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Sierra Club Wilderness
trips and expeditions
This year's signature, expert-level, winter-camping trip--our 19th Annual Canadian Snowshoe Expedition--will involve a nine-day, 40-kilometer snowshoe tour pulling expedition-size cargo sledges, much as the Ojibwa traveled for 100s of years before us.
This trip will represent a second attempt to successfully sledge completely through the heart of Lake Superior Provincial Park. A similar, 1992 attempt--the Wizard Creek Expedition--failed due to exhausting conditions: extremely deep powder snow. If we are successful at penetrating the park's bush, we will explore the upper reaches of the Sand River Valley, including the northern portions of the old Algoma Snowshoe Trail that was popular in the 1940s and 1950s. If time and conditions permit, we will also recon the old Sand River Fire Tower that is situated northwest of Sand Lake, north of the park.
Having spotted vehicles at Frater Road along Highway 17, mid-morning on Saturday, we'll begin a 35-kilometer, 8-day eastward sledge through the park. We'll sledge up to and across Gamitagama Lake, down the Anjigami River, across Mijinemungshing Lake and out its North Arm, up Maquon Creek and across Maquon Lake, overland and down to an unnamed tributary of the Sand River, down this tributary to the Sand River, and up the Sand River to Sand Lake, where we must flag down the southbound No. 632 Train on the Algoma Central Railway tracks near Mile 136, the following Saturday, just after lunch.
Once aboard this historic bush train, we will relax in a rugged box car with our sledges, or in a heated passenger car where beverages and snacks are served, as the train rumbles through the magnificent Agawa Canyon. We'll have the conductor drop us and our sledges at the original Frater Station near mile 104, where we will begin a 5-kilometer sledge, first through the bush, and then down along the unplowed Frater Road, bivouacking as needed, to arrive at our vehicles at Highway 17 midmorning on Sunday.
As we sledge over the height of land just east of Maquon Lake and begin our descent into the Sand River Valley, our point person will be keeping an eye peeled for aerial spoor--high blazes--marking remnants of the old Algoma Snowshoe Trail, which was first blazed in 1943 by members of The Snowshoe Club. Also known as the Sand River Snowshoe Trail, this network of frozen waterways and overland foot trails was marked with high blazes so it could be followed when carpeted with six feet of snow.
Founded in 1932, The Snowshoe Club developed remote winter trails, first along the Montreal River and later along the Sand River. Plans called for connecting these two sections of trails to create about 150 miles of winter snowshoing paths. According to the club's president, Les Perrine, who was known as The Snowshoe Man, the Algoma Snowshoe Trail was "modeled somewhat after the Appalachin [sic] Trail."
In a 1966 letter written to MNR Rangers in Wawa, Ontario, The Snowshoe Man said "the Snowshoe Trail is designed and built primarily to be a winter trail thru sub arctic mountain wilderness areas." He wrote that they "could not fore tell at the start the wide extent of activities the club and the trail would cover nor the widespread publicity the trail would receive. Nor that it would become a means of sub arctic research producing much valuable information for U.S. and Canadian Air Force, Civil Defense, Boy Scouts, conservation, and teaching."
The Snowshoe Man went on to write that their club consisted of 1200 members and that their Snowshoe Trail and Cabins had been the topic of over 100 stories or presentations by newspapers, magazines, radio stations, TV stations, and club members.
The Sand River Snowshoe Trail system also included four small, rustic wood cabins known as Cabin No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, and No. 4. It is very possible that these cabins remain to this day as they were well-constructed and the three I visited in the early 80's were still intact.
Cabin No. 1, located along the north shore of Sand Lake, opposite Mile 136 on the ACR Tracks, was built in 1949. Cabin No. 2 was built in 1950 along the west bank of the Sand River, between portage No. 3 and No. 4, and it served as the group's headquarters. Cabin No. 3 was built along the east bank of the Sand River, about 0.5 miles downstream of Portage No. 7. Cabin No. 4 was built in 1954 along the south shore of White Spruce Lake, near the outlet in the small bay. Known as Buckingham Palace, it was reportedly "the pride of the club."
All of the cabins rested atop 7-foot high stilts so they were accessible in deep snow and inaccessible to bears, which were always a problem. Each cabin was heated by a tiny sheet metal stove and included a porch, shutters, bunks, and a ladder for access. A food cache on stilts was usually located near by. The cabins were generally no larger than 10.5 feet in length and 5.5 feet in width so they could be easily heated: "The sleeper can start the morning fire while still in the sleeping bag. In 15 minutes the cabin is warm even when 40 below zero outside." Hand-built from split cedar shakes, the cabins were stocked with "food, supplies, and equipment."
Closed in the winter and only open to muscle-powered activities when it is open, the nearly trailless Lake Superior Provincial Park is free of snowmobiles, ATV's and float/ski planes. Our only company will likely be the hearty timber wolf, the mighty moose, and Mother Nature, who on past expeditions has greeted us with arctic-like weather conditions: standing temperatures as low minus 50 degrees F and snow depths to 6 feet.
to dip to minus 40 or 50 F
Specialized equipment required:
Additional destination info:
Wilderness skills and resources info:
Dressing warm skills
Land Nav Team Info:
Topographic maps (required):
Provincial Park map (recommended):
magnetic declination specs:
Misc nav setup:
More land nav team info
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