Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Hiking Trail - Emily Tract

Stopping in to try out this trail was a last minute decision while returning from Peterborough. To be honest, I wasn't expecting much. I knew the Emily Tract only had 2kms of trail and didn't think it would be anything more than a path winding through the woods, without much of interest.

I was pleasantly surprised. We only had time to do the first kilometer loop but there were a few times where we had "oh cool" moments. First of all, the trail is fairly easy, with no long or steep hills, though the second section is apparently a bit more challenging. There are signs along the way to point out things of interest (also to warn of poison ivy). Basically, the full trail is a rather distorted figure eight. About halfway through the first loop, you can cross a small bridge and do the second loop, then once you get back to the bridge, finish the first and get back to your car.

The coolest part for us was realizing we were walking along the top of an esker, which is basically a long pile of sand and gravel left by melting glaciers. The trail drops off on both sides, fairly steeply. It felt like walking along the crest of a sand dune in the dessert...except it was snowy...and there were cedar trees growing on the slope. Er...well you know what I mean.

This would be a great little day hike for people camping at Emily Provincial Park. To get to the parking area from Emily Park, turn left onto the highway, then take the first left (apparently called Arterial Rd 14?) It's not too far down, on the left. There is room for about 8 cars in the parking area.

Cost: none

Monday, February 27, 2012

Trip Log - Poker Lake...er almost - Summer 2006

The Disaster Trip

The plan was to drop off the kids and dogs with my parents and do the Poker Lake Loop. Our troubles started with a car break down. We had both cars that day, one with the canoe and dogs, and the other with the kids and gear. The one with the canoe was having...issues the whole way and finally, just outside of Norland, died completely. We had to call my parents to come and get the canoe and dogs, then dad and Chris went back with the trailer and towed the car to Haliburton.

It took about half an hour to get to Bentshoe (from the lights in Carnarvon, the parking lot is about 20km down Highway 118.)

By the time Chris and I got to the put in on Bentshoe, it was about 8pm...we had enough time to cross the lake to a campsite near the portage into Poker Lake and set up camp in the dark. The campsite wasn’t too bad, except for a large pile of garbage (beer bottles and used condoms...yuck) At that point, we weren’t too picky. There was also very little deadfall to use for firewood and no time to go scouting around for more. Not the best experience for our first time camping in a non-organized campground.

After dinner, we took our sleeping bags out onto a rocky ledge and watched the stars for a bit. When Chris set them down, mine rolled into the lake *sigh* thankfully it was still in it's little bag, so it didn't get wet. It was nice, and mostly quiet except for the odd sound of a car driving by on Highway 118.

In the morning, I got up early and went scouting around with my camera. Chris likes to sleep in, so I had lots of time to poke around and watch the mist burn off the lake. Breakfast was eggs and ham steaks, cooked on a fire now that we could see to find some wood, then as we were cleaning up we heard the clang of an aluminum canoe banging off a tree...then another one. A whole group of girls from a camp came out of the portage and paddled past our site.

I can’t remember now why we didn’t explore the rest of the loop. I know we only had the one night, and probably had to get back to pick up the kids by a certain point so we packed up and headed back to the put in.

I’ve read a lot of trip logs of people’s first night on their first solo trip, how they lay awake all night jumping at every little sound. It was like that for me, even though Chris was there (sleeping soundly) and we could practically see the highway and the lights of passing cars.

Snowshoeing - Algonquin Park - February 20, 2012

It's been a really bad year for outdoor winter sports, at least in our area. Ever since mid January it's looked like late March out there. Further north wasn't so bad, but finding time to get there to go snowshoeing wasn't easy. We finally managed to get to Algonquin on Family Day. The weather was perfect, about +6 and sunny

The original plan was to do one of the interpretive trails, but when Chris went into the office at the West Gate to get our permit, he asked which rails were good and he was told the Minnesing Mountain Bike Trail. When we pulled into the parking lot, we saw a lot of cars with cross country skis leaning against the trunks. Since ski trails don't allow hikers or snowshoers on them we thought we'd been misled. A little scouting around proved otherwise.

