Saturday, June 2, 2007

It Feels So Good When You Stop: Backpacking

From last Wednesday to Friday I was on an outdoor adventure. At 7:30 in the morning my bleary eyed friends Terry, Dawson, and I left on my first ever backpacking trip, located on the Tilson Trail loop in Riding Mountain National Park. It's very difficult to sum up such an experience in a short post, but I will attempt it. Here are some of the highlights:

Day 1 (8 km)
It takes about 4.5 hours to drive to the south west entrance of R.M.N.P. from Winnipeg and it rained on us the entire way, boding ill. However, when we arrived the rain stopped and we looked for the trailhead. It didn't seem to be where the map said it should; we found a trail but strangely it was unmarked so we just assumed that this was how things went when you backcountry hike. We were wrong. What followed was a hour long jaunt through the private trails of the local warden which did not take us anywhere (but did create some angry sentiments). Eventually the warden's wife showed us where we had passed the trailhead and we got underway. The trail was quite scenic with lots of elevation change. Also, there were many woodticks which we found out that Terry has quite an aversion to. It seemed fitting that he got the record for most amount of ticks at one time; 36! We hiked hard for 2.5 hours and did 8km and arrived at the first camp area. We expected to find a grassy field and little else, instead we were shocked to find several fire rings, a view of the lake, a chopped wood supply/shelter, and an outhouse! Very luxurious. It didn't rain but it was quite cold with a strong wind. We stayed up late talking around the fire and then retired to my snug "3 man" tent for the night.

Day 2 (15 km)
After breaking down camp we boiled some lake water for drinking and put it in our Nalgene bottles. Note: boiling purifies water but doesn't do anything about the taste. Ughhh. Even after mixing in tang it still tasted like lakewater. We headed out and went through a nice "valley" where our trail joined with the central trail that runs all the way to Wasagaming in the center of the park. Here I noticed that my heels were getting quite tender. Then it started to rain. Then I discovered that my waterproof jacket and boots weren't actually waterproof (curse you Columbia!). It rained hard on us for several hours until we were completely soaked and miserable (well, at least I was). When we finally got to our next campsite (called Birdtail), we used the woodshed there for shelter while Terry did the impossible and built a fire in the middle of the rain. We ended up hanging out in the wood shelter for many hours until the rain stopped and we could set up the tent. The time in the shelter was for the most part quite pleasant except for the noxious gases that were sometime emitted. We got most of our clothes dried out and then went to bed, listening to the loon's haunting calls over the lake. Just before turning his light out Dawson spilt a third of his Nalgene into his sleeping bag, soaking it! I nearly strangled myself to keep from laughing out loud and tried to sound compassionate.

Day 3 (15.5 km)
I got up early in the morning (thanks to Dawson's loud and varied snoring) and headed over to the lake to read the Psalms. While hanging out by the water I looked across the lake and saw an elk staring back at me. Very cool. We packed up the tent and this time we came up with the perfect water idea; use a sock to filter the water into the Nalgene bottle and Pristine (available at MEC) chlorine solution to kill the germs and lakewater taste. This concept worked very well and I recommend it to all. This day was very hard on all of us as the sun came up and baked us (I got so sunburnt) nicely) and our blisters became very pronounced. One cool thing; we came upon a small bear. We waited until it saw us and after it had lumbered off we preceded down the trail making lots of noise. Eventually we made it back to the car which was a good thing because Terry's feet had become one big blister and my feet were not feeling well either. Next we celebrated our 40km trip with a stop in Neepawa for some pizza and perogies. By the time we got home were all wasted but Jobina had kept the kids up and they greeted me with such enthusiasm and love that I had enough energy to smile and give them all big hugs.

Would I recommend this trip to people? Absolutely. It is definitely a difficult trail (especially the last two days), but is doable by anyone in decent shape. The campsites could easily fit a group of 20 people or more. The trail is the most difficult on the first 12 km and then the elevation changes are not so dramatic. A few recommendations; don't wear cotton base layers, make sure you have decent raingear (curse you Columbia!), wear in your boots before going, and pack as lightly as possible. Also, don't be like us and not bring a camera. I used trekking poles (old aluminum downhill poles that I bought at Goodwill for $5) and I really liked them (good for self defense or threatening your fellow hikers). I'd also suggest going in early spring or later fall to avoid the bugs and crowds. This trail is a good "introduction" to real backpacking I think. I'd give it a 3.7 ninja stars out of five rating.

1 comment:

Jobina said...

Want your husband to come home looking content with the world? Let him go away with some guys and beat around the bush for a few days! Great to have you back though Mark, I missed you!