Canoeing and Hiking in Canadian Backcountry

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On October 19th 2019, Adam and I canoed and hiked our way to the summit of Mount Ararat in the La Cloche Mountains. We were rewarded with far reaching views over Northern Ontario, the colours of autumn and plenty of signs of bear. Read on to hear more about the day or scroll to the bottom for the highlights and some useful information.

Canoeing on Moose Lake

Journal Entry of the Experience

Yesterday, Adam and I took a canoeing and hiking trip to the summit of Mount Ararat.

It’s the first time we’ve been canoeing since last October when we took a road trip with his self-built canoe through Europe.

We planned a full day to complete our day trip and left our cabin before 9am expecting to be back before dark.

Things didn’t get off to the best of starts when Hank, the German Shepherd, decided he’d like to join us. We knew he would make the boat too unstable so we quickly jumped in the canoe whilst Dave’s brother Mike held Hank back.

We were just metres away from the edge when Hank broke free from Mike’s grasp and jumped into the lake to swim after us.

It may not be winter yet but neither Adam or I fancied being capsized or losing our possessions to the bottom of the lake. We paddled quickly as Hank got closer and closer and we got more and more nervous!

We both figured that he would stop following us soon as he grew tired so we continued to paddle. However, Hank continued to swim. I felt bad, almost tempted to let him climb on board but knowing full well that we would all end up in the lake.

After about thirty minutes he was still swimming and we decided we would have to turn back and get him back to land. By the time he was on a lead with Dave it was gone 10am and we were an hour later setting off than planned.

Nevertheless, we were determined to reach the summit of Mount Ararat where Adam had been last winter.

Canoeing to Mount Ararat

We canoed along Moose Lake and into Transfer Bay. The first part of the journey took around 90 minutes and the colours of the trees were stunning with their many shades of red, orange, brown and yellow.

There was a light head wind and it sent ripples along the surface of the lake and blew the trees gently to greet us.

The environment was silent other than the sounds of our paddles in the water, the wind in the leaves and the occasional bird in the distance. Adam and I talked a little but mostly we enjoyed the peace.

Eventually we reached our first piece of land where we would need to portage before putting the canoe in a smaller lake on the other side. We climbed out of the boat and rested for a moment to check the map and have some hot tea from the flask.

Map of Ontario

After just one mug full I laid the flask down but obviously hadn’t tightened the cap enough. Minutes later I noticed all of the tea had drained into the mossy ground below. Our only hot drink for the day – oops.

Adam pulled the canoe out of the water, tipped it upside town and carried it above his head into the forest. I followed behind with our bags and other gear.

Portage

To reach the other side we needed to cross a creek and I hadn’t put on waterproof footwear. Adam waded straight across in his Sorrel boots and I anxiously glanced around for a suitable crossing which would keep my boots at least partially dry.

I spotted a large tree trunk across the water and gingerly tried to cross it. By this point Adam had returned and took great pleasure in filming me as I wobbled and lost balance, desperately trying to hold onto a branch that had no chance of supporting me. Against all odds I made it safely across and pushed thoughts of the return crossing from my mind.

We emerged from the woods into dazzling sunshine at the edge of West Quartzite Lake. We canoed across this small body of water to the base of the trail we intended to follow up to the summit of Mount Ararat.

Canoeing in Ontario

Considering how scared I was hiking in Canada last year, you might imagine that I felt a little nervous about the next few hours in bear country. That said, it wasn’t a debilitating fear like it used to be, more of a low anxiety. I guess that’s what a month in the woods does to you.

Two weeks in Canada

We started our hike with a gentle uphill away from the water’s edge. The trees were a mix of colours and the leaves underfoot even more so. They crunched as we walked and I enjoyed just the sounds of nature.

We clambered over fallen trees, hopped over small creeks and squished across damp spongy ground. Water trickled downhill, evidence of the past week’s heavy rain.

We found ourselves in dense woodland and were both acutely aware of the presence of black bear. We were talking at times but not always and eventually I asked if Adam would mind me playing some music on my phone, just to increase the sound of our presence.

Woodland

The worst thing we could do is take a bear by surprise as this may instigate an attack – no one fancies that on a Saturday! I played some Latin America Bachata music until he couldn’t take anymore and switched to the Foo Fighters!

We wandered through clusters of colourful deciduous trees scattering their pretty leaves on the ground below. Patches of maples shed their large vivid red leaves or softer orange, and ash decorated with their sharp yellows.

Autumn trees in colour

The canoe ride had been chilly when we began with mist still hovering above the surface. The sun had slowly burned that away and the temperatures had risen to around 11 degrees celsius – perfect for hiking.

I removed my hat, scarf and gloves as my body warmed up and reached for a band to tie my hair out of my face. I’d left it in the cabin – damn. Fortunately, Adam had some thin cord with him and cut a small piece to tie my hair in a braid – he comes in useful sometimes!

Tied braid with rope

We hiked a little further and I was in charge of keeping us on our compass bearing as there is no clear trail at the beginning of the route. I thought back to my navigation course at the beginning of the year and remembered how to read a compass.

Navigating with a compass

Learning Navigation Skills

Eventually we reached the snowmobile track which is used in the winter and noted where it crossed with a small stream of water – this would help us pick up the trail on our return.

We continued uphill until we reached a small hut to stop for lunch. The idea of having food in the middle of bear country would have been too much for me last year but here we were sitting eating cheese, spinach and tomato wraps in the woods.

We turned off the music and just enjoyed the sounds of the forest, it’s crazy what you miss otherwise. One thing I’ve noticed in Canada is the squirrels here. They are red and the squeak – A LOT. I love them!