The actual Minnesing trail is for skiers only in the winter, but for snowshoeing, you actually take the trail that leads to Canisbay Lake Campground. From the parking lot, go to the left of the little cabin (where there was a barrel stove lit to warm you up after your trip) and you'll see a sign for the Linda Lake Snowshoe Trail. This can be a bit misleading as well because if you look at the map of the bike trail, you'll see the loop that goes around Linda Lake is over 10km long. Follow the trail until you join onto another trail. This is actually the road from Canisbay campground to the boat launch and a small beach. If you go to the left, you'll get to the boat launch. Going right will take you to the campground.

We went left, still thinking we were on a 10km loop (and at this point I realized we had brought some granola bars, a few celery sticks with peanut butter and some cheese and crackers, but nothing to drink) so we planned to go for a while then just turn back whenever we started to get tired. When we came to the boat launch we were confused. We stopped and had some snacks, then decided to cross the lake to the clearing we could see because it looked like it might be a beach. I should say now that I have a fear of crossing frozen lakes, especially since it's been such a mild winter. When we were kids, my brother fell through the ice, and though my uncle grabbed him right away, it still creeps me out to think about it, especially with my kids there.

Every time my snowshoes creaked I thought it was the ice about to give. Reaching the far shore was a huge relief, even better we saw there was a clear trail used by other snowshoers recently, so we figured it had to join up to the short trail to the Minnesing parking area eventually, which meant not having to cross the lake again. It became obvious that we were in fact in the Canisbay campground now, so we knew even if the trail didn't get us back to the cars, we could head for the highway and get back that way. Luckily, the trail does loop back and if we'd bothered to take the park brochure with us we would have known where we were right from the start. Looking at the Canisbay campground map, it all becomes pretty clear where the trail was. I'm sure in the summer we could drive there and it would take seconds but to us, it seemed to be a really long trail that may or may not get us where we wanted to go.

I'm glad we decided to do this trail rather than one of the interpretive trails though. It was a fairly level trip and took about 2 1/2 hours, including snack time and time to explore. We also didn't see anyone until just as we were exiting the trail at the parking lot, another group of snowshoers were heading in to start their own trek.

We headed to the visitor's center (after checking out the cabin to warm up...someone let their dog poop inside and didn't bother to clean it up.) The restaurant was closed, but there were snacks and microwavable items like KD cups and Chef Boyardee cups available. You pay on the honor system, there's a jar to drop your money in but we saw a lot of people take things and not pay, at least not that we could see. We all found this strange since there were other people around who could have reported them, and a park employee just outside who might have seen. Just as we were about to leave, they announced they would be showing Paddle to the Sea in the theatre, so we decided to stay for that.

We saw no moose on this trip, but Chris spotted a fox running across a frozen pond, and he saw a deer just as we were exiting the park. Chris is eager to go back with skis and try the Minnesing, as well as biking it this summer.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Trip Log: Silent Lake - June 2002

I have to admit, our first attempt to go camping was a complete disaster. Our daughter was only 18 months old, and we weren't really prepared. I think it was kind of a last minute thing, hey lets go camping tomorrow.

Our first mistake was to pick a walk in site. Not that there is anything wrong with a walk in site or with the WIS at Silent Lake, but we hadn't exactly prepared for that kind of trip. We'd tossed everything into the trunk of the car, I don't think we even had a backpack at the time. This meant hauling everything to the site in multiple trips...in June. The flies were horrible! Insane even, and because our daughter was at the stage where she wanted to walk rather than be carried, each trip in, for me at least, took four times as long thanks to her little legs.

