19 January 2009

Whiskey Rapids Trail & Oxtongue River-Ragged Falls at Oxtongue River-Ragged Falls Provincial Park.

Well, my weekend trip to the park is over, and all I can say is what a weekend! As it happened, I was able to pick up Jeffrey M and Andrew on Friday night, at around 5:00pm, and after a long 5 hour drive, we made it safe and sound at my cottage; arriving at just after 10:00pm. While long, due to traffic and a winter storm, the drive gave me, Andrew and Jeffrey a chance to catch up, as it hadn't been since the fall that we had last seen each other. While the drive was mostly "normal" we did have to make several attempts up some of the icier sections of the privately serviced road that leads up to the cottage.

That night, after settling in, we enjoyed a roaring fire in the "Gathering Room" along with a few glasses of wine, while watching the falling snow from the warmth of the cottage. Our conversations included the usual Algonquin chatter, along with an extensive look at this year’s addition of Jeffrey M's Algonquin Map. In the spirit of keeping things "top secret" all I'll say is that people won't be disappointed, for it has many improvements and simply put is looking great.

That night, I retired at around 2:00am, and awoke the following morning around 9:00am. By 10:30am, after a quick shower and breakfast, we were off to Huntsville to get Andrew some snowshoes at Algonquin Outfitters. It was at the Huntsville Store that we met up with fellow Algonquin Adventures participant Lorren, also known as "Shore Bound Angler," who was joining us for a day of snowshoeing. While the Huntsville store was out of rental shoes, we were promised a pair at their Dwight location, so after a brief stop at Tim's for a coffee, we were off down highway 60, towards the park.
Lorren by the rapids

Our stop in Dwight lasted 20 minutes at most, and as we left the parking lot of Algonquin Outfitters I started getting excited about my return to the Park. Other then a 5 minute break at the West gate for our day permit, our drive to the Whiskey Rapids Trail was brief, taking perhaps 20 minutes, and we arrived at parking lot at around 1:00 pm. Unfortunately my car's "all-season" tires didn't provide enough traction for the curved hill that takes you from highway 60 to the trail's parking lot, so I had to park along the roadway; luckily there was one spot left.

The parking lot, which held about 8 cars, while full was well cleared and clearly well used. Lorren incidentally, with his four season tires made it up with no problem at all, and got the last vacant spot in the parking lot.

While the parking lot was full, we didn't see a single sole along the trail. The path was very well marked, nicely packed, and with the exception of a few downed trees, very easily traveled. Along the route we saw some interesting ice formations on the Oxtongue River, and while we had no animal sittings, we enjoyed a wonderful hour and a half long hike on what turned out to be a brisk winters afternoon with temperatures at around -15 degrees. This was the first time I have done The Whiskey Rapids Trail, and highly recommend it for a winter hike.
Jeffrey By the Whiskey Rapids
Whiskey Rapids

During our hike, I also got to test out my new GPS software for my iphone, titled MotionX-GPS (I use the full version of the program which cost $2.99 at apples iTunes Store) and a GPS map record of the trail can be seen below.

View Larger Map
Jeff (Me) Checking out his (my) "GPS iPhone"

For those interested, the trail guide for the Whiskey Rapids Trail discusses the ecology and history of the Oxtongue River. Note that in the winter there are no trail guides available at the start of the trail, but they can be purchased online as well as at the Visitor's Centre, and the East and West Gates.

Having finished our hike by around 2:30 pm, and not wanting to return to the cottage yet, we decided to check out the Oxtongue River-Ragged Falls at Oxtongue River-Ragged Falls Provincial Park.
Oxtongue Entrance
Heading out to Ragged Falls

Wow, what a good idea that turned out to be. Located off highway 60 (on the north side) between Dwight and the Parks West Gate, the falls at Ragged Falls Provincial Park provided an absolutely awe-inspiring site. To get to the falls we parked our cars at the park's ploughed access point. While the lot holds only 5 or so cars, there was only one other car there, leaving us with ample parking. The hike in took about 15 minutes, again along a well traveled and hence packed down trail. Mid-way along the path you can choose from "the low route" or "the high route;" we choose the high one.
Ragged Falls

The falls boosted semi frozen cliffs overflowing with rapidly moving water. In some portions of the rapids the ice build-ups appeared to be several feet thick and were very impressive indeed. The surrounding trees were seemingly frozen in time by mist created from the frozen water rushing through the rapids, and yet the area felt full of life. The trail follows very close to the falls, and hence providing a great vista of the surroundings, but a chain link fence also keeps visitors at a safe distance along several portions of the trail.
Frozen Trees by Falls

While along the trail, we saw but one other couple leaving the rapids, and after exchanging a brief hello were told that the sites to come were magnificent. Wow, they weren’t kidding! I think I will revisit this area in the summer, for I bet a canoe ride from Smoke Lake down the Oxtongue River to Algonquin Outfitters in Dwight would make for a fantastic day trip through not only the western portion of the Park but also the greater Ragged Falls area .
Andrew (the official trip photographer) by "The Last Stop Portage" prior to the Ragged Falls

The only downer of the day was that Andrew's rental snowshoes turned out to be defective and kept loosening on him. He was a real trooper though, and kept a smile on his face despite having them fall off about 5 times during the day; good job Andrew. Wanting to return Andrews snowshoes prior to Algonquin Outfitters closing, we left the falls at around 4:30. Once there AO was very apologetic about Andrew's mishap with his rental and waved all rental charges. They also promised Andrew a new deluxe pair of snowshoes for his next rental, should he ever decide to rent from them again.

Later that evening, Loren, Andrew, Jeffrey and I returned to the cottage to spend the evening chatting and enjoying some more wine. While Andrew, Jeffrey and I had originally planned on staying at Mew Lake Campground that night, the previous nights low was -38.4 degrees and with a forecasted low for the evening of -30 degrees, we made a last minute change in our plans. Skipping the camping element of the weekend did prove nice though, for again we spent the evening warm and toasty around a roaring fire while enjoying a few beverages and good company. Interestingly enough that night we got about 10 cm of fresh snow at the cottage, so staying at Mew would have been challenging, for I suspect that the combination of low temperatures, precipitation and wind would have made for a long night in the park.

I do want to make a second attempt at staying at Mew Lake Campground this winter, but will wait for January to pass; hoping that the worst of the winter freeze will follow along with it.

The next day was spent leisurely at the cottage, and we were off heading home by 3:00pm. While the drive home was shorter then the drive there, we did run into some more bad weather, for the Toronto area was getting the snowfall that we had experienced the night before.

In short, it was another fantastic weekend spent "up north." I got to return to Algonquin and met another Algonquin Adventure's member while catching up with another two. I got to use my new snowshoes and GPS software for the first time (which both worked brilliantly and were well worth every penny) and got to see some beautiful winter sites both in and out of the park.

I hope to return north soon for another weekend of snow showing, for the workout while sufficiently challenging also proved equally enjoyable. I have a feeling Jeffrey, Andrew, Loren and I will be back in the park in no time at all, and I am even contemplating bringing my boys as well. Until then, here's to another great "mini-adventure" in the park, and plans in the making for another!
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