Wilderness Tripping: 18th Annual
Canadian Snowshoeing Expedition
Lake Superior Provincial Park:
A Sledge Trip
February 10-15, 2005
By Gail Staisil
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View Gail Staisil's photo album from this trip.
Read Mary Powell's trip journal from this trip.
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During a consistently 20F day, I made my way to the Montreal River Harbor in Ontario, from my present home in Mid-Michigan. It was snowing when I left home and it continued until I was almost a couple hours north. The drive was without incident. I sailed through the border crossing, stopped to pick up a take-out dinner from my favorite Canadian Soo restaurant, Giovanni's, took a few pictures of the overcast sunset, and arrived at the end of dusk.
Snow depth conditions were rather light due to a huge melt the week before, but Michael had checked with the rangers at the Red Rock Office of the Lake Superior Provincial Park, and they relayed that there was 4.5 feet of snow on the ground where we were going.
Most of my trail mates would arrive this evening to stay the night at the Mad Moose Lodge, a hang out for ice climbers in the winter. It is located at Trail's End Road in Montreal Harbor. I looked around to see if any of the others had arrived and I spotted Cathy's car at one of the cabins. The cabins are mostly of the rustic variety, but ours actually had propane heat and running water.
I settled in with my gear and enjoyed the Greek Salad and Bruschetta that I had selected for dinner. Soon after, Michael and Mary arrived and much later Chris and Dave came in to the cabin...Dennis would arrive in the morning and maybe join us for breakfast. The evening was rather laid back, with mainly small talk and last minute trip preparations for some members of the group.
A Smooth Start
We all awoke around 6:30 AM. We worked on gathering our gear, boiled a massive amount of water for everyone's water bottles and thermos and then headed over to breakfast at the main lodge. One of the owners of the lodge, Dale, made us a select buffet of food...pancakes, eggs, bacon, toast and drinks.
There were also a few ice climbers that were in residence, but it was a mostly quiet scene on a midweek morning. After we devoured our breakfasts which cost only a flat fee of $5 US, we got into our vehicles and started the shuttling process. The final shuttle process involved leaving my Blazer at the LSPP Park Headquarters at Red Rock, and then being shuttled by the ranger a few miles south to start the trip.
Everyone was to start at Gamitagama Road...the trip started easy enough as we were on a short park road that wasn't plowed in the winter. As we neared the lake area, we took a foot trail that was very ledge-like leading to several of us having difficulty keeping the sledges on the steep ledge. We finally made our way to the lake and joined the others. A short time later, it was already time for lunch. It was odd to be eating lunch on a frozen lake in the middle of winter, but it was 20F, sunny and calm so we didn't have to seek a protected spot.
Shortly after lunch, we met two fishermen who had been ice fishing. Their catch included a 17 inch speckled or brook trout. They said the ice wouldn't last until April this year (because it was only a foot and a half thick with some slushy layers), so they were taking advantage of the ice conditions when they could. There are no snowmobiles allowed in the park, so these men had walked in to fish...how neat is that!
We headed down the lengthy lake (about 4500 meters) and into the woods where I was having difficulty with my sledge. It was seemingly constantly rolling over making the journey exhausting and navigation of it difficult. I re-distributed some of my load and ended up tailing behind the others before making it into camp.
We camped in a swampy area close to the Anjigami River. Chris and Dave came over to visit me and our conversation turned mostly to trips and gear, which is very common ground for like-minded people.
Today started out to be a frustrating day for me...before we had even traveled a klick or so, my sledge rolled over four times. It wasn't performing like it had in the past, due to a variety of factors. Michael helped me unload the sledge and make adjustments to it. He widened the stabilizers and compressed my gear into smaller units. Although the front needed more stabilization due to the softened plastic, it handled a hundred percent better than it had. Further repairs would have to wait, but I was much more optimistic of taking this trip to the end.
