Equipment packed and vehicle loaded, I embarked on my first journey to Algonquin Park for 2015. Initially the drive is peaceful and sunny, although not long after passing Barrie the dark ominous clouds had hidden my shadow and turned the once dry roads into a rain-soaked and slipper mess. Moving up hwy-11 through Bracebridge, Huntsville than Callander, I had completed only two-thirds of my route, when the annoying beep and amber glow of the gas gauge had just reminded me it was time for a short break. Ultimately the goal today was to reach Bissett Creek, one of the official access points for north eastern Algonquin, where I would embark on a journey into Lost Coin Lake.
Arriving at Bissett Creek Road, a backwoods gravel wonder that was once a bustling logging and mining mecca, I made my turn south and began the 18 kilometre drive to the access point. These days the road sees minimal traffic, some minor resource farming, but now it is mostly used as the main blood line into north-eastern Algonquin, giving access to Lost Coin Lake, Bissett Creek and many other remote points in the park. Turning onto the road, the first thing you'll see is a signs indicating CB radio "channel 23"; the norm on active logging or resource management roads. It's at this point where the initial journey of 574km from home feels worth it, although I'm not done yet as I have 18 kilometres left before I reach the end of the line for my Jeep, as well as an 8 kilometre hike to the cabin on Lost Coin Lake.
Placing the Jeep into 4wd followed by a quick shift into first gear, Ansel and I were off. With every kilometre gone by, my smartphone lost another bar of service until it went silent around kilometre eight. I’m officially cut off from the outside world, free from text, social networks and all those other distracting things. Quickly the time faded and I was at the end of Bissett Road where I would have to leave Ansel behind and take to foot travel along the old logging track, through a maze of turns and over grown bush. It was now only me and the gear I would carry into the backwoods; Two Nikon DSLRs, three lenses, teleconverter, various filters, tablet, hard drive, portable battery booster, wireless card reader, spare batteries, camping supplies, clothing, food and general accessories. All of that packed into my Lowepro Rover Pro 45L, as well as having some firewood strapped to the outside of the backpack. In the end, there I was, with 75 pounds of gear being lugged by foot, into the park over the mixed terrain.
While hiking along the path, there is a beautiful but eerie silence. The park has just opened for the year, two days prior to my arrival, and only a week and a half ago there was snow on the ground and ice covering most of the lakes. Now it's 18 degrees, the ground has started to dry up and the lakes are free of their icy hold; though don't be fooled, the water is still excruciatingly cold. The walk isn’t completely silent, my bear bell is dinging away and I’m singing, nothing in particular, just 70's rock to my own lyrics. This chaos of noise had it's purpose, to warn any larger more dangerous animals of my presence well before I startle them by getting too close. A couple wild turkeys followed by two Grouse were my first sightings. No time to take out the camera, as I left the vehicle at 6:15PM and had a 8km walk ahead of me; arriving before dark was my priority. After a short glimpse of these magnificent fowl I quickly scurried on my way. Throughout the walk I saw evidence of wolves, moose and black bear through their various tracks and excrement. It wasn't until two or three kilometres in that I had my first run-in of the year with a bull moose, not something that I particularly like to experience given the limited options if he charged. In what was the longest ten seconds of my life, I had a stare-down competition with him. I could swear ten minutes had gone by when suddenly he stomped his hooves, grunted, thankfully followed by him turning away and charging off into the tree line. That was close and I consider myself lucky. Thank you Bullwinkle for realizing I'm no threat.
Now nervous and on high alert, I walk backwards for a couple hundred metres to make sure he isn’t coming back. Turning around I picked up the pace, sauntering my way down the trail once again. Just as I arched the corner past the four kilometre marker, I hear a large grunt followed by a fierce growl. My heart skipped a couple beats as I turned to my right to see a black bear hiding in the bushes. So much for making noise! Unfortunately the Black Bear wasn't as easily convinced on my innocence. Thinking quickly, I pulled out my bear banger, loaded it into the launcher pen and shot it straight into the air. "BAM!" At that moment the bear knew I would be more trouble then worth, grunted one last time and retreated into the bushes. Happy as I was to see the wildlife healthy and active, I’m in no way interested in becoming dinner! After recollecting my thoughts I made a quick bee line along the remaining path, goal oriented, to get into the cabin before dark.
Keeping my pace steady it wasn’t long before I’m finally arriving at my destination. It's now 7:45pm and I'm definitely happy to see the cabin. Rounding the front I unfortunately find someone had smashed through the screen and glass of one window, as well the locking hasp on the door had been torn off. It's a shame that people feel the need to disrespect property that doesn't belong to them. Opening the door I’m treated to broken glass all over and food has been left behind too. When food is left behind in these rustic cabins all forms of critters, mice, rats, raccoons, squirrels, etc make their way in and cause their own destruction. Spending the better part of my evening cleaning up the mess, sweeping up some of the glass and collecting the garbage left behind, I not left with much time to enjoy the view.
The cabin now partially cleaned, I'm finally able to put down my bag, unpack, build a fire and eat food. As the sun is setting, I’m treated to a huge choir of Spring Peepers; a small chorus frog widespread across Canada. There must be literally dozens of them, all males trying to find a mate. It is very peaceful and surreal, their calls much like an symphony. Siting here, I close my eyes, absorbing the atmosphere, meditating and becoming one with the nature that surrounds me.
The roar of the fire, symphony of frogs and the darkness of the sky all combine to make an enjoyable evening. Lighting the candle lantern, I now sit in the stillness of the night, writing and contemplating tomorrow; it will be a new day and a new lease on life.