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.


90-foot Agawa River


The 90-foot-high
Agawa Falls
on the Agawa River.
(Photo by Mary Powell)


Trip journals and photos


Nine days
of waterfalls,
cliffs, and


Agawa Canyon
Ontario, Canada
May 25 thru June 2, 2002

By Mary Powell
   Flint, Michigan
   Copyright 2002

E-mail author at

View Gail Staisil's
   Photo Album from this trip




Saturday dawned cool and overcast. Four of us met for breakfast at a small restaurant/general store on Hwy 17: Gail Staisil of Midland, Sue Schenk Drobny of Marquette, trip leader Michael Neiger of Marquette, and myself.Michael, Mary, Sue, and Gail pause along the ACR tracks


Michael Neiger of Marquette,
Mary Powell of Flint,
Sue Schenk Drobny
of Marquette,
and Gail Staisil of Midland
pause along the ACR tracks
in the Agawa Canyon.
(Photo by Gail Staisil)

View Gail Staisil's
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After the usual breakfast of pancakes we drove to Frater Road, parking one car near the tracks where we planned to debark from the train at the end of our journey and the others at the Towab trailhead where we would begin.

As we drove, I wondered if we would achieve our rather ambitious objectives for the trip: to see Agawa Falls, visit the top of Bridal Veil Falls, climb Kwagama Mountain, see the wreckage of a bush plane, and hike to Lady Evelyn Falls.

I wondered how you feel after more than a week of hiking this rugged backcountry. I was remembering that the Algoma Central Web site says that Canyon Station (definitely on our itinerary) is "only accessible by rail...."


Glossary of bush terms

Thick area--brush will limit visibility to three feet or less: watch your feet as they tend to disappear into holes between the underlying rocks and logs.

Open area--visibility will be OK but be prepared to be lashed by tag alders and tangled in the heath.

Grissant--French word meaning "make sure you have a firm grip on something at all times because your feet are not going to stay where you put them."

Crabwalk--means of getting up slopes greater than 60 degrees or so.

Outlet--definitely not a mall: the usually swampy place where a lake is drained by a river or stream.

Wet your pants (or shirt or bandana)--technique for keeping one's body cool enough to function.

Getting close--meaningless term indicating the objective is somewhere between a hundred meters and a kilometer or two away, potentially with major obstacles in between.


After a final check of our gear and a lot of commentary about the weight of nine days worth of food, we started off on the Towab Trail, which runs along the Agawa River to Agawa Falls.

The woods we passed through had the impending lushness of early spring--lots of buds, a pale haze of new leaves and coils of fern just poking through the duff on the forest floor. Trout lilies and trilliums were out. We saw assorted warblers, brilliant orange orioles and inquisitive humming birds.

There were a few people too: three men with a dog and a couple speaking German were on their way out. A young man wearing jeans and carrying a large pack hurried past us on his way to the falls. We had lunch at Burnt Rock pool, just beginning to relax and get used to each other's company.Mary, Gail, and Sue enjoy lunch at Burnt Rock Pool along the Agawa River.


Mary, Gail, and Sue
enjoy lunch at Burnt Rock Pool
along the bank of
the Agawa River.
The north wall of the canyon,
visible in the background,
is a foothill of Kwagama Hill.
(Photo by Mary Powell)

View Gail Staisil's
   Photo Album from this trip


We explored a bit, commenting on the many signs that the spring runoff had been intense this year. We saw the first of many huge (3' x 4' x 25') timbers left from lumbering days. This one had been washed well back into the woods by the spring torrents.

Sometime after lunch the sky darkened, the breeze picked up a bit and an intermittent drizzle began to fall. We got our first taste of "grissant"--the rocks, the roots and the mud were slick. We passed some young men huddled under a tarp hoping the rain would stop.

Michael asked Sue if she was having fun. After a long contemplative pause she allowed, "Some..."

By 5 pm were damp and thoroughly chilled. Encountering a campsite, we decided to stay the night there, though we had hoped to make it to the falls. We set up our shelters and built a small fire. That and a warm meal definitely lifted our spirits.

The young man in jeans we had seen earlier hurried by saying he hoped to get back to the trailhead before dark as his tent was leaking and he had no raingear... We invited him to stay by the fire and to spend the night but he declined.

