The beauty of Algonquin Provincial Park is breathtaking, but beyond that it has the remarkable distinction of being Ontario’s oldest and largest provincial park. Seeped in heritage, mystique, and wildlife galore, the region is truly perfect for adventure seekers, hiking enthusiasts, and canoeing masters.
I embarked upon the Highland Backpacking Trail, a 40 km loop that I’d complete over the course of 3 days. Located about 3.5 hours north of Toronto, the region is the definition of back country. The forests are so incredibly dense, rolling with extremely steep hills, jagged rocks and tree roots gone mad. You are really right in the thick of it, as you are the only one around for dozens of kilometres at a time.
Fitness is an integral part of my life, and I exercise 5 times a week. I was not expecting the Highland Backpacking Trail to be so physically challenging. Maybe it was the addition of the weight of my backpack, or the sheer steepness and rockiness of the hills, the 18.6 km trek on the first day, or the energy exerted from the constant swatting away of bugs. But I was drained nearing the end of our hikes, on the first day especially. A hike I allotted to take around 4 hours to complete ended up taking 7.
Thankfully the moment I slowed down to a snail’s pace was within the next couple minutes of reaching the first campsite on Harness Lake. With the weight of the world off my shoulders and back, I slid into the lake immediately to cool off and recharge.
For dinner it was re-hydrated freeze dried grilled chicken breast and mashed potatoes. Of course, everything out in the wilderness tastes amazing. Eating dinner on a massive rounded rock overlooking the lake was extremely gratifying and comforting as I recovered from the day’s hard work. My hands cradled a hot cup of soothing peppermint tea as two loons sang in unison out in the lake ahead of me.
Despite the challenging climbs, I honestly preferred them to the extended descents. I spent a considerable amount of time descending mountainous terrain or a slippery gorge, putting lots of pressure on the knees and causing swollen toes. I jammed my swollen toe so many times it started turning from blue to black beneath the toenail.
That night warmly nestled in my sleeping bag, I listened to the sound of the rain tap dancing against the roof of the tent. We slept late in order to wait out the rain. Once it slowed down to a gentle pitter-patter, we whipped up some oatmeal for breakfast and again enjoyed eating on the rock overlooking the misty lake with a hot cup of instant coffee. Before packing up, we prepared bannock – a cinnamon raisin pancake-y bread! Nothing felt as satisfying as ripping into some freshly made bannock to enjoy before setting off Harness Lake.
Journeying to Faya Lake was almost as challenging as the day prior, despite the much shorter travel distance. The rain had made everything much more slippery, and also brought out thousands of ravenous mosquitoes, only too eager to feast on us, probably the only humans to pass through for the day (or week). As we trekked up a gradual climb, a black bear trotted across the path ahead followed by two black bear cubs!
I am very eager to return to Algonquin Park and embark on another hiking adventure. Without a doubt I will hike in the fall next, as bugs and mosquitoes will be completely gone by then! I really enjoyed being in the wilderness and witnessing all sorts of wildlife and sounds of nature. In Algonquin the feeling of solitude is powerful, and is a truly a Canadian experience.