Reflecting on my Pukaskwa National Park (2022) Trip

Reflecting on my Pukaskwa National Park (2022) Trip
i have wanted to share my experiences and processes on how i went about planning and preparing for this trip since i finished it, but never got around to it. here is a long and detailed journal entry that details it all. this trip was my longest trip so far and was another test of my abilities as a solo hiker.

last year, another hiker and i decided to book a trip down to Pukaskwa National Park on a whim. we just met each other at Sleeping Giant the year before and got to know one another. i figured that since we both did a lot of trips out at this park, why not try something new and different? at this point, i had already grown tiresome of the same scenery and trails offered at Sleeping Giant, and i needed something new; something that actually challenged me and provided new areas to explore.

i have been advised about this park before by a friend who said i should go and see it at least once. so i decided that i am going to go there and asked my fellow hiker if he and his dog wanted to go and explore and he agreed. i booked the trip and a month later, there we were, putting in an 18km day to get to Willow River and another 11km day 2 to the lower campsite located on the M'daabi Miikna trail. it was intense and exactly the challenge i needed. so much to see and take in, yet such little time to absorb it all. i said to myself that i had to return here to explore more next year.

months had passed and the idea had lay dormant, until about Christmas time. out of nowhere, i decided that i was going back. i think i was looking back on the trip pictures from the first time going there. i really liked Willow River. i felt that we did not have enough time to take in exactly what we were seeing with our eyes during the hike. everything was different compared to what we were used to seeing in our backyard. the terrain changes often. a mix of roots, rocks, board walks, moss, along with elevation changes that vary were all encountered along the way.

when it came down to planning, i wanted to take my time so to speak. instead of rushing through everything, i could slow down and even take breaks if i chose to (i don't usually take breaks often) or explore an area that i haven't seen yet. after studying the map and referring to the official trip planner, i decided that i would be staying at Hook Falls, Morrison Harbour, Willow River, and Playter Harbour North. these sites are all along the way from each other and so, i didn't need to hike in knowing that i had to arrive somewhere fast like last year.

i booked the trip on feb 9, 2022, the first day that parks were accepting reservations. i was able to secure all of my planned sites easily. i thought it would be difficult, as i am not the only one who has planned a trip and wants to book it early. i waited about 5 minutes in a queue before i was able to place my bookings. afterwards, it became official and i started to plan out which gear i was taking this time, as well as my meals for the trip. actually, doing the meal prep was one of my favourite parts about planning this.

Meals for the trip and getting ready to split the contents into ziplock bags (packs easier)

i usually purchase Mountain House dehydrated meals as i found them to be better than the stuff you find locally (Backpacker's Pantry, AlpineAire). they also had better breakfast options such as Breakfast Skillet and Scrambled Eggs with Bacon. i like eggs but i dont like to carry them in egg format so this was a no brainer for me. in my opinion, they taste great for being dehydrated and all. unfortunately, Mountain House has decided to decrease the quantity of food in a bag and keep the prices the same. what i mean is, they have turned their products into a single-serving bag rather than the 2 servings you got previously. kind of shitty! so i found out about Peak Refuel. i have read that the food is top quality stuff so when i was advised from a friend that a local grocer started to carry their products, i paid them a visit and purchased a few bags. their Breakfast Skillet is miles ahead of Mountain House. i found that the quality of the ingredients were much better, and that you also receive 2 servings from a single pouch.

the entree meals i chose for this trip were Chicken Alfredo Pasta, Chicken Teriyaki Rice, Beef Pasta Marinara, and Chicken Pesto Pasta. from the general descriptions, they sounded pretty decent. lots of protein too, a bit more than what Mountain House has per pouch. for breakfast meals, i went with the tried-and-true Breakfast Skillet and brought a single pouch of Mountain Berry Granola. and as a just-in-case, i brought a Mountain House Scrambled Eggs with Bacon.

what i ended up doing was dividing each pouch into 2 separate servings so i could consume what i needed. i took the net weight of each pouch and divided by 2, then put each half into ziplock bags with a written amount of water required to prepare the meal. there are 2 advantages to this: one being that the meals pack down better in a backpack which is more efficient than shoving a pouch in, and the other being that i can consume only what i need and not over (or under) eat. i do not like to feel uneasy or full after consuming food and prefer to eat light as possible.

