Angela gets the fire going while I take photos and Ty supervises
Drying out wool socks and boots before dinner
Crossing a portage - no canoe? No problem!
Day 1: Track & Tower Trail parking lot to the Madawaska River
With winter coming to an end and the overnight forecast of only minus two, I figured this would be a perfect weekend for a quick over-nighter with good company. My buddy Ty has come winter camping with me a few times before but my fiancée Angela hasn’t tried it yet. Given that she has skied all over Canada in minus forty and below, I figured a night of minus two would be an easy-introduction to winter camping for her. We made the drive up very early Saturday morning and picked up our permits from Kevin at the West Gate. I’ve dealt with Kevin on multiple occasions in the past and he’s always proven to have a wealth of knowledge of everything Algonquin Park. We left the West Gate and in about twenty minutes we were pulling into the parking lot for the Track & Tower hiking trail. Our plan was to follow the trail to a spot near the Madawaska River as well as a possible daytrip up to Skymount.
Steak with roasted potatoes & onion enjoyed next to the campfire
Crossing a portage - no canoe? Still a problem for Ty as he had the sled for this section
The open marsh just west of the Track & Tower trail
Boulder garden just above the falls
The upper end of the falls - our campsite on the distant shore
P360 and the Hiking Trail intersect and follow the same path for a shore distance
We arrived at the parking lot just after 9am and while Ty and Angela got ready I spent some time securing items to my sled. I was worried things would fall off or become snagged on branches, so I made sure to use plenty of cordage to keep it all secure. It wasn’t very cold, about minus five and very sunny. Around 9:25am we left the car behind and began the trek along the hiking trail. It started off very easy and the trail was packed-down solid – which really helped because none of us brought snowshoes. Not long down the trail and the trouble started to begin. The trail began to climb very quickly while on at 50-degree sideways slope. It was very hard to navigate the trail while preventing the sled from slipping and pulling me down the hill. Ty stayed behind the sled to help when it was needed, but overall this was beginning to feel like a lot of unnecessary work. Unfortunately, the trail continued like this for several hundred meters until finally I had enough of the constant stopping and adjusting. Nearby there was a small creek and thus clearing leading out to Cache Lake and the hiking trail came very close to it. I unhooked myself from the sled and we checked it out – everything was frozen over so we opted to leave the hiking trail and continue down the marsh.
The hole in the forest that we turned into a campsite
We sat with our piping hot steak, potatoes & onions and ate in silence around the fire. There was still light out but it was fading quickly. Dinner was fantastic and exactly what my belly needed. Roasted potatoes just seem to the trick and warm you up from the inside. Seeing how dishes in winter are a big pain in the butt, we brought paper plates and just tossed them in the fire when we were done eating. No fuss, no mess, just eat and burn baby! It worked well and I’ll consider this for future winter camping trips. With dinner over there was nothing left to do but hang out and drink by the fire – which is exactly what we did for the next couple hours. The temperature dropped so we continuously threw logs on the fire to keep warm. Just before 10pm the fire was dying down so we decided it was time to hit the sack.
We broke off the portage near the river to find a suitable place to make camp
Three juicy steaks ready to go!
Funny how the snow is still 3ft deep in some sections yet bare ground is visible in others
Track & Tower Trail parking lot to our campsite on the Madawaska River
Walking along the north shore of Cache Lake
Once we left the hiking trail it was easy going through the marsh and out to Cache Lake. We crossed the upper end of Cache Lake and made our way to the canoe route portage. This 360m trail leads from Cache Lake to the Madawaska River and it was sort of odd to see a portage sign in these conditions – everything is frozen! The plan was simple: follow this trail most of the way to the Madawaska River, then move off the trail and away from the shore in order to comply with Algonquin’s winter camping regulations. About halfway down the portage we came across something odd – it was probably man made, but obviously no one was here. It seemed to be a snow cave of sorts, perhaps built by some winter campers. I was fascinated by it but it freaked out Angela and Ty, as they were convinced something was living in there. The snow was very deep on the portage, in some cases up to our thighs and became difficult to travel through. We pushed on despite the deep snow, eventually reaching the river. We found a place to break off the trail and search for a suitable area to make camp. With no leaves blocking the view it wasn’t long before we managed to find a perfect spot to make camp. We wondered if it was perhaps an old trail (old portage landing?) or unofficial trail because the trees down by the river were obviously cleared – and it worked perfectly for our needs.
Ty's new tent for canoe trips - let see how well it holds up tonight!
We tossed a bunch of wood on the fire to get a good bed of coals going and then hung out around the fire with another drink. Dinner tonight would be steak with roasted potatoes and onions in garlic butter. After what felt like forever we finally had a good bed of coals to cook our dinner. I pre-wrapped the diced potatoes & onions then wrapped them in a few layers of foil so I tossed them on about a half an hour ago. We brought a grill and set it up over two large logs then got those steaks on. Man oh man, if you thought a winter campfire smells great – cooking steak over a winter campfire smells out of this world. In under 20 minutes the steak and potatoes were ready to go.
With the fire roaring we broke out the folding chairs and entered vacation mode. The snacks came out and we relaxed around the fire for a little while – we had plenty of time to kill as it was still pretty early in the day. While Angela and Ty continued to lounge around the fire, I grabbed my camera and decided to walk around the area for some photos. The river was wide open and the blue sky with white snow made for some beautiful scenery. If it weren’t for days like this, I would really despise winter. I hate being cold, it’s just too uncomfortable regardless of how appropriately you dress. Though I should admit, in part that’s the reason I winter camp – to learn to hate the cold just a little less each time.
Hanging out around the fire
With the fire nearly out, we decided it was time for bed
The Madawaska River
We all took on different chores to get our camp established. Ty had picked up a new tent for canoe tripping that he wanted to try out and since the forecast was only a low of minus two degrees, I figured we would be able to keep warm through the night. Mid-chore we all realized we were missing something – some drinks! We promptly mixed up some Vodka & fruit juice then got back to work setting up the tent and collecting firewood. The tent was simple enough to set up and because there are no campsites or trails around here, finding firewood wasn’t a problem either. Ty & I continued to collect firewood while Angela got to work on the fire. Any time your winter camping you should always have a fire going (except when sleeping) as it makes the experience so much better – I know that sounds obvious, but it really does. I have winter camped with people in the past who prefer to wait until dark to get the fire going but I say forget that! Beyond the warming factor, it takes the dampness out of your clothes and just smells amazing (especially in winter!). I think its worth the extra work of gathering enough wood to ensure the fire stays burning long and strong. With a huge stockpile of wood gathered Ty and I took a break while Angela figured she would try out some survivorman tactics to keep warm tonight. She found a recently fallen pine and cut many boughs from it then piled them against the side of the tent where she would be sleeping. I told her this would only be helpful if it became windy, but she had fun doing it anyway.
There is a small waterfall nearby so I walked to the upper portion and took a few more photos. I was surprised no one was on the hiking trail today considering it was the weekend and beautiful out. As I made my way back to camp I found a small patch in the forest where the ground was visible. This was interesting because the snow at our campsite was very deep – almost too deep to camp in without having snowshoes to stomp down the area. When I got back to camp I mentioned I was getting hungry and they both agreed it was time for dinner.
Cedar trees along the north shore of Cache Lake
Relaxing by the fire as the sun sets
Arriving at the landing for P360 to the Madawaska River
Not sure who made this or what's living inside it
Ready to go!
Water flowing under a thin ice bridge encasing the falls