Michigan Bush Rats' Wilderness
Tripping: Backpacking & Canyoneering
A Michigan Bush Rats' Adventure:
7 Days of Backpacking
May 27 to June 2, 2007
By Mary Powell (NatureLady)
E-mail author at email@example.com
Review WoodsRunner's photo album from this trip
Review Tracey R.'s photo album from this trip
View Charlie R.'s moose shed found on this trip
Return to photo-journal archive index page
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The meeting place for this late May backpacking trip was the Voyageur Lodge and Cookhouse, a roadside inn located on Highway 17, along the Lake Superior shoreline, near Batchewana Bay, Ontario.
When I arrived there I found Cathy already settled into our room and about to go for a walk on the beach. Unpacking could wait: I decided to stretch my legs too. We crossed the highway and ambled down the picturesque sandy expanse toward the mouth of the Carp River, perhaps a quarter of a mile to the north.
We chatted as we walked, catching up on the events in each other's lives since we were last together. At the river we paused and watched the steady flow of water into the lake before turning back. Lake Superior's deep turquoise hue took on silvery and pink highlights as the sun sank lower. A new element in the scene was the wind farm across the bay, it's massive towers dwarfed by the distance, but still very apparent against the early evening skyline.
Arriving back at our room, we saw that others from our group had arrived and were about to go to dinner. Cicely, Bob, Charlie and Tracy had carpooled together from lower Michigan. They said they'd had a pleasant evening at Cicely's place on the AuSable River and seemed full of anticipation for our adventure.
At the restaurant we received a warm welcome from the owners as we have started trips there quite a few times in the past couple of years. They told us that Michael, our trip leader, had called to say he would not be making it for dinner, but would be along later in the evening.
The whitefish was excellent and I couldn't pass up the apple crisp either so much for moderation! We chatted through the meal, getting to know Charlie's daughter Tracy who'd not been out with us before. We also learned about what adventures Cicely and Bob had had since we last shared a hike.
We probably could have talked late into the night, but the restaurant was closing, so we retired to our rooms to make some last minute gear choices and finish packing.
Lost in the bush Twice
Upon waking up I peeked through the curtains to see if the predicted nice weather had materialized. Patchy fog made it hard to tell. Michael's van was parked near our door though--that was a good sign.
We dressed and put fresh water and our cold food into our packs. Cathy called to Michael when he emerged from his van and he came over to greet us. He said that Dennis, the other expected participant had also arrived and had already gone to the restaurant.
We headed that way and the others soon joined us. Once seated at a table, we struck up a conversation with another customer who turned out to be Kevin Hutchinson, who had read some of our previous trip logs on Michael's Web site and e-mailed us about them. He was on his way home from a week of camping and hiking in Lake Superior Provincial Park, so the conversation gravitated naturally to gear and settled in particular on knives I think it's a guy thing
The breakfast and coffee were good, as always, and when the routine pre-trip paperwork was complete, we headed north to spot vehicles at the old, Algoma Central Railway (ACR) siding known as Frater and start our hike at the mouth of Barrett Creek.
We began by working our way upstream--that's with the emphasis on UP since we had several hundred meters of climb slated for the afternoon. Climbing over jumbled rocks and scrambling through dense brush, we paused at intervals to photograph the numerous cascades and small waterfalls we found along the way.
About an hour into the hike we stopped for lunch and then continued along the creek. Bob was sweeping on that segment and after a while we realized it had been awhile since we'd seen him
We turned back to look for him, combing both sides of the creek since we'd been crossing back and forth as necessary to get around obstacles.
When we located Bob, Michael was missing: he'd dropped his ruck and headed downstream in search of any sign of Bob. The bush there is really dense and with the running water sound, even calling or whistling doesn't carry very far. Since we had the creek as a handrail and knew Michael was downstream of us, we soon managed to get the group together again.
