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March Melt down trip 2010(my second hot tenting trip)

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  • March Melt down trip 2010(my second hot tenting trip)

    This interesting trip started on Tuesday March 16, 2010. I was on the highway at about 0445 and I arrived at the West gate of Algonquin park shortly before 0800. My original plan had been to do some ice travel to get to either Red Fox Lake or Hiram Lake until Saturday and then do land travel for the remainder of the trip. I was originally planning to camp in marsh areas.

    While I was paying my registration fee, Craig Macdonald showed up at the West gate and provided the gate attendant and myself with an update regarding the Sunday Lake Dogsled trail. The meltdown started to really kick in a few days shortly before I arrived. The day before, Craig Lawrence who runs the dog sled trail had decided to shut down ice travel for the dog sledders. Due to my limited experience with ice travel Craig Macdonald strongly recommended that I avoid ice travel and stick to land travel. In past trips on the dog sled trail I have always camped in marsh areas. Craig Macdonald stated that due to the melt down, these areas would me completely unsuitable for camping on. He recommended an area off of the Sunday West Jct which had a dog sledding site which was not used this year. While driving along the highway 60 corridor I was really blown away by the lack of snow that I saw. While getting my gear ready for the journey, Craig Lawrence showed up with his dog sleds. Normally, at the end of March he does a one week trip in Temagami to finish the season. However, due to the poor snow conditions throughout most of the province, he said that he had to cancel the trip this year.

    I began the trail as usual heading east. On this trip I brought my huron and bearpaw snow shoes. I had 8mm rope wrapped around the frame to give extra grip on the uphill sections. On the last trip there was a short section on an incline which was pretty steep which took about 10 minutes to climb. With the rope on the snow shoes, I travelled this section without having to stop at all. The rope made such a huge difference. The first few km on the trail had direct sun exposure and I readily saw the impact of the meltdown. Below are some pictures to illustrate it.

    Once I got out of the field and into the bush, it looked like winter wonderland. Below is a picture of the trail after getting into the bush.

    I made improved travel time on this day compared to the earlier trip that I did this year. I travelled about 4.4 km with a lot of hill travel in about one hour and 45 minutes. At this point I ate lunch. I had only two layers for the upper body. It was sunny and close to about 15 deg C this day. I then travelled about another .8 km to get to my campsite. Due to the meltdown conditions I decided to just base camp at my site at the Sunday West Jct. After flattening down an area to put my tent I went searching for some wood. The only problem with my site is that there was no standing dead wood in the immediate vicinity of my site. There was good amount of dead wood about 400 m away from the site. I found a really nice chicot Tamarack tree about 100 m or so from my site. The base was about seven inches in diameter and it was at least 40 feet in height. The tree ended up lasting me for eight days. After cutting it down I cut off the limbs and cut the tree into five pieces. I brought the smaller diameter pieces back the first day. After bringing the wood back to the site, I had to go for quite a hike to get my spruce boughs for the sitting area in the tent. With the wood and boughs at the site, it took only about 30 minutes this time to set up the stove and tent. This was a huge improvement compared to the last trip. I tied many of the guy lines to trees and instead of cutting pickets for the other guy lines I used these amazing snow pegs made by Hilleberg the Tentmaker. These pegs are one inch wide and 12 inches long. They are made from hardened aluminum and are very durable. Once I had the tent set up and the wood sawed and split I had a rocking fire going within minutes.

    After my long first day, I slept in on the first morning. I had a good breakfast and then hauled the remaining pieces of the Tamarack tree back to my site. I then did another tour in search of some more spruce boughs for the floor. Below are some pictures of my tent, Sunday Lake and the stove setup.

    On my last trip I cut poles to insert through the stove legs. The end of these pieces would then rest on poles at the front and back of the stove. This was a very time consuming process to find the proper diameter poles and then cutting them to the proper size, especially when travelling solo. On this trip, I decided to use two 34” (2” by 3”) pieces for the front and back. On the back piece I nailed a 20” by ¾” piece to elevate the back end. The pieces which were inserted into the legs were 34” in length as well, but I shaved about ½ “- 3/8” from the 3” side so the pieces would easily fit through the bottom opening on the stove legs. All four pieces weighed about 6 pounds but greatly reduced the set up time and the aggravation factor.

    In the early afternoon of the second day I received a visit from Craig Macdonald. He brought me some candle holders for the radiant candles that I had purchased from him. He also gave me a brief tutorial explaining why spring ice is more dangerous than early season or deep winter ice. He explained that that minerals in the ice create vertical channels(called candles). If I understood him correctly, these candles melt more quickly than the surrounding ice which weakens the overall ice during the warmer spring conditions. He said that if a person falls through the ice in these conditions, the ice will continue to break away(candling) as you try to climb out of the water onto the ice. He said that the deep winter ice is much safer to fall through since it is easier to extricate yourself in these conditions. Please correct me HOOP if I explained this incorrectly. Below is a picture of my snow shoes with the 8mm rope wrapped around them. It appears that a 3 m(10’) piece does the job just fine for each snow shoe.

    I still used the lamp wicking material for my snow shoes on this trip. They worked better than the last trip but I still had to adjust the binding often to get a proper fit. I will be using the heavy duty Faber binding for future trips. Below is a picture of the radiant candle in action. For the last six nights of the trip, I used 2 candles per night. They give off a great deal of light. I only needed my head lamp on for reading.

    On day three I was up nice and early. Below is a dog sledder whizzing by my site at about 0730.

