October 10-12, 2008
On Saturday, October 11, 2008, I hiked from the Sturgeon River to the top of Ishpatina Ridge and back down to the Sturgeon River again. I did this all in one day. It took me 15 hours and 35 minutes for the entire adventure, with a 30.5km round trip hike which included 10.6km of bushwhacking. Not only did I want to visit the highest point in Ontario, I also thought it would be an experience of a lifetime if I did it entirely by hiking and in one day, which to my knowledge no one had done before. In total, 26 geocachers made it to the top of Ishpatina Ridge today, one of whom was with me for every bit of the hike. Other geocachers took a combination of ATVs, boats and even some by float plane. I will never forget this weekend, which was very rewarding in many ways. I am sure that each person came away with some very fond and lasting memories of their trip to Ishpatina Ridge.
Continue reading for a detailed account of our adventure of a lifetime.
List of participants (name, age) and method of approach
Hiked and bushwhacked from Sturgeon River
res2100 (Ralph, 41)
hikerT (Tanya, 35)
Team Goju (Steve, 44)
Team Goju (Quinn, 13)
jeff-trex (Jeff, 37)
Fababoo (Don, 40)
Rainbow’s Connections (Sheannah, 15)
Keith Watson (Keith, 42)
Canoed from Little Scarecrow Lake
Lisdowney (Arnie, 64)
Team KPM (Paul, 41)
KSAcat (Kevin, 45)
dgas71 (Dave, 37)
H.F.Reign (Gillian, 38)
ATVed to Woods Lake and kayaked\canoed\boated from there
KodiakCacher (Patrick, 17)
KodiakCacher’s sister’s boyfriend (Kevin, 27)
simplyred (Dean, 44)
roglatour (Roger, 60)
roglatour’s girlfriend (Ruth, 50)
kayn_os (Matt, 35)
5 day canoe trip through area and stayed on island in Scarecrow Lake
Rainbow’s Connections (Leslie, 39)
TOMTEC (Dan, 28)
Float plane to Scarecrow Lake
Dreadnaught (Al, 44)
Crystal Dawns (Sue, 46)
emzernask (Marie, 56)
Bakers Dozen (Ron, 35)
teamvoyagr (John, 41)
Zoeker Bill (Bill, 55)
Remained at Sturgeon River camp site
Ellesche (Lisa, 42)
roglatour’s dog (Cisco, 2)
roglatour’s Cat (Simba, 15)
The adventure of a lifetime begins…
The excitement had been building during the weeks leading up to our Ishpatina Ridge adventure for myself and my wife Lisa (Ellesche). We packed up our VW Rabbit the night before. The trunk was mostly filled with logs for the camp fire and the back seat was filled with our camping stuff and everything else. We also went to buy a couple of blaze orange hunting vests the night before, since this weekend was the start of moose hunting season and we wanted to make sure we were safe and noticed while in the area.
Friday, October 10, 2008 – The Anticipation Mounts
Friday morning arrived and we woke up around 4:15am and got ready. We left home at 6am like we planned to and made the journey up. It took an hour to get to HWY 400 and then it was a nice drive up, only stopping twice, once for a coffee (and there just happened to be a geocache there too that we realized as we were driving away so we quickly drove back into the parking lot) and the other time for gas. We arrived at the start of the logging road (Gauthier Lumber Rd, N46 46.118 W80 55.655) off Regional Road 84, about 7km north of Capreol at 11:40am. The road was very nice and wide here. 3km later, the road turned into the Portelance Road. We continued along the logging road, turning right at about the 36km mark of the logging road onto the newer road (N47 00.939 W80 52.658). Then at the 42km mark of the logging road we turned left (N47 02.005 W80 48.961) and headed north towards our camp site by the Sturgeon River. At some point along the logging road we passed simplyred who was driving out to pick up his son. We pulled up beside each other and said a quick greeting before continuing on our way to the camp site. It was a 66km drive along the logging road to get from Regional Road 84 to our camp site (N47 13.406 W80 49.638) near the Sturgeon River crossing (N47 13.510 W80 49.654) and we arrived at 1:30pm. About 500km and 7.5 hours total drive from home of which 1 hour and 50 minutes was to drive the logging road. Leading up to the adventure I was worried that we might have problems driving along the logging road with our small family car, but the logging road was great and our car had no problems at all driving along the road. The logging road was better than many dirt and country roads that I have driven on. The road was 2 lanes wide, no ruts, potholes, washouts or large rocks sticking out of the road. Most of the road is loose gravel and is easy to drive along at a comfortable 40-50km/h speed. There are also fairly prominent mileage markers every km along the logging road too. It is obvious that the road was maintained and made new within the past year.
