Timber Wolf, Lake Superior, Ontario

A lone timber wolf greets
paddlers along the north shore
of Lake Superior, Canada
(Photo by Michael Neiger)

The Rucksack Masthead
By Michael A. Neiger, Marquette, Michigan
Wilderness tripper: backpacking, winter camping, swift-water canoeing
Web site URL: http://therucksack.tripod.com • E-mail: mneiger@hotmail.com
Contents copyright © 1984-2007 by Michael A. Neiger • All rights reserved.

Trip journals and photos


9 days
exploring the
bush and
waterfalls of the
Sand River Valley
and beyond

Lake Superior Provincial Park
Ontario, Canada
   May 24 thru June 1, 2003

By Mary Powell
   Flint, Michigan
   Copyright 2003

E-mail author at

View Gail Staisil's
   Photo Album from this trip

Parch Creek Falls

Alex, Gail, Mary,
and Michael at
one of the cascades
of Parch Creek Falls.
(Photo by Alex Chard))


A good beginning

Beyond the small circle of light cast by my headlamp is velvety darkness and the sound of rushing water. We are camped at the takeout on a portage trail on the Sand River. Alex is sleeping; Michael and Gail walked downstream looking for moose.

This trip has gotten off to an unusually idyllic start.

The four of us met yesterday at McDonald's by the bridge at the Soo and traveled up here together. On the way we stopped at a bank (Canadian funds), the Trading Post (maps and fishing stuff), Giovanni's (Italian dinner), Voyageur Inn (dessert), and then at our favorite gravel pit, where we camped for the night.

We awoke this morning to sunshine and went to the Northgate Service Center for breakfast. Taking our time, we made final gear selections and spotted a couple of cars at Frater. By then it was time for lunch.

We ate at the Sand River trailhead and did a little casting with our fishing rigs. Around 2 p.m. we finally hoisted our packs (with some difficulty as 9 days of food weighs a bit) and headed down the trail.

Took a couple of neat pictures before I realized there was no memory card in my camera and returned it to the trailhead.

After that a couple of hours hiking brought us to this spot where we spent a pleasant evening fishing, cooking, and exploring the small falls upstream.


Fording the Sand River

Today has been a little more work.

We started by fording the Sand just below last night's camp. The river was broad there but had a nice gravel bottom and low banks. The short swim at the deepest point was chilly but not difficult. Sand River Ford

Mary and Gail
ford and swim
the Sand River.
(Photo by Mary Powell)

View Gail Staisil's Photo Album

We hiked a little way up the Sand River Road, which is gravel, to the remnants of the Old Sand River Road, which is pretty well overgrown with trees and brush.

On the former we enjoyed views of distant escarpments, beaver ponds and wild flowers. On the latter we could see only a few feet ahead and progress was slow. We thought that was bad until we reached the point where we planned to bushwhack over to the Sand again.

Between the river and us was an incredible tangle of swamp. It was time to look for a place to camp too. We climbed over fallen trees, balanced on hummocks and crossed rotting logs over brackish water. We pushed through dense growths of cedar and edged around the larger ponds.

Michael worked along the bank of the river. The rest of us were theoretically contouring around on the higher ground farther back. If there was any "higher ground", it disappeared quickly. Swarms of bugs followed our every move, convinced that we had come to provide them with a meal.


Punji Stake Camp

Finally, Michael called out that he had found a spot to camp. Getting a bearing on his voice, we worked our way through a couple hundred more meters of swamp to what came to be known as "Punji Stake Camp."

Along the bank of the river Michael had found a rise large enough to support a few pines, it was overgrown with alders that industrious beavers had clipped off to short stakes with pointed ends.

Gail had her hammock. The rest of us scouted around for enough flat space to spread out our sleeping pads without being impaled on the stakes.

After a brief swim in the river to remove the sweat and soothe the bites, we donned our bug gear and got out our stoves to cook dinner.

Finding adequate bear hangs afterwards was a little tricky, but by the time the food was situated, dropping temperatures had thinned out the bugs and the remaining evening was pleasant.

As I got settled in my bag there was the sound of beaver tail slap from the river, repeated several times as if to let us know we were in his/her work area.


Lady Evelyn Falls

Today went very well. There were scattered clouds in the morning and more in the afternoon. We hiked from Punji Stake Camp up the remnants of the Old Sand River Road to Lady Evelyn Falls.

The canoeing campsite below the rapids was full of gear. We knew that Dave Mansfield and Chris Ozminski of the Nepessing Group were going to be in the area but we thought we had missed them. Could this be their stuff? Lady Evelyn Falls

Lady Evelyn Falls
along the
Sand River
(Photo by Mary Powell)

View Gail Staisil's Photo Album

Walking up the portage trail we found Chris fishing and Dave enjoying the scenery near the falls. They came up to our camp as we were getting set up and there was a prolonged and enthusiastic interchange with Michael about routes, gear, UTMs, map datums, etc.

