Bush Rats' Wilderness Tripping:
A Bush Rats' Adventure:
The 19th Annual Canadian
February 19-23, 2006
Gail Staisil (Isleroyalegirl or Woodswoman)
E-mail author at email@example.com
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The 19th Annual Winter Expedition to Canada was to be a repeat experience for the entire 2005 crew. Michael, Chris, Dave, Cathy, Mary, Dennis, and I would be attempting a trip agenda that started at Mijinemungshing Lake, works the Sand River and ends in Frater on the Canadian Railroad. Our plan involved shuttling and leaving cars at Frater Road for the end point. There would also be an Algoma Central Railway train element on the 8th day of the journey.
With much anticipation, we met at the Voyageurs Lodge for accommodations and breakfast before we would head further north on Highway 17. We talked about final plans and we were finally underway by noon. We traveled north on Highway 17 through a series of whiteouts. The wind was creating dust devils of snow dancing across the highway. About 30 minutes into our journey, we saw a person in a vehicle driving south waving a warning. We slowed down and soon saw a few cars stopped on the highway.
We soon were informed that there was a five tanker pile-up at the base of a long hill. Since some of the tankers were jack-knifed we would most likely not be able to travel north for quite awhile. Highway 17 is the main and only route directly north. We quickly turned around and headed a short ways back to a safe turn out area. Michael, Chris and Dave started warning approaching vehicles that they would have to turn around as well. Some drivers were skeptical and had to see for themselves so they kept driving north while barely slowing down. Later we would see them headed in the opposite direction too.
The conditions could surely warrant another accident so we traveled back south soon after and went back to the Voyageur to discuss our situation. When we returned to the Voyageur, the owner's of the Lodge (Frank and Gail) told us it could be at least 24 hours before the highway was open again. We discussed plans for the night. Frank had two semi-rustic rooms for rent that weren't winterized so they hadn't any running water or bathrooms. This of course, was of no difference to us.
Lodging would be at a premium now with many people stranded so we took the rooms. Along the highway, semi-trucks lined up waiting for the road to open. Around 10 PM we heard the sound of the semis leaving but we were settled in for the evening. The latter turned out to be a good thing as within a half hour the road was closed again.
We hoped the morning would bring better news but now a huge storm settled in near Agawa Bay. Since the storm was predicted to be slow moving, things didn't look promising. We sat and waited, ate continuously it seemed and discussed options.
Since we were all rather sluggish from the layover, some of us donned snowshoes and hiked along the shoreline. Others spent the time resting or making last minute repairs and changes to their equipment. Most of us were not into playing board games or cards but even that was beginning to sound good. We then ate again as it seemed like the thing to do since it was lunch time.
We again discussed options. In order to get to the area where we had planned to start, we could circumnavigate but it would take more than several hundred extra miles of driving. Other ideas seemed more sensible including making a new plan and heading out into the bush from here.
After lunch we took a short ride south to a small store where Sean (an ice climbing guide) thought they might have some topographical maps for the area. It was our only hope for obtaining maps in the immediate area without having to drive back to the Soo. When we went to the store we looked around and Michael asked the owner about maps.
He said he didn't have any but in the meantime I spotted a bunch of rolled up maps high up on top of a large refrigerated cooler so I informed the others. I guess the owner must of thought the older vintage maps were worthless. We looked through them all and found four sets of adjoining maps.
Our new plan was decided or laid out on top of a short freezer case at the store. The owner said we could have the old maps for $2 Canadian dollars a piece. That was extremely cheap for those who coveted them the most. They promised to share them with the rest of us.
We went back to the Voyageur to do a few last minute details, and made arrangements for storing our vehicles. We left to travel with our sledges starting behind the Voyageur at 4 PM. We followed a barely used snowmobile trail at first and then we veered off to an old road bed.
At dusk we made camp nestled around and in between an area of conifers. The snow was at least 2.5 ft deep so we had to wear snowshoes around camp until we got a trail packed down. Even then, our feet would sink in unexpectedly at times. It was a pleasant night and it snowed another couple of inches. The low was about 15 F and the high around 22 F.
Crossing Carp Creek
We left camp and traveled down the deeply snow covered road through semi-open territory. We arrived at a creek crossing that was unnavigable for our sledges. We decided to skirt Carp Creek for a half kilometer or so looking for a place to cross safely.
The brush was very thick but we finally located remnants of an old beaver dam. Dave and Cathy laid down branches and snow over it so that we could cross it. We carefully towed over sledges across and once we were on the other side we became entangled in a frozen swamp for quite awhile. Dave was leading the way and he got himself in some hilarious and contorted-looking situations but we had to get through those areas too.
It was very slow travel in the twisted mess of vegetation but we finally came to an open area where we found the other side of the road we had previously traveled. We came across abandoned construction vehicles that were now decorated with mounds of snow. The road became quite hilly and we climbed grade after grade probably for almost two klicks. It was a hammer of a climb. Dennis called it a "Bad Ass Climb".
