October in the Kawartha Highlands (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Rain)

october 24th-25th, 2015

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getting soggy on wolf lake, kawartha highlands provincial park

The title of this report is a bit of a misnomer. It wasn’t so much that I was worried about the rain itself; it was more that I was worried about how Andrew would react to a proposed late-season weekend canoe trip when the weather forecast was calling for rain, and lots of it, the Saturday we intended to set out. Poor conditions tend to make him crotchety, but I had just finished a really lousy week at work and wasn’t about to let a bit of rain stop me from getting my Nature Time. As we drove north from Toronto under a steady downpour, I obsessively hit ‘refresh’ on my weather app, and, with a heaping spoonful of optimism, informed Andrew that it couldn’t rain all day, the showers would be localized, and if we waited for perfect weather we would never get outside. As luck would have it, the rain stopped as we reached the Wolf Lake access point and loaded our gear into the canoe.

Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park has a simple reservation system in place. I reserved a site online, printed the booking, and once we arrived at the put-in all we needed to do was fill out a card with our permit number and leave it on the dashboard of our vehicle. As we were doing so, we encountered two parks employees who were taking out some garbage. They were very nice, told me of a cool hike we should check out, and commended us for wearing our Hunter’s Orange at this time of year.

In no time at all we were paddling down Wolf Lake, passing empty cottages along the way. As we reached the narrows of the lake, we were hit with some misty drizzle, but we were well-prepared and already wearing our rain gear underneath our PFDs.

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beautiful day! not a cloud in the sky, hot and sunny… oh, wait

Nearing the portage to Crab Lake, we met another canoeing couple heading in the opposite direction after they finished collecting firewood. They looked a bit cold and miserable. We wished them a warm, dry night, they repeated the sentiment, and away across Wolf they went as we took on the easy, 140m-ish portage into Crab.

It was somehow much windier on the other side of the portage than it had been on Wolf, but at least the drizzle halted. We took a brief time-out to gather some firewood before entering the chop and paddling against the stiff breeze towards our campsite at the bottom of Crab Lake (#316). I had chosen this site because it appeared to be reasonably sheltered in its own private bay, but I took Andrew on a bit of a ‘scenic detour’ through a marsh before realizing that we had turned off the main body of the lake too early. It’s not named Crab Lake for nothin’: The round part of the lake is surrounded on all sides by many arms and claws of secluded bays, with campsites found on the peninsulas and along the armpits of the crab.

speckly maple tree marking the way to our tent

speckle-y maple tree marking the way to our tent

snugly tucked away deep in the forest

snugly tucked away deep in the forest

We eventually found our intended site, and as the rain was still holding off, we hurried to find the driest place to erect our tent (way back in the bush en route to the thunderbox) and rig up our tarp over a picnic table. Brand new thunderbox, picnic table, proper fire grate… our campsite was a luxury vacation rental compared to other places we’ve been this year. No wonder it was fully booked all summer long.

halfway through the long walk back to the kitchen from the tent

halfway through the long walk back to the kitchen from the tent

Not long after organizing our living room and kitchen area, the rain began again in earnest. We settled in under our tarp atop our butt-warming hunter’s cushions and began to prepare a cold-weather feast of gargantuan proportions: Swiss cheese fondue with boiled new potatoes, thick slices of saucisson sec, Granny Smith apples, sour gherkins, and crusty French bread, warmed over our single-burner canister stove and washed down with a generously-sized glass of pinot noir each.

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living room picture-window. looks nasty out there. better stay inside

Then it got dark, and I tried to take a cool photo of a delicious Adult Hot Beverage next to our candle lantern (which didn’t turn out great, but I posted it here, anyway, along with the recipe for this creamy, boozy, hot buttered cup o’ fun) and we drank it between bursts of running to the fire to warm up, bursts of giggles as we attempted to whistle the Three Rules of Discipline and the Eight Rules of Attention, and bursts of rain from the dark sky above.

During some brief moments of respite from the downpour, we packed away our food, hung our barrel in a tree to deter any insomniac bears who hadn’t yet gone into hibernation, and retired to our tent for the evening. We remained cosy and dry all through the night in spite of Nature’s best efforts to ensure otherwise. This was one magical tent pad.

