Trip Report – Algonquin Western Uplands Trail

I just returned from my first backpacking trip – 3 days and 2 nights on the Western Uplands trail at Algonquin Park. The trail has three different length loops, ranging from 32 to 88 km. We did what’s known as “the first loop” – the 32 km option, with an extra 6k thrown in.

To get to Algonquin we took the Parkbus – a terrific initiative that takes city-goers in Toronto and Ottawa to several park locations, including Algonquin, Bruce Peninsula, Killarney, and the Georgian Islands. We caught the bus at 7:00 am right at a nearby subway station (York Mills) and after picking up some more passengers in the city we were off. The bus makes several different stops in Algonquin, for the Western Uplands trail you will need to get off at the West Gate stop. This is where you need to pick up your backcountry camping permits.

Earlier in the week I had phoned and asked if there was potable water at West Gate and the lady assured me that there was no problem with asking the staff in the office to fill up our water bottles and bladders. Wrong. The staff made a big deal about it but in the end my husband was able to talk them into helping us out. The sinks in the washroom are very shallow and you need to keep one hand pushing down on the faucet to get water so that would have been a nightmare if we had to use those.

We arrived at West Gate right on time at 11:00 am and after collecting our permits and filling up our water we were ready to hit the trail and leave West Gate at 12:00 pm.

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The trail head is actually 3 km down the highway from West Gate, and so the beginning of your journey looks like this:

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After not too long you finally arrive at the parking lot and trail head. There are outhouses here and water fountains, so we could have filled up our bottles here but ah well, live and learn.

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The first leg of the trail is 4.4 km. It starts out easy enough, but soon you are going up and down a lot of hills. There are a lot of tree roots and rocks on the trail and it is somewhat slow-going. We made it to Maple Leaf lake for a little break around 3:30 pm. There were quite a few people set up at Maple Leaf already. This photo of the camp site where we took our break is pretty indicative of what you’ll find on this trail. Fire pits with a surrounding bench, a place to pitch your tent, and a bit removed from the site a privy toilet. All in all, much better amenities than what I was expecting!

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We still had 6.6 km to go to where we were spending the first night – Maggie Lake. There was some more ups and downs and the trail was much of the same. Along the way you pass some neat rock formations like this:

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The first site we passed at Maggie was empty but didn’t offer much in the way of a view so even though we were really tired at that point we pressed on. There are sites all around the lake (15, not including the 2 canoe-in sites in the middle of the lake). Luckily the second site right off of the main trail was really great (and empty!). It was secluded and we had a ton of privacy, plus the camp site was HUGE. We arrived at the site around 5:45 pm and we were pretty wiped out.

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One note of caution – the chipmunks and mice are not afraid of humans AT ALL so be very judicious with your food and keeping your gear neatly stowed in your tent! The chipmunks weren’t too bad, but once the sun went down there was tons of tiny little mice all over the place! They will run right over your foot and try to get into everything!

Maggie Lake is stunning. It’s a dead lake, so if swimming is your thing it’s not for you, but it’s a fair size, has a rocky bottom, and has beautiful, clear water.

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There were a ton of loons on the lake and it was amazing to hear their calls through the night. We also woke up at one point to hear a barred owl, which has such a unique call. No doubt he was after the hundreds of mice at our site!

The next morning we took it pretty slow and luxurious – we made some coffee, had a nice warm breakfast and took our time packing up camp. We set out on the trail at 10:00 am on the nose. We had a long second day planned with 16.6 km of hiking. We weren’t planning on the trail being quite so rugged from Norah Lake to right before Ramona Lake. There were quite a few of very steep, rugged hills. It was fun, but it was also slow-going. Originally we planned to stop at Eu Lake for a lunch break but we decided to push through and just eat snacks on the trail as we were running behind schedule.  One word of warning – right after Oak Lake the trail takes a turn that’s not well marked and if you’re not careful you’ll end up going the wrong way down a portage (not that it happened to us or anything…*cough*).

We arrived at Ramona Lake around 3:00 pm or so and we took a little breather and filtered some more water. The trail had been pretty rough up to that point and we were exhausted, but we still had another 4.5 km to go until we arrived at our second camp site at Guskewau Lake. Luckily the trail gets a lot easier after Ramona. We made pretty good time and hit our site at Guskewau at 5:45 pm.

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A lot of the sites at Gueskewau were already full but surprisingly the most secluded site (the most northern one) was free. It wasn’t as nice as our site at Maggie Lake, but it was still pretty good.

It’s hard to tell from this photo, but Guskewau is a more muddy lake with some marshland. The mosquitoes were quite a bit worse than at Maggie, but died down once we had a fire going.

