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Algonquin Park Feb 2010 (First hot tenting trip)

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  • Algonquin Park Feb 2010 (First hot tenting trip)

    I started this eight night journey on Tues. Feb. 2. It was a trip of many firsts for me. It was my first time using a toboggan, wearing Steger muks, hot tenting, doing ice travel and using lamp wick bindings. I was up at 0400 and was on the road before 0500. I arrived at the West Gate of Algonquin Provincial Park by 0830 and had to wait until 0900 to register. I arrived at the parking lot for the Sunday Lake Dog Sled Trail before 1000. Below is a picture of my gear prior to wrapping the base layer of my load. The stove is wrapped with a section of an old blue foam ground mat. The two green plastic containers with the blue lids were amazing. One was used to keep all of my frozen meat products in. The other carried my nesting pot set, cup, bowl and some other items. Once at camp I used it for my water bucket.

    A short time later, Craig Macdonald arrived at the parking lot. He is a Ranger at Algonquin park and he probably one of the most knowledgeable people regarding traditional winter camping in Northern Canada. The Conover’s who wrote the bible on winter trekking reference him in many chapters of their book. Craig Macdonald uses a snowmobile to maintain the dog trails. We spoke briefly and he gave me some good travelling advice for that day. A short time into the trail there is a blue sign pointing to where the dog trail is supposed to go. He told me that beyond the sign to the left, there is a trail that follows the creek which would take me to Sunday Lake and avoid some of the hills on the trail. A short time later Craig Lawrence who runs the Dog Sled trail arrived with a team of dogs. He is a really decent guy and checked up on me a couple of times last year to make sure I was doing well. I showed him the gear and he was impressed with the toboggan and the army half tent used to wrap the load. Below is a picture of me with the toboggan just before I headed out. Does this look familiar Scott? After I saw you set up last year I knew that I had to get the army hoochie.

    Shortly on the trail, Craig Macdonald came by on the snowmobile and gave me some advice to improve my hauling technique. I was trying to use the technique where the head band of the line is wrapped around the chest with the arms wrapped into the tails. HOOP demonstrates this technique in the educational section of the website. I had it too low on the chest and he suggested that I raise it to just under the collar bone. This technique worked really well on the flat terrain. Once I got past the blue sign, I took the trail to the left and followed the creek. Below is a picture of the toboggan along the side of the trail following the creek.

    After following the creek for a while before coming out on Sunday Lake I saw an old camp site used by the dog sledders. Craig Lawrence later told me that they had not used the site for about 3-4 years. The frames are designed to fit 12’ by 14’ wall tents. Below is a picture of the skeleton of the wall tent.

    Within minutes or less, I came to the opening of Sunday Lake. This was my first experience with ice travel. Below is a picture of the lake.

    It was heavenly pulling the toboggan on such a flat surface. I was not walking much slower than I would have been without the toboggan. Below is a picture of the trail that I left after my first ice crossing.

    After eating lunch I took a 480 m. port from Sunday Lake to Sproule Lake. After crossing Sproule Lake, I took a 500 m port and came to Titmouse Lake. I followed the right shore line and after 45 minutes I finally settled on a campsite. On the uphill parts of the ports, my snow shoes with the monoline material were slipping so I took them off. Fortunately the trail was packed down and I only post holed a few times. Across the other side of the lake to the right of the creek and to the left of the dog sled site was another good location. During my trek that day I was having problems with the lamp wick bindings. They were far too tight around the toes and foot didn’t get into the binding far enough. Also, I had the heel strap too far down on my heel and it kept slipping off. As the trip progressed I gradually figured out how to use the bindings properly. From the time I arrived at the lake it took five hours until I had the fire going in the stove. During the day I wore my 14” Huron snow shoes but around the site I wore the 16” bear paws. There were several factors that led to the huge amount of time that it took to set camp. It took a while to get my pickets used to tie the tent guy lines. I was having troubles with the bindings on the bear paws as well. My feet often slipped out of the bindings when I would try to step over the guy lines to get to another guy line. At this point I was cursing the lamp wick material and basically started calling it crapwick. I think that I was a little to careful trying to get everything perfect that night. I also could have been more organized with some of my gear. Craig Lawrence showed up in his snowmobile about 10 minutes prior to getting the fire going in the stove. He was busy bringing supplies to the dog sledders camped at the lake. After visiting with me he was working on grooming the trails with his snowmobile. I got the temp around the ridge line up to 30 deg C. that night. At this site I was burning cedar. Below is a picture of my tent the following morning.

    The first morning, I removed the stove and dug a stove well. I also cut a long log to serve as a wall between the stove well and the sleeping area. At this point I should mention that I had a combination T and spark arrestor at the top of the pipe. I thought it would add safety when using the stove. It wasn’t until the second morning that I realized the serious problems that it led to. As the second day progressed, I was having problems with the stove. I had smoke leaking from the pipes in the tent and outside of the tent. I also had creosote leaking from the top of the pipe and through the elbow. I had a nasty headache that day. That night, I received another visit from Craig Lawrence. He liked the tent and thought that I had a nice set up.