As we prepared to turn in Michael said he was glad to have one of the easy days out of the way...


Sunday morning we awoke to chilly air, gray skies and steady rain. We ate a leisurely breakfast hoping the rain would stop. It finally did and we packed wet tarps, donned damp raingear and hiked through the sodden landscape with its assortment of things grissant underfoot.

By noon the sky had lightened a bit. Agawa Falls was definitely worth the walk. The entire river spills over a 90-foot-high precipice into a rocky gorge.

We spent some time taking in the views from below the falls, then climbed to the top and ate lunch with a spectacular view of the gorge below, the mist on our faces and the thunder of the falls in our ears.

Some canoeists, their small boats colorful against the dark water, peaked around the edges of the gorge to get a view of what they'd portaged around.


Starting to hike again after lunch, we promptly ran into a sign that said, "End of Trail." Michael said we had finally reached the REAL trailhead and could finally get started with our adventure...

We bushwhacked on up the river and camped that evening near another gorge where the river narrowed and rushed between steep walls of rock.

On a walk after dinner I saw numerous piles of moose droppings and sat for a while looking over a swampy plateau hoping to see one, but had no luck.

Back in camp, Michael joked that he had talked to Lucy (presumably one of the resident moose) about putting in an appearance on this trip. It didn't happen though.

We saw lots of droppings and tracks were so plentiful in some places that the ground had a barnyard appearance. The only moose sighting, however, was a tentative one made by Michael several days later--a dark shape several hundred yards away along a power line.

The evening was cool and we built a small fire on the sandbar and talked 'til the stars came out. Just before retiring we heard the very distant sounds of one of the Algoma Central freight trains. Searching the darkness we saw its light--a pinpoint moving through the darkness across a valley miles away.


Monday morning the sky had cleared and it promised to be much warmer. Michael tugs on a huge chain still attached to old growth logs used long ago as log booms

Michael tugs on
a huge, heavy chain
still attached to
old growth logs used to
form a log boom
that contained rafted up logs
on the Agawa River
during the logging era
years ago.
(Photo by Gail Staisil)

View Gail Staisil's
   Photo Album from this trip


As we proceeded along the Agawa river, Michael spotted a small white object about 25 feet up on the trunk of an old tree. There were blazes cut into the bark below it. Scanning around he spotted another maybe fifty yards away--and then another and another--in a line roughly following the river.

We continued to look for them and found one on a fallen tree permitting a closer inspection. They were ceramic insulators, tightly wired to the trunks of the trees. Hexagonal and a little over two inches across, they had a center hole which most likely was for a telegraph cable to pass through.

Following the trail of insulators we soon came upon the remains of a lumber camp and spent some time exploring it and imagining it as it had once been.Old logging camp artifacts found along the Agawa River


A wide variety of artifacts
were found at the site
of an old logging camp
located along the south shore
of the Agawa River,
upstream of Agawa Falls.
(Photo by Mary Powell)

View Gail Staisil's
   Photo Album from this trip



There were plenty of clues--artifacts, trash piles and remnants of buildings. Chains of assorted sizes, timbers and cables were everywhere. We took pictures of some of the most interesting pieces and then moved on, planning to look up some of the manufacturers' names upon our return to civilization.


We bushwhacked around the Spire, a prominent landmark, and headed for the railroad tracks. It was rather difficult going with a lot of climbing and descent, thick brush and sheer bluffs to be skirted.

On the last slope up to the tracks, one with about a 65 degree slope, Sue attempted to climb through a fallen pine and got hopelessly stuck. After chopping her free with his bowie knife, Michael teased her unmercifully afterward about needing a high angle rescue...


Once on the tracks the going was easy if somewhat monotonous. We added bloodroot and chicory to our wildflower list. Despite the growing heat there were pockets of ice left from winter in sheltered nooks and crannies among the rocks.

At one point a curious woodchuck studied our progress a while. With no forest to shade us and the sun's heat reflecting from the rocks, it became necessary to drink often and wet articles of clothing to keep from overheating.

Around lunch time we reached the trestle which carries the tracks across the Little Agawa as it flows down to meet the main river just below. There is a series of stair step falls there and we checked out a few of them. The southbound passenger train, only about a half an hour late that day, rolled past as we ate lunch.