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Speaking of mosquitoes, they of course were awful this time of year. I may have looked like an idiot, but my bug jacket came in SO handy! Best $12.00 I have ever spent!

The next morning we didn’t have far to go, but we wanted to make sure we left extra time to make it back to West Gate to catch the Parkbus back to the city. We only had 3.9 km of trail which was fairly easy-going and downhill most of the way. Finally we arrived back at the parking lot and took a much needed break.

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Unfortunately we still had to walk 3 km on the highway back to West Gate, which was the hardest 3 km of the entire trip! It was hot and sunny on the highway and it seemed to take forever. Once at the West Gate we cleaned up in the bathrooms (yay flush toilets!) and relaxed in the shade until the Parkbus came to take us back to the city. All was well on the journey until we were about 30 min. north of Barrie. We switched bus drivers and the new driver took us on a really weird “shortcut” that included driving around Barrie for 30 minutes, and then he decided to take a side road with a 50 km/h speed limit. How that’s quicker than going on the freeway I’m not sure. We ended up getting home 1 hour and 15 minutes late, but at least we were in an air conditioned bus with a cushy chair, so it could have been a lot worse.

All in all I would say our first backpacking trip was a success! I can’t wait until September when we have another trip planned for Bruce Peninsula. I can already see why this is such an addictive hobby!

 

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Next Challenge: Running a Marathon for Cats!

Wow, this site has been dead lately. Rather than write a long explanation of what I’ve been up to since my last post I’m going to dive right in.

Lately a lot of my energy has been poured into training for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, which I’ll be running to fund raise for Toronto Cat Rescue. I ran my first marathon in 2012 in San Francisco. I swore I would never do that again. While I enjoy running, I didn’t particularly enjoy marathon training and I thought that I would stick to half marathons for the foreseeable future. But here I am, doing it all over again. At least this time I have the thought of helping Toronto Cat Rescue to push me when I don’t particularly feel like training.

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Last marathon I used Hal Higdon’s Novice 1 program. This time around I’m using Novice 2. The two programs are very similar, although Novice 2 has slightly higher mileage and some pace runs. I just finished Week 5 of the 18 week plan and things have been progressing pretty well, although I’m reaching the point in my training where I’m constantly hungry. Note to self: quit filling up on junk and incorporate more whole grains, healthy fats, and quality protein.

marathontrainingupdateOnly 2.5 more months to go – yikes!

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Tofu Cookery: Jewish-Style Cabbage Rolls

Both my husband and I come from Ukrainian-Canadian families. So I’ve had my share of cabbage rolls (holubtsi). However, Ukrainian-Canadian cabbage rolls, at least in our families (I realize each family is going to differ on this), are typically just rice and sauteed onion rolled up in cabbage, baked with Campbell’s tomato soup (very traditional, I’m sure).

I’m certainly not a cabbage roll expert. My understanding is that Polish-style cabbage rolls (globaki) are more likely to have meat in them. There are about a bajillion other versions of cabbage rolls from other countries as well.

Anyhoo, Tofu Cookery has a recipe for Jewish-style cabbage rolls, or holishkes. Wikipedia tells me that these also typically have meat. Can you guess what’s in the Louise Hagler version? That’s right, tofu.

The filling consists of cooked rice, mashed up tofu, onion, and garlic. Alright, I”m on board with that. Where this fell apart for me was the sauce. The sauce is made with water, tomato paste, raisins, and sweetener. I was not a fan. The sweetness was a real turn-off. Give me my tomato soup cabbage rolls any day.

They weren’t perfect, but I was pretty proud of my rolling capabilities. My mother-in-law rolls them absolutely perfect, but she’s probably made thousands upon thousands throughout her life. When we lived closer to her, she would make me a batch of vegan cabbage rolls (basically she just subs out dairy butter for vegan butter to saute the onions, the rest of her recipe is already vegan) and stash them in her freezer. Yum!

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Tofu Cookery: Eggplant Sandwiches

This recipe is quite similar to the eggplant lasagna I posted about earlier. Essentially you bread and bake slices of eggplant, and fill with a tofu ricotta. I added some fresh tomato and basil.

 

These were pretty tasty, but not very substantial. I think they would be good for a summer meal when you want something light, along with a salad or a cold soup or what-have-you. They were also a bit messy, so I’m not sure I’d serve them at a fancypants occasion.

I’m certainly not carb-phobic, but I love the idea of making sandwiches with tasty vegetables rather than slices of bread. Do you have any favourite veggie stand-ins for bread?