    When I awoke on the second morning, it was (-25) deg C. I tried getting a fire going in the stove but the smoke filled the tent. The damper was fully open and the air intake was fully open. After closing the door the fire burned out. I thought at first that I did not use enough birch bark and that maybe my kindling was too thick. I also noticed that instead of just ashes there were a lot of burned chunks of wood in the stove. I cleared these out thinking that they were creating a blockage at the stove flu. I then repeated this process using more birch bark and thinner kindling and had the same results. I went outside and finally realized that the spark arrestor must be clogged. I took the pipes apart and low and behold this was the issue. There was so much crap in the pipes that my damper could not fully turn around. Below is a picture of the clogged arrestor.

    After removing the spark arrestor, I had a rocking fire going as soon as I lit the birch bark. Within minutes and stream of yellow/black liquid leaked from the back of the stove. From this moment onwards I had no problems with the stove. Below is a picture of the inside of my tent, a view of the dog sledders leaving their camp late that morning and my water hole. Hey Scott does the inside of the tent look familiar?

    Later that morning as I was splitting some wood, I was blessed with a visit from Craig Macdonald. I told him about my experience with the spark arrestor and he said to avoid them. He liked the steepness of the angle of the pipe. He sat in the tent and took a look at the front of the stove and stated that I had the damper and air intake set properly. He felt that the tent was suitable for solo trips and he really liked the pole structure. He felt that the Kni-co packer stove was suitable for the size of my tent. He suggested that I keep the back end of the stove up slightly higher than the front end of the stove. With regards to the slippage that I had with the snow shoes on the hills he suggested to tie some rope around the outer frame of the snow shoe and the front cross bar. He stated that he sleeps with his stove going all night and sometimes uses a blanket instead of a sleeping bag. He stated that he had also met Elliott Merrick. We had a great conversation.

    Below is a picture of the venerable Craig Macdonald.

    I did a nice birch bark hunt later that day and finally found some on the port that I had taken from Sproule Lake to Titmouse Lake. Later that evening I added some rope to my snow shoes to give them some more grip. Now that I had the stove figured out, I was mentally prepared to travel again.

    On day four I was up at 0630. Below is a picture of the lake with a mist in the air.

    From the time I woke up until I hauled my rig from camp, it took five hours. I then travelled for three hours to get to my next camp. After leaving Titmouse Lake I got back on the dog sled trail which took me to Titmouse Ck. Jct. From there I travelled to Delta Jct. From here I took the dual lane trail to Bab Valley Jct. I then turned got off the dual lane trail and took the trail to Red fox Lake. I had a lot of up hill travel that day. The hill going down to Red Fox Lake was really steep and I knew that I would lose control of the toboggan if I was to walk behind the toboggan. I ended up taking the snow shoes off and walking beside the toboggan taking the toboggan down on an angle. This worked well. The dog sled camp was at the bottom of the hill. I was getting better with the lamp wick bindings. They did not fall off of my feet at all today, but they were too tight around the toes. Below is a picture of the dog sled camp.

    I found a suitable site to the left of the camp and to the left of a river. Again, it took five hours from the time I arrived at the site until I had a fire going. I got more accomplished this night but I was still really frustrated with the amount of time it took to set camp. The snow was really deep and soft. Even after packing the site down with snow shoes for 30 min. splitting wood was tough that night. After setting a cut piece of wood down to use as a chopping block, the chopping block would be submerged within a 1-3 chops. The snow was so soft in the stove well that I could not lay my spruce boughs down until the next morning. The next morning I used a length of log about 3’ long as my chopping block but still had problems with it submerging into the snow after about 5-6 chops. Below are a few pictures of my site on Red Fox Lake as well as the stove set up.

    On days five and six I hiked around the lake and gathered some wood. The port between Red Fox Lake to Black Fox Lake appeared to be inaccessible. It was a very steep incline up the hill. On day six I cut a piece of wood about 7’ in length and 5” wide to use as my chopping block. This worked really well. Below is a picture of it.

    On day seven I hike to the end of Red Fox Lake and over to Hiram Lake. There is a port to Hiram Lake but it is not too nice for toboggans or dog sleds. Instead there is a snowmobile trail following the river to get to Hiram Lake. While heading out from my camp saw a black animal crossing the lake. Below is a picture of the trail that it left behind.

    Below is a picture of the trail between Red Fox and Black Fox Lakes.

    On Hiram Lake I found a site which would be perfect for future trips. There was a very strong North wind on the lake that day but at the site, the wind was completely blocked. Here is a picture of the site.

    Later that day I was blessed with another visit from Craig Macdonald. He had been grooming some of the dog sled trails around that area. He stated that I had taken the more difficult route to get from Titmouse Lake to Red Fox Lake. He recommended a better route with more level ground. I told him about the steep hill when coming down the trail into Red Fox Lake. He suggested to tie a rope length wise on the toboggan from the end to the front and to hold on to the rope while walking beside the toboggan down the hill. He also recommended using a rope brake for steeper down hill descents. This involves getting a rope and tying it together and then hang one end of the loop around the front of the toboggan and let the other end of the loop drag under the toboggan. He also suggested using much thicker rope than I had used on the snow shoes to give them a better grip on the up hill ascents. He stated that he was leaving for a two night trip the following morning with a buddy. When I told him about how long it took to set camp he stated that it would get faster with more experience. He also told me that in the future, if I make it to Penaish Lake that there is a hill to the south of the lake called “Old Baldy”. He said that you have to approach the hill from the south but that at the top of the climb there is a panoramic view for about six miles. He said that on a clear day you can see Lake Opeongo.

