Wednesday, April 25, 2012

New Maps

I love maps, especially maps with canoe and/or backpacking routes on them. I ordered a few from Federal Publications last week and they came the other day. I only humiliated myself a little bit doing a little dance and squealing at the mailbox.
This morning I read that a new map of Temagami has been released here. This new map covers the entire Temagami region (which apparently the Ontario Parks one doesn't...I haven't had much time to study it thoroughly because there is a lot of information on it) including 14 parks, 21 conservation reserves, 4000km of canoe routes, 450 portages, 1100 campsites, 60 access points, 47 viewpoints, 10 hiking trail networks, and the locations of 30 stands of old growth pine. As impressive as all this is (and okay I admit I want one!) We aren't really experienced enough to need a map that extensive yet. Halfway Lake and The Massassauga, on the other hand, very good options for our level of tripping experience. Both areas have relatively short portages (the shortest in Halfway Lake is about 720m) are accessible and within a reasonable distance from home. I'm really looking forward to checking them out.

Finding maps can be a bit of an issue.  Most of the time you can find them in the local MNR office, or if your backcountry trip will be inside the boundary of a Provincial Park, you can get maps at the park's gate or store.  Algonquin's Visitor's Centre sells maps that cover the area in and around the park, but if you want to plan a back country trip, you most definitely want to study the map in advance so you can plan the trip and book sites.

Some of your best resources are "Friends of" websites.  They will often have a store or publications page where you can buy maps.
Friends of Killarney
Friends of Algonquin
Friends of Frontenac
Friends of Quetico
Friends of Temagami

Here are some other sites that sell maps
Federal Publications   This site sells maps for all provinces, as well as many other publications on topics like politics, taxation, religion and personal finance.
Chrismar Maps   These are the people that make the Adventure Map series (see the Halfway Lake map in the photo above) They are waterproof topographic maps, and are very clear, and compact with details like campsites, portages, and even what kinds of fish are present in each lake.

Of course, if you have an outdoors store or outfitter in your area that sells maps, they will likely be able to order you ones for the area you are interested in.  For the most part, stores stock maps for their area, so it's doubtful you'd find a map of the far north being sold in an outfitter in central Ontario.  But if you ask, they'll probably be happy to order one for you.

I'll be posting more resources like this as I come across them.  If you have a good resource for maps online, please let me know.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Stupid free vacuum sealer!

A few years back, when we bought our freezer, the store had a special offer where you get a vacuum sealer unit with every freezer purchase. Until now, I haven't used it but I've been eagerly awaiting having dehydrated all the things for a few camping meals so I could try it out... Okay, I got tired of waiting. I've been dehydrating stuff, but not all that much yet, so yesterday I decided to just throw some stuff into one of the bags and see how well it worked. It didn't. I was so disappointed. I guess this is why they were giving them away free, and I knew it wasn't one of the good, known name brands but I thought it would still do the job until I could get a better one. What you have to do is cut a piece off the roll, then seal the open sides, leaving one to put your food in...The seal actually melted holes through so there was no way it could vacuum all the air out. Very sad. Maybe next week I'll see about getting a Foodsaver. On the other hand, I made up a batch of refried beans from scratch the other night, starting with dry pinto beans, and then I dehydrated the whole batch. They turned out very well, though I have yet to try rehydrating some. Once I have, I'll post the recipe. Very excited to have burritos and quesadillas in the woods. Today I might try dehydrating some salsa to go with these meals.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Trip Log: Long Lake to Shark Lake (day trip)

Chris and I have an odd way of planning for a canoe trip. We don't plan. Usually, the night before we'll say "Hey, lets go for a paddle tomorrow..." then in the morning, we strap the canoe to the car, toss the paddles etc into the back seat and head out armed with a few Kevin Callan books. After a quick stop at a grocery store for lunch supplies, we head in the general direction of where we think we might want to go.

On July 10, 2010, we headed toward the Kawartha Highlands Signature Site Provincial Park and decided to check out Shark Lake. Our decision was based entirely on a picture in the first edition of Cottage Country Canoe Routes by Kevin Callan.

