New Year’s Eve at Camp Bongopix

It’s 2016!

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party at the common room, camp bongopix

A week before Christmas, I was scrolling through Instagram, as I frequently do, when a “ping!” let me know I had just received a direct message. @Bongopix and I had been following each other on Instagram since late summer – I knew that Bongo Mike and Andrea had just recently opened a cool, retro-style Airbnb cottage resort near the East Gate of Algonquin Park – but other than throwing each other lots of likes and comments full of nature emojis, we hadn’t really spoken much before. Needless to say, I was intrigued when I saw a message from them and opened it straight away.

They were writing to me to invite Andrew and I up to their Backpacker’s Bunk for a big New Year’s Eve party! As I never have plans on New Year’s Eve, and couldn’t think of a single better way to ring in the new year than up in Algonquin Park with other awesome camping freaks, I said yes immediately. As our Bunk would have two queen-sized beds, we invited our friends and adventure buddies Jacob and Sonia to join in the festivities.

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jacob (and andrew’s feet) in our bunk

The Backpacker’s Bunk is a very cool concept. Rather than being a stand-alone cabin, or even a lodge-style resort, it’s more of a really neat and convenient jump-off point for exploring Algonquin by canoe or on foot. Each room in the log building has two beds, its own private washroom with shower, a mini fridge, and a lovely big deck. There’s also a Common Room in the same building with two turntables and an excellent record collection, old school Nintendo systems, and hundreds of VHS titles. No cable, no internet… just the way it should be. Considering that one isn’t allowed to head into the backcountry in the evening, staying up in the Bunk on a Friday is the perfect way to get a head start on a weekend Algonquin adventure, for the low low price of about fifty bucks a night. AND it’s only a 45 minute paddle from their dock on Galeairy Lake to the first backcountry campsite, with zero portages! The Backpacker’s Bunk isn’t the only fun place to stay at Camp Bongopix. They also have several cabins for rent, all extremely reasonably priced and decorated in a charming, retro, vintage Canadiana style, with all the amenities of a proper cottage (and running water and plumbing and electricity, which is more than I can say about many wonderful but rustic cottages I’ve visited!).

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fireworks! party timez! yay!

We began the drive up from the city at around 5pm, with Sonia and Jacob not far behind. We arrived between 8:30 and 9, and were greeted with big hugs from our new friends and hosts, Andrea and Mike. They showed us to our room and let us get settled in (read: stash our beers in the snow to chill), and when Jacob and Sonia showed up shortly after us, we all went to join the party in the common room. Everyone at the party was so much fun! There was a crew of people from the Hammer (Hamilton), a bunch of locals, and some more Torontonians like our group of four. It was great to swap adventure stories with so many other like-minded people! We were having such a blast that in seemingly no time at all it was almost midnight, and we hurried to open bottles of champers as the Hammer Crew set up an elaborate fireworks display. Mike is a photographer, and one of his many creative shoot styles is a “Bongobooth” photobooth (minus the actual booth), with many props and costumes from a Tickle Trunk of treasures. This kicked off right after midnight. Much hilarity ensued.

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i’m terrible with names, but andrea, mike, sonia, andrew, and me are all in here somewhere, among others (sorry – maybe mike and andrea can help on this?)

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sonia, jacob and i, plus a failed attempt at recreating these emojis: 💁👯

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s&j, t&a, a hamiltonian, a skeleton, and Local Zach on the left, j&me looking extra pretty on the right

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nye pda, t&a, s&j

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i like my egg facing the sun and my two strips of bacon served parallel

Eventually we were the only stragglers still standing, and we chatted with Mike and Andrea a bit before heading off to bed. Sonia and Jacob were already asleep, and we tried not to wake them as we tripped over our bags and boots, giggling. We all slept in late the following morning. The four of us flopped around in our beds for awhile, moaning, due to the excessive libations consumed the previous evening. Andrew was the first to rally and he set up a camp stove on the deck to get coffee started. Soon Jacob and Sonia began preparing an elaborate breakfast of bacon, eggs, beans, and toast, and I eventually joined them on the porch where I was not much help. In my defence, every job needs a supervisor. I provided strong words of encouragement, so worker morale was high.

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my eyes are hardly even open

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snowshoe selfie!

Coffee and breakfast revived us, and shortly afterwards we got dressed in our winter gear, strapped on some snowshoes, and went for a good hike down a snowmobile trail directly across Highway 60 from the Bongopix property.

It was Sonia’s first time on snowshoes, but she got the hang of it immediately and we checked out the Mighty Madawaska river from several vantage points on our little trek. We stopped for a beer break (that’s one way to cure a hangover) and big, fat, heavy snowflakes began to land on our toques. We were all excited to finally experience some winter.. since the freak snowstorm on our ill-fated November canoe trip, we hadn’t seen a single flurry until the drive up north on New Year’s Eve.

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the mighty madawaska

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my best buds

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yay, snow!