For people with kids this young, choosing a site is more complicated than for people with older children. Not only do you want a site that's nice, fairly private and within reasonable walking distance to the bathrooms, but you need a site that isn't full of things for your toddler to trip on...or cliffs for them to fall off. Our site was right on the lake, which was nice, but it was rocky and if I'd let her walk on her own anywhere, she'd have been in trouble. This meant Chris had to set up the tent alone. It should be noted that Chris was a pretty experienced camper. His grandfather took him and his brother camping a lot when they were kids, but almost all of those trips were with a pop-up camper, so he didn't have a lot of experience putting up a tent. With the added annoyance of swarms of mosquitoes, it seemed to take forever.

Once the tent was up, we pretty much crawled in and hid from the bugs. Chris cooked (brave man) I think we had spaghetti and then tried his hand at fishing but the bugs were just too bad. When we got up, Bridie was fussy and only banging on pots and pans would keep her from crying. As we didn't want to piss off the other campers nearby, we ended up packing up and leaving. Bridie also had one eye swollen shut thanks to a mosquito who had bitten right on the corner of her eye.

Looking back, there were so many things we could have done to make the trip enjoyable. Picking a more appropriate site, taking bug repellant (God, what was I thinking?) and taking along toys designed for quiet play would have been a good start. But it was my first real camping trip since i was a kid (not counting pitching a tent in the back yard) and I learned a lot. We learned to take more time planning, and to come up with a list for packing (thus preventing the 40 minute drive to buy a can opener in the nearest town, only to find only one store open. The only can opener they had fell apart halfway through opening one can.) Every camping trip should be a learning experience though. I hope I never get to the point where it becomes humdrum and boring.

According to Homer Simpson, there's an old saying that goes "Let your children run wild and free." I don't think he meant it in the get out and explore nature way, but that's how I choose to interpret it.

My kids would be perfectly happy playing with their video games or watching television all day, but that's not how I want them to grow up. When I was a kid we were outside all the time. We camped in the back yard, we pretended we were lost in a desolate world with no adults and had to rely on ourselves. There were many days we'd get up in the morning, build a camp fire, then pretend we were pioneers or explorers. At the time, we had a copy of this very old book I'd snagged from my mother, The Golden Book of Camping (published in 1971) and it was full of ideas for foods to cook, things to make with tree branches, and games to play. Of course, looking at it now, a lot of the things it suggests doing you shouldn't do if you follow a 'leave no trace' style of camping. You shouldn't cut down trees and make your own seats or tables (especially not in Provincial Parks or conservation areas) and I'm pretty sure they wouldn't be happy if you denuded the area around your campsite so you can build a tent out of branches and a tarp. This book was like a bible to me and I was determined to master all the skills in it...(it should be noted that I didn't even come close, but that doesn't mean I can't keep working on it.)

Before my dad started his own business, we used to spend weekends camping at Haliburton Forest along with cousins and friends of the family. I was pretty young, but I can remember feeding chipmunks and swimming. We didn't get out camping much after dad started his business, but we often went canoeing, or fishing still, and we still spent a lot of time cross country-skiing in the winter. Just recently, my parents have started going camping with me and the kids. I sometimes think my mom gets even more excited than I do when we book a campsite. Like me, I think she'd be happy to camp the entire summer.

There are so many great opportunities to get out and enjoy the outdoors. Camping, hiking, canoeing, backpacking, snowshoeing, skiing, biking, and geocaching are wonderful ways to get kids out of the couch potato rut (and adults too!) and learn to appreciate the natural world. How can we expect our kids to care about protecting our resources if they never get to see just how wonderful it can be to hike to the crest of a rocky cliff overlooking a lake unspoiled by cottages and motor boats? Or the thrill of exploring a cave? Or the true peace of a night spent on a remote lake where you can't hear traffic and can see the full glory of stars.

Okay, I don't want to sound preachy. That's not the point of this blog. My goal is to help families get out and explore the natural world by sharing my reviews of campgrounds, trails, books, recipes, kids activities, gear and anything else that will inspire others to enjoy the fresh air...