RRE Blog – 2015

Blog posts from 2015


In the meantime we are out and enjoying the spring flowers. The trilliums are abundant as well as many other wildflowers. In my opinion anything that blooms and isn’t a dandelion qualifies as a wildflower.

Here is one of my favourites, the Eastern Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum). It has been out for the last couple of weeks and is commonly found in wooded areas. This photo was taken just off the Rose Point Trail.

Eastern Trout Lily (2015-05-08, 45°19’4.33″N 80° 0’38.85″W)


MAKING LEMONADE (2015-03-29)

Spring is on the way and the outdoors isn’t really fit for being in the water or on the ice. A very active ‘kiter’ in Parry Sound has been taking the opportunity to do some kite ski sailing on the Big Sound. He would prefer snow, but if all you have is lemons…….

That’s not water you see on the ice, it’s very hard and very slippery ice.

The weather has been such that the snow and surface ice melts a little during the day and freezes hard at night. The type of conditions that are ideal for having maple sap flow also means the trails are generally hard and crusty. It makes it possible to walk on the snow without snowshoes, but it’s not practical to ski on them.

We’ll see what happens this week, the forecast is for above freezing temperatures by day and freezing temperatures by night. So it’s likely that early in the morning there will be a sheet of ice and by afternoon a puddle. We are still weeks away from being in the Big Sound but there is the possibility of kayaking in the streams and rivers which are pretty much open.

Kite skiing on the Big Sound


Last Saturday we headed out to Hole in the Wall from the Parry Sound Smelter Wharf on Hoks (see last week’s post for information on these skis). A popular boating destination, Hole in the Wall is a somewhat challenging destination in winter without a snow machine.

The return trip from the Smelter Wharf is about 13 km (8 mi). Heading out last Saturday it took a bit less than 3.5 hours, about 2.5 hours skiing, and another hour for stops to take photos and check out the scenery. In terms of path we headed out through the North Shore Rugged Trail and popped out onto the Big Sound at the hemlock grove. That was a little longer than heading straight out on the Big Sound, but it was a bit more fun and it blocked the wind coming in from the northwest.

Heading in a pretty much straight line to Hole in the Wall it worked best to follow snow machine tracks. Skiing over the ‘virgin’ snow took more effort. The challenge was choosing a track that generally headed to Hole in the Wall. It wasn’t as easy as you might think to figure out which was best as they disappeared in the distance.

Left or Right? The Lady or the Tiger?

Arriving at Hole in the Wall revealed a single locked up ice shack. There was also a recently frozen over hole that was easily opened with  a ski pole. Using a ski pole as a measuring stick we estimate the ice was about 60 cm (30 in) thick.

The return was more comfortable with the wind mostly at our back. Arriving in the area of the Smelter Wharf the Big Sound was alive with people out cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing and ice kiting. A very doable trip on skis the only real challenge is the wind. So bundle up and expect it to take between 2 and 3 hours depending on how quickly you ski. It seems it would be a much longer trek on snowshoes. Walking without skis or snowshoes is not advisable. While the snow is less than a couple of feet deep at most, it can get tiring. Even walking on the snow machine trails feels like walking barefoot on sand, a great calf and thigh workout.

Hole in the wall looking west


For the last couple of years I have wanted to spend more time on the Big Sound as well as exploring the ungroomed trails around Parry Sound. To that end I would head out on my cross country skis or snow shoes depending on the situation and my mood. That turned out to be okay at best. The snow shoes didn’t really provide that much lift and I was sinking down a foot or so in some areas of powder. The skis were a bigger problem. At 205 cm they were long and hard to maneuver around trees and rocks. But the biggest issue was with the boots; they consistently created blisters and my feet too quickly got cold. Remember, I’m out exploring and taking photos, not gliding along a groomed trail. And gliding would not be the right word to describe my Nordic ski style, perhaps it’s a bit more like snowshoeing with skis. So there was a need to find a new set of tools to get around and explore.

After one dead end at Marquette Backcountry, it seems they are no longer in business, I was directed by a young outdoors person to Altai Skis. I ordered a pair of their 125 cm Hok skis, with bindings, which arrived in about a week. This is a short review of my experience with them after about 40 hours of use in and around Parry Sound, on the Big Sound, on ungroomed trails and busting through the bush. The short review is that I’m happy, very happy.

Skis: Hok 125 cm with bindings. I head out with two DSLR cameras, with lenses, and usually another lens and my 15 year old Sorel boots. Total weight with cameras, clothes and skis is probably about 180 lb (82 kg). The float is good at this length.


