Day-trip to Mizzy Lake trail
Sun setting over March Hare Lake, Mizzy Lake trail, Algonquin Park - January 16th, 2016
We drove up on Saturday morning for a snowshoe of Mizzy Lake trail. Weather conditions were favourable with a temperature of -3°C and light winds. I had been watching the radar the evening before and watched as most of Algonquin Park received a healthy dumping of snow. A feeling of euphoria overcame me and a smile crossed my face as we entered The Park along highway#60 - It was picture postcard perfect. A decent amount of fresh snow covered the pines and lakes. It was great to be back in The Park again. We stopped at the West gate to pick up our daily vehicle permit - A requirement if visiting The Park during the day. The permit was now $17.00 - Ouch!
Once we acquired our permit we drove on, heading for our trail which was only 15.4km from the western park border. I was astonished to see Smoke creek was wide open - I could’ve brought my canoe! I have an upcoming winter camping snowshoe trip in February and open water in mid-January meant one thing: The ice on the lakes could be thinner then usual this year - That and the unusually warm winter so far. No ice crossing this time around, we would stick to travel through the bush. Thoughts like that crossed my mind as we pulled into the parking lot of the trailhead for the Mizzy Lake trail.
The information board at the Mizzy Lake trailhead - With the six hours warning.
We geared up and by 10:35am (A rather late start) were at the trailhead. No one was around! This was fantastic, it looked like the solitude factor would be high. Not only this, but the trail itself was nearly invisible. Previous snowshoe tracks had been wiped out by fresh snow. It looked like the trail itself didn’t see much action in the winter, which was fine by me. It did mean we would have to break trail though. Our day just getting started, I was fresh and up to the 11km challenge.
The trail begins by ascending at an easy pace through pine forest and within 30 minutes we reached a frozen snow covered pond. Fifteen minutes more and we crossed a bridge over Mizzy Lake itself. It was here we took a 5 minute break, refreshing ourselves with water and gorp. The winds had picked up somewhat but we were protected by the forest for the most part. The lake is more of a bog then nothing else, at least that’s what it looked like to me. Down by the bridge though, there was open water. As a matter of fact we saw lots of open water in the way of streams running through the forest. More then I have usually seen in the past while snowshoeing in January in Algonquin Park.
The kind of forest trek our unbroken trail took us through on the way to Mizzy Lake
Seventy minutes into our trek we reached the boardwalk as it skirted the bog of Mizzy Lake. There, the winds were more easily felt across the open bog. Years earlier I had fed grey jays along this stretch. No grey jays this time around. So far, the only signs of wildlife we had seen were otter slides.
The cold wind reminded us to keep going as trekked across the boardwalk to the pine forest ahead, it was chilly standing around in that wind!
The trail began to ascend and twist as it meandered thru a spruce forest, not long after this the trail began to descend and soon we arrived at an old railway bed. There the trail turns north west following the rail bed for some distance. The time was 12:15pm.
A few clips from our trek along Mizzy Lake Trail
By this time, we were getting tired. Tired of breaking trail, tired of the cold, tired of the fresh air that was burning us out. It was understandable. We only took only two or three short breaks - Roughly two minutes each. Just enough for a handful or two of gorp and some water. We had been on the trail for nearly two hours and we still weren’t halfway. My girlfriend was getting anxious - She wanted to relax and eat lunch by the fire. I wanted to as well. Instead, I pushed us along at a never-ending steady pace, which I might add was kept very steady by us taking turns breaking trail. Every fifteen minutes or so we’d switch.
Open water on a creek near Mizzy Lake
It wasn’t 1:15pm that we came off the rail-bed, the hiking trail plunging us back into the heavily snow covered forest. I began looking for suitable ground next to the trail to build a campfire. I was also on the lookout for firewood - Which can be a pain when everything is covered with fresh snow.
Less then 10 minutes later, we found a suitable place in a small clearing where the trail took a turn. There was a few downed trees nearby covered with snow with lots of branches for kindling. We set about the process of collecting as much kindling as possible and piled it in an area where we had trampled the snow down.
Looking back at the trail I had broke as Dorothy treks along
As I was piling the kindling a young man snowshoeing solo came down the trail. That was unexpected, not many people would dare to snowshoe such a long trail, especially solo. I understood his desire and his tenacity though - Soloing can be awesome! The fellow made some remark about if we found him laid out across the trail later on to rescue him or something, then he continued on.
With my handsaw I cut several logs of wood to burn later on and set about getting the fire going. Well, getting the fire going didn’t turn out so well. Only two other times have I had such trouble; One was in March during a thunderstorm, the other was during a winter hike like this one the Lookout Trail. The wood, even the kindling wasn’t catching too well. Not only was it frozen, but it had frozen wet. I tried and tried and did manage to get a small fire going with the help of some paper kindling, but I just couldn’t get a roaring fire going like usual.
