Archive for June, 2013

National Parks In Ontario: Thousand Islands (formerly St. Lawrence Islands)

oTENTik  photo: pc.gc.ca

oTENTik
photo: pc.gc.ca

At least once a year we plan a “vacation” trip rather than an epic adventure.  What is the difference you ask?  Comfort and fun.  This year’s trip is to the Thousand Islands National Park.  This will be our first visit and we are doing it up in style.  We’re going to be staying in the parks newly offered oTENTik accommodations on McDonald Island.  If you’ve never seen an oTENTik, it is half tent, half rustic cabin and all comfort.  No sleeping on the ground, we’ll be in comfy bunk beds and eating at a table!  It’s the perfect base for day paddles amongst the islands.

1000 Islands Kayaking at MEC Paddlefest

1000 Islands Kayaking at MEC Paddlefest

Because this is our first family kayak trip and we have very little experience kayaking, we are looking to the expertise of the crew at 1000 Islands Kayaking to show us the ropes.  We first met the gang from 1000 Islands Kayaking at the Toronto MEC Paddlefest and they are super skilled (and certified) and equally friendly and fun.  They run a number of courses, classes and tours and we’ll be visiting them at their headquarters in Gananoque.  The plan is to get schooled on the ins and outs of kayaking and then hit the beautiful waters of Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve.  We don’t even have to tote our gear around with us as they are going to shuttle it over to our campsite for us.  This allows us to bring any luxury items that we would usually leave at home.  It’s a perfect service for a comfy get-away and especially helpful for family camping.  After a morning of exploring, get this, we land on one of the parks islands to enjoy time on our own while our guide prepares a gourmet lunch with ingredients sourced from within 100 miles of our location!  Paddling really doesn’t get more indulgent than that!

1000 Islands Bridge photo: visit1000islands.com

1000 Islands Bridge
photo: visit1000islands.com

The rest of our trip to the park will be spent further touring the Thousand Islands by kayak.  There is no end to the wonders to be found…sunken ships, castles and wildlife galore.  When we tire of paddling (is that even possible?), there are tons of hiking trails for a different perspective.  Fishing, geocaching, bird watching, scuba diving, swimming, interpretive programs and the Xplorers program for the kiddies, it’s like a natural and cultural wonderland.

Boldt Castle photo: visit1000islands.com

Boldt Castle
photo: visit1000islands.com

We can’t wait to visit this gorgeous part of Ontario and have a relaxing vacation in what is sure to be one of our new favourite parks.  Cross your fingers for us that we get good weather and you know that I’m going to have my camera ready, so stay tuned for post-trip pictures.

 

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The Canadian Canoe Museum – The Gem You May Not Have Met

The big excitement over at the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough Ontario this past weekend was a celebration of National Canoe Day, small craft rendezvous and a visit and Q&A from Nick Offerman of the television show Parks and Recreation.  It looks like it was a great day.  Nick Offerman seems to be a sweet guy and there is no denying that he is a fine actor and carpenter.  I saw him recently on a talk show and he was incredibly quick and witty and he told some really good stories.  However, you’ve missed out on the best story teller at the museum if you didn’t get a chance to talk with long time employee and museum curator, Jeremy Ward.

Jeremy tellin' tales

Jeremy tellin’ tales

Bill Mason's canoe

Bill Mason’s canoe

My family had the distinct pleasure to spend some one on one time with Jeremy a couple of weeks ago on our visit to the museum.  Warm and friendly and instantly disarming, Jeremy had us riveted with his stories of the boats and their provenance.  We were allowed into the big warehouse located across the parking lot from the museum itself to visit with some of the vessels not currently on display.  It was simply magical to canoe lovers like ourselves to see row upon row of ancient, modern, worldly, pristine, decimated and decorated specimens and Jeremy had a story for each and every one of them.

We later popped into the museum itself and visited with the canoes once belonging to legendary paddlers Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Bill Mason.  With more than 100 canoes and kayaks on display, you need to give yourself time to enjoy this special place.  It is super kid friendly with interactive displays and hands-on exhibits.  I warn you though, it’s hard to leave without having developed a minor obsession with canoes and canoes are not an easy item to collect (believe me, I know).  But don’t worry, the gift shop has smaller items that will keep you inspired.  In the past I’ve brought home t-shirts, jewelery, stickers and a book on how to build my own canoe.  Just as soon as I get Fraser to build me a garage big enough for that project, I’m totally gonna start my own fleet!

I loooove me a good gift shop!

I loooove me a good gift shop!

So help support this unique national heritage centre by visiting, donating or even “adopting” a canoe for a loved one (makes a great gift).  Hang out and chat with the wonderful and dedicated volunteers (who were dressed in voyageur costume on our visit).   And if you see Jeremy while you’re there, ask him for a story…I don’t think he’ll be at a loss for words.

The Worst Portage EVER

At the bottom and ready to tough it out

At the bottom and ready to tough it out

The Pig, the Hump, the Grind, call it what you will, it is a beast.  Stretching on for 1320 meters and uphill both ways, this stretch of interior that runs between Artist Lake and Three Narrows in Ontario’s Killarney Provincial Park is a rock laden ankle-twister.  We had the not so pleasurable pleasure of completing this exercise in masochism both coming and going.  The first time we hiked it, the ground was fairly dry, the air temperature was comfortable and it was sunny.  It still sucked.DSC_0290

You may recall that Fraser and I disagreed as to whether we could claim to have portaged this portage if there was no canoe present.  I’m here to tell you that the point is moot.  I promised all within earshot that I would carry a boat up and over that monster when pigs could fly… and maybe not even then.  Because I will never truly portage the Pig, I don’t have the credentials to weigh in on the matter.  I do however want to express my deepest respect for all who have battled the beast for real and won.

