With the weather reaching unseasonable temps in the high 20’s (that’s Celsius) in March, I’ve had this immense craving to simply get outside lately, something some of us experience every spring. Going for hikes around home didn’t even put a dent in the urge, just made me want to spend more time out there. My wife suggested I take the bike and get away with my week off work. As tempting as it was to go down south, maybe hit the BRP and go hanging there, I thought why not check out my own back yard so to speak. I mean I know there are great roads and great hiking routes in the Carolinas and Tennessee but I really didn’t want to leave the bike somewhere while I went hiking for a few days. So I thought why do some hiking around home and test out all this new gear we picked up over the winter. My wife decided to spend a few days at home so this was going to be a solo trip. My first ever solo hike - Yikes!
To hike from somewhere outside of Brantford along the Cambridge-Dundas Rail Trail, picking up the Bruce Trail in Dundas and heading north(ish) until Wednesday, where ever I may end up. I figured if something went wrong, my wife was less than an hour away. I wanted to bring my food and shelter and just hike.
I was going to list all my gear here but I will post my pack out video instead. I will say that at 33 lbs, I brought WAY TOO MUCH!
I brought 7.5lbs of food total or about 1.5 lbs per day. I had a hard time deciding if I should split up some of the dehydrated MEC bought meals or leave them as they were. My experience with the stuff so far has been that 2 servings means enough for 2 people. I opted to separate the breakfast items and decided to leave the dinner ones alone. Here’s what my food bag consisted of:
13 hot pepperettes (I love these things), I figured 3 per day
3 Cliff bars - Macadamia nut flavour
About a 10oz bag of mixed nuts and raisins
2 packages of Mountain House Breakfast Skillet Wrap (without the wraps), I had re-packaged these into the 4 small zip lock bags (4 servings that they were advertising to be). This is in fact plenty for me for breakfast.
2 packages of Backpacker’s Pantry Huevos Rancheros, also re-packaged into 4 single servings.
2 Mountain House Beef Stroganoff, I will never buy this stuff again - absolutely disgusting.
1 Mountain House beef stew — this I will buy again, it was excellent.
1 Mountain House Lasagna with meat sauce - this I’ve had before and liked.
1 Idahoan butter & herb mashed potatoes mix
1 Mountain House Buffalo Style chicken
My wife dropped me off around 1330hrs at the Rail Trail where it crosses Jerseyville Road just east of Brantford where I began my journey. The highlight along this stretch for me was walking along Mystic golf course, I’ve enjoyed playing there a few times and it was nice to see it so early in the season with no one on it. Otherwise it’s a fairly flat and somewhat boring hike. The weather was somewhere south of 10c and mainly cloudy but within 30 min I was shedding layers. A couple of breaks and less than 3 hrs later, I arrived at the Dundas Valley Trial Centre, where the Bruce trail meets the Rail Trail. This is actually kilometre 50.4 of the Bruce Trail that starts in Niagara Falls.
After a short break here, I finally stepped on to the BT. These first few steps were memorable only because I had to find a dry way around the field of mud that lay ahead of me. Approaching Governor’s Road I climbed up and down a giant hill. Well, this is certainly different from the RT I had been on so far. I remember thinking to myself “this will flatten out eventually….right?” Yeah right! It flattened out just long enough for me to cross Governor’s Road and then up another good hill. I was still trying to keep the same pace that I had on the RT, this was not working out. I kept stopping for breaks just to catch my breath. Yup I definitely brought too much gear!
Although it’s still too early in the spring for much to be green, the scenery was improving with every step. It was approaching 1700 and I wasn’t into Dundas yet, I was already thinking about shelter for the night and I could feel a blister starting up on my left heel. I convinced myself to keep going for the time being, probably because when I was planning this trip, I had expected to be past Hwy6 on day 1 somewhere near Waterdown. I had created this what seemed like a realistic destination for myself but it now became a mental block. As I passed the Dundas Valley golf club, I realized that I needed to make a decision as the approaching section covers city streets in Dundas. Either head back to find a place to hang my hammock for the night or carry on and look to camp out on the other side of the city.
