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1/04/2018 10:54 am  #1


Finding your way when the way can't be found(low maintenance portages)

My trips are leaning more and more 'low maintenance' these days as I hunt for places to go in the park I haven't yet been. My experience so far with the road less traveled is that these low maintenance portages vary wildly, from super easy to 'where the heck is the trail??'. It was the latter situation that caused me to abort a camping trip last August (and I continue to be mad at myself for it). 

Failure, however, is a great teacher, so I'd best learn a few things - especially since I'm going back to that same route in the Spring. I've learned that I need to plan my days more conservatively than a normal trip, but I also need to think about some gear changes and perhaps work on my mindset as well, and while you probably can't help me with my mental state, I'm sure some of you have comments on gear and your approaches to managing tough routes. 

GPS - Yes, no, maybe so? I have Jeff's Map on my phone but I've literally never used an actual GPS. Would a 'real' GPS be a significant improvement in functionality and/or battery life? For those in the 'yes' camp, any specific recommendations?

Flagging Tape - I was getting nervous that I might end up lost while trying to pick the trail back up, so I was only willing to scout so far from my gear. Flagging tape would have solved that problem and may have allowed me to find my way. Do any of you carry flagging tape for more challenging routes? Any specific considerations here? Is it considered 'ok' to use in Algonquin, or could it be looked at as littering? 

Hatchet - Is it worth carrying a hatchet to make a trail when you can't find one? I never carry one, but I'm wondering if perhaps I should sometimes. 

Anything you bring or do on tough routes that I should be thinking about? Any and all comments, anecdotes, advice or stories about how you cope on bad trails is greatly appreciated!

 

1/04/2018 11:46 am  #2


Re: Finding your way when the way can't be found(low maintenance portages)

Hi Uppa,

I've never used a GPS so I cannot comment on that from experience but I expect they are pretty darned fool proof to know where you are and see which direction you need to go.

Flagging tape - I think it's a very reasonable approach should you find the trail vanishing under your feet.  Only recommendation would be to recover the tape when you've reached your destination or found the trail again - that way it's not littering.

Hatchet - personally, I'm a collapsible saw guy and would expect that you generally walk around or over most obstacles.  Saws are lighter and nice for firewood (only cut about a third or halfway through a piece and then break it to save energy).  I understand the utility of a hatchet but when you consider that most folks have a stove it really negates the safety element of "i need it to get into the dry heartwood to make a fire".  I've never used a hatchet in AP and have always been able to get a good fire going.  Skills beat utensils.

The handful of low maintenance portages I've been on have been much like regular maintenance ones so I cannot offer specific advice but it is a roll of the dice from one year and one portage to the next.  I know from my time in the field hunting, hiking, camping, etc. that paying attention to the topography around you is helpful.  It's more challenging in central Ontario because you don't have as "predictable" topography to guide you many times, but by looking for hills, creeks, etc. it can assist in keeping your bearings.

 

1/04/2018 12:49 pm  #3


Re: Finding your way when the way can't be found(low maintenance portages)

For the GPS. I have both a phone and a Garmin GPS. The phone is winning the battle between the two hands down. You can use different mapping apps depending on where or what you are doing. For example a hiking trail on a defined trail vs navigating a giant lake in a canoe vs hiking an area with no trails. There are different apps that excel at each.  The only upside to the Garmin is that it takes double AA's and they last forever. For that reason I use the phone GPS more as an only when its quicker and easier than a map.

My suggestion on your post. The phone should do, a separate GPS may not be needed. When you encounter one of those portages you just can't find, pull out your phone and use the GPS to help locate it. Once found, turn the phone off too conserve juice. I like maps, but there is no denying that whipping out the phone and locating yourself on a map with the GPS when you are doubting a route is a huge time saver and piece of mind.

I know some people will say "you shouldn't rely on GPS" and they are right, but if the map is giving you information that you can't sense of, a GPS can help you make sense of it quickly and accurately.

 

1/05/2018 8:28 am  #4


Re: Finding your way when the way can't be found(low maintenance portages)

I personally hate the idea of using my phone as a gps. If I'm carrying my phone ,that means I have service and I'd rather save the battery for emergencies. I also find that my gps is far more accurate (I'm still trying to figure out how I went from Temagami to Labrador and back in 6 minutes!)
There is coloured masking tape available that makes an excellent trail tape- It'll last a season before dissolving in the winter storms, so if you miss a piece, you're not leaving a random flag somewhere out in the bush.
Your main method of navigation should be map and compass, no batteries to die, and works well on overcast days   brush up on your skills and keep the gps for backup or long water crossings.
 
 

 

1/05/2018 10:12 am  #5


Re: Finding your way when the way can't be found(low maintenance portages)

re: GPS on your phone.

