I have been chatting with an awesome guy online since November 2017, John Van Barriger from The Outdoor Kind. We connected through social media due to mutual friends and similar interests and I have always thought what John does is really cool!
After chatting for a year, I finally got to meet John at the Ontario Winter Camping Symposium. He drove all the way from Wisconsin to attend the show and meet a bunch of people he had been communicating with online, and to also talk about safety and what they do. The Outdoor Kind supports First Responders and conducts educational safety outreach in both the USA and Canada. They sell merchandise and take donations for items such as shirts and stickers with proceeds going to their initiatives in both countries, depending on where the customer/donor is located.
As John would be in Canada for the symposium, we decided to do some winter camping the following weekend in Algonquin Park at Mew Lake Campground. John has never been to Algonquin and I was honored to be the one to show him a small part of it. We made plans along with Sean Rowley from Paddling Adventure Radio.
On Friday at 11am, I left work to head North and meet up with John. We somehow met up on the 60 and he followed me into Mew. We chatted briefly to say hello at the parking lot, then drove around the campground to look for the perfect site. As there were so many open for this weekend, it was nice to be able to not blindly book a site, but to choose one in person. Once we found one we liked, we went to the kiosk to pay for our permit and then Harvey, who basically runs Mew in the winter, came by and plowed the site, just enough for us to park our cars. He would’ve gladly plowed the entire site, but both John and I wanted to keep it as natural looking as possible.
Once we got our cars parked, we began unloading our gear and set up. John would be sleeping in his Big Agnes Copper Spur Expedition tent, which he seemed to really love, and I had my homemade hot tent. We chose a hydro site so that we could also plug in a space heater if we chose to do so. When the fire in the stove dies out, I always wake up as soon as the temperature drops and I thought by compensating for this with a heater, I might be able to get a bit of sleep this weekend as well.
It was fairly mild with the temperatures just slightly below zero and we both got very warm setting up. I was down to my tank top for a bit and John was wearing a t shirt. It was my favorite type of winter camping. Lots of snow, but not super duper cold.
After we finished setting up, we went on a little walk about. We started at the comfort station and I was happy to see that the skating rink creation had begun. Harvey told me he had the base layer down and was ready to continue soon, hoping to get it up and running as soon as possible.
Since we had a little bit of time before dark, we headed to the falls to check them out. As John had never been here, I wanted to show him one of my favorite parts of the park. Along the way, the birds were pretty active so I suggested John put his hand out and act as if he was feeding them and see if one landed. The bird was a bit too smart for John but I managed to get one and get a quick photo before it took off.
The falls were magnificent, as always, and I really loved them in the winter. They never seemed to disappoint and were so beautiful and John seemed to think so too. It was cool seeing all of these things through Johns new eyes, seeing them for the very first time, and it made it a bit more special for me because of it.
We took a bunch of pictures and videos and soon it began to get dark. We said goodbye to the falls and headed back to the campsite.
We talked and told stories along the way. In this area, I told John a story about a few summers ago when I was here with my friend Iain and his family and saw a momma bear hiding in the bushes just to the left of the picture above. I have spent several mornings of brand new years here and have hiked this trail more times than I can count, but it’s always just as pretty as the first time, or even prettier.
We got back to the site and the fire that I had started earlier in the stove was giving me issues. I was having trouble with the damper and couldn’t seem to keep it open, or closed etc. John and I took the pipe apart and reset the damper which helped quite a bit but it was still slipping. After the weekend I emailed Dave and Kai from Lure of the North, and they suggested that the spring was getting loose from the heat and to put a piece of wire on it as per below. I am so happy that I got my stove from Lure because they have been incredible, assisting me with advice, changing the stove to a smaller one when I first purchased it and answering any and every question, quickly and with ease.
After fixing the stove, I was finally able to get a good fire going in it and get supper heated up. Since John had been travelling for the last week, I suggested I bring some food for the weekend. He was planning on eating dehydrated food and that just didn’t sit right with me. Since he was cold camping, he needed some nice warm homemade comfort food, in my opinion, and I had just the thing. When I had made the roast for my trip to the Kawarthas with Leanne and Kim I had enough for a few meals. I made up some extras and froze them and that is what I brought for dinner tonight. Beef roast with gravy, carrots and rotini pasta. It just had to be heated up and it didn’t take very long.
Soon we were both eating and enjoying our dinner along with a beverage and chatting away sharing stories.
