After years of winter camping we took our first winter back country trip to crown land just outside of the Algonquin Park boundaries. Planned for the end of mid-January it was supposed to just be two mom’s heading out on a simple hot tent trip somewhere in Algonquin but not to far just in case. Instead the trip got re shuffled a few times to include a husband and a few guys as well as change up in location. In the end we managed to comfortably squeeze 5 adults into a Snowtrekker Basecamp that belonged to my husband. We had agreed to that this was an exploration trip to see if we could do a winter back country trips hauling in on sleds with the kids.
With much anticipation we pulled down the freight toboggans that I had purchased as a Christmas present earlier in the fall from Lure of the North when they posted a used gear sale late in the summer. The 10 foot sleds came with all the rope rigging but no tanks so we used some tarps to wrap up our gear from the weather. The result was the appearance of a dead body. Where possible we used a milk crate on each sled for small items that double as seating and some larger duffel bags for sleeping bags, mats and clothing. In hind sight I probably packed to much but as the weekend approached we watched the temperatures steadily decline in the high teens. Overnight lows would in fact reach -24 C, cold enough that we were listening to the trees pop like gun shots on both nights.
Our self appointed trip leader GB had a rough idea of where he wanted to make camp, we parked at a plowed in spot that was just enough room to fit both vehicles off the road and still allow logging trucks and other cars to pass by.
As we unloaded the sleds and began packing up the sleds our bodies quickly loosing the warmth from the car ride. With quick change of socks, boots and addition of gators we strapped on our snowshoes lined up our sleds and began our walk (haul in) with GB’s promise that ‘camp’ for the night wasn’t that far. Not 2 minutes after departing the vehicles our first logging truck came barreling along the road thankfully he slowed as he approached us and there was plenty enough room for our single caravan of sleds to proceed safely.
Some in our group were using pulks, shorter, wider sleds with a waist belt harness system that wouldn’t allow the sled to run you over on a down hill. Both the freight toboggans and pulks have their own benefits and drawbacks depending on terrain and conditions.
Camp was made a few kilometers in, after a long drive and relatively short up hill hike, one near miss with a runaway freight toboggan we all decided that we were in far enough not to be disturbed.
Tent placement was quickly decided on and the dig out began. While southern Ontario had a relatively small amount of snow the same could not be said for where we were, snow depth off trail with out snowshoes was past the average adults waist approx 3 feet.
Camp detail was given out per GB’s direction and made for a fast, efficient set up. Some began digging out where the tent would go, another dug a path from the sleds to the tent area to a fire pit area complete with snow benches.
While the rest collected firewood as the afternoon sun was starting to set and the temperature was beginning to drop and things were beginning to freeze including our water bottles and canned beverages. Once the tent area was dug out, the snow trekker was quickly erected and the stove readied for its first fire of the trip. More firewood was quickly cut with GB’s handy dandy chainsaw (having never tripped with anyone using a chainsaw back country I would say it was a godsend over our typical hand saw). Once the Kni-co stove was lit, pots immediately went on the stove with clean snow to replenish our water, this would be an ongoing process that we all looked after. Dinner that night was a simple pasta enjoyed with a huge helping of jokes, laughs and camaraderie. Plenty of wood was stocked for the night, clouds had moved in so no star shots were planned. Echos of popping trees and the warmth of the wood stove put us all to sleep quickly (apologies for the noisy snorer)
Saturday was a relaxing sleep in day, a quick visit outside was all we needed to convince us to lounge in our sleeping bags while GB slaved over the wood stove baking cinnamon buns (A++ btw) we all watched while sipping our coffees.
Despite the temps in the -20’s C we were having a great time toasty in the hot tent. Breakfeast turned into brunch before we made it out for a walk, photographs and the gathering of more firewood so we could bake our dinner which was reflector oven pizzas outside around the campfire.
I think that was the best pizza ever and Matt’s salted caramel brownies topped everything off. The skies cleared, star shots were on the agenda for those that had brought their cameras. While lounging around on our snow benches was a priority for others.
Waking to sunny, bright and cold skies departure the following morning was swift, the tear down of camp went quickly and we soon navigated our way back out the road in an attempt to do a small loop. Breaking trail was difficult with sleds until we met up with our old tracks which had frozen solid. Still travelling without snowshoes would have been pointless with the given snow depth and I was even able to find my lost clip to my trekking poles.
It truly is amazing how fast the body heats up while working in extreme cold temps, while chilled just before we left camp it wasn’t even 5 minutes before we were peeling off layers in an attempt control moisture.
Making our way back to our parked cars didn’t take long, a quick change and we were off to find a place to have lunch before driving home. The group as a whole had got along very well, the remoteness of our camp was truly enjoyable. The quiet solitude of being the only ones there really captured us. Would we take the kids back country winter camping in the future? The answer is yes, for short weekend trips it was perfect. We felt the kids would have liked exploring a new area and participating more in camp duties without the assistance of hydro, water and flush toilets. Although the one standout point would be to have a knowledgeable operator of a chainsaw to help with the wood cutting duties (and to make some more cinnamon buns).
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