As we continued up the creek, Charlie, Tracy, Bob and Cicely, traveling on the far side, decided to go around a rock outcropping instead of climbing up the waterfall the rest of us were negotiating. Cathy, Michael, Dennis and I had scrambled up and worked our way a short distance upstream when it became apparent that the other group was either ahead of, or behind us, or had not been able to get back down to the creek on their side.
After a brief discussion, we agreed that the best strategy was to continue to the planned bivouac site which we'd discussed at lunch. From there at least we should have only one direction to search downstream.
We were distracted briefly by a couple of very pretty falls, but then hustled along the remnants of an old logging road toward the place where it crossed the creek. That was where we planned to spend the night.
There wasn't a lot of open space near the remains of the bridge where the road crossed the stream, but we found enough to put up our tarps. Dusk was falling when we finished and we agreed that the rest of the group would either arrive shortly or would camp on their own if they had difficulty covering the distance before dark--they were also experienced wilderness trekkers. If they didn't join us, we would start back to look for them in the morning.
As we prepared our evening meal, Charlie and Tracy made their way into camp. We helped them get set up. They reported climbing a sizeable waterfall which the logging road had circumvented for us--though we'd heard it at one point and talked about the need to check it out in the morning. Charlie told us that Bob and Cicely had been tired before reaching the falls and had decided to camp about 500 meters downstream. Michael went back to check on them and upon his return reported that all was well there.
It was good to go to sleep knowing that everyone was OK.
Next morning we awoke to overcast skies and dripping woods, but the light rain had stopped before dawn.
After a leisurely breakfast Michael, Charlie and I went back to get Bob and Cicely. We found them in good spirits and ready to go. On the way back to our camp Michael and Charlie found a moose shed--always a Kodak moment.
Our first objective was to look for more waterfalls on Barrett Creek. We found three spectacular ones in the next two klicks (km). By noon the sun was out. We reached the plateau and the creek turned into a series of beaver ponds. We turned away from it and went in search of an old logging road that showed on the topos.
We found and followed it uphill till it turned and came back to the creek. There the water flowed slowly under a bridge made of huge logs, many of which were mostly rotted away. Small evergreens were growing in the cracks between the more intact ones.
As there had obviously been no vehicle activity there in a very long time, we camped where the road had been. Michael went for a swim in the quiet pond below the bridge and the rest of us were not far behind.
We had our shelters in a friendly circle and it was a pleasant social evening. A sunset of peach sky with pink clouds was followed by the appearance of a gibbous moon.
Wolf tracks and a moose carcass
Morning brought overcast with more clouds drifting in. At times we thought we felt a drop or two of rain.
We ate breakfast and packed, watching the sky every soft often. By the time we were ready to hike the picture had improved: there were a few patches of blue. This was to be a leisurely day. We only had about four klicks to cover and much of that would be on the remnants of a logging road--assuming it continued as shown on the map. We began by checking out some of the examples of wolf scat that were scattered in more open areas around camp. Looked like they were getting mostly small animals from the fur and bone fragments
We then set out on the old road and it unfurled just as shown on the map. Looking for tracks in the muddy spots, we found many moose, some wolf, a few bear and little else. When we came to where the road crossed a nameless creek, we found it spanned by a substantial beaver dam and the road about five feet under water.
We crossed on the dam, stopping on the far side for a short break and photo op. Noting that the broad open expanse near the water would make a good bivouac, Michael marked his map accordingly.
Starting out again we ambled slowly looking for sheds and examining scat. After a while we left the road, cutting an azimuth to a lake where Michael had found the pontoons of a bush plane on a previous trip.
Along the way we found the partially consumed carcass of baby moose. The ground around it was torn up and tracked as if more than one wolf had feasted there. Farther along the same ridge we stopped for lunch. In the afternoon we worked our way around the lake to where the pontoons had been found.
There was a peninsula there with some semi clear areas and someone had stashed a row boat. From it's appearance it had been undisturbed for many years. We moved it to make space for one of our shelters.
