nunikani lake (direct, no loop) november 1st-2nd, 2014
A little over a month after we first visited Haliburton Highlands’ Frost Centre, we went back for our final canoe trip of the season. Our brand new Ostrom canoe packs had just arrived in the mail, and we wanted to test them out before the lakes were iced over. Heading out for just one night with giant packs sure had its advantages: we were able to bring along extra blankets, butt-warming hunting cushions, extra dry bags full of warm clothes, and winter parkas.
It was a good thing we had so much space to bring the surplus cold-weather gear. I made the mistake of playing Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (the Great Lake, it’s said/Never gives up her dead/When the skies of November turn gloomy…) for Andrew in the car on the drive up, and as we drove through several snow squalls on our way to the put-in at Big Hawk Lake Marina I could tell his apprehension was growing. In fact, he was so nervous and unhappy about this late-season trip that after we parked the car and I pulled the packs out of the backseat, he quickly reversed and ran over the buckle of my brand new Ostrom pack! That was a pretty good test of its strength, I think. Not a scratch on it.
After much cajoling and convincing, I was finally able to get Andrew firmly planted in the stern of the canoe and we set out in a mild headwind across Big Hawk Lake. We had taken our own advice and not bothered with the full Nunikani Lake Loop this time, and went straight for the portage around the Nunikani dam. Only saw one cottager, who appeared to be closing down his place for the winter.
It was getting a bit dark as we completed this easy portage (new packs were amazingly comfortable to carry!), so we quickly gathered some firewood and took the first campsite we saw, rather than the site I had reserved online. There was no one else booked onto the lake, and as it was a shoulder season and nearing nightfall, we figured we’d risk the ticket. Safety first, arbitrary park rules second. We managed to set up our tent before dark, got a lovely hot fire going, and settled around it on our bum-toasting cushions to eat the heaviest, most warming meal I could think of: cheese fondue with dry-cured sausage, a loaf of French bread, Granny Smith apples, and sour gherkins. Delicious and filling! It was a perfect meal for the temperature, which was hovering just around freezing. Before long we had cleaned up our messy dinner and went to the tent to snuggle and stay warm. We quickly learned that our three-season MEC Wanderer II tent wasn’t really adequate for early November, -5C temperatures. Luckily we had enough layers and blankets to stay warm through the night (we slept in packaway down jackets, toques, long underwear, sweatpants, thick socks, and mummy bags with a blanket thrown overtop for good measure), but in the morning we noticed a lot of frost build-up on the ceiling of the tent from our breath condensing on the nylon.
The nighttime sounded so different at the end of autumn. Without the rustle of leaves, we heard the tree branches clacking and creaking, the wind whistling through the forest, and the subtle hiss of ice forming at the water’s edge. I found it quite magical. Andrew found it chilly.
We were greeted with bright sunshine in the morning. It was even cooler than the day before, so the snow that had fallen overnight was sticking around. A thin layer of ice had built up on the edge of the shore. Andrew got a nice hot breakfast fire going, and we hung out our frosty blanket to dry in the sun.
Piping-hot rice pudding with dried fruit warmed us up nicely, and so did the two coffees with Creamy Beige we drank on the side. We took some time to explore our campsite a bit more as we had been in such a rush the previous night, and marvelled at the patterns of frost on our canoe. Andrew was in a much better mood because his fear of freezing to death overnight proved to be unwarranted, and because I had apologized for my choice of music on the drive up.
Eventually we packed up the canoe and went back the way we came. It was only about a 30m paddle to the portage, and we sat out for a while below the dam in the sun. The sun was so nice that even though the snow wasn’t melting on the ground, we felt warm enough to take off a few layers while we enjoyed a dark, wintry beer.
We spent the afternoon hanging out in the sun and leisurely making our way back to our vehicle. I was glad that Andrew wasn’t being such a party pooper anymore, and he eventually gave in and said that it had been a worthwhile experience and a good last hurrah to the paddling season. When we got back to the city, we tucked away The Happy Adventure into her snug little home at The Complete Paddler, and began counting the days until spring.
We’re seriously considering buying a winter canvas tent with a wood stove for shoulder season and winter camping. Neither of us want to spend the long, cold, snowy months indoors when we can easily be playing in the forest with the right equipment. This weekend trip taught us that our usual tent isn’t good enough for below the freezing mark, but that we can still have a great time outdoors regardless of temperature.