My lack of experience talked me into going. Of course my feet felt like they were on fire and that blister was not getting any better. A quick stop at a Shopper’s Drug Mart for some blister pads and water and off I went. I have to be honest, for some strange reason I expected the Sydenham hill to be smaller and the BT to bypass it somehow. Well it wasn’t and it didn’t! Not something I would recommend a beginner hiker do nearing the end of a hiking day. About halfway up, the actual trail picks up again and heads off road. Yuppie! My only thought was where can I set up shelter now. Not here apparently! This section stayed close to the road and eventually climbed steeply only to join Sydenham again.
Eventually I ended up at the top, through a residential area and I was back in the woods. It was after 1900 and I wasted little time in getting off the trail looking for appropriate trees to hang from. I was losing light quickly and settled for an area that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Although I could set everything up, I could not open the one side of the tarp properly due a smaller tree that was in the way. Oh well, this was going to do. Although mileage for the day ended up at 22km, I felt like I walked about 50.
Things I learned today;
1. Never have anyone else help you pack your bag! I must have spent 30 min looking for my lighter and then my spoon.
2. Always thoroughly mix Mountain House Beef Stroganoff prior to eating. Easier done if you know where the spoon is.
3. Must stop earlier than 1900. This allows you to find a good area to set up your hammock and tarp properly and overall lessens the stress because you can’t find stuff in your pack.
4. Although I’ve read that eating closer to bed time keeps you warmer, strangely missing from this advise was that your stomach would make enough noise to keep the entire neighbourhood up. I’m pretty sure this is what the dogs at farm down the road were barking about half the night.
Between being exhausted and something outside of the hammock growling at me for half the night…no wait…that was just my stomach, I got very little sleep. Then at about 0500 it started to rain and after quickly bringing my backpack under the hammock (because it was so late, I ended up hanging off the tree the hammock was on) I was finally able to sleep. I woke up again around 1030 or so with a few drops of water looking to make their way into the hammock on account of the one side of the tarp brushing up against it. Although I was tempted to just stay in the comfort of the hammock for the rest of the day, I opted to pack up and get going. Of course the hail was not helping motivate me.
After about hiking for an hour, I stopped at a cool little waterfall and had some soggy Mountain House breakfast. So I’m sitting there getting hailed for the 2nd or 3rd time this day and I think to myself; gee at least it’s not raining. You can guess what happened next right? A solid downpour! Oh well, at least the view was pleasant.
The rain kept up for a while turning the trail into mush and some serious mud at times. Between that and my sore feet, I was glad to have my trekking poles with me, what a huge difference they made. I’m pretty sure it was the weather but I only managed to see 2 people on the trail and they were out with their dog. I also kept adjusting my pack as I went along trying to get a more comfortable fit. Sure enough after tightening the hip belt as much as I could and loosening the shoulder straps a bit I was über more comfy. Took all the weight off my shoulders and put it all on my hips, wish I had done that the first day. Thanks to Allen and Mike’s Really Cool Backpacking Book and Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips for some really useful tips with this and more.
The elevation changes continued to be significant pretty much all the way into Waterdown. I had planned on walking into Waterdown and having a break at the Starbucks on Hwy 5, where I had hoped to charge up my phone and have a hot drink. The trail actually came up right behind Walmart. I was wet, cold and I want to say miserable, but I wasn’t really. I was actually enjoying the trip so far, but I caved anyway and decided to have Pita Pit for dinner, followed by a stop at Starbucks. Fed, watered and much warmer, I left a short while later frustrated that none of the wall plugs at Starbucks worked, so no charge for me!