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just having a grand old time

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such happy faces

Unfortunately,  Jacob and Sonia could only stay for the one night, so when we got back to our Bunk we had a few snacks as they packed their things, and then they were on their way. Andrew and I stopped in again at the Common Room to listen to some tunes with Mike, but we were still pretty pooped and feeling haunted by the ghosts of our hangovers, so we retired early to our bunk, warmed up some delicious ribs on our camp stove that Andrew had prepared a few days before and read many of the Friends of Algonquin booklets on places of interest in the park (Andrea works full time for the Friends of Algonquin, so they have tons of maps and guidebooks for visitors to pore over).

We weren’t in nearly as rough shape the next morning, and we rustled up some oatmeal and coffee before packing up and tidying our room. Andrea was off in the park doing the yearly Algonquin Christmas Bird Count, so we said goodbye to Mike and thanked him for inviting us to their amazing party. We left them a little note and a canoe paddle holder as a token of our thanks, stopped in at the East Gate to purchase a day pass, and checked out the logging museum which I was not at all interested in but ended up enjoying quite a bit.

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“camboose shanty”, algonquin park logging museum

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i’m sure andrew told me what this was but i’ve forgotten

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playing on this logging alligator was the best part of andrew’s day

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logging chute

The “museum” is more like an interpretive km-long hike, with many displays and signs that take the visitor through the history of logging in Algonquin Park. I enjoyed walking through the bunkhouses that the loggers lived in and loudly ringing the dinner bell. Andrew was fascinated by a logging alligator and kept telling me little factoids he remembered from the booklet he had read the night before. It does shock me a bit that there is still logging in Algonquin to this day, considering how this enormous park represents the closest thing to wilderness for so many people in Southern Ontario.

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my fancy new woolrich overalls did an excellent job of keeping me warm, dry and incredibly fashionable

Since we had nowhere to be and the logging museum tour only took us about an hour, we set off down Highway 60 to the Mew Lake campground so we could check out creepily spy on other campers’ winter tents and gear. As we were walking through, we saw Andrea finishing up her bird count, and she told us about a pine marten that was hanging out by the old airfield. It was good to see her and get the opportunity to thank her for extending the party invite to us, and after a quick chat we went our separate ways. It wasn’t long before we found the Mew Lake Marten – a small crowd of photographers was busily clicking away – and I squealed in delight when I saw his cute furry face. My “eeeeeee!” elicited a harsh “SHHH!” from one photographer, who was standing about two metres away from the marten even though she had a massive zoom lens and flash on her camera. She then proceeded to throw food at the marten to draw it nearer, groaning loudly every time a blue jay snatched the morsel before the pine marten could grab it. Not cool, Zoom Lens Lady. Not cool. I guess she didn’t know she wasn’t supposed to feed the wildlife or blind it with a flash, or she just didn’t care.

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algonquin’s most adorable celebrity; the mew lake marten

We left the marten and went for a little hike down the Track and Tower trail, but it was getting late, so after a rest break with some spicy jalapeño smoked sausage, we turned tail and walked back to the campground. I saw a flash of fur run through the forest – I hoped it was the marten, escaping the paparazzi – and we went for one last tour of the grounds.

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track and tower trail

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andrew has fancy new overalls, too

We saw a winter tent that was very similar to the one we were planning on ordering. We’ve now decided on an Atuk Alaskan model canvas tent, but the one we saw was the Kanguk model. The Alaskan is square, the Kanguk pentagonal, and we realized the pentagonal layout only gains about an extra 3 feet of interior space, which is promptly lost by the placement of the wood stove in the middle. Mission accomplished, though! We then knew exactly what we wanted and discussed it at length during the long drive home to Toronto.

Speaking of the drive home… as we were driving along Highway 60, close to Canisbay Lake, I finally saw that elusive unicorn of the forest, the moose! In fact, we saw three! We saw a bull and a cow first. They ran across the road right in front of us and then paused on a ridge. I tried to take a photo, but as it was dark, it only shows two blobs. A bit farther down the road we saw another HUGE bull! I went from zero sightings in my lifetime to three in the span of ten minutes. What a magical way to start the new year!

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the two vague dark spots to the right of the telephone pole and to the left of the small evergreen tree are forest unicorns(!) although this photo is proof of their existence in the same way a funny-looking cloud is proof of alien spacecraft

I highly recommend Camp Bongopix as a cottage getaway or as a starting point for backcountry travel in Algonquin. Andrea and Mike are just wonderful hosts and really fun people (with excellent taste in music) who love camping as much as we do. The Bunkhouse is very comfortable, the Common Room is excellent for chilling and trading stories of adventure and misadventure, and you just can’t beat the price or location. In fact, we liked it up there so much that we immediately booked a cabin for my birthday the next weekend!

Check out their website here and follow them on Instagram @bongopix. While you’re at it, follow me (@tear_knee), too. I’m always sad to leave a place with good camp vibes behind, but as we drove home I was already looking forward to our next adventure. Who knows, maybe I’ll even get to see another moose.

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we’ll be back in a week, algonquin!

