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9/29/2015 4:50 pm  #1

Highland Backpacking Trail - September 18-20

The annual 'fall trip' I do with my old friend from high school was a couple of weeks early this year, and I suppose it was technically a summer trip this time around. We decided on hiking the Highland Backpacking trail as my friend had not trekked it as of yet (I completed this with my wife several years back). 

Friday the 18th started off nice and sunny as we got our permits at the Mew Lake office. The plan was to do a figure eight over the top of Provoking Lake, down to Faya Lake for night one and then to Harness Lake for night 2. We made good time as we started out and hit the Lookout over Starling and Mew Lakes before noon. The weather was still great and the views were awesome. We had lunch at a nice site on the northern edge of Provoking Lake and ended up getting to camp at Faya around 3:00. The sky had become dark and we set up the rain shelter and tent knowing that rain was imminent. The rain started as we finished collecting firewood and so we sat around and shot the breeze under the shelter for some time. After some beverages and a dinner of KD, the rain stopped and we were able to get a camp fire going as we caught up some more. The evening was exceptionally quiet, and the only big noise I heard in the night was that of a falling tree not too far off. 

Saturday morning was grey but mostly dry. As we got up and relaxed by the water, we heard a big splash - my friends' eyes went wide and his voice became quiet as he had just seen a bear clamber out of the lake and into the woods. I just missed seeing this, but we both decided that cooking breakfast may not be the wisest idea. It began to drizzle as we finished packing up, and then it began to rain a little harder. We huddled under the rain shelter for a bit, eating dried apricots for an impromptu breakfast and then made a go of it once the rain began to taper off. The day was mild and damp as we made our way to Harness Lake. We took a quick break at the Lookout located on the southwest corner of the trail and then B-lined it to camp. We encountered several other campers/hikers, including a couple of guys who said that they encountered a bear meters off the trailhead on the prior day. Maybe it's just me, but there seems to be a lot more bears in Algonquin now vs. several years ago. Aside from some very light rain, the weather held up as we got to the first western site on Harness Lake around 1:00. The site was well used but clean, and after a quick camp setup we had some lunch and a coffee. There was lots of good firewood in the area and the rain started as we collected it, just like the day before. The rain let up later in the afternoon and a younger couple came in to the site inquiring as to whether the trail continued to the next sites on the lake (which it doesn't, contrary to the map image at the trailhead). A man hiking with his dog stopped by a little while later, and we chatted for a while whereupon he proceeded to find another site on the lake. We enjoyed another great fire after dinner, and remarked how still and quiet the lake was, even though we knew there were several other campers in the vicinity. The weather began to turn colder, which made for a great sleep.

Sunday was the perfect day for a hike with cooler temperatures and sunshine. After savouring some hot coffee and oatmeal, we packed up our camp with the intent of getting back to the car mid-afternoon. I had never seen the decommissioned campsite at Mosquito Creek and was curious to check it out. The 'Side Trail' sign to the site still stands, albeit on a dead tree that looks like it can fall over at any time. We checked out the site which still has the firepit and surrounding sitting area intact, but no evidence of a thunderbox. Lunch was had at the eastern intersection of the first and second loops, and we then proceeded along the south and west of Provoking Lake and back to the trailhead. We got to the car shortly after 2:30, which was a really good time considering the distance we had traveled. Fish and chips were enjoyed in nearby Huntsville before heading back home. 

All in all it was a great hike. I was prepared for a much wetter weekend based on the forecast, so the several hours of (mostly) light rain on Friday and Saturday weren't a big deal. It was the third backpacking trip this year, and likely the last which makes me a bit sad. On the other hand, I'll be looking forward to more such adventures again next year. 




10/02/2015 1:22 pm  #2

Re: Highland Backpacking Trail - September 18-20

Nice, Rich. How clean was the Faya site? When I was there in May there was pretty much a whole Toronto Star covered in fish blood and stuffed into the fire pit for me to deal with when I arrived. I've heard similar stories of garbage there and multiple bear sightings. Thankfully, it's been nothing too dangerous yet but it seems the two are related.


10/03/2015 7:35 am  #3

Re: Highland Backpacking Trail - September 18-20

Hi Spicol,
That's really unfortunate. The site at Faya was relatively clean, aside from some miscellaneous items including several fire grates, an old cast iron fry pan and a bikini top fastened around a tree trunk. At least there was no garbage that would attract animals. There was a very aggressive chipmunk at our site that managed to steal a couple of crackers from under our nose, despite our best efforts to keep food sealed up and in close proximity at all times (except for the overnight hang of course). I recall a post on the old forum of a bear encounter at the Faya site which reinforced our decision to not stick around for breakfast as I had a feeling it may very well be the same one.
It's extremely disheartening to see a giant mess left by previous users and we ran into such a site at Killarney this past summer. I hesitate to use the word 'hikers' in this context as I've noticed this behaviour generally occurs at the sites closest to the trailhead. I can't get my head around how anyone can be this uncaring and/or oblivious to their actions.

     Thread Starter

10/03/2015 9:08 am  #4

Re: Highland Backpacking Trail - September 18-20

"The park staff will clean it up; that's what I pay them for with my fees."

Which follows on a line from "The store staff will clean up this jar of pickles I knocked over; lord knows the prices are high enough."

Which comes from, "The school janitor will clean this up; the teacher told me to stay away and let him/her take care of it."

Which might have been reinforced, depending on one's particular upbringing, by "Your mother/father will clean that up."

In Japan, the kids clean the school as part of the curriculum. Sometimes I think that would be a good idea here. Might lead to cleaner campsites?


10/03/2015 10:01 am  #5

Re: Highland Backpacking Trail - September 18-20

Excellent points Laloche - I couldn't agree more.

     Thread Starter

10/14/2015 7:47 am  #6

Re: Highland Backpacking Trail - September 18-20

hiker72 wrote:

I recall a post on the old forum of a bear encounter at the Faya site which reinforced our decision to not stick around for breakfast as I had a feeling it may very well be the same one.

That was my post from a trip in June. There were three bears on the Faya site that startled us quite a lot. Glad to hera you had a better experience with them than we did! The Faya site is a beauty - I guess the bears agree! It was clean when we were there as well.


4/26/2016 12:39 pm  #7

Re: Highland Backpacking Trail - September 18-20

Myself and my two hiking compadres did the highland loop 1 year. We didn't find it very challenging and we found each campsite we stayed at to be unkempt; we ended up packing out much of the garbage that was left on the sites...

Similary to hiker72; we were in Killarney this year and the thunderbox was FULL of pepperettes that the previous inhabitant had decided they did not want any more...

I find it so very frustrating when coming across campsites where the previous inhabitant(s) have left it in disrespectful state.

On the same token we came to a campsite one year where there was already a nicely piled perfectly cut-to length fire wood left for use, as a way of paying-it-forward we have made it a habit (when possible) to leave this same token for future site inhabitants.


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