We camped about 170m before the Sturgeon River where there was a nice large clearing with more than enough room for everyone. We met roglatour and his girlfriend Ruth along with their dog Cisco, who was the best dog we ever met. Roglatour and Ruth had already been here since Tuesday and they had set up their camp in the small area beside the Sturgeon River. Roglatour had already a lot of wood all cut up for the fire and we added our wood to the pile. We then proceeded to set up our tent and once we got everything set up we discovered we had a flat tire. Oh no! The tire was completely flat. It must have happened while moving my car around at the camp site. Roglatour came to the rescue and found the leak and repaired the tire with his tire repair kit…thanks Roger! Not long after, simplyred got a drive back to the camp and he had gotten a flat tire in his minivan about halfway along the logging road, so he picked up his ATV and went back out to fix it.
We spent some time wandering around, checking out the Sturgeon River and chatting with roglatour and Ruth. We also watched as several hunters in their trucks and ATVs passed by in both directions and how they crossed the Sturgeon River. The hunters indicated that they were not hunting in the area where we were going to hike, so that was good news. Lisdowney, Team KPM, KSAcat, dgas71 and H.F.Reign were the next to arrive. They were going to camp by Little Scarecrow Lake (N47 15.421 W80 48.000) across from Hamlow Lake which was 5km past the Sturgeon River crossing. Roglatour showed them how to cross the Sturgeon River in his ATV. There were two ways of crossing, one was directly between the 2 large rocks in the water and the other was taking a slightly wider loop to the right just above the ledge where the water appeared to flow over some rapids, which seemed to be the best choice. First the Hummer went across and then the Suburban. Both made it across easily and the water was only half way up the tires of the hummer…maybe only 1.5 feet deep.
Since roglatour had already been here for a few days, he took the time to check out the various trails and waterways. Our plan was originally to follow the bushwhack that along the shores of Woods and Scarecrow lakes that Kenneth Takabe (September 3 to 6, 2001) took down from Ishpatina Ridge and that Jenn, Roland and Andrew (June 3, 2006) followed on their adventure. See links at the end of this page to read about both these adventures to Ishpatina Ridge which we were basing our adventure on. Roglatour brought out his laptop and showed us his track lines where he had explored. He mentioned that the area around the shores of the lakes were very wet and swampy. He also found an old ATV trail that went up to the 1500ft (457m) elevation line where the area was more hard wood trees and not as dense as it would be on lower ground along the shore. This made sense and seemed like a good option and alternative to where we originally had planned to bushwhack. Plus this meant that we would be taking a dry route and would not need to bring a change of shoes to get through any water hazards that we may have encountered. This was later discussed with the other hikers in the evening and that was our new approach to get to the top of Ishpatina Ridge.