It works even when your phone is on airplane mode (which I recommend putting your phone in as it will stop the battery drain when your in low signal areas from your phone constantly looking for signal). 

I use the app Avenza Maps. You can search for Jeff's Algonquin maps and download it to your actual phone (not on the cloud). Even when your phone is in airplane mode, it will locate you on the map you have pulled up. I just double checked at home here on my city's transit map.

I've never used a real GPS before and we rely on paper maps for 99% of our trips. But I've used this feature a few times when we're in a big lake with lots of bays and outlets. I've also used it to drop pins on the map on campsites I like. 
 

 

1/05/2018 12:58 pm  #6


Re: Finding your way when the way can't be found(low maintenance portages)

In my experience, gps on a phone is great for getting your bearings eg ensuring you're heading in the right direction towards "that lake". For this reason, I typically don't care for map labels as much as terrain.

The problem that may arise with phones is that if you're for the first time loading up an area on, say, Google maps that you've never perused before and therefore haven't the data cached, you may be SOL for getting any information more than a gps location indicator on a big blank map. This happened to me on a deadzone off the 522 where I was hunting last fall. I had to preload the areas I was going into in order to have the terrain data later. I was using an app called Canada Maps which features free topo maps. Perhaps that aforementioned method using Jeff's map would avoid such an issue.

 

1/05/2018 9:20 pm  #7


Re: Finding your way when the way can't be found(low maintenance portages)

@scoutergriz. GPS signal is different than mobile the mobile signal. So as CanoeClaire mentioned you can use you phone without service. Even if you are in a place with a tower nearby, turning off your mobile signal will block any incoming calls/texts/emails/notifications, but allow GPS location. A bonus is that you don't need a tower either as it works on the sat system, this took me forever to realize that phones have dedicated GPSs antenna built in. For example if you cross the boarder to the states, you can turn off the mobile and use the GPS without worry of roaming charges because it relies on the sat system.


I agree with you though I hate outside interruptions ...I rarely even take photos because it feels like an interruption.  We have rules on group trips: no phones....which just means no mobile connections, but Jeffs map in Avenza is alright.

 

1/06/2018 8:40 am  #8


Re: Finding your way when the way can't be found(low maintenance portages)

CanoeClaire wrote:

re: GPS on your phone.

I use the app Avenza Maps. You can search for Jeff's Algonquin maps and download it to your actual phone (not on the cloud). Even when your phone is in airplane mode, it will locate you on the map you have pulled up. I just double checked at home here on my city's transit map.

 

 
I agree with Claire, I use paper maps 99.99% of the time, but when I need a quick point of clarification I've used the Avenza / Jeff's map combo.  I try to avoid bringing any more weight than absolutely required, and I bring my phone for pictures anyway.  That being said, there are obviously much better photography options than a phone for the photographers out there 😄...

The low maintenance portages I've done have generally been okay, only 1 or 2 that we haven't been able to locate, however they followed the water so we simply bushwhacked (or followed an extremely low maintenance trail) lol...

The trail marking tape, my humble thought would be to ask whether its biodegradable?  If not, then I'd be leaning towards littering...😬  However, believe you also use bear barrel away from camp - So are you thinking dual purpose here to help locate the barrel in the mornings?

Hatchet, a thought for this if you were to go this option is a mini hatchet, would save at least a little weight...  ie below 😄

https://www.gerbergear.com/Cutting-Tools/Axes/9-Hatchet_31-002648


PS, with all this low maintenance talk you realize you're setting the bar higher for any upcoming trip reports this summer 😜

 

1/06/2018 9:10 am  #9


Re: Finding your way when the way can't be found(low maintenance portages)

I find the biggest advantage a dedicated GPS has over a phone is that is usually more accessible. It is out and on so it gets referenced more and more easily. Other wise phone! The interface is light years ahead of dedicated GPS units.

On my phone I use Avenza for Jeff's Maps. On my last big trip I also used Canada Maps by Atlogis. I bought the Pro version for $11.99 and used it with my Samsung S7. I kept the S7 in a Sealline mobile phone case that allows you to use the touch screen without opening the case. I then kept that in my pack or pelican case along with my camera equipment. I did find myself taking the phone out of the Sealline case frequently because it was much easier to manipulate the screen without the case. Phones are much better on backpacking trips than canoe trips because I can leave the waterproof phone case at home and carry the phone in my pocket where it is more easily accessible.

In Canada Maps I cached the Toporama, Canmatrix and ESRI Satellite layers of my trip location to a magnification level of 14 (very high resolution). This amounted to about 1 GB of map layers saved to the phone. You can't cache the Bing or Google Satellite layers because of licensing restrictions. Prior to the trip I emailed myself a KML (Google Earth) file of our route including way points and river notes and imported them into the program so they were overlayed on top of the map layers.

