On The Shoulders of Frontenac
   
 
The winter had been a poor one for outdoor enthusiasts, so with the slightest sign of spring we began to dream of wilderness camping. We had seen more rain than snow over the last few months, an unusual happening in southern Quebec. This had kept us from any serious cross country skiing or winter camping. We were dying for the crackle of a campfire.

We were sharing our longing with a friend when he mentioned Frontenac. He maintained that while there was still snow on the ground here, the Kingston area, being warmer might have none. We hadn't explored Frontenac but we knew of its reputation for canoeing and backpacking.

 
April brings budding signs of spring in Frontenac Provincial Park
   
  The thought of getting out camping in the middle of April made us giddy. With high expectations we contacted the park the next morning and sure enough the lakes had been ice-free for two weeks. We immediately booked our spot on Big Salmon Lake and started to make our plans for the coming weekend.
 
We planned to combine day hiking and paddle excursions rather than do a canoe circuit. This would give us a little more time to just relax and breathe in the experience. We were also a little cautious, incase winter's inactivity left us a little short in the stamina department.  
Heading out on Big Salmon Lake
  The next day we left Montreal and as we got closer to Kingston it was quite evident that spring arrives earlier in this area. The grass was slowly starting to turn green and even the woods were without snow. The leafless trees were the only real reminder of the season. We arrived at the park just about three hours after leaving home.
   
 
The day had started out with a few clouds but the sun soon appeared and it's warming rays brought with it a brisk wind. Our paddling arms were rusty but even with a head wind we made it to our site without two much effort. The leaf less trees provided some shelter from the wind while allowing the warmth of the sun in. When evening arrived, the air chilled considerable and we huddled closer to our fire.  
Seeing your surroundings while still at camp is not a problem in spring camping
   
  We woke up to a very cool morning with a heavy frost but blue skies above. Even with an extra layer of clothing we wanted the warmth of a fire. The ashes from the previous evening were still warm enough to ignite our kindling. The fire kept us comfortable until the rising sun could kick in.
   
 
After breakfast we made our lunch and headed out on the lakes green waters. As the temperature rose, the weather was more reminiscent of a day in June rather than April. We launched the canoe and explored the length of the lake stopping often at interesting points along the way. We decided to do a little hiking and headed up to a lookout just above camp site number 4 on Big Salmon Lake which leads you to the portages trail to Mink & Camel Lakes.  
At the higher levels, the views were spectacular and the forest changed to something akin to tundra.
   
 
As we gained elevation we left the forest behind entering onto the bedrock of the Canadian Shield. This area, while less than a mile away, is far different from where we were camped in the sheltering forest at the other end of the lake. Almost everywhere you could see evidence of beaver, including some rather large ponds created by their dams. We came upon a number of lodges trying very hard to stay quiet in hopes of catching a glimpse of one at work. No such luck.
An intricate beaver lodge & a great deal of beaver activity on a small lake on the way to Camel Lake from Big Salmon
   
 
However our stealth was rewarded but not by the sight of a beaver. As we rounded a thicket we startled a group of white tails. One of their number leapt several feet in the air before they all bounded off. About a hundred meters from us they stopped, and in unison then cocked their heads around to satisfy their curiosity about us. We gazed at each other for about a minute before they moved up and over the rise. This was the high point of a perfect day.
A white tailed dear
   
  On our final day in the park the weather was still on our side. We consulted our map and decided to spend our last few hours hiking.
   
 
We mentally connected a few trials with some portage routes to allow us a few other perspectives on the park. The bare trees of the shoulder season allow you to observe features of the forest that are hidden in the summer. Of course animals are far easier to spot at this time.

Our hike took us to Little Salmon Lake where we were lucky enough to watch a loon fishing. After swimming on the surface for a few minutes he would dive and disappear for long periods. We made a game out of trying to second-guess his route through the water and determine the next point he might surface. We weren't very successful. Their ability to almost fly underwater carries them for great distances and their pursuit of fish makes their direction unpredictable.

 
The first colorful signs of spring rise up through last years leaves on the trail to Little Salmon Lake
   
 
After several hours, we reluctantly headed back and broke camp. The wind had come up again but now from the southwest. We again had to buck a head wind with a fully loaded canoe. We made it back to our original launch site where we met a couple just setting out for a few days. We told them of the white tails and beaver and wished them luck. As we watched them paddle off, we might have turned around right there if other world responsibilities didn't beckon.
The launch and exit point for Big Salmon Lake can be seen from the hiking trail that leads to the same backcountry campsites.
   
  Camping in early spring or late fall has wonderful advantages. Crisp air, no crowds and best of all, no bugs. When you plan a trip in the shoulder seasons you should always pack a little extra. Prepare for any kind of weather and recognize that nature may be less accommodating at these times. What may be an inconvenience in mid-summer can be far more serious in early spring or late fall. Paddling requires extra care since a dip in the icy waters can lead to disastrous consequences. If you're planning to backpack, ask yourself if your route would allow you to easily return should a foot of snow fall over night. If not, maybe you should rethink your plans. Injury, equipment failure or getting lost can have far reaching consequences at this time of year. Take extra precautions and ensure that you have the required skills. Remember it's all worth it! Frontenac Provincial Park