Winter Camping

The Crack - Killarney - Winter Camp

The Crack - Killarney

The Crack - Killarney

SNAPSHOT:

  • Total Distance: 6 km (3 each way)
  • Trip Difficulty: Easy-Difficult (depending where you want to camp)
  • Number of Days: 2-3

It was a last minute trip that we decided to do in Killarney. Our initial weekend plans fell through, and we were eager to get out for another winter camping trip.

Noah, Andrew and I were going to be towing our blue sleds once again, and our friend Gary was going to be pulling a sled that he had built, that seemed to have a better construction.

We drove up Friday night after work pulling into the parking lot at George Lake at 11:00pm. Gary had driven up separately and was there when we arrived.  We shared a few drinks by the car while looking at the stars and planning our excursion. We had very rough plans that involved camping somewhere on route to “The Crack.”

We woke up at 8am and there was moisture on the insides of all of the windows. I guess squeezing 3 guys into a vehicle would do that. Needless to say none of us got the best sleep that night. Noah sleeping on the sleds, Andrew sleeping in a sitting position, and I had my feet wedged between the front two seats so I could stretch out while sitting in the back.

The office opened at 8:30am and I picked up the permits while the rest of the group boiled water for oatmeal and coffee. Noah and I had both recently bought new “Stick Stoves” that we were pretty keen to try out. These stoves basically give you a container to build a fire in using sticks so you don’t need to bring fuel with you.

Since the planning for the trip was fairly rushed, we managed to make a mistake on the meal prep, bringing only 8 packs of oatmeal for the 4 of us. This had to last two breakfasts! I think Gary was starting to question his decision to leave the meals up to us…luckily between all of the granola bars and jerky, we managed to get a bit of food in us that would hopefully get us to the top.

After we finished breakfast we drove the 7km down the road to the parking lot for “The Crack,” which is really not marked well at all.  There was only one other car in the parking lot, which is a lot different then when you come in the prime months and people are parked all the way out to the highway.

We loaded our sleds and set underway at 10am. We didn’t yet know exactly where we could camp but we knew we would figure it out as we went.

Starting the trek to The Crack

Starting the trek to The Crack

The first section of the trail is nothing too crazy. It is relatively flat for the first kilometer or so before it starts to climb up the mountain. Shortly after we passed over Kakakise Lake is where the real incline starts. This is where we decided to leave our sleds thinking that it might be too difficult to get the sleds up the hill.

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We packed a few beers and some lunch and began our hike. Noah, Andrew and I used our snowshoes for the first section of the climb and it seemed to help in some areas. Gary was doing well trekking on with just his pair of boots leaving his snowshoes behind with his sled.

The climb to the top of The Crack really does not take too long. It seemed to go by very quickly but I find I am easily distracted on these hikes that have such beautiful views.

The view from the top is absolutely stunning. Being in the same spot in the fall, it was nice to be able to see it in a different season. We had lunch and a beer and continued hiking past the top section of The Crack. Gary was familiar with 3 other smaller lakes that he was interested in checking out.

The top of The Crack with frozen lakes

The top of The Crack with frozen lakes

The hike continued for another kilometer or so before we arrived at the first of the small lakes, Little Superior Lake. The hike along the ridge offers many scenic views over the lakes that are below. It is worth the hike back if you have the time to do so.

At this point it was around 3pm, and knowing that Noah, Andrew and I had to set up a tarp to sleep under, as well as gather wood for the night, we opted to make this our turn around point. Gary continued on to check out the other lakes, which he assured us we missed out on.

For those who are familiar with the trail, the very first of the incline sections is one of the most difficult sections of the hike. It is steep, you need to watch your footing, and there are not many flat sections to give you a break. This section takes you up and into the forest that is on the same level as Kidney Lake.

We had made Gary a deal that if we were to carry his sled up for him, he would accept the new location to set up camp at the top of the first steep section. The spot at the bottom where we had left our sleds did not offer much privacy from the trail or much protection from the wind. Also we were really keen to set up in the forest by Kidney Lake.

Dragging 4 sleds up a steep incline is no easy matter. Breaks were taken frequently but it still didn’t save the sleds any damage. Once we got our first 3 up, Noah and I climbed back down to grab Gary’s sled, which we chose to carry on our shoulders to keep it in one piece.

Feeling pretty warm in our cold tent

Feeling pretty warm in our cold tent

The next few hours were spent doing what we like best, setting up our tarps and sleeping bags, as well as processing all the wood we would need for the night. Dinner that night consisted of Chilli and Sausages. It was nice to have a solid meal after a hard days work.

We watched the sun set over Kidney Lake with The Crack in the background. We had seen another gentleman who was climbing to the top of The Crack to camp for the night to get some photos. We could see his headlamp as he walked around the rocks up top that night.