Lisa and I decided to go make our dinner, so we wandered back to our camp site and she started to make the camp fire. We enjoyed roasting 2 hotdogs each on the camp fire. Lisa said that this was the first campfire she ever started by herself. This was also the first time she has ever been back woods camping. She had gone camping a lot more than I ever have. This was only my 4th time ever camping and first time I ever camped for more than 1 night. Camping isn’t something I like to do at all, but in this case, I really didn’t have a choice as this was the only way I would achieve my goal of hiking up to Ishpatina Ridge and back in one day. After dinner, the 4 of us sat around the fire waiting for the others to arrive. Kayn_os arrived and so did Fababoo, Keith Watson, hikerT and Sheannah of Rainbow’s Connections who came driving down the logging road like maniacs. Then much later that evening Team Goju and jeff-trex eventually arrived after their long day of geocaching, where they left Toronto at around midnight. We all sat around the camp fire swapping stores and eagerly awaiting our adventure in the morning. At one point I had my head turned to my side chatting with Fababoo and a piece of burning embers came shooting out of the came fire and hit me in the side of the head, about an inch from my right eye and then landed between my legs and burned a small hole through the chair I was sitting on. Glad I had my head turned or it would have gone right into my eye. Kayn_os works in a nickel mine and he showed us some of the stones that he mined. They were really neat to see and he explained a lot about them including that they were from over 4000ft under ground, and he also let us keep a stone too. Thanks kayn_os. After enjoying a wonderful time around the campfire with our old friends and new ones that we made today, it was time to get some sleep. I suggested we get up around 5am so that we can start our adventure by 6am. Yes I was eager to get going and wanted to make sure that we would not have to be bushwhacking back from Ishpatina in the dark the next day. The thought was that we leave at 6am, get to the top of Ishpatina Ridge by 12noon, stay up there for a couple hours and then be back at camp by about 8pm. Well things don’t always work out as planned, but it’s not always a bad thing either.
Saturday, October 11, 2008 – The Big Hike
After a fairly good night sleep where I only woke up a few times, I was wondering what time it was and reached over to my GPS and turned it on. It was exactly 5am, which is the time I was originally planning on getting up at, although I set the alarm on the GPS for 5:15am, since I really didn’t think I needed that long to get ready. I got up and grabbed a piece of marble cake and went over to the camp fire that Keith Watson was just beginning to make. Ate my piece of cake and waited for others to get up. Once everyone was ready, the long anticipated adventure would start.
Kayn_os offered to shuttle us across the Sturgeon River in his Avalanche so that we didn’t have to get wet wading through the river. He took the first 4 of us hikers across and then went back to get the other 4. Many of us put on our blaze orange vests, just so we would be visible to any hunters, but we didn’t encounter any along the way. The 8 of us that were hiking all gathered at the river’s edge and then off we went at 6:35am to start our hike along the logging road to the point where we would bushwhack. From the Sturgeon River to the top of Ishpatina Ridge it was 11.5km as the crow flies, but we were neither crows, nor could we fly. The logging roads on this side of the river weren’t too bad either, but not as nice as the ones that we drove on to get to our camp site. There were a fair number of puddles covering parts of the roads here, some small puddles and some large ones that spanned the width of the road. An ATV or 4 wheel drive truck would be able to handle this road ok. We arrived at the Little Scarecrow Lake campground at about 6:40am to be greeted by our friends who were camping there. We stopped to chat a bit, stash some supplies (left my jacket here, since it was getting warmer now), and take some pictures of the lakes and the soon to rise sun. After about 10 minutes we made our way over the log bridge that crossed the stream that connected Hamlow Lake to Little Scarecrow Lake. Thankfully that small ATV bridge was there so that we didn’t have to wade through the stream. The ATV bridge is just a few meters east of the road at the edge of Little Scarecrow Lake and is not noticeable while hiking on the logging road. The spot we wanted to get to where we would start bushwhacking was another 3km from here. We continued along the logging road, turning off the main road at the bend in the road and going straight (north) at N47 16.053 W80 47.655 onto the old ATV trail and stayed on this old ATV trail passing another trail that went right at N47 16.205 W80 47.618. If we had stuck to our original plans of bushwhacking along Woods and Scarecrow lakes, this is where we would have turned right onto that trail, but we continued straight along the old ATV trail which was fairly overgrown and obviously not in use anymore. We continued on until N47 16.934 W80 47.545 which was the point where we would start bushwhacking and there was also a large fallen tree blocking the trail here. We noticed that the trail did continue on the other side of the fallen tree, but we didn’t continue along the trail any further to explore where it went to, since we