As it was pretty obvious that this was "guy talk", Gail and I retired upstream to swim and wash our hair. By the time we returned it had been agreed that the parties would have dinner together and, if possible, it would include fish.


Beginner's luck

I went to take some pictures of the falls then returned to camp for fishing gear. Michael said Chris would like to try some worms, but when I offered them to him as he was casting into a pool below the falls he said he'd caught the one he had with a fly.

He moved on downstream and I considered the possibility of using a fly. I found something in my tackle that looked like a fly to me and put it on the line with a bobber like Michael had described the day before.

Not really expecting much, I tried a couple of casts into the churning pool, which seemed like an unlikely spot for a fish to be in the first place. On the third throw, low and behold, there was a fish on the line!

I wound the line back onto my survival rig and, when the fish was flopping on the rocks at my feet, I contemplated what to do next, since my fishing instructor was back at camp. I decided the worst I could do was to ruin the hook.

Picking up the fish, I found it strange to hold something so cold yet very much alive. I don't like causing pain either and my efforts to remove the hook obviously did that. Fortunately the struggle didn't last long.

With one small trout in the bag, I went back to casting, for awhile, but didn't have any further luck.


Company for dinner

Back at camp I found Chris had caught two more trout giving us a total of four.

Michael demonstrated an easy way of cleaning them. Then Chris and Dave went to get their dinner stuff.

I wrapped the fish in foil with onions, butter and seasoning, mixed some biscuit dough and awaited their return. A pleasant meal followed.

Fresh trout is good even when cooked by an amateur, and the biscuits came out pretty well too. Of course, being in the bush favorably influences one's judgment regarding the quality of food.

As the sun set after the meal, and an evening of conversation, Chris and Dave headed back to their camp to get ready for their hike out the next day. Our group settled down to read or sleep.


Washed out bridge

Morning dawned with clear skies and the sun soon drove the heavy fog from the river.

After a leisurely start we began following a heavily overgrown old logging road to the place where the old Sand River Road crosses the river.

It was the kind of hiking where you use your entire body to move forward--stepping over the fallen branches, pushing aside the standing ones and bending under or crawling over the horizontal ones.

As the sun rose it got steadily hotter and the bugs became more aggressive. We waded in the river to cool off and tried a bit of fishing without success.

We found some remnants of an old lumbering operation including a large fuel drum and many pieces of cable. There was also an area where a bear had done some digging, perhaps for grubs or larva.

By mid afternoon we were tired of the brush and bugs, Having no need to get to a particular spot we decided to make camp. We mapped, ate and explored the area.

In the evening we did a bit of recon, looking for an old road that was on the map but didn't seem to be a part of the terrain.


Overland to Huckson Lake

The next morning we were up early, refreshed and determined to cover some ground before the day got too hot.

We bushwhacked up a nearby valley where we had looked for the road the night before. There was evidence of logging, remnants of foundations and some old saw logs stacked in the brush. Now and then we could see where a road might have been.

Farther up the valley we found a huge beaver dam that was washed out in the middle. We worked our way to the end of the valley and crossed a saddle into the neighboring watershed.

When we came upon the Sand River road again we saw new excavation and road building. As we passed Huckson Lake we spoke with the owner of a small camp along its edge.

He told us that an investor from the States had purchased several townships and was planning to harvest the lumber there. That explained the new road. After discussing some inequities of local politics he offered us a swim from his dock, which we gladly accepted.

When we had lowered our core temperatures a few degrees, we thanked him again and continued our trek. After a short hike on the new road, which stood out as a ragged gash in the otherwise undisturbed wilderness, we turned off on one of the many old logging roads that wind through the area.

At some point we missed a turn and, since the sun was getting low in the west, we got out the GPS to see where we were. It told us we were just a little over a mile from Vesi Lake which had been our tentative goal. Heading again in that direction, we came upon a nameless lake and decided to camp there instead as it was getting late and we didn't have any particular spot on Vesi Lake in mind.

Michael and Gale camped close to the water while Alex and I found a couple of flat spots farther back in the woods. We all had dinner on a soft patch of sphagnum moss along the shoreline. Ducks came and went and the loons called to each other.

We thought perhaps a moose might make an appearance, but that didn't happen. As the dusk deepened we retired to our respective shelters and fell asleep to the drone of mosquitoes outside the netting.


Black Spruce River, falls no. 4

Evening finds us camped on the Black Spruce River at the fourth falls upstream from its confluence with the Agawa River. Each of us is surrounded by a dense cloud of mosquitoes and black flies, which are kept at bay by DEET and bug resistant clothing.

