Dave Duncan

"Eat Well, Stay Fit, Die Anyway"

Archive for the 'Camping' Category

Algonquin Trip: Day Two

Two portages and some paddling the day before meant waking up more than a little sore and groggy, but at least it was sunny and warm… ish. Our wakeup call was a feisty loon slowly flying over our site at 6am while wailing with all his might. It’s a good thing they’re pretty.

After a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs, we struck camp and doublechecked our map for our straightforward paddle to our next lake. But what’s this? Another portage? This is what can happen when you use two different maps, I suppose. So we stretched and hummed and hawed as we thought about hauling our gear another 900m after canoeing a river.

We headed off down the river (which was quite shallow and swampy) and checked out a derelict beaver lodge and one that looked to be very much in use. We saw birds and frogs a plenty, and although the sun peeked out from time-to-time, it was still a pretty cool day.

The portage ended up being really straightforward, and we enjoyed a nice paddle into Scorch Lake. We checked out a few sites before settling on one perched up on a ridge near the water. It’s easily the nicest campsite I’ve ever seen in my life.

From my tent

We struck camp, saw our first beaver (or possibly muskrat) of the trip and then started on our dinner in a light rain. The wind blew up from the west through the evening, which meant really cold air off the lake hitting us head on, but by the time we went to bed, it looked like it might clear overnight. And so, we slept.

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Algonquin Trip: Day One

I won’t bore you with the details of how we got to the park (it’s a story in itself), but in the end we crossed the boundary with a canoe on Steve’s car and a permit in our pockets.

Sign of things to come

We loaded up the canoe under an ominous sky and heavy winds, and prepared to set sail…

It begins

With whitecaps pushing our canoe, and with me TOTALLY misreading the map, we ended up taking a very long and tiring detour around the far side of the first lake in what felt like a gale (but was really just good kite-flying weather). After lots of hard paddling, and a few good soakings, we made shore at our first portage… the BIG ONE.

Now, 1.3 kilometres might not sound like much, but try doing it loaded down with packs or with a fibreglass canoe on your 5’9″ 155lb frame. Sure, it was tough going, but the terrain wasn’t going to make it easier on us. A few hundred metres into a relatively nice stroll in the woods, our trail disappeared into a dense bog. Awesome. We struggled through about 100 metres of this either by stepping on fallen logs that floated on the mire, or ducking through makeshift sidetrails in the trees on the side of a steep hill. This was our first lesson in perserverance.

This was Big Rock Lake and we only canoed for about 10 minutes before we hit the head of our much shorter and far easier portage. This one was 660 metres, but it had a long hill with a 30 degree grade at the beginning… and a fallen tree across the path. Awesome. We fought through it like troopers and were dreaming of hot food in our near future.

Once in Byers Lake, we found a site on a point looking north across the lake to beautiful ridge. The view from our shoreline was especially spectacular given how overcast it was that day.

Lake view

Whoever was there before us left quite a mess, and had tried to burn a bunch of tin, so we struck camp and then cleaned up our firepit and site a bit while we waited to see if the sky would come crashing in on our heads. I don’t know about Steve, but I was pretty beat by early evening, and it showed.


After a hearty pasta dinner and some attitude medication, we were both in good spirits and we enjoyed a short paddle to a beaver dam at the mouth of the nearby York River, and a hearty evening campfire.

The sky cleared in the evening, and the lake calmed considerably… just in time for the Nothern Lights to erupt over the northern ridge across the lake. Between the stars and the Lights, we were completely awestruck. That night, as I went to sleep in my tent on our little point, I had the ferocity and beauty of nature on my mind… and bears. I was also thinking about bears.

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The Noblest Form of Transportation

I had a dream once that I lived in a big city. One day, I awoke to discover that gasoline was so expensive that people had to abandon their cars and walk everywhere, but I was laughing because I could walk to work. Then, I realized that I couldn’t get to my cottage anymore and I cried, and cried, and cried. I had that dream sometime in late elementary school (for the record, I was employed as a writer for a newspaper in my dream). It would seem that my dream is becoming a reality with gas hitting $1.28 a litre here in Toronto.

I can’t help but giggle at everyone who is complaining about how the government should step in and regulate the costs of this ‘need’. I have to agree with something Steve said in a conversation the other day… gasoline is not a need. If people still fork over money for gas when it’s this expensive, our (modified) free market economy dictates that companies can charge it.