were already at the highest point of the trail according to the topo lines of the GPS and we figured it would probably just have gone down the other side. I do wonder where this ATV trail went. At this point, Team Goju noticed that he lost his GPS for the 2nd time on this trail, somewhere along the last 1.5km, so he went back for a look, but couldn’t find it. He did have a spare GPS with him, but it did not work well at all and was not reliable. Not everyone brought their GPS with them either, which could have caused some problems later on too. We also only had 3 radios among the 8 of us, which again was somewhat of a concern later on in our adventure both to the top and back, as communication played some key roles in getting information on where others were in their adventures to get to the top and to get information when we needed it. During this last 1.7km stretch of old overgrown ATV trail, our elevation increased by about 60m, but it was very gradual and was no problem to walk along this trail. We got here at 8:30am and were now at the 457m elevation line as indicated on the topo maps of my GPS and this was the elevation line that we wanted to try to bushwhack along on our way to the top of Ishpatina Ridge. We all felt like we made excellent time to get here. It was 8.2km of hiking in just under 2 hours to get from the Sturgeon River to this point where we would start our bushwhack. Our route of bushwhack was different than that of which Kenneth Takabe took in 2001, but our paths would have crossed at some point during the bushwhack, but only for a moment. The top of Ishpatina Ridge was only 5km away now as the crow flies and we figured we would make it up there by noon easily, if not earlier…well, we were very wrong.
Now the toughest part of our adventure was to begin. We stashed some more supplies at the end of the fallen tree, as the weather really warmed up now and we figured we would stash some of our drinks for the way back to camp. No point of carrying unnecessary and heavy drinks if we didn’t need it. So I left behind a liter bottle of Gatorade and a 500ml bottle of water. I still had a full 1 liter bottle of Gatorade and about another 300ml of Gatorade and figured that would be more than enough. As we probably all found out during the bushwhack and trek up to the top of Ontario, it was no where near enough and I had to make sure I didn’t drink more than half of what I had with me so that I had enough to get back to where we stashed our supplies here. I guess I could have always filled up my bottle from the streams or lakes, but I really didn’t want to and I didn’t. I just took small sips and made sure it all lasted until we got back to here and it worked out perfectly. However if I did have my other 2 bottles with me, I would have surely drunken most of that. Others in our group did fill their bottles from the streams and lakes. Some of them filtered the water and others didn’t. Since it was getting really warm I took off my sweater before we started bushwhacking and just had on a light long sleeve shirt which was perfect for the bushwhacking as it protected my arms and I left my blaze orange vest over my shirt just in case.
Our grueling bushwhack began. Team Guju had a machete with him, but it just proved more of a nuisance I think as it slowed things down. Much of the woods were dense, but not dense enough that we couldn’t make our way through the trees by moving branches apart with our hands and arms. The vegetation and types of trees in the woods here varied greatly and varied often. There were a fair number of large fallen trees, but nothing to bad to make the bushwhack more difficult or that we couldn’t see in advance and walk around or step over. I led the way most of the time, with Team Goju going ahead at some points as well as Fababoo leading the way at other times. But most of the time it was me. I guess I was just eager to get to the top. There were not many open areas and I was looking maybe 20m in front of me to see where the best and least dense place to walk through was. There were some areas that were less dense than others and seemed to perhaps have evidence that some larger animals had rested or made their way through here or that the area had once been logged due to the presence of a number of old and decent sized sawed off stumps, probably from 30 or more years ago. There weren’t many stumps, but every so often we would encounter some. And every so often we would also come across lone standing magnificently giant trees that towered above the remote wilderness. The terrain at the 457m (1500ft) elevation was not exactly flat and there were several ups and downs that added to the challenge. They weren’t steep at this point, but there were slight elevation changes, but nothing difficult that we couldn’t handle. During our bushwhack we heard the float plane containing our geocaching friends land on the lake and then take off again. Throughout the bushwhack we chatted occasionally back and forth on the radio with those that came by boat to see what their progress was. Signal wasn’t always the best, but we could communicate enough to see that everyone was somewhere along the trail on their way up to the ridge. It was definitely interesting to see where people were and find out when people made it to the top. We however, still had a long and often strenuous trek in front of us still. Along the way we saw lots of evidence of moose due to the piles of moose droppings we walked by, but only one or two piles of bear poop.
