Yup, the dog that just won't quit.
So Luc, our German Shepherd Dog (with a probably bit of Border Collie, but we don't know...he's under 50lbs though and full grown) is now 13 years old. Geriatric by any measure, and 3 years past the average lifespan of both GSDs and Border Collies.
A few health issues (hypothyroid and laryngeal paralysis, which can lead to heat distress) but he's in good shape. We think he's got a wee bit of arthritis, but who wouldn't at his age?
A couple of weeks ago Toby said 'Hey! I have July 30 and 31st off!' so I said 'Let's go camping!'. Car camping was all booked up (long weekend) so I suggested we go backpacking - Frontenac was fully booked, we didn't look at Killarney as we were going to be doing the drive Saturday morning before backpacking and it's just too far away.
The Western Uplands trail in Algonquin still had sites available on the third loop, so Algonquin it was. I was able to reserve Pincher Lake North, which is still 20k from the trailhead, though does feature 8k of mostly rail trail near the trailhead.
Still. Gulp. Luc is old, and it's been awhile since he's hiked that far - still does 14, 15k hikes, it's just been awhile since he's done a 20k hike, let along B2B 20k.
But he's a tough guy. Heck, he's done the lower two and part of the third loop of Western Uplands as a non-stop 60k hike, but he was 5 years old then. Not 13.
We got up SUPER early Saturday morning and hit the road by 5:30 am in an attempt to beat long weekend traffic. So tired. Steph had said to me Friday that she'd sleep in the car and I told Toby that, and that 'I don't really/can't sleep in the car anymore'. He laughed at me all the way up because I kept falling asleep. SOME OF US DON'T DRINK COFFEE
We got to the permit office uneventfully, though I may have been very sleepy. All checked in, Toby picked up a cool hiking tshirt, and then we drove to the trailhead/access point (Rain Lake) only getting confused once (well, I got confused, Toby had the right idea). Got to the access point, searched for a parking spot (thank goodness we got there by 9 am, it would've been worse later on as we discovered when we left on Sunday). Hit the trail by 9:18 after changing into our boots/futzing around.
After the first 800m, the trail leaves the rail trail for a short while, which I didn't realize, so I was confused, but checked the map and saw it did indeed leave for a brief burp plus it was marked. The rail trail was more grown in then expected, and more technical than most rail trail (keep in mind that relativity). It had trees and roots growing across it, plus rail ties or whatever they were that were handy for navigating wet spots and not getting your boots muddy but otherwise a bit annoying.
(The rail ties or whatever were off to the side in that pic but for parts were not)
Still, we made good time. We got to where the rail trail ends for a brief bit at an old/broken off bridge, and descended off to the side to a small log bridge (Luc wanted to keep on going...I was like 'You idiot, you'll fall 20 feet into a lake and you're scared of the water'. He figured it out eventually but we had to yell at him). Saw some people we'd seen at the trail head talking to another hiker with a dog - they took off, and we talked to the hiker with the dog, who was heading out after 8 days on the trail (but she only did the 2nd and 3rd loops in EIGHT DAYS...I'd be bored at those short distances, but then, I'm easily bored). She said 'My dog is 9.5 and can't do what she used to...doing this with her while she still can' which is an amazing attitude, and how we feel about Luc, who, incidentally, looked better than her dog did despite being 3.5 years older. Smug owner moment, me, very nice.
She did however point out the momma and calf moose feeding in the water! I thought the picture didn't turn but it's not half bad, though how well it will show up in the blog I'm not sure.
After this little descent the trail popped up to about another km of rail trail before heading onto real trail (get it? Rail versus real). We had a good climb that left me going 'Oh man, I haven't done this portion of the Western Uplands, I hope the rest isn't like this!!!!' But it wasn't, it was mostly rolling after that.
We had lunch at the first campsite on Islet Lake, after hitting the trail split. Wouldn't want to camp there, as the trail literally ran through it (what is with Algonquin campsites and that? Brutal). Still, a good spot for lunch and to fill up the dog water bottles.
Then we kept hiking, along Islet, Weed, Stammer, and Stutter.
After Stammer and heading towards Stutter there was a big downhill that had our knees complaining (our packs were 25lbs and under with food and water, what can I say, we're ultralight failures, but we had lots of luxuries).
My Oregon (handheld GPS) was measuring way off from the map distances, whereas Toby was using his 920xt and it was accurate. I was using the Oregon because I thought it'd be more accurate, but I think it's 7 or 8 years old so old technology. And I haven't updated it in a few years oops. I used my 920xt for mapping on the return home.
We got to Pincher Lake North. I'd read that the second campsite was the nicest, but wanted to check out the first one we passed so we went down the side trail - it was okay, I guess, but no real good spot for swimming and it seemed a bit buggy as was in a bit of a bay and didn't have a lot of breeze. We headed to the second site (also off the trail down a side trail), which was empty (yay) and it was nice. Good spot for the tent, nice cooking area with two benches and tables, and a rocky area extending into the lake that was perfect for swimming and sitting with your feet in the water - nice after 20k/5.5 hours on the trail!
I wasn't super impressed with the fire pit - it looked like it was on top of some roots - but neither of us cared about having a fire so for our purposes it was fine.
