Since my very first backcountry trip in 2001 I have been carrying a compass in my backpack on every single trip I go on. You would think that would make me smart, but the reality is, I have never learned how to use a compass. I was never in girl guides or scouts or brownies or participated in any type of class or course to show me how to use this amazing instrument.
I have been backcountry camping for 15 years and I have barely ever gotten lost. My secret is that I have always used the map and the features on the map to figure out where I am, and where to go. Unfortunately, when you are land based, this is not nearly as easy as when you are on water trails and over the last few years, hiking with my 70 year old mom, I have admittedly gotten lost more than a few times. Yes, I always found myself, but the feeling you get when it happens, is something I hate and when I found out how I could overcome this issue, I was eager and ready to accept the challenge!
Last year I discovered the awesome Wilderness Skills Programs at Frontenac Provincial Park and participated in the Wilderness First Aid Course which was an incredible experience. When I was researching the course, I discovered several other courses I wanted to take, but they were all full. One of them was Wilderness Navigation Using Map and Compass and when I inquired about the course, it was full. They suggested for next year I call early, so in November 2016, I called and signed up for the course that was just held on May 28th, and 29th. I booked myself in for level 1 and 2 and decided as Frontenac was a bit of a drive for me, even slightly farther now that I live in Muskoka, I would spend a few nights in the area.
A friend of mine, Jen, also wanted to take the course, so she signed up as well and offered to book us a site at Frontenac Outfitters. They generally only allow people to use their sites if they are taking a course with them or doing something in relation to the Outfitter store itself but as they were not booked up, Jen was told we could stay there the two nights. All set!
I left Port Carling at 230 on Friday, prepared for the long four and a half hour drive to Sydenham, Ontario where Frontenac Outfitters and Frontenac park are located. I arrived around 7:15 and had a few issues getting into the campground but eventually figured out what I was to do. I had expected to be the only one there, but discovered a lovely couple on the site by the water I thought I’d be on. I was a bit disappointed, but with daylight fading, and no other viable options, I parked my car up from the water in a forested area and started unpacking my tent and setting up my site and was soaked with sweat and attracting bugs by the time I finished around 8:30-8:45. It was so hot I decided to attempt a swim and walked down to the shore to test the waters. I was amazed, it wasn’t even a little bit cold. It was lovely, don’t get me wrong, but I was hoping to cool off and I guess I did somewhat but I couldn’t believe how warm the water was?
I put my bug shirt on over my bikini top, which basically is a long sleeved mesh shirt with ties on the wrists and waist but it was too hot to wear clothes and thought this would protect me somewhat. I started a small fire with the wood provided which was a nice touch, and heated up some dinner. As it got dark, I got more anxious as I am afraid of the dark. I texted a friend for a while who kept me company and played some music on my ipod to create a bit of noise to keep the creatures away.
That didn’t seem to work that great. As I was sitting enjoying the fire sitting partially under the tarp with my light on, I saw something fly towards me. Then I felt it in he back of my hair!! A BAT!!!! LOL. That was a first for sure! I’ve never had a bat fly in my hair. Somehow I didn’t get super freaked out about it. I just moved the light and the flying creatures seemed to leave me alone!
Eventually, I headed into my tent to go to sleep but had a hard time falling asleep as the forest noises were so incredibly loud! Somehow, finally, around 230am I think I fell asleep and got a few hours in, at least.
I woke up bright and early at 5am. I went to the washroom up at the outfitters which was pretty snazzy indeed!
After that I walked down to Elbow Lake via the road and found a nice public dock there. I got a few good pictures of the sun coming up and was so tired I went back up to my tent after about an hour and went back to sleep.
Around 730 I got up, made breakfast and got ready for my day. As I was eating my breakfast a little friend came for a visit. I looked down and there he was crawling on my leg. It seemed caterpillars were raining from the sky! (trees). That was when I committed murder! 😦
I gently brushed off the caterpillar and it landed on the ground, then I heard the leaves rustle like something jumped. Apparently this lovely frog was just sitting under the dead leaves waiting for breakfast to fall on him and so it did. See the caterpillar hanging from his mouth? OH DEAR!
I cleaned up all my dishes, put my stove back in the car and headed out.
I arrived at Frontenac park at 845am. It’s only a 5-10 minute drive from the Outfitters campground and it was a very stressfree morning. I found out upon arrival that we would be in the classroom most of the morning, then outside testing our skills in the afternoon. It was a surprise to me, but I was happy as it was already 25 degrees out at 9am, so sitting in the AC was kind of nice.
Our instructors were Dan and Don and they were both really fun guys!
After our brains were full of info, we were ready to go outside and test out our skills, but just outside the office for now!
After our short test we took a lunch break and sat outside getting to know each other and sharing outdoor stories. As we were packing up to continue with our learning, this little guy came up to visit and didn’t seem to have any fear at all about slithering right into our group.
We went back inside for a few minutes to plan our coordinates for our next task.
Then we were off for more practical testing on a hike outside. We would go around a hiking trail and in groups of two would be left at certain points on the trail. Then we were instructed to walk off the trail, through the forest to a specific meeting location. I was super excited for this, even though it was ridiculously hot and buggy out. I was anxious to see how Jen and I would do.
We found lots of beautiful views and wildlife on our trek. I saw a graceful deer bounding through the forest as well but I wasn’t anywhere near fast enough to get a photo unfortunately. I did get another good snake photo though.
We made it to the meeting point without issue and it made me feel really good to know how to do that now. After all these years of living, I could finally read a map and compass to the point of getting me unlost in the forest. So cool!