As we came up over a hill, we came across a valley on the other side and spotted a huge enormous rock erratic in the middle of the valley that was almost as high as the hill we were standing on. It was quite the site and there even seemed to be a cave at the bottom of this enormous rock. This was a good time to take another break and for some to have some fun on top of the rock and take some pictures. Some people decided to climb up on top of the rock for some fun while I and others rested on the hillside for a break and took some pictures. The rock definitely was impressive and since we discovered it, it made sense that we should give it a name. Different names were suggested like Bob, Tina, Scarecrow Rock. There was a tall birch tree beside the rock that looked like a scarecrow, but in the end most of us agreed that Tina (short for IshpaTINA) was the best choice. So if anyone decides to bushwhack their way 3km into the woods of Ishpatina Ridge from the old ATV trail, be sure to stop at N47 17.523 W80 45.865 and visit Tina and maybe even take the time to explore below Tina, what looked to be a cave.
After a nice rest, we continued on from Tina and not more than 100m later we came across a rock cliff that towered way above us towards the sky. We certainly weren’t going to get past that so we continued on another 100m or so along the bottom of this rock cliff and it was difficult to walk here since it was rocks and steep, so I turned to go down to a bit lower ground where it was easier to walk. I looked back over my shoulder to make sure the others were still behind me. Some of them were thankfully, but Team Goju, jeff-trex and Fababoo stuck to the higher ground, while the other 4 followed me. We could hear the others talking higher up still and figured they would come down to us too, but after dipping down about 35m in elevation, it was just the 5 of us now (myself, hikerT, Sheannah, Quinn and Keith Watson). We also were the ones that had all 3 radios, with hikerT and I being the only ones with a GPS in our group of 5 and Fababoo was the only one with a working GPS in the other group. As we continued on hiking I heard some water falling close by just above us and since I like waterfalls I suggested that we go check it out. What a pleasant surprise it was to come across this gem of a waterfall (N47 17.635 W80 45.590) in the middle of the bush, quite a distance from any trail. It was quite the sight with the water cascading from way above us over the cliff face coming down to a pool of white bubbles at and base and then continuing down hill in a zigzag pattern. Could it be that we are the first people to ever come across this beautiful piece of nature, we wondered. After all, who else in their right mind would be walking through the woods here or would even have any reason to be here. Even the topo maps on the GPS did not show any streams or water anywhere close to where this waterfall was. This pristine waterfall was 400m straight line east from Tina, the giant rock that we left about 20 minutes earlier. Once again we stopped to rest and to take pictures of the waterfall. I wanted to go on the other side and get a picture of me by the falls and I took a step on what I thought was solid ground covered in leaves, but ooops, it was a thick layer of leaves covering the stream and my foot got a soaker, but luckily it didn’t bother me that I had a wet foot the rest of the day. Oh well. Decided to make like a monkey and climb up a few meters on the side I was on by hanging onto roots and trees, to have my picture taken with the waterfall. Since this is an undocumented and unknown waterfall, I think I will name it Tower Falls, which I think is very appropriate as we were heading to Ishpatina Ridge which contains a fire tower on it and also the waterfall and cliff face that the waterfall was cascading down towered way above us.
