Desperate for a relatively local hiking challenge this year, I decided to finally hike the Liberty Lake Loop, a 56km trail in Kejimkujik National Park. I've had my eye on the loop for almost 10 years but just never took the plunge to make the reservations and take the time off work. Without a trip to some far-flung destination this year, it was time to tackle it.
I'm not going to go into details of each day of the hike, other people have done that and there's no real need to repeat it all here. I think I'll just show some photos and describe the hike and the experience. Firstly, I did the hike with two friends. I was very happy to have companions on the long days of hiking. While there were long stretches of silence between us where we simply walked and listened to the birds, the breeze in the trees and the squirrels, there were also times when we complained about our feet, how heavy our packs were or dreamed out loud of getting to our destination and taking our boots off. For the entire 4.5 days, 56+ kilometres we saw three other hikers. Three. That is why I go into the backcountry.
Day one was the second longest day of hiking, going from the parking lot at Big Dam Lake to Site 44. Most of the hike is relatively easy as the first 10.5 kilometres are on an old track that is still used to supply the backcountry. As with most of the park, there is almost no climbing and descending making it easy to get a good pace going. We have a little tradition of stopping at the warden's cabin at the north end of Big Dam Lake and taking a little break. It's a good spot to have a snack and to adjust packs if needed. After that stop we continued on our way to Site 46 at the east end of Frozen Ocean Lake, another 5km or so. Since there was no one staying at the site we used the picnic table to get our packs off a little easier. From there the old track ends and the real backcountry trail begins. We made our way around the east end of Frozen Ocean Lake and hiked along the north side of the lake for the rest of the day until we finally made it to our stop for the night at Site 44. We were looking forward to this site as it's quite close to the warden's cabin on the west end of Frozen Ocean Lake. There is a well there that has the coldest, cleanest water I've ever had. It's worth the side trip to get there and filter all the water you need from there, the water is just so good. I'm pretty sure the park staff that were there for the evening thought we were crazy.
Day two was the reason I wanted to do this hike in the first place: to get to Liberty Lake, Site 42. Ever since seeing the hike on the map I have dreamed of hiking to and staying at Site 42. As someone who had hiked all the other trails in the park, this felt like a pilgrimage to me. Site 42 is so far from everything else in the park it really does feel like a holy site of a sort. The site itself is nothing to write about. The park has stopped supplying Sites 41, 42, and 43 with wood and so there are no fires allowed on those sites. That was a huge bummer to find out when we checked in. The pit toilet shack has been replaced by an ugly plastic port-o-potty type thing that looks completely out of place. I guess so few people get to this site in a year it's not worth putting too much money and effort into. Kind of disappointing. Along the way we took a break at Site 43. I would avoid this site altogether if planning on hiking the loop. No fire, small stream down an embankment, and the picnic table had seating on one side only. It looks like the park has almost abandoned this site.
Still though we were very happy to see the site after a somewhat grueling day of smashing our way through Alders over our heads in some place. The trail along the last few kilometres of the section was well-marked but the constant grind of whacking our way through the Alders was exhausting. The trail hasn't been cleared in at least a few years so it was a bit of a slog. Once at the site though it's quite scenic and relaxing. There is a small little beach you can go out on and the water was warm and inviting. Someone had carved "THIS SITE SUCKS" into the picnic table.
The third day finally brought us wet feet. We started out with not-quite-drizzle-not-quite-rain so we were wet right away. Not a big deal as it was quite warm and we'd be drenched with sweat in a kilometre anyway. The trail to this point had been mostly dry, but the section from Site 42 to Site 41 went through some wet areas where you can only mostly avoid the wet, boggy spots. While there were fewer Alders to contend with, the wet parts made up for it in the psychological breakdown department. As I kept saying, this is not just a physical test but a psychological one too. Squish, squish, squish. At least there were no bugs to have to fight too. Doing the loop in the spring would bring on total mental breakdown between the flies, ticks, wet trail and newly sprung Alders. I should also mention one of the bridges over Red Lake Brook is gone. Well, it's pulled up on the banks of the river, but it's not doing it's job. We were lucky as we hiked the loop in late August so the water level was low enough we could hop across rocks, but in spring I'd say you're getting wet as the river at this point is wide.
By the end of the day we had almost reached the end of our ropes. One of my friends got so hot he had to stop, remove his pack and just sit down. I on the other hand was on the angry end of things and decided to just keep walking until I got to the site. Turns out we were only about 700 metres from the site. We removed our packs and swore at the trees and the sky. We remove our soaked boots and swore at the ground. Then it started to rain so we swore at the skies again. Sometimes bringing a large tarp can feel like a waste but we were happy to have one. We set up the tarp over the picnic table and put up our tents with what energy we had left. We warmed up a little with a cup of tea in our underwear -- at this point we were soaked -- made supper and since there was no fire, it was an early night to bed. And the rain came down.
The morning of the fourth day had us in mixed spirits. While we knew we'd be staying in a cabin that evening, we also knew we had the longest hike of the week ahead of us. Being the troopers we are though, we knew all we could do was get back on the trail after some oatmeal and coffee. Our tents were soaked, our clothes were soaked, our boots cold and damp. We do this for fun! The trail past Site 41 slowly turns back to a service road, just like on day one. Eventually we made our way to the cabin at Site W1, where we could take a break and take our packs off for a few minutes. Past here the road is wide and easy to walk on, though the hard, dry packed surface took a toll on our feet. I guess there is something positive about soft, squishy ground after all.
At last we made it to the Wil-Bo-Wil, Site W2, our stop for the evening. I can't tell you how happy we were to finally get there. Our feet ached, our shoulders ached, our minds ached. The sun was out so we unpacked our wet tents and spread them out to dry. We lit a fire in the stove and hung up our soaked clothing to dry in the cabin, and set our damp, stinky boots next to the stove to dry out. When I planned the trip, I had hoped staying in the cabin would bring us some relief near the end of our journey. My hopes were realized when we could dry out, relax and have a small life-affirming fire. The sunset over the lake that night was beautiful and perfect.
Getting up in the morning was a little easier knowing we didn't have to pack up our tents. Even though the mice crapped on everything -- the cabin has always had mice but this year it seems they were running wild -- we made our oatmeal and coffee and slowly packed everything up again for the last time. We knew the trail from the cabin to Eel Weir quite well having hiked it before so many times. We knew exactly what kind of hike it'd be which put our minds at ease. It's easy to make a fast pace on these roads and before we knew it we were back at Eel Weir where our car was parked. We enjoyed some chocolate, a warm electrolyte drink and congratulated ourselves on what we had just finished. A great sense of relief and pride came over us.
On the way out of the park we stopped by the Visitors Centre to take a look at the gift shop. As I do every year, I treated myself to some sweet Keji swag. This time I bought a beautiful ceramic mug and some badges of the longer hikes I've done at the park. Nice souvenirs for amazing Keji adventures with friends.
For the record, here are the final, corrected distances from my GPS for each day of hiking:
- Monday, day one, Big Dam parking lot to Site 44: 13.4km
- Tuesday, day two, Site 44 to Site 42: 10.1km
- Wednesday, day three, Site 42 to Site 41: 10.5km
- Thursday, day four, Site 41 to Wi-Bo-Wil cabin: 15.1km
- Friday, day five, Wil-Bo-Wil cabin to Eel Weir parking lot: 7.2km
Check out a map: Hiking the Liberty Lake Loop