Written by Don Alexander
The sun had disappeared behind the ridge. After a few pictures and a wee break we started our bushwhacking along the lake in the slowly dimming light. Not far into the bush we came across a canoe. We were wondering where Tomtec and Elf had stored their ride. It was not just any canoe, it happened to be a TB too! After a quick picture the bushwhacking continued.
We tried going over the rocks along the lakes edge for a bit while there was still a bit of light. It seemed easy going as we didn’t have the same amount of branches to deal with. What we did have were wet rocks and the odd tree trunk growing at a 45 towards the lake. After about 50m the rocks became submersed and we were back to the brush again. The darkness came very fast then and everyone donned their headlamps. Even with the headlamps the going was rough, perhaps because of them. I had a look at my inside thigh the next day after arriving home. I must have always started with my right leg every time I went over a log. The bruises were all on the left inside leg where the odd branch stub jammed. The final count was around a dozen cigar sized bruises. We started to find while plastic ribbons on route and realized that we’d found the actual trail of those that came before. Some trees had what looked like moss green spots on the trees. Perhaps paint pellet markers of the trail? Perhaps it was just a kind of old moss of the area?
The lack of sleep over the past few days, the endless branches coming out of nowhere and the exertion of the hike was starting to take its toll. Mentally, the thought of how much more of this we needed to go through was very draining. Rest stops became more frequent, rather than every hour it became every 1/2. Many times we thought of Res2100 and HikerT as they went inland. Had they made it through? If anything happened along that ridge it would be harder for them to get help, though they did have a radio which we were lacking.
A spot marked on the GPS where the bones were supposed to be. We did did a little search. Not surprisingly, we didn’t come up with anything. All the other points we had of previous finders was off by up to 100m or more so we kept going. About 10 minutes later on route we found them.
Somewhere near the “dock” waypoint we came across some rubbish by a fallen log. It included a bunch of metal duct tubing and a decaying lawn chair. I didn’t think twice and opened up the chair for a welcome sit and the others used the log. We though we heard something and everyone went quiet. We did! We whacked the short distance to the shore and saw lights out on the lake.
Tomtec, Elf and D.Banner were just getting back to their camp. It was good to know that someone was on the lake, just in case. A few calls back and forth and they were made aware of our situation and tried to pass the info on to other groups at the other base camps much further away. We continued on our trek staying close to the lake.
We met up with the three on an inlet marsh. The catching up was a welcome relief from claustrophobic like conditions of the forest. We were provided with a chance to fill up containers with water via the portable filter again, offered spare batteries just in case and I consented to borrowing a pair of gloves from Elf. I don’t know why I did. My hands weren’t that cold except when we stopped. Maybe it was a little bit of worry about how long we’d be out here. We still hadn’t made it past Scarecrow Lake so there was much bushwhacking to go and it was supposed to get close to 0 degrees overnight. Reluctantly, we parted ways and got back to our trek.
There were some logs to cross over to the south end of the marsh and we made a bit of a wrong turn following along a small peninsula. Our GPS’s didn’t seem to be working properly. Team Goju’s wonky one had done OK so far with only a few fiz outs and mucked screens. I did a calibration and we checked and rechecked to sort out where we thought we should go. Not long after, we took another break and I took a few pics with Elf’s gloves between my legs. (Reading that line over again you know Elf’s going to have something to say about that line!*) About half an hour after we left I realized that I didn’t have the gloves. I’d been used to walking all day without gloves and they hadn’t been with me long enough to instinctively notice that they were gone and it was added to the growing list of things lost or forgotten.
We planned to follow as much of the original couple’s rough trail until it turned into the cliffs. Of those cliffs we didn’t really know much. From there we planned to continue along the ridge at the same elevation and skirt the south end in hopes of avoiding the cliffs in the black of night.
The night wore on and it was getting close to midnight. The stops were even more frequent and the rest’s longer. Knowing that bears frequented these part and seeing bear dung on the hike up in the morning, it was always at the top of our minds. We forced ourselves to not rest as long as we wished, not wanting to be caught by some animal unaware. Following the plan, we went past where others had gone, continuing on to the southwest of the cliffs. When we cut across heading towards where the couple had left their bikes we came to a major roadblock.
Rather than looking UP 50ft cliffs toward the ridge we were looking at a sharp cliffs DOWN! On further inspection and a brighter flashlight, not only were the cliffs going down, after about 40-50m from the base of the cliffs it went up about 100m on the other side! We were on the cusp of a valley with cliffs on either side rather than a gentle slope around the ridge! Back to square one and with the knowledge that Bears tend to make holes in cliffs into dens, worries were at an all time high.
We had no reason to believe that the edge we were on didn’t continue south and couldn’t see far enough to know for sure. After thinking things over we decided to backtrack and see if we could find the way the couple had gone to get over the cliffs. Somewhere in our backtracking we made it to the valley below and worked our way to the cliffs on the other side. Once there, we saw what looked like a way up the cliffs and started to climb. After about 20m we came to a 60degree dirt/moss covered slope. That itself didn’t seem too bad so I volunteered to give it a try. Initially the top of the slope looked like it flattened out at the top. A closer look with a brighter flashlight revealed another roadblock. It met a cliff that went straight up with no top in sight. It was back to the drawing board, again.
Down to the valley floor we went, now following the cliffs edge, not knowing where we would come out or if there was a bear waiting around the corner. We continued along, bushwhacking, making as much noise as possible. After what seemed like an eternity we finally found the stream on the other side of the ridge. A real trail at last!