We got set up then lay in the sun for a bit before going in for a swim. At first we were just cooling our feet then I said 'Nope, I'm going in!' so Toby came too. The water was fairly warm, but still refreshing, it was perfect. After our swim we sat in the lake some more.
It was a truly lovely afternoon around camp. The campsite faced east so we lost the sun and layered up. The dogs mostly just snoozed.
For this trip, we used the Big Agnes Seedhouse SL3 - it's bigger than my 3-man Tarptent, which is a nice feature of the Big Agnes with two adults and two dogs, and it is very comfortable. Plus, while I wouldn't call it ultralight ultralight, it's hardly heavy.
Toby was using my Big Agnes Insulated Double Z sleeping pad - the height of luxury - and as I suspected from my last trip in June, it for sure has a slow leak - Toby woke up in the morning with his hip in the ground. I should be able to exchange it at MEC though. I used the Thermarest Z-Lite Sol sleeping pad with my Gossamer Gear torso pad which was also nice to place over the wooden benches for extra padding! Anyways, I digress.
But devolving into gear talk...we used two packs this trip, my custom ZPacks pack (dyneema, with carbon fibre stays and the torso pad as a 'frame') and the ULA Equipment CDT, which was carrying a lb or two over suggested weight. I carried the ULA the first day, as it was lighter, Toby hated the ZPacks as he found it cut into his collarbone, we switched day 2 and evened the loads a bit more, and Toby loved how comfortable the ULA pack was.
Anyways, after some lovely relaxation, chocolate, and a pot of tea (well, I had it, Toby doesn't drink tea really) we made dinner. Toby wanted to have freeze dried meals from MEC, which I like, but I find soupy at the bottom, which irritates me to no end. These were both excellent, but soupy at the end, and in our commitment to LNT principles we packed out the liquid, so the food pack didn't lighten as much as you'd think by the second day. The package says to use 500ml of water and we measured, think we'll try 450ml next time.
We were full enough we didn't have our chocolate mousse! Poop! Next time!
About 8:45 we took the dogs for an evening constitutional down the trail to the 3rd campsite to check it out (nobody was staying there). Man did it ever suck large. I've made nicer sites on crown land. It seriously sucked.
Our neighbours at the first site (they'd arrived about 8 pm) were still going strong, but it was getting buggy so we decided to retreat to the tent (bug spray was hung with the bear bag...there was a perfect branch, and I love backpacking with Toby, because he can get the hang in one throw...talent). We had the Fenix CL20 (I think) camping lantern from MEC and planned to stay up for a bit but I fell asleep pretty much right away.
Toby had the gall to say I (and the dogs) snored! The dogs, sure, but me? I DON'T SNORE IT'S NOT LADYLIKE. And lord knows I'm ladylike hahahaha
I did have a sore throat in the morning though, so clearly I snored a fuckload. I slept really well, and didn't get up to pee until 6:30ish.
Toby didn't sleep well - he was comfortable, he just couldn't fall asleep (no melatonin) so I got up at 7 and puttered, making some tea and taking down the bear bag etc, and then Toby got up at 7:40. We enjoyed our oatmeal then hit the trail just before 9am.
We had considered doing a loop on the 3rd loop - using the portage shortcut at the bottom - but that would mean about 24k on the day and we thought Luc seemed a little stiff in camp the night before. He was fine, so we would've been fine, but in the end we just did the out and back for another 20k day.
Toby's knee bothered him this day - he had Neb both days, attached to his waistbelt, and Neb can really pull and going up and down stuff - well, yeah. Toby is physically stronger than me but I trail run so I think all the little intrinsic muscles around my knees and ankles are stronger than his.
We hit the big up that we'd gone down the day before - offf. But we made good time and stopped and had lunch at the same spot as day 1. Shortly after lunch I took Neb which helped Toby though of course we'd already done the bulk of the day and most of what was left was rail trail, so it's not as helpful as it seems.
In keeping with Neb's theme when he backpacks on the Western Uplands he found some poop and ate it - SO GROSS. That dog, I tell you. That's okay, Luc stepped in some. Sigh. Our dogs.
Anyways, we were on trail for about another 5.5 hours. My feet hurt - my plantar was sore (I can't get orthotics in those boots and fit my feet in, and yes, I take out the insoles) and my left ankle was sore on the outside from the boot pressing against it - it's now swollen! A lot! What the heck! I'm getting new boots, sheesh. I may not be doing my long run tomorrow grrrr
It was nice to get back to the car, the dogs promptly flopped down.
When we got to Kearney (where the permit station is) we stopped and checked out the festival on Main Street. Not sure exactly what it was, but there were races on the waterfront in canoes (no paddles...some people swamped their canoe LOL) and we saw a few people portaging cardboard boxes...perhaps like the flotilla on the Ganaraska? Not sure. We met some nice dogs and eventually popped back into the car and headed for Huntsville, where we stopped for food at Westside Fish and Chips (Toby: fish Me: grilled cheese oh yeah) and ate on the picnic tables with the dogs.
We had a great trip! The next one isn't until October sadly though we do have some car camping planned before then.
And I'm so, SO proud of Luc. He keeps defying expectations - I think he probably could've done further than 20k/day, but good to not push too hard at his age.