As one who enjoys a good trip report, I wanted to give back to the community. Below you will read an epic story of 3 good friends on a journey into the backcountry of Frontenac Provincial Park. Located about 30 minutes north of Kingston, Ontario…Frontenac is only about 3 hours drive from my house in Toronto. This was our first trip to this park.
Pre-trip: As always, we meet at a buddies house with gear in hand, ready to take on the world…errr…but since the drive to the park is so long, we decide to leave Friday night and sleep in a hotel the night before to allow us an early start. Long story short…beer, chicken wings and a late night is a perfect start to our trip!
We arrived at Frontenac at about 9am and inform the Ranger that we are planning to do the Slide Lake Loop. Her immediate response is “Are you crazy?”, we reply yes with smiles on our face, but she doesn’t seem to see the humor in it. Ends up that the trip is not recommended for winter travel at this time as no one has traveled that section and there has been a huge dump of snow…so we will be breaking trail the whole time - Sounds good to us!
Our permits are finally handed to us but not before the ranger commented “this is retarded”. A poor choice of words, but we leave with a new blast of adrenaline in our veins.
We suit up in the car and off we go. The first kilometer is already packed down from several day hikers and X-country skiers. It isn’t until we head to the east that we see the snow is very deep. My friend and I are sporting somewhat new Backcountry Rescues so we enjoy the chance to give them a workout. They work great! The travel is immediately slowed by the deep powder.
It is fun, but a real workout. After 3 hours, I start to feel a pain in my hip joint. Something I have never felt before – must be new muscles? Jason complains of a knee click and Mike is having trouble lifting his leg. I start to think that we have bit off more then we can chew, but we press on. It’s late afternoon now, and I come up with the brilliant idea to cut across “Devil’s Gorge” instead of walking around it to save time. We immediately find out why the trail goes around…the going is extremely steep – one could say an ultra-light ice axe would do well here. We get down slowly but safely.
Back up the other side, and all that is left is to meet back up with the trail. I lead the group across a frozen lake and round a corner only to have a rabid grouse go for my eye! I defended myself the best I could against the powerful animal but it was no use. I fell to the ground, only to have my friends laugh at me hysterically (Their version of the story differs slightly from mine ;)…). As the day went on, the story of the one eyed rabid grouse grew bigger and bigger until eventually it was agreed that it was a phoenix that had lifted me from the ground and dragged me several hundred meters before I wrestled myself free…I guess the ranger was right – we are crazy. We get to camp in 6 hours – not bad for something that was supposed to be impossible. A small fire and a hot meal do the trick. Off to bed for an early start tomorrow.
Day 2: Woke up at about 9am (we slept in) and with the shorter day ahead of us, we really took our time getting on the road.
I had to melt about 6 liters of snow to get everyone’s bottle filled, and warm up a bit before packing up. The weather started out perfect. Just below zero with the sun shining bright. First few minutes seemed to really do a number on my legs after yesterdays workout, but soon we all fell into a groove and we pitter pattered along. The usual gear talk seemed to fill the day, discussing last nights comforts and discomforts. One of the issues was that we weren’t going to stay on the designated sites as they were too exposed (first time at this park and they really expressed their concern with staying on the sites), and we weren’t going to build a fire that close to our tents again as it melted all the snow from the trees, causing massive slush piles to fall on my tent. Again I am leading for the first few hours, and the going is tough. The deep snow with the steep ups and downs are tiring but we are smiling! A howling is heard over the next few hours and seems to be coming closer as we move. We start joking about being hunted by a wolf – until we see some tracks, and then we see the culprit…we snap a photo but it is too far away. As soon as it looks at us, it bolts back into the woods. We sigh in relief knowing that it is scared of us. Shortly after, Jason tells me to stop in my tracks and be quiet. I freeze, and at the edge of the lake is the rare and unphotographed Ontario Water Beast. Jason snaps a killer pic, but we tread with caution knowing that it could attack at any moment – the beast tries to stare me down, but hold my ground, leaving it to run in the opposite direction. Once again, we are safe.
The day begins to drag on and the sun is going down. It is 5pm before we reach camp. The shorter day ended up taking much longer because of the terrain. We set up camp in the woods, away from the lake this time. The temperature is dropping noticeably and we bundle up with all our gear. Mike breaks the pole ferrule on his SL1 and then ends up tearing the fly open after trying to rig it with the broken pole. I feel bad, but there’s no room in my tent! After a quick bite to eat, we melt snow for the morning and hop into our bags. My thermomter is reading –12C at that point.
Day 3: I wake up a few times during the night, and I know it’s cold. I have my bag completely cinched up and the Cocoon balaclava on tight. My nose freezes on and off. We wake up at 7am and I grab my boots to throw in my bag. They are frozen solid. I leave them in there to warm up. I open my door to my tent and look at the thermometer. It is reading –20C. Dang, that’s the coldest I’ve had my bag (WM Versalite) to – and it performed very well indeed. I wonder what the max temp is? We pack up quick and down a few granola bars. We have to start moving or we will freeze. Lucky for us the wind is relatively calm, or I would have worn all my insulation gear aswell.
Once moving, we heat up and get back in the groove. The day ends up only taking us a few hours to get back to the Trail Head. We recognize the weird tree and knew we were close.
By noon we are changing in the ranger station bathroom, enjoying our 15 minutes of fame from others as we walk in the door and are asked “Are you the guys that did the slide lake loop? It was –19C at 6am this morning”
Piece of cake! ;)