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Tofu Cookery: Oriental Slaw

Continuing on with my month of Tofu CookeryI decided to try out the “Oriental Slaw.” This is a pretty basic slaw…shredded Napa or any green cabbage, red cabbage, and carrot. The dressing I whirred up in my food processor – it as garlic, ginger, cilantro, onion, rice vinegar, sweetener, a bit of oil (I used sesame), and then a tiny bit of tofu. Quite honestly I think the tofu is superfluous and not needed at all.

This was alright. Typically for slaw I make the recipe from Vegan Table which also has tofu, but instead of being hidden in the dressing it is cubed, fried (or baked) and a main ingredient in the slaw.

Tofu Cookery: Chili Con Tofu

I had serious reservations about this chili. Normally, I think a hearty bean chili is where it’s at. But chili with tofu? This was new territory to me. However, in the name of Vegan MoFo, I ventured forth.

This recipe is really simple. Essentially you brown some onion, garlic, and green pepper, along with crumbled tofu that’s been mixed with soy sauce. You then add some tomato sauce, water/veggie broth, chili powder, and pinto beans. That’s it.

Truth be told this chili didn’t look so great. The white hunks of tofu were really unappetizing to me. But taste it I did and I was actually quite pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t half bad at all. This isn’t something I’d make again, I much prefer more ‘traditional’ non-tofu chili, but I’m glad I tried it.

What do you normally put in your chili? Usually I stick with kidney and pinto beans, but sometimes I add chickpeas.

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Tofu Cookery: Eggplant Lasagna

I’ve always been a sucker for a delicious lasagna. Lasagnas can be quite heavy dishes though, with all of the noodles and what-not. Tofu Cookery does have a recipe for a traditional lasagna, but also includes one with breaded and oven-baked eggplant as the stand-ins for the noodles.

I had tried a similar dish years ago, but that one just used sliced, raw eggplant. The Tofu Cookery recipe includes the extra step of lightly breading the tofu and then baking it in the oven. This made all the difference in the world – the breaded eggplant was delicious!  The eggplant is layered with a pretty typical tofu ricotta as well as marinara sauce. I had some beautiful, local tomatoes from the farmers market and so I sliced those up and put some on the top of the lasagna, along with extra breadcrumbs.

This was delicious! Definitely something I’d make again. Like most lasagnas, the leftovers were even better and made for some scrumptious lunches.

 

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Tofu Cookery: Tofu Burgers

I rarely make burgers at home. I have tried dozens of recipes but I still have not found one with a texture I like. They are always mushy or crumbly or some combination of the two. Given that I’m cooking out of Tofu Cookery this MoFo, I thought I would give the tofu burgers a try.

The recipe is fairly similar to the tofu spaghetti balls. Tofu, wheat germ (I used bread crumbs as I can’t find wheat germ here), a tiny bit of flour, and some herbs and spices. As you might expect, they were quite tasty (as were the spaghetti balls), but didn’t hold together very well.  Perhaps a bit of flax or some vital wheat gluten in lieu of the flour would have been the way to go.

Oh well. I had my burger on some whole wheat bread with lettuce and tomato and it was still delicious, even if it was crumbly.

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Tofu Cookery: Tamale Pie

 

 

 

Like most folks, I typically make tamale pie with beans. Much like her version of enchiladas, Louise Hagler isn’t satisfied unless there is tofu in there. A lot of tofu.

This recipe was like most any other tamale pie…with the exception that you use torn up pieces of extra-firm tofu rather than beans. The insides looked kind of nasty, but it tasted pretty yummy.

 

I don’t think I’d go out of my way to make this again, but that’s just because I’m lukewarm on tamale pie to begin with. It’s something I generally make when my fridge and pantry are bare, and all I have around is beans, tomatoes, and cornmeal, or when I’m looking for something that’s both A.) filling, B.) fairly healthy, and C.) cheap.

 

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Tofu Cookery: Greek Salad

There are a LOT of tofu feta recipes out there on the interwebz. Sticking with my Tofu Cookery theme for MoFo, I decided to give Louise Hagler’s a try and whip up some Greek salad. It’s pretty standard…the tofu is marinated in a mixture of olive oil, different herbs, red wine vinegar, etc. I let my tofu marinate for a few days in order to get maximum flavour.

The result was so-so. It was certainly okay and very edible, but to be perfectly honest there are better tofu feta recipes out there. This one just tasted like marinated tofu. I’ve been meaning to try this one from Melomeals, I’m just lazy and haven’t bought agar powder yet.

What’s your favourite tofu feta recipe?

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