When we'd gotten set up, we washed up in the cold water of the lake and began to explore the area. Cathy and I found a cluster of dragon flies hatching. It was fascinating to watch them unfurling and drying their wings in the sun.
Michael and Dennis dug out their fishing gear, Charlie and Tracy decided to go for a walk. Cathy and I took the boat across the small lake. The oars and oarlocks were in sad shape so rowing was a somewhat tricky but fun exercise.
Even from the boat we were unable to find the remains of the plane in the clear water. Most likely someone had salvaged them. When we returned to camp, the fishermen had had no luck. Charlie and Tracy reported making it to an overgrown road that was on the topo.
We settled down for a quiet dinner. The overcast made the sunset unspectacular. After reading awhile I lay in my bag listening to the hum of mosquitoes outside the bivy and to the chorus of frogs in the nearby wetlands.
A whoop from beneath a neighboring tarp denoted Charlie's being visited by a snake. Then all was peaceful again. It was much warmer than the previous nights and I fell asleep on top of my bag.
Toward morning thunder and lightning were followed by rain, and I had to lower one corner of the tarp so it would drain. Then I dozed again, listening to the rain and the exuberant frogs.
Black Beaver Escarpment
We awoke to a very warm morning. The forest was dripping and the clouds were clearing. Amidst cheerful conversation we fixed breakfast, finished our camp chores and packed. We carefully put the boat back where we'd found it and went to have a look at the fishing boat Charley and Tracey had found on their walk the day before.
We also looked for some old trails from Kwagama Lodge and tried to delineate the park boundary. We then followed the overgrown road past the turnoff to the lodge and onward to a beaver pond that had been dry for many years, judging from the vegetation. There we had lunch.
After lunch, with Cathy leading, we cut an azimuth to a nameless lake to the north, from which we hoped to get a look at an escarpment that Michael called Black Beaver, though it was not the one so named on the topo.
We wanted a clear view of the escarpment to see if there were any open rocky areas on top that would have an unobstructed view of the surrounding terrain. A place like that would make a climb to the top worthwhile: a camp site on view property.
The lake itself turned out to be picturesque, brim full of water and with a tiny, tree covered rocky island. We went out on a point that jutted into the lake to get a view of the imposing rocky wall, which, unfortunately, did not appear to have any bald spots on top.
Since there was no use in climbing the wall, and it was too late to get to any other objective, we began to scout around for a suitable campsite. Crossing the beaver dam at the end of the lake, we climbed the steep hill on the far side and found a comfortable place among some maples. It was decorated with wildflowers.
We explored the area a little, then washed up and rested. The bugs were pesky in the late afternoon heat--especially the black flies. Michael had secured a campsite on a ledge of sorts overlooking the lake and we congregated there for dinner.
The frog chorus this evening was softer and more varied in sound. The sunset was nice but not spectacular. As the light faded, the black flies disappeared and the mosquitoes came out. We retired to our tarps--some folks to sleep, others to read.
After the usual morning routines we set off for Kwagama Mountain. For a while we paralleled the escarpment then dropped down to an old, overgrown road that happened to be going in roughly the right direction. When it turned, we went east to a creek and followed it up to the lake which lies immediately below Kwagama .
Somewhere along the creek we had lunch. In the lake we swam and picked up enough water to last over night, as there usually is none at the top of the mountain. We have been up there a number of times and keep returning for the spectacular 360 degree view of the surrounding countryside.
We were trying a new approach this time. From the SE side of the lake we did a series of azimuths to the top. Except for one place where we had to move laterally to get around a vertical wall, it was a much gentler route than we'd used before.
There is a cleared area around the twisted remains of a fire tower at the top. From there we checked out the view in all directions. Visibility was pretty good, though there were areas of diffuse fog below. We dropped down to a sheltered plateau about 40 feet below the summit and set up our shelters. We then went back up to spend the evening enjoying the view. Michael, Cathy and Charlie elected to sleep up there too.
