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February 2011 hot tenting trip in Algonquin Park

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  • February 2011 hot tenting trip in Algonquin Park

    My first winter trip of the year started on Tuesday February 1, 2011. I was up at 0400 and I arrived at the West Gate in Algonquin Park shortly after 0800. After registering, I drove down the highway 60 corridor to get to the parking lot at the Sunday Lake Dog Trail. As I was speaking to Craig Lawrence who runs the trail, he told me that all of the lakes had slush on them. He had made a few trails over some lakes with his snowmobile and these sections of lake were slush free. Due to the slush, I decided that I would only do lake travel if absolutely necessary.

    I had made some modifications to my toboggan since last year. This year I used a cotton canvas tank to wrap my load. It has grommets spaced so that I could tie the tank to the metal rings that I have attached at the end of the cross pieces. This tank replaced the army half tent that I used last year. While the army half tent would be great for containing one layer, it didn’t work as well for me since I have two layers that need to be wrapped. I also replaced my Black River Sled lashing system with heavy duty bungie cords. I replaced the rope that I used for the hauling line with one inch webbing. Craig McDonald stated that the rope will dig into your arms but the webbing will be much more comfortable. I replaced the lamp wick binding on my snow shoes with the Faber heavy duty bindings. I also tapered down the front of the toboggan. The top of the curve used to be 16”. It is now 12” and expands to 16” at the first cross piece. Craig McDonald told me that on the dog sled trail, this modification will not matter. He stated that in situations when I am breaking my own trail while hauling the toboggan that the taper would make hauling the toboggan more efficient. I also replaced the Conover bags with a custom made marine canvas day pack.

    I headed out shortly before 1100. Below is a picture of a flat section that I travelled through shortly after heading out:

    I made really good travel time today. I headed east along the trail and I travelled the first 3.3 km to the Standing Rock Jct. in just over one hour. This stretch had a number of small hills. There is one nasty hill that gives me a challenge every time. As I was travelling up this particular hill, I stopped because I was having trouble making progress with the incline. I lost my footing and the weight of the toboggan started pulling me backwards. As I tried to regain my footing I did a beautiful face plant in the snow. To make matters worse the top of my right snow shoe smashed into my left shin so hard that it broke the skin. I felt like such a paquaka doing the face plant. After reaching Titmouse Jct., I stayed to the right and then took the exit to Titmouse Lake. I arrived at Titmouse Lake shortly before 1330. It was a challenge pulling the toboggan at this point. Even with my snow shoes, I was sinking down close to about one foot. Hauling a toboggan on solid snow is much easier than when you have to make a path through deep snow. Within a few minutes, it seemed like my snow shoes were becoming heavier and heavier. At first I thought that it was the deeper snow that was making my trek more laborious. Upon closer inspection I realized that I had encountered some slight slush. I then grabbed my axe and left my toboggan where it was. I made a trail to the area that I wanted to use for my first camp. I then knocked my snow shoes with the butt end of the axe to remove the ice that was forming from the slush. I then went back and hauled the toboggan back to the site.

    For those of you who are experienced winter travellers, you have experienced slush and you have come to the very proper conclusion that it is the bane of the winter trekker. Up until this point I had never experienced slush. By the end of the fifth day, it seemed that I had completed a crash course in slush. For my co-workers and friends who are not familiar with slush, I shall quote HOOP, the creator of this website to give you a quick understanding of what this is. The quote is taken from the first part of the following link. The link itself is from the educational component of the website. Feel free to read the entire link to gain even more info about slush:

    Slush forms on top of lake and river ice from overflowing water. As soon as it snows on top of ice, that creates a force pushing down on the floating ice. All ice, including perfectly safe thick ice naturally cracks day and night, expanding and contracting with changing air temperatures. When the ice cracks water can rush up through the crack on top of the ice but under the insulating snow, and form slush pockets. These slush pockets can become very broad, sometimes covering entire lakes under the snow, and they are a hazard to travelers. You can get bogged down in it as the water seeps up through the snow, flash freezing on your snowshoes, skis and sleds. A slushed sled will not slide with big globs of slush frozen hard on it, so you need to do your best to avoid slush pockets, or move quickly past them sometimes breaking your own fresh trail (float) and not following the leader's float.