We adjouned for the day and after a swim at the park, I headed back to my campsite to make a yummy dinner. I was so hungry and this steak and potatoes was delicious and hit the spot. As I was cooking I was scratching. I had just survived four days at Killbear without one single bug bite but this weekend was not going to have the same outcome. I was already quite covered and scratching the same bites over and over led to bleeding! Woops! Stay away bears!!!!
After my meal and cleaning up my bloody mess, lol, I was ready to check out Elbow Lake via kayak. Since it hadn’t been off my truck yet and it would go right back on, to save myself a bit of portaging, I drove from my site to the top of a big hill that went to the road. It was blocked by a huge tree so people couldn’t drive in from the street, but it was a good access to the road for me to carry my kayak to the public dock at Elbow Lake. People were on the water site and I didn’t want to intrude on their space so off I went on a portage, happy to arrive at the dock a few minutes later.
Elbow lake was quite pretty and not a very big body of water. It was still hot and after being hot and sweaty all day long, I was dying to go for another swim, this time, taking my time and being able to enjoy my surroundings a bit more.
I paddled until I found the perfect spot, and made sure there wasn’t a home or cottage attached to it. I had a bit of a struggle getting out of my boat elegantly, and I was looking forward to my Level 1 Sea Kayaking Course next weekend to see how I could improve on that. I had a lovely swim and even at this time of night it was still very very hot. The water was so warm I wasn’t totally refreshed but it was a bit better than earlier at Frontenac. I sat on a rock and enjoyed the sounds of nature and dried off and then eventually got back into my boat to continue my exploration of Elbow Lake.
Just around the corner from where I stopped to swim I came across this lovely heron. I got a few shots of it and as I got closer he decided to take off.
The sun started getting low and I had had a very long day on next to no sleep so I decided to head back to my site and relax a bit before bed.
I caught a bit of the sunset from camp and it was pretty. I was a bit sad I missed being on the water for it, but I was truly exhausted. I headed to bed around 1030 and slept like a log, until I was woken up around seven am to the sound of turkeys fighting????
I opened up my window flap and through the screen I could see them in the distance. There were about five of them and I could just make out their silhouettes as it was overcast out and a bit dark somehow still. They were gobbling like crazy and what sounded like yelling at each other. I got the photo above through the screen and then quietly unzipped my tent to go outside and see if I could get some better photos, but as soon as I started unzipping, they ran off faster than I would’ve imagined they could. Oh well!
I actually did attempt to chase them down and my hunt ended up taking me to the Elbow Lake dock to take a few morning photos. These beautiful loons were calling all through the night and sounded so lovely. After a few photos, I headed back up to my site to start tearing down, make some breakfast and get ready for Level 2 of Wilderness Navigation, Map and Compass.
With my site empty, I got in my car and headed back to Frontenac but I was greeted at the park sign but an amazing sight! The park greeter!
I saw it from a bit farther back but it stood very still and let me pull my car forward, put my window down and grab my phone out of my pocket. I snapped two photos and then thanked the beautiful creature for letting me take it’s picture. I slowly accelerated and it took off like a shot! I was a happy happy camper!
Our class met inside for our briefing of the day and to get any needed supplies. Don would be leading us today and he explained we would be going on a very long hike for the whole day and people would take turns navigating and leading the group. It was already thirty degrees out so I put lots of water in my pack, packed my lunch and anything else I would need and we headed out by car to the trailhead.
Upon arrival we were given co ordinates and we all sat on the ground and figured out our magnetic declination. We took off and began what seemed like a never ending hike, albeit through gorgeous terrain.
I noticed quite a few pairs of Keens on peoples feet. I love Keen as a company, working with them via social media and my blog, but had never had owned any of their products. I was looking at getting some new hiking boots soon so I have been considering their boots. I asked a few people about theirs and they all gave rave reviews. Maybe they would give me a pair to promote for them? 🙂
We continued on.
And eventually we took a lunch break. At that point Don decided to reassess our day and our route. Many people felt very confident in their skills and as we weren’t really learning anything new today, just practicing, and it was so hot and buggy, Don decided if people wanted to head out, he would help navigate us to back to the closest trail so we could take it back to our cars.
So, after lunch, we headed out to do that. When we reached the trail, Don gave us a final speech full of lots of good advice and we thanked him for his time and all the information he shared with us. We said our goodbyes and took the trail back to the parking lot, excited to cool off in the lake and have a refreshing swim.
After my swim I got on the highway and headed home. It was about 230 and it took me exactly 4 and a half hours to get to my place in Port Carling. But the drive was all very small one lane highways and there was no traffic at all. I did hit a good rainstorm on the way, expected for us all weekend, but it hadn’t come. After about 15 minutes I drove through it and it was nice again until I arrived home.
I really enjoyed my course at Frontenac and have to say I really love Frontenac Park and the area it’s in. After spending two very full weekends there, viewing so many different insects, snakes and so much wildlife, I really do wish I lived closer to the area. I know it will be a long time until I return to the park, but I will definitely be back. It is absolutely worth the four and a half hour drive, but for now, I have an amazing area to explore that is so much closer to me.
I want to thank all of my awesome classmates from the course and our incredible instructors who donate their time to the park and volunteer so that people like us can benefit and learn from them. If you are someone who spends alot of time in the outdoors and have never learned how to read a map and/or a compass, I highly recommend this course. You will not regret the time you spend at the park and learning such great skills that could one day save your life or someone elses’.
Thanks so much for reading my post and I hope you come back again soon! If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact me.