After eating we continued down the tracks and reached the trestle that crosses the Agawa itself about the time one should be thinking about setting up camp. There is a somewhat flat area near the bridge and we decided it was home for the night.


After setting up our shelters Michael and I explored a bit and found a beautiful little falls spilling into a slot canyon. Michael decided to climb on up and check out our prospects for reaching the east rim of the canyon the next day. I returned to camp and a brief dip in the river.

Later we ate dinner by the river watching the sun set prematurely as it was blocked by the west wall of the canyon. Mosquitoes and black flies buzzed about at minor nuisance level.

After the meal we all walked up to have a look at the next day's objective: Bridal Veil Falls. It is an impressive falls.

The creek drops 225 feet over the edge of the canyon, splashing on ledges about 3/4 of the way down giving it the look of a veil draping to the floor. There is a large dark pool of water at the base of the falls. That and the surrounding dark rock contrast nicely with the falling water which shines white in the sunlight.

Our plan being to camp at the top of the falls, we scouted the edges of the canyon wall with binoculars looking for open areas.


Returning to camp we settled in for the night....at least some of us did.

I had been reading for about twenty minutes, enjoying the peaceful sounds of the breeze and frogs singing, when there was a tremendous clattering followed by a whoop and then laughter from the direction of Sue's tent.

Michael, it seems, had not been in a reading mood. He had sneaked up the trail toward the tracks and stealthily gathered up a collection of pop cans--each containing a few pebbles and strung together on a rope--left by some previous, not-too-thoughtful campers.

Holding them carefully to keep them quiet, he had crept up beside Sue's tent and dropped the bundle about a foot from her head as she was drifting off to sleep. Sue has a great sense of humor but she did indicate that some sort of retribution was in order....

Near morning there were sounds of movement from Michael's hammock followed by an exclamation, "Get the Hell out of here!"

It seems Mother Nature's sympathies were with Sue and She'd sent a mouse to visit Michael. He was awakened by its stepping on his forehead and had had to get up to get it out of his hammock.

In the morning Sue commented that while she appreciated Mother Nature's effort on her behalf, it wasn't over yet...


Tuesday turned out to be a strenuous day of hiking rewarded by unbelievably beautiful scenery.

We ate breakfast in a thicket by the river watching the sunlight chase the shadows down the canyon wall as the sun came up. Picking up our packs we walked a short distance to the little falls we'd found the night before.

It was already getting hot and we spent a refreshing hour or so wading and climbing around the falls. We took pictures and Michael took a brief inadvertent swim.

After getting dry we sorted our gear and cached what we wouldn't need for the next 48 hours to make the climb of the canyon wall a little easier.


Somehow by this point in the trip we had all developed nicknames. I think Sue had a lot to do with originating them, but we all participated and they added an element of humor to our trail conversations.

The following factors probably contributed to Michael's designation: 1) Chilly weather which resulted in our borderline hypothermia the first day, 2) Excessive time spent peering at maps and looking at the surrounding s with a quizzical expression, 3) His writing "July 2nd" instead of "June 2nd" as the trip end date on our camping permit, and 4) The fact that "we're getting close" had such variable meaning. Michael was renamed "Shackleton" after the ill-fated Antarctic explorer.

Sue wore a hat on this trip that may once have belonged to Indiana Jones. She told entertaining stories that involved participation in stereotypically male activities such as chewing tobacco--so Michael started calling her "Joe."

Gail, on the other hand, has an uncanny ability to pull fashionable, unwrinkled clothes, gourmet foods and an amazing array of technical equipment from her tiny pack. When she set up to cook, she would occupy less than a square yard of space and everything remained neat throughout the meal.

We started calling her "Martha" after Martha Stewart who always has the "right stuff" and right technique for whatever she's doing. Ms. Stewart's well known phrase, "It's a good thing," became a part of our banter too. It could be used sincerely in regard to beautiful sunsets, awesome vistas and peaceful campsites. Or it could be used facetiously--as in being faced with the prospect of crossing a stretch of dark ooze to dip a bottle of brackish water and saying, "Is this a Good Thing?"

As for me, I'm kind of into do-it-yourself projects. After I'd explained the making of a second or third piece of equipment in response to Sue's queries, she said, "You're a regular Heloise of the woods...." Heloise stuck.