    Once I got to my site, I flattened out the area that I planned to put my tent on and that I was going to use for my work area. After this was done, I gathered some firewood, some spruce boughs and some poles for my bipod to secure the stove pipe. All of this work as well as setting up the tent and stove took just over three hours. This was some good progress compared to last year. Below is a picture of my path to my first water hole showing the effect of slush. The next picture is of the view from my campsite shortly before dusk:

    One lesson that I learned about water holes on lakes with slush is that if you don’t need to dig a hole in the ice, then don’t bother. With my water scoop I was able to dig through the snow to find water without actually breaking through the ice. I was not content with this though. I used my ice chisel to actually dig a hole through the ice. This actually created a much worse slush problem around my water hole. When I went back a few hours later to get some water, I didn’t use my snow shoes and I ended up walking in about 4-6” of water. It seemed that there was some slight leakage in my Steger Camuk Xtreme mukluks. The foot of the mukluk is waterproof rubberized moose hide. The leggings on the boot are supposed to be waterproof in temperatures below 0 deg C. However, when the water level extended beyond the rubberized moose hide, it felt like a small amount of water leaked in to the area where the top of the foot meets the shin. Later that night when I changed my socks and dried out the liners, I noticed that the area on my socks where the top of the foot meets the shin was noticeably damp. This is the exact area where it felt like it had leaked when I stepped into the deeper water. This is the same experience that I had last year when I stepped into some deeper water. The liners though did not appear to be any more damp than they usually are after wearing them all day. A certain amount of dampness is to be expected when wearing waterproof footwear all day.

    It was -20 C. overnight. Overnight it had started snowing until late afternoon on day two. When I attempted to go back to the water hole that morning, my path had not frozen over due to the wind and the additional snow. I was sinking into the slush water with my snow shoes on and the whole area surrounding the water hole was really slushy. I turned around and knocked the ice off of my snow shoes. I then made another water hole without actually chiselling a hole in the ice. This greatly reduced the slush problems that I had when fetching water for the rest of my stay on the lake. Later in the trip when I talked to Craig McDonald, he stated that slush water is perfectly fine to drink. Day two was spent relaxing, gathering and processing more firewood and gathering some more spruce boughs. I used cedar for firewood at this site. I should note that after the heavy snow fall the slush on the lake appeared to be significantly worse.

    It was -30 C. overnight. It was a beautiful crisp cold morning. Below is a picture of the tent and the view from my site:

    After eating good breakfast, processing some fire wood and spending some time in prayer, I decided to go skiing. I had decided to use the same path to exit the lake that I used to enter the lake. I thought that the path that I had created may have caused the slush to freeze and eliminate this problem. However this was not the case. I hit some slushy sections and as such I had to walk with my skis to exit the lake. The slush had froze to the bottom of my skis and as such I could not glide with my skis off of the lake. Below is a picture of a slush hole that I passed by when crossing the lake:

    After exiting the lake I took the skis off and scraped the ice from them. While I was scraping the bottom of my skis, Craig McDonald drove by in his snowmobile while grooming the trail. I told him about the slush on the lake. He gave me some handy advice when walking on a lake with bad slush. He said to carry a stick and to smack the side of the snow shoe each time you lift it when walking. This advice came in handy on day four. After this I continued with skiing. My plan was to make my way to Spruce Jct. and ski the west side of loop to the Crossover Jct. A short time later I bumped into Craig McDonald again and he asked me about where I was planning to ski. After I told him, he suggested an additional loop which would fit in well with plans. He told me about a new loop which had been added to the dog sled trail. After thanking him, I continued skiing. At the Ramp Jct., I turned right and made a detour to poplar Jct. At this point I turned right and then left. This is the new section of trail that I was told about. I skied through a beautiful Tamarack stand and then skied over Zenobia Lake. I then took the first left and crossed over Bab Lake. This took me to the Bab Valley Jct. From this point I made my way to Spruce Jct. and I then skied the section that I had originally intended to do. The detour was worth it because I scouted out an area for a future site that I would use this trip. It was really windy this day. At times the wind was so strong that it would blow the snow off the trees in such amounts that it was like momentary white out conditions. Below are some pics that I took while skiing. The last two pics are of the new section of trail across Bab Lake:

    After I finished my route I headed back to my site on Titmouse Lake. Shortly after getting back onto Titmouse Lake, I hit the slush again. Below are some pics of a slush hole, the slush seeping through the snow on my ski tracks and a pic of the ice that flash froze to the bottom of my skis:

    After getting back to the site, I scraped the ice off of the bottom of my skis and enjoyed a nice hot drink.

