Back Country Camping at Frontenac Provincial Park

Last year when I did the book review and interviews with Adam Shoalts for his Book Whisper on the Night Wind, my interests were piqued to try something different, adventurous and mentally/physically challenging.

I decided to try backcountry camping!

For my first adventure into the back country I selected Frontenac Provincial Park. 

Ultimately, on this adventure I hiked a total of 45.5kms and 63,500 steps over the course of three days. 

This will sound like a walk in the park for some and will seem challenging to others.

Confident as I was, and still am, in my own physical fitness and mental ability – this challenge really took me to the edges of my abilities in both, at times.

I told myself that at 47 years old, it was time for another challenge,  and I sure got one!

In the past I’ve put myself through things like a police services physical fitness test at 37 years old where I scored 75%

 And twice I’ve climbed the CN Tower in 19 minutes and 22 minutes respectively.

 Join me on this adventure as I spend three days in the wilderness alone!

The first challenge for this adventure was packing, deciding what to bring, what not to bring, what I need, what I want etc.

My wife had a large hiking pack, but when I packed it and put, it on it was far too uncomfortable for me, so I had to bite the bullet and get a new one.

I finally landed on a Osprey Aether 55 Men’s Backpacking Backpack.

It’s extremely comfortable and holds a great deal of gear inside and outside.

Frontenac Back Country Camping, Night 1: Arab Lake to Lynch Lake

Today we’ll talk about my 1st day on my back country camping adventure at Frontenac Provincial Park.

Check-in was at 2pm, which means 2pm AT your site which means you can start your hike whenever you want but if someone is still at the site you have to kill time before setting up.

I knew from the start it was going to be a rainy day, the weather forecast said so and so did the skies.  The rain started as soon as I pulled into the park and when I started gearing up, the skies really opened up, so I would have to take out my raincoat and the waterproof cover for my backpack.

My pack weighed roughly 65 lbs, which felt fine at first because the pack I had purchased was very comfortable….I did not take into consideration the extended period of time that I would be walking with this heavy pack on!

I started my journey from the Arab Lake parking lot. I could have started from the Kingsford Dam Parking lot which would have been about 5kms or less than 2 hours.

I also could have started at the Salmon Lake Parking lot which was still far, but would have shaved 1 hour off of my hike……

NOPE – I wanted to torture myself and I wanted to start from the farthest possible site I could and Arab Lake was that point.  I headed into the trail in the pouring rain, wearing a brand new pair of Oboz Bridger Mid B-Dry Hiking Boots, my feet remained dry and comfortable all weekend, this was a worthy investment for sure!

The first hour ended up being rather uncomfortable with the pouring rain, the slippery mid, the heavy pack and the fact that I had to put my camera inside my raincoat.  My 1st stop was 1 hour in at the Salmon Lake parking area and portage site. I found a table under a tree, put my camera away, readjusted my pack and made myself more comfortable – it worked!

After a short drink I headed off back into the wild, I really had no idea how long this was going to take me, from my waterproof park map I could see that I was in for a really long hike.

My second hour was very pleasant and comfortable, I had accepted and embraced the pouring rain as a part of the experience and I just enjoyed the beautiful scenery that the park has to offer.  I made a stop at the first lake that I came to to breathe in the air and take in the moment, this was where I had one of very few interactions with another person. A girl was on her way to camp for the weekend at site 3, only about 30 minutes away.  We chatted briefly before she headed back in.

I decided that I would hike for 1 hour, rest, remove the heavy pack, readjust, eat some nuts and then head back in.  This would help the long hike in knowing that I can just put one foot in front of the other and that I will have a break at muy predetermined time.

The pack was getting increasingly heavy and I was really feeling it in my hips from the weight and where the shoulder straps pulled on my anterior deltoids.  I would have to stop briefly to lean forward to take the weight off of my shoulders and to tighten the waist strap. The tighter your waist strap is, the less weight it puts on your shoulders.  The problem with this however is the tighter your waist strap – the harder it is to breath!!!