I kept the phone in flight mode when it was on. But, most the time after verifying my location or marking a way point I would turn the phone off. I managed to get about 1 week out of the battery. I brought along a 13 000 mah battery bank that would allow me to completely recharge the battery 3-4 times. I marked way points for campsites and lunch spots with +/- 5 metres of accuracy. On one 6 hour hike I turned on tracking and it worked flawlessly at following us and recorded the track, elevation gain/loss, speed etc.. That did chew through the battery a bit.

All in all I was very impressed. I can't see myself ever buying an dedicated GPS again.

I haven't brought a real compass to APP in years. There are bright yellow and orange signs and beaten down trails everywhere! In a case like your MacDonald Creek portage issue I would use the phone to locate myself on the map.

I bring and use flagging tape. I also have a ball compass pinned to a pack strap or my shirt. Or, you could use a watch with a compass or one of those paracord wrist compasses. While these are junky they are fine for taking quick bearings before leaving a known location like a trail, trailhead or campsite. Ups my comfort level when wandering off trail. Another trick if you don't want to use flagging tape is to break live twigs so that a foot or so of twig is hanging down vertically. You can use the trail of broken twigs to back track to your beginning.

Hatchet or axe, never. Saw yes!

Lastly, I only bushwack in early spring and late fall. Mid summer the foliage has obliterated unused trails and the whole business of clawing through the bush and getting overwhelmed by bugs and spiders is no fun. 

 

1/06/2018 11:15 am  #10


Re: Finding your way when the way can't be found(low maintenance portages)

Great feedback folks. I'm probably overthinking things a little bit but I just had such a crap experience in August I want to make sure I don't repeat it. But a lot of what went wrong on that trip wasn't my gear, but the fact that I set myself up for failure before I ever left. I completely ignored the 6-hour drive when planning my trip, thinking only about the travel time from the access point. So I woke up super early, already tired, then drove six hours to the access point. After paddling and portaging another three hours to get to that 2k portage all I wanted was to collapse on a campsite. Instead I ran into challenges with the trail and I was in no mental state to deal with them. Well rested, I don't think it would have been an issue. 

The good news is, my return trip to this route will be in early Spring, and without the foliage it should hopefully be much easier to find my way. And that portage will be on Day 2, not on Day 1. 

Based on the advice here I'm not going to go buy a GPS (thanks for saving me the money), I may bring a roll of masking tape or something similar just in case, and I won't add the weight of a hatchet to my pack (yay). I always bring a saw, and I have an iPhone (with Jeff's map loaded on it) in a Pelican case that fits it perfectly that lives in my kayak's day hatch. I have a compass in my PFD always, but might figure out a way to strap it to my wrist for particularly vexing portages. 

Feeling better already!

     Thread Starter
 

1/08/2018 1:46 pm  #11


Re: Finding your way when the way can't be found(low maintenance portages)

Uppa - somehow knowing that you had trouble on a low maintenance trail makes me feel marginally better about my own failed low maintenance trail this past fall.  Overall I categorize my turnaround as based in the very rugged terrain I faced, but very rugged terrain doesn't win unless your conditioning allows for that (ugh), and you've too much gear.  I thought my gear was pretty moderate until scrambling up and down hills on which the soil kept giving way, and going over, under, around many deadfalls, then it didn't feel so moderate anymore.  After ladder-climbing one particular hill after the trail had disappeared, I was cooked.  So, conditioning (not a problem for you), gear quantity, and recognizing that a real low maintenance trail will reduce your zeal faster than a regular maintenance trail are all important. 

I really felt like I was mentally prepared to face whatever was coming my way, but exhaustion changed that mindset.  So, even accepting that this will take longer, this could be harder, didn't help much when I was smoked, pack dropped, leaning against (another giant) deadfall, wondering where the H the trail was, and wondering how on earth I could possibly wedge my canoe through the areas I had just come....and knowing three more low maintenance carries were in my future that day. 

In terms of directional help, I kind of had it all.  Good compass, Jeff's map, satellite photos with markings where the low maintenance portage entrances actually were (I prepared these sheets mostly because I wanted to see the fidelity of land/water features).  I also had a GPS device with all the coordinates keyed in.  The thing about the GPS was it could point me where I was heading, but it couldn't get me out of the terrain that was brutalizing me.   I don't know if I'll try to use the GPS in the future or not.  Unless the distance is great, you can pretty much say ok, this portage is following a creek or ok this portage is an up-and-over, or this is 500 meters that-a-way and off you go.  

