HIKE TO BIG SALMON LAKE FRONTENAC PROVINCIAL PARK
In April 2013, I was on a date with a lovely gentleman by the name of Andrew who would later become my fiance. He was taking me to Frontenac Provincial Park for an overnight hike-in camp trip. It was one of the easy trips of Frontenac, except for the part that when we went in to the park it was about +19; however, over night the temperatures dropped to -7. We were hardly prepared for that kind of frigid temperature and literally almost froze! That was my first backpacking trip, and my first time in Frontenac. It’s a great memory with a wonderful man who would later become my fiance. Sadly he would die of cancer on June 18, 2015. For that trip Andrew had purchased me a pair of North Face hiking shoes, a backpack and a few other odds and ends that I still use to this day.
Fast forward to May 27, 2022, I have a site reserved at Frontenac again. I reserved the site over Christmas for my girlfriends as a Christmas present. Unfortunately one of them was unable to come, so it was now a party of two girls and Stephan. Though the girls had wanted to paddle in, I was quite adamant I wanted to hike in, mostly because I wanted to use this trip as a frame of reference for future hike-in trips. I have on my bucket list Pukawskwa on Lake Superior, North Coast Trail North part of Vancouver Island, and Casques Isles on Lake Superior. I was told the Frontenac trails were a great beginner hike trip and also great for a first time solo trip. A beginner park! So I was quite excited to get out there for the experience that would help guide the planning of future adventures.
For the trip I packed the following in my 60 litre Ladies Woods brand backcountry hiking pack.
- dehydrated food & coffee, nalgene water bottle, Wood brand backpacker’s stove, isobutane fuel.
My food contents include my little backcountry pantry which I made using a dollar store make up bottle kit. My backcountry pantry has a spray bottle of vinegar, frank’s red hot, cinnamon, garlic powder, italian seasoning, salt and pepper, chili flakes, and tex mex seasoning.
- first aid kit, map, flashlight, bush blade, bear spray, toilet paper and shovel (for cat holes), saw, Wood’s brand summer sleeping bag rated to 5 degrees, Klymit air mat, Wood’s brand tent (a version of which I have the 2 person, 4 person and 6 person models)
- ziploc bags, garbage bag, vaseline and cotton balls (fire starter)
- and for clothes I pack a merino woold sweater, two tank tops, two t-shirts, shorts and a pair of pants, and wool socks, my foot wear being the same hiking shoes that Andrew had bought me in 2013, and I purchased rain poncho at the Park store!
The group met at the Frontenac Provincial Park office on May 27th at about 2:30. The Park office is set within the shield, under the trees and by the water and makes for a wonderful rustic welcome to start your trip. After picking up the park permits the group refilled Nalgene bottles and headed for the Salmon Lake parking lot where we would begin our trek 8 km to campsite 5B on Big Salmon Lake!
You start your hike with a quick little walk to the entry station down by the boat launch. We took our group picture, where we still look relatively clean and tidy and had big smiles, and off we went. As you approach the trail, it’s right away an up hill climb over tree roots! Letting you know this is the real deal. For me the first 20 minutes in suck. I have cardiomyopathy so on paper this stuff is challenging as it is, but I usually just tell my body to quit whining, keep going. After about 20 minutes I start to get in to a groove and the backpack becomes one with me and I carry on. Though you are working super hard it’s manageable. This trail is quite technical. Lots of hills, rocks, tree roots over the trail, some little bridges, creek crossings, sludging through muck. After the first hour, we started to feel ourselves tiring so we stopped mistakenly believing we were about half way. We had a quick snack out of our gorp mixes and a good healthy drink of water before carrying on. The second hour was tougher, the trail got more technical the further in we went, but it was beautiful. Rocks, trees, swampy marshes, birds chirping, frogs singing. But I was certainly feeling it. As we approached campsite 4 we were sure, we only had another 20 minutes or so, we couldn’t have been more wrong, we would still have an hour to go. The last hour is where I really felt this. I have never been so over worked and tired and achy. But we kept going, for lots of the last hour I felt done, like there was no way I could do another 10 minutes, but another 10 minutes would go by. It was so hard.. So so hard! I have never sweated that bad, I felt the overheating, it was beyond feeling done but we had to keep going, and of course that last hour seemed to have the most technical parts of the trail! As we were approaching camp, and though we didn’t know it at this time, we come to this super steep hill, but it goes down into what looks like an enchanted forest. The trees are so incredibly lush and green and its tucked in between two rock faces. I was so tired at this point I was no longer carrying my pack on my back as I descended on hills. I would put it down in front of me, shuffle down the hill then grab the bag, and move it down again, then repeat. I am very clumsy, so being tired and done.. carrying a bag on my back down a steep hill wasn’t a good idea. We shuffled down to the base of this hill and were greeted by this stunning view, a pond right there, and a garden of eden feel, we look up and there it is the sign pointing to campsite 5! Just a few metres in and we are at camp, beachside! Here we were, we made it, all of us stretched to our limits, but done. A beautiful beach. We were sure by this time it must be 8 or 9 o’clock but it was only 6:30!!