I had several interactions with deer on my way in and they seemed more curious than afraid, which made for some pleasant distractions on the long hike in.

Shortly after my 2 hour rest, the rain became heavier and heavier and the ground much more slippery. My new boots had excellent traction but they did fail me one time.

At one point while following the trail along the stretch between sites 3 and 6 I came to a point where I had to navigate rocks on a slippery decline with very few trees to use for support.  I took a step down and slipped on a muddy rock and I dropped hard on my left side.

My left elbow and my left hip each slammed down onto rocks, my left hand and arm were covered in mud and the weight of my pack brought me down hard and was keeping me down.

I did a quick check for blood or compound fractures but thankfully all I was left with was a very muddy arm, eventual bruises to my body and my ego.

Eventually, after over 4 hours of hiking I arrived to site 12a at Lynch Lake, I dropped my pack and flopped onto the top of the picnic table with exhaustion!

The site was calm, quiet and peaceful and despite showing as all sites were booked, I had the whole area to myself.

The site sat on a shallow lake, a bit murky and not swimmable, I was advised to not go in the water or drink it, however with days of rain and higher water levels, there was a small stream where the lake flowed over with crystal clear water.  I was able to fill my bottles from here, free of debris and simply use my water purifying tablets.  This saved me a 20 minute hike both ways to get clean water from the nearest lake.

I set up my camp for the night, my tent, my hammock, my cooking set and I set up my camera to shoot some timelapse.

There was no need for a fire as the air was warm and I enjoyed the dark surroundings.  With the sound of constant running water off to the right, I spent a beautiful night alone in my hammock until I retired to my tent for the night!

Frontenac Provincial Park Back Country Camping: Day #2

Day 2 started at 9:30am when I decided to open my eyes, it was an excellent sleep although it did take me a while to finally fall asleep.

 

My morning started with a cup of coffee and a bowl of oatmeal before heading out to hike the trails and lakes for a few hours.  It was very nice to be able to hike and enjoy the trails without my heavy pack on, but this wouldn’t last very long.  I had to return to my site to pack up  by 2:00pm because I had reserved a different site for night 2 on Birch Lake, site 8d.

 

I had completely unpacked my gear so I could re-pack and redistribute to hopefully allow for a more comfortable hike, but the weight was the weight no matter how balanced it was.

 

By 2:50pm I was packed and heading towards Birch Lake, again with no idea how long it would actually take me – my best guess was about 2 hours.

 

The scenery changed often from long and flat to steep and rocky, to open space to tight forest.  At one point in the hike I heard the familiar sound of a waterfall, there was a rope for support to help hikers down a decline and then there was a  beautiful waterfall where the trail took a sharp U turn.  I took off my pack, took out my camera and enjoyed 30 minutes of exploring and photographing this beautiful waterfall from top to bottom.

 

The next leg of the hike got difficult as the terrain got more rocky, an open expanse provided no shade or break from the heat until finally I came to a bridge over a stream that took me into a deep and dense forest, but not before a very steep incline to get up and into the woods.

 

One foot in front of the other, step by step I continued, checking my map frequently to ensure I was heading in the right direction and attempting to gauge my time and how much longer I have.

 

I didn’t stop for many photos on this leg as the pack was totally uncomfortable and I really just wanted to get there!  There is a portion of this hike where you have to walk all the way down in one direction only to cross a bridge over a stream and then go all the way back in the opposite direction – there is no shortcut here, you just have to do it.!

 

I had one short human interaction with a fellow hiker, we said hello and he asked if I had seen any bears, I had not and neither had he.  He asked me about my camera equipment but I didn’t feel like talking.

 

4:36pm, finally after many twists, turns, ups and downs and a couple of breaks I arrived at my site.  It was only about 1.5 hours, including the 30 mins spent at the waterfall but I swear it felt more like 2.5 hours or 3.

 

I quickly got to work unpacking gear, setting up the tent, hammock, cooking gear and then I immediately changed into my shorts and dove into the lake.