This little red squirrel was squeaking from the tree above us and starting running down the trunk, closer and closer. He had a nut in his mouth and squeaked continuously as he approached.

He was less than two metres away and I could see his eyes clearly and his little twitchy nose. He spotted us and ran back up the tree before venturing down again a couple more times.

Eventually, he decided we were too scary and scarpered to the top of the tree before jumping into another. It was my favourite squirrel encounter so far!

After lunch, we hiked the final stretch to the top of the mountain, stopping at a couple of lookout points along the way.

View from Mt Ararat

We clambered over quartzite rock which shimmered in the sunlight and reflected with its bright white surface.

Mount Arrarat

At the summit, we took some time to breathe in the fresh and allow our eyes to soak in the incredible vast landscape before us. Forests and lakes as far as the eye could see, it was easy to understand why Adam loves this place so much.

View from Mount Ararat

From that point, you can see very little man made structure – a wind farm far off in the distance, and the small town of Espinoza. Other side, wild.

Adam pointed out the North channel and Manitoulin Island in the distance. Manitoulin Island is the located in Lake Huron and is the largest fresh water island in the world. In fact, it is so big that it has more that 100 of it’s own lakes!! Madness!

The summit was pretty exposed and we felt the chilly wind after having removed layers on the way up. We headed back down with the intention of getting back before dark.

The descent is always quicker than the climb and before long we were back at the hut where Adam had spotted a huge fallen birch. The bark from this tree is perfect for fire lighting but even better when it can be removed in sheets and fashioned into containers sewn with spruce roots.

Although he’s collected birch bark in Sweden, the stuff in Canada is different. So incredibly thick and sturdy. Watching him cutting the birch bark was like watching a small child excitedly unwrapping Christmas presents.

Collecting birch bark

He cut more than we could possibly carry and then strapped it all together and fashioned a handle which he hooked around his neck and used to transport his bounty back to the canoe.

birch bark containers

On our way back through the woods Adam said he wanted to show me something that he wouldn’t have pointed out on the walk in. I was intrigued.

He led me over to some beech trees and pointed to the bark about head height. For a moment I wasn’t sure what he was showing me until I spotted some dark marks scattering the smooth grey surface. Then I noticed that these were in a pattern, a little similar to a hand or paw mark.

Bear claw marks in beech trees

Ah, these are bear markings and HUGE ones at that. Furthermore, they were everywhere and reached high up the trees, further than you may expect. I knew bears could climb but wow!

Being fearful of Bears

Bear marks up high in trees

The rest of our hike was uneventful and we spent time collecting birch bark for fires back at the cabin,

collecting birch bark

and talked about signs in the woods to assist with navigation, such as this section of branch where the moss has been worn away by people hiking this trail.

Natural navigation when hiking

We soon reached the boat, crossed the creek without incident and put the canoe back on the water.

We’d run out of drinking water (and I’d spilled the tea earlier} so I used my Sawyer Mini water filter to collect water from the lake.

using the Sawyer Mini in a lake

The temperature had dropped as dusk approached but the wind was on our side. At one point we thought we saw otter peeking their heads out of the water but it was lily pads lifting in the wind!

We paddled quietly, feeling content after a day of adventure and arrived back to our little cabin as the sun set on another great day.

Sunset canoeing

Equipment for the trip

We borrowed a canoe, paddles and life vests from Lure of the North

  • Axe
  • Knife – Adam took his homemade knife.
  • Compass
  • Map – we used a 1:50 map due to the scale of the wilderness. This seems to be the commonly used scale.
  • Head torch – in case we were still out at night fall
  • First aid kit – just in case
  • Paracord – because you never know when you might need it
  • Fire steel – in case of capsize

Weather

We were very fortunate with the weather and, despite starting off a chilly misty morning, the sun soon came out. With clear blue skies and a gentle breeze we enjoyed a dry day with temperatures of around 11 degrees Celsius.

Clothing

It was late autumn and still quite warm but the weather can change quickly so we were prepared.

For Jo

  • Mountain Equipment Waterproof jacket
  • Lightweight packaway waterproof trousers
  • Danner Light Mountain Boots
  • Thermal socks plus a spare pare
  • Base layer thermals
  • Rab hat
  • Thermal gloves
  • Warm fleece and woollen shirt
  • Deuter 10L day pack

For Adam

  • Home made woollen jumper
  • Merino base layer top
  • Cotton trousers
  • Gloves
  • Sorrel boots
  • Alpaca wool hat
  • Warm socks and spares
  • Moose Hide Messenger Bag

The route/terrain

The route started at the eastern edge of Moose Lake. We canoed 5.5km to the first portage via Transfer Bay. We portages up into West Quartzite Lake and canoed for 800 metres. From this point we hiked 1km to Florence Lake and then walked approximately 2km to the summit. We followed the same route back.

Wildlife and Nature

Ravens – we saw two Ravens at the summit of Mount Ararat . They were easily distinguishable due to their diamond shaped tails. They were playing on the wind. They seemed really inquisitive and were flipping upside down to get a better look at us.

Bears – Fortunately, or unfortunately depending how you view it, we didn’t see any bears. However we saw some sign of them including claw marks where they had been climbing beech trees, and bear poo.

Red Squirrel – we heard plenty of red squirrel and saw one very close by with a nut in his mouth. Red squirrels squeak a lot.

Loon – A type of water bird. We startled this bird as we canoed along and it flew off noisily.

I hope you have enjoyed this blog. If so, why not leave a comment? Have you hiked here or somewhere similar before? Is there anything else you would want to pack for this day trip?

Other blogs referred to or related to this one;

Canoeing the River Wye

Climbing Huayna Potosi

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