We spent a few hours in the tent and around 9:30, I suggested we go for a little walk, get some fresh air and look for wildlife. I honestly didn’t expect the latter but I had a brand new headlamp that I had purchased at the Winter Symposium from my friend Scott who runs Mancamping.ca. The headlamp is the Armytek Tiara C1 and is super bright. Brighter than any headlamp I’ve ever had and I couldn’t wait to test it out. As we walked along the camp road, I was startled. I saw two green glowing lights in the distance and was a bit freaked out at first. They were eyes in the forest reflecting from my headlamp. WOW! This was so cool. We got closer and saw 2 pine martens in the trees. I took a photo (above left) but only caught a blur of one of them but the important part was 1) I saw them with my eyes and 2) I would’ve never seen them without the headlamp. I was soooo happy.
We continued on and headed to walk past the airfield and I used the headlamp to illuminate a tree that looked cool and that worked too. The trees had balls of ice on them that had been covered in snow and they looked like christmas ornaments. Obviously much prettier in person, but I was pretty happy with the photo I took with the headlamp lighting up the tree and could see this headlamp would be an amazing addition to my gear.
This was a fallen tree in the snow but it looked like someone sleeping in the snow, and thought it was a funny photo. After our walk, we headed back to camp and I wasn’t feeling too great. I had inhaled a lot of smoke working on the damper issue and in combination with drinking alcohol and not enough water, I just felt crappy. It was around 10:30 so we decided to call it a night and even though I did my best to convince John he’d be much more comfortable with a space heater in his tent, he declined, saying it wasn’t winter camping if there was no cold. Something I didn’t agree with, and hopefully could show him tomorrow night? We would see.
I felt much better when I woke up, but was very tired. I still woke up every few hours, even though I had a heater with a thermostat on it that would kick on if the fire died out, but I guess just habit. The other issue was that we had some extremely noisy and disrespectful campers behind our site. The sites were both empty until 10:30pm. The first group came then and set up and stayed up making a lot of noise until 2:30 in the morning. The other site arrived at 11:30pm, set up and by 1am they were in bed. Both kept me up and angry for a good part of the night. I reminded myself I was car camping, but still, I don’t think that is an excuse. This is why I prefer the backcountry always. The above photos were taken just before 7am, yes it’s still that dark then. LOL.
I went to the privy, then headed back to my tent. I puttered around there for a bit and then went for a walk to the comfort station, brushed my teeth, got myself ready for the day, walked by the trash area where pine martens can sometimes be found, but saw none. I did, however, see a plump grouse while I was out and he didn’t seem concerned by my presence and just waddled about.
It was almost 9 and John was still asleep, but I was starving so I quietly announced I was going to start breakfast and he groggily replied he’d be over soon. LOL. Food usually does the trick!
I got a good fire going in the stove and got all of today’s breakfast items from the car. I had brought my cookie sheet and got it heated up and then laid out 4 pieces of bread that had been buttered at home so they could ‘toast’ aka fry until they were brown. I also had brought precooked bacon and laid that out to heat up and soon the tent was smelling quite wonderful.
As I was starting breakfast, John was working on getting some coffee into him. He brought this little grinder, ground up coffee beans, took out a filter he had, placed it into the top of his cup and then poured hot water over the grounds. I didn’t drink coffee, but it smelled good and he said it was delicious.
I was happily drinking my hot chocolate with baileys and working on breakfast.
Once the toast was done and the bacon was heated, I poured the eggs into the pan. I had brought some dehydrated peppers, mushrooms and tomatoes and had rehydrated them by adding some water to the bag they were in, earlier this morning and they were ready to use. I sprinkled them into the eggs, cooked them for a bit, then flipped them and added cheese to make a yummy omelette. Breakfast was served and hopefully a bit better than dehydrated space eggs. LOL.
After we had breakfast, drank our lovely hot beverages and found out that Sean’s dog was ill and he wasn’t going to be able to make it to Mew today to meet up with us, we got ourselves ready for a snowshoe outing. John had brought cold cuts and wraps, so we made up our lunches, packed snacks, water, first aid supplies and anything else we thought we would need and headed out towards the trail to the airfield. We walked without our snowshoes until we got to the trail where you can either go right or left. I wanted to go left to look for winter sites but as we were breaking trail, we thought it best to put our snowshoes on there. Unfortunately, as John was tightening his bindings, two of them completely snapped!