    It was -10 C. overnight. After eating a good breakfast and spending time in prayer I decided that I would snow shoe to Zenobia Lake and do some exploring. Again I ran into slush problems exiting Titmouse Lake. I took a short cut to Zenobia from Titmouse Lake. I was hoping at first that the short cut could possibly be used to haul the toboggan to Zenobia Lake. However some of the hills were just too steep to make it worth while hauling a toboggan while travelling solo. Below is a picture of the Tamarack stand that the trail goes through on my way to Zenobia Lake:

    After crossing Titmouse Lake, it took just over 45 minutes to arrive at Zenobia Lake. I scouted out a nice area in the marsh lands that would make a good site. I decided that I would break camp the next day and move to this location. My original plan at the start of the trip had been to travel to Red fox Lake, like I did last year. However, after experiencing the slush on Titmouse, I had decided that further lake travel was not an option. If Craig McDonald had not told me about the addition to the dog sled trail which cuts through Zenobia Lake I would have stayed on Titmouse Lake for the entire trip. Getting to Zenobia Lake would not require any lake travel. My potential site can be reached by getting off the trail through the Tamarack stand before the trail hits the lake. Last year, when I was doing day trips, I had explored the Dog Sled camp at Zenobia Lake and figured that the marsh lands on the other side of lake would make a great place to camp. As it turns out, the area that I was looking at last year was this same spot. I decided to stamp down an area for the tent as well as a work station. Below is a picture of the area that I had stamped down:

    After eating lunch, I headed back to Titmouse Lake. I ended up hitting a really nasty slush pool. My right foot sunk down into water and slush. I tried pulling my foot out but it had about 6” of heavy slush and I had problems extricating my foot quickly. I used so much force to get my foot out that I lost my balance and almost did a face dive into the slush pool. Fortunately my hands broke my fall and I only got my mitts wet. I made a new path very quickly to get around this area. Below is a picture of the slush area that I just described:

    A few hours after getting back to the site, I realized that I could not find my maps. I had lost them on my way back to the site. I have never lost my maps before. Fortunately I was very familiar with this area and all of the junctions have a posted map. If I had been out in the true backcountry without established trails I could have been in a real jam. I had my maps in a map holder which was placed in the cargo pocket of my wool pants. In the future I will be keeping the map holder around my neck or securely attached to the toboggan at all times. As it was, I knew that I would be able to rely on the maps located at the junctions to make my way around the trails. At first I thought that I had lost the map when I almost did the face plant in the slush pool. I ended up grabbing stick and headed back to the pool. Once I hit the slush areas I knocked the bottom of my snow shoes with each step to clear off the worst of the slush. This technique worked really well. As it turned out, I did not drop my maps in this location. On my way back to the site, I created a new path to use in the morning in hopes of avoiding the slush. I ended up following the shoreline. I ran into minimal slush. It would soon be dusk and I decided that it would not be wise to retrace my steps and go looking for the maps. Below is a picture of the inside of the tent:

    The next morning on day five, I was up at 0530 and had the toboggan loaded shortly before 0900. This was significant improvement compared to my first trip last year. Right from the start my toboggan was not pulling nicely even on solid slush free terrain. In hindsight there was frost built up on the bottom of the toboggan and some frozen slush acquired on day one when I first ran into some minor slush when first entering the lake. These factors slowed me down from the start. As I headed out on the new trail that I had made the night before, I learned another lesson. The new trail that I had created had all sorts of winding turns and curves as my trail mirrored the shoreline. I realized very, very, very quickly that toboggans prefer straight trails. Every time that I hit a turn, the front of the toboggan went off the trail and into the deep snow which brought it to a halt. I would have go back and pull the toboggan back onto the trail again. Once I reached the end of the new trail that I completed the night before, I continued along the lake shore but travelling in a straight line. At this point, I was sinking through 12- 18” of snow which made for very laborious pulling. To make matters much worse I hit a slush pool and the bottom of the toboggan flash froze and stopped dead in its tracks. I almost let out a whole slew of expletives that could have put a seasoned military drill instructor to shame. But by the grace of the Good Lord, I did not utter a single cuss word. I think that this incident should actually be investigated as a potential miracle. I was so frustrated that I would rather have been locked in a room for eight hours with the most ardent Jehovah’s Witnesses without an opportunity for a cigarette break while trying to convince them of the divinity of Christ rather than haul that toboggan any further. I had to strip off another layer of clothing at this point due to the heat that my body was generating. I realized that my toboggan would not budge by hauling it with the tumpline. I grabbed the rope loop hanging from the front of the toboggan and with both hands I managed to pull the toboggan about 1-1.5’ at a time while moving backwards. I was wearing my 16” bear paw snow shoes at this point to maximize my flotation and they kept getting stuck in the slush and snow. After using this meticulous approach for what seemed an eternity(probably less than 10 m), I finally got out of the slush. I then turned the toboggan on its side and scraped the ice off from the bottom. The ice was a couple of inches thick in many points. Below is picture of the ice built up on the bottom of the toboggan and the slush trail that I pulled it through:

    After scraping the ice from the bottom of the toboggan, the remainder of my journey off of Titmouse Lake was slush free. It was so easy again to pull the slush free toboggan through slush free snow. Below is a picture of the slush free trail which brought me from the lake:

    After getting off of the lake I stopped and had a well deserved cup of hot chocolate and a cigarette break. I then turned the toboggan over and fully removed the remaining residue of ice and frost with my scraper and scrub pad. After getting back on the dog sled trail, I made my way past Leaning Pine Jct. and Titmouse Jct. At Delta Jct., I took the trail to the right of the fork and again stayed to the right once I hit Ramp Jct. This involved a .8 km stretch to get me to Poplar Jct. The first .7 km is a steady incline with a decline for the last 100 m. I stopped approximately every 100m to catch my breath. From Poplar Jct it was a breeze to get me to my site on Zenobia Lake. I made great travel time this day. After eating lunch at Zenobia, I retraced my steps from the day before in an attempt to find my lost maps. I did not find them. On my way back to the site, I gathered a nice handful of spruce boughs for the tent. Below is a picture of my loaded toboggan:

    Once I got back to the site I set up the tent and stove in the area that I had cleared the day before. At this point I learned another valuable lesson. I had my work area and toboggan behind the front of the tent. I should have positioned my tent so that I had plenty of clear space in front of the tent where I could unload the toboggan and process my wood. As such I had to stamp down some more snow in front of the tent in order create a new work area. This wasted some valuable time. After completing this chore, I gathered my scissor poles for the bipod to keep the stove in place. I also gathered some firewood and some more spruce boughs. Once I was ready to find a water hole, I ran into some more problems. I made a path onto the lake to dig my water hole. Unfortunately, my path was not on a direct angle away from the shoreline. When I finally dug deep enough for water, the water had a putrid smell and it was full of bog particles. I then decided to move up about another 10m from this location and dig another hole. Although it smelled like bog water there did not appear to be any particles in this water hole. I boiled it for a good 10 minutes before drinking it. After boiling the water the smell went away. Later in the evening however, I noticed very small algae like particles in the water. The next morning I chose a new water hole that was well away from the shoreline. I did not even need the ice chisel. I used my water scoop to get rid of the snow and I used slush water which had no visible particles. The two areas where my previous water holes were located were surrounded by slush at this point. I had some problems getting a good burn going in the stove on this evening. It did not make any sense because I was using bone dry Tamarack and I was using the damper and air control valve properly.

    Overnight the temperature was around 0 C. In the morning it was clear to me that the stove was not functioning the way it should. When I would open the stove, smoke would enter the tent and I had creosote coming out of the top of the pipe. I finally figured out what the problem was. The back end of the stove was significantly lower than the front of the stove. Last year when I was speaking to Craig McDonald he told me that the stove would burn better if the back end was up higher than the front end. I waited for the stove to cool down and then I arranged the stove so that the back end was up significantly higher than the front of the stove. I also checked out the last two sections of pipe. They had a very thick tar like creosote residue on them. I did not clear them at this point, because I thought that once I got a good burn going in the stove, the creosote would just burn away. I had a lazy day gathering fire wood and spruce boughs for the tent.