    On this day I skied about 21 km. In the morning the snow was hard and crusty. It was tough skiing down some of the steeper hills. Due to the crust I could not use the snow plow technique to slow down or stop. I ended up just dropping on my right side. After two days of this, my back side was rather sore. As the day progressed the snow became more soft and I was able to do some snow plows. Below are some pictures that I took that day. The sides of the hills facing south had a lot of melt down. The areas facing north still had some decent snow. Although there was a good layer of snow on most sections of the trail, I had to take my skies off a few times to cross either water or bare patches of land

    Below is a picture of Zenobia Lake. Check out all of the standing chicot dead wood. This will be a location for a future site.

    The temperature climbed up to about 18 deg C. I was skiing with just a thin base layer shirt. I was getting so warm that I was tempted to ski without a shirt on. I was wearing 16 oz 100% Melton wool pants. They are Swedish Military pants from 1941. I was surprised at how comfortable they were given the temperature and my activity level.

    On day four, I decided to ski back to my car and drive to the West gate to check out the Fen Lake ski trail. I walked and skied the 4.9 km short loop. This was a total waste of time. To say that the trail was brutal would be an understatement of the worst degree. I had to take off my skies on several occasions. Below are some pictures of the trail. The first two show how bad the melt back was in some areas. The last picture shows an area which was protected from the sun and still had a good base.

    On my arrival to the parking lot, I met up with Craig Lawrence and Craig Macdonald. Craig Macdonald informed me that there were colder temperatures forecast for the upcoming week. He gave me some advice on how to deal with bare patches when hauling a toboggan. He said to keep the toboggan off of rocks and sand. He stated that it is okay to pull it over wood and leaves and grass. This knowledge came in handy when I headed out the following Thursday. Later on that afternoon, I received a visit from Craig Lawrence. He had taken down one of his tents from wood frames. We discussed canoe tripping and winter camping. He stated that in the summer months he is a canoe guide in Maine. He told me that he has met Garret and Alexandra Conover. This guy makes a living doing what he really truly enjoys. I think that is amazing. Below is a picture of Craig Lawrence on his snowmobile and a some pictures of me in my tent.

    On day five I had decided to do some more skiing. I had been debating whether I should leave my food bag in the tent or hang it over a tree branch. While saying my morning prayers, an animal stuck it head in my tent to check it out. The animal was light brown with white patches. It had a long thin tail and was the size of a small racoon. At this point I decided it was time to hang up the food bag if I was going to be away from the tent. On this day I skied about 18 km. There were some more bare patches on this day compared to the previous Thursday. The skiing was still decent though. Below are some pictures of the scenery:

    This was my last day of skiing. From this point onwards I did some small hikes and I spent time sawing wood, chopping wood, reading and praying.

    On day six, I decided to get some more firewood. Below is a picture of the toboggan loaded with some sweet chicot poles. In the morning I heard a group of people hauling pulks making their way back to the parking lot. I could not believe how loud the pulks were on the hardened snow. About an hour later the last of the dog sledders made their way back to the parking lot.

    On day seven I attempted to follow the trail west of Titmouse Lake. The trail was fine until I hit the open marsh area. At this point I could not go any further. The snow was all melted and the water in the marsh area was too deep to walk through. Below is a picture showing the marsh area where the trail ended:

    On day eight it was cloudy. There were some snow pellets in the early afternoon. A short time later there was some light rain. Later in the afternoon, we had some snow flurries. Near my water hole on Sunday Lake there is a river that enters the lake. I figured that as the trip progressed this would be the first area where the ice would melt. Below are three pictures of this area to illustrate the melt down. The first picture was taken on day two. The second picture was taken on about day four. The third picture was taken on day eight.

    On day nine, I took a picture of the site showing the extent of the melt back that had occurred.

    Below are some pictures of Sunday Lake on my final night:

    On day ten I broke camp and headed back to the parking lot. It took me just over 3.5 hours to break camp. This was almost a 1.5 hour reduction from the previous trip. I am making progress!!! Below is a picture of the fully loaded toboggan before heading out:

    My site was less than two hundred meters away from the main double lane road which leads to the parking lot. It took just over 45 minutes to travel 2.7 km back to the car. There were a lot of hills and although the trail was fairly decent, in many sections there were some pretty large bare sections. On those areas where the trail was bare, I was fortunate to avoid hauling the toboggan over the rocks and sand. I pulled the toboggan to the side of the trail and hauled it over shrubs, leaves and grass. Below are some pictures of the trail on the way back to my car:

    Although the conditions were not ideal for winter camping, it was a great learning experience. I had an amazing time. I got to witness the melt down first hand. It was a nice break from living in the concrete jungle. In the future, I’ll plan my late winter trip for no later than the end of February or at the very beginning of March. In terms of snow shoes, I’ll still bring my bear paws for travel in the bush on unpacked areas. I’ll leave the Hurons at home and bring my MSR Denali snow shoes for the packed trails. The crampons on them will give great traction on hard the packed trails.

    The Steger camuk xtreme mukluks were great on this trip. The bottom of the boot is rubberized moosehide. The upper part of the boot is guaranteed to be water proof only in conditions below 0 deg Cel. There were a few occasions when my foot post holed through the snow and into about 8 inches of water. The air temp was above 0 deg Cel on these occasions. The water temp was probably close to about 0 deg Cel though. The liners in the boot that post holed were no more damp than the liners from the other boot. I left my Steger Arctics in the car for this trip. I pulled out the liners and the wool/felt insoles to have a spare set for the camuks. The camuks came with a one set of wool/felt insoles and one set of tinfoil bubble insoles. I ditched the tinfoil bubble insoles and purchased additional wool/felt insoles. I wear the camuks with double wool/felt insoles.

    As I finish this report, I am looking forward to heading out in four days for a 10 day canoe trip with my dad in Algonquin park.