markinthepark seeking solitude

From Mark's archives • Video of snowshoe to Longspur Lake & report




Back on January 31, 2014 I drove up to Algonquin for a day-trip - A quick solo snowshoe.
What was really nuts was the fact that I spent more time on the highway travelling to and from Algonquin Park then I actually did in The Park itself. Almost 8 hours of highway driving for barely 7 hours of solitude.

I put together a cheesy little video as I hadn't planned on doing any film making, but having an iPhone is handy sometimes. There's not much to the video, except if you really miss the bush of course, it might satisfy your hunger.
This was a recon trip for my annual February winter camping trip to The Park. In past years, I always had a pretty good idea of the terrain heading into a winter camping trip.

This time though, I had selected a lake close to highway#60, but not on a canoe route - Bushwhacking would be involved. Not yet entirely being comfortable with bushwhacking, let alone the idea of winter bushwhacking, I wanted to scout out a viable route for snowshoe-drawn sleds beforehand, thus preventing an embarrassing situation, not to mention seven angry guys!

I left Toronto @3:45am and drove up, encountering heavy snow and blinding snow squalls on hwy#11 around Gravenhurst. Finally I arrived safely at the west gate @7am and purchased my day-pass via an ATM in the office lobby. I drove to the Hemlock Bluff parking lot at KM 27.2 on highway#60. The drive was pleasant with no traffic whatsoever along the partially snow covered roads.

My starting point was the 840m portage to Jack Lake. The trailhead is located approximately 90m west of the Hemlock Bluff hiking trail parking lot. This is where I started my journey, hiking down the highway from the parking lot to the portage.

Being mindful of the fact that I had to pick and follow a route that would be conducive to hauling sleds, I arrived at the trailhead with trepidation. The very start of the portage is an annoying one if you are hauling a sled. Up and over a snow bank, then up a small hill. Once on the portage proper though, the terrain is quite flat and easy going. This was only one of four tough spots (Two on the portage) for hauling a sled on this trip that I could foresee.

Snow depths in the initial stages of the portage were quite deep at well over 2.5 feet, mostly 3 feet or more in many places. Drifts along fallen trees and rock exceeded 5ft in depth. There seemed to be more snow in the bush this winter then in recent years.

Further along the portage enters a hemlock forest. It is in this area that snow depth became more shallow and the traverse easier by snowshoe.


That's nearly 2.5 feet of snow piled up on top of that fallen tree
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There was only two large blowdowns across the trail and the second one sent me off on the wrong path around for a sled: I should've went left when I went right.

Overall, it was a pleasant hike and at the arrival of Jack Lake there is a short slope that has to be negotiated. Hauling a sled back up that slope might not be too much fun, but the trek up that slope is a short one. I arrived at Jack Lake approximately 35 minutes after departing from highway#60.
I'm positive this could be done in less time as I had stopped to take several shots with my camera.


Arrival @ Jack Lake: Looking back to the portage signage
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Jack Lake was a bit of a surprise. I had only seen it from the Hemlock Bluff Trail and it is much larger then I had tought it would be. As well, initial snow depths on the lake were nearly three feet! Walking further out though the snowpack on the ice diminished, especially in the middle of the wind blown lake were snow depths were a mere 4 inches in places.

I cleared off a patch of snow down to the lake ice. Hacking away with my ski pole, I managed to dig out about two inches of ice. All I could see was solid ice. No slush layer, even with a few feet on top, the ice below was quite solid. It had been a cold winter so far. Satisfied, I continued my way up the lake, heading for the northwest end of the lake.

Jack Lake is actually quite nice looking, especially with the hemlock bluff off to the right as you first walk out on to the lake. Progressing further out to the main part of the lake, wind kept me company as I crossed to the other end. Very little sign of animal tracks had been seen on the portage and now on the lake - I only saw one set of tracks, possibly deer along the west shoreline and they were old…several days old at least.


Looking out of a bay, up Jack Lake from the portage (From Highway#60).
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By 9:00am - an hour after I had started out, I was bushwhacking in the forest north of Jack Lake.
Every direction I went was terrible for a sled…way too much hill to climb in every direction I looked. Something was wrong, I didn't like this at all and using the GPS on my phone in combination with
Jeffrey’s Algonquin Map, I was able to circle back and find a better route: I had been going too further north out of my way. I now made my way northwest.

