The Happy Camper: Hot Tenting in the Queen Elizabeth Wildlands

Kevin Callan ventured out in the Polar Vortex to go camping in Queen Elizabeth Wildlands Provincial Park. How'd he fare?

While the nightly news and daily social media were warning people of frigid temperatures and blistery snow squalls, I spent the week hauling a freight toboggan across frozen beaver ponds, pooping in a snow storm and cooking amazing meals in the warmth of a canvas hot tent.

Not only did I gain some bragging rights—I can honestly say that I was never cold.

My good tripping buddies, Andy Baxter and Tim Foley, joined me. We headed out from Queen Elizabeth Wildlands Provincial Park’s northeastern access at Devil Lake. From there, we pulled our toboggans on the snow-covered Ganaraska Hiking Trail until we reached a series of frozen beaver ponds.

The flat surface of the iced-over ponds sure beat the gruelling hills of the trail—that is until our return trip back. Three days of falling snow pushed down heavily on the ice, forcing water to seep upwards and form slush pockets.

The liquid, and rapid temperature change (the air temperature was around -26 degrees Celsius), created slush balls on the bottom of the sleds. It stuck like cement and made hauling next to impossible.

It’s like being caught in a big bowl of Jello. We also risked getting a good soaker; something you definitely don’t want while winter trekking.

When this happens, the moment you get bogged down try to head for solid ice or snow as quickly as possible. Use some form of scraper to remove the frozen sludge off your sled (I used an old credit card).

When travelling in a group, spread out. The slush pocket will become worse with more people travelling through it. Snowshoes will help keep your weight evenly spread out, but the build up of slush will make it feel like two cement blocks are tied to your feet.

On the bright side, a slush pocket is a great place to gather fresh water.  Colder temperatures will eventually re-freeze the slush into ice and wind will help blow off the insulating snow. I find smaller lakes, protected from wind, are the worst for slush throughout the winter months.

It took three-quarters of the day to travel a mere two kilometres. One person would go ahead with snowshoes in an attempt to pack the snow down over the slush. Then the other two would pull each toboggan as far ahead as they could before having to scrape the slush over once again.

It was like that scene in the movie The Mission when Robert De Niro (Captain Rodrigo Mendoza) climbs up the side of Iguazu Falls with an assortment of metal armour tide to him. It was for penance  of his sins.

To Andy, Tim and I, it was the only way to get back to our vehicles before dark.

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