We embraced our accomplishment and our surroundings. We got the tent up, my friend put up her hammock. I took off my socks soaked in sweat I could've ringed out a good cup of water, ewwww gross, right?!
It was dinner time, so after set up we had a fire and made camp fire naan bread pizzas and had some tea. The scenery truly was something out of a magazine. What a gift to be here!
It’s funny as exhausted as we were and as tough as it was it really doesn’t take long to forget how hard it was and start thinking that wasn’t so bad. I could do that again, except not tomorrow! We went to bed relatively early. My poor girlfriend Janice woke up in a hammock bathtub due to a heavy down pour and ended up having to move to the tent. Saturday would promise to be a perfect day more or less.
Janice made us pancakes in the morning, then we would go for a hike again, this time no gear though! We went the opposite way on the trail of where we came in learning that the next section of the trail continued to be challenging and technical. We found a very nice little rock over looking a big swamp/pond and chose to sit there for a good hour just watching wildlife do it’s thing. We saw some blandings turtles and paint turtles. A highlight of that time was watching a great blue heron come in for a visit. The frog pond since my childhood has always been one of my favourite places, so I just loved sitting there absorbing the sun, and the sounds and the beauty of nature. By sitting there quiet you really do get to see nature do it’s thing. It’s your own personal nature show unplugged in perfect picture and sound quality! We started back for camp checking out little side shoot trails. Janice got to see a deer. We stopped at this lookout which proved to be show stopper. It’s here where Janice gets the best picture of our trip. Do note that I recently decided to unplug from Wifi when not at home, so I didn’t have a camera. So for this trip it was Stephan and Janice who would capture all the photos, credits to them. Yes, yes, I am in the market for a good nature camera, it’s coming!
The lookout overlooks Salmon Lake and our campsite. Looking down we could see someone had parked a canoe at our site. That someone would be a dad and daughter who we would meet at the lookout. It warms my heart to see parents getting their children outside to appreciate nature. I think it’s the very best education you can give a child. For them to witness nature, be creative and mostly get some fresh air and exercise without being organized by some man made sport. I think nature sports are the very best because you make your own sport out of it instead of having one made for you! It encourages critical thinking skills and learning and courage and how to accept setbacks without being able to give up! You can't just sit down and not carry on, you have to keep going and figure out your challenges. The love of the outdoors education!
On the way back to camp Stephan and Janice would gather some wood. In the backcountry parks your wood is what you can find dead on the ground. You are allowed to use dead fall, but certainly should never pick live trees or stumps for wood. Down the hill and back to our little garden of eden we went. Our campsite was really nice. Unlike the wilderness sites I am used to this one we had a food locker, an outhouse and a picnic table and a tent platform! And that beautiful beach with what Janice describes as purple sand. We witnessed water snakes, loons and otters. Now with chores done we were able to just enjoy camp for the day. The weather was unstable, but it didn’t rain. The day was from cloud cover to sun. Janice and I kept waiting for that perfect hot sunny moment to get in the cold water. We didn’t really get it, but we eventually would get in the water for a quick swim. In the evening things warmed up quite a bit. So came one of my highlights of the trip. I grabbed the camp chair that Stephan had hauled in and plunked it right there in shallow waters and watched as little minnows swam around my feet and baby sunfish would think they could ambush me. There were dozens of them swimming by my feet. Stephan took a turn and experienced the little minnows nibbling at his feet which he described as a ticklish feeling but overwhelmingly ticklish when many of them would graze on his feet at a time. They don’t bite he says but they nibble. It’s pretty surreal to sit there and play with the fishies! Loons came, eagles flew overhead, squirrels squawked. It was perfect. We had an evening fire, and for dinner we had butter chicken!
How does one make butter chicken at camp. Well... the week before I had dehydrated a jar of butter chicken sauce. You put it in your dehydrator until it’s the consistency of a fruit roll up. I dehydrated peppers and mushrooms and also brought with me two packs of that rice you nuke for 2 minutes. So at camp it was as easy as heating up the rice in a frying pan over the fire and for the sauce putting the fruit roll up and mushrooms/peppers in to a pot and adding a cup of boiling water to rehyrate it all and of course a can of flakes of chicken for the protein... It was a delicious gourmet camp dinner! I would 100% make this again for camp.
