One of the reasons I’m such a fan of camping is that it gets the kids outdoors for a few weeks every summer. I’m under no illusion that this has the effect of cutting out the screens altogether (even with a week in a no electricity site, the Nintendos and iPads put in frequent appearances), but it does help to reduce the reliance on electronics for entertainment and fosters an appreciation for the outdoors. My wife and I were avid hikers in our pre-kid days, but the arrival of little ones (and their lack of endurance) has curtailed that for the past decade and a bit. With my youngest kids now at 10 years-old this year, we decided to push the boundaries a little and undertake a fairly serious hike, the 4.75 mile Track and Tower trail in Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park. Here’s how it turned out.
Even though our “hikes” in recent years have tended more toward nature walks in the one mile range, whenever we go camping I always pack my favorite all-purpose shoes, a pair of Merrell WaterPros. We tend to be around water frequently (either lakes or streams), so having shoes that are comfortable, capable of providing some support for short hikes, breathable and quick-drying is really useful. It’s a good thing I had them this year, because a pair of flip flops or the Converse All Stars I use for bumming around the campsite would not have cut it.
When the friends we were camping with suggested a short drive into Algonquin park to hike the Track and Tower trail, we decided to make a go of it and introduce the kids to their first real hike. At just under five miles, it’s not really long. However, it is rated as a “moderate” difficulty trail. And the only tweeting for three or four hours is the birds — no cellular service.
We soon found out why the trail earned that moderate rating. Distance isn’t really the issue, it’s the up and down, the omnipresent gnarly tree roots and rocks and the eventual climb to the top of a high ridge, topped by flights of steep stairs to the site of an old fire watchtower — and a spectacular view. Along the way, there are also rocky stream beds to deal with.
While I was in good shape in terms of footwear, the constant treacherous footing seriously slowed me down. The kids were fine with it (although I counted several wipe-outs when someone would get cocky and try tearing ahead), but I’ve had a knee surgically rebuilt after blowing out an ACL, and this kind of twisty terrain left me wishing I’d brought the hiking pole my wife bought me years ago. One of the boys found me a decent natural alternative in the woods, but something a little more ergonomic would have been better.
In terms of excitement, we encountered a lone black bear on the trail. It was crossing the path ahead of us, maybe 75 to 100 feet away and quickly disappeared into the forest — too quickly to get a photo, unfortunately. I always carry an air horn when trudging through the woods (I can see bear spray somehow getting blasted straight into someone’s eyes so I opt for a more harmless deterrent), but we we didn’t need it. With four adults and a herd of five worn yet boisterous kids, I’m sure the poor bear couldn’t get away fast enough.
It took some bribery in the form of a promise for ice cream cones on the way back, but we completed the hike successfully. This means that next season we’re going to be able to step it up and begin tackling these sort of trails on a regular basis. Which means investing in proper footwear for the kids and remembering to pack it — along with my hiking pole.