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Algonquin Park February 2009

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  • Algonquin Park February 2009

    This is the first trip report that I did . I did an 8 night solo cold tent snow shoe/pulk trip on the Sunday Lake dog sled trail in Algonquin Provincial Park. I brought some MSR Denali snow shoes that I was planning to wear. On the way into the park, I stopped off at the Algonquin Outfitters and purchased a small chair, and a used pair of the military snow shoes constructed from magnesium. They provided much better floatation than the Denali snow shoes would have provided. I had my pulk loaded and ready to go by 2:15 pm.

    Since my pulk was so short and since I had to wear a backpack to carry some of the gear, I was unable to wear the hip harness that came with it. I attached the poles with biners to different locations on my pack to haul the sled. I found it to be a very unpleasant experience. Not only was the sled far too short, but I did not like the rigidity of the poles. Also, it was very tough to pull in deeper snow. I travelled 4 km in two hours. I finally arrived at my campsite at about 4:15. I camped between Standing Rock Jct. and Leaning Pine Jct. to the West of Titmouse Lake. After stamping down the area where I was going set up the tent I proceeded to start digging a fire pit. I had to dig down at least 3-4 four feet. There was a lot of standing dead wood in the area. After setting green logs about two inches thick on the base of the fire pit and after sawing and splitting some wood, I had a fire going immediately. It got down to below -30 degrees C that night. I set the tent up after the letting the packed snow in that area settle for about 3-4 hours. By the time I set the tent up it was about 8:00 pm. I used two thin blue foam pads with a therm-a-rest pad above them. My therm-a-rest pad did not properly inflate that night and my sleeping bag did not achieve its proper loft by the time I climbed into it. I also used extra wool shirts as under my sleeping bag for additional insulation. The next day the therm-a-rest properly inflated and after airing out the sleeping bag it achieved its full loft.

    I had originally planned on trekking every second day, but after seeing the work that goes into setting up a site alone and once I realized the time it would take to break camp, I decided to do base camping. I also realized that I did not want to haul that pulk any more than I needed to. After sleeping in after the first night, and after eating breakfast and melting snow for water, I spent a good amount of time getting my fire wood supply. I found it very easy to melt snow. I always put at least 500 ml of water in the pot before adding the snow. I used a vapour barrier liner from Western Mountaineering inside my -30 MEC Thor Windstopper bag. I pulled the VBL up to my arm pits and then closed the draw string. This kept my arms and hands free. I found the VBL to be much more pleasant than I thought it would be. It definitely added additional warmth to my sleeping system. Last year when doing drive-in camping, I did not have a vapour barrier liner and I had little opportunity to air out the bag. By the end of week it lost over half of its loft. This year, the VBL saved the loft in my bag. Most nights, I slept in my merino wool base layer shirt and my MEC Check V shirt. On the coldest night, I put on an additional shirt but over top of the VBL. For the lower body I slept in my merino wool gitch and thin merino wool long johns. I also kept my liner socks on and my wigwam -30 socks on. In the morning, I was slightly damp but after putting on my codet six pocket wool pants, a couple of wool shirts and my cotton canvas anorak from Empire canvas, I was immediately comfortable. The damp feeling was gone within 10-15 minutes. I aired out the sleeping bag and VBL for the first part of the trip when the weather allowed.

    During the days and in the evenings, I used two methods to dry my gear by the fire. One was a drying rack and the other was putting poles into the snow surrounding the fire pit. When it was sunny, I also tried hanging my socks on a clothes line.

    On one of my hikes I took a picture of another area that looked good for a future campsite(picture below).

    By the end of the second night, I was getting ready to do some reading after two long days. Just as I started to read it started to snow. At this point I decided to set up the tarp. I kept it up for the remainder of the trip. I needed it for the rain and drizzle that came during the latter half of the trip. The tarp that I used was from Canadian Tire(10 by 12 feet). They can withstand the brutal winds of Lake Superior. They can withstand sparks from the fire. Just use duct tape to patch them. They can handle a snow load. The snow does cause it to droop. Just knock the snow off and re-tighten the guy lines. I’ve used it for about 10 years. They are very durable.

    This is the tent that I used. It is the Keron 4 and it is made by Hilleberg the Tentmaker. The outer tent is attached to the inner tent. This keeps the inner tent dry when taking it down in the rain or snow.

    For the remainder of the trip, I did some short hikes, collected firewood, drank hot chocolate, smoked some cigarettes, said my prayers and did some reading by the campfire. I met this guy named Craig Lawrence who runs the Sunday Lake Dog Sled Trail through Outward Bound. He was really knowledgeable about camping in the backcountry. We talked about trekking and camping gear. He thought that I had a pretty good setup. As he was going by on his snowmobile one day, I was heading back to the site with a nice dead tree that I had cut. I asked him to take a picture of me with the new clothing. I was wearing the cotton canvas anorak from Empire Canvas as well as the Big Bill(Codet) six pocket wool pants. I cannot overemphasize how functional these two articles of clothing were. The anorak is the best windbreaker that I have ever used. The only time that I took it off is when it was raining hard on the last day, and when it was warmer and I was sawing or splitting wood. Not only does it block the wind really well but it is the most breathable windbreaker that I have ever used. Even on the coldest night when I was sitting by the fire I only had my wool baselayer shirt, two thicker shirts and a military wool shirt/jacket under the anorak. Even when it was raining lightly, I kept it on while sawing and splitting wood. It still kept my under layers dry and the anorak itself dried very quickly while sitting in front of the fire. I always felt very comfortable with the anorak on whether it was cold or warm. Kevin Kinney from Empire Canvas is a great guy to deal with. I purchased some True North mitts and a wool blanket shirt from Empire Canvas as well. They make great functional gear which should last a very long time or maybe a lifetime.