As I watched the worst portage ever get smaller in my rear-view, I was sure that would be the last I’d see of it for, well for forever I hoped.  I was all too wrong.  When we later came to a washed out river crossing and had to make the painful decision to turn around, it didn’t even occur to me that meant having to do battle again.  This time however, the portage was running angry.  We’d get a second crueller kick at the can.

The "are you kidding me?!" face

The “are you kidding me?!” face

The first time we climbed its rocky stairs, it was the worst.  The second time we climbed it, it was the WORST.  After days of rain, the narrowed corridor ran like a river.  The ankle deep water poured down the incline and we were herded straight up the middle by its impossibly deep bathtub sides.  With no escape to higher ground and unable to avoid a total soaker, we could only give in and trudge along beaten by the Grind…in the rain, in the cold and already defeated from our failed hike.  This is however, something that every Ontario tripper must attempt at least once in their career in order to check it off the list.  You can’t call yourself serious and avoid this one.   At the best of times, this portage was awful.  At the worst of times, this was the worst portage EVER.

A little bit damp

A little bit damp

La Cloche: Denied.

It happened again. I don’t know why, but I can only imagine that we are going to have awesome tripping weather in our next lives. Unfortunately in this life, we got shut out again. We hit the La Cloche Silhouette Trail with overcast skies. The air was cool, which is great for hiking, and the bugs were thick like a perpetual fog…which is not so good for hiking. We knew going in that this would be the case though. We will choose black flies and mosquitos over crowds and heat every time.

There were a ton of little river crossing that involved balance walking across logs, rock hopping and using beaver dams as makeshift bridges to make it from one side of hazards to the other. These were fun and felt like mini adventures breaking up the entirely inland hiking at this point. We made great time that first day and set up camp without any troubles. A good day.

A big first step

A big first step

During the night it poured rain. The boys and I love sleeping in a tent to the sound of rain pelting the fly. It’s a bit of a pain when your gear gets wet, but it’s manageable if you get a break every few days to dry it out again. We didn’t get that break. The rain that first night in addition to the spring run-off, was the beginning of our troubles.

Not too far into day two, it was time to pull out the pack rain covers. The trail quickly began to wash out. The low-lying areas became flooded and the ground turned from rocks and roots to a downright swamp. We tried our best to keep our feet dry by finding the highest ground and weaving our way around, but this made for very slow progress. We were on trail for a very long time and didn’t make our next destination before deciding that nine hours on our feet with fully loaded packs was enough. We grabbed a very unpleasant emergency site to hunker down in for the night. We were wet. We were cold. We were hungry. And for the first time in twenty years, Fraser had developed a blister. It was an ugly one. It turned my stomach just to look at it. He never complained and after taping it up, we barely mentioned it again. That’s one tough trooper.

Yup. The majority of the trail became this wet.

Yup. The majority of the trail became this wet.

After packing up our wet gear and pulling on our wet boots…I HATE wet boots, we carried on. It was half-way through day three that we hit our downfall. As we approached what should have been a routine river crossing, we could hear even before we saw, that there was trouble. The roaring sounds coming up from behind a crest sounded like a waterfall. When we came around the bend, my stomach dropped. Surely this wasn’t the place that we were supposed to cross. There must be a bridge or a crossing further up? But no, the raging river we were looking at was indeed where we were supposed to be (check out a video of the craziness). Fraser and I looked at each other wide-eyed. The kids just looked sick. After studying the problem and Fraser managing to cross the torrent back-and-forth a couple of times trying to rig up a rope system for safety, we asked the kids what they thought. “Do you want to give it a try?” They said they would, but the terror in their eyes said otherwise. Don’t let your ego rule, be a good parent, turn around.

THIS is where we're supposed to cross?

THIS is where we’re supposed to cross?

Sometimes the hardest decision to make is the one to turn around and go back. Going backwards is always a difficult thing. Making progress means moving forward, one foot in front of the other and all that. Going back to the beginning is something that has to be done from time to time and when that choice has been made with thoughtfulness and consideration and for the right reasons, then it is right decision. With a deep sigh, we turned on heel and headed back with a new goal. We didn’t have campsite reservations so we’d have to move quickly to limit our chances of arriving at a site that was already occupied. If we could manage to get out in two days we’d only need to stay one unauthorized night and also avoid the coming weekend. Off we went, hiking double-time.

Here is where the story gets crazy. Do you remember all of those straight-forward river crossings that we did on the way in? Well, by the time we reached them again on the way out, they were all two feet under water. Raging, swirling, angry water. The air temperature was only 4C at this point and it was obvious that we were going to have to get wet to get home. That first step in, up to your knee in water doing its best to pull you down, so cold that it takes your breath away…it was the first step of hundreds more like it still to come.

This wasn't here before...

This wasn’t here before…

We got to experience the “hump” aka the “grind” aka the “pig”, in all of its watery glory on the hike out (see Don’t Worry Honey…It’s Still Gonna Suck). Needless to say, that section alone deserves its own post, for now I’ll simply say that it did indeed suck. In the end, we got out in two days, staying one night at a thankfully unoccupied site. Hundreds of bug bites, a couple of blisters, wrinkly feet, runny noses (did I mention that three of us got colds on the trip?), frozen fingers and legs so stiff that we drew attention from strangers at the fast food joint we hit for dinner. It was CRAZY. And yeah, we’ll probably do it again. Soon.

We can have fun anywhere in any weather

We can have fun anywhere in any weather

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