It’s 11am and we’re still only half way to the top from where we started bushwhacking with 2.7km straight line to go, which we figured might all be bushwhacking too since we did not know if we would encounter the trail or not that led to the summit. After an extended break here, the 5 of us continued on a bit and figured we better start getting to higher elevation as we still had about 250m in elevation to climb in order to reach the summit. After about another km and hour of bushwhacking, several breaks and steeper terrain, we managed to get up about 80m in elevation. At this point Keith was having a tough time with the steep elevation changes and figured he might not be able to make it anymore. We radioed up to the top to see if anyone had room in their boats and luckily some did. So now it was a matter of getting him to a point where he could meet up with the others. We gave them our current coords and they gave us a set of coords along the trail. Good, we were only 500m away from the trail, and so we made our way over to those coords, which was by the lake that was below Dick Lake. We didn’t want to lose the 70m of elevation that took us an hour to gain, so we tried to not get to lower. We managed to get to 100m north of the coords that they gave us and about 30m above in elevation. We didn’t see any trail and we tried communicating to those on top, but it was difficult to understand what was being said over the radios. I scouted on ahead another 100m or so and eventually found the trail at N47 18.283 W80 45.011. For some reason I had in my mind that it would be a fairly wide trail, but it was nothing more than a foot path type trail, just wide enough for people to walk in single file. I called the others over and I could hear them approaching but couldn’t see them. They followed my voice to where I was. There was a cut tree here with a log on the side of the trail which was a good spot for Keith to rest and wait for someone to come down, which a few were already on their way. So after 5.3km of bushwhacking which took 4.5 hours, we had finally reached a trail by 1pm. We could now follow this trail to the summit.
Leaving Keith safely along the trail, the 4 of us (myself, hikerT, Sheannah and Quinn) began our ascent along the trail. It was still another 1.7km and 220m elevation change from here to the top of Ishpatina. At some point along the way we got word that the other 3 of our fellow hikers\bushwhackers made it to the top. They apparently had quite the time time going up and down the various slopes with the way they won’t up going and never did hit the trail that we were now on. Portions of the trail were steep in many spots, and I found these steep portions very tiring. This was much more tiring than the bushwhacking. I had to stop every minute or so on these hills for just a minute to catch my breath and take a deep breath of fresh air and have the odd drink which I was still trying to be careful with so as to make it last since we still had to get back down and go through all this bushwhacking again. We made it to Dick Lake and stopped by to take in the scenery and for some to get some water to drink. It was very peaceful here with us standing on the beaver dam. The dam was flat and easy to walk across. As we were resting here, 3 of the Little Scarecrow Lake canoers came down the trail and we told them that Keith was waiting about 700m down the trail. They continued on and we met the other 2 canoes a couple minutes later as they startled a couple of birds (grouse?) on their way down the trail towards Dick Lake. We continued on along the trail, knowing that it wouldn’t be long before we reaching the top, but still needing to rest on these uphill stretches. I was beginning to wonder what was wrong with me that these uphills were wearing me out, and yet these young teens, Quinn and Sheannah seemed to have no problems getting up the trail. Perhaps I just pushed myself too much during the long bushwhack.
With about 200m to go we got our first glimpse of the fire tower through the trees and took some pictures and we knew we were close now. Other than the 2 grouse and 2 inch worms I had on me, the only other animal we encountered was an irate squirrel here that seemed to be mad at us as he scurried across the trail and up a nearby trail, all the while chirping at us. We made it through some muddy and wet parts of the trail easily and over the last incline. Quinn and Sheannah made it about a minute before us and then myself and hikerT made it to the top to be greeted by all of our fellow cachers. For some reason we had thought most people had already left the summit and that there were only a couple people left at the top, so it was nice to see everyone still there when we finally arrived at 2:10pm. I was overwhelmed with the satisfaction knowing that I made it to the top of Ishpatina Ridge, the highest point in Ontario. I took a seat under the fire tower and enjoy a cheese sandwich, however I think I was more thirsty than hungry, but I knew it was important to eat food too. I passed around the log book for everyone to sign, that my wife had given me and chatted with my many friends. Some people were climbing up the fire tower. Although the sign near the top of the trail said that the lower ladder was removed, someone before us had obviously secured it back onto the tower. I climbed the lower ladder, but I knew full well I couldn’t make it to the top, as there was quite the gap between the 2 ladders and my leg just doesn’t bend that far, so I didn’t even try, although I am sure that the view from the top of the tower was even more spectacular.