It was a long day working a series of ponds and uplands. Mary and Chris had led the way making sure the ice was safe. Chris's pole became know as the "thumper," as Chris was using the pole to officially check for the right or good sound of strong ice. In the uplands, we saw much sign of moose including deep endless tracks, browsing, and scat. We tried to avoid stepping in some of the larger holes that they had made to keep our footing more stable.
We made camp in a nice area just off of Mirimoki Lake. It was mostly a birch and evergreen forest and I had moose tracks on the edge of my site. Hopefully they would take a different path tonight :)
A Night at Old Woman Lake
We were strategically camped to witness an outstanding and colorful sunrise over the tree line. We skirted the lake and followed the inlet off to the northwest. There was evidence of much recent beaver activity...a well worn path in the snow and fresh cuttings that had been dragged around the creek. We crossed a small lake and then skirted another creek. This time we had to utilize the ridges more as the creek looked to be unsafe to travel on. We entered a bigger lake and then Chris and I led the others up a long steep draw to Piquer Lake. Before we reached the lake, we had some serious work to do.
Chris checked out different avenues for our descent but the least difficult of them still required a rope belay. Chris and Michael worked on that detail and the rest of us with the assistance of Dave, lowered our sledges down with each person guiding their sledge down the least encumbered path. At the bottom we were rewarded with a splendid frozen seep and we finally took a few group pictures by it for future reference.
We had lunch in the bright sunshine on Piquer Lake and then took a portage trail over to Old Woman Lake. Our trek on this lake was about 3000 meters of travel. The crew picked up firewood and we carried it on top of our sledges as we got closer to our destination of the Old Woman Lodge. Dennis had arrived at the lodge before the rest of the crew. He shoveled out the doorway path so the rest of us could settle in with our gear.
The seasonal lodge is a back country ranger station but anyone can stay there. It is mostly visited by people in the summer months as they portage from lake to lake. A couple of journals in the cabin make interesting reading and we found that we were the only visitors this winter while Dennis was the only visitor last winter when he did a solo trip in March.
The log lodge is located on a small, hilly peninsula and neatly towers over the lake. Much of the mortar is missing but it seems sturdy nonetheless. The stone fireplace is whole fully intact and can be utilized. The majority of the heat goes right up the chimney but if you sit close to it, you can enjoy some of it's comfort.
Only a few feet across the room, the inside temperature measured 26 degrees in the mid evening. I went for a walk on the lake just before dusk. The pressure cracks in the ice were making some outstanding thunderous sounds, while the sliver of a crescent moon shone in the sky. I went back to the cabin to join the others who were in various stages of making dinner.
Michael chose to sleep up in the loft while the rest of us bunkered down on the living room floor.
There are a variety of places called the "Old Woman" in LSPP...in addition to the lake and lodge, there is also the Old Woman River, the Old Woman Trail and the Old Woman Bay. The later reportedly has an "old woman's face" in the cliffs that tower 200 meters above Lake Superior...that would be neat to see.
Goal: "The Waterfall"
Even though we spent the night in the lodge, everyone agreed that it had been the coldest night so far. It was also kind of a noisy night because two of us were coughing a lot, and the majority of the rest were snoring...almost too close for comfort :) I had buried my head down in my sleeping bag to block out the sounds except for my own coughs which I couldn't get away from :) I had thought about gathering up my gear and heading down to the lake to sleep, but it somehow seemed like too much effort.
In the morning, Chris already had a fire going and when I emerged from being buried in my bag, most of the others were huddled around the fire...it was about 9 degrees F. Most were sitting in the hodgepodge of chairs that were all in various stages of abundant makeshift repairs...some chairs had wooden splints attached to their legs, while others had pieces of rope and webbing utilized to hold them together.
Today we would head down south from old Woman Lake through a series of ponds and lakes. These were easily navigated by the use of portage trails. We spent our lunch break on the south shore of Black Madyn Lake, from there things would be a little rougher. It was back to bushwhack time to a small pond, then a lake and around to an area where waterfalls were marked on an old map. Between all of us, we had a variety of maps of different scales and different editions including some old maps.
