Winter camping by mistake

Western Uplands Hiking Trail, Algonquin Park, November 26-28, 2004

Lester watching the fire, 5pm Saturday.

Lester watching the fire, 5pm Saturday.

Transformation: by Sunday morning, the rain had made the site into a mud bath.

Transformation: by Sunday morning, the rain had made the site into a mud bath.

Detail, en route from Hardy Lake.

Detail, en route from Hardy Lake.


Monday, November 28, 11pm Ottawa

I climbed into bed last night after getting back and, despite what I had anticipated - indeed what I had yearned for - I found the mattress and the duvet disquieting. The generous give of the foam seemed odd and the duvet felt open, with nothing to hold in my body heat.

"How can this possibly be warm?" I exclaimed. I'd grown rapidly accustomed to sleeping in a body-fitting coccoon, drawstrings cinched and hood around my head. I am sure I will adjust.

The last day of this trip began like the first - at 4am as I woke to the sound of rain. Several hours earlier I had agonized over whether or not to bring my camera case into the vestibule. I was cold, and already in my sleeping bag when I realized I'd left it out.

I decided to leave it out. I was cold enough that the possibility of rain seemed remote. The camera wasn't going to stay appreciably warmer in the vestibule, and there wasn't a lot of room in the tent.

Rain changed all that. The bag is nylon, and fairly splash proof. But it's not at all waterproof. I listened for signs that it was abating. I toyed with the idea of going back to bed and having faith that some benificent higher power would halt the rain in a short while. Then I came to. I was out of my bag, out of the tent and collected the camera case in a few minutes.

I lay awake listening to the rain, drifting in and out of sleep, clocking what this was going to mean if the rain didn't let up. We'd agreed that we were going to make for the cars after breakfast, but we still had a bit of hiking to do. And all that water would make for much heavier packs.

The solution, I reckoned, was to sleep more. The longer we waited the more minutes would pass by wherein the rain might chance to stop.

It did not. It just seemed to get worse.

It was still raining at 8am when we poked out of our tents. We'd set up a tarp friday night and now we were moving everything out to it, trying to pack stuff dry.

Leo made scrambled tofu with cheese, bacon and salsa on tortillas. We ate, standing around, grabbing bites while packing and organizing. The clouds were low and still. There didn't appear to be any respite in store.

By 10am we were moving. Already the packs felt heavier. The snow was fast disappearing. The trails were slush and/or rivers. I decided I was going to walk quickly. I had squeaky and while it didn't absorb water, its harness was uncomfortable enough that I figured my back would be screaming by the time we got to the parking lot. I wanted to lessen my exposure to that.

We were walking the same trail we took to come in, but it seemed completely different, now that the snow was gone. It's well-marked, and our footfalls compressed the snow along the path, making it the last to go, so there was no danger of getting lost. So as I was becoming increasingly waterlogged, at least I could pretend I was exploring a new section of trail.

I would just like to pause for a moment to nominate the inventor of polartec fleece for some kind of Nobel prize. I kept my raincoat on for the first hour of our hike, and was thoroughly drenched inside and out, but I remained warm when I took it off because I was wearing a fleece underneath. It's truly the miracle material.

We were back across the Oxtongue River and at the parking lot by 11:30. It was still raining. Earlier Leo had thrown out the idea of maybe heading off to explore one of the other day hike trails off Highway 60 before heading back to Ottawa. But that idea wasn't in evidence when we peeled off our rainwear, dove for vehicular shelter and sped off to the visitor centre.

Leo and I headed back, stopping at Wilno for Perogies and Cabbage rolls. After dropping the canoe off at the shed and Leo off home, I was home by 5:30, pleased to be indoors, but sad to see another paddling season finally end.