I thought about flagging tape, but didn't take anything like that.  I sort of wish I had.  Part of me wanted to leave my pack where it was, continue on to the lake to see if I could better spot the remnants of the path and work my way back.  My newness to the GPS device scared me off of that.  I figured I'd screw up with the GPS, lose the pack and spend hours searching for it.

In the aggregate, I think there is benefit to studying the satellite images of low maintenance areas in advance, to feel really good about the land/water features, allowing extra time, and being very careful of the weight of gear.  Compass?  Sure.  GPS.....maybe.

 

1/08/2018 4:48 pm  #12


Re: Finding your way when the way can't be found(low maintenance portages)

@dontgroandaddy: Well then my failed trip was was worth it if it makes you feel a bit better ;)

Yes, a lot of it really is mental and that's something I'm going to have to work on. I don't care how long or hard a portage is as long as I'm making progress, but otherwise I don't fare as well. I did a 12-13k portage along a logging road last Spring (in the snow) and really didn't mind it at all. 

Hit me with blowdown after blowdown and I can get frustrated. But the absolute kicker for my mental state is  when I simply can't figure out where to go. That messes with my head, fast. Most of my trips are done solo, and when I'm standing in the woods somewhere wondering which way is up, I immediately start thinking about getting lost, or will I still be thrashing through the woods when the sun starts to go down, and then I'm in trouble. 

Why, in the world, does the thought of being alone in the woods at night freak me out when I sleep like a baby on Algonquin campsites? I don't know, but it does. I think this is what turned me around more than anything on that 1950 into Turcotte. I knew I'd possibly be at it for hours to get to a lake that didn't even have a campsite on it, and in the back of my mind I was already thinking about being stuck somewhere when the sun went down. 

I think on really terrible portages my best approach is going to be to leave the kayak behind, and push through the entire trail with my pack on my back and flagging tape in hand (and maybe my saw in the other). Only once I've sorted out the complete route will I go back for my boat. And when low maintenance portages of dubious quality are expected, I'll make sure to plan my trip so that I have boatloads of time to manage them. 

And yes, as you say, the more research and knowledge about the route, the better. The thing is I did quite a bit of research into that particular trip, and I thought the real problems were in my future (Clover to St. Andrews is by all accounts... not fun), so I was taken by surprise. 

But also, as much as I love solo camping, I'd say some routes just maybe aren't meant to be done alone. I think with a group or even a paddling buddy, that trip would have had a very different outcome. 

     Thread Starter
 

1/09/2018 7:20 am  #13


Re: Finding your way when the way can't be found(low maintenance portages)

APPaul wrote:

@scoutergriz. GPS signal is different than mobile the mobile signal. So as CanoeClaire mentioned you can use you phone without service. Even if you are in a place with a tower nearby, turning off your mobile signal will block any incoming calls/texts/emails/notifications, but allow GPS location. A bonus is that you don't need a tower either as it works on the sat system, this took me forever to realize that phones have dedicated GPSs antenna built in. For example if you cross the boarder to the states, you can turn off the mobile and use the GPS without worry of roaming charges because it relies on the sat system.


I agree with you though I hate outside interruptions ...I rarely even take photos because it feels like an interruption. We have rules on group trips: no phones....which just means no mobile connections, but Jeffs map in Avenza is alright.

I know how cell phones work- I was a telecom tech. The point is I prefer to save the battery for emergency calls IF I have reception.there's also the fact that the gps chip in a phone uses a small, somewhat directional "patch" antenna under the back cover, where a dedicated gps unit uses much a larger, omnidirectional "loop" antenna around the case

 

2/05/2018 4:12 pm  #14


Re: Finding your way when the way can't be found(low maintenance portages)

Not seeing much about a compass in these responses, I use the phone app and I've used GPS, they're fine as long as the batteries last or you drop one in the drink..... Then what???
Take a compass as well, know how to use it and trust it.
....And because that loop is in my backyard, I guess I'll have to do it too, first one to the old cabin wins!

 

2/06/2018 12:38 pm  #15


Re: Finding your way when the way can't be found(low maintenance portages)

eTrex 30.  Upload a few maps and youre golden. Its compact, reliable, and will accept co-ordinates form UTM or DMS. But like any phone, compass, or GPS..dont drop it in the lake or your SOL.

 

2/07/2018 8:43 am  #16


Re: Finding your way when the way can't be found(low maintenance portages)

Kurt; Agree 110%! My map and compass are my #1 method-When I was teaching Scout and Guide groups outdoor skills orienteering was one of the key lessons. To be eligible to go on any of my trips competent compass skills were a prerequisite.
All of the gps units were Etrex 30's, and were kept in small (about 4x12") map cases with a backup copy of the trip map, this kept them dry, and when the inevitable happened, and one went overboard, the map case kept them from going to the bottom.

 

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