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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Western Uplands Backpacking Trail is located at km 3.0 of Highway 60 or from the Rain Lake Access Point
- Latitude/Longitude: km 3.0 of Highway 60 = 45.463177°, -78.797785° or the Rain Lake Access Point = 45.603500°, -78.952518°.