Winter Backpacking the Western Uplands Trail to Ramona Lake

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Winter Backpacking the Western Uplands Trail to Ramona Lake

For two days last week, I took some time alone to backpack from the trailhead of the Western Uplands Backpacking Trail at the Oxtongue River Picnic Ground to Ramona Lake and back.  The hike north from the parking lot was made easier by a party of hot tent winter campers that broke trail to Guskewau Lake, but soft deep powder beyond that point to Ramona Lake required the use of snowshoes.  The temperature was -24C when I set out and dropped to -29C that night, but it proved to be a comfortable temperature for hiking and for sleeping in my -30C sleeping bag and Outdoor Research bivy.

Jeff's Map

Jeff’s Map – I hiked the east arm up to and around Ramona Lake before settling into a campsite near the portage to Namakootchie Lake.  I came back the same way.

I didn’t know what difficulty level this trail is since I’ve never hiked it before, but I was told that the east section is flatter and less challenging than the west side. Since I didn’t have enough time to complete one of the loops – three loops from 32 km to 88 km are possible – I decided to hike to Ramona Lake and back so that I wouldn’t have to break a new trail in the snow on the way home.  This was just my second overnight solo backpacking trip this winter so I knew I wasn’t in good enough physical condition yet to go further, particularly since the third day was forecasted to dip down into the -40s Celsius.

Left to Maggie Lake and beyond, right to Ramona Lake

Left to Maggie Lake and beyond, right to Ramona Lake

When I got to Ramona Lake, I envisioned finding a nice south-facing hillside campsite on the steep north side of the lake, where the rising morning sun could warm up my camp early.  I ended up circling the lake clockwise looking for a rock or cliff face to camp by to reflect the heat from my fire, and with overhead coniferous canopy to protect me from the snow forecasted to fall overnight.

Climbing the ridge on the north side of Ramona Lake

Climbing the ridge on the north side of Ramona Lake – This is the north side of the ridge, the lakeside is steeper and higher

Arriving back at the trail at the west end of the lake without finding a suitable spot, I headed back east to a little sheltered valley near the Namakootchie Lake portage.  A large Eastern Hemlock tree had fallen over near a small rock outcrop and it made a suitable campsite once I dug out the three feet of snow that had accumulated there.  My gear is well suited for solo trekking, and I wouldn’t recommend a trip like this alone unless you are sure you have suitable gear and bush skills for cold temperatures and isolation.  Check out some of my other blog posts for gear and meal suggestions.

Ramona Lake winter campsite

Ramona Lake winter campsite

What’s my impression of the trail to Ramona Lake?  The lakes, Guskewau and Ramona Lake, are pretty and I’m sure they’re even nicer in the summer. The trail passes through a hardwood creek valley, partway up the west slope, and is flanked by high ridges of alternating deciduous and coniferous forest.  It would be spectacular in the fall when the leaves are at their peak colour.  Overall, I found this section of the Western Uplands Backpacking Trail to be less scenic than other trails in Algonquin Park, but it is a good easy introductory trail for beginner and intermediate hikers.  The rest of the Western Uplands trail is likely more scenic and challenging, and I plan to explore it further next year.

Location

Truck parked at trail head

Western Uplands Backpacking Trail sign

Bridge over the Oxtongue River at the trailhead

Bridge over the Oxtongue River at the trailhead

Oxtongue River near the Western Uplands trailhead

Oxtongue River near the Western Uplands trailhead

Left to Maggie Lake and beyond, right to Ramona Lake

Left to Maggie Lake and beyond, right to Ramona Lake and beyond

Follow that pulk trail to Guskewau Lake

Follow that pulk trail to Guskewau Lake

High ridges and deep valleys on either side of the trail to Guskewau Lake

High ridges and deep valleys on either side of the trail to Guskewau Lake

Typical trail between trailhead and Guskewau Lake

Typical trail between trailhead and Guskewau Lake

Guskewau Creek sign

Guskewau Creek

Guskewau Creek

Guskewau Creek

Guskewau Lake east end at Guskewau Creek

Guskewau Lake east end at Guskewau Creek

Guskewau Lake looking west from the trail

Guskewau Lake looking west from the trail

Guskewau Lake side trail to campsites

Guskewau Lake side trail to campsites

Otter slide between Guskewau and Ramona

Otter slide between Guskewau and Ramona

Snowshoeing Western Uplands Backpacking Trail to Ramona Lake

Hiking the Western Uplands Backpacking Trail to Ramona Lake

Finally deep powder snow south of Ramona Lake

Finally deep powder snow south of Ramona Lake

Bear nests in beech trees

Bear nests in beech trees – bears climb these trees, sitting on a branch while they break smaller branches off to eat the buds

Ramona Lake campsite trail

Ramona Lake campsite trail

Creek between Ramona Lake and Dace Lake

Creek between Ramona Lake and Dace Lake

Portage to Dace Lake from Ramona Lake

Portage to Dace Lake from Ramona Lake – Dace is a pretty lake, with high, steep ridges on the north and south sides, but I decided against hiking down to it from the high ridge looking down on it (where the bear nests are).

Ramona Lake winter campsite

Ramona Lake winter campsite

Solo camping bed on Ramona Lake

Raised snow bed and lounge chair in front of the fire. The back reflector is a tarp over a fallen Hemlock tree trunk.

Warming my boots and gloves by the fire

Warming my boots and gloves by the fire

Ramona Lake snowshoeing

Ramona Lake snowshoeing

Ramona Lake snowshoeing

Ramona Lake snowshoeing – south shore

Backpacking back to the Western Uplands trailhead

Backpacking back to the Western Uplands trailhead

Backpacking south of Guskewau Lake

Backpacking south of Guskewau Lake- the video shows me stumbling from fatigue as I crossed over the creek behind me three times for the camera

Negotiating a creek crossing south of Guskewau lake

Negotiating a creek crossing south of Guskewau lake

Bridge over the Oxtongue River at Western Uplands trailhead

Bridge over the Oxtongue River at Western Uplands trailhead – end of the trail… and beginning of the road home.

Driving home in snowsqualls Feb 12

Driving home in snow-squalls Feb 12 – looks like I left just in time to avoid bitter temperatures the following day

 

By | 2016-11-16T22:14:05+00:00 February 13th, 2016|Algonquin Provincial Park, Camping, Snowshoeing|0 Comments

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