Trying to keep it minimal for gear choices

when it came down to the gear that i was bringing, i tried to pack only what I needed, with a couple of small extras. for this trip, i specifically ordered the Lanshan 1 Pro to cut down on pack size and weight from the Lanshan 2 Pro, and after using the 2 Pro, i found that i didnt need the extra living space. for my sleeping pad, i kept the Outdoorsman Lab UL as i found that it was a pretty decent pad didnt feel the need to upgrade this year. I brought an extra isobutane canister as i wasnt sure of my fuel requirements (turns out i still had fuel left in the first canister at the end of the trip, so i suspect I can get at least 5 days of use from 1 can) and wanted to be prepared just in case. for my sleeping bag, i used the BESTEAM sleeping bag without the compression sack. this way, i just shove everything inside of the backpack and all space is used up rather than stacking a bunch of items in compression sacks on top of each other.

i had upgraded my battery to a VRUC 20A battery to have some extra juice for my electronics. everything that i brought with me was rechargeable, either through its own integrated battery or with USB rechargeable AA/AAA batteries. i used those batteries in the radio and in my Petzl Tikka headlamp and they held up well, particuallary in the radio. the headlamp seems to run through those batteries rather quick and needed to be charged a couple days later. i have since upgraded to the official Petzl battery, which holds a charge for weeks and does not run out as fast.

The Garmin inReach mini2 has been a great addition to my backpacking kit

i did bring a few luxuries to make certain things on trail better, like a portable shower. however, i actually only used this once, so i am leaving it out of my pack next time. i brought a stool with me that is pretty lightweight, as well as a Silky Saw to make firewood (came in handy on day 3, where I hiked in the rain from Morrison Harbour to Willow River and needed to dry my stuff out). while on trail, I like to be in the know on whats going in the world, so i bring a radio to keep connected. speaking of connected, i also have my own inReach device now, and that is because you cannot rent them in my town anymore. rather, the companies here now push the Zoleo product for rental instead. i almost ended up purchasing one of those, but was gifted the inReach instead. i like the fact that the inReach can be used by itself and that it does not rely on your phone for some features. Aside from having the ability to send an SOS, there are features of the inReach that I find useful, particularly how it tracks your location and the rate of speed of travel. i like being able to look at this data on a map when i get back home. having the ability to receive weather updates is also a plus.

Osprey Talon 33 (red)

all of this gear shown above (and over here on LighterPack) was packed in an Osprey Talon 33. i actually got this bag from a local seller who got it on a warranty call, but it arrived later than he needed it so it just sat around. i paid $140CAD for it, where the bag usually retails for $230CAD. i wanted to stick with Osprey because I own another one of their bags and liked some of the features, such as the trekking pole stow-and-go system, and having 2 hipbelt pockets. this bag was also a great choice because at this time, i was already starting to pack less and less (coming from an Osprey Kestrel 48) and liked being able to fit all of the gear in what is labelled as a day pack.

finally, the other thing i did to prepare for this trip was to do a small high-intensity workout routine every morning starting July 1st. i was a little out of shape from the winter months and wanted to lose some weight. but also, i wanted to prepare my lungs and work them out. i like being able to control my breathing and it helps especially when i am hiking up a rather large slope. with better breathing control also comes with better pacing, and usually i end up just power hiking up the whole thing with little to no fatigue. it is also one of the big reasons why i have quit smoking cigarettes. i enjoy breathing and i dont like losing steam. and i dont want to feel like iM gEttInG oLdEr. smoking is a shit habit anyway...but that's another days rant. along with this morning routine, i would also go for a run every morning and sometimes in the evening. i truly believe this helped my endurance on trail and will continue to prepare this way for future trips. eating better food is also key. i started to eat only chicken, with vegetables for the most part. i started to eat less and found ways to curb my hunger

