Saturday 3 October 2020

Canoe Tripping During Covid 19

It has been an odd season this year with it starting out in the early spring with everyone wondering when the restrictions would be lifted so that we could go camping at all. And slowly the restrictions did lift first with back country camping being allowed, and then with general camping for everyone. I remember listening to the radio the day that back country camping was allowed, and the announcer was rhyming off all the restrictions that were being lifted that day and when he got to this one he said "back country camping, whatever that is". I actually called in and got through, and gave him a brief explanation that back-country usually involved hiking or canoeing all of your gear into secluded spot where nothing was provided to you other than a rudamentary thunderbox - which for the uninitiated is basically an outhouse without a roof or walls.

I managed to get out in June with my 10 year old, who would normally be starting his 6th year of Scouting right about now so he's got plenty of experience. He's also been going on my "father-and-son" canoe trips since he was 4 years old with friends of mine and their kids, so has been tripping for more than half his life now. He's keen to get out camping and was excited when I told him we were going to plan a trip just for him and me to Frontenac Provincial Park. All of us happened to be male on all those trips BTW, females would have been more than welcome had I had any female friends or male friends with daughters - we were not excluding females. Anyway, since my wife works weekends I took 3 vacation days from work and planned a trip. One good thing about the new Covid 19 rules this year is that all Ontario Provincial Parks adopted a policy that you could cancel any time without a penalty, and the forecast for our original was showing some very high winds for the dates we had picked, so I cancelled at the last minute early that morning and was lucky enough to be able to book a spot at the same campsite (Cluster 11) for the following week. And our luck was great because we ended up having 3 beautiful days of canoeing, fishing and swimming, and even a bit of hiking.

Frontenac Provincial Park is a back country only park, and all sites are accessible either by hiking, or canoe, or both. If you search my blog you'll some reports from previous trips here with the Scouts - we did 2 amazing fall trips back in the fall of 2017. The trails are well maintained and even though it is a relatively small park, it is pristine and very still allows you to get away from civilization and into the woods. Although due to the nature of the way campsites are organized include clusters of 4 separately bookable sites, you can sometimes be near a neighbour as we were. This sort of layout is good if you want to book a couple of campsites with friends or perhaps a medium sized group, but it is not great if you are there for privacy and seclusion. Some sites offer that, while others offer the opportunity to book a few together. Back on our first Scouts trip we booked all 4 sites from Cluster 11 and did some day hiking from there down to Cluster 8 - and the truly amazing part of that weekend was that it got up to 26C on the Saturday in the 3rd week of October!

Fast forward 2 months and I planned and executed a 4 day trip with 4 of my 6 kids - aged 16, 10, 5 and 3. The 16 year old has about 10 years of Scouting under his belt and is an accomplished paddler who can solo our 16 foot Prospectors extremely well. We went up to Sepaq Antostagan in another of my favorite places La Verendrye. The first night there was a bit hairy with a severed thunderstorm rolling through that gave me and the 16 year old some pause for thought given the way our Scouts canoe trip up here turned out back in 2018, when our campsite one night got ripped apart by a microburst that lasted about 10 minutes. You can read details on that trip right here. Sadly I did not get to do a circuit in La Verendrye this year as I was unable to find people to trip with given everyone's concerns over Covid 19. But this 4 day car-camping trip with some fantastic day outings in the canoe was almost as good and in some ways actually better. But that first night wow did it pour rain and get windy. Luckily not nearly as windy as in 2018, however. That's when I discoverd that while the fly of my tent was very waterproof, the floor was not. My tent with me and the 2 youngest ones ended up flooding from underneath but only under me not under the kids. Lucky for me my Klymit inflatable pad kept me above the water. The campground itself was so-so, however it is not meant to be at the same level of service as an average Ontario Provincial Park. The park there provides an outhouse and that is it - no water of any kind other than what is in the lake if you know how to purify it yourself. We made a couple of day outings and explored some of the campsites that are on that part of Circuit 11, spending several hours at a really great beach site on day 3.

Then just last week my 10 year old and I took his friend and his friend's dad on their first ever canoe trip - and in fact it was also their first ever camping trip! That was very exciting. We went to Crotch Lake, North Frontenac Parkdlands which is one of my favorite places. I was able to get a booking because we went on a Monday for 3 days, and I have to say wow what a fantastic time to go because on the 2nd night we had the whole northern section of the lake to ourselves - none of the 8 other campsites in the immediate area were occupied! This gave a great opportunity earlier that day to explore most of those sites. Incidentally if you are interested check out this Youtube playlist which has video tours of most of the sites we visited that day. This trip was a little nerve wracking because we had to drive our friends to and from the camp - so about 2 hours together in the vehicle each way. I definitely would not have done that with just anyone - I knew that he and his family had been taking Covid 19 as seriously as we have been taking it in this house, so I knew that they were about as low risk as could be. Nonetheless I will be happy when the 14 days are up after the trip - still at about day 10 right now and no symptoms so knock on wood only a few more to go. It was a beautiful but seasonal 3 days with lots of sun. The first night went down to about 2 or 3C which was a bit chilly for the sleeping bag I took with me, so I had to put on a few of my wool sweaters, and long underwear. But the second night was a very comfortable 10C.

It has been a better summer than I originally thought it would be in terms of getting out into the back woods. Covid 19 has definitely changed things, but fortunately it has not completely eliminated them.

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