  1. The bindings. I can use my comfortable and warm Sorel boots. This is a big deal, I’m able to use boots I already own and like (no additional cost). The bindings are like those used on high end snowshoes. They are easy to get into and out of.
  2. The ‘skins’. These skis have an embedded synthetic material with a nap. Resistance when sliding is minimal but the grip when heading up a slope is fantastic. In situations where I would need to ‘herringbone’ up a slope with my usual X-country skis I can walk up easily. This is a very, very big benefit if you are out for hours on end and are carrying equipment.
  3. The 125 cm length. It’s a very practical length for maneuvering around while providing sufficient float, and good grip heading up slopes. You may need the longer 145 cm version if you are heavier.
  4. They are skis, not snowshoes. If you are heading out for a 10-20 km hike reducing the friction and getting even a little bit of slide saves energy and goes a long way when skiing through the bush.


  1. They aren’t as maneuverable as snow shoes. This was an issue earlier in the season when there wasn’t that much snow and I was working my way through rocky areas. Snowshoes might have been better, a little shorter and with metal grips on the bottom.
  2. The ‘skin’ on one of the skis delaminated, about 1 cm (1/2″). I emailed Altai skis and they replied in a couple of hours offering to repair it under warranty. I asked about fixing it myself and they sent instructions that had me back on the trail the next day. It involved applying a little bit of adhesive (Shoe Goo) and clamping it down. Pretty easy.
  3. Watch out for slush. This is a strange situation that I experienced yesterday. I was out on the Big Sound and the temperature was about -15°C (+5°F) when I hit a patch of slush. Slush? Yup, even though the temperature has been well below freezing for the last month, and ice is well over 50 cm thick, it seems slush oozes out between the faults in the ice sheets. Normally I wouldn’t have hit it, but a passing snow machine churned up the snow and exposed the slush. When I crossed the snow machine’s track the skis became coated on the bottom and pretty much froze immediately, but only after picking up additional snow. This added about 2 kg per ski. I took off the skis and removed much of the ice and snow, but it wasn’t possible to remove it all. So while the weight was reduced the friction was horrendous; they essentially became snow shoes. On returning home I brought the skis in to warm up, and let the snow and ice to melt. Good as new. This was a special situation and I don’t expect it to happen again; lesson learned.

All-in-all I’m very happy with the skis and intend to order a pair of 145 cm Hoks. Why? Out on the Big Sound there is no need to maneuver and the extra float might be helpful. It also let’s Anne and I head out together, next time perhaps it will be ‘Beyond the Big Sound’.

IT’S NOT THE SNOW, IT’S THE COLD … (2015-02-21)

that leads me to predict that there will be a slow start to the boating season.

It has been much colder than usual for the last three weeks or so with the nighttime temperatures  dropping down to -30°C (-22°F), and only getting up to -15°C in the day. The normals are a high of -2°C and a low of -13°C. That kind of cold leads to bright, clear bitterly cold days that favour the formation of thick ice.

The net/net is that it’s likely the ice will be around into the spring and the water will take longer than normal to warm up. Boating when the water is cold is invigorating, but not inviting. The water levels will probably be well above chart levels which is good news for boaters. The wildflower season may start slowly but it should last longer than usual.

This is a photo of the Big Sound later in the day just off of the North Shore Rugged Trail a couple of days ago. It’s about two months since the winter solstice.

BIG SOUND UPDATE (2015-02-03)

I guess it’s time to provide at least some update on what has been going on in Parry Sound and the Big Sound. Even though the Beagle was put to bed months ago there is still lots to do in and around Parry Sound; skiing and hiking the Big Sound, the North Shore Rugged Trail, the Rose Point Trail, or paddling in the Flea (10 foot yellow kayak).

While I miss the islands this time of year, it’s a bit far to ski out to them and it can be dangerous with varying ice levels, the colours of the dawns and sunset even on the Big Sound are something special. So I’ll provide people with what things look in the Parry Sound area as Winter progresses and changes to Spring.

The image below is of Three Mile Point on Parry Island, a few minutes after sunrise. It’s a reasonably short hike or ski, 2 km or so, out to the light from either the Smelter Wharf or Waubano Beach in Parry Sound. And there is lots of ice, about 25 cm (12 inches) or more at this point (February 3rd). It would be a quick bike ride with one of those fat bikes you see rolling around Parry Sound. Hmm, now there’s an idea, they rent them at Parry Sound Bikes. That might be a reasonable way to get out to the islands, ice permitting.

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