Back on the trail, the ups and downs just kept coming at me with nearly every step and the slippery rocks weren’t making things any easier. Flat spots were few and far apart. It was a challenging day. Because I had already eaten, I hiked a little longer than I would have, but still managed to set up with plenty of time to hang my bear bag. I found a nice spot just past Snake Road a couple of hundred feet off the trail at the edge of a pretty big hill. The hill dropped off to the east only a couple of feet from my hammock and behind me was mostly thick brush. A short while after climbing in, the wind picked up something fierce from the east for some reason. I read the weather report and this was not part of the plan lemme tell you. It was absolutely freezing, it felt like the wind was just stripping me and the quilts of every ounce of heat. I ended up adjusting the tarp way down which made a huge difference, boy was I happy to have a Superfly.
Mileage tally for today; 11km. I guess that’s what happens when you get a really late start and eat in town.
Things I learned today;
1. Always measure your water properly for these dehydrated meals in a bag. Soggy Mountain House is pretty disgusting!
2. This is more of a question, but why is it that I can hike all day and only have to pee once but as soon as I hit the hammock to sleep and I have to pee like a race horse, not once, not twice but at least 3 times? I don’t get it?
3. Hanging your tarp as low as possible, really cuts the wind.
4. Don’t get married to the weather report.
5. And best of all, make sure that hip belt on your backpack is as tight as you can make it, what a difference.
Between all the pee runs, the freezing wind and the howling coyotes near by, I slept like a baby - meaning not much and I kept waking up every few minutes. Eventually I awoke to a beautiful sunrise at the side of the hill. I have to say that packing up a hammock, tarp, and 2 quilts doesn’t seem to take less time than say a small tent. It was going to be a beautiful day, finally! A quick txt to my wife to let her know I survived another night and I was off.
This was a beautiful section of the trail that followed Grindstone Creek. It brought me up at Mill Street south in Waterdown which is right at the top of Grindstone Falls. Just gorgeous! Sadly I did not take any pics as my battery was running low on my phone (although if you zoom in on Google Maps, you can see quite a few). Time to take another stroll into town to charge up. I was almost embarrassed when I txt my wife a while later; hi hun, I’m just roughing it here at the Brown Dog…
A short while later and I was on the trail again. But for something new and exciting, I got to climb some fun looking ladders. It seems this section of the trail goes through a lot of private property, some very muddy private property. Crossing over King Road, offered up some pretty spectacular views of Burlington and the Skyway. The rest of the day was spent zig zagging north east crossing Dundas St, then Cedar Springs Rd and hiking around Fisher’s Pond. Lots of those fun ladders and mostly muddy conditions. Quite a few people out today with the beautiful weather.
There were plenty of private property and hiking only signs but nothing to indicate there was no camping if you were hiking. I had been looking for a spot to camp out for the night since about 1730. I ended up crossing over Guelph Line and finding a little valley that was sheltered from the wind. My site was in plain view of the trail but it just felt like the right place to hang. I dumped my bag on the ground and scouted the area to see if I could find anything better. I ended up settling on the original spot only a few feet off the trail and took my time setting up. I felt quite isolated and maybe that’s why this spot felt right. I also started to feel a lot more organized; my water was on, I was scoping out a place to hang my bear bag and I had plenty of light left. Tonights dinner was Mountain House Beef Stew that I ate while I hiked a bit further up the trail. I wanted to check out what lay ahead and also didn’t want to eat at the camp. It really felt like I had put on some productive miles today. Tally for the day was 18km.
I finished off my day talking to my wife on the phone and making plans for where and when to meet up. I had initially planned on hiking till Wed but decided on coming home the next day (Tue.). This was my best day overall, lots of good miles, stopped early enough that I could cook and enjoy the evening. Plenty of time to get everything done.
