Date: July 30, 2016
Distance hiked: 23.2 km // 14.5 mi (Parking lot to Clara Lake)
Steps taken: 35,758
Time on the trail: ~ 7 hours
Calories burned: 2,750
Fuel consumed: 1 pack peanut M&M’s, a few handfuls of dried fruit, 1 cheese string, 12 triscuits w/ PB, 1 nature valley bar, 1 pack Sidekicks Thai Sweet Chili Noodles, 1 pack hot chocolate mix, 1 clif bar
Wildlife spotted: 1 bear (on road while driving in), tons of tiiiny frogs or toads, 1 huge toad, 1 garter snake, loon family, moose tracks in the trail (but no moose to be found), plus the usual woodland creatures (chipmunks, squirrels, birds, etc.)
I left home this morning before dawn. My destination: the Western Uplands trail in Algonquin Provincial Park. This backpacking trail is split into 3 separate loops, and if all 3 loops are completed has a total distance of about 75km. I plan to complete all 3 loops on a 3 day/2 night trip.
The classic trailhead shot and the bridge that started it all
The day started off on an exciting note as I made my second ever wild bear sighting while driving into the park! It was a small bear (probably not small enough to be a cub from this year, but not yet full grown), and it was casually foraging on the side of the highway that runs through the park, directly across from one of the camp stores. Of course, this meant there was a large gang of bear paparazzi across the road. I was driving on the side of the road that the bear was on, and drove by slowly with it just metres from my car! I pulled over just ahead, and the car behind me followed suit, but a park ranger quickly approached and signalled us to move on. All this before I had even obtained my permit!
I continued driving to the west gate office and got my permit, then backtracked to the trail head parking lot. While obtaining my permit, there was another solo hiker picking up a permit for the same trail beside me. He pulled into the parking lot right behind me, but I haven’t seen him since I got on the trail. I have seen around 30 other people though. This didn’t surprise me much, as it’s a long weekend and I’m pretty sure every available site on this trail is booked up for tonight.
In the parking lot, there was a large group of around 8 or so preparing to head for camp at Maggie Lake, my planned lunch stop. I took a group photo for them and they got on trail slightly ahead of me, but I caught up to them pretty quickly and spent a while leap frogging through their line as I slowly passed each person. As I was passing two of them, I heard one say to the other, “we should have brought ski poles!”. D’aww.
I had around 24 km of hiking to get to my camp site on Clara Lake. The trail today was pretty much entirely through forest, hence the title of this post. I didn’t take many photos on trail, as a lot of it looked very similar and wasn’t super exciting. It was still lovely though, I am always happy to spend a day in the woods. A lot of the time, the hiking felt like a leisurely stroll through the woods. Of course, there were moments where climbs would have me short of breath, or the terrain would get technical, but I found a lot of the trail to be fairly easy.
Views of Little Hardy Lake
The trail paralleled streams a couple of times early on, which is always nice. One of them, Hardy Creek, was so nice that I just had to stop and get some water. I likely had enough to make it through to my lunch stop, but I couldn’t resist pausing briefly to take from the clear, cold, running creek. I also got my first lake view at Little Hardy Lake, which was really nice.
Lunch with a view on Maggie Lake
I stopped for lunch at an empty site on Maggie Lake, which was lovely! I would definitely book a site there in the future. After lunch, there was a really pretty spot where the trail crossed Mink Creek on a series of log bridges, and gave beautiful views both up and down the creek.
Views from the Mink Creek crossing
Shortly after this, the day took a slight turn for the worse. I got to the spot where the first and second loop split, and opened the little metal box to look at the map. There was a note inside saying that someone had seen a bear with 2 cubs near the Clara Lake campsite on June 12. Also known as the site I was heading for to spend the night. Excellent. I spent the rest of the afternoon feeling extremely anxious, which was unfortunate. I know bears are very common in the park, and the fact that there was one in the vicinity of this campsite within the last 2 months shouldn’t come as a shock. But just knowing that someone saw them freaks me out. Plus, the second loop trail was often very overgrown, making me feel claustrophobic and even more anxious. I also stopped seeing other people after I got on the second loop, making me feel very alone.
Made it to camp on Clara Lake!
When I finally arrived at Clara Lake, the first campsite I came across didn’t make me feel much better. It was absolutely tiny. The one cool thing was that there would have been an amazing view of the lake right from the tent door. But the small space would have just made me feel more claustrophobic. I continued on, and breathed a sigh of relief when I came across the next campsite. It’s MUCH larger and more open. It’s definitely more exposed to the trail than the first site, but I am genuinely curious to see if anyone will actually pass by (spoiler alert: no one did) . I also have to climb down to some rocks to get a good lake view, but that’s fine. There seems to be a group of loud canoeists on the other side of the lake as well. When I first approached, I was genuinely concerned that there was a bear attack happening because of all the shouting, but eventually determined that it was just a really rowdy group. They didn’t eventually quiet down, allowing me to enjoy the peace of the lake. And it is kind of nice to know there are some other humans somewhat nearby.
View of Clara Lake from my campsite
After arriving at camp, I filtered a bunch of water (that will hopefully last for evening and morning camp activities), and set up my tent. I’m still getting the hang of setting up the tarp tent, and I think I’ll start carrying some extra pegs so I can get the walls nice and taut.
Sun setting behind the trees at Clara Lake
Then I made my Thai noodles for dinner, and sat by the lake to eat. I feel much better now that I’m here. I watched a loon family swimming around the lake while I ate which was also super cool. After dinner, I continued to sit by the lake and wrote most of this blog. I then made myself a cup of hot chocolate and drank it by the lake as I started a new book, The Narrow Road to the Deep North (which I am very glad that I brought, since I got to camp over an hour earlier than I had been anticipating!). The loon family continued swimming about in the lake in front of me.
Last light on the lake
After reading for a while, I brushed my teeth, hung up my food bag, and got camp ready for the night. I’m now sitting by the lake again as the sun sets, and it’s very pretty and peaceful. I think I’ll have a great sunrise tomorrow morning as my campsite faces east over the lake. I’m very excited to get into my cozy sleeping bag and get some sleep in a few minutes, as I’m getting up nice and early since tomorrow is a big miles day.
Trail lesson of the day: Sometimes a simple day is good. This trail may not have views of sweeping vistas, but it will be an excellent practice in forest bathing and just soaking up the sweet simplicity of nature.
Also, try not to let your fears get the best of you. Most of the time, they’re not as scary as they seem.