John is known for his Oh Shit Safety Kit and presents about it at shows all over Canada and the USA. Being prepared, as he usually is, he pulled out the Oh Shit kit and located a few zip ties he had packed inside. He quickly used the zip ties to pull together the remaining bits of bindings and attach the snowshoes to his boots. Brilliant!
After a few minutes, he had resolved the issue and we were snowshoeing along the trail. How awesome!
The trail has views of the Madawaska River, which runs towards the falls we were at yesterday and we stopped to take photos and videos. It was just so beautiful.
Unfortunately, after walking for a bit, the bindings on his snowshoes gave out and as the trail had not been broken (except for one set of snowshoe prints) he had to do what’s called post holing. I’ve never heard of this term and made up many variances of it to make John laugh, but I could tell he was struggling with the deep snow.
I walked as hard as I could with my snowshoes pushing the snow down, but every time John took a step behind me, his foot would sink about a foot or more down into the snow. It must’ve been exhausting.
He was a total trooper though and carried on without complaining. We had to stop often but I was delighted when I finally heard the familiar rush of the falls. We had done a loop that meets up with the highland backpacking trail and which took us back to Mew Falls. As we had hiked here yesterday, we both knew the snow was much better to walk in without snow shoes and would be easier to return to the site from.
We sat at the bench by the falls and ate our wraps and admired our Keens. John had just gotten a pair of new hiking boots from them and absolutely loved them. I was wearing my Durand Polar Fleece Keens which I also adored and loved how warm my feet always felt in them. We sat eating hungrily and enjoyed our view until we began to get chilly and needed to move on once again.
It was almost 3pm when we headed back to the site. We stopped to view a flock of turkeys that were near the garbage area. Some turkeys were even on top of the bins and we stopped and took a few photos. We looked for pine martens, but again, sadly saw none.
As our fire pit had been buried in the snow, I thought it would be a good idea to get the fire started early. We were having steaks and potatoes for dinner and steaks are always better on the fire instead of on the wood stove, in my opinion. I used my Pine Mountain Extreme Start Fire sticks and was amazed how quickly the fire caught considering the wood was wet and the fire was in/on snow. Super duper!
Once the fire was going good, I sliced up the potatoes, added some oil, bacon grease (from the bacon I’d cooked at home Thursday night before the trip) some salt, garlic powder and some rehydrated peppers and green onions I’d brought. I put them on some foil on a cookie sheet intending to make some foil packets but ended up just making a fire box with the wood and putting the tray directly on it with the potatoes on the tray.
Normally, I precook the potatoes in the microwave, but as they are only generally good like that for 24 hours and this was meal 2, day 2, I didn’t do that. They didn’t take very long to cook, but had to be flipped constantly to avoid burning. I lost quite a few in the process, but as I’d brought more than I needed, it wasn’t a problem.
As the potatoes were cooking, we got a visit from a curious pine marten scurrying through our site. I got a short video which will be in the youtube video from this trip, but could only get one screenshot from it as he was moving so quickly.
I brought the potatoes into the hot tent and got a fire going in the wood stove. Soon after, John came in with the steaks and we sat and enjoyed our dinner. It was yummy and nice to sit and eat in the warmth of the hot tent. I think John was kind of enjoying it also. He had put a space heater into his tent while I was making the potatoes to dry out some of his gear and maybe he would leave it on for the night?
After dinner I shared the last 2 of the nanaimo bars I had with John. We had eaten a few of them yesterday and I was so glad I’d brought them. Up until yesterday, John had never had one, even though he’d been to Nanaimo, BC, where they were invented and he really seemed to like them, as did I. Next to peanut butter and chocolate, this is probably my most favorite chocolate combination. Mmmm I wish I had one right now! LOL.
Someone named Jeff had posted on the Winter Camping Adventures page on facebook that he would be at Mew this weekend also and I had sent him a message to say we’d come say hi. We visited with Jeff and his friend Tara briefly yesterday and they came by last night when I was having my damper crisis, (damper tantrum, BWAHAHAHHAHA), but we hadn’t been able to visit much. We had decided to go by and see them after dinner tonight and share a few drinks and some snacks. So after dinner we took a stroll over to their site.
