Friday, September 25, 2015

Boots, beaver dams, bear boxes and blue some cheap pillows...

Its Sunday evening, we are laying in bed on our new randomly cheap pillows (more about that later). The hair from my freshly chopped locks has been unceremoniously flushed away and both our minds (That's me and Buffy's minds) have gone blank. She, as she writes her daily journal telling the tales of the weird and wonderful life we lead and me as I type 'plinkety plonkety' on my blog. But suddenly our minds come alive and we both exclaim 'This time last week.......'..... Yes my pretties, be quiet, put your fingers on your lips and be quiet as I regale you with the story of what happened when me and she went a'wandering in the woods.............

It all started a few years back - Buffy and Joel did a 4 day hike along the 'Mantario trail', a 63km or so wander along part of the great Canadian shield - a huge lump of granite that makes up about half of Canada. Buffy enjoyed the trail the first time around and wanted to do it again  - on her own this time. However, the trail runs either North to South or South to North with the ends being an hours drive apart or roughly 25 hours walk.... not something where you can park your car and wander in a circle returning to the starting point. So we came up with a plan.....I would drop Buffy off at the Southern end and drive to the Northern end. I then walk the trail back to the South and Buffy walks North, collecting the car from where I left it and driving back to the South to collect me. Easy.

We had spent part of the last few weeks getting ready. I borrowed Joel's 2 man tent, we bought food and first aid kit as well as head torch's and socks and a couple of cheap compasses. Then we packed our backpacks, unpacked, tested and adjusted and packed again. I had new boots for winter which double as hiking boots and we were ready - once we actually swapped backpacks as mine was a little too long and Buffy's a little too short. We set off last Saturday evening, staying the night at Joel's family cabin - Thanks to the Guennette family for putting up up!

At 7am on Sunday morning we headed off and I dropped Buffy off at the southern trailhead at 0722 where she started the 3 day trek north. The 1 hour 15 minute drive to the north trailhead took me 45 minutes - and after meeting a couple of old ladies who were also starting the trail, I began at 0815. 63 odd kilometres to go....

Dropping Buff off

Pre pain pic!

Off she goes
I really enjoyed the first couple of hours. I saw eagles circling overhead as I walked beside a lovely lake. The path was a little overgrown I thought and the spiders webs were bloody annoying - I was obviously the first person through today, but I could cope with that as I make great time and reached my first self stated checkpoint a good hour ahead of time. My feet were fine as was my backpack and it was a lovely if perhaps a little too warm of a day.

Nice morning for it

Big eagle

Time for a quick break
I had decided not to bring a stove or hot food, so my rations for the three days consisted of mars bars, snickers, kit kats, trail mix and pepperoni sticks. I love all that stuff so I wouldn't go hungry - I also had a big bag of boiled sweets to suck on as I walked. Water would come from the lakes as I walked and would be flavoured with Mio juice. My backpack weighed about 35lbs, nothing too light but also a good weight to carry. It was this weight, coupled with my less than overly tight boots and the sheer hardness of walking on granite that caused my feet to start aching. Nothing too bad, but coupled with the path which at one point would be open rock and a minute later you are wandering through an overgrown forest not being able to see the ground through the undergrowth. Every 3rd or 4th step I   would twing or rotate my ankle on a rock or root  - this caused my foot to slip in my boot and the hot spots got hotter. I'm not complaining, it wasn't that bad, but just a little annoying.

Anyway, I was enjoying the walk and the challenge of it all. Believe me this isn't just a track through the woods. It also encompassed swamp like areas as well as clambering down 15 or 20 meter rocks and across beaver dams before clambering up the other side of the valleys. More like an assault course than a walk in the woods!
An easy part of the path

My boots...

Theres a path there somewhere

Follow the rocks.
Some of the hardest bits are where you have to walk up the granite to a peak and follow the rock cairns left to mark the path. Sometimes they simply don't exist and you end up following the line of least resistance - or as I called it the 'line of least vegetation' hoping that the almost indistinct line I have found is somehow related to the non existent path. I got turned around a couple of times when I took the wrong direction, but always realised quickly enough not to get lost. There was one time when I dropped my pack and spent 10 minutes wandering along the edge of the treeline trying to find a way in, eventually doing so when I found the path. It was almost invisible. Luckily, a lot of the path is marked by blue arrows and that's a great feeling when after searching for a while you suddenly find one and can continue onwards. But sometimes it is down to guesswork and crossing your fingers.

Follow the arrows....
After a full days walking, I had completed about 30 of the 63 kilometre and was really glad to find an empty campsite beside a lake with a gorgeous sunset. The campsites are very basic - a wooden picnic table, a fire pit, a bear box (where you put your food, normally about 30 metres minimum away from the campsite so that if the bears smell the food they cant get at it and don't tear your face off to get at your mars bars, oh and there's a throne too - a big green shit box - no door, facing away from the trail so you can do like the bears and shit in the woods.

