Arriving late and during a heavy rain, I opted to sleep in the comfort of my car last night. It means I will have a lot of distance to hike in one day if I plan on covering the whole 36km trail system. Initially the plan was to camp at High Falls my fist night then make my way to Johnston Lake for my second night. Instead I will have to fast pack the whole loop after I setup my camp at High Falls this morning. It’s 7am as I roll out of the Cherokee, toss on the pack and pushed on. The sun has just started to peek over the horizon and there is a slight chill in the air. The trails are soggy from the torrential rain that hit the park all-day yesterday, which has made this a slippery trek. My saving grace is that I chose to wear my La Sportiva Boulder X Mid boots with their sticky approach rubber compound. The perfect boot for this particular task! An hour and ten minutes later I stroll into the High Falls campsite, only a mere 5.8 kilometres from the car. A quick toss of a rope has my food bag out of harms way, my Eno hammock is slung and I sit-down to have a quick snack to prepare me for the trail ahead. The loop chosen, an eighteen-kilometre hike through the heart of the Eastern Pines area in North-Eastern Algonquin will have me trekking past bogs, lakes and hilly terrain.
Underway, my quick pace startled a Rough Grouse, though I will admit it scared me with it’s loud flapping. Those birds can make enough noise to have you thinking you have something bigger coming at you. Taking my first right put me on the trail that loops around Bucholtz Lake. An easy trail at first, or so I thought, until I reached the back half of the lake. The next two hours I spent squeezing through glacial boulders fields left behind from the last Ice Age. It was an interesting task considering I was wearing my Fjällräven Kajka 65L technical backpack! Frogs, toads and birds were all sharing the path I was walking. At one point I had even found evidence of a Moose walking the same direction, though no Moose appeared in person. I decided to stop for lunch along the northern shore of Bucholtz Lake to take in the beautiful sun and surroundings. A few moments past and I found myself suddenly with company; in the form of a small green friend. A Northern Leopard Frog had decided that he would like to sit on the rock right beside me. I would like to think it was my charming demeanor, but I’m sure it had more to due with the warm sun that was covering that surface. He comfortably sat there while I pulled my camera out of the pack and let me get curiously close. After a few key photographs I packed up my gear, wished my new friend farewell and began the second leg of my journey. I had plans to photograph the sun setting at my site and knew I still had at least 10 kilometres left before I got to camp. The rest of the trail was mostly uneventful except for a few more Rough Grouse testing my nerves and the overly steep ascents. It is now 5PM and I have just rolled into camp, legs tired and stomach grumbling. All I can think about is dropping my food bag and getting my dinner cooking ASAP. I had picked up a new Jetboil MiniMo cooking system to test before I head to New Zealand next month. Wow, I have to admit that this stove boils so fast, which is key when you are this hungry and tired! The speed at which the stove performed allowed me the time to cook, eat, make a tea and have everything packed up and put away in thirty minutes; plenty of time left to get the camera gear setup for some sunset magic. It’s not long before the sun drops below the horizon, which means I can pack up and get ready for bed. I turn in early in hopes to wake at 4AM to some spectacular astrophotography opportunities. Fingers Crossed!
Fog and Solitude
4AM, my alarm is ringing to wake me up for some Algonquin Astrological wonders. Considering the moon phase is two days after a new moon, I should be in the perfect situation to see something spectacular. I’m still slight drowsy from my interrupted sleep, as I had stirred awake around 1AM to a surprising two-degree temperature! Expectation of nothing below ten degrees meant I had packed lightly and left my sleeping bag at home. Thinking of how I would sleep the night without freezing I quickly grabbed my Patagonia Nano-Puff Bivy Pullover, tucked it around my core and tried to sleep once more. It only took a couple minutes until the jacket did it’s magic and my core was toasty warm again. This wonderful technology brought to the outdoor world by Patagonia saved my backside! Now as for my 4AM astrophotography session, after I got the courage to roll out of my hammock I found that the fog was so thick I was unable to see more then 3 or 4 feet in front of my face. I can forget any ideas of Astrophotography. Even without the visibility, I found the peaceful solitude enough to keep me from crawling back into the hammock immediately. After a couple minutes, I retreated to my hammock and hit the snooze button.
Another couple hours slumber and I have awoken at 7am. Fog still dense in the air, I collect my thoughts over a fresh cup of coffee while I gather my camera gear for some foggy morning magic. Fog and light are tricky subjects where timing is critical. Too early and everything is chased out. Too late and you loose that magic mist. While I sit here calculating my exposures, I am treated to a whimsical dance of a muskrat on the water. He gracefully moves through the water, dipping and diving for his morning breakfast. It is in these moments where I am drawn deeper into the beauty that Mother Nature provides. The solitude and peacefulness of the surroundings are mesmerizing. 10 AM rolls in with a break in the clouds, which gives me the sign it is time to break camp. Why can I not just stay here forever!
Thirty minutes later and my solitude is broken from the piercing screams of over anxious children, no doubt on their way to the falls. It’s my cue to get up, pack my bag and slowly work my way back to the car. As I am packing the family I heard before arrives at my camp, perplexed as they find me packing in only my base layers. Immediately they ask, “Are you going to be long?” and I reply, “Another 20 minutes?” The parents chatter to each other before the man replies, “Can we help you pack?” I graciously said “No thank you”, put on my outer layers and quickly packed.
Now on my way to visit the lower half of High Falls, which means climbing down through the rock fields left behind from the last glacial melt. Not the easiest task when loaded down with my sixty-five litre pack, weight just a smidge over forty-five pounds! On the second ledge I came across a wolf den with a freshly killed deer and it reminded me of the wolf howls I heard last night. Whenever you hear wolves it always seems they are close and that was my thought exactly. Well seven hundred and fifty metres from where I was sleeping is close to me! A slight chill came over me as I processed what I just found. I collected my thoughts and moved along my way to the bottom of the falls. Once at the bottom I found no safe passage to the east side of High Falls. It was disappointing that I was unable to get a clean shot, but I will bring the climbing gear next time and rappel down the east side. A quick scramble and I’m topside, heading for a small outcrop rock to photograph the upper falls. Once setup, the family from before step into my frame and sit down. Now I’m in a waiting game for them to leave. An hour and a half passes and they are still sitting in the same spot. Eventually my determination precedes their need to sit still, only two hours later! I quickly grabbed the photograph and packed my bag for the last time.
I now have a six-kilometre hike ahead of me before I get to the vehicle and I know it will end up taking longer then expected. While hiking back I come across a few groups of people trying to make their way into see High Falls. Unprepared and questioning their decision, every one of them asked me, “How much longer to the falls?” After giving them their answer, I see the look of concern on their faces as they realize the sun is setting in a couple hours and they are on a four to five hour trek. Continuing on down the trail it is not long before I notice a strong pungent musk, which I know, is not my lack of bathing the last two days. It was at that moment when I noticed the black figure in the tree line; a 200-300 pound black bear is slowly following me. Although he stayed a hundred feet back, after another two hundred feet I decided that he probably wasn’t looking to be friends and loaded my bear banger. POW! and he is now taking off in the other direction. Safety on my way I trekked the balance of my route until I got to the car. Now it’s time for the eight-hour drive home, a hot meal and even hotter shower.