In the forest north of Jack Lake (Looking towards Jack Lake)
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Shortly after 10am I made it to Longspur Lake. The exit from the forest to the lake was painful, very deep snow, thick bush and blowdowns in several places would make it tough for a sled to get through. A better entry point to the lake would have to be found during the actual trip.

There was quite a cold west wind coming up the lake and I decided to cross the lake to the North shore to get out of the wind. It was not fun - my ears were beginning to frost up, even though they were covered, the cold wind was penetrating.


Crossing Longspur Lake
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Longspur lake has a few islands along the south shore and one prominent point on the northeast shore. It looks to be an interesting lake to paddle, if one could ever get a canoe to it. There looks to be one or two favourable spots for summer camping too, too bad there isn't any summer camping there.

I arrived just before 10:30am at the northwest shoreline, sheltered from the wind, two and a half hours after I had set out. Bushwhacking through thick bush, and up an incline, I made it to a nice sheltered spot with lots of hemlock surrounding me with open hardwood forest beyond. There was plenty of deadfall around for me to cut up and begin making a fire.

About 45 minutes later, I had a generous supply of firewood to make a large hot fire. It was about -8°C out and the wind on the lake had made it feel like it was -15°C. Certainly not record breaking cold but being up since 3am and with the sweat of my exertions, I was becoming chilled.

I had a lunch of two sausages cooked over the open fire and drank a litre of water along with some trail mix. Before heading out I finished my meal off by eating a power-bar to fuel up.


Lunchtime campfire on Longspur Lake
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Much to my amazement, I was getting 'one bar' on my cellphone! Surprisingly, I received a text from a fellow Algonquinte who was tracking my progress.

Despite this unexpected link back to the world, I could not hear any traffic from highway#60 and thought that
Longspur Lake would make a great destination for a winter base camping trip. Like Jack Lake before, Longspur Lake seemed to have solid hard ice with not slush layers under the snow. Where there was open forest, there was deep snow and in the hemlock ares of the forest, the snow cover was shallower.

By 1pm I departed, heading back the way I came across the lake. My route back across the lake was barely discernible as my snowshoe tracks were nearly wiped out by the winds on the lake. Once across the lake, I looked to the map more closely and followed my gps more closely (For the first time ever). I was starting to feel like Jeffrey McMurtrie, although my nose was not quite as buried into my phone as his would've been!

The new route I plotted back to Jack Lake from
Longspur Lake was actually quite good. Though there were quite a few twists and turns through saplings and small rises, the overall route back to the lake was quite level!

Signs of past bear activity on a
beech tree in the forest north of Jack Lake

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In fact, the only hill to deal with was a long shallow decent to Jack Lake, of about 80 meters. So even hauling up the hill won't be as bad. Certainly, this trek by sled would be much easier then last year's trek to Pinetree Lake. So good news all around!

With barely 5 minutes to the highway, I attempted to step over a blowdown on the portage. One foot across, the second snowshoe slipped and down my snowshoe went, quickly followed by my leg, and torso, right up to my freaking neck!

I had fallen down a crevice that had opened up. Underneath was a hollow that had been covered by snow, created by the nearby upturned tree and its roots. I hadn't noticed the tree roots for what they were: I thought it was a big snow covered rock! It took me more then ten minutes to extricate myself as the process was quite awkward and tiring, with my snowshoes and ski poles askew at odd angles.


Looking towards Hemlock bluff beyond a point on Jack Lake
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I made it back to my vehicle just before 3pm, shaving off nearly 30 minutes on my return journey, only stopping twice (Besides my 'hollow' discovery) to rest and fuel up.

The relatively flat portage to Jack Lake.
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I was glad I made the trek up.
I missed The Park terribly and needed to get away from the noise of city life and neighbours. Scouting out a route to
Longspur Lake was a success.. Now I leave it up to my friends to discover a nice spot to pitch camp.

The route I took to Longspur Lake. The green route added into the map,
is the return route to Jack Lake from
Longspur Lake - The sled compatible route!
map1


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