16 thoughts on “New Year’s Eve at Camp Bongopix

  1. Awesome! You will have a blast! On a Algonquin note…in winter you’re not allowed to stay on established camp sites during winter months, but anywhere else is fair game…the Mew Lake airfield is great as you get the price break for backcountry…but close enough to walk to the comfort station if need be!

    Here a couple write ups from my site if you want to take a gander.

    http://www.damnyak.ca/2015/02/hot-tenting-2015.html

    http://www.damnyak.ca/2015/02/the-joy-of-hot-tenting-kevin-callan.html

    http://www.damnyak.ca/2013/02/hot-tenting-trial-algonquin-park.html

    Liked by 1 person

    • Awesome! We were scoping out areas around Mew Lake on New Year’s Day and this past weekend and found some possibilities pretty close to the campground. Definitely a good idea to stay close and play it safe on our first outing! I’ll be sure to check your reports. Btw, picked up some of your spruce balm at Canadian Outdoor Equipment Co a few months ago and I love it!

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  2. Great post ! Sounds like a fun time. I was camping at mew lake for New Year’s Eve. I had a homemade tipi on my site. Was looking to see if you noticed it. Lol. I met quite a few campers with hot tents and posted some pics of them in my blog camperchristina.com . Not sure if the one you’re interested in is pictured in it? Happy 2016. Algonquin is definitely a great way to start the new year!

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    • I read your post and we definitely didn’t see your cool homemade tipi! You mentioned an Arctic Oven tent – we saw a huge yellow and orange one – and a couple of wall tents, many RVs and one Atuk Kanguk. We were there late in the day on the 2nd of January, maybe we missed you!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, the Arctic Oven belongs to my new friends Maryann and Duanne. The nicest people ever and what a gorgeous tent! (drool). They stayed until the 3rd but I left around 1pm on the 2nd. What a great way to ring in the New Year with some of the loveliest people I’ve ever met! I like what you said about feeding the martins. I too am somewhat shocked at that. It is definitely not the way I’ve learned to deal with wildlife and I’m surprised it’s allowed there. I guess some people will risk anything to get a good picture. I was told it was okay because the bears are hibernating. Not sure what that has to do with it, but I can only do what I think is right myself. Unfortunately, you can’t control others actions but it makes me afraid for my own safety when people don’t follow the rules. In August I was at Mew and came face to face with a bear. It was an amazing experience and I was not harmed in any way, but when talking about it with some of the other campers there, I was told by one lady that she saw her neighbour throw a hamburger into the woods? This is part of why I’d rather backcountry camp.I am worried that people are teaching the wildlife that we are a source of food and that is never a good thing. Hope you have an amazing day! I am looking forward to checking out your posts! Happy adventuring and blogging! CC 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Even in the backcountry, in easily-accessible areas like Canoe Lake in Algonquin, some people just don’t get it. Food scraps in the fire pit, toilet paper trilliums in the forest… There’s obviously a level of understanding that takes some time to reach but most of it should be common sense. When bears begin to associate campers with food it puts everyone in a dangerous situation. That’s crazy about seeing a bear at Mew Lake! We’ve seen a few, but always from a distance, thank goodness. I have a mild phobia of bears trying to eat me in my sleep.

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    • Yes, I see it everywhere. When i did my solo trip at the Massassauga 5 canoes were coming in and out of the launch. Every single one had large coolers in the boats. HOW DO YOU HANG A COOLER?? I asked them at the gate and the girl pointed to a cooler hanging from the ceiling as an example to show people. There is NO WAY people are hanging those coolers. I’m all for turning backcountry camping into glamping. i love to be comfortable when i am out there, but I will never break to laws of food and garbage out there. Those people are making it unsafe for all of us that do follow the rules and it definitely scares me. When I arrived at my site there, there was food in the fire pit. This did 2 things, pissed me off that people didn’t pack out their garbage and 2, made me happy that I knew there were no bears nearby as they would’ve eaten the food. But neither are good in the end. I wrote a post about the bear. Check it out sometime. It was honestly one of the most magical experiences I’ve ever had. It made me almost less afraid of them. They really don’t want to hurt us. 🙂

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      • If we bring small coolers on short backcountry trips we cinch them tight with the ratchet straps we use to tie our canoe on our car, hook a caribiner to the strap, and hang it the same way we hang a food barrel. It’s heavy and you need a very sturdy tree, but it is possible! People think barrels are bear-proof, but the mangled one at the Canoe Lake access point centre is pretty clear evidence to the contrary.

        Liked by 1 person

      • yup. agreed and same here. Oh well. I keep writing about it in my posts. Not sure what else we can do but keep trying to tell people what is right and what is wrong? 🙂 Just an note, someone hacked my blog yesterday. Make sure you change your password often and make it really really difficult. They deleted 2 of my posts and I noticed almost immediately. We restored them but creeped me out. WP kept saying I did it myself ‘accidentally’ but I kept assuring him I”m not an idiot. He checked further and found many failed login attempts from an IP address and I found it online as a wordpress hacker. Not sure what you can gain from that but just be aware! Have an awesome day! I”m sure we will talk again soon! 🙂 happy blogging my friend! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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