Last spring I went on a three-night solo adventure to the Highland Trail in Algonquin Park. It is a 35km/21.7mi loop through a rugged Canadian shield forest. You can also do a 19km/11.8mi loop but I think the sites on the far end have better views and are less frequented.
So I packed up my car and left my place at 5am. I drove four hours to my destination: The Mew Lake campground on Ontario’s highway 60. After registering and discussing my itinerary with the park rangers I was ready to hit the trail by 10am.
The first day was long. I must admit, when preparing for this trip I put more attention to camp comfort than the weight of what I was packing. The result? A 45lbs/20.5Kg backpack! I know, I know. Some carry three times as much in the military. I’m not whining, just saying: I’m not one to subscribe to ultralight backpacking but I usually pack everything I need, including some sort of lavish comfort, under 30lbs/14Kg.
Although it didn’t seem like much, between the trailhead and my first site (Head Lake) there is a little over 10km/6.2mi. It was early May and the trails were muddy and steep. This combined with a heavy pack made for a very slow pace. Five hours later I got to my site. What a great feeling! The sun was still up and although you could feel an early summer air, there was still a bit of ice on the trail. The temperature was perfect and there were no bugs to deal with! I set up camp and had a steak dinner with potatoes, dehydrated vegs and a beer. Yes!! (The 45lb pack starting to make sense?).
The next morning it rained from 6am to well into the afternoon. Thankfully I only had to walk 4km/2.5mi to Harness Lake. The challenge was to keep myself warm and my gear as dry as possible. I spent most of my afternoon sawing wood and splitting logs with a small hatchet. Henry David Thoreau said “Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice”. I could not agree more. The greatest feeling that night was being warm by a roaring fire and the only light around that lake.
The third day the temperature dropped and I got a mix of snow and hail most of the morning. I walked for about 14km/8.6mi to Provoking Lake where I spent my last night. The sun came out and I got the chance to dry my stuff before heading back home the next morning. Only a 7km/4.3mi walk to the car. A short drive to the biggest burger I could find, and then another 4 hours to a hot shower.
I love back-country hikes. I learn a lot about myself on these trips. There is something about walking by yourself through a rustic trail away from screens and the rest of the world. I find it shades light to corners of your mind you haven’t visited in a long time. There is something spiritual about it. Like some sort of meditation, with a bit of pain…but you also get a stake dinner and a pint!