    The wool pants were amazing as well. Last year I used to dread putting on the gore-tex pants when getting up first thing in the morning before going skiing or snowshoeing. After getting out of the sleeping bag I was obviously chilled. Once I put the wool pants on I was immediately very comfortable. It was only when I was walking very strenuously in the warmer weather that they felt too warm. After reducing the pace or after resting, I was back to feeling very comfortable with them very quickly.

    I wore the Baffin Impact (-100) degree C. boots. These are very big and bulky. I bought them oversized about 5-7 years ago when my winter camping was limited to yurt camping in Algonquin park. Even when buying them oversized I was not able to fit more than one pair of heavy socks in them. The foot box is too short. I will likely replace them next year with a pair of Sorel Glaciers. I found the vapour barrier liner socks from Integral designs to be useful. When I wore them last year and this year, I found that my boot liners were damp by the end of the day. I thought this was a defect in the VBL sock. Since the VBL socks do not go up as high as the liners, I think that the perspiration from those areas of the leg not in the VBL sock introduced perspiration into the boot. On the second last day I did not wear the VBL socks and my boot liners were considerably more damp. On the last day when I trekked back to the car I did not wear the VBL socks and my wool socks were very wet within a few hours. It would appear the VBL socks did keep the dampness in the boot liners to a minimal level. I dried my boot liners out by the fire every night. This process dried them out completely.

    The picture below is a dogsled team travelling by the trail near my site.

    On the night before I broke camp and on the morning that I broke camp, it was raining. I kept the cotton anorak on and the wool pants on until I took the tarp down. At this point I put on the gore-tex pants and jacket. They were so much less comfortable than the anorak and the wool pants. I immediately felt chilled until I started moving again. I have never had such a miserable time breaking camp. It sucks breaking camp in the rain during three season camping. In the winter, it is far worse with the rain. Everything got wet. I was shaking slush off of the tent before rolling it up. The spare saw blades were bone dry in the rain. I kept them in a 1 ¼ inch plastic plumbing pipe with end caps(see picture below). When trekking out on the last day, I replaced the poles with rope. I much preferred the rope than poles for pulling the pulk. Another interesting point to make is that in the colder weather with softer snow, I was able to build paths around the campsite with the snow shoes which would solidify a short time later so that I could walk around on the packed areas with my boots. On the last two days with the rain and warmer temperatures, these packed areas suddenly started collapsing. I would be walking around and would suddenly sink in 12-18 inches. The rain really messes things up. On the last day, my previously solid paths were all but destroyed.

    All in all, it was a really good trip. I came to appreciate the value of wool pants and cotton canvas anoraks. I experienced a both extremes of weather from below -30 deg. C to above 0 deg. C with rain. I also realized that I need to make myself a 10 foot UHMWPE toboggan to replace the pulk. I found a good piece at the supplier that canoedog got his sled material from(120 inches by 15.8 inches). I kept my cooking oil in a 500 ml Nalgene bottle. I thawed it out by placing the bottle in boiling water. The fruit leather that I made in the dehydrator was amazing. The baked beans that I dehydrated were great as part of my breakfast. I cut the salami and cheese ahead of time and in the evening I would place the next day’s portion in my sleeping bag. During the day, I would keep them in the cargo pocket of the wool pants. These techniques kept the food from freezing. I kept my batteries in the upper pocket of my wool pants during the day and I kept them in the pocket of my sleeping bag at night. I kept my liquid soap, hand lotion and toothpaste in my cargo pocket during the day and in my sleeping bag at night. On the first night I forgot that tooth paste would freeze. I discovered this the hard way when I went to brush my teeth and the toothpaste was frozen. I will be sawing off about 4-5 inches off of the tails of the military snow shoes. This is what Craig Lawrence suggested and this is what the park staff do. They were too long and got in the way when trying manoeuvre; especially in the deeper snow. I picked up a pair of the Faber A3 heavy duty snow shoe bindings for the snow shoes. If I get my sled built in the next few weeks and if it calls for decent weather, I will do a shorter trip in early March. I will be putting up a post soon to get some tips on certain aspects of building a toboggan. For the first time on a trip, I did not have a single night when I had to get up in the middle of the night to go pee.

    P.S. You can still eat reces peanut butter cups when it is below -30 without thawing them out. Scotch mixed with hot water makes for a great night cap!!!

    John’s cousin Pete

  • #2
    Another great trip report, CousinPete .

    I was lucky to find my Big Bill Codet wool pants on the local Craigslist and I absolutely love them... Two nearly-new pairs for $40? The deals are out there!


    • #3
      Hello Hamingredient: I am glad you enjoyed the report. Congrats on your purchase! That is a fantastic price!👍