This is a beautiful place; bluffs of rock in layers of pink and dark gray are covered with lichens and edged with mixed forest. The river curves around with the water cascading over sculptured rocks.

We were going to finish the day by climbing Black Spruce Mountain but were captured by the beauty of this place when we forded the river.

Alex is building his "first fire in years" of driftwood on a base of sand on the ledge below me. The objective of this exercise is to dry some of his gear that got soaked during the river crossing.

Gail is across a small cove taking pictures of the waterfall in the changing light. Michael may finally be getting some reading in.

We've not worked too hard today, hiked two tracks and ski trails until we gave in to the temptation to stop by Windy Lake Lodge.

There we got a warm greeting from the owners, Tom and Shirley, who have known Michael for many years. We were also treated to some of Shirley's cooking--a lunch of lake trout shared by a departing guest.

From the lodge it was only a few miles to the Algoma Central tracks and the Black Spruce trail that brought us here.


A gray morning

We awoke on Friday to the steady patter of rain on our tarps and to the hum of mosquitoes just audible above the sound of the waterfall. The sky was a uniform gray that signaled prolonged precipitation.

We ate a leisurely breakfast and packed slowly, as we were only planning to go to the top of Black Spruce Mountain to camp and take in the views from that height.

There was little use in starting out in a downpour. We started bushwhacking around 10 a.m. when the rain slacked off to a drizzle. The climb was moderately strenuous and being in no rush we did it in intervals.

By 11 a.m. there were patches of blue in the sky. Upon reaching the top we scouted around for the best views and places to camp. We picked one of the better sites for lunch--a rocky ledge that overlooked the curve of the Black Spruce River and the forest to the south.


Bivouac atop Black Spruce Mountain

Banks of dark clouds competed with the patches of blue and gusty breezes alternated with periods of damp stillness. After lunch we selected a campsite from the many possibilities available. We chose to overlook the confluence of the rivers, the ACR tracks and the small cabins nearby.

Anyone who became bored with that vista could go "next door" and scan the power line receding into the distance for moose and other wildlife. Michael and I set our tarps on the rocky ledge with the view before us. As it turned out, Michael's tarp was about 4 feet in front of the resident grouse's favorite drumming spot.

As he tried for an after-lunch nap, the bird did his thumping and whirring ritual about every ten minutes. Hard to say if it was the prospect of an early morning avian alarm clock or the gusty winds that blew in around dinner that made him pick up his tarp and move back into the woods before sunset.

It was a lazy afternoon of napping, reading and exploring. The rocky bluff was covered with blueberry bushes and their small white bell-shaped flowers attracted fat bumble bees. There were quite a few pink lady slippers.

A hummingbird visited several times and sandhill cranes flew by beneath our ledge. We saw the northbound train go past looking like a toy on the trestle far below. A light rain fell as we ate dinner.

We sat under our tarps watching the changing view as clouds came and went and fog moved in over the ground below us. We turned in early to read and sleep. The night was punctuated by a series of small thunderstorms.


Down the tracks to Parch Creek Falls

After breakfast Saturday we descended the mountain in a series of bushwhacks with short breaks in between.

The sky remained mostly overcast and there was a breeze. Damp and slightly chilly from the intermittent rain, we weren't looking forward to fording the Agawa.

Contouring around the hill at one point, we came upon a woodchuck catching the occasional ray of sun in the doorway of his home beneath a large pine. He was cute and inquisitive, and Gail took several pictures.

The river crossing proved to be easy and while there was still a brisk breeze, the sun came out by the time we gathered on the far shore. After drying off and changing, we further warmed up by eating a light lunch in the sunshine by the tracks.

Then we hiked six miles or so north along the rails until we reached a point where the falls we wanted to see-Parch Creek Falls--lay to the east.

The bushwhack from the tracks to the falls was not as simple as it appeared on the map, but after a couple of changes in bearing we achieved our objective which was definitely worth the effort. Parch Creek drops about 50 feet over dark rock bluffs in three separate cascades.

As the falls face west, we got some pictures lit by the evening sun before setting up camp on a rocky ledge near the top. The roar of the falls discouraged conversation over dinner but was definitely soothing to fall asleep to.


The final leg

Having gotten the lay of the land on the way in, the bushwhack back to the tracks went smoothly. We arrived in time for a swim and a snack before the train came.

Flagging it down, we loaded our gear into the baggage car and moved to the observation area at the back to enjoy the familiar scenery on the ride south to Frater. It had been another good trip and we'd identified many possibilities along the way for future exploration.



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In God's wilderness lies the hope of the world,
the great, fresh, unblighted, unredeemed wilderness.
— John Muir 1838-1914, Alaska Wilderness, 1890

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