Friday, May 25, 2018


Back in January, I'd hatched a plan with Tanker - we'd go backpacking in Frontenac Provincial Park for the Victoria Day long weekend, but instead of moving from one campsite to another (as we've done in the past) we'd just stay in place both nights and I'd run a loop of the park on our day off the trail.

Base of operations and home sweet home.

With me being injured, the running part was cancelled. However, despite a forecast of rain all day on Saturday and being a bit mithered after my 5-odd hour meander through the woods at Seaton Soaker the weekend before, we decided to go ahead with the backpacking part. We were heading up to Kingsford Lake from the Big Salmon Lake parking lot, so in the north side on the park - it couldn't possibly be as challenging as the southern side, right?

Setting off from the newly expanded Big Salmon Lake parking lot.

It was raining when we got up at 6:45am. It was raining when we left at 9:20am. It rained all the way across the 401 to Kingston, then rained some more up through Sydenham and to the park office to get our permits. The temperature never got above around 14c all day, hence the vests under our packs.

We hit the trail at 3:01pm. Just for a change, it rained - though fairly lightly - almost all afternoon.

Rocky East Arkon Lake trail

I love this photo - clearly not bothered at all by the rain!

Tank insisted there be at least one photo of me as well.

Everything is so vibrantly green and growing a million tons a minute in the spring

Plenty of lovely sights along the way
We found an open ridge above Birch Lake around 2hrs in while it was just spitting a bit, and stopped to take our packs off for a few minutes and have a bit of lunch in the breeze. We felt fortunate that the bugs weren't bad at all - we'd heard that mosquito and blackfly activity was still low, and that proved true, but we still liked having some wind to keep them away while we ate.

Birch Lake off to the left with a massive ravine ahead.

Just 15mins to scarf back a couple of sandwiches, refill our nalgenes and get back on our way.

Carefully over the wet, slippery rocks

Remains of an old, crushed bridge

Definitely a bit more challenging in spots than we'd hoped.

Since both of us were out of shape from lack of trail adventures this year and my quads were still sore to the point of taping them before we left (I'd re-damaged them running a downhill point-to-point on Wednesday, possibly jeopardizing the trip), the 10km trek took quite a bit out of us. By the time we'd made it over the last big ridge to arrive at campsite cluster 11 in McNally Bay on Kingsford Lake, we were pretty knackered...and then greeted with one more climb up to our actual campsite.

Note that little stab upward right at the end.
Full hike details here.

Arriving at 6:35pm, we set to work immediately to tarp off the picnic table and get our tent set up, then added another tarp over the tent to give us a dry porch area. Not only had the rain started again, it was supposed to thunderstorm overnight. 

Fortunately, we're pretty efficient at putting a campsite together, so even had some time just before sunset to forage for some firewood. 

Tanker sawing up a downed tree I dragged back to camp at right, with our cozy kitchen all lit up.

I still can't believe I managed to get a fire going after it rained all bloody day!

There was a deluge of rain and a few cracks of thunder & lightning between 3am and 6am, but we awoke to brilliant sunshine and a completely intact campsite.

Tank saying good morning with our packs on the porch.

Kingsford Lake from the beach at the bottom of the trail to campsite 11a

We had breakfast (while keeping my "no pants before coffee" streak alive), then took care of some camp chores - filtering more water, then foraging for more firewood so we could leave it in the sun to dry out. We hauled back a big, dead pine tree that had fallen and I chopped it up so we'd have some good-size fuel to keep the fire going. While I did most of it with our folding saw, I couldn't resist the chance to try out the new knife that Tanker had got me for Christmas to see how it fared as a chopper.

Pretty well, I'd say.
Yes, I'm still in my long underoos - you can even see the tape I used to try to hold my blown quads together.

After making sure everything was tidy and ready to go (so we could leave it to the hundreds of caterpillars and millipedes that seemed to be firmly in charge), we had a bit of lunch and then set out for a day hike along the north side of the Tetsmine loop around 1:30pm.

Past some swamp
More impressive towering rocks

The rain from the day before and overnight had left everything extremely soggy - so much so that we had to spend a great deal of time picking our way around flooded or boggy trail, and were grateful to be doing so without our packs on.

It looks more like a creek than a trail.

Soon enough we reached the Crab Lake Mine site to take in some of the human history of the park.

Old mine shaft, now full of water

Slices of shining mica everywhere!

The cabin of Oliver Marks, the last operator of the Crab Lake mining operation

New historical plaque for 2018 describing the history of the mine

We then headed back past our campsite cluster and out to Kingsford Dam, as neither of us had been up that way before. 

The north side of the Tetsmine loop really is gorgeous

Information kiosk near Kingsford Dam

View of Kingsford Lake from the dam

Back to camp once more after our 6-ish kilometer hike, Tanker decided to baptise the telescopic fishing rod I got him for his birthday last month.

Complete peace.

Apparently the rod works pretty well!

As our full day in the park began to draw in, the beauty of the lake and forest was everywhere we looked.

Sun setting over the north side of McNally Bay

A loon putting on a show for us 

We headed back up the hill to our site and started a fire with a bit of birch bark we'd found, then sat back and actually burned off the entirety of our rather prodigious wood pile.