As day ended we were tired and all planning for an early to bed. Towards the end of the evening a couple came in by canoe to take up the site beside us. We enjoyed conversing with them but not for long as we headed to bed early so that we would be up at a decent time to head back to the car.
Early morning came with Stephan delivering coffee to the ladies right to the tent. Janice refilled water bottles and we packed up camp and cleaned off ticks. Both Janice and I ended up with ticks that needed to be removed by tweezer. My dog had quite a few when we got home! Heck even my pillow had one! Fun...
By Sunday morning we had forgotten how tough that hike was. So we started ok, but it was a tough hall back, except this time on the way back we stopped at campsite four to make a quick dehydrated meal lunch and have a swim on the beach, another beautiful cold water refresher. The lunch and swim perked us up at the ⅓ of the way mark to keep us energized. We met several parties on the trail back including the couple that had camped beside us at site 5. I think we were definitely the seniors on the trail i.e. the slow people! Like the trip in, the trip out was the hike that never ends. That said you get a different perspective of the lake on the way back so you witness some beautiful vistas. Also due to the rain on Friday night some of the mud we climbed across on Friday was now deeper and thicker to get through. A mucky mess. But it’s so beautiful listening to those streams trickle. It’s so beautiful seeing the moss on the rocks and that beautiful forest canopy. Frontenac truly is a magical forest.
We would stop a bit more frequently this trip as time was on our side and also it was hot! For me I can do anything as long as I take my time, so I need frequent stops and about double the water of a person that doesn’t have cardiomyopathy. One thing I have learned on hikes is when you really get tired, you need to stop and have a snack. It’s amazing how much that snack perks you right up again. As much as we thought this was the hike that would never end. We eventually catch a glimpse of the dock at the boat launch. We got back to the trailhead sign so happy we did this. So tired. We got our picture taken, by the same guy we had bumped in to at the lookout! Funny meeting him again at the end. Thinking we didn’t have far back to the car parking lot and exhausted wouldn’t you know it the hike from the trailhead back to the car was more hills and just one more kick to the hiney at this point 10 metres takes all you got left! But we did it, eventually we are back at the car. The first thing I did was start the air conditioning to cool me off. We loaded up our cars and then drove down to the boat launch. We couldn’t help ourselves, the group jumped in the lake fully clothed to get cooled off and refreshed. I remember saying to Janice only Pamela Lake / Longlac girls could jump in this cold water! Later we would meet a guy at shore who knew where Longlac was, that was kind of surprising as not many people know of that little town... It was a cold but very refreshing end to our trip! I couldn’t have been more proud. It was good bye time. Janice would head back to Ottawa and we would head in to Toronto, stopping along the way at a chip stand near Peterborough for a well deserved cheeseburger and fries!
At home Stephan plucked about a dozen ticks off of the dog, and one off of me! Ewww gross. As much of a bush girl as I think I am, small things like bugs terrify me.. Like if you ever see a spider on me, dont’ tell me about it, just get it off. The anxiety of having that tick on me was not fun. But it was off pretty quick with the tick removal tool. It was so nice to shower and put some clean clothes on. I was also so super proud to add another sticker and accomplishment to my Ontario Parks Passbook. I am quite proud of how many I have already been to! But this was a fine one, my first real hike. I would say I would do it again in a heartbeat, but for future trips I will be sure to plan for no more than 3 or 4 hiking hours per day just so that I have lots of time for stops and enjoyment. I will also work to shave about 5 lbs off my pack weight. For this trip much of the extra weight was fresher food that I wouldn’t usually bring in.
I am aging, I feel it. My hips creeked and I am not a young fit person anymore. But I am in pretty good health for a late 40s woman with a heart condition. I am super grateful that God has blessed me with health, determination and an appreciation for nature and the wisdow to know that the good things in life take work. There are things I see in nature that you can’t see by car. If you want the really good stuff, you have to put some work in to it, whether it’s paddling or hiking in. But it’s so worth it. You know there are times I wake up in the tent with a stiff back and think this may be my last trip, but I wake up to the loons and have my coffee and forget about the hard parts pretty quick and can’t wait to enjoy my day. I know a day will come when I can’t do this anymore, but mark my words I won’t let it come a moment before absolutely necessary.
I was so proud to place my Frontenac badge in my passport. And am already figuring out how can I squeeze in a Casques Isles trip this summer! My first hiking trip was more challenging than I expected, but also taught me that I can do it. It’s a wonderful reference just as I hoped it would be and the beginning of another mode of travel in to the wilderness for me. It opens up some new options for adventure. 100% I will hike again!
I was also so thankful to my hiking partners: Stephan and Janice. They are both hardworking and fun to do this stuff with. I wonder though will Janice come to Casques Isles with me? Janice?!
Cheers to adventure and good friends to go with,