2013 Trip 9: a learning experience...

Lac Philippe, Gatineau Park - Sept 2013

Looks to be an overcast rainy weekend and we are heading out to a campground we have never been to before. Lac Philippe, in the NCC (National Capital Commission) run Gatineau Park, is only about 45 minutes from downtown Ottawa.  It has a great little lake for paddling and a nice beach, and it has also a large campground.

We have paddled Lac Philippe many times, but have never checked out the campground. Upon arrival we see that it seems to be quite well run, offering the usual amenities such as comfort stations, a little camp store, boat rentals and yurt rentals for those who do not have tents or trailers. 

Being in September there are only a few fellow campers here, and as luck would have it, the row of sites where we have our reservation, there is other trailer right beside us. With only three of us in this part of the campground we want to be spread out so we went back to the camp office to change our reservation to another site.  A little extra running around, but well worth not being on top of your neighbour if you have the option. Dale had the Alto all set up by the time I got back, and Barley was glad to get into the trailer, talking a lot to make sure we knew he had not been fed yet.

We are in the trailer area, which consists of two rows of back-in sites, each with about eight spots. The rows are well separated by treed hills, so there are no campers visible either at the rear or to the front. The upper row backs onto the main camp road, so the lower area is preferable. Each site is angled, which makes all the sites off-set from each other creating privacy between trailers.  We have not seen this design in other campgrounds, probably because it does takes more space to create lesser sites, and in a private campground, that would reduce resulting revenue.

Relaxed and had a little bite to eat, then started watching season 2 of Mad Men. Around 10 pm another trailer rolled in beside us. Fortunately for them it has not started to rain yet, but it sure is dark. They backed in, then two headlamps started moving around what appears to be an older tent trailer. I watched the headlamps move around, able to catch the occasional glimpse of activities illuminated by the glow of light reflecting off the whiteness of the trailer. There is a lot of work setting one of these things up. Beyond the usual leveling, unhitching and dropping the corner braces, you have to raise the roof, pull out the bed platforms, add the bed supports, raise the roof, and assemble the door. Lots of stuff to do. I think it took them easily half an hour to do all this. One exciting moment was when he lit up an old school double mantle Coleman lantern. I could see he was working on something at the picnic table, and when the ball of flame appeared, I knew what he was up too. I have experienced that ball of flame as well when starting up one of those things, although I had the added bonus of Dale screaming in the background that I was going to burn the whole campsite down! Once the mantles got warmed up, all was OK. Those things throw a ton of light, but quite frankly, they can scare the hell out of you. Now there was lots of light to help them finish setting up.

Barley was up and about at the start of first light. He was literally moving non-stop around the Alto, going from window to window incessantly. I think it was because we had arrived after dark and he was not able to see much outside.  Now that his surroundings were slowly revealing themselves, he became quite excited, sort of like "where to hell am I???"  After a while he finally settled down, but not until we were both now fully awake up from his antics. A few drops of rain started, then it turned into a solid downpour.  Never having ever experienced the sounds of pounding rain on the trailer's aluminium roof, Barley started up again in a frenzy until it slowed down.  The inside temperature is not bad at all, and our furnace took away the dampness quite nicely.
One of the best firepit grates we've seen. An adjustable grill!
The rain continued, resulting in a dull, damp, overcast day. Lounged around mostly, read a bit, then watched a few episodes of Mad Men. Although it passed the time, this activity was not without cost. Being overcast, the solar is not trickle charging the battery. When the water pump ran, I noticed it seemed to be running slower. I then checked the voltage in the battery and found that we were down to around 10 volts. The other indicator of an issue was that the furnace stopped running and produced a low voltage warning. When we are off grid, we are generally pretty electricity efficient. Our mistake was using the TV, when the solars were not adding any energy back to the battery because it was so overcast. We were slowly draining the battery. So now we are in the situation where we have no heat, as the furnace has shut itself off, and we may have limited water pump capability. This is not really problematic, as we have a water container so we can flush manually. The good thing about this is it makes us more aware of the battery capacity, and the need to monitor whether the type of day lends itself to solar charging or not. In hindsight, being off grid and overcast, the TV would not have been used. Save the energy for the furnace.

We took a little drive around the campsite, then headed into town to see if we could find a newspaper. The local grocery had both the Citizen and the Globe. Picked up a few items then headed back to an afternoon of reading. Still raining, but undeterred I fired up the Q for the sliders. Simple dinner, sliders and sides, very tasty. We have settled into a no heat evening. The duvet is out, our super bright battery lanterns are providing us light, and we are going to pull the curtains to make us even cozier. We are still far more comfortable than those in tents, so no complaints here.

fall colours are starting to appear
Just how much can it rain? All night, it came down, at times hard, but mostly just steady. Dipped down to 47F, but we were quite warm under our duvet and quilt. Lots of condensation inside, a combination of the damp and cool outside, and a bit warmer inside. The morning showed some promise of sun, and it did appear. We brewed up our coffee, read the paper, bite to eat, then started to pack up. It got a little warmer inside, but the bonus is that it was not raining while hitching up.
the real covered bridge
the model on the neighbours lawn

This is a nice campground, the sites are well designed, good facilities, a nice beach and lake, and close to home. We will come here again. So this turned out to be a learning experience weekend. We now better understand the limitations of the Alto, or any trailer for that matter, but we also know how to better work within those limitations.


  1. Hey Jim -
    I spent 3 1/2 months off-grid boondocking in my Alto in the American southwest this past winter. I have become quite an expert in battery capacity - furnace and pump operation - among other things ;-) Terri

  2. Great to hear from you Terri, the American Southwest must have been fabulous. Would love to hear all about it, and hear what you have learned about battery management. Drop us a line or give us call.