I think there’s a resonsibility for consumers to take action, not government. If YOU think the cost of gas is too high, don’t pay for it. Take the bus for a few weeks or carpool with some neighbours. If you don’t pay the high prices then the prices will have to drop. It’s pretty simple. Even better, you’ll save money.

Personally, my plan for the future is an easy one. I plan on living near Dow’s Lake in Ottawa and commuting to downtown using the Rideau Canal. I’ll canoe in the spring, summer and fall, and come winter, I’ll skate to work (stopping off for coffee and BeaverTails). I might have trouble with parking in the fairer seasons though.

Ah, 'The Frantics'...

As far as I’m concerned, canoeing is the noblest form of transportation. It has little to no impact on the environment, you can carry immense loads and still be completely self-propelled, and I’d like to see you gunwale bob in a car.

On that note, this may be my last post of the week. Steve and I are headed to the southern tip of Algonquin Park early tomorrow to spend a few days canoeing around Kingscote, Byers, and Scorch Lakes. If all goes well, this trip could be a highlight of the summer of 2005, although I’ll admit that I’m not entirely looking forward to the 1300 metre portage. It’s been a while, you see.

If you don’t hear from me for a few days, have a great Labour Day and try not to drive too far.


The Igloo Debrief

So, we had an interesting weekend with fog, molten copper and weird snow conditions. Long story short, we finally finished our poor little igloo, but I didn’t get a chance to sleep in it. Alas, there’s always next year. Here’s the long version…

Jay and I should up on thursday night to a beautiful night… warm and clear. We checked on the ‘gloo and everything looked great, although the sun had melted the south wall a bit. We set up camp, admired the snow table we built last weekend, and then climbed into my summer tent to get a good night’s sleep. For some reason, my sleeping bag felt colder than usual (more on that later) and the next day, my little cold from last weekend was turning into a sinus infection. Mmmm.

Friday was sunny and ridiculously warm, so Jay and I went to work shoring up the south wall. That took an hour or so, and then we went to work building walls. Shovel shovel, pack pack, shovel shovel, pack pack. At one point, I took a turn with a shovel full of snow and felt a light ‘pop’ in my back. That’s where things started to go wrong for me.

Around dusk, with walls up to our shoulders, the temperature dropped and the snow was unworkable… so igloo building was going to move into its third day of construction. We tarped it, ate dinner and hunkered down for an evening of waiting for our other friends to show up. That’s when the fatigue hit me, along with back pain and sinus ‘discomfort’… but I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep and some hard work the next day.

That night was the worst night I’ve ever had camping. My sleeping bag had taken on moisture (condensation from the interior of the tent) and lost most of its insulation properties. Boo. By the time morning came around, I felt like crap and I was useless helping with the igloo (which didn’t really help my already cloudy mood).

Alas, the igloo was completed by mid-afternoon on saturday, but I didn’t end up staying that night. I came home with Matt and Ryan on saturday night (on one of the foggiest drives I’ve taken in a while) to climb into my own soft bed and begin the process of recovery.

I’m feeling much better now… still a little sore and my sinuses are still pretty raw, but my general mood has improved, thanks in part to yesterday’s Superbowl-ish party… but more on that later.

UPDATE: Photos should be up shortly. Ditto for video

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“Tonight’s the Night…”

Wow. That’s my first quoting of a Rod Stewart lyric…. -shudder-.

So, today after work, Jay and I will be heading off into the wild white yonder yet again. This time, we have warm temperatures, and hopefully manageable snow ahead of us. I’m thinking that there will be less snow than there was last week, but at least it’ll be workable and we’ll hopefully be able to finish the igloo. If not, it should be more than warm enough to sleep comfortably in tents.

To be honest, I’m secretly hoping the temperature takes an unexpected dip below -20 so I can really try out my insulated fuel-cell system for my lantern, but I’m not entirely sure it’s worth it. Maybe I’ll pray for a cold snap if the igloo gets finished.

If anyone wants to see how comfortable we are, here’s the weather for the area we’ll be in. It looks pretty good right now.

I think for next year we should plan to go a little earlier and hope for colder weather. February seems to be kind of wishy-washy, which is strange given that it’s historically the coldest month. Hmmm.


