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  • Writer's pictureKress

Highland Backpacking Trail

Algonquin Park offers three backpacking trails, and since I had successfully hiked all of their day trails, I felt it only fitting that I started to tackle the backpacking ones as well. I fully intend on doing all of them someday, but this time I started with the Highland trail. My best friend, Alondra, my boyfriend, Casey, and I made reservations and started planning with lots of research. It’s a big step to go from day hiking to backpacking, and we wanted to be prepared. This trail offers two loops: a 35 kilometre and an 18 kilometre. We only had a weekend, so we opted for the shorter loop. We were definitely capable of doing 35km but for our first trip, we wanted to play it a little safer. I’ll tackle a longer loop soon I’m sure!

GEAR I FOUND ESSENTIAL:

  • Water filtration system! We used the Katadyn gravity filter, and it was awesome! It holds so much water and takes seconds to filter. Going into the backcountry requires this. You never know what could happen, and you don’t want to be relying on boiling water if something goes wrong.

  • Waterproof hiking boots!

  • Lots of layers of clothing.

  • A warm sleeping bag.

  • EXTRA SOCKS! Nothing made me feel better than changing my socks.

  • Our camp stove. You can’t always rely on a fire!

  • A proper fitting backpack!!

  • Head lamps were SO handy for after the sun sets.

The trail itself is super challenging. I had been hiking all summer long, and I still was not as prepared for how difficult it was. It was gorgeous, though, and worth every sore muscle I got. There were so many laughs and rolled ankles that I will never forget. If you're looking for an easier backpacking trail I've heard that the Western Uplands trail is less challenging than the Highland loop. I have never done it but if you’re looking for an easier place to start perhaps check that one out. We plan on attempting the full 32km loop in one day as a challenge so stay tuned to see how we do!


The three of us covered 16km the first day, something I really don’t recommend doing as it was tiring on such a difficult trail. There were several times we had to scramble on all four up rocks, which just added to the fun of the challenge. The trail makes its namesake proud with uphill treks with steep inclines and an impressive lookout.

We hiked hard and kept a

decent pace the whole time. We stopped for snacks at the lookout about 3 hours into the hike and talked about how crazy it is to live in such a beautiful world. I would suggest stopping more frequently if you're new to hiking and just in general. Water breaks are super important.

We continued on, uphill both ways, and after a couple more rests and a whole bag of Goldfish later, we had made it 10km and started coming up on campsites by the lake. We were camping on Provoking Lake East and decided to try and make it to the last group of campsites. We passed the first round of campsites and passed a friendly group of hikers who were on their way out. As we passed more sites we could feel the sweet relief of warm coffee and taking off our hiking boots coming near.




After another 5km, we came up to a side trail. Unsure of where it went and not seeing any campsite blazes, we pushed on, thinking our campsite wasn’t too far off. After another 20 min of hiking, we realized that the side trail was, in fact, the trail to the last group of campsites, and we’d gone an extra 1.5km in the mud. After some exasperated laughs, and the realization that there was another 2km until that warm coffee would be in our hands, my little group turned around and headed for that side trail.

Finally, after 17ishkm, we made it to a campsite. We managed to only collectively fall down just 3 times, and bruises were minimal. The view from the site was fantastic, and we wasted no time setting up camp. Casey and I pulled out the tent we had borrowed from my dad and got to work. As I was pulling out the poles I came to the disheartening realization that some of them were broken. I turned around to tell Casey and realized that he was also holding broken poles. I looked up to the sky, which was quickly turning grey with rain clouds, and burst out laughing. A few months ago, we had a broken zipper in a tent on a canoe trip, and it seems Casey and I just aren’t allowed to have an uneventful trip with our sleeping arrangements. We all ended up squeezing into Alondra’s tent, and everything was okay in the end.


We spent the evening eating our dehydrated meals and drinking coffee, admiring the views and relishing in the fact that our hiking boots were off our feet. When the rain did come, we headed into the tent and talked into the night, still laughing at how we all ended up in the same tent for the second time this year. Halfway through the evening, Alondra’s tent zipper also broke, and we needed to safety pin ourselves in to keep the tent door closed.

Quick tip: Outbound tents are not the best.

We just about died of laughter at the absurdity of two broken tents on our last backcountry trip of the season.

We fell asleep listening to rain hit the top of the tent, which is personally one of my favourite sounds in the whole world.


That morning we woke up to the screech of an owl and the sun shining. There was a golden light cast through the trees, and mist was lifting off the lake. It was a picture of calm and serenity. We made some oatmeal and some more coffee and took down camp, ready to tackle the short hike we had back to the parking lot. The hike out was super muddy with the rain we got at night, but we were determined. We made great time back to the truck, despite the mud and slipper rocks,

and rewarded ourselves with Dairy Queen for lunch.





QUICK TIPS FOR THIS TRAIL:

  • Sturdy footwear like hiking boots is a must!

  • It really is uphill both ways so be prepared.

  • Don’t skip out on the side trail to the lookout. It is SO worth it.

  • Break your KM up as evenly as you can and be prepared for the worst-case scenario!

  • Check your gear before you leave for anything defective (like broken tent poles!)

  • Take as many breaks as you need!

As we drove away with tired bodies I was overcome with the feeling of satisfaction and pride. 21km, 2 broken tents and seemingly endless hills, I accomplished one of my big goals for this year. Algonquin Park truly is one of my favourite places on earth and having completed my first backpacking trip there made it that much more special.










Keep exploring friends,

Kress



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