    Overnight the temperature was around -10 C. On Day seven, I noticed that plenty of residue had floated from the stove pipes on to the ground. I couldn’t figure out why this was happening since I had never encountered it before. I figured that maybe the pipes needed cleaning. I decided to go for a short hike and let the stove cool down. I checked out the dog sled camp on the other side of the lake and explored the immediate area. The skeleton structure for the wall tent was in the process of being rebuilt. While hiking along the trail across Bab Lake, I took the following picture of another slush hole:

    After getting back to the site, I took the pipes apart and discovered that instead of burning away, the creosote on the inside of the pipe had changed from a thick tar substance to a very flakey substance. I am fairly certain that it was these flakes that were coming loose and exiting from the pipes. I took the pipes away from the site and gave them a good scraping. From this point onwards there was no residue at all coming from the pipes. I finally got to spend a good amount of time reading today. I read some chapters from the Bible and started reading from the Collected Tales by Nikolai Gogal. I am an avid reader and I have really come to enjoy the works of the great Russian authors. Later that evening, Craig Lawrence drove past the site in his snowmobile after dropping off supplies to the other dog sled camps. He told me that somebody had found a map holder and that he had it in his truck. He figured that they were my maps. He said that he would drop them off the next day. I told him about the issues that I had with the water, and he said that it is perfectly fine to drink as long as you boil it. On the other side of the lake where the dog sled camp is located, it is not a marsh area. He said that they set up their water hole a good distance from the shoreline straight into the lake to get their water.

    The temperature was getting colder over the course of the day and over night it dropped down to below -20 and was accompanied with a strong wind. I heard popping noises overnight and all of day eight. Day eight was a relaxing day. I processed enough wood for the remainder of my trip. After spending time in prayer, I read for the remainder of the day. In the early afternoon, Craig McDonald drove past the site and we talked for a little while. I told him about the challenges I faced with the slush getting off of Titmouse Lake. He said that on lakes with slush, it is good to create a path the day before for the toboggan because as long as the wind doesn’t blow the snow back on to the path, the path should solidify the slush and greatly reduce the types of problems that I encountered that day. He said that if the wind is strong and covers the trail with snow again, that the slush would remain. This is what I had encountered. I also told him about the issues that I had with the stove and he said that I did the right thing. He said that with stoves like the one that have, the back end should be one inch higher than the front. I noticed that I had voracious appetite on this day. Below are some pics of my tent, the view that I had from the site and some dog sledders following the trail across Zenobia Lake:

    Overnight, the temperature had risen to -15 but with a very strong wind. On day nine, I was up at 0600 and had the toboggan loaded up shortly after 0930. Before heading out, I turned my toboggan on its side and used my scrubber to remove the frost from the bottom of the toboggan. From Zenobia, I made my way back to Poplar Jct. I then made my way back to Ramp Jct. I then took the 1.1 km stretch to Titmouse Jct and quickly reached Leaning Pine Jct. From this point I took the .8 km stretch to Sunday West Jct. From here I took the 2.7 km stretch back to my vehicle. I reached the car shortly before 1300. Just before reaching the parking lot, there is a fairly long and steep hill that I needed to go down. I used a rope brake with knots on it, hoping to slow the toboggan down as I made the descent. However, the rope brake with knots worked too well. My plan was to hold the hauling line while standing behind the toboggan. I hoped that the rope brake would have simply slowed the toboggan down. The rope brake with knots kept bringing the toboggan to a halt. I had to push the toboggan down the hill and after each push the toboggan moved for a few metres and then stopped again. In the future I will try using the rope brake without knots in it.

    All in all, I was blessed with a great trip. Although my experiences with slush were very frustrating at times, I learned a great deal about it. For this, I am very grateful. I became more proficient with using my stove. I am really happy with the changes that I made to my toboggan. They are an improvement from last year. I am very fortunate that my job allows me a certain degree of flexibility to do these trips. I will be heading out again on March 1 for a nine night trip. I can’t wait!!

  • #2
    I remember this report from the old site. I'm planning for Feb 13-17 this year, hopefully COVID won't interfere. Do you have any plans for this year? I'm thinking Minnesing loop. Probably basecamp out of Cannisbay...


    • #3
      Love the detail in your reports, Cousin Pete! Thank you.
      Sort of feels like we're right there experiencing it with you.


      • #4
        Hello MarkoMrko: Nice to see you here! You have a good memory. I haven't been camping since around Feb 2018. Injuries and life got in the way. Hopefully I'll get out for a trip next year. I wish you success with your Feb trip.

        Hello Undersky: Thanks for your kind words! I try to provide detail for the reason you mentioned. When I go back and reread the reports, the memories come back more clearly.

        Take care,
        Cousin Pete