Here were my thoughts on the trip:

The put in for Long Lake is just north of Woodview, up Highway 28. Turn left onto Long Lake Road, and drive to the end where you’ll find Long Lake Lodge. It costs $7 to park your car there for the day.

I got that feeling in my stomach as soon as we got there, that, oh wow, this is gonna be great feeling, (not the queasy, where’s the nearest thunderbox feeling) It was bright, sunny day, so we slathered on sunscreen and headed onto the water. I should point out that I forgot to cover the bit of skin between my low cut shorts and my slightly cropped t-shirt, and so ended up with a “tramp-stamp” sunburn which hurt like hell.

Long Lake is exactly as the name implies, long and narrow. It’s also very pretty, with mostly cliffs rising out of the water on both sides. there are half a dozen or so cottages on the lake, but they are fairly unobtrusive. I was so jealous of those people! Such a pretty lake to have a cottage on, and now that it’s part of a Provincial Park, there won’t be anymore going up. (which is good, cause it’s nicer that way, but sad cause I’d love to build one there!)

This is the last year the park is a non-operating park, and so the last year the campsites are free to stay at. As of 2011, they’ll be charging for their use, at least according to the sign at the lodge. I’m hoping someone also fixes the portage signs. They were all visible but the distances didn’t match up at all to what the map at the lodge said, nor what Kevin Callan’s book said. Also, it was odd that at one end, the sign would say 450m and on the other end, say 200m or something. One would think, they’d at least match up the lengths on both ends of the same portage.

The portage from Long into Buzzard Lake was easy to spot, there was a dock there with a pontoon boat. The portage itself was wide and a little hilly but nothing too daunting. Buzzard Lake was nice, but not as pretty as Long Lake.

We paddled to the far end of Buzzard and took the portage into Vixen Lake. According to the book, the portage was 113m. I think the map said differently, as did the signs. Either way, when we got to the portage, we came across a group of three young men heading in with a huge load of gear. One was in a kayak, and the other two in a very weighted down canoe. We lost sight of them quickly, and figured they must have set up camp on Vixen. It was a sort of weedy lake, not one I’d want to swim in if I were camping there, but then I have a very strong fear of weeds and deadheads (submerged, slimy logs) that I’m sure most young men don’t have.

The portage out of Vixen into Shark Lake was sort of hard to find, and we had to paddle around a bit until we saw the sign. According to Callan’s book it’s a 765m portage. I think the sign on the tree said 990. Either way, it wasn’t pleasant. It went up and down and through a lot of ferns so it was buggy. It just seemed to go on forever, and for a while we thought we’d missed something, but eventually, after a steep and not very stable decent, we put into Shark Lake and paddled to the campsite with the beach.

Chris jumped in right away and cooled off. I, seeing the weeds, flopped into the shallow water and managed to cool off as well. We had lunch at the site, tuna sandwiches, and I can’t remember what else. We explored a bit, then had another quick swim before heading out. I do remember we ran out of water here, not having expected the Vixen-Shark portage to be as long as it was. I’m not a big water drinker, I sip, even when I’m super thirsty. I think it’s because when I was pregnant the first time, water made me vomit. Chris can slug back a bottle in less than five seconds. For that reason, the trip back seemed very long.

Rather than doing the full trip described in the book, where you portage from Shark into some small lakes, paddle through Coon lake and come out at a different location, we headed back the way we came. We only have one car, and couldn’t organize a pickup.

When we got back to the lodge, at about 6pm, their little store had closed, but the man offered to let me in to buy some cans of pop. I can’t remember a can of Coke being enjoyed more.

We had a quick swim at the put in and headed back home. I’d like to do that one again sometime, over night, so we don’t have to do the long portage twice in such a short span of time. I imagine, experienced trippers would laugh at that, and I know there are portages out there that are MUCH harder, but up until then, we’d only done a few short ones. I guess we need to develop more stamina and strength.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Why I love Spring!

There are so many things to do in spring to get ready for camping. Every time I get to do one, I get all excited, because it's one step closer to actually going out there and camping.

Today we pulled our camper out of it's winter storage place, tucked between the garage and the fence. Not only did I get to pull out all my camp dishes but the kids found toys they hadn't seen since last fall.

