Although summer has barely started, I am already feeling like it’s flying by too fast and soon I will run out of time for all of the outdoor activities I would like to accomplish this season. As a result, I usually get too ambitious and plan up a multitude of hiking trips that end up turning my summer months into a busy back and forth of travelling and exploring. First up for this season is an overnight adventure to Grey Owl’s Cabin in Prince Albert National Park, my third time doing the trail.
Two of my lovely aunties have been wanting to give overnight hiking a try for a while now, and when they invited me along to join them I was happy to take the invitation. The backcountry passes are first come first serve as soon as the visitor center opens up at 7am, so it is important to be ready early. In order to ensure we can set out on our hike with a pass in hand and at a reasonable hour, I like to front-country camp the night before. We booked a lovely little site in the Beaver Glen campground and enjoyed a delicious supper at the local pizza place. As we were finishing up, the rain started to fall.
We expected to be in for a rainy forecast. I had been watching the weather like a hawk all week, hoping that the angry looking storm clouds would ease up, but as I counted down the days and then the hours nothing budged.
In the morning I went for coffee and bagels while my aunties picked up our backcountry pass. Everyone else must have also been watching the weather because we were the only ones waiting for a permit that morning. We enjoyed our breakfast and drove along the muddy dirt road in the pouring rain to the Kingsmere Lake parking lot. I was a little bit nervous as my car slipped along on the road.
Immediately on my mind was the hopes that the road would hold up and be passable for my little car should the rain continue for the next 24 hours. Next, I was worried about bringing my two new hikers along on their first 40km overnight hiking trip in the pouring rain, because the trail can be a challenge enough on it’s own without the added complication of soaked gear. And lastly, I had been reading the posts from other hikers that the bears have been quite active and not easily deterred by noise or even bear bangers this season.
As we pulled up to the parking lot we passed a large black bear meandering around the lot entrance, a lazy but real reminder that we were about to go exploring in their home and utmost care must be taken to be respectful of their space. The rain wasn’t letting up, but they were dedicated to seeing our plan through, so we donned our rain gear and set out on the trail.
The first three kilometers made it apparent that ‘waterproof’ is a made up word and some things are simply more water resistant for longer than others. We stopped at the first campsite to adjust and met a lady who was out camping with her two young children. They had paddled in and were now trying to decide if they should wait out the rain or pack up and leave before the weather got worse. I pulled up the weather forecast on my InReach to show her and I think in the end they decided to pack up and head out. I admired her sense of adventure and I’m sure her kids learned so many amazing skills in the outdoors.
We continued on through the rain with Piper happily zooming on in the lead, only stopping to investigate the odd tree or shake off the water collecting in her fur. I have never been a loud person, and I sometimes find it difficult to be loud even when I should be, but it’s important to make a lot of noise in bear country so that wildlife can hear you approaching. I found that calling out, “Good girl Piper!” was a great way to make some noise without feeling a little silly about yelling into the trees. Piper also appreciated the constant praise.
The sections with bridges often came with beautiful collections of flowers and ferns, and we stopped a few times to admire how happy and healthy they were. The soggy bridges proved to be especially slippery for my well-worn hiking boots and I ended up taking a tumble on the second day. Luckily I didn’t hurt myself very badly, but I am now left with a nice purple bruise.
As we passed the second campground, Chipewyan Portage, the rain finally started to let up a little, from there the terrain gets a little more difficult with ups and downs, and you find yourself straying away from the lake side. My aunties determined that it was the longest 6kms they had ever walked, and I certainly was feeling that way too.
Eventually we made it to the third campground, Sandy Beach, and sat down for a rain-free snack and time to adjust. I replaced the tape that had begun to slide off of my water-logged feet, impressed that there wasn’t a single blister to be seen.
We continued along from the Sandy Beach campsite in to what is my favorite section of trail. The trees become less dense and deadfall covers the ground around you, the forest floor is covered in moss, and you feel as if you are transported to a different world.
After a few more kilometers we made it to the Northend Campground! Success! We knew we would likely be the only campers there that night, and as a precaution with the bear activity, we left the bulk of our packs on the bear cache as we continued on to the cabin. This was a luxury often not available on a busy hiking weekend when the bear cache is filled up by multiple campers.
Even after hiking 17 kilometers, you feel a renewed energy moving along without the weight of your pack. The rain kept at bay and the sun even peeked out a little as we finally arrived at Grey Owl’s Cabin. My aunties marveled at the ‘swim up’ beaver lodge inside while Piper eagerly checked over the structure for any signs of rodents and then parked herself in a particularly promising section.
After we had some time to enjoy the cabin, we decided to head back for some dinner. Dehydrated chili and instant rice hit the spot, with a much needed chocolate bar for dessert. I borrowed my auntie’s MSR Pocket Rocket camp stove to boil some water and was delighted with the results. I will absolutely consider one the next time I am in the market for a camp stove.
Piper enjoyed her kibble and made sure that I gave her a good share of the beef jerky that I had packed for snacking. She is not particularly fond of me leaving her for any reason, and was quite concerned as I returned our stash of food up on the bear cache.
We then settled in for the evening. Because it was calling for rain, and we were the only campers there, we set up our shelters under the wooden community kitchen structure and started up a cozy fire in the stove. Fortunately, a kind camper before us had left some dry firewood, and we set out our collection of soggy socks and boots to dry.
A break from the rain also brought out the mosquitos in full force, their main target was Pipers soft little ears. Luckily I had packed a bug net that she didn’t mind wearing, and we enjoyed another hour of daylight before tucking in to the tent for the evening. We loaded up the wood stove and enjoyed the warmth.
The next morning we were all up bright and early. I consider myself to be an early riser, usually up between 6am-7am, but I am no match for the ladies who were sitting up awake at 5:30, ready for the day to begin.
With the bulk of our hiking out of the way, an uncertain weather forecast on the InReach, and a dry car to look forward to, we set out to find our way home. The rain held off for the first 9 or so kilometers, giving us an enjoyable start.
Piper wasn’t phased at all by the miles we had put on, and eagerly pulled me along the trail after any squirrel or bug she could find. We came along some fresh moose tracks that followed the trail for a few kilometers, as well as plenty of evidence of recent bear activity.
The rain decided to fall on us for a few more hours before letting the sun peek through for our home stretch. It was such a change in temperatures that the humidity rose up from the soggy forest floor in a fine mist. We passed an abandoned bike that we had seen the day before. It seemed a little odd to leave a new bike with no apparent damage in the middle of the trail so I snapped a photo and noted the coordinates on my GPS to pass on to the parks staff.
Eventually, in the perfect sun, we made it back to the parking lot! We celebrated our accomplishment and then set out on our separate ways. I had a Dairy Queen Blizzard on my mind and I knew Piper wouldn’t say no to sharing a cheeseburger with me (sans bun, because she’s picky). As I left the Kingsmere parking lot a large black bear bumbled out in front of me without a care in the world, as if to say goodbye.