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mornin’, sunshine! hahahaha jk jk

using the wind to our advantage, drying the flannel and aquanator

using the wind to our advantage to dry the flannel canadian dinner jacket and aquanator

The morning dawned windy and cold, with dark clouds still rolling about. The stiff breeze quickly dried the fly on our tent and our tarp, but we had to tear down our existing kitchen setup and create a better windblock before putting the water on to boil for coffee. We’re both bumbling ham-fisted idiots until we have our coffee in the morning. This took awhile.

We enjoyed a nutritious-ish breakfast of butter tarts we purchased from a roadside stand on our drive up to the park, and as the sky looked to be clearing, we chose to spend the rest of our morning exploring and climbing the ridge behind our campsite.

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top of the ridge behind our site

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along the ridge

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blah, blah, you get the idea

We both really enjoyed taking the time to go for a hike, as we never seem to do that sort of thing on longer journeys where we have a lot of miles to cover each day. On this weekend adventure, we basically just went and hung out in the forest for two days. It was nice.

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lovely pine, lovely sun, lovely sky, la la la

reppin' the home province

andrew, reppin’ the home province

When we got back to our campsite, the sky brightened even more and we saw the first patches of blue sky poke through the clouds. We were in no rush to do much of anything, and the wind was still rather brisk, so we set about making some campfire baked apples, taking photos, and hanging our damp clothing to dry in the breeze. After much lazing around, we began to tear down our tent and stuff our packs for the journey home. Even after we finished packing, we stayed at our campsite for awhile to soak up the sun’s weak October rays.

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“Bye, campsite!”, we yelled and waved as we set off back the way we had come in (we do this pretty much every time we break camp, it never gets old). The lake was much calmer by this point, the sky more blue than grey, and we were happy to have chosen to go play outside when everyone else chickened out because of the forecast. Out of the three booked campsites on Crab Lake, ours was the only one occupied.

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i made andrew paddle all the way over to this island because i liked the colour of these bushes. he’s red-green colourblind and couldn’t see what the fuss was all about

darn, at the portage already

darn, at the portage already

yup. only out for a weekend and look at all the crap we brought

yup, only out for a weekend and look at all the crap we brought

We didn’t remember this portage looking so beautiful on our way in. Probably had something to do with the cold, driving rain we hiked through the day before. It was so pleasant out that we stopped and ate some packed sandwiches we had intended to eat for lunch the previous day (and forgotten about) before we completed our second carry to the other side.

guess my favourite colour?

guess my favourite colour?

here's another hint:

here’s another hint:

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the happy adventure didn’t want to leave either so she tried to hide behind a tree

happy's plan of escaping undetected fell short and she begrudgingly agreed to be carried to the other side

happy’s plan of escaping undetected fell short and she begrudgingly agreed to be carried to the other side, albeit with much pouting

Alas, it was late afternoon and we had a long drive back to the city to contend with, so we set forth across the portage and up Wolf Lake to meet with our car at the access point. We didn’t rush back, really… we took enough time to gawk at our surroundings and come to the conclusion that if we had wimped out because of a bit of chilly rain the day before, we wouldn’t have eaten hot melty cheese outdoors by a fire, hiked a ridgeline, viewed the last of the spectacular fall colours, or had a peaceful getaway to our own private lake in the heart of canoe country. And really, how could a day of rain ever take away from all of that?

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we’ll be back, kawartha highands

2 thoughts on “October in the Kawartha Highlands (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Rain)

  1. Great little trip!!! Sometimes you just need something simple and quick like this for a weekend. You know what’s funny – we always tend to pig out too when we do short easy trips with limited portaging. Looks like a really pretty park! As for rain – way to embrace it! Cheers!

    • Yeah, we always find that when we only have two days and one night to spend out, it’s best to plan on what I like to call “backcountry glamping”. And in the off-season, choosing a lake with easy access still affords a good deal of solitude. I’m so excited for NYE at Camp Bongopix! As Bogart once said, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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