Also, in the last few weeks, Chris and I have gone to a closed Provincial Park, and just walked around, checking out the beaches, the sites and picked out exactly where we want to stay when we go there. There is something very peaceful about a provincial park before it's full of people. That's why I like going early in the year, so you can have the comforts of an organized campground, but with the privacy you'd get in the back country...almost.

We've also gone to various camping stores and bought some new toys. The kids got to go to Bass Pro Shops for the first time and both of them fell in love. They have decided they want cots now for when we tent camp...all I can say is, I won't be the one carrying them over portages. Alright, I probably will, but only after I've made them carry them for a while first.

So, this week, I'll be washing all my camping dishes, getting some bins that will fit in the under-seat storage areas for our gear, and redoing our packing master lists. I might try out some new recipes as well, and post them here if they turn out.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Ken Reid Conservation Area

We did a short hike through Ken Reid today since the weather was nice. After a quick stop at the grocery store for picnic essentials, we headed to the park. Ken Reid is located just north of Lindsay, off highway 35 (take Ken Rei road) and is a good place for an easy hike. There are a lot of trail options, but for the most part they are relatively flat. There are some trails with exposed roots to trip the feet, so watch your step.

We parked at the beach and decided to do the point trail which is 2.8km. To start, you head down the cedar forest trail (my favourite section) then take the boardwalk. On the other side, you can go to the left, which puts you on the camp loop (729m) or to the right to take the Point Loop. There is a centre trail as well that takes you to the group camping field and a picnic shelter. We always stop here on the way back from the point, because the kids like to pump the old water pump.

The point trail takes you mostly along the shore of Sturgeon Lake, through cedar forests. There was a lot of recent beaver activity, and we saw a lot of ducks and geese in the water. They weren't too close so it was hard to tell but I noted mallard ducks, as well as possibly loons and common mergansers.

Ken Reid is a bird sanctuary but we hardly ever see birds because the kids make too much noise. They are getting better but still, without fail, when I see a bird and try to either get a picture or spot it with my binoculars, they start making a racket and scare the birds off. Stupid me got the kids their own binoculars for Easter then forgot to bring them with us. *sigh*

For our picnic, I did the lazy thing today. We stopped at Loblaws and grabbed a Veggie and Dip tray, a demi-baguette, some bruschetta, and some cookies. To be honest I didn't think the kids would like the bruschetta but to my surprise they did. I'll have to keep that in mind for next time. Yes it was a little awkward to eat. We ripped chunks off the bread and spooned the bruschetta onto them, which got a little messy but it was fun.

I know the dollar store has small bamboo cutting boards, I might pick up a few of them for camping and picnics. They were only about 4"X5" or so, perfect to fit in a backpack or picnic bag along with a small knife.

Camp Fun: Dice

Over Easter weekend, I learned a new game while visiting my grandparents and its a perfect camp game. All you need are five dice, a bowl and objects to use as markers. We used pennies, but if you need to you could probably use pine cones, pebbles, or jelly beans.

The game is called Dice...that's it, nice and simple. It's easy for kids to pick up, has no set number of players, the tools won't take up much space in your backpack, and its fun.

To start off, everyone gets 3 of whatever marker you are using. The first person rolls all five dice. For every 1 rolled, that person passes a marker forward to the next person in the circle. For every 2 rolled, you pass a marker to the person behind you. For every three rolled, you put that many markers in the bowl (the kitty) You have to remember to do these in order, 1s first, then 2s, then 3s. 4, 5 and 6 are safe numbers, meaning they don't make you do anything.

So...if you have 3 markers and you roll the following, 1, 1, 3, 5, 5 you would pass 2 markers to the next person and put one in the kitty. This leaves you with no markers left but it doesn't put you out of the game. The next person, on their roll may roll a 2 thus giving you a marker, and when it gets around to the person behind you, they may roll a 1, giving you a marker too.

If you had rolled 1, 2, 2, 3, 3 when you had three markers, you pass one forward, two back and obviously can't do the threes. You always keep to the numerical order of the tasks.

If its your turn, and you have no markers, you don't roll. Eventually more and more markers will find their way into kitty. The game ends when only one person has markers. It takes about 5-10 minutes, depending on how many people are playing. See, very simple.