My feet were quite sore after day one so after a snack and a nice cold paddle to cool them down I set up the tent and settled in for the night - all alone in the Canadian wilderness. Unbeknown to me, another hiker had camped at the next site just about 1km away - Yeah, it was Buffy Cowtan-  she had done brilliantly and had also completed half of the walk on day one. I was surprisingly not bothered about sleeping all alone in the middle of nowhere with bears and whatever else live out here wandering about and had a good nights sleep.

Campsite day 1

Resting my feet

Bear boxes

The throne

Quite a lovely night!!
Day 2 started early with a visit to the open air throne before pulling down the tent and starting what I hoped to be an easier day than day 1. It started really easy as after just 15 minutes I found Buffy pulling down her tent and getting ready for a long days walk. We had a quick chat and exchanged stories from day 1 before heading off in opposite directions.

My plan today was to make another 20 kms and leave myself just 13 kms for day 3. It was a hard day. The terrain on day 2 was a little harder than day 1 - a few more cliffs and scrambles down rock faces and a lot more swamp... at one point I lost my whole right leg up to the knee is dirty dank swampy water - but on the bright side I had a lot more rests enjoying the views across the lakes as I rested my aching feet in the cool water.

Buffs camp site

Me wandering off to nowhere!
I did come across some wildlife today - a small garter snake taking in the sunshine on one a rock - he seemed quite pleased to see me and I was probably the only other living thing he saw that day as he was for me until I made my way into the nights campsite just after 5.30pm. I hadn't seen another soul since leaving Buff at 9am and had crossed the open area with electricity pylons as well as a railway track that you could hear for miles but you could not see until you almost fell onto it.

My campsite for the night was shared with a bunch of fellas aged between 48 and 72 who were taking a few days to hike northwards along the trail. As soon as I arrived one of them pointed at me and said 'Wilderness Supply?', Yes, I said. It turned out I had served him a week ago and he remembered I was also doing the trail. We had a good night sat around the campfire chatting and watching his mates try and hang 5 full rucksacks by rope up a tree to prevent bears getting to them - they really should just have emptied the food out and hung that but it was fun to watch anyway!!

Camp site 2

Trying to hang backpacks! 

The last day was a doddle - apart from the blisters I had burst the previous evening in camp and the fact that it started with a clamber down a cliff, cross over a beaver dam and then back up the other side. It was only a 13km walk today, but the last few km's were just up and down steep valley sides. There was a little bit of flat in between, being mainly hills I didn't enjoy it much. Luckily, with only 13km's to go it was fairly easy on the feet and I tied my boots extra tight to prevent too much movement which helped.

I made it to the Southern Trail head just after 1115am and immediately set up my tent to stop the mosquitoes biting me. I had only been in it for 20 minutes though when Buffy arrived in the car and we packed up and headed home - via the nearest shop to pick up well deserved crisps and pop!


Wandering along the railway

Feeling good at the end

Not too bad right foot

Lefty is ok too.
It turned out that Buffy had had an epic day 2 - reaching the last camp site and then finishing off easily this morning. She had had a bit of an adventure too meeting some fellow hikers, sharing their campfire and bashing her shin in a slip. Overall, she actually completed the trail quicker than me, but I did get lazy on day two and take a number of extended breaks.

It was a good few days away and really nice to get out into the Canadian Wilderness all alone and do something challenging.
The beginning

Which way?

Looking cute on trail!

apart from the smashed up leg!!

Anyway, enough of that - What about the cheap pillows I hear you say (Or did you forget?)
Well, we had been looking for pillows for a while and could find nothing but crap ones... So we went to 'Sleep Country'  to see what they had. We were served by a nice guy called Krish who showed us some lovely pillows and explained their benefits for back/front and side sleepers before hitting us wit the price $159!!! Well, that's just ridiculous for a pillow, but Krish hadn't finished - he grabbed some other pillows that were just as good and after testing them the price was just $99.... Still too much wonga! So he disappeared into the back and came back with two more pillows priced at a reasonable $50..... Not bad, but not good enough for us (Is this getting a little Goldilocks's??)
Anyway, after chatting a little more he threw two more pillows our way that felt just like the first one we tried - 'Last years models...' Krish said, expecting us to realise that the perfect sleep promised by last years pillows is now defunct and impossible - you can have that one for $10 and if you want them both the other one is $5...... Yes from $150 for one we are now the owners of two wonderful bouncy and soft pillows for $15.. Bloody crazy but bloody brilliant!!

I did a bit of a video diary on the hike, so if you want to see how things were 'live' on trail...heres are the videos in order.....





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