Sharing some drinks and good stories around the fire before we settled in for the night. Gary had brought some southern comfort with him to share and we think it will be a staple on our trips going forward. This was Andrew’s first experience sleeping under a tarp and he was pretty excited to give it a go. Once again we made a fire close to our heads as a nice way to fall asleep.

The morning had arrived quickly for me. I think as soon as my head hit the pillow I passed out instantly. Andrew didn’t get as good of a sleep since he had injured his knee the day before and it kept him up that night.

The sun was shining and it was warm out! We loaded up our typical breakfast routine with coffee and oatmeal before tearing down our camp.

The hike back to the car could have been done in a t-shirt it was so warm out. We made great time leaving our site at 11:30am and getting to the parking lot at 1:00pm. We were camped at Kidney Lake so we didn’t have the full hike to do.

From the left - Gary Storr, Alex Traynor (front), Andrew Ansell, and Noah Booth

From the left - Gary Storr, Alex Traynor (front), Andrew Ansell, and Noah Booth

I think in the future we will need to backpack it, so that we can make it to the top to camp. It would be a cool experience to camp at the top of the mountain but maybe we will save that for Silver Peak next winter. That is one of the benefits of camping in the winter. Being able to camp anywhere really opens up some great options. Another successful camping trip all around, and I think Gary might even consider joining us again!

Kawartha Highlands - Long Lake

Our cold tent setup

Our cold tent setup

SNAPSHOT

Total Distance: 9km out and back (4.5 each way)

Hiking Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (When there was a path it was easy, crunchy snow made it challenging)

Overall Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Time: 1-4 days (can be as short or as long as you like)

The conversation started with Noah asking me if I wanted to ditch the tent and only bring tarps to sleep under…

This is what typically sparks the excitement when we are getting ready for our next adventure. We decided it was time to leave the tent behind, and just bring the tarps with us.

Now, it was time to determine where we were going to go. Since we were only going for one night, we wanted something closer to the city, but far enough that there would still be a decent amount of snow. Kawartha Highlands it is!

I had done a trip here in the fall just before the ice started setting in. I’m learning that this park is a great destination in the off-season as there are not nearly as many people as the summer. 

We left at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning. Making a few stops for coffee and gas on the way, we arrived at the Long Lake launch at 10:00am. We packed our sleds and were on the lake just after 11:00am.

Our game plan was to make our way down Long Lake towards Loucks Lake. Once making it here we were going to find a path through the forests that would take us to a more remote location for the night.

The trek down Long Lake started well, but the crunchy thin layer of ice on the surface of the snow was not making it very easy on us. Each step we would sink in and have to pull our snowshoes back out. You do this for 20 minutes or so and your legs are starting to feel it.

Shortly into our hike, a snow mobile came flying past us, clearing a perfect trail of packed down snow to follow! Luckily he was headed in the same direction as us. This significantly picked up our speed and we were able to crush kilometers allowing us to make good time on our way down Long Lake.

Noah and I were both eager to get to our site to have a good amount of time to actually get a solid setup. You know…since we were planning on sleeping under a couple of tarps…

We made it pretty close to Loucks Lake but decided to make an early entry into the forest to get to a site a little sooner. We would have been directly on the other side of the lake from the 340m portage into Buzzard Lake.

We hiked through the forest for about 45 minutes looking for the perfect place to set up camp for the night. After evaluating a few spots we settled on a pad we found between two large rock formations that would significantly reduce the amount of wind we would experience. This area also had no shortage of dead hardwood that we could use to start a fire.

Noah collected wood and split it all while I prepared the area for us to set up our tarps. First stomping down all the snow, then adding more snow to flatten the area out. We were lucky to have a dead pine tree next to us that must have fallen not too long ago. We were able to take a few branches off of it to use as a base layer under our tarp, to keep us off the snow a bit more.

We then lay the tarps down on the ground to sleep on and added a tarp overtop as a roof in the event we saw some precipitation. The tarps were set just high enough for us to get in without our sleeping bags touching the top tarp.

A little snowfall on our cold tents

A little snowfall on our cold tents

For the majority of the afternoon we had a fire that was about 8ft from our tarps. Just before bed we moved this fire even closer so that we could add wood to the fire throughout the night. I myself woke up once and added most of the wood that I had. Noah slept solid through the entire night and did not contribute to keeping the fire going.

I must say that both Noah and I were very warm sleeping in our individual cold tents. We both recently purchased Teton sleeping bags that are rated to -32°C and we were not even slightly cold. The only issue with these bags is they do not pack up very small or light but in the winter, we really don’t notice the size and weight on a sled.

Frozen faces

Frozen faces

Shortly after waking up in the morning the snow started to come down making it a little more difficult to keep everything dry while we packed up. It kept snowing pretty much the entire duration back to the car. The hike back was really nice with all the snow falling and no sign of anyone else on the lake. At one point we had to stop and take a picture of each other because of how much snow and ice had built up on both of our faces.

We were back at the launch by about 2pm making it another successful trip under our belts! And we didn’t even need a tent!!