The car speeds along the highway at 110 km/h. The mighty White Pines, Birches, Maples and Spruce which have captivated our imaginations and centered our humility have been reduced to brown and green blurs through the tempered glass windscreen. The last 11 days have been a welcome change of pace compared to typical busy lives. Instead of worrying if we will be late for an appointment, our worries were focused on ice thickness of the lakes we crossed. Instead of concerning ourselves about if we had responded to all the day’s emails, we were worried about collecting enough firewood or staying warm though the -20 C nights. The immersion was immense and immediate, as we stepped out of the truck, clipped into our skis and started on a frosty journey through Algonquin Park.
By the numbers:
- Estimated at 160 km, actual distance: 165 km
- Estimated length of trip: 14 days
- Temperature range: -2.3 C to -30.3 C
- Longest day: 6:40 (41.5 km)
- Shortest day: 3:18 (8.4 km)
- Average speed: 3.1 km/h
- Number of calories consumed per day: 6,000 – 7,000
- Liters of “Crowsnest coffee” drank: 17
- Deepest snow depth: 120cm
- Number of burn holes through sleeping bags: 1
- Packets of BeetElite consumed: 23
- Liters of chicken noodle soup consumed: 12
- Starting weight of “Whiskey Jack Freight Toboggans”: 110 lbs
- Finishing weight of Toboggans: 90lbs
- Sleeping bag temperature ratings: -18C (Ryan), -30C (Eric), -40C (Buck)
- Fur hats used: Muskrat and Beaver
To say that the logistics for this trip were daunting would be an understatement. Once we pushed off from climate controlled environments we had to make sure we had everything we needed. Packing for a trip like this makes you really realize what you need and what you don’t. It also forces you to consider the margin of error that you might encounter. For example, I brought a full gore-tex jacket and pants, spare boots, a spare down jacket and a full change of clothes that I never touched. This is “emergency” clothing. We also had an extra 4 days of food that we didn’t eat. So, in total, about 30 lbs of gear that we could have left. This is frustrating to look back upon, but if we had gone through the ice, or encountered a rainy day, this gear would have been essential to staying warm and safe while we were out on our own. The lesson here is to be “reasonably” prepared for conditions that you may experience. However, there is certainly a “too much” and finding that balance of safety and speed can be very tough.
The thing that surprised me the most about the trip was the relentless moving. We would wake between 6am and 7am. Then it was basically go-go-go until I was back in my sleeping bag at 9pm. Literally moving, cutting, skiing, pulling, pitching the tent or cooking food non-stop. I found this to be mentally taxing after 6-7 days and I was wishing for just 30 minutes of mindless activity, or sitting in a warm, comfortable chair. I definitely didn’t expect this when I started out!
In terms of gear, we all used slightly different gear. Buck went with more traditional gear focusing on heavier wools and treated canvas products. These clothing options are far more durable and the wools/furs maintain excellent warmth when wet. On the flip side, once they do get wet, they take much longer to dry out. We were drying our gear beside the “Seek Outside” wood stove. The synthetics and soft shell fabrics that Eric and myself used were much lighter and quicker to dry. It would take 5-10 minutes to fully dry our jackets at night, whereas Buck’s wool sweaters would take over an hour. Our synthetic materials were much more prone to getting burned or ripped in the notoriously thick Boreal forests that we were trekking through. Ultimately, using 200-300g/sm lambs wool base layers, along with a hardfleece, a light synthetic mid layer and a medium (durable) softshell for wind protection would seem like the ultimate combination for our travels.
Sleeping bags used were all down filled. Buck had an older, but very warm bag with a fairly burly top layer. Unfortunately, on day 3, It brushed against the red-hot stove and a grapefruit-sized hole appeared, revealing smoldering down feathers. It smelled strongly of roasting duck: gross. We patched it up, and all was good. In general, the biggest issue was that I didn’t bring an “overbag”. This is a lightly insulated bivy sack, that pushes the dew-point outside of the sleeping back, and reduces condensation in the sleeping bag. Without the overbag, my sleeping bag got wetter and wetter with each passing day. Even with drying it out above the stove, it was a losing battle. Next time, I’ll bring my overbag!
As the trip and all the logistics came to a close, I found myself wanting to slow down and enjoy more time spent in the woods. Overall, it took us 10 days to traverse the park, from the south-west corner to the town of “Deux-Rivieres”, on the Ottawa river. It’s hard to find any recently documented trips of people doing this route. Most trips start on highway 60, and ended in Bent, which is 50- 60 km shorter than our route. Despite this, our reasons for the trip weren’t to set any records. Ultimately, we wanted to challenge our bodies and minds and immerse ourselves into the most remote wilderness of southern ontario. I think we did that pretty well, learned a little about ourselves and came away humbled by the spirits of the land.