I woke up to a crisp -2 morning. I find it strange how I was shivering getting into bed the previous night at what must have been at least +4 degrees but am perfectly warm at -2 in the morning. This was the best sleep I had so far although I still woke up often throughout the night, once due to some racoons fighting near by and later from some animal walking around close by. I thought it may have been some of the coyotes I heard earlier in the night. I admit that being alone I had a difficult time sleeping every night on this first solo hike. In the quiet of the forest, it just made every little noise I heard that much more unnerving. I slept with my a trekking pole next to the hammock, my knife in the shelf of the Blackbird and a whistle hanging form the ridgeline. I think my main concern was being circled by a bunch of coyotes and being thought of as a meal. Ultimately it was mostly the sound of my own fear that kept me up.
So far I had managed to fill up on tap water as I went, only using water from creeks for cooking. With the gorgeous day yesterday, I had gone through all of my 2 litres of water in my hydration pack and then some. I used my Sawyer to filter some water from the nearby creek for my morning tea. Not sure what I was worried about, this stuff tasted really good.
I have to say that sitting there in my hammock with tea in hand, enjoying another perfect sunny morning was one of my more favourite moments.
I packed by about 0800 and had set out to meet my wife at Mount Nemo around 11. The next stretch of the trail is quite boring as it follows No1 Side road and then north on Walkers Line. An hour or so later I was happy to be heading off road again. Walkers Line does a little zig zag at Salem Pioneer cemetery and the real trail picks up again.
Grabbed another Sawyer drink at a creek and began heading up Mount Nemo. This was a fun climb over rocks and boulders eventually going up a small ladder to get to the top of the escarpment, quite challenging but man was it worth it. The views were absolutely spectacular! This section of the trail runs right along the ridge offering spectacular views of farms and beautiful Hidden Lake golf course below. Cool little highlight was the hawk circling & geese flying by only a few feet from the edge. You could almost touch them. It was a pretty awesome ending to my first hike. Exhausted, I was glad to be coming home. Total mileage for the day; 9km.
This was an incredible experience. I’m not quite sure what I expected before starting out but I felt pretty exhausted by the end. Funny but after a day of rest I was thinking about being out there again. The BT itself is not quite what I expected, it was a lot harder and much more beautiful than I had envisioned but I’m actually quite excited to do the rest of the trail this year. I think I’ll keep doing it in sections of 4 or 5 days. I would highly recommend this section to anyone wanting to try some good local hiking. All my gear performed very well but I will be bringing less of it on my next hike. 33 lbs is a lot no matter how you look at it. I ended up coming home with 3.5 lbs of food, in part because I expected to be out for an extra day and in part because I over packed.
Food wise, separating the breakfast meals was a good idea. I could not have eaten more if I tried. I’m still not sure if I should do this with the dinner meals. My hanging experience earlier in the year that involved very little hiking says that it is too much and that 2 servings really does feed 2 people. During this trip, I could not finish even half of the Beef Stroganoff mainly because of taste but even if it tasted ok, the full package was way too much. The last night however, I was able to eat a full package of the MH beef stew, so I’m still not sure. I’ll have to experiment on a night shift at work and see what happens.
Except for the apples, some pepperettes and 2 of the Cliff bars, the snacks I brought mostly came back with me. I found I did not want to stop and unpack my entire backpack to get at my snacks in the bear bag. I think I need to tweak this because I love to snack during a regular day and would have enjoyed it on the trail. I wish my backpack had some hip belt pockets as this is where I would keep all my snacks. Also instead of real apples, I think I will try some of the dehydrated packaged ones. I can’t wait to get a dehydrator!
I brought very few pieces of clothing although I eventually changed and carried what I wore at the beginning. About the only time I was not hot was when sleeping. With that in mind, I would probably forgo my lined pants and my jacket due to weight.
Took my wife and daughter out to Grindstone Falls yesterday just to show them the area and take some pics that I didn’t on my hike. They loved it. We bumped into a hiker and his pup who were hoping on doing about 350km of the BT. Said he did about 50km on day 1 and he was carrying a 50+lbs backpack. And here I am worried about my 33lbs. HA!
Some pics we took at Grindstone Falls yesterday;