The falls were not very significant, but looked to be just the variety of a simple, stepped drop over large flattish stones. This is where our afternoon journey ended as we bivied on the edge of the lake there.
After setting up camp, I wandered down to another larger lake via a creek. There was an abundance of moose sign at this lake and I hung around hoping for new activity. I wandered slowly back along the creek to camp at dusk, in a highly peaceful environment. I went to bed before 8:30 PM.
I must of got enough sleep but I woke at 3 AM and never fell back to sleep. Later I heard what sounded like rain but it was pleasantly wet snow instead. I looked at my watch and it was about 4:25 AM...I stayed in my bivy until 7 AM as the snow continued to accumulate.
It was Valentines Day so I passed around a small treat and then we packed up and headed off to the lake that I had visited last evening. It was another day of lake hopping as we portaged to another lake, and another un-named lake and ended up at Woodpecker Lake and then Buzz Lake.
Sometimes I wonder how some of these lakes were really named. Was it just a spur of the moment occurrence or was any thought put into it? Did they see an abundance of woodpeckers there and did buzz refer to a sound made by an insect or maybe the sound of a saw???? Funny how these thoughts go through one's head.
The climb between Woodpecker Lake and Buzz Lake was challenging to say the least. I can imagine that if someone was portaging a canoe, it probably wouldn't be easy either. Chris pulled his sledge up resorting to crawling in the top section. Everyone else followed, using various techniques of digging in, pushing, using support rope. I was the last to go...I made it nearly to the top, one of my snowshoes came off, I was back slipping so it was time to use the rope that Chris and Michael offered.
Today I have been rather feverish so my strength is not good. I came down with an illness the second day of the trip so I am so glad that the trip overall has not been a grueling one.
Chris spotted a beaver house hidden under the snow with fresh cuttings on top and a breathing hole. We all checked it out...Mary's foot sans snowshoe started going through the house...she remarked suddenly "I think I'm going for a visit" :)
We snowshoed north through a series of lakes, we had lunch with huge snowflakes falling amongst us. After this break, I led the group north to a small pond and then onto Pound Lake and Corner Lake...this was a very lengthy course of lake travel...at least 2000 meters.
A short bushwhack later, it set us up to be on Mash Lake Road or O'Conner Road.
We would have about 8K of travel left to be back at our cars, but for now it was getting to be late afternoon and we planned to be only traveling a few more klicks today. We set up our camp near a creek...it was still snowing heavily, but I managed to slip out of my wet clothes and put dry ones on for my last night at camp.
Before Mary, Dennis and I had arrived to set up camp, the others took a short deviation from our intended travel to pursue a possible old tower of some sort. Only the remains of some sort of gravel operation remained...not exactly what they wanted to find, but they were satisfied that they had found "something." The evening at camp went well. Mary made some apple crisp for everyone. It went over well especially with me as my appetite for regular trail food was extremely low. Later most of us joined Mary for a short time around her fire and then we all drifted off to bed at an early time.
The Final Steps
Today is the last day, everyone was ready to leave camp at a respectable time. It was to be an easy trek out, although we did our share of ascents and descents. We also had an abundance of new snow to travel in which made the trek slower than the easier days we had walking on the crusty snow. A few of us enjoyed a more leisurely pace and noted all the details of the landscape around us...frozen small seeps and big ledge drop offs. Seemingly the rest of the crew was anxious to finish, as we didn't catch up to anyone until we arrived at the car...no "parka breaks" this time.
We took care of the shuttling detail, a few of us
talked to the rangers at the main office (where my car was left) and then
we all met again at the Northgate Center where we had a late breakfast.
Overall, it had been a great trip with remarkable weather and new experiences...we
couldn't ask for more.
View Gail Staisil's photo album from this trip.
Read Mary Powell's trip journal from this trip.
Read another photo-journal.
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