When we were camping we had planned to play this with foil wrapped easter candy but the kids ended up falling asleep right after dinner. You could play this for reward...say you played with candy. Everyone has to bring their own ante, and whoever wins the round gets to keep all the candy in the kitty. If you are playing with pinecones, you could make the fire the kitty. Kids love to throw things into the fire, so rolling a 3 would let them burn things. Of course, this would mean you would run out of markers, unless your camp site happens to have an abundance of them lying around.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Cool Weather Camping and Yurt Camping

We've only gone on one spring trip so far, but I did learn a few valuable lessons:

Remember you can't cook in yurts, just like you wouldn't cook inside your tent. Plan your menu with things that are easy and fast to cook so nobody has to stand out in the cold for too long. Also, the cold weather slows down the cooking, and if it's windy, its even worse. In the summer, it's not a big deal to be outside cooking, but nobody wants to be the one standing in the bitter wind trying to cook a big meal. For our next trip, we'd probably pack instant oatmeal or some other quick cooking hot cereal for breakfast rather than bacon, eggs and beans. The burgers were fine, we took a full size barbecue since yurts only have one available during the summer, so we'd probably take that again and pick things that we could grill fairly quickly. The dutch oven is cool and fun to cook with, but it takes time...granted, if the pork roasts hadn't been partially frozen, they would have cooked much faster.

Also when it comes to food, plan to not cook things that require dirtying a lot of dishes. The water taps don't work in winter for obvious reasons, so you have to go to the comfort station to get water. (You could probably scoop water from the lake if you're on the shore, but the water at our site was covered in a layer of what looked like deer hair...not something I want to wash my dishes in.)

When camping in a yurt, it's a good idea to bring either a pair of inside shoes so you aren't tracking dirt all over the place, or slippers. When it's rainy out, this is especially important because if your shoes are wet, you aren't going to want to wear them, you'll want to leave them in front of the heater to dry, but you also don't want to be stepping in puddles from other people tracking wet through the yurt.

A rain poncho a few sizes to big would be handy to throw over your jacket so it doesn't get soaked through. A winter, rain proof jacket of course would also work.

When hiking at this time of year, be aware the trails are probably going to be very wet and muddy, possibly still icy, and that they probably haven't had any maintenance done to them since fall. There will be fallen trees to climb over, and puddles to pick your way around. Boots are a good idea.

Just because you are staying in a yurt doesn't mean you can over pack. They aren't very big, especially when you take into account the 2 bunk beds and the table and chairs already in them. You won't have room for loads of extra gear so don't go overboard. It'll just make the space feel cramped and make you frustrated as you constantly trip over things.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Trip Log: Mew Lake, Algonquin Park - April 9-10 2012

For the last few years, my mum and I have talked about spending Christmas in a yurt in Algonquin Park, but to be honest, as much as I want to do it, I was worried about just how warm it would be in a yurt at that time of year. So we decided to try an Easter trip, sort of a test run. With the warm weather in March, I half expected summer temperatures for the trip, but instead we were blessed with cold wind, rain, snow and hail.

We arrived at the yurt at about 1:30, a little early for check in but decided to see if it was empty yet and it was. Immediately the kids were poking around, picking a bunk, ready to explore and find moose. We'd seen one on the way to Mew Lake, and with bets having been placed on how many we'd see for the whole trip, we were hoping to see a lot.

We unloaded and set up the beds, cooked up some hamburgers and then headed to the visitors centre (although we've been through it dozens of times, we still go to check out the bookstore and see if we can see any wildlife from the viewing platform. We then drove to the East Gate, and took a detour down to the Opeongo Store. It wasn't open, obviously, but we hadn't been down there before and wanted to check it out.

When we arrived back at the campground, dad and Chris took a nap while mum and I took the kids on a bike ride to scope out all the other sites. It was drizzly and cold, and in retrospect, probably not a great idea considering the kids and I were getting over colds. All three of us are back to the worst stage of the cold now.

I have to say I was actually impressed with Mew Lake. The sites are, for the most part, large, and much more private than other campgrounds we've stayed at in Algonquin. The ones along the waterfront in the electrical section especially are nice. The only issue you might have is with the highway noise. There are a lot of big trucks roaring their way down highway 60, and you can definitely hear them.

