Monday, March 21, 2016

100th Post!

This is my 100th blog post, yipee! When I started this, I didn't really envision that I'd be writing this much material from the amount of backcountry camping trips I go on. 

With any endeavour, success comes from very good planning and preparation, and we do a lot of that for our trips. So let's talk a bit about planning a backcountry canoe trip.

First you need to assess what you want to do and what you can do. 
  • Do you want to portage or just hang around at the access lake? 
  • How many days/nights do you want to go for?
  • How far are you willing to drive to get to an access point?
  • How many people are going on this trip?
  • Are you going to travel in a loop, or an in-and-out route?
  • Do you want to have rest days?
  • Do you need to rent equipment, such as canoe(s)?
Planning can be almost as fun as going on the trip. We spend hours looking over the maps and discussing different route options. With two years of traveling under our belt, we're pretty sure about what we can handle and what it is we want to do. We often go back and forth on whether to have rest days. I prefer to move each day, LT likes to rest a day here and there. But he also likes to cover a lot of miles on the non-rest days when he does incorporate rest days into the trip.
Our Carl Wilson Trip - in and out
On the map above there are several ways into Carl Wilson. The closest option entails a lot of portaging and if you were to look at the map in a legible version, you could see the heights of the trail you'd be walking along, high in this case. Lots of climbing. The second closest option involves low maintenance portages. There's no guarantee how good these portages are going to be. We've been up to our waist in growth before on this type of portage. We chose the longer paddle, shorter portage route, shown with the black line. We could have done a loop, but chose to do the distance rather than attempt 6 portages totalling 5+ kilometers (the closest one). Our route was 3 portages totalling 1.545 kms.

Jeff's maps can be very helpful. He's estimated how much travel time it should take you between points. He explains the way he estimates time so you can adjust it to the level of expertise you think you have.
Jeff's classification system on his map

For example, in the map at left, the travel distance between the two yellow dots is 2.6 km. 1070m of that is a portage (which takes more time than paddling). Jeff estimates that it will take 50 minutes to cover that distance if you are classified as a "Veteran". If you are going to double carry the portage, add 40 minutes. Using his calculations and factoring in more time (or less), you can come up with your own idea of how long it's going to take you to get somewhere.

Check out his map, and classification system, at Jeff's Map Algonquin.

Once you've chosen a date, selected an access point, decided on a route, you need to make the camping site reservations. For Algonquin Park, you simple select the lake you are going to be on each night. They do not allow you to pre-select your site. Other parks may allow this as the sites are numbered. Their reservation policy is to leave a site or two on the lake unreserved to allow for any slippage in some people's travel plans. It can and does happen.

Here's the link to make your online reservations: Algonquin Park

There is the option of using a jumping off campsite at some access points. You need to reserve these sites and pay for them just as you would any other campsite. Having one of these sites allows you to leave work on Friday at 4:30, go home, pack the car, drive to your access point (stopping, of course, for poutine at the chip truck), arrive at the lake and just pitch your tent for the night. You can get up as early as you wish and push off on your trip. We've never made use of this option, but there are times when I'd like to!

Getting our permits at the Sand Lake Gate
If you need to rent a canoe, now would be a good time to call and reserve it. We've dealt a lot with the Algonquin Portage store on Achray Road on the way into the Sand Lake gate. Here's their website:

They are good to deal with and if you're going to be late returning your canoe, they have a place you can leave it securely.  Also, they provide a service where they will pick up your car and move it for you. This is a nice feature if you're planning on doing a route from point A to point B. However if you are a larger group with more than one car, you can manage this yourself.

This store is also a GREAT last stop before going into the park. We have bought items there that we realized we forgot at home, oops. One trip we left both of our 1 litre Nalgene bottles with cold water in the fridge. It's also a great stop on the way out for a cold Coke, an ice cream or even a sandwich or muffin. They carry souvenirs, maps and a wide variety of camping items.

What to pack? Well there are a number of websites that will provide you with a checklist of what you will need. It is a very good idea to have a checklist, print it out and check off the items on it as you're packing your bag, then the car. I think creating that checklist is a post on its own! 

There are basic items that you need for food preparation, food storage, water filtration (we - and by "we" I mean LT - carried 8 litres of water for our first overnight trip and we used every drop), shelter (tent or hammocks), and bug spray. Then there are the luxuries: a camp shower, a sink to wash dishes, an "oven" to cook pizza and cinnamon buns in. Gathering these items will have to be done well in advance of your trip. Unless, of course, you want to stop at the portage store and buy everything on your way into the park (I would highly recommend that you don't do this).
Launching on a new adventure
You could put yourself completely in the hands of an outfitter and have them put together everything you'll need for your trip (bring your own underwear though). Algonquin Outfitters can do that for you. 

Most of the fun for these trips is managing on your own, everything from planning beforehand to each meal you savour in your outdoor paradise.

Thanks for reading along! Feel free to comment and tell me about what you think is essential when you're planning a trip.

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