Around noon on Tuesday "Shackleton", followed closely by "Martha", "Heloise" and "Joe", began the ascent of the east rim of the canyon.

We took turns crab-walking up stretches of slope so that no one would be on the receiving end of dislodged rocks and debris. On reaching the top we marked the draw we had come up, as Michael had found the evening before that it was the only way back down.

We had lunch at the top of the falls we'd explored the bottom of earlier. We discussed possible names for it and settled on "Slot Canyon Falls"--though Sue suggested a spelling change that might appeal to prospective male hikers....


After lunch we started a bushwhack that would take us to Bridal Veil Falls.

Rather than cut a long azimuth to a small objective (the falls), Michael proposed doing shorter legs to three intervening lakes, thereby getting to see some interesting backcountry on the way.

It was an afternoon of difficult travel and a fascinating variety of bush. There were high angle slopes with tangles of brush and many fallen trees. There were swamps around the lakes and streams.

Each of us had our own cloud of bugs which merged into one large cloud whenever we paused close together. The lakes we traveled to had no names on the map.

The first I'll call Old Beaver Lake as it had been much larger at one time when beavers were active there. It had a broad border of grass with soggy black soil underneath. There was a rocky peninsula at one end, beyond which was a wetland that had once been part of the lake. Frogs sang loudly there.

At the opposite end, near the outlet, was a large abandoned beaver lodge. Passing it, we followed the stream for a while before beginning a bushwhack to the second lake which I'll call Railway Falls Lake.

Looking across it we saw a vista that was definitely postcard material: a 40-foot falls dropped into it from Railway Lake above.

The third lake, while pretty, was not exceptional. Steep, rocky, forested slopes ran right down to the water's edge. The outlet area was a swamp, the worst of which we bushwhacked around.


When we located Railway Creek again Michael decided to do a recon to find the easiest way to the top of the falls and to locate a possible bivouac area. We hadn't seen a flat spot large enough to lay down in for several hours.

While Shackleton was away, Martha, Heloise and Joe decided to find out what would happen if he came back and found them gone. The plot was foiled, however, when he returned by a different route....maybe next time....


Working our way down the creek, we came to the stellar camping place Michael had found.

He and Gail put up their hammocks within a few meters of the falls with an awesome view over the rim of the canyon. Sue and I bivouacked in a nearby semi-flat space in the woods.

We all gathered for the evening by the edge of the falls. The canyon spread out before us and we could study its vast grandeur: the ribbon of river in shades of brown varying with its depth and the opposite canyon wall with gnarled trees clinging to every small ledge.Bridal Veil Falls viewed from the top


The 250-foot-high
Bridal Veil Falls
as viewed from above.
(Photo by Sue Schenk Drobny)

View Gail Staisil's
   Photo Album from this trip


Railroad tracks followed the river on one side, power lines on the other. Directly below and across from us were the observation area we'd been in the night before and the trails leading up to it. At the limit of our view upstream we could just see the manicured lawns of Canyon Station.

In the other direction a small stream tumbled down the opposite wall in a series of falls just visible through the trees. We could see minute details like a swimming beaver and the trails left on the river bottom where a canoe had disturbed a sandbar.

Cradled in the roots of a large pine, I watched individual water droplets as they were launched and fell, continually changing shape, toward the rocks below--a somewhat dizzying and hypnotic experience. Now and then the breeze would carry some mist up to us.

We watched a bank of clouds change shape and dissipate, leaving the sun to set in an almost clear sky. Venus and Jupiter appeared as the twilight deepened.

Around 11:15 we heard the distant squealing of brakes and muted rumble that signaled a southbound freight. It grew louder and finally rushed by in the darkness below, its light reflecting from the canyon walls at the curves, its wheels clicking and clacking on the tracks.

We fell asleep soon afterward lulled by the steady roar of the falls.


We returned to our falls-side perch for breakfast and watched the sun light up the west side of the canyon--gazing in the direction of our next objective, Kawagma Mountain, hidden some miles behind the hills on the far rim.

It was hard to leave when Michael said, "Take a good last look; we won't likely be back here soon."

We finally turned and followed him as he moved into the woods. Not wanting to just retrace our steps, we loosely followed the east rim of the canyon.