Jeff had a gorgeous hot tent and it was nice to hang out together in our socks without jackets and share a few drinks. John, Jeff, Tara and I chatted about gear, shared camping stories and had a lovely time. We hung out for a few hours and then suddenly, out of no where, we heard wolves calling. Tara, noticed them first and we listened and sure enough, wolves. It was a very rare occurrence for me and we all wanted to take full advantage, so we put on our jackets, boots, hats and gloves and headed towards the airfield which was very close to Jeff and Tara’s site. We stood out there for about 15-20 minutes and Jeff did a few calls. Tara also played a wolf howl recording from the Ontario Parks site on her phone. We did get a few very faint short calls back, but then it stopped. In turn, the people in the campground began to reply, so we figured we should call it a night. We headed back to Jeff and Tara’s tent and wished each other a restful sleep and then John and I walked back to our site and did the same. I think I convinced him to keep the heater on too!
I woke up to pouring rain around 530am. It rained hard for about an hour and instead of sleeping, I laid there in my bed with my flashlight on trying to find leaks. I did find a few very small drips coming in, but overall for the amount of rain that was coming down, the tent was doing really good! Another test passed! Glad to see that the $100 in waterproofing spray I’d spent worked out!
Around 7am, the rain stopped and I went out to walk around a bit, take some photos, shoot some videos etc. It was supposed to be freezing rain, but the temperature at the moment was zero and nothing was very slippery or icy, except my car windows.
When I returned to the site, I got out the breakfast ingredients and went back inside the tent to get things started.
I could hear the hum of the space heater in Johns tent. I wonder what he thought of being warm and winter camping at the same time?
John woke up shortly after I returned and I got the english muffins on the cookie sheet to start browning them. Today’s breakfast was ham, egg and cheese sandwiches on english muffins.
John helped out a bit with making the eggs while I was cutting the cheese (hahaha) and soon breakfast was ready.
We ate and John told me it hadn’t been bad being warm while winter camping. I don’t think he was totally converted, but I think he saw that it was nice to have the option to be warm and it wasn’t so bad.
After breakfast, we cleaned up and as it wasn’t raining, we decided to go for a walk around the campground. John had not been to the radio free section yet, and I thought it would be a nice place to go for a morning stroll. On the way, we saw this woodpecker, who wasn’t bothered in the least by me taking pictures and videos of it.
We did the entire loop and then headed to the garbage bin area to see if we might finally get lucky and see a pine marten. Due to the freezing rain, no one was there and John and I had the area to ourselves. There were lots of chickadees flying about so John attempted, once again, to get one to land on his hand (without food). But as I was taking a picture of this, a cute little pine marten appeared out of no where.
He was adorable and went from tree to tree, looking as if he was literally posing for us. It was so amusing and John and I had a blast watching him and taking a few photos and some video. Actually most of my pictures are screenshots from the 2 videos I took, so they are not the best quality, but I love them just the same.
Someone arrived to put some items into the garbage bin and that is when the pine marten snuck away and into one of them that was broken. He popped his tiny little head out and in his mouth was a half a brick of marble cheddar cheese. I reached for my phone but sadly I missed the shot. I will remember it for a very long time, however, in my mind. I managed to get a quick one of him running off with it in his mouth but it was a bit far to see, however, I know it’s there. LOL
We headed to the comfort station and saw Harvey, the Park Warden. I took a few minutes to chat with him and thank him for all he does for us to make sure we enjoy our time at the park. I was already looking forward to seeing him on Family Day weekend, the next time I planned to be at Mew. I would have both my tipi and the hot tent set up for people to take a peek at and ask any questions and visit with etc.
The rain was still not falling, so John and I decided to tear down before it started up again.
We almost finished before the rain started coming down again, but as it wasn’t very cold, it wasn’t a huge issue.
Just before we were all ready to go, Jeff and Tara popped in to say goodbye. I asked them to take a photo as we didn’t have much from our fun night the night before, so they obliged me. I was happy we got to meet and spend a bit of time together, hanging out and sharing stories. They were leaving today also and headed out to get started with their tear down. Thanks so much for visiting and for the fun times.
John and I took a few minutes before heading out to do a quick recap video where I noticed I looked like I had 2 black eyes. I don’t for the record. LOL. It was really awesome camping at Mew with John. Mew is always a great place to spend some time in the winter and it was wonderful meeting John in person last week at the symposium and then being able to camp with him this weekend. I loved being able to see the park through Johns eyes as someone who has never been there and doesn’t have this amazing place to enjoy nearby like we do. I am truly grateful. Thanks so much to John for the fun times and all the awesome stories. I hope we get to do it again soon!
I hope you enjoyed my post. If you have any questions, comments or just want to say hi, please leave a message.