We had a bit of an issue with our stove as I boiled water to rehydrate our dinner (our only non-fresh meal so far): I got a bit too aggressive with the pump, trying to build up pressure, and tore the leather seal on the plunger. We were able to boil the water we needed, but couldn't pump it back up to heat water to do dishes. No worries, though - we carry a spare, as well as grease to lubricate it. I replaced it, and felt quite pleased as it had only taken 9mins. Then I realised I'd put the new one in wrong, so had to remove and correct it. I pumped it up quite a bit (as there wasn't a lot of fuel left in the bottle) to ensure that pressure was building, and breathed a sigh of relief..

..until Tanker (thinking there was no pressure in the bottle) went and did some more pumping, tearing the new leather. It was the only replacement we had with us. 

At least golden hour on Kingsford Lake was still pretty.
I pulled it all apart again, greasing the leather a bit more and trying to secure it as best I could. We'd just have to hope it would work in the morning, as we were nearly out of food - we had coffee and oatmeal for breakfast (with honey, almond butter & freeze-dried blueberries), plus an emergency dehydrated meal, but the only food we had left that didn't require boiling water was a pair of Larabars and some salted nuts that would be our snack for the long hike back to the car.

As there was no precipitation predicted overnight, we dropped the tarp over the tent before we went to bed to give ourselves an easier time packing up camp in the morning. We'd hoped to be on the trail by 9am, as we were planning on taking a longer route out of the park (though one that would see us on less challenging terrain). Rolling in around 10:30pm with fingers crossed we'd be able to use the stove in the morning, I set an alarm for 7am...and then woke up at 5:20am - 15mins before sunrise - needing to pee, and then had to pick up the camera from the tent before heading down the hill to the beach to take some shots of the mist on the water.

I went back to bed, waking up to my watch alarm at 7am and a groan of agony from Tanker - the poor lad's back had decided it wasn't having any of this camping business, and was giving him hell. Between that and a nasty chill in the air, we decided on another half hour of sleep. 

Getting up and at 'em, we hit another snag - the pump leather tore off the plunger the moment I tried to pull it out to pump up the stove. It took a few minutes and a tent peg to get it out of the pump body, then we had to figure out what to do.

I pulled out the old leather from our garbage bag, as it was less blown out than the new one. I grabbed my Leatherman and used it to cut a couple of tiny circles of aluminum from the bottom heat/wind shield from the stove bag - we've never used anything under the feet of the stove in the past, so figured we could spare it. I trimmed them to a size that would fit in the tube of the pump body, then worked holes into the middle of each to create a pair of washers. I threaded one on the end of the plunger beside the existing (smaller) washer, then carefully pushed the other one I'd made inside the old pump leather. I put it on the plunger, then carefully tightened the nut down so the leather was sandwiched between the two new washers.

This was all a bit much before I'd even had a cup of coffee (or put pants on).

Carefully inserting the reassembled plunger into the pump body, I screwed it down and then threaded the pump into the fuel bottle. Thankfully, it worked! I hated that I could feel the edge of the first new washer scrape against the side of the pump tube if I didn't push the plunger in completely straight, but we were able to build plenty of pressure to boil water for our coffee and oatmeal.

Sweet, glorious FLAME!


Crisis averted - got my coffee!

We got camp packed up, then hit another snag - poor Tanker had become badly dehydrated, to the point of stomach cramps. We also had much less filtered water on hand than we had thought; about 2L instead of more than 4L.

Hydration: it's important!

So, we pulled out the gravity filter and hung it up, fortunately not having to wait long for it to fill our nalgenes and a water bladder to bring with us. Tank kept sucking down fluids, and we managed to get on the trail by just before 11am.

Much different view when it's not pissing rain!

We hiked back over the big hump of the west side of the Tetsmine loop, then struck east toward Lynch Lake to catch the easier trails down the west side of the Hemlock Lake and Little Clear Lake loops, then make our way out along Big Salmon Lake.

This led us past this lovely waterfall.
But it certainly wasn't all easy rolling.
Fortunately Tanker was feeling better - he stepped a bit funny at one point and his back clicked itself into a more comfortable position - and my legs were cooperating, so we made pretty good time through the hot, sunny day.

While still taking time to appreciate the rugged beauty of the park.

While we hadn't seen much wildlife around yet - just some frogs, toads, fish and loons, plus the millions of mosquitoes and blackflies that had emerged in the prior day's sun. Today was different: we saw our first dragonflies (yes please - go eat all the biting things!), grasshoppers, and more frogs, plus turtles sunning themselves on logs and some juvenile garter snakes slithering through the grass beside the trail.

Vivid garter snake

Leopard frog

 We rambled on toward the trailhead, getting very sweaty, tired and sore but still enjoying the incredible scenery.

Well, when some dork wasn't getting in the way.

Much better.

 With sore feet and soaked backs we arrived back at the junction of the Big Salmon Lake and Arkon Lake loops, then crossed the bridge back over and wandered the last few hundred metres to the Big Salmon Lake launch and up to the parking lot.

This map shows all of the trail loops in the park
From the Friends of Frontenac website

We've called this the "turtle bridge" since our first backpacking trip here in 2015.

It may have been less technical, but it was still no cake walk to get out!
Full details available here.

We arrived back at exactly 3:01pm - precisely 48hrs after our departure on Saturday afternoon. I'm grateful that my legs were able to sustain me through the trek, and thankful that I have sturdy trekking poles to help them along. Despite some challenges, we'd had a wonderful trip; even saw a couple of deer beside Salmon Lake Road on our way out! We truly love this park, and hope to return again and again to explore the last few places we have yet to see, plus revisit some of our favourites. While I'm sad I didn't get to run in the park, I'm delighted that I got to share the whole weekend with my darling instead.

Good times!

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