My Camping ‘Purse’

After this past weekend, I realized a continual fault of my camping experience; that is, I figured out one of the main things that occupies much of my time when it shouldn’t. You see, when you’re camping, you only have so many pockets, and there are any number of things you need to keep handy… eating utensils, camera, sharp knife, notebook and pencil, lighter… the list goes on and on.

This weekend, I’m going to carry my canvas shoulder bag with me at all times. I’ll keep handy items in it, and I can store my layers in there when they aren’t in use. When I’m sitting down, I can lay it on my lap for an added layer of insulation. I’ll call it my ‘purse’, and I think it’s going to become part of my camping repetoire. Less stupid-looking than a fanny pack, and more versatile, I imagine it’ll be kind of annoying at first, but its usefulness will outweight its awkwardness. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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I Get To Play MacGyver

There are few things more satisfying to a man like me than spotting a problem, mulling it over, and coming up with a possible solution… especially if that solution is pure genius. Alas, I believe I have come up with one of these solutions, and best of all… it’s a MacGyver.

The Problem
Jay and I both use butane/propane mix lanterns. They’re wicked bright and the fuel cells are pretty cheap, so they’re great for camping. They pack down pretty small too. Here’s mine in use at Long Point last summer.
Anyways, in cold temperatures, the two gases separate and the element burns slower and slower until it dims itself right out. You can easily reboost the lantern by putting your bare hands on the ice-cold fuel cell (the bottom of the lantern). It doesn’t even take a second for the light to spring back up. Just the tiniest amout of heat makes all the difference.

My Proposed Solution
The bottom of the fuel cell is concave, and the dip is pretty deep. my plan is to take one of those chemical handwarming packets and wrap it in a cheap, white sport sock until it’s in a little ball. Then, I’ll drop that ball into the matching sock, which I’ll pull tight over the fuel cell for the lantern.
Ideally, the heat will be more than enough to keep the fuel mixed, and the elasticity of the sock will keep the heatpack tight to the fuel cell casing. With the concave bottom, hopefully you can still set the lantern down on a flat surface, but if not, you can always hang it by the chain… the important thing here is that the light source can remain consistent

I hope to try my theory this weekend, and if it works, I might go the trouble of developing a neoprene sleeve (like some beer bottle coolers) with a little pouch in the bottom to insert a fresh heatpack, and remove old ones.

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Foggy and -22?!

This weekend wasn’t quite the success I was preparing myself for, which is a little disheartening, but it was still nice to get out of the city. I’ll fill you in on the disasters, and then follow up with some positive notes.

It was cold when we got there, and we got started building up a base to build the igloo on. This consisted of piling snow up and stomping on it with snowshoes to pack it down. The snow was pretty sugary, but it started to bond really well. We got a nice high and flat platform and then headed off to strike camp, build a fire and have a snack. This is when things started to go horribly wrong.

For some reason, it felt like it was getting colder. That reason was that the temperature was dropping and there appeared to be an increase in humidity, which is weird in the minus 20s. So it was really cold and damp… not a good combination. We all slept pretty fitfully, and with our noses barely poking out of our sleeping bags.

The next day, as the sun rose over the lake, the temperature just wouldn’t start to rise, and we got really worried about the rest of the day. Then, suddenly, it started to get significantly warmer. Good news? Not really. The temperature shift made the snow really hard to work with, so we only finished about half the igloo (I’ll post pictures later).

Fortunatley, we were working in the sun, so I was able to get a tan… er… sunburn. I also have some symptoms of exposure that I’m treating with various creams and ointments. Basically, all my exposed skin is either peeling or raw. I’d like to say it makes me feel rugged, but it’s just uncomfortable.

Enough whining… to the cool stuff. First, dehydrated Beef Stroganoff is tasty stuff. I had the Harvest Works brand (available at most outfitters), and would recommend using 3 cups of water instead of 3.5.

Also cool, was the sound of the lake heaving all night. It reminded me of that sound you make when you hold in a burp and it ‘goes off’ in your throat. We came across one of the larger and fresher heave-cracks on saturday morning (there was a white ribbon through the clear ice that was easily visible for 18 inches or so) and poured hot water down it. So… cool. Hopefully I can do it again this weekend and get it on video.

Four more days… then I’m back at it again.


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