Monday, November 28, 2016

Western Uplands: Algonquin, Thunder Lake and the First Loop (November 18-20, 2016)

What a great trip!

Sometime in...September?  I had reached out to Sarah and Leanne to see if they wanted to do a girl's trip to Algonquin in November.  Leanne wasn't able to join, but Sarah was up for it!  I suggested we spend three days on the Western Uplands, going up to Thunder Lake on the second loop on the Friday before returning to the first loop and staying on Maggie Lake Saturday night.

Which is what we did.

Sarah brought her Husky Mika, and I brought Neb.  There was a bit of standoffishness when they first met, but they coexisted quite well and at our first break on Friday to take off layers, Neb went into squirrelly play bowing mode.  Mika seemed unimpressed, but they got along well.

Friday was warm - high of 17C - and I ended up hiking in a tshirt!

We hiked 11.08k the first day, and made it into camp in good time, lots of time to set up and relax with some tea and enjoy the view from our campsite on Thunder Lake.

I love the campsite at Thunder Lake.  I've always wanted to stay here in the summer and take advantage of the sandy bottom to go swimming, but I've only even stayed here in shoulder seasons.

Nonetheless, it was a glorious day.  We got the bear rope hung, thanks to Sarah, who got it on her first pitch (after at least 10 fruitless throws from yours truly) - I then nominated Sarah as bear rope thrower for the trip!

For this trip, I brought my Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2, and Sarah her MEC ultralight tent.

The dogs lounged - Mika is like Luc and doesn't like looking at the camera, though I managed to get one shot of her kind of doing so:

Neb enjoying a favourite camping pastime - eating wood!

We enjoyed dinner, and a fire - there were some decent sized logs, though we didn't end up using all of the wood we cut up.  We headed to bed around 7 pm - it'd been dark since 4:30, 5 pm, so it felt WAY later.  What can I say, I go crazy when I'm camping in winter time/short days.  It did mean however some thrashing around in the bush looking for the bear rope (stupid ultralight thin rope is impossible to find in that situation!!!!) but eventually we found it.

I made Neb a bed by my head but of course he slept elsewhere...typical.  It was a warm night though so it didn't matter that he didn't sleep on the mat I brought for him, which also doubled as a bum pad for me sitting.

We woke up to overcast skies but thankful that the forecasted rain had started yet.  Broke camp, and started hiking, retracing our steps to the intersection of the first and second loops and heading along the top of the first loop towards Maggie Lake.

The hiking was harder going than it had been Friday - lots more hills.  My heel, which was not entirely healed from Toby and I's Killarney trip, bothered me some - I checked it and the tape had pulled off, so I reapplied, but it still bothered me.

This plus the rain starting in earnest led us to decide to camp at the start of Maggie West, as opposed to making the long way around the lake to a different campsite.

On Saturday we hiked 13.17k.  We stayed at the first campsite on Maggie West as you come south.  It was set up a little oddly - the tent spots were far apart, part of the site was on the trail, and the water access was a good 50-70m (guesstimate) from the fire pit.  But, it had a good spot for the bear rope, lots of space, and a nice fire pit area.

We set up our tarps and tents and then had some tea.

Neb was now in his raincoat.  I would've preferred it didn't rain, but since I carried his raincoat, at least he used it!

We then set about gathering wood.  It was all wet of course, but we had a fire anyways, for warmth.  The rain turned to sleet and wet snow then snow as the temperatures dropped further.  We had cut up some hardwood and brilliant me had stacked it around the fire so it would dry out - the fire was burning hotter than I realized, because it all caught and we had a really big fire for awhile.  I felt wet, even though I was wearing thick long underwear, my MEC Uplink jacket (synthetic insulation) and my Marmot Precip rainjacket (not bought at MEC).

Because of this, I said to Sarah around 6 pm, is it okay if we go to bed?  So we hung the bear bags, put out the fire, and headed in.

...and I was wet.  Great.  The Precip jacket is no longer waterproof.  The pants were fine, thankfully.  I was able to layer up, but couldn't wear my jacket to bed - and I knew the temperature was going to drop well below freezing.  Synthetic insulation is warm when wet (in fact, I wore the jacket around camp the next morning in the snow, despite it being wet, and was fine), but down is not, and my Western Mountaineering sleeping bag is down.  So I tried to stick it under a nest of clothes in a silnylon sack in case Neb slept on it.  The sleeping pad I'd brought for him got wet under the tarps and I was worried it would freeze overnight (which it did) so I didn't want him sleeping on it - instead I put him in his Katahdin Mushing Supplies belly coat and made a little nest for him with clothes.

I read until about 7:30 on my Kobo then headed to sleep.

We had agreed to get up at 7 am, but at 6:45 I got up and discovered the tent zipper was frozen - I hate that.  I got up, rolling up my Thermarest Neoair X-Therm (man is that thing ever great!) and left the tent - Sarah was up too.

After going to the thunderbox and discovering the lid was frozen so that the whole box picked up when you tried to lift the lid (yuck), I smacked it a bit and got the lid up and was able to use the facilities in peace.  Then I went to get the bear bags.

I under the rope, without too much difficulty - the rope is waxed, so even though the knots were a bit frozen, it undid easily.  I unwound it from the tree, and waited for the inevitable gravity to bring the bags down.

They remained suspended in the tree.

"Huh" I thought, " That's odd."

Then I realized - NOOOO! - the bear rope is frozen to the branches (it was actually over two branches, one smaller, one larger).  I grabbed a stick and started throwing it at the bags to try to loosen it, to no effect.

I went back to the campsite, told Sarah, and grabbed a large branch/small tree that we hadn't broken up for wood the night before, and brought it back to the bear bags and tried to knock/pull them out of the tree.  That and I tugged on the rope, in the hopes it would loosen.

Still stuck.

Sarah came and found a longer branch, and after a good 20 minutes, we got the bags down.  They landed on my head.  Not my finest moment.  But, we had our food etc!  Phew!  I was really starting to wonder.

In all my years of camping, and I include a decent amount of tripping in all seasons, I have never had that happen before.  It just didn't occur to me.  I'm thankful we hadn't picked a higher branch though, or we would've been in real trouble.

The lake was lovely with a dusting of snow:

We had breakfast and set about taking down camp.  We had two tarps up and it took me about 30 minutes to untie the ropes because the ropes were all frozen.  Our tent flies were frozen on and of course the poles needed breathing on too.  But we got it all down and headed off.

There was more snow away from the lakes:

What a range of weather!  17C on Friday, and on Sunday when we got back to our cars it said it was -4C.  Crazy.  We had a good hike out, my heel felt better, and we caught two groups of guys - one guy hiking solo, and then three guys, one of whom had had everything get wet the night before and been awfully cold Sunday morning!  They were in good spirits though.

Sunday we hiked 14.15k out to the Hwy 60 trailhead.

I had a great time on trip with Sarah!  We've been Facebook friends for awhile, but this was our first in-person meeting, and it went great!  She's a fantastic trip buddy!

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