 

Never has a dip in a lake felt SO DAMN GOOD and refreshing, two days of sweat, mud, rainwater, cobwebs and countless bug bites – my body needed to jump in the lake!  The water was beautiful, the surroundings were serene and there was not a sound to be heard!

 

Between the hours of 5:30pm and 11:30pm I enjoyed a meal of freeze dried spaghetti neapolitan, a couple of cups of coffee and a whole lot of silence.  I captured some photos and time lapse sequences, I met a water snake, sat by the lake, dozed off in my hammock and generally just enjoyed a perfect summer night alone in the wilderness.

 

At 11:30pm I was quite tired and ready to call it a night, I slept like a rock!



Frontenac Back Country Camping - Final Day

Day three and my final day at Frontenac Provincial Park would end up being one of the most challenging days since I was in the military, and I left the Army in 1996.   

 

I have worked out with professional bodybuilders, I have put my body through the extreme dieting that goes along with bodybuilding on a competitive level, I’ve done a police services physical fitness test (just because), I’ve climbed the CN Tower three times and other ways to test my mental will and physical fitness.

 

My day started slow, I woke up, took in the morning, the sights, sounds and smells.  I put on water for coffee and oatmeal and took my time.  I didn’t have to check out until 2pm but I figured I’ll just leave when I’m ready because I have no idea how long it will take me to get to my car.

 

As I did the day before, I layed out all of my gear, carefully and meticulously packing my bag ensuring even weight distribution and making sure the items that I need are close by and easy to access.

 

My camel pack was filled with 2 liters of purified water and my Life Straw water bottle was also full. In my top pack was a bag of trail mix. I left my camera in the bag, I knew it would be a hassle to carry and I was more in the zone to get out than to stop and take any pictures.

 

At 11:45am I was packed and ready to go, I took one self portrait with my gear on and I headed off to the trails.

 

After 2.5 days of this, I was beat and my bag felt just as heavy despite having less food and a little bit less water…in-fact it felt heavier.

 

My stops were more frequent on the way out, random stops to simply lean over and take the weight off of my shoulders and then back out again.

 

As I did on the route in, I stopped every hour to remove the pack, stretch, eat, drink and rest.  The route out was a bit of backtracking back towards the way I came in the day before and then followed by a route through the park ultimately to Little Salmon Road, the parking lot and then out.

 

The terrain on the way out was brutal, there were so many steep declines followed by the corresponding incline, and the inclines felt so much longer and steeper than the much welcomed declines.

 

Long stretches out in the open under the scorching sun followed by long narrow paths of mud due to all of the rain and inadequate natural drainage.  I tried to control how much water I drank so as to preserve the water in my pack, I was able to fill my Life Straw Bottle once along the way.

 

At one point, possibly at the halfway mark, following one of the worst inclines of the whole trip I simply dropped in front of a log, left my pack on and layed there, I would say this was the lowest point in the trip for me….I was DONE!

 

Eventually, I squirmed out of the pack, refueled on water and trail mix, gathered myself and shook it off.  It seemed all I needed was that break because once I got back on the trail it was simply one foot in front of the other knowing I’ll be there soon!

 

I had one moment of slight panic as the direction of the trail split and my map wasn’t making sense.  Do I keep going straight or do I go left, the wrong turn would surely cost me valuable time and energy so I had to be 100% sure on my situation and the choice I made at this moment.

 

I was about 98% certain that I was to continue straight…thank Baby Jesus I was right, it was still a very long haul but it seemed that the hills and valleys, mud and rocks were gone and as heavy as the pack was and as tired and sore as I was, it was simply walking at this point….really…heavy…..walking.

 

Finally I started hearing the sound of cars on gravel, the trees were opening up and I was getting closer to the main road in the park…about 20 minutes later there it was, Salmon Road!

 

At long last, I came to the road and exited the trail but again there was confusion, the sign on the road said go left for Big Salmon Lake Parking lot and go right for the main entrance….but what about Arab Lake Parking lot?

