Posts Tagged ‘hiking’

Nerves of Steel, Stomach of Jelly

I still can’t wrap my head around it, but the nervous butterflies in my stomach, my quickened heartbeat and the lump in my throat that’s making it hard eat tells me that my body knows… I’m going on an adventure and a bigger one than I have ever attempted before. This time next week I’ll be halfway to Whitehorse with 80lbs of gear in the belly of the plane just waiting to be punished in the wilds of the Yukon.

photo: Jo Ohara Wikimedia

photo: Jo Ohara Wikimedia

I’m not even sure where I’m going exactly. Our destination as NOLS participants will be revealed to us on the day that we get there. I only know that it will be within a 14 hour drive of Whitehorse and that it will be somewhere that few people have ever seen or experienced. I’ll be hiking off trail and at elevation, in unpredictable weather for two weeks and then trading in my backpack for a dry bag as we continue our journey by canoe, running the rapids of a wild northern river for another two weeks.
The hardest part of this trip will be leaving my family behind. I’ve never been away from them for more than a few days and I get choked up just thinking of not seeing their faces for so long. I’ve been squeezing in double hugs and kisses to sustain me through all the days that I will be without them. I will have no phone, no Internet, in fact no electronics of any kind. Completely incommunicado for 30 days.

But enough about my apprehensions, let me tell you about the excitations!  Snow capped peaks, building lifelong friendships, acquiring mad outdoor and leadership skills, all in one of the most beautiful, pristine and isolated places on earth.  You can’t put a value on this experience…it’s priceless.  I’ll be boohoo-ing all the way there, but only because I’m so lucky to have the blessings at home that I do.  And we’re all going to benefit from this, cause mama’s gonna school the kiddos in white water paddling when I get back and it’s only a matter of time before we can all go north and run those rivers together.

So this will be my last post for a good long while.  Keep calm and camp on.  I’m off to do some learnin’.

My kitchen floor today...

My kitchen floor today…

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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

Do You Know What I’d Like to Do?

Oh that familiar line of questioning that inevitably lands us smack dab in the middle of our most ambitious adventures.

Just last night I heard those magic words and so a new adventure begins.  Our big hike in Pukaskwa  last spring lit a fire in our tripping bellies.  Our newest plan, hatched by my hubby, will see us clambering over the peaks of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail in Killarney Provincial Park.  Too late in the season to attempt it this year, we plan on tackling it next spring.

Our hike in May of this year has taught us that spring hiking is where it’s at.  While we were plagued by black flies and rain, the temperature was ideal for lugging heavy packs and scaling steep slopes.  While we have visited Killarney many many times, it has always been by canoe.  We did get a small taste of La Cloche when we climbed silver peak in 2011.  It was much harder than we anticipated, but with Pukaskwa under our belts, we’re not concerned whether the boys can do it or not.  We KNOW they can!
We are looking at a 7-10 day route covering 100km and I can’t imagine that we can get our packs any lighter than last time (I’m looking at you Thermarest Neoair XLite, the love of my tripping life), but the boys will be that much bigger and stronger (I picked up a 55 litre pack for Luke!) so Fraser and I will get a little bit of a break on this hike…phew!  We can’t wait and now that I’ve officially agreed to another serious hike after vowing that Pukaskwa was my last (don’t worry, I always swear off tripping after a tough one…lol!) I’ve been told that there are no take-backs.

And the boys, how do they feel about lacing up the hikers again?  Zach says he only wishes that it could be harder.  He wants to set another record.  That’s my boy.

Pukaskwa Wild, Winsome and Wonderful

Our boys are always up for a challenge, especially if it involves the outdoors. But we tripled checked that they really wanted to go and hike the Coastal Hiking Trail in Pukaskwa National Park. We tried our best to paint a realistic picture of just how difficult it would be.  Little did I know that even I had underestimated the challenges that lay ahead.

After a 14 hour drive north we pitched a tent in Hattie Cove for the night and woke at a painfully early hour to catch our boat shuttle with Keith and Melissa from McCuaig Marine Services. We were dropped at North Swallow River in a steady rain to start our hike back. Note to self, the end of May is black fly season.

The trail was a very rugged constant gain and loss of elevation. It was rocky and dense and we relied heavily on our hiking poles for balance and grip. There was a substantial amount of rock-hopping to avoid any number of hazards, and felled trees to climb under and over and around. There was never a moment of tedium as a constant stream of obstacles kept us on our toes at all times. We were rewarded for our efforts with some of the most beautiful and breathtaking backcountry that I’ve ever seen. Lake Superior stretches on forever and truly resembles the sea. The sandy beaches sweep out like private playgrounds to explore and enjoy at the end of a long day. Almost all of our campsites landed us smack dab in the middle of a gorgeous beach with sunset views to die for. Even after hiking an eight-hour day, the boys ran out into the sand to dig and build and explore.

I admit that at times the terrain was so demanding and exhausting that witty banter fell by the wayside and was replaced with rhythmic pants of exertion and the sounds of heavily weighted boots drumming against the rock. There were a couple of tears of frustration and “somebody” collapsed at camp one night leaving the burden of set-up and cooking to the others (yes that was me). But with the effort, we could see the confidence growing in the boys. Their steps became less timid and their placement more precise. They called out warnings of upcoming hazards to the group and held back branches and offered a steady hand to each other. They leaned into headwinds and wiped the rain and bugs from their faces. Despite the formidable demands there wasn’t one whine or complaint or outright tantrum. Still they ended every day with hugs and kisses and smiles and thanks.  For possibly the first time in their lives our guys faced real adversity. They learned that by not giving up even when things got exceedingly difficult, they could achieve their goals. They proved to themselves just how strong and capable they really are. It also made it impossible for me to complain. If they could do it with such grace, then so could I.

