Highland Backpacking Trail, Algonquin Park – Solo Trek through the wilderness

I recently came back from an incredible journey, completing my **First Solo Backpacking Trek**  in Algonquin Park and want to share about my adventures in the GREAT OUTDOORS!  For me, this was a first experience backpacking ALL BY MYSELF and also a first experience on the Highland Backpacking Trail (which was absolutely breathtaking); needless to say I was not left disappointed!  I learned a  little about tips and ideas to try in order to improve on overall experience and comfort the next time I attempt a multi-day backpacking trail, and learned a little about my personal strengths and limitations, and the amazing ability to overcome physical and mental challenges!  I LOVED absolutely EVERY MINUTE of this beautiful hike, and made decisions about how far I would hike, how much I would allow myself to endure and amazed myself at how much I was capable of carrying over the course of this two day, 30 km, solo backpacking trek!

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My adventure started out at the trail head to the Highland Backpacking Trail, beside Mew Lake Campground.  I wanted to get an early start, but stopped for breakfast first at Lake of Two Rivers Restaurant and filled up on a hearty breakfast of eggs, potatoes and coffee!  By 9:30am I was ready to hit the trail and began my hiking adventure.  The first section on the trail was relatively mild and easy going!  And there was a great look-out spot along the way… I was excited to partake on this adventure and was in high spirits as I hiked along!  There were a couple trail crossings (bicycle paths) and I passed by a few other people on bikes and relaxing in the shallow water near a bridge… I continued on. Then I reached the spot that I will call the “real” trail head!  It was uphill, rocky, narrow and steep!  It was so steep in fact that I actually asked if I was still on the right path?  It was correct!  This start to the trail felt like a sort of check in balance, as if to give the optimistic hiker a small glimpse of what is to come… there was a sign warning potential “day” hikers to seriously consider turning back (I was in it for the long haul, so I just walked right on by and continued along the path up the steep hill lol!)

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After a couple hours hiking, I found myself rather enjoying the peacefulness of the trail, the quiet calmness surrounding me, and the beauty of the forest, rock, and trees.  The trail continued on, and I eventually made my way up to what would be the highest point of my hike.  There was an amazing rock face where I enjoyed a quick lunch and rested for a few minutes before continuing along the trail, heading down now towards the water.   I was hoping to get to Head Lake by mid-afternoon to have an opportunity to enjoy a swim… the sun was shining, the weather was warm, and the bugs were almost non-existent!  It turned out to be an incredible afternoon!  After my break at Head Lake, I started once again along the trail towards Harness Lake, where I had reserved a campsite for my first night.

 

I set up tent and enjoyed a brief dip in the lake, then tried out my stove for the first time!  It was peaceful and turned out to be a beautiful evening as I sat by the water, watching the sun slowly set on the quiet lake… I could hear a pair of loons on the water, and fell asleep to this wonderful sound.

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In the morning I packed up and got started on my second day hiking the Highland Trail.  The trail on this day led me through low marshy areas… this was the only place along the entire 30km trail where I felt the need to apply mosquito repellent (after all, I was hiking past Mosquito Lake!)  I passed a few other hikers along this section of the trail, and although I was not travelling at a particularly fast pace, I did not meet up with them again.  It was beginning to get warm, humidity was setting in, and I was starting to notice the weight of my pack on my back – which I can only imagine must be fairly common on the second or third day for a new hiker? – I had just finished taking a short break for a snack (and to give my shoulders a moment of rest), had started back along the trail and completed a climb up a steep hill, when suddenly I began to feel a few rain drops.  Those light drops quickly turned into heavy drops of rain and I found myself caught in a torrential downpour!  Thankful that I brought some garbage bags with me, I wrapped my pack and sleeping bag with the plastic bags and then decided I might as well just keep on going 🙂

And so I continued on in the pouring rain… it was actually kind of a welcome relief from the heat I was feeling!  After an hour or so the rain started to lessen, and I soon found myself reaching the point on the trail where the two loops come together.  I decided to take the wider route along the East side of Provoking Lake (I had a campsite booked there, but was not sure yet if I would use it).  The trail around Provoking Lake was higher ground, and not nearly as marshy as the area I had just come from, and it was actually a lot of fun hiking this area of the trail!  This section of the trail was much busier and I passed several people along the path, and also passed several campsites which were already taken.  I eventually found a campsite that was available… It was an amazing site!  The only campsite on the point – it was huge!  I set up tent and took a short nap.

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The sky was looking pretty bleak, and the wind had picked up… I checked my trail map and discovered that I only had another 6km (approximately) to go to exit the Highland Trail and I decided I would pack it up and head out (it was only about 2:00 in the afternoon at this time).

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I put my headphones in to help with motivation (I certainly was tired by this time, and my pack was feeling heavy!)  I followed the trail around the lake, and eventually made my way back to the steep (this time downhill!) trail heading back towards the trail head.  I kept going and decided not to stop until I made it to the parking lot!  By about 5:00pm I reached the very end of the trail, and made it out to my car!  I was overcome with such emotion:  Joy; Happiness; Excitement; and an overwhelming sense of Accomplishment!  This journey was so incredible, it is almost beyond words.  I loved having the opportunity to spend so much time alone with nature, and loved that I was able to accomplish this 30km hike on my own!  Carrying my heavy pack, hiking up numerous steep hills, over rocks and along trails, setting up my camping gear, cooking meals, improvising when necessary, and overall being at peace with myself and with nature – truly feeling a sense of awe and wonder at this incredible world we live in.

My first solo backpacking trek in Algonquin Park was a memorable experience, and one that I will not soon forget!

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