We got dinner started (Pork roast cooked in mum's dutch oven) and while that was cooking, Chris and I took a little hike to see if we could find the waterfall someone told him about. From the garbage area at Mew Lake, there is a trail that leads either to the Track and Tower Trail, or to the Old Railway Bike Trail and the Old Airfield. To get to the water fall, you want to take the track and tower trail until you come to a 4 way crossroads where the trail passes the Highland Backpacking Trail. Turn left. It's only a short distance and you'll hear the water before you see it. There's a bridge, and a 50m portage for those travelling the Madawaska River. There were a lot of wolf tracks on the trail, as well as wolf scat. The signs in the bathrooms indicate there has been a wolf hanging around, who has lost it's fear of humans. We didn't see him though, which was disappointing on one hand and a huge relief on the other.

It was almost dark by the time we got back, and with muddy trail and drizzly rain we were wet, cold and hungry. Dinner was ready by the time we got back, Pork roast, carrots cooked in foil, salad, minute rice and biscuits. After dinner, the kids pretty much fell straight asleep so we all ended up going to bed early.

During the night all the adults swore they heard a train go by, complete with train whistle. No trains still run through the park, so either it had to be a large truck with a very odd horn, our imagination, or a ghost was very strange. All of us heard growls outside the yurt in the early morning as well. I thought I heard a dog whimpering. The good thing about the yurt was that with the heater, when it cut in, you couldn't hear the highway noise for a few minutes at a time. On the other hand, it left me with a fear that I'd step out of the yurt in the middle of the night to go to the outhouse, and walk straight into a pack of wolves or a few bears...silly, I know but if you can't hear, you have no idea what might be out there.

It was cold, rainy and windy the next morning and it took forever to cook breakfast. It was almost lunch time when we sat down to eat our eggs, bacon, and maple beans. After packing up we headed out to see if we could spot any more moose, and saw only one, near where we'd seen one the day before. We drove home in a mix of snow, rain and hail, eager for some Tim Horton's coffee.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Trail Review: Sir Sandford Fleming River Walk

Difficulty: easy
Length: about 1km

We hadn't intended to try out this trail, in fact we didn't even know it was there. Chris and I had gone to Tim Horton's and decided to sit at the Memorial Park off Lindsay Street while we drank our coffee. It was a nice sunny day so I suggested we walk around a bit. The Memorial Park is nice, and we did a few geocaches there a few years ago.

We left the parking lot and followed a little trail that parallels the street (go past the picnic shelter towards the cemetery) and came to a driveway. On the other side of the driveway, the path continued so we decided to follow it. The trail meanders along the river where there are a few benches where you can sit and watch the water. We sat there for a while then decided to see where the trail went.

For a trail that goes through town, you can't expect much. The trail goes past some fields full of heavy equipment. We weren't sure if this was land being developed but we suspected it might have been students because Fleming has lessons on using them. Still, the trail was pretty enough and goes through a nice tree lined area, past a teepee and some other buildings before coming to the parking lot at the college. I recommend it for an easy walk that's close to home.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Rainy Day Games - Angry Birds

We keep a deck of cards in our camper, as I'm sure most people do. Chances are it's going to rain at least once, and having bored kids in a confined space can be a nightmare.

Go Fish and Crazy Eights get a bit tedious after a while but we recently found a game that the kids really enjoy and which is perfect for taking on any kind of camping trip. Angry Birds Card Game

I decided to let my kids write the review for this game:

Angry Birds Card Game is perfect for camping. The objective of the game is to knock all of your stacker cards by rolling two dice. If you have a 2X card, you have to roll a match. You start with seven cards and you must roll the same bird thats on the top of the starter pile. You also get 2 orange bonus cards each round like "BOOM" ges rid of any card on top. The first person that gets rid of their stacker cards has to flick the die and try to knock over the pig on the stand. Estimated time to play a round 5-7 minutes. I would give it a 4 out of 5.

That probably sounds confusing but it's really quite easy to play and because it's not a long drawn out game, the kids won't get as bored.