 

It was roughly 4:15 in the afternoon, I had just hiked for 4.5 hours from Birch Lake.

 

The spot that I was standing at was not 100% clear on my map and everything told me to go left and I would come to Arab Lake Parking lot before the Big Salmon Lake parking lot.

 

Walking under the blazing sun, having just taken my last sip of water, every curve of the gravel road led to another curve in the road with zero signs of any parking lot(s).  15 minutes into this walk I pulled out my phone to see my location on GPS, this was something that I had refused to do for the whole trip, I wanted to rely on my maps.

 

I was closer to Big Salmon Lake parking lot than I was to Arab lake, had I gone right at the trails end the Arab Lake parking lot was 5 minutes away………this REALLY sucks!

 

I dropped my pack, removed my vest and my tilley hat, tucked them into the forest off the road and turned back around 20 minutes in the direction that I just came from to finally get to my car.

 

As you can imagine, this was extremely frustrating and I was so mad at the park for not marking the sign that Arab Lake Parking Lot is to the right – why would they not do that?

Passing the trail end that I had emerged from 30 minutes earlier, and a 5 minute stroll beyond and there was my car!!  I jumped in, cranked the air conditioning and headed back to gather my gear.  

 

This was the end of my three day adventure backcountry camping at Frontenac Provincial Park, I was in my car, I was tired, sunburnt, I was hungry…..and I still had about a 3.5 hour drive to home.

 

I drove for an hour from the park to the 401 highway in Odessa, Ontario and there was NOT ONE RESTAURANT IN SIGHT!  How can this be possible?  Not one greasy spoon, not one dining establishment (I did NOT want fast food)

 

As I approached Napanee, Ontario I saw a sign for Chuck’s Road House, that was it STEAK – A big fat NY Strip Steak and a Diet Coke, that’s what I want right now.

 

I walked in the door of the Napanee steak house looking like death, this was apparent on the face of the pretty young girl who greeted me. She quickly glanced up and down and tried to hide the fact that she had just seen a real life swamp thing!!

 

I made my order, explained to the waitress where I just came from and I apologized for my appearance, then my body consumed a NY Strip Steak, sending every ounce of protein, carbs, fats and iron into my sore, aching and bulging muscles.

 

This is no joke, I felt my arms and my shoulders and they were hard as a rock, fully engorged with blood from the 4.5 hour workout that I just put them through, every muscle in my body had been engaged to support that pack, my weight and the walk up, down, in and out.

 

At this point I realized that I can’t drive 3 hours like this, I’m far too tired, so I called my wife and told her I’m checking into the Napanee Comfort Inn.  But 1st I have to run to Walmart for soap and clean clothes – I DO NOT want to dig through my pack for my clean clothes.

 

My room at the Comfort Inn was ready and it was glorious. I checked in, dropped my clothes on the floor instantly, had a shower (and a tick check – no ticks) and then fell asleep hard from approximately 6:10pm until 10:00pm.

 

I woke up, watched some TV and then fell asleep again, waking up, well rested in the morning and after a good hearty breakfast I started my drive home at 9:30am to arrive home by noon.

 

Just when you think this story is over, it’s not.

 

My wife and I were going to head to a patio for lunch and a cold beer, but 1st I needed a quick shower. I stripped down and as I went to step in the shower I noticed something on my leg.

I grabbed my phone and took a picture of my upper thigh, much to my confusion there was a tick embedded into my leg with his prickly back legs sticking out of my reddened skin.

 

What the hell?  He wasn’t there last night and I sure didn’t see him this morning, he must have jumped on me either when I put my dirty clothes in a bag from the floor, or he was in my car and jumped on me during the drive.  That would have given him 3 hours to dig in that deep.

 

Off to the walk-in clinic I went to have him inspected, properly removed, inspected again and to get a prescription for an antibiotic to prevent lyme disease.

 

With the tick plucked out, a healthy dose of meds and peace of mind I picked up my wife for cold beers and dinner on a patio…all the while wondering when I can go out and do that all again!!

 

Thanks for reading!

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