Posts Tagged ‘kids’

First Family Canoe Trips : Where to go in Southern Ontario

So you want to take junior on their first canoe trip…good for you!  I often get asked for suggestions on where to take the kiddies for their first outing in Ontario.  For a first canoe trip with younger children, I suggest lakes that have paddle in sites to warm up to the paddling experience, or try one short portage into a second lake.  You can get a sense for how your little one is going to “take” to the boat without the risk of pushing it too far.  You can always take a longer trip next time.

The following lakes don’t see super big water like some larger ones and if needed, can have you back to your car in an hour or less.  May I also suggest sticking to the summer months so the water and air are warm and inviting?  If circumstances require that your first trip happens in the spring or fall, remember that it can be really cold and you MUST dress and gear-up for the elements.  Stay warm out there!

all together in one boat

all together in one boat

Algonquin Provincial Park

From the west side of the park near Kearney, enter at Rain Lake (really pretty) and stay at a paddle in site or do a short portage into Sawyer Lake.

Enter at Magnetawan Lake (also on the west side) and portage into Hambone Lake or push on into Ralph  Bice.

Off of the Hwy 60 corridor, you can check out Cannisbay.  It doesn’t feel very backcountry, but it’ll get the family into a canoe and into a tent.

Use the Achray Campground access on Grand Lake and stay, or pull a very short portage (30m) into Stratton Lake where there are numerous sites and you can visit beautiful High Falls, a swimming area with a naturally formed water slide.

Killarney Provincial Park

This park requires a bit more portaging, but you can still go to Bell Lake.  Use the Bell Lake access point and stay, or paddle through into Three Mile Lake.

Two words…George Lake.

Frontenac Provincial Park

Stay on Big Salmon Lake.  The lake has paddle in sites and no portages.

If you have any suggestions of your own for getting out on a canoe trip for the first time, be sure to let me know!  For all those families who are getting out for the first time this year, good luck and have fun!

Up To Our Same Old Tricks

It feels like forever since we’ve been on a proper trip.  After the start of the school year and after a very busy summer, our adventures slow down to a trickle. We absolutely play hooky to go exploring, but after skipping a chunk of the first week of school and then hitting the wet and really cold but not quite cold enough weather here in southern Ontario, we’ve been twiddling our tripping thumbs.

Fast forward to today. I spent the afternoon juggling schedules and trying to make reservations…looking for availability and dodging meetings and commitments like a pro. Nothing is finalized yet, but it looks like we are finally breaking the drought and hitting the hills. I want to go cross-country skiing!  When I told the kids they were thrilled.  “Please, please, please make it happen” they pleaded with clenched hands, eyes shut tight and on bent knees.  Believe me guys…I’m trying!

We're going on a trip? Woohoo!

We’re going on a trip? Woohoo!

We are beginning to plan our whole 2013 schedule and it is looking GOOD. A hike here, a paddle there and a crazy idea is finally going to come to life. Whether this ski trip happens or not (don’t worry, another one will take its place if this falls through), it feels good to be out of our self-imposed rut and up to our same old tricks.

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.

The Smaller the Better – When to Introduce Kids to the Backcountry

I was just having a conversation with a friend about when the best time to start backcountry camping with the kids is.  I’ve sort of touched on this before, but the conversation has inspired me to address it again.  In my opinion, the younger the better.  I haven’t read any studies on this topic, but based on my experience with my boys, this is why I think they have taken to it so readily.  Keep in mind that getting your kids out whatever their age is important and beneficial, so don’t be discouraged if you’ve waited to do it!  Also…safety first.  Don’t get yourself and the kids in over your heads.  Start slowly and build to epic…don’t just jump right in 😉

Camping in the snow with uncle Scott…age 6.

1) They don’t know any different (suckers).

When my guys think of fun and recreational activities, their minds don’t (often) wander to movies or theme parks.  They don’t lust after luxury rooms in fancy hotels or exotic foods from exotic places (except sushi of course, but who doesn’t?).  They dream of the backcountry because that is what they equate with fun and family.  Before they could even talk, they could trip.

2) They measure themselves with a tripping yardstick.

When they were little, they were told that they were too small to do some things like paddle the canoe or carry the portage pack.  As

Setting up the tent…ages 2 and 5

they have grown, they have taken on greater responsibilities and challenges and it makes them feel grown up.  They keep wanting to go back to prove to themselves and to us just how far they’ve come.

3) They still think you’re the coolest (because I am).

You think the backcountry is awesome and they think you are awesome.  When they are little, the sun rises and sets with you so they love what you love.  It’s a great big love fest.

4) Exercise.

This one is self-explanatory.  Active youngin’s turn into active teens who become active adults. No arm twisting necessary.

5) It impresses their friends.

When the boys are well versed in first aid, how to do boat rescues, get to start fires, when they’ve learned how to fight off bears and they get knives for their birthdays, they are the talk of the schoolyard…in a good way.

6) It’s hard to get them down.

Little ones put far less pressure on themselves to get things right the first time (relative to angsty teens who take a “who cares” stance when they don’t master something on the first try).  Sure they can get discouraged.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve certainly seen backcountry tantrums and tears.  The older the kid though, the quicker they are to give up on a task that makes them feel weak or slow or is difficult and seen as not being fun.

