This past weekend I did a three day solo-hike of the Tilson Lake trail in Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba, Canada. The park is located in western Manitoba about an hour and a half north of Brandon and houses a number of trails suitable for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. There is front-country and back-country camping available and it’s home to Clear Lake: a very nice lake with a good beach surrounded by a quaint tourist town with shops and restaurants.
Backpacking is fairly limited in the prairies and the trail selection is scarce. The Tilson Lake trail, in the north-western corner of Riding Mountain Park, is one of the few loops suitable for two nights, however it’s short at only 38.5 km. I decided to do the Tilson loop and add on an extra leg up to Kay’s campsite, part of the Birdtail trail, to extend the total distance to 56.8 km.
Losing weight (in your backpack)
My lady was away for the weekend, so Guinness and I set out for a nice fall hike. In an effort to become more lightweight I’ve been tracking some of my pack weights and trimming out everything that’s not essential. My Mariposa Plus pack weighed in at 6.4 kg or 14 lb dry weight (with no food or water) and 10.5 kg or 23 lb total with food, water, scotch, book, etc.
I feel that sub 25 pounds is definitely starting to get into lightweight backpacking territory and I’m happy with the progress that I’ve made. Though, I am still carrying a few things in excess; on this hike I brought a camera, iPhone, and a book (Fifth Business is what I’m currently reading). It would be nice to just use the iPhone for all three functions, but I find a dedicated digital camera still does a better job with pictures. Some of the things I’ve done recently to lighten up include:
- buying an Outdoor Research Helium Jacket to use on fairer weather hikes to replace my Furio Jacket, which saves about 400 grams of weight.
- better measuring of my fuel to avoid carrying too much excess
- trying Pristine water drops rather than carrying my Platypus Gravity Filter
- and, trying different lightweight shelters, on this hike I gave the Hennessy Hammock another try.
At the end of this write-up I talk more about what worked well and what didn’t…
Frigid Fall Hiking
For the first day I trekked up past Tilson Lake (site B on the map), which lays 8 km in from the trailhead, to Kay’s campground (site A). Each of the backcountry campsites has a few picnic tables, fire pits, chopped fire-wood, a food locker, and an outhouse (bring your own toilet paper, just in case)
We walked 23.6 km on the first day, which was a bit ambitious considering we didn’t get started til 12:30. But, the trail is quite flat all the way along and we made good time.
The site lists Tilson as difficult, however it is mostly flat forest trail with occasional rolling hills. The trail was very easy to follow as was fairly well cleared, it would be fun to do on horseback (which I like) and would work well for a challenging bike as well (though don’t quote me as I’m not much of a cyclist).
It was upon our arrival at Kay’s, after our fast and furious hike to get in before sunset, that I found the campsite’s water pump, which to my dismay produced a brown sludge. There were no other water sources at the site and I remembered the last stream I passed was 4 klicks back. I attempted to cook my dinner, but couldn’t stomach the additional fiber and ended up eating dry oatmeal and using half of my remaining 500 ml of water to make a hot chocolate.
I crawled into my hammock shelter once it started to get chilly to give it one more try. I’d tried to sleep in it before, without much luck, but I was envious of my friend using it and wanted to give it another shot. I spent another sleepless night laying on my back, or kinked in a funny position on my side. It was after much shifting and shivering (I was quite cold without the ground to help insulate) that I started to ponder why we really go hiking.
I left a comfortable warm bed at home, in a nice house, filled with good food and movies I haven’t watched yet, in order to walk all day alone, eat dry oatmeal, and have a terrible night’s sleep. The sun came out, I packed up quickly in the cold morning, and hiked the four kilometers back to the last stream to cook myself a hot breakfast. The warm coffee and sunshine made me feel instantly better and I decided not to give up on backpacking.
Ground Dweller, Swamp Drinker
As far as wildlife goes I saw a number of the Canadian prairie’s finest examples including a big owl, a few eagles, a couple of deer, and a large bull moose. The warden had mentioned to be wary of these guys as it’s mating season and they can be very territorial. The moose may charge a human and can be more dangerous than the bears and wolves that hikers usually fear. When I saw this one standing in the path I approached slowly, spoke in a loud calm voice, and made lots of banging with my poles. He wandered away, but if he had chosen to stay we would’ve had to wait until he decided to move on.
I slept much better the second night by making the Hennessy Hammock into a makeshift tent. I actually got hot in my -9 C Marmot Helium down sleeping bag on my Neo Air and I had been quite a ways from warm the night before.
It should really be noted that access to water is limited on this trail. There are a few clean flowing streams along the hike and I would recommend filling up at these locations as the water at each campsite is less than spectacular. At least Birdtail (site C) had an actual water source, I still could only get close enough to take water from the still swampy area. I used my buff bandana as a filter, which at least got the little shrimpy things and big chunks out of it.
I said I would talk about what worked well on this hike and what didn’t. I learned a few things that I’ll keep in mind for the next trip:
- Always hike with a water filter. Yes, the Pristine drops worked – because I’m not sick, but unless I knew a trail had plentiful clear flowing water sources I will always want a filter in my pack for those times when it looks like you are drinking Guinness (the beer, not my dog).
- Don’t bring a hammock. I really wanted to like this a solo shelter, but I can’t sleep on my back and am not willing to train myself – I’m not even sure where I would start. It also is really only a summer shelter as the shoulder seasons in Canada can easily dip below freezing. I’ll keep looking for a ground based tent.
- Secure your gear. I lost my knife, whistle, and emergency fire starter all at once (because they are all one thing with the Tool Logic SL3). I’m not sure when exactly, but it was clipped into a cargo pocket, which apparently wasn’t secure enough.
The stars were fantastic, the weather was sunny yet cool -perfect for keeping a fast pace, there were no bugs, and no other people. All of this was great, however don’t expect any amazing views or unique terrain; most of the trail is along grassy paths in the forest. I wouldn’t recommend this when compared to hikes you could do in the rest of Canada, but for the middle of the prairies it was enjoyable in the end.
Do you have any hiking stories of trips that didn’t go quite as planned? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below:
Check out Parks Canada’s Riding Mountain National Park website for more information and to book your hike.