Posts Tagged ‘Pukaskwa’

Hiking Killarney’s LaCloche Silhouette Trail…With Kids!

It’s funny how time can affect how you remember events. The more harrowing the event, the more time and distance it takes to be able to look back with fondness.

I remember clearly that when we finished Pukaskwa’s Coastal Hiking Trail, I looked over at Fraser and announced that it turns out I wasn’t a “hiker” in my heart and that my future attentions would focus on paddling. HA! It took one big breakfast of bacon and eggs and the reviewing of some of my pictures in the car on the way home to change my mind.

I knew that our little family would attempt a big hike again…and soon.Pukaskwa 2012 283

Today Fraser texted me that he had booked our next hike. It is certain now that I need to start gathering the necessary gear for our family of four to tackle Killarney Provincial Park’s LaCloche Silhouette Trail. We are going on the same week in May that we did Pukaskwa because despite the hordes of black flies, the weather was ideal. Nice and cool and overcast means we are spared the sweaty head spinning heat that summer days offer and the sleeping is easy.

While it is suggested that this trail can take up to 10 days, we will be hiking its 100km’s in six days and five nights. We are really looking forward to this. We have loved Killarney forever, but have always seen it from the vantage of our canoes. We did do a day trip once up to Silver Peak. Silver Peak is about as high as the CN Tower and is so named because it is made up of gorgeous quartzite that is a beautiful milky white. It was quite a haul, even without fully loaded packs. With Pukaskwa (which is rated one of Canada’s top 5 most challenging hikes by Macleans Magazine) under out belts, I’m sure that we’re going to do great!silver peak.2

The best part of this years trip is that the kids are one year older (and many inches taller and pounds heavier) so they can contribute even more than last year. We’re once again going to have to upgrade the boys gear since they’ve outgrown the last set. All in all though, because of their increased ability to haul, we should be able to eat better and bring a few more comforts. It just gets better and better 🙂

We are always up for a challenge and we can’t wait for May to finally roll around again to continue a new family tradition of super spring hikes. In fact, now that we know the trail for this year, I’m searching for our next big one. I guess I am a “hiker” after all.

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.

Gratitude

Here is a little something that I wrote on my way back from Pukaskwa National Park a couple of days ago.

Please sir, I want some more…

 

It’s amazing how accustomed we become to what we consider basics. Food on demand, a roof over our heads, a safe warm place to sleep. We forget to be thankful for these things until for a time, however short, we are without them.
Making our way home from Pukaskwa in the driving rain makes me thankful that we came off trail last night instead of later this afternoon as planned. Had we stuck to the original plan, we’d have slept in the rain and awoken to a downpour. We’d be huddled under a tarp in temperatures not too far above freezing and eating oatmeal…again. We’d put on slightly damp gear and head out with heavy packs for a long days hike.
Instead we are warm and dry inside our Jeep in search of bacon and eggs and an inviting diner. We are not swatting away black flies or concerned about bears. We are anticipating heavily sweetened coffee and cell phone service.
I hope that this feeling of utter unabashed gratitude doesn’t fade too quickly. It’s good to recognize our blessings while we’ve got them and not have to wait until they’re gone to lament what we’ve lost.

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.

Life Lessons – Teachable Moments Courtesy of Pukaskwa National Park

I love teachers and my boys have been fortunate enough to have been taught by some of the best. I respect and appreciate their dedication and hard work and I feel that real world experiences can really serve to support and enhance a teacher’s efforts in the classroom.

This is how I justify sometimes taking my boys out of their classrooms and into the wilderness. Tripping reinforces our family commitment to a healthy outdoor lifestyle and demonstrates firsthand the importance of environmental protection and stewardship. Not to mention the kids get a little bit of science, geography, math, history, geology…you name it, snuck in there too. Not that they’d ever realise they were actually learning anything, they are having too much fun to notice!

I wrote notes to my boys’ teachers explaining that they would be absent from school for a week while tackling the Coastal Hiking Trail in Pukaskwa National Park and suggested that they do projects chronicling their journeys to make up for missed classes. Both teachers were incredibly supportive and I received an unexpected invitation to speak to my older son’s class before we leave. I am no public speaker and the thought of getting up there with all eyes on me brings on a wave of nausea, but of course I agreed. All children benefit from exposure to the outdoors and maybe my presentation will spark an interest in some of those kids that will get them exploring the possibility of visiting one of Ontario’s parks themselves. Whether it is tomorrow with their parents or years from now when they are grown, I hope that the pictures I paint of wild adventures and far flung vistas stay with them and spur them on to journeys of their own.

I won’t yet have pictures of the trail to show, but I will bring along my computer so that I can share the park’s Coastal Hiking Trail Trip Planner. It will allow me to show the class maps of the trail and to point out the lack of any roads. Many of the children in class have never been outside of large urban areas. Can a child who has never ventured beyond the city limits imagine such an expanse without any roads or cars? The planner mentions the Pukaskwa Pits,the unexplained rock-lined pits clustered along the coast. I bet the kids will have some good guesses what they were used for! We will talk about packing for the trip, what we’ll be bringing and what we’ll be eating. We will discuss the wildlife that lives there and how to be bear aware. I’m going to run out of presentation time long before I ever run out of wonderful things about Ontario to explore.