I decided to go back to my tarp to sleep as the cloud picture was kind of equivocal with regard to the probability of precipitation. When I woke in the middle of the night, however, I went back up.
The starry sky was faded somewhat by the brilliant light of the full moon. The terrain below was in clear relief, each hill and ridge outlined by light and shadow. It was softened almost imperceptibly in places by mist. There were a few places where I could see moonlight reflected on ponds or streams.
Looking out toward Superior there was a bank of fog near shore, but farther out I could see tiny lights that had to be on freighters. Despite a chill breeze I stayed a while, soaking up the views.
Black Beaver Lake
Clouds had moved in by the time we got up next morning. We had breakfast up top in hope of getting a clear view of Lake Superior, but the fog moved in till it obscured even some of the closer hills and drifted between the trees, propelled by a chilly breeze.
We finally gave up hope of seeing more and formulated a plan to take us to Black Beaver Lake. Cathy and I had been taking turns on point, doing traditional map and compass navigation, but Charlie had been using his GPS to keep track of where we were and this morning Michael decided to have him take point and try using it to navigate.
It worked fairly well, though in some places we ended up going a longer way around. At the bottom of the mountain we located a creek and took it to a nearby lake, then went around the end of the lake toward another, having lunch along the little waterway in between.
From the second lake we hunted for a trapper's trail without much success. We bushwhacked for awhile and finally came upon a suggestion of a road. We followed a series of Y intersections, being somewhat unsure of location for considerable time before coming to a recognizable road. It led down to the lake near a cabin and we bushwhacked to another road from there.
This one led to a landing where some fishermen were unloading an ATV. Passing them, we walked several miles down the muddy road to an idyllic campsite on the shore of the lake. It had some things we hadn't seen for awhile--like open grassy space, clear rocky shore and some floral escapees from a domestic garden.
It had been a long day and we were tired but happy. There was a lot of cheerful conversation and ribbing. We took pictures of the pieces of Dennis' fishing rod and the damp laundry by everyone's shelter. Loons called repeatedly across the lake.
The fishermen we'd seen earlier trolled by and waved as they passed. The open expanse of water made for a late sunset: clear oranges and yellows that finally faded to blue. We turned in kind of early listening to the soft lapping sounds of water on the rocks.
Returning to civilization
The next morning was sunny and warm. From Black Beaver Lake it is only a few klicks to the Canyon Station where we planned to catch the southbound ACR train to Frater.
There is a rather precipitous trail that drops over the wall of the canyon near Black Beaver Falls. We ambled in that direction, checking out old cabins and artifacts from the logging days. Finding the trail, we followed it down clinging to the ropes put in place by the owners of camps in the area. Michael showed us the remains of a wooden ladder that used to be the means of getting down one of the more perpendicular stretches.
Stepping from the forest out onto the tracks is a bit of a shock as you are suddenly returned to the world of manicured lawns, paved trails and neat buildings. Canyon Station is a park maintained for the passengers of the Agawa Canyon tour trains.
As our train was not expected till afternoon, and the scheduled arrival is often considerably before the actual event, we explored the park, taking pictures of all the falls and climbing the stairs to the observation platform.
Our presence seemed to give the station crew a welcome excuse for some prolonged breaks from mowing and trimming. They sat and chatted with us about the canyon and the planned logging on the rim.
Finally a distant whistle heralded the approach of our train.
We gathered our gear, handed it up into the baggage car and climbed up after it. The bush train is fun as you are allowed to ride in the baggage cars, viewing the passing scenery from the open doors. We moved from side to side to get the best views along each stretch of track and we talked about previous trips that had been done there.
At the old Frater Station, we off loaded our stuff and found our cars.
It wasn't long before we were back on Highway 17, headed for one last meal together before heading home.
Review WoodsRunner's photo album from this trip
Review Tracey R.'s photo album from this trip
View Charlie R.'s moose shed found on this trip
Read another photo-journal.
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