you can view my photo albums from this trip, as well as view a small trip log for each day by checking out the albums down below. after finishing this trip, i had a lot to reflect on, particularly on my gear choices. while there was nothing wrong with the gear that i did bring, the next goal was to drop some weight from certain items for future trips. a post i made previously has mentioned some items, but a full post with a full gear loadout for 2023 will be coming soon (once my Uberlite arrives).

Pukaskwa 7-30-2022 Hatie Cove to Hook Falls
Day 1 was a leisure hike, only 8.8km to the campsite at Hook Falls. Arrived at the park at 1030 and got down to it right away. No detour this time so I was able to enjoy the upgraded boardwalk. If you have never been to this park before, and if you’re used to doing trails at Sleeping Giant for instance, 5km that you could do easily there does not equal the same time or difficulty at Pukaskwa. A trail that might take you 1hr10m at SG would be double the time here easily. Terrain is much different at Pukaskwa too.
Pukaskwa 7-31-2022 Hook Falls to Morrison Harbour
A little bit more distance for day 2, totaling 13.2km. Woke up at 530am and was ready to go at 8. After walking along the second set of waterfalls at Hook Falls, you disappear into the woods. It is so green in there, almost oversaturated in some parts. But where there is green, there are other vibrant colors that pop out in the scenery. I arrived at Willow River at 11 and took a 1 hour break to enjoy the view. I departed at 12 and crossed another suspension bridge. On the way to Morrison Harbour, you experience more elevation gains, rocky areas covered with lichen and moss, and a large bay that you have to ascend further to continue on. Rock cairns are laid out where you need to go and there is no way around the climbing part it seems. Although only 5.6km, this can be a challenging trail, especially if you may not be used to ever-changing terrain and weather conditions. I met some other hikers along the way who were also camping at Morrison Harbour. I arrived at the campsite at 215pm and set up camp. Had a shower, ate some food, and just took it east for the rest of the evening.
Pukaskwa 8-1-2022 Morrison Harbour to Willow River
It was another early morning waking up, about 5:40am. I knew it was going to rain sometime and decided that I was going to hike out right away, knowing fully that I was going to get caught in it. I had my coffee, skipped breakfast, and took down my tent. Got into my rain gear and sure enough, it started to rain. I hate hiking in the rain sometimes because with all of the gear on, and with all of the heat I generate, my glasses fog up quickly. So it’s a decision of being able to see somewhat clearly and keep a decent pace, or take off my glasses and slow right down because I can’t see anything. Eventually I arrived back at this enormous open bay where you have no way to go around. Your only option is down. With the rain, it was super dangerous and with one slip up, I could have hurt myself pretty bad. All I kept on thinking about were my teeth shattering into the rocks because I had bad footing. My hikers were soaked (I forgot to waterproof them before departing town) and my clothes were damp because of sweat. And I couldn’t see properly because I wasn’t wearing my glasses. I arrived at Willow River at 11:05am and quickly set up my tent to get out of the rain. After about 40 minutes, the 2 girls whom I met the night before at Morrison Harbour appeared and had a break on the beach. The rain had stopped and at this point, I laid all of my gear outside and worked on getting a fire lit around 2:30pm. Despite dealing with wet wood, I got one going and kept at it so it could sustain itself. I dried out the other wood that was around. After settling in, I enjoyed myself out there, walked around and explored the area, taking lots of pictures. I even had a coffee on the beach. I met another hiker who arrived earlier and we chatted it up for about an hour. I went back to the rock formation across the water and explored. Turns out, the WR1 campsite is on the way up there. The whole area is stunning. I was able to watch the progression from cloudy, rainy weather, to wide open pink skies with the sun setting for the night.