While we are gone, the class will spend a part of each day speculating on what we are up to. My son Luke will be journaling about his experiences on the trail and when they are reunited the following week they will compare notes. What a great idea Ms. Taris! The class will also be able to follow our progress real-time with transmissions from ourSpot GPS Satellite Messenger. And I think it would be fun to send a picture of the family holding a sign sending a personal message back to the class and email it to them from the guest center at Hattie Cove.

And so our trip to Pukaskwa will not just be a family adventure, it will be a community adventure. Our parks and our province have lessons to impart and we can all be teachers in our own way if we are willing to put in the time and effort. I am thankful for the opportunity to share my passion for the outdoors with the class. But I am especially thankful for the enthusiasm of teachers who inspire kids everyday in their urban classrooms.

National Parks In Ontario: Pukaskwa…Our Kids Try to Set a Record!

This is our inaugural BIG trip year. We feel that the kids are ready to take on some serious expeditions and we’re milking this coming of age for all it’s worth. 2012 is chocked full of back to back awesome trips. Come the end of January though, it felt like we were just killing time until the fun would begin. The spring looked lean and long. I opened our complimentary 2012 Ontario Outdoor Adventures calendar and started flipping through the pages, counting the weeks until our first trip of the year was planned. It hit me like a slap in the face. Right there on the square reserved for May 23rdwas the answer to our spring tripping drought. Hike Pukaskwa’s Coastal Trail, it read. Yeah baby, let’s do it! With only four months until our departure, the race was on to prepare ourselves for what some people spend years planning for.

Pukaskwa National Park © Klaus Rossler Photography 2011

The Coastal Trail in Pukaskwa Provincial Parkis Ontario’s answer to B.C.’s West Coast Trail. Rated as an advanced hike, my husband Fraser and I had put thoughts of it on the back burner after our boys were born in favour of short hikes, canoe trips and winter camping. Well, we dusted off the dream this spring and put it back on our plates. With Zach and Luke a strong and well experienced 8 and 10 respectively, we felt confident that we could tackle the challenging terrain and unpredictable weather that Pukaskwa is notorious for. Perched on the edge of Lake Superior’s wild north shore, it is Ontario’s only wilderness national park and the trail includes suspension bridges, river crossings and boulder fields.

courtesy of Parks Canada

I began researching our chances of a successful expedition. I lucked out and made quick friends with Lyn Elliot, a super friendly kindred spirit from the Parks office in Pukaskwa. What a wealth of information! We talked weather, trail conditions, bugs, packing considerations…and then the clincher. She mentioned in an early email that if we completed the entire trail, we were most likely the “youngest” family to have done so. By all accounts, our boys will be the youngest hikers to complete the trail end-to-end. That was it, we were thoroughly hooked. It was like a first accent and a World Record rolled into one ambitious but doable hiking first. We were going to be the first to realise this achievement, the perfect motivation for a firm commitment. We are going to Pukaskwa, we are going to hike the whole 60km Coastal Trail and because of other commitments, we only have seven days to accomplish it in. Hikers, start your engines!

There are only two options for approaching a hike on this single access point trail, the “double-back” method (hike in and then turn around and hike back) and the boat shuttle. We waffled on which to choose. The double back meant that the pressure was off. If we didn’t make the progress that we hoped for, we could just turn around when half of our time had been eaten up and safely assume that it would take an equal amount of time to get back. Other points in the “pro” double back column… the first half of the trail is well travelled, better maintained and technically less advanced, plus we could avoid the added expense of the boat shuttle. However, and most anyone who knows me can attest to this, I have an aversion to the easy way. To me, only hiking half of the trail would mean that someday I would need to return and complete the entire thing in order to check it off my list. If I’m going to drive 14 hours to get to the park, there is simply no way that I’m not doing the whole trail and so we are going with longtime water taxi operator Keith at McCuaig Marine Services. Luckily for me, Fraser is always willing and more than able to entertain my tripping whims. The question then remained, what about the kids? Will they want to go? Are they capable? Will the frustration of a trip too far above their abilities sour them for all future crazy proposals? Well they certainly want to go, they couldn’t be more excited and it’s not just because they will be missing a week of school! As for the other concerns, I suppose the answers to those questions await us at the end of this journey.

courtesy of Parks Canada

If you want to start planning your own visit to Pukaskwa, check out the AMAZING trip planners that the park has just come out with. They really are the most comprehensive, helpful and easily navigable trip planners that I have ever had the pleasure of using. There is the Coastal Paddling Route Trip Planner and the Coastal Hiking Trail Trip Planner. Every single question that we had was answered in this document. Everything from driving distances between major cities and the park to hiking distances in kilometers and hours between camp sites, weather conditions and sunrise and sunset times. And you don’t have to be crazy like us as there is car camping in Hattie’s Cove (with free WIFI at the visitor’s centre) and you can do day trips on the hiking trail or any number of shorter overnighters. They offer tons of interpretive programs, a junior naturalist program for the young and young at heart as well as an Art in the Park series. Really fabulous. No, really. Check it out. Really

Stay tuned because our trip is in two short weeks! You can watch our progress real-time on a Google map by way of our SPOT Connect (satellite GPS messenger) and I will be tweeting and updating Facebook from the trail…you gotta love technology! Here is a link to the SPOT map page. Of course there is nothing much to look at right now, but starting on May 26th I’ll be doing regular location check-ins. Also look for a complete trip report and some spectacular pictures when we get back. Wish us luck!

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