Frontenac Provincial Park Hike-In Camp

Self-contained hike-in camping is an area where our troop does not have a lot of recent experience, but that all changed this weekend. We just completed the first of two self-contained hike-in camps in North Frontenac Provincial Park, a backwoods-only park with no car camping. Until the Newfoundland exchange this past summer none of our current Scouts had experience in this type of camp, so we vowed to change that. We organized two camps 4 weeks apart, with the first of the two this past weekend being our "practice camp" to assess troop readiness and to give everyone including our leadership team an opportunity to safely learn from our mistakes. Now we have 4 weeks to review before we set out for an even more challenging weekend camp.

We left Connaught Public School shortly after our 2pm goal, and arrived at the trailhead about 2 hours later. This was at the north end of the park, and so Scouter Alan had to travel another 30 minutes south to register while the rest of the crew divvied up gear and food to be carried by everyone. By the time Scouter returned an hour later the first patrol was already gone into our sites and most of the rest were just about to depart. By plan it was only a 1km hike into our sites - we had all 4 sites on what is called "Cluster 11". We decided on this approach so that we could leave extra gear and supplies in the vehicles and if needed it would be an easy hike back out if we had to go get them. We got everyone in and sites selected, and patrols then began setting up their tents. Dusk had turned into dark by the time we started to cook our supper of buffalo chicken nuggets, cous cous and sauce. This was our first lesson learned in that this meal required 3 different vessels for cooking, and that was a lot of extra weight we otherwise may not have had to take in. And indeed we neglected to take one of the required pots so patrols had to improvise. After supper we set a small camp fire at the main site and just relaxed until everyone went to bed.

Saturday morning after breakfast we had our opening and laid out the rules for our camp. This year we are doing something new that most other troops do - we have patrols of 6 and patrol leaders who take on most of the responsibilities of running and managing the finer details of the camp. Adults take a side seat and patrols largely organize themselves. This includes all aspects of cooking meals, divvying up food within the patrol, and cleaning up afterwards. This worked out extremely well for our first try at it.

We finished up late in the morning, and it was shortly after 11 when we set out on our hike. The original plan going into the weekend was to hike north along the western edge of the park to find one of the emergency caches that park staff provide at various points in the park and to document what was in it, but we changed our plans and decided instead to hike over to cluster 8 which is where we'll be staying on Friday night at our next camp. This would allow us to have knowledge of the route before trying it out, and would also give Scouts a good idea as to the difficulty of the next camp. We had them all wear the backpacks with all their gear - but they were lighter since their tents, sleepging bags and food were already unpacked. Nonetheless packs were still heavy and Scouts got a lesson in overpacking - I am certain less gear will be brought next time. Here is the route we hiked - about 4km each way so almost 8km total. While we were at the remote sites a couple of Scouters opted for a swim - it was chilly but very refreshing! The hike in took about an hour and 22 minutes, and the hike back surprisingly took just shy of an hour with Scouts exclaiming "wow we are back already" as they came down the hill and caught sight of our tents. Everyone did well on the hike with very few problems or complaints - most Scouts are definitely ready for the next camp.

We had a late lunch of upsidedown pizzas, and another lesson in meal planning for lightweight hike-in camping. After lunch it was free time with most of the Scouts opting to scavenge for firewood to use later in the evening. During this time Scouter Alan hauled out his fishing rod and with some bait tips from Ryan managed to haul in a small pike.  It is something that normally would have been thrown back in,but it was big enough to keep and the Scouts were eager for a lesson in cleaning fish, so we all enjoyed freshly cooked pike as a snack before supper.  It was not until after sunset that we finally decided to boil water for the dehydrated meals that we took with us. By this point there were 3 campfires going at the main site and two of the remote sites. Everyone was in bed before 10. It rained a fair bit overnight and the first people were up and at 'em a little after 7. Rain continued on and off until about 9am and luckily did not come back until just as we were getting into our vehicles around 1pm. We were very fortunately with the weather we had.

All-in-all it was a great weekend and a good practice camp for our next one. On it we will hike about 5km into cluster 8 on Friday, then pack up camp and hike 6km north to cluster 10 on Saturday, and finally Sunday morning pack up and hike 7km back to the vehicles.