7) Everything is fun.

Teenagers think everything is boring and beneath them.  Little ones think everything is fun.  Plain and simple.  A two-year old will collect rocks and dig in the dirt with a stick for hours.  They will happily gather firewood, or peg tents or fetch water because everything is a game.  Teenagers will sit on a log staring off into space and occasionally grunt that “this sucks”.

8) Dirt.

Little guys naturally want to play in the dirt.  Give them a chance and they won’t get all squeamish about getting their hands or clothes

Swimming in Algonquin ages 2 and 5

dirty.  Sitting on the ground, wiping their hands on their pants and picking bugs out of their food before chowing down are all things best taught early. Exposure to dirty stuff helps build a strong immunity and keeps your kids healthier in the long run.

9) Community.

The outdoor community is an awesome one.  Friendly like-minded folks hanging out and going on trips together or simply sharing tips and ideas.  But nobody likes being the new kid in class, I mean where are am I going to sit?  I won’t know anybody!  Start them young and they will make life-long friends and tripping buddies.  It’s harder to break into a group that’s already got history and a couple of trips under their belts.

10) Never too much of a good thing.

Getting your kids outside for exercise and fresh air is good for them.  Nurturing a connection to the environment and a sense of empathy for nature and its creatures is good for them.  Spending time as a family without the distractions and trappings of the city is good for them.  Nurturing a family bond that will hold up under the pressure of daily quibbles and bigger squabbles is good for them (and you).  If all of this is good for them, then the longer they get to do it, the better!

There you have it.  When should you introduce your kids to the backcountry?  RIGHT NOW!  Don’t wait, no excuses, take them out and take them often.  By the time they’re “big” they’ll be superstars of the outdoors and happy, healthy, well-rounded nature-lovers.  Who wouldn’t want that for their kids?

Last Minute Late Nights

It happens every trip.  We think that we’re prepared but we find ourselves up into the wee hours putting together the last-minute details.  Yes we’re still adding to our packs and we are supposed to hit the road in seven hours.  Just par for the course.  Sleepy starts…

As long as I’m up, I thought I’d share what our packs weighed in at for our Algonquin Park 20 day canoe trip launch:

Food barrel #1 – 59lbs

Food barrel #2 – 32lbs

Dry bag #1 – 35lbs

Dry bag #2 (Zach’s pack) – 21lbs

Luke’s pack – 31lbs

Day pack – 15lbs

Canoe #1 – 51lbs

Canoe #2 – 61lbs

We will be carrying (at least to start) 305lbs of gear, food and boats…plus pfd’s, 5 paddles and the fresh food that hasn’t found its way from the fridge into a barrel yet.  No small feat.  It’s going to be hard, but it’s going to be wonderful.  If you’d like to follow our progress, check out our SPOT page to watch our progress real-time and follow my tweets on our Facebook page too.  See you in a few weeks!

 

The Biggest Adventure – Kids

So you’re on the fence about having kids.  You’re not sure if you’re ready to give up the lifestyle to which you are accustomed.  You haven’t ticked off all of the trips that you wanted to take down before you settled down. You trip endlessly and you’re good.  Some would call you hardcore.  You shrug it off as no big thing but you secretly tuck those accolades away, pulling them out and rolling them around in your head when you need a boost.  I’m here to tell you that bringing little ones into the fold will only increase your enjoyment and your achievements, not to mention your street cred.  I know this from personal experience.  My favourite tripping partners are my husband Fraser and our kids, Luke 11, and Zach 8.  They make everything more fun and I honestly can’t remember how I entertained myself before they came along.  The soundtrack to my life is one filled with laughter, commentary and endless inquiries.

What is better than coming to the end of a 3k portage without losing my lunch?  Watching my kids complete the same trek with fully loaded packs all the while chatting non-stop about every leaf, snail and rock that they pass.  I marvel at their strength, passion and attitudes.  Relative to their size, they are hauling as much as I am.  Their faces are flush and little beads of sweat form on their upper lips.  The breathing comes hard…for all of us.  It’s difficult, but there is no complaining, just pride in accomplishing what others believed was too difficult, beyond their capabilities.  And I don’t often have to wonder what they are thinking because they share their thoughts freely and without filters.  They are not like other tripping partners…they trust me completely and care about me as much, if not more, than themselves and I reciprocate the sentiment. There are no egos and no competition, just encouragement and a hand up when necessary.

The gift of seeing the world through their eyes is one that I wouldn’t trade for all the first ascents and records in the world.  The truth is we get out far more often now that we have kids than we ever did before.  Their enthusiasm to climb higher, hike farther and paddle longer drives us to attempt ever more ambitious adventures.  This summer saw us hike Pukaskwa’s Coastal Hiking Trail, a grueling seven day slog through some dauntingly rough terrain that had us crossing suspension bridges, wading through ice-cold rivers and sharing beaches with the local black bear population.  And if that weren’t enough, we will follow up this trip with a three-week canoe expedition dissecting the entire maintained length of Algonquin Provincial Park from north to south.

The accolades will still come.  People are even more impressed with what you’ve accomplished when they find out that your progeny were by your side from launch to take-out.  The thing is you won’t need their praise anymore.  You have the best motivation there is…your kids.

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.

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