The boardwalk along the northern bog section of Mizzy Lake
In the meantime my girlfriend’s toes were freezing up. I gave her a change of socks hoping that this would help. I did somewhat but not enough. We quickly ate our sausages that were half cooked over the small fire and cleaned up, we had to get moving again soon - I wanted to make sure my girlfriend’s toes would stay warm with the motion of movement again. Sitting around a campfire with no heat - we would freeze up in no time.
We continued on for another hour through dense conifer forest before we came close to March Hare Lake. The trail somewhat follows a route around the eastern shore of the lake. The northeast end being more boggy then lake like. It was there that I saw moose tracks criss-crossing the trail. Finally, some signs of life! So far we had seen only otter tracks and chickadees. Further down the trail we came across red squirrel track and some hare tracks as well. By 3:55pm, now almost five and a half hours on the trail we arrived at a lookout on March Hare Lake. We didn’t stick around long, just enough to snap a few photos and kept moving.
Dorothy break trail as we exit Mizzy Lake’s north end
The thing about the trail is that it is quite flat for the most part. Sure there are a few climbs and descents here and there, but it doesn’t compare to other trails in the park such as the Centennial Ridges Trail or the Bat Lake Trail. Both of them have lots of climbing and descents. Despite the trail being pretty much flat, it really does take a toll on you - it is just such a long trail to do by snowshoe. It just goes on and on and on, so much so, that you feel like you’ve made no progress at all.
For the next half hour the trail skirted the shoreline amid many fallen trees across the trail that slowed us down considerably. The snow seemed thicker on this part of the trail too. By 4:30pm I was taking pictures of the sun preparing to set over the lake. I managed to get a few nice shots then the trail moved away from the lake back into the forest.
My girlfriend began to voice her concerns about the sun going down. I told her not to worry, that she was with me and we would be okay. I had brought along a headlamp as I had foreseen the possibility of darkness setting upon us while on the trail. By now though we were both exhausted. This by far is the longest she had ever snowshoed in a day and though I had done the trail before it really is a tough workout, especially in fresh snow and half a day spent breaking the trail.
Near Wolf howl Pond - Mizzy Lake Trail
I checked our position using my phone’s GPS function and Jeff’s fantastic “Algonquin Map”. It showed us continuing south of March Hare Lake but at a crawl of a pace. The trail on the map is deceptively long. It seemed like we were making little progress. It was nearly 5pm and I stopped taking pictures; It was getting too dark and we were wasting time checking and re-checking our position along the trail. Time to put the headlamp on and go.
Dorothy breaking trail along the rail-bed section of the trail
It was at this point that we were both grateful for the young man who went ahead of us - It really would have slowed us down having to break trail in the darkness. As it was we started to make quicker progress as the trail meandered through open hardwood forest. There had been flurries throughout the day and now with the darkness the flurries intensified to a snowfall and I grew concerned - The light from my headlamp was fading, the trail was becoming covered again by the snowfall. Sure, I was still able to follow the trail and the reflective trail markers helped, but with the failing light I was worried that the headlamp would die completely. The moon was out, though it was a half moon - not yet bright enough.
Arrival at the lookout point on March Hare Lake @4pm - Still over two hours from the car
I plodded forward in the lead with the light, constantly checking my girlfriend’s progress behind me. She began to lag more and more. I too was feeling pain; Aches in my thighs and hips and just sheer exhaustion. For me it was just pure mental fatigue to force one snowshoe in front of the other to keep going. My girlfriend who was not used to this extreme level of snowshoeing was the real trooper of the day - She had put up with so much; campfire that failed, dropping temperatures, freezing toes, snowshoeing in the darkness, exhaustion and the worry and fatigue that come with being somewhere you are not familiar with in a situation you have no experience with. Lesser people would’ve broken down and cried.
Semi-frozen creek south of March Hare Lake
What was surprising for me was the pain in my thighs and hips. I wasn’t feeling any in my left foot. During a canoe trip the August before I had twisted my ankle painfully and for months afterwards I was worried that I’ve never be able to portage. Even during a late November canoe trip it was still bothering me. But there, in Mid-January, snowshoeing 11km, it was fine. It had passed the test, I was healed!
We took one last break to finish off the water (I still had a back-up of 400ml in another knapsack) and have some gorp. I checked our position again and surmised we were less then half an hour from the car. The snow was really coming down now. It was pitch black and kinda comforting in a way to know that we were almost done but we were growing cold with exhaustion. That and the fact that the temperature was dropping too. It was now -9°C.
Soon, we could hear the highway and not ten minutes after that we could see the parking lot. We felt joy and relief that we had made it! Of course we made it? I don’t think we’ll ever do that trail again in the winter though. It is quite the humdinger! If we do, I want to be on the trail before 8am. 10:30am is too late a start. It takes approx. 6hrs to do the trail during the summer months. In the winter (With a lunch break and breaking trail partway) it took us nearly 8 hrs.
We cleaned off the car, got changed and drove into Huntsville were we celebrated our day at a pub with some food and a beer while watching a hockey game. It had been a good day - A very long day. Next time I think we’ll stick to my favourite winter trail - The Bat Lake trail. At only 5.6km in length it offers a more varied experience in a much shorter loop.