Our original plan was to hike the trail in seven days. In the beginning we found that our family took about one hour longer to hike each section than was suggested in the Coastal Hiking Trail Planner. The further that we went on the trail though, the better time we made. On the sixth day we completed our section one hour ahead of schedule and the kids asked if we could push on and finish our journey that day instead of making camp. We decided that it was doable and agreed.

After more than 16km on that sixth day, we made our way back into the Hattie Cove campground giddy with the exhilaration of our accomplishment as well as the prospect of a fast-food dinner with all of the fixings. After gorging ourselves on poutine and root beer floats, we rolled back into camp and were treated to a night in gorgeous teepee courtesy of Bonnie Couchie from the Pic River Guest Suite. Even though we arrived earlier than planned, Bonnie had our night’s accommodations waiting for us and we had the warmest and most comfortable night’s sleep in a week.

Before we left on our adventure the possibility existed that we might not be able to finish and that someday we would need to return and give it another go. I know now that regardless of having realized the goal of hiking the entire trail, we will definitely be returning to Pukaskwa.  Not out of an obligation to complete unfinished business, but rather for the love of a newfound gem.  One visit to this magical park simply isn’t enough. Our Ontario Outdoor calendar didn’t steer us wrong when it suggested that we visit. That leaves 11 more months of inspiration hanging on my wall.

To see more of our trip pictures, check out the Pukaskwa National Park set on Flickr!

A special thank you to Mountain Equipment Co-op, Pukaskwa National Park and Ontario Outdoors.  Your support allowed for a successful and memorable trip.

Our Pukaskwa Family Adventure

We are an adventure loving family. We’ve tripped here, we’ve tripped there, we’ve tripped just about everywhere. But never have we been to a place quite like Pukaskwa National Park. While we’ve always been outdoorsy, the kids are old enough now at 8 and 10 to allow the family to challenge ourselves with some more advanced fare. On May 26th we launch our year of great Ontario Outdoor adventures by making the long drive north from our home in Toronto to Ontario’s most remote national park to take on the Coastal Hiking Trail.

Hiking with the kids is nothing new to my husband and myself, but this particular trail is gonna be a doozy. Its sixty rugged kilometers stretch along the north-eastern coast of Ontario’s inland sea, Lake Superior. The terrain is rough and remains relatively untouched and the weather can be strong-willed. Those who choose to make the journey here do so for the beauty, the experience and let’s face it, the bragging rights. Trekking this trail is certainly more difficult than a simple walk in the park.

By all accounts our boys will be the youngest hikers to ever complete the trail end-to-end. We did not plan it this way. That revelation was an eyebrow raising hint at the complexity of the feat before us; a not so subtle cue to come well prepared. And we will not be taking any aspect of readiness for granted. With the trip just a few days away I’m confident that we are well practiced and that we are equipped for almost every potential predicament. As parents we are role models and what better lessons are there to impart to our children than to dream big, train hard, come prepared and follow through.

Sure we do trips like this for the fun and adventure, but there is another side to getting into the backcountry with your kids. Not every classroom has walls. Spending time in a wilderness classroom teaches more than survival skills, it teaches life skills. Spending time in the outdoors with your family is valuable for fostering a meaningful connection to each other. Each member is able to rely on the others and kids feel empowered when they know that we trust and believe in them. Tripping allows kids to push their limits and discover physical and mental strength. They learn to problem solve and to trust their instincts. And they find that there is an abundance of ways to occupy their time without all of the gadgets they’ve left at home. They use their imaginations.

Taking your kids on a big adventure takes a ton of planning, preparation and sacrifice. It’s all worth it though to demonstrate that the most rewarding experiences are earned through hard work and perseverance, the best memories are the ones created with family and friends and the best rewards are the ones that reveal a deeper understanding of ourselves, the world and our place in it. Pukaskwa is going to be our greatest challenge to date, but with all of us doing our part it is sure to be our greatest success.

Obstacles = Success on Algonquin Hike

The boys are back from their hike in Algonquin Provincial Park. It was a resounding success. While Zach seemed to find the first section tiring, his enthusiasm was reignited when the hiking got MORE difficult! Luke also found that what they referred to on the trip as “obstacles” made the hiking more interesting and took their minds off of their pack loads. Deadfall on the trail, uphills and giant mud puddles traversed by balancing on logs were far more fun than the boring old straight aways.

The weather was perfect and the report back from Fraser was that the gear we have set the boys up with worked perfectly. Zach rocked his new Deuter Fox 30 backpack and Luke took along his trusty MEC Big Squeeze. Both boys were in new hiking boots as well. While they’ve been breaking in them in for a while now, this was the first real hike that they were tested out on and there were no complaints. Luke sported Keen Targhee II Mid’s and Zach’s Timberland’s provided blister free comfortable feet.

With our longest and most challenging hike to date just short of three weeks away, my mind is now at ease that our boys are well prepared and looking forward to the fun. And there won’t be any lack of obstacles in Pukaskwa, the terrain will be one challenge after another. So obstacles beware, we’re coming to get ya!

Now THAT’S an obstacle!

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