    On day eight I hiked to Hiram Lake again and checked out the dog sled camp. There are two tents at this site. The portage trail leading to Whitegull Lake from Hiram Lake is groomed with a snowmobile and it is fairly flat. The trail leading north from the camp is that part of the dog sled trail that is on land; not on ice. I hiked it up to Cedar Hedge Jct. which is only a few km before Penaish Lake. On nights seven and eight I actually got some reading done.

    On day nine I was up at 0530 and it took five hours from the time I got up until I was hauling the toboggan away from camp. I think that part of the reason it took so long to break camp both mornings is that it was snowing lightly on both days and as such I kept the stove burning longer to try to melt the snow on the tent. I think that this was a waste of time. In the future I will crank the stove hot enough to melt the snow on the tent from the night before and then shut the stove down earlier. I followed the easier route that Craig Macdonald suggested and I was travelling on flatter terrain. The climb up the trail leaving Red Fox Lake was nasty. I tied a 60’ piece of rope to the tump and climbed up the hill as far as I could go with the rope. I then put the end of the rope around a tree and pulled it around the tree like a pulley. This worked well. I think that simply pulling the toboggan up with the rope hand over hand without the tree would also have worked well. Below are some pictures of the trail on my way back to the parking lot.

    All in all I was blessed with a great trip. I had many sunny days. The night time lows were between about (-10) and (-25) deg C. The day time highs were between (0) and (-8) deg C. Even when the temp was at (0) deg C. during the day, the wind on the lake caused ice to form on my moustache. I became much more familiar with the region and figured some good spots to camp in the future. It was great using lake water instead of melting snow for water. There was about 3-5 inches of white ice. Under the white ice was about 6 inches of water overtop of the main layer of ice.

    It seems that I learn many important things about winter camping the hard way. I will no longer be carrying the spark arrestor with me on future trips. I am planning to get a piece of pipe custom made to put on the end of my pipe set. I know how to use the stove properly now. Most of the time I had the damper half open and the air intake about a quarter of the way open. Even at these levels the temperature often spiked to 35-40 deg. C. Part of the reason could have been that I was burning Tamarack on Red Fox Lake. Craig Macdonald said that it burns really hot but to be careful because any sparks are long lasting. I had a good system with my heat shields and adding snow to the sides and back of the stove to reduce melt back.

    I brought a candle lantern that I had purchased about 12-15 years ago. It completely sucked. The candle melted into it and jammed it up. I melted the bottom of the remaining candles and attached them to the bottom of a peanut can for the remainder the trip. I’ll be purchasing some radiant candles from Craig Macdonald for future trips.

    I gained some experience and confidence doing ice travel in a safe environment. Through experimentation I realized that the corner guy lines seem to need to be attached at the same height or higher from where they come off the tent to keep the corners at the proper extension. The side walls worked perfect when tied off at a lower level. I can save time in the future using pickets for the corners and smaller dead men for the side guy lines. This will reduce the amount of time searching pickets.

    I figured out how to use the lamp wick material for my snow shoe bindings. The Steger Arctic muks and the Steger Camuks were great. I wore the Camuks during the day and dried the liners and insoles at night. I wore the Arctics at night.

    I saved my bacon grease and used it took cook my banak. It was amazing. It was great having Craig Lawrence and Craig Macdonald checking up on me. They are both really good guys and always ready to give you help and advice. For anybody interested in doing dog sledding, he is the guy to do it with. At the end of March he does a one week trip in the Temagami region carrying all the gear on the sleds. Here is a link to his website.

    Snow Forest Adventures | Dog Sledding in Algonquin Park and North

    I would like to give a special thanks to HOOP and Scott for their invaluable assistance in preparing me for hot tenting.

    Weather permitting I plan to head out to the dog sled trail on the March break. I’ll stay off of the lakes at this time unless a nice cold spell extends during this time.

    Last edited by CousinPete; 12-21-2020, 06:16 PM.

  • #2
    Beautiful photos. Thanks for writing this up. I learned a lot and was inspired. The link you posted does not work for me.


    • #3
      Man, what a great trip report! Thanks for sharing the story and the photos, and your learnings along the way.


      • #4
        Hello Portag99 and Hamingredient: Thanks for your kind words! I am glad you enjoyed the report. Winter camping was a huge learning curve. I remember that I found other people's reports very helpful. I tried to write mine up so that they would help others and hopefully be fun to read. I have about 11-12 more reports to post.

        Hello Portage99: Thanks for letting me know about the link. I replaced it with the current link.

        Take care,
        Cousin Pete


        • #5
          That is a great trip report! Thanks for sharing.


          • #6
            Hello Heavy Duty: I am glad you enjoyed the report. Thanks for starting up this site. 👍😊