Morning break found us taking in another view of the canyon from an open rocky ledge. We had returned to Old Beaver Lake by lunchtime and after the meal we bushwhacked to the draw we'd marked and scrambled down.

By the time we reached the bottom, another dip in the creek seemed in order. Refreshed, we reassembled our gear and headed for Canyon Station.


Canyon Station is a park maintained by the Algoma Central Railroad. Tour train passengers can debark there for a couple of hours and stretch their legs by walking the trails to the three waterfalls or by climbing to an observation platform 250 feet above the canyon floor.

There are picnic facilities and a souvenir car. The park's crew is headed by Kevin whom Michael knew from previous trips. As we approached the station he came out to talk.

He related how the crew had come up early this year to get the park in shape for the summer, but the late snows and heavy flooding had complicated the job.

He shared tidbits of canyon history--like the story of Spooner who was injured years ago working for the railroad and lived out his life, alone except for a big white dog, in a cabin a few miles upstream. He told us to keep an eye out for Spooner's wooden leg which was lost when he drowned in a river crossing and had never been recovered.

Another character from the past was Bucksaw Bill who also lived upstream and was the canyon's law enforcement for some time. As we moved toward Otter Creek Falls to climb the west side of the canyon, Kevin showed us some stone stairs laid hundreds of years ago by Native Americans.

And he told us that here at the station you could watch the moon rise three times in one evening. He'd done it himself. Climb the stairs to the observation platform and watch it rise there. Return to the bottom of the canyon and watch it rise over the east rim. Then paddle across the river and watch it clear the east wall again.

It occurred to us that perhaps there were nights when the crew had a little too much time on their hands....

Kevin appeared to have more stories, but Michael was anxious to get back into the bush and after a hasty appreciation of Otter Creek Falls and a friendly farewell to Kevin we followed him up the draw....and up....and up....


By the time we reached the top, Sue had pulled a muscle and was limping significantly.

As there was a shortage of premium bivouac spots in the immediate vicinity, we ended up camping in the cleared area near some power lines.

While the proximity of so many potentially unruly charged particles caused some apprehension, the site did have several advantages: 1) We were there and the sun was sinking, 2)The breeze in the clearing thinned the black flies a little, and 3) There was a corridor of unobstructed view where we could watch for wildlife.

Scanning to the north as we ate our evening meal, Michael was sure he saw a moose. Some of us were reluctant to count a dark shape moving at the limit of binocular range as a moose sighting but he was not to be deterred...

We then discussed hanging a hammock between the power line poles, but decided that might be excessive temptation of fate and found accommodations a little farther from the wires.


Thursday morning was cool and foggy.

We made a fairly leisurely start, proceeding along an ATV trail that passed a couple of cabins on small lakes. The trail became less distinct, then became intermittently part of a streambed. We followed it past an abandoned beaver pond with so much dead timber that it looked like there'd been an explosion.

At lunch time we were near the intersection of this "road" and a creek. We ate in a breezy clearing filled with trout lilies. A white throated sparrow sang repeatedly that we were in "Canada ..Canada...Canada..."

After the meal we again sorted our gear, taking only what was essential and caching the rest to reduce pack weight. Michael said he was glad we were finally getting to the challenging stuff. The rest of us were wondering how much more challenging it was going to get...

The afternoon lived up to Shackleton's expectations. It was well over 90 degrees, but thick brush and black flies made long pants a necessity.

An hour or so into the trek what little we could see of the surrounding terrain wasn't matching the map. A light rain began to fall as we emerged temporarily from the thick stuff onto a meadow/wetland. The tops of the surrounding hills, just visible over the trees, were pretty nondescript. We dug out the GPS hoping it would enlighten us.

Several days earlier, wanting to get a fix on the location of the old lumber camp, we had gotten it out. Despite the relatively open area there, it had been unable to acquire a signal.

We sat on our packs chewing damp granola bars and waited while it searched for satellites. After a few minutes it told us we were right on course--just a little overly optimistic about our progress.

We continued to bushwhack, crossing rocky hills covered with thick stuff and the intervening lowlands covered with swamp. In one of these lowlands, Shackleton and Joe in the lead had just crossed a boggy area and disappeared into the brush when Martha suddenly dropped down in front of me.

Her right foot had broken through and she was resting on her elbow with her right leg sunk up to the hip in the ooze. She dispensed immediately with all decorum and expressed her heartfelt sentiments at this turn of events....

