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This is a photo and video report of my third back-country camping adventure!
In 2021, I was inspired by Adam Shoalts after reading several of his books, to try out hiking and camping in the deep backcountry of Ontario. My first adventure was in the summer of 2022 deep into Frontenac Provincial Park where I hiked 45.5kms and 63,500 steps over the course of three days, with a pack weighing a ridiculous 65 lbs.
I camped at two different sites on this trip, first hiking from the parking lot at Arab Lake to my 1st site at site 12a at Lynch Lake. Then, on day 2, I hiked about 1.5 hours to my 2nd site, Birch Lake, site 8d, followed by a gruelling hike out the next day
In the fall of that year, I returned to Frontenac for a much easier weekend at 30 km and hiked with a much lighter pack at 50 lbs. This time I only had to hike about 5kms to my site, site cluster 4, site b at Frontenac Provincial Park. I would stay at the same site both nights but did a substantial 20km hike all day on my 2nd day there.
I would later learn that I had COVID-19 during this whole trip, which explained why I couldn’t smell the leaves or taste my food!
For this year’s trip, I selected Algonquin Park for its challenging terrain and for something different, I selected the single site on Little Hardy Lake, far from the much busier Maple Leaf Lake and Maggie Lake.
My intention was to pack lighter and smarter, I acquired some better gear and I invested in a newer, much lighter camera. Ultimately, my pack would weigh the same as my 2nd trip last fall – 50 lbs. The difference was, that I had a lighter camera so I could pack a few newer items, such as a liner for my sleeping bag to keep me warm on the cold nights.
I began my hike into Algonquin at 9:14 am on a beautiful fall day, Friday, October 13th, 2023, I wore my DJI Osmo 4 on a chest mount and I had my camera strapped around my neck so I could film and take photos easily on the way in without having to fiddle with my pack or have to stop and take them out. This made filming and taking pics very easy but it also added significantly to my hiking time.
One week prior, I did a test hike at Mount Nemo conservation area in Burlington with my full pack, I managed to do a 5 KM loop in 1 hour. I estimated the hike to Little Hardy Lake to be about 10kms so I should be able to make it in about 1 hour or so.
I was terribly wrong.
While Mount Nemo has some hard terrain, many inclines and declines, it pales in comparison to the Western Uplands Trail. This trail had many steep inclines and declines, lots of water obstacles, rocks, fallen logs and more. Add to this, it was Fall and all of the leaves had dropped, making the trails very hard to see – and then there was the mud – so much mud!
I found myself taking frequent breaks to rest and some extended breaks to take off my pack, eat some mixed nuts and recharge.
There were very few obvious landmarks, but passing Maple Leaf Lake helped me judge my distance as well as South Leech Lake. As I approached Hardy Creek there was a sign that read “Little Hardy Lake”, this was a sign that I was close, desperate to get the pack off of my back, this was a beacon of hope for me that I was almost done!
I was not almost done
More hills, more valleys, turns to the left, to the right, fallen trees to climb over – I was exhausted, but every step brought me closer so I kept on walking.
Finally, I could see a large lake off in the distance through the trees, this would be Little Hardy Lake! I spotted the familiar orange campsite sign and made a left, in perfect timing the campers from the prior night were just walking out as I walked in, we had a quick greeting as I ended my journey and they just started theirs.
The site at Little Hardy is beautiful, peaceful, serene, remote and most important to me – secluded! I came here to be alone, and that’s what I got!
Amenities are scarce, there is a small rock fire pit and a log bench to sit on, there are two ideal spots to set up a tent, I would suggest the one that is a bit more in the forest as the one I selected was much harder to sleep on.
There are two trees by the lake that are the ideal distance apart for a hammock, this overlooks the whole lake. I spent hours with a warm fire to my right and the calm lake and sky to my left!
There is also a handly thunderbox with a beautiful view, well secluded!
Deadfall is scarce, so I had to head deep into the forest to find enough for two nights of fire, kindling is plentiful as is birch bark for building a fast fire!
Friday night was spent unpacking, organizing and relaxing in my hammock. Dinner tonight was my favourite camping meal – Spaghetti Neopolitan by Happy Yak.
My fire died out, the sky was nothing but dark clouds and I was exhausted by the hike-in, so I retired to my tent to sleep by 8 p.m.
After a hot cup of coffee (Alpine Start Instant Coffee with Creamer), I boiled water for a warm breakfast of Happy Yak Granola with Raspberry and Vanilla. You can have this with cold water which is great on a warm summer morning, but on this cold Fall day in October, I needed it hot!
My intention on this excursion was to spend my Saturday exploring out towards Maggie Lake and more of the Western Uplands Trail. I started by backtracking to see a waterfall that I passed on the way in, then I headed for about 30 minutes towards Maggie Lake, I had my camera gear on me and avoided slipping in the mud several times.
The amount of mud and close-call falls were enough, especially knowing I would have to hike through all of that again on the way back, the insane amounts of mud and flooding convinced me to stay put and simply enjoy my peaceful site, so I turned around and had a great relaxing day with no regrets!
There was a partial solar eclipse on Saturday which made for a brief period of unique light thanks to a break in the clouds, the rest of the day was blue skies and vast white clouds.
For lunch, I tried a Sheppard’s Pie by Nomad Nutrition, I wasn’t crazy about it but I believe I may have not cooked it for long enough.
For dinner, I brought something new to me – the vegetable and peanut pad thai by Happy Yak, the online reviews for it were so good that I had to try it and they were right, it was absolutely delicious!!
As the sun was setting, I built a strong fire that would last me the whole night and keep me warm as the temperatures dropped. The first stars started to appear and I anticipated a great night with the Milky Way, shooting stars and maybe the Northern Lights. Just as the sky was starting to look good, a huge line of clouds came in that would stay for hours.
Remembering how hard the ground was, I took my new Baerskin Hoodie 3.0 and placed it on the floor of my tent under my sleeping bag, it actually helped to soften the ground and made for a bit of a more comfortable sleep.
I woke to a very cold and wet rainy morning and procrastinated waking up for far too long, finally, I rose and made a hot coffee and another breakfast of Granola with Vanilla and raspberries.
I moved all of my stuff inside my tent or under the tarp so I could pack away from the rain, not ideal but it worked and within about 1 hour I was fully packed and ready to go.
For the hike out I decided to not film or take any photos, less distraction, it was raining anyway!
The hike out was challenging with the rain and the mud, my pack was more comfortable and my pace was fast, except for all of the hills and valleys! After a couple of extended stops and short rests, I finally made it. I started my hike out at 11:30 a.m. and made it to the parking lot at 3:15 p.m., shaving almost 2 hours off my hike in.
I was cold, wet and exhausted but felt very gratified that I had just completed my third back-country camping trip.
Since my first trip to Frontenac, I have started a tradition of celebrating with a steak at Chucks Road House, the one in Huntsville, Ontario was 35 minutes away, and was hungry!
What I would have done differently/what to remember for next time?
- Train more leading up to the excursion to build my core and leg strength as well as my cardio.
- Do more test runs with a full pack in the most challenging terrain I can find.
- Bring a self-inflating air mattress for better sleep.
I could stand to bring my pack weight down, but that would probably mean buying another tent and I am quite happy with the one I have now.