As I had a couple of extra days off for this year’s Labour Day long weekend I decided at almost the last moment to spend a few days in one of my favourite places: Kejimkujik National Park. One of the few remaining parts of the park I hadn’t hiked or paddled through was the Channel Lake Loop, an almost 27-kilometre loop in the middle of the park.
Like millions of others I had my free park pass this year but the idea of having to deal with crowds kept me away from national parks and historic sites the entire year, until I figured I could keep (mostly) away from them in the backcountry. My pal Owen and I came across more than the usual number of people but it wasn’t too bad. In fact, after the first kilometre of the second day we were all alone it seemed, passing not a single other hiker.
Day One #day-one
Leaving Halifax early on a Sunday morning in order to get to the park in good time, we finally made it to the visitor’s centre. Getting there alomst feels like coming home! Since neither of us had been to the park all summer we were welcomed with a big hello from the desk staff. I can’t tell you how nice it is to arrive at one of your favourite places and be welcomed like that. They’d been wondering if they were going to see us this year, so it was good we had made the trip finally.
After a few laughs in the visitor centre — and of course getting our backcountry permits — we made our way to the Big Dam Lake parking lot, our starting point. We decided to do the loop counter-clockwise, because, why not? Seriously though, I thought it’d be best to leave the shortest leg of the the loop for the last day.
The first 10km or so — from the Big Dam parking lot to site 46 — is a pretty easy hike along one of the service roads that you find throughout the park from its life before it became protected. It was a beautiful day for a hike with a big backpack on, just cool enough. I love this time of year for hiking.
We made it to the warden’s cabin, just short of halfway, and decided to take a break and stretch our shoulders. A perfect time for a granola bar, too. This is a nice place to stop as it’s off the main trail so it’s quiet, it’s next to the lake so you can filter some water if you need to, and there’s a picnic table you can use to make getting your pack on and off so much easier. Each time I come to this cabin I think, “What would it take to rent this thing?”, but then I remember it’s not quite remote enough.
Off again through the beautifully filtered light from the mixed forest, it was another six kilometres of fairly flat, easy walking. We made it our way to site 46, just around the corner from the junction at the eastern end of Frozen Ocean Lake. It’s always so nice to get to your home for the evening, a fire box, a picnic table, a pit toilet and a couple of tent pads. Feeling a little damp I collected some logs from the wood shelter and started a small fire to take the chill off.
We chatted with a few people we met at the junction and filtered some water from the lake for supper and the next day’s breakfast. We setup camp and decided to have peppered beef and rice for supper, along with one of the two cans of beer I lugged back there. I really like that so many local craft breweries are canning their beer these days. Makes taking a few cans into the backcountry easy and safe. Nothing like a lukewarm beer at the end of a days hike, right?
It wasn’t too long after the sunset that we were both feeling tired. The forecated rain began to fal lightly and we decided to call it a night. I crawled into my tent, put my ear buds in and started to scan the airwaves on my shortwave radio. Warm and dry inside my tent I let the wind and rain rage outside. Sleep came quickly.
Day Two #day-two
The wind was still blowing as the sun rose on the second day. Luckily, the rain had stopped sometime overnight and the sun came out so we could shake off our wet tents and put them in the sun to dry off as we made coffee and oatmeal for breakfast. It’s never fun to pack and eat in the rain, and even though I had a pack tarp and rope it’s a bit of a pain to setup.
The second day of the loop goes along the south side of Frozen Ocean Lake, wandering through the darker coniferous for about a kilometre-and-a-half until it gets to Still Brook. Last summer this brook was barely a trickle in mid-summer, but this year it was quite high, about 65cm on the measuring stick. This meant we had to take our boots and socks off, put on our sandals, roll up our pants and make our way across. We managed to get across without going for a swim, something that’s never as easy as you think it’ll be once you put your heavy pack back on.
After that little break we hiked our way towards site 17, on Channel Lake. Stopping for another break halfway to stretch our shoulders and have a small snack, we continued on the trail to our site. After site 46, the trail becomes more of what I call a real backcountry trail, not the wider road of the first leg. The trail becomes much narrower, even difficult to track in some spots. There are muddy, wet areas, and trees over the trail in a couple of spots. You might get away without boots on the first day, but your feet are getting wet without them on the second and third days.
Site 17 is a little bit of a strange spot. It’s a little ways off the main trail, and there is no fire box or wood. No fire box means no fires so don’t even think about it. The wood shelter is still there and in good condition so if it’s pouring you can move the picnic table underneath it. The bear cables are surprisingly close to the tent pads, they’re usually out in the opposite direction for obvious reasons.
Beside it being a weird site, we settled in, setup our tent, filtered some more water, made a nice hot cup of tea and prepared supper. After supper we cleaned up and made our way to the shore of Channel Lake to watch the sunset. I carried my tripod with the hope of having a clear evening to make a time lapse movie of the sun setting over the lake and I was glad I did. After the storm of the previous evening the skies cleared and the lake was calm, perfect for taking photos and short movies.
Since we couldn’t have a fire it was a pretty early evening for both of us. Once again I settled into my tent with my shortwave radio and listened to voices from the other side of the world.
Day Three #day-three
The nice thing about having a relatively short hike back to the parking lot is being able to sleep in a little — if you can with the sun shining and the birds singing — and take some extra time making coffee and oatmeal. It’s so nice to relax a little and not have to rush packing up and hitting the trail.
After making some adjustments to my pack — I’m always fiddling with the straps — we made our way back to the main trail and headed back to the parking lot. The third day’s hike was much shorter but it was much warmer. I drank more water on the short third day as I did on the two much longer days combined. The trail on this section was also quite narrow with wet spots and had some climbing and descending to it too.
After a couple of hours the end of the trail came into sight. We were both soaked with sweat after taking our packs off and took our time taking our boots and socks off. We each had a can of pop as a treat and reward as we felt a little soreness from the three days but very happy with our accomplishment. It was time to head back to the city where a hot shower was waiting.
Check out a map: Channel Lake Loop, September 2017