We took off her pack and began to extricate her from the mess. From the bush beyond the bog Joe called back, "What's the hold up?" I replied that we were OK, but it was going to take a few minutes to get going.

On her feet again, Martha looked a bit bedraggled. Her once crisp white shirt had large splotches of black ooze and several pounds of mud clung to her leg.

Never one to carry any extra weight and mindful of Michael's admonition that not one drop of the four liters of water we were carrying (because there was no water at the top of the mountain) was to go anywhere but in our mouths, she decided to "wash up" with the green/brown liquid from a pool nearby. This effort did remove the bulk of the slime, leaving her with just the black stains, the soggy boot and the "eau de swamp."

We slogged onward. Michael said we were contouring around the hills, but I could swear 90% of the afternoon was uphill....

Finally we came to the base of the hill he identified as Kawagma and started to climb in earnest. The drizzle had ended and it was hotter than ever.

Breathing harder from the effort, I found a headnet was essential to keep from inhaling excessive numbers of blackflies. Occasional choking coughs from the others told me I wasn't the only one having that problem.

After a very long forty minutes or so, the brush thinned out and the angle of the slope decreased slightly. Shackleton said this didn't look familiar....not a popular remark with the crew! We proceeded over several small rises, finally coming to one with a large outcropping of lichen-covered rock.

Climbing up on it we saw the surrounding back country spread out before us. The curve of a bay on Lake Superior sparkled in the distance. We had made it to the top!

Though the sun was shining, a bank of clouds appeared to be on a collision course with our hill. We retreated from the summit to a lightly forested depression about thirty feet below and hastily set up our shelters.

As we tied the final knots there was a flash of lightening followed immediately by thunder. The woods filled with mist and the rain began. Under our tarps we changed to drier clothes and boiled up our evening meal. Life was good again.

By the time we finished eating the storm had passed. Michael found a good tree for our bear hang--a job that was taken seriously that evening as there were several piles of ursine scat nearby.

The mists cleared and we returned to the summit to soak up the view. There were shreds of cloud above and below us. As darkness came colors faded leaving only the silhouetted contours of the land. Finally there were just a couple of very tiny distant lights on boats in the bay.


Lying in my bag next morning, not yet fully awake, I thought, "Sounds like the hamster's out of the cage again... " Then it came to me that I haven't had a hamster for many years.

Opening my eyes I saw a small rodent about eight inches from my face, matter-of-factly consuming the small piece of pack towel I'd been using to pad one of my shoulder straps.

I watched him without moving for a minute or so. He was large for a mouse and brown, not gray. His tail was short too--less than half his body length.

He stared back at me and continued to sample the towel, turning it in his forepaws to get the tastiest bites. When I moved he froze for a few seconds then scampered off. I picked up the cloth he'd been chewing--it looked like purple Swiss cheese.

It was probably a good thing I hadn't kept any snacks out that night, as there might have been many more visitors.


It was another cool foggy morning.

We climbed up for a look at the view, but it was gone: we were on an island in a sea of cloud. Hoping the clouds would dissipate, we ate breakfast, read and poked around the remains of an old fire tower blown down by the winds many years ago.

Sue collected some bits of quartz for a friend who makes jewelry. Late in the morning the wind carried the last of the clouds away and the view we had come for lay before us again.

Saw-toothed ridges ran at an angle toward the north, roughly parallel to Lake Superior which glinted brightly to the west.Kawagama Mountain


Sue, Michael, and Gail
check out the view from
Kwagama Mountain,
elevation 2050'.
(Photo by Mary Powell)

View Gail Staisil's
   Photo Album from this trip

Geology texts say that in this area layers of sedimentary rock were crushed by the weight of the water in an ancient sea 'til they tilted and cracked. They were then eroded repeatedly by glacial ice which also deposited the gravelly debris that filled the valleys. We could see the worn edges of the rock layers with their forest cover stretching into the distance.

Agawa Canyon was hidden by the hills to the east, but at the limits of vision we spotted a tower and took a bearing on it so we could look for it as we headed back to the canyon. Finally, though reluctant to leave the view, we started back down.


While not easy traveling, the trip down from Kawagma was not as arduous as the trip up. We ran one long azimuth to a lake and then another to hit a "road" that intersected the creek where our gear was cached.

