
  • Tuque
  • Fleece pullover
  • Rain jacket
  • nylon pants
  • T-shirt
  • extra socks, longjohns

Sleep and shelter
As a light sleeper, I really appreciate comfort in the sleep and shelter department.  As a result, I don't mind carrying a bit of extra weight for these items.  My sleep and shelter system includes:
  • Old pup tent fly that acts as a rain shelter (uses hiking poles as part of setup)
  • Scout UL2 tent (also uses hiking poles as part of setup)
  • Tent/tarp stakes
  • 0 degree down-filled sleeping bag
  • Inflatable sleeping pad
  • Inflatable pillow

Food and water
I don't have all of my food just yet, but the final supply will include the following:
  • 4 packages of oatmeal, 2 fruit source bars, 2 instant coffees (2 breakfasts)
  • Tortilla wraps, plus peanut butter/chocolate mix (3 lunches)
  • 2 dehydrated pasta dinners
  • Energy bars, electrolyte tablets, treats, trail mix
  • 2 - 500 ml bottles of water
  • Kevlar bag and rope for food hanging/storage

I generally try and get the maximum calories per gram to keep the food weight down.  The only thing worse than carrying out extra food weight is running out, so I try my best to achieve the perfect balance.

Cooking and consuming
My cooking and eating/drinking ware is comprised of:
  • Cat can stove with 8 oz methyl hydrate fuel (I need to add the alum. wind shelter)
  • 1 litre cooking pot with grabber and aluminum foil for lid
  • Plastic mug and spork
  • Towel
  • Gravity-fed water purifier

'Other stuff'
Other stuff includes important things such as:

  • Portable wood saw
  • Toiletries (soap, TP, toothbrush, etc.)
  • Emergency kit (medicine, duct tape, bandages, pins, blister cream, etc.)
  • Bear spray 
  • SPOT distress caller (a new gadget!)
  • Headlamp
  • Bug spray and bug headnet
  • Matches
  • Trail map
  • Camera

All packed up
All of the things pictured above fit perfectly into a 40 litre pack, with a total weight of approximately 25 pounds - a relatively light weight that is helpful when covering a lot of ground. Good to go!

Post Trip write up...

To summarize, an awesome trip! I had to take a minor detour at one point, so it ended up being about 77 k vs. 75 instead.  Below is a summary of the hike in pictures with captions that detail the journey - they are in chronological order.
The weather was pretty much perfect, but the black flies and mosquitoes were both at their peak - oh well, you can't have it all!

Wildlife encounters included:
  • 2 bear cubs
  • 2 moose (cows)
  • 1 deer (buck)
  • 1 grouse
  • 2 woodpeckers
  • various waterfowl, including loons
  • owl (heard, not seen, just before going to sleep on day one)
  • hundred of chipmunks and squirrels
  • millions of black flies and mosquitoes

Sign at trail head, off of Highway 60 near park's West Gate

A few hundred metres in, the trail branches - I'll be going in on the left and coming out on the right

Early on…

Hard to believe a rodent can build these things

One of several bridge styles to cross over creeks and wet areas

Water running over smooth rocks

Maple Leaf Lake - the first major lake on the trail and a great spot to take a break

One of the very few distance views afforded on this trail

Some bridges are home made - the pole stuck in the ground came in pretty handy to maintain some steadiness and avoid a soaker (thanks to whomever did this!)

Little Hardy Lake - there's a natural sand beach at the lone campsite on this lake

View from the southern site at Steeprise Lake

…still a few trilliums in bloom

Maggie Lake - great place for a lunch stop and to replenish my water supply

Maggie Lake, another view

Maggie Lake looked like a nice swimming spot until I saw these things - I didn't think leeches could get this big!

Taking the 1st loop affords one a 32 km hike - I proceed on to the 2nd loop.

A small waterfall coupled with a flat rocky clearing - a perfect spot to take a break

Bridge over Big East River - the newest (and nicest) bridge on the trail.  I take a final break at the remnants of a de-commissioned campsite - just 5 k left to my first night's campsite and fatigue is starting to set in

Bean's Boulder - a massive glacial deposit

Probably the toughest section of trail is between Big East River and Clara Lake, with lots of ups and downs and twist and turns on some tough ground

Another uphill - I'm just wanting to get to camp at this point

I arrive at Clara Lake at 4:30 and take a rest, admiring the views before setting up camp. 

The humble tent

All food and scented items are packed in a 'bear bag' and hung well off the ground.  Forget the bears - chipmunks are actually the worst for stealing food...

A small fire to deter the insect clouds and give some warmth in the early evening

View of Clara Lake as I set off on Day 2

One of many rugged bridges

Nice forest view - it's very warm and still today

Taking the 2nd loop allows for a 55 km hike - I keep going on the 3rd loop

Pincher Lake - there are several great campsites on this lake

Stutter Lake

Sorry for the mess up - turn your head 90 degrees to the right to see a nice waterfall...

Lookout view of Stammer Lake - it is soon after this point where I see my first moose on the journey and we cross paths about 15 metres from each other.  I try to get a picture of the moose, but it's moving quickly behind the trees and I can't get a clear shot 

Aptly named Islet Lake - it is here where I encounter 2 very pleasant park workers, the only people I'll see during the entire hike

Brown Lake - only 5 k's to my second night's camp (and yes, I'm feeling it).  I spot my second moose of the day soon after I leave from here

The top of the beaver dam is actually part of the trail and my camp at East End Lake is getting close.  Unfortunately, I spot 2 bear cubs about 30 metres away just as I arrive there - they climb a dead tree in panic of my presence and I don't know where the mother is lurking.  There's no way I'm camping here and proceeding on the trail would bring me closer to the cubs that are hemmed in by the lake on the other side - a bad situation…  Avoidance is clearly the best action, so I turn around and head back 2 k's to another section of trail that connects me to the southern part of the 3rd loop where more campsites are located

Campsite at West Otterpaw Lake - about 6 k's from East End Lake and more than 30 k's of total hiking today - adrenaline got me here from East End, and I am completely exhausted

The cheap and reliable cat food can stove fueled by methyl hydrate - I'm super hungry tonight

The 3rd and final day - heading past the 2nd loop junction on the east side of the loop

Rainbow Lake

Lookout view of Susan Lake - a perfect, sunny day with not a single cloud in the sky

The long climb up from Susan Lake

…and then back down again

Picture taken from a campsite on Lupus Lake

1st loop junction on the east side of the loop - less than 10 k's to go now

Ramona Lake - I stop here for a rest and final water re-fill

Guskewau Lake - the last lake, about 4 k from where I complete the trail