I can't imagine anyone ever pulled a sledge up it before, at least not in modern times! By the time we got to the top it was almost 4 PM so we scouted for a place to make camp. We found a spot in a bowl-like area. Some of us leveled our bivouac spots partially into the sides of the bowl. Winter is neat in that aspect as we can camp almost anywhere with some snow leveling. The daytime temps had climbed to 25 F.
It was the night of desserts. We each had two. Dennis baked some chocolate chip bars right at camp and Mary made a coconut cream pie dessert. Certainly we would burn it off as tomorrow would bring another hard day.
Climbing Through The Snow
The night had been fairly mild with the low descending to about 15 F. Morning seemed to arrive early. It had snowed during the night but now only a few flakes were falling. We climbed back to the old road and continued to follow it. The snow was hideously deep. We sank about a good foot and a half even with snowshoes, so traveling was slow and tedious.
Everyone took turns taking point as those who generally like to be in front were anxious to give up their turns as well. As we worked our way up in the line to take point, each position forward required more work. The point person usually didn't last very long before they were burned out. It didn't help that we were climbing a good bit of the time as we've been the whole trip so far. The climb was a steady attempt to leave the elevation at Lake Superior.
We stopped in a sunny place with a good view for lunch. The brilliant blue sky had everyone donning sunglasses. That was very unusual as the skies have been mostly gray. We then left the road, descended the bank and took a shortcut across a frozen lake to the hills on the other side. We crossed another frozen pond.
Dennis began having problems with his sledge. Soon after, Chris stayed with him to help make repairs to the front end. Mary and Cathy decided to remain with them too. Since we were within the vicinity of where we planned to camp in another klick and a half, Michael said to go ahead and for me to pave the way to camp. Dave, Michael and I descended 6 contours to camp at the base of all those hills.
As we reached camp, Cathy caught up and said that the rest of the group were going to stay back at the other location for the night. Unbeknown to us, Mary was ill, so the others decided to make camp. The rest of us had just come down six contours so we thought it was best that we stayed right where we were at the base of the old road and Mine road. We would wait for them to descend in the morning.
It had been an exhausting day but with hot drinks and snacks we were revived soon enough. During the evening, Dave and Michael poured over maps to plan for the rest of the trip.
A Change in the New Plans
It was almost 9 AM when we heard the rest of the crew coming down the trail we had packed the night before. Meanwhile, Michael had been busy making final plans for the rest of the trip. It involved crossing the Batchawana River and climbing a good bit again. We would take day packs to the top of Batchawana Mt. as it was a steady climb with an elevation of 1000 ft.
When the group arrived, Mary wasn't feeling any better, so she and Dennis had plans to go out the quickest way to the highway where some of our vehicles were located. It involved a twelve klick journey and they would perhaps spend a few days getting there. Michael soon told the group that he didn't want the group to split into two parties as he was worried about Mary. We were all leaving and scrapping the other plans.
We stopped a few times along the way. We were often close to the Batchawana River so it was very picturesque and there even was some small waterfalls or rapids that had neat formations with the ice around them. We had been following a road that a snowmobile or two had traveled on so it made snowshoeing easier. In fact, we had earlier all left the previous night's camp not wearing any snowshoes but we soon came to the conclusion that snowshoes are made for a purpose. Chris remained snowshoe-less but he did just fine. It all depends on what type of boots one is wearing.
We decided to camp a few klicks before the highway. The journey was rough on Mary and it would also give the group another desired night in the bush.
The night had been warm. We were noticeably closer to Lake Superior so the snow depth wasn't as deep where we camped. We packed up and headed for the highway a few klicks away. Everyone was quiet.
As we got closer to the lake and the highway it began to snow heavily with huge flakes floating in the air. We unloaded our sledges while waiting for one of the shuttle vehicles that Cathy went to retrieve. It had been arranged earlier to park it at the store a short distance away from our location.
With the trip being shortened, talk revolved around what people were going to do with the extra days they had left in their vacation. Cathy thought she might make plans to ski and stay north while Chris and Dave thought they might better utilize the extra time at home to get things done, Dennis went home to an outing that he previously wouldn't of been able to attend plus work with his sled dogs, Mary went home to enjoy time with her grandchildren, Michael would have extra time to work on his book and I was looking forward to getting back on skis as I had a race to train for.
The journey had a lot of hard moments and disappointments. There had been a lot of changes to plans and adaptations for everyone, a real test of patience for all. Things don't always go as planned but we learned to experience the journey for what it was.
The reward was that the new plan had us exploring new territory that most of us hadn't traveled before. It had it's own set of hardships between the hills, deep snow and exhaustion but in the end it was still good. Maybe next year we'll attempt this year's agenda again.
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