Any resemblance to a road there was purely coincidental: it was a lot of rocky creek bed surrounded by swamp. Moving by compass in the direction the road should have gone, the scenery eventually began to look familiar.

Just in time for lunch, Michael announced, "I've got 'em." He had unerringly returned us to our cached equipment. Nice job Shackleton!


An easy afternoon's hike brought us to an old gravel pit with a stream nearby: luxury accommodations--flat ground AND water! We set up our shelters around the edge of the pit then soaked in the chilly water of the stream and relaxed.

For the evening meal we gathered in a small circle to share conversation and the smoke from Pic burners. Actually, the bugs were at a tolerable level--you could put up your headnet to eat without consuming or inhaling too many. The chill of late evening thinned them further.

The sun set in a blaze of red-orange beyond the trees. It was a clear night and the stars put in their appearance. Toward morning there was a small slice of peach colored moon. The temperature dropped drastically and we awoke to patches of frost in the low areas.

Michael was up early. He said the hammock got chilly and he'd been buzzed by a hummingbird interested in the red liner of his sleeping bag...


With one full day of the trip left we elected to walk the back trails and tracks to the place where the train stops for clients of Windy Lake Lodge, leaving Lady Evelyn Falls and the bush plane for another trip.

There is a trestle where the Black Spruce River joins the Agawa and a knob of rock Michael thought might be a good camping spot--affording us a view. Alternatively, there are some falls on the Black Spruce--perhaps we would camp there...

The walking was easy but the temperature rose steadily until we were refilling our water bottles at every creek. The country is ruggedly beautiful and with the clearings provided by the tracks, the power lines and the back roads we were able to see and appreciate it.

The canyon walls are near vertical rock faces in colors ranging from dark gray/black to pink. Huge trees cling in precarious places. Small streams are everywhere, spilling from ledges, running down the rock faces, trickling through cracks and draws. Forest alternates with wetlands.

We passed the cabins of Spooner (no sign of the missing leg) and Bucksaw Bill. We lunched by the Agawa and talked about fording it to travel the old logging roads on the east side on a future trip. We approached mile 122 1/2 in the late afternoon.

In the last hundred meters before the tracks we came upon the Shuttle Vehicle of the Year...a derelict truck decorated with camo paint and political stickers. There was a prominent bullet hole in the driver's side windshield. We took some pictures just for fun.Gail, Sue, and Mary inspect this years shuttle vehicle


Gail, Sue, and Mary
inspect this year's
shuttle vehicle
located near the
Agawa River.
(Photo by Gail Staisil)

View Gail Staisil's
   Photo Album from this trip


It was time to look for a campsite. Gazing at the rock knob rising more than a hundred meters above the tracks, we decided it was an objective for a future trip. Even Black Spruce Falls, another half-hour walk, seemed too far away.

We settled on a relatively flat area between the tracks and the Agawa River. We rested, swam in the river and explored the immediate area. I walked up to see if the falls were as pretty as I remembered from the previous year.

Sue investigated the repeated cacophony of crow calls we heard while setting up camp. She located their nest high on a rock face across the Agawa. With binoculars you could see there were three young that appeared to be near fledging. They created an amazing racket each time a parent returned with food.


We arose lazily in the morning and gathered our things, marveling how light the packs had become.

The train that would pick us up was not due until early afternoon. We crossed the trestle and ambled up the trail to the series of falls on the Black Spruce. Each has its own personality.

The first is a churning chute where the river passes through a narrow crack in the bedrock. The second is a pair of pools with a falls dropping between them. The third is composed of many little falls as the river spreads out while dropping over a much eroded rocky incline.

We read or climbed on the rocks and waded in the pools. We snacked on what little was left in our packs--then headed back to wait for the train.

Back at the tracks we found a group of fishermen from the Soo with a small mountain of gear. They were eager to recount their adventures and it occupied the time we had to wait for the train. In addition to fishing, they had worked at stocking some lakes and they had consumed an amazing amount of beer in the process.

The train appeared less than half an hour behind schedule. We loaded our packs and climbed aboard for the ride to Frater Station. We stood in the open areas between the cars watching as the sights we had seen on foot rushed by in reverse order. We talked about the next time....because we will be coming back!

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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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