At the top we found 3 bottles (1 broken remains) which contained hundreds of papers (summit log) from people who made the trip before us. These dated back many years based on the dates written on them. By the amount of logs, it was obvious many people have made it to the top of Ishpatina Ridge, but not many people can say that they hiked all the way to the top like we can. The actual summit was not the fire tower, but 50m before the tower where a large rock sat in the bushes. I made it over there and got on the rock to have my picture taken at the summit. Afterwards I also continued about 100m past the tower to see if there was an alternate summit, but didn’t make it that far, nor did I care as I did enough bushwhacking already and just wanted to enjoy my time up here and enjoy the spectacular views. It was a clear day, the weather was perfect and you could see for miles up here. Up here was also the crumbled remains and foundation supports of an old fire tower. There was also a nice camp fire going up top on the rock floor near the edge of the cliff. The only people up here today was us geocachers and in total 26 of us made it to the top of Ontario. People slowly said their goodbyes over time, as some people had planes to catch and others took their boats back. Sheannah went back with some of the boaters. Those that still remained, hung around the lower portion of the tower from some pictures.
I knew we had to start making our way back too as I really didn’t want to be bushwhacking in the woods when it was dark. There was also some discussion on which way the 6 of us should go back. I preferred to go back the same way, since we were not somewhat familiar with that route and plus I had some drinks stashed where we started our bushwhack this morning and I knew I really needed those. Plus going back the same way assured us that we would keep our feet dry. The decision was easy for me and was just hoping others would follow me as I didn’t want to be bushwhacking alone, and luckily hikerT was in agreement. The one problem was, that between the 6 of us I now had the only radio and we only had 3 reliable GPSes among us. It was 4:10pm now and after being on top of Ishpatina Ridge for 2 hours it was time for us to leave. HikerT and I, along with jeff-trex and Fababoo who were both going to head down to Dick Lake to filter the water and fill up their bottles, start our decent down the trail. Meanwhile both Steve and Quinn of Team Goju were still taking pictures up on top for another 20 minutes before leaving. We got to Dick Lake and said our goodbyes to jeff-trex and Fababoo who would wait for Team Goju, where the 4 of them would make their way back by bushwhacking along the shores of Scarecrow Lake and Woods Lake.
It was just hikerT and I now and we were making excellent time getting down the trail. We decided it might be a good idea to bushwhack back just below the 1500ft (457m) elevation line, since the elevation lines on the topo map of the GPS were much wider at this point than it was where we bushwhacked in on. Sure enough this seemed to be a good decision as it was a lot less hilly and nothing steep that we had to deal with. At the same time I didn’t want to get down too low in elevation since I knew where we had to come out at. We hiked about 200m past where we had entered the trail and where we dropped off Keith. The trail took us to the next lake and we saw the log crossing that some of the others had taken to get across the water. We started our return bushwhacking (N47 18.183 W80 45.065) trek just past the log crossing. It only took us 30 minutes to hike down 1.9km along the the trail from the top of Ishpatina down to where we started bushwhacking here. It was on our minds that we knew we had to move at a decent pace in order to get out of the bush before dark. I didn’t mind hiking on the logging roads\ATV trails in the dark. Just in case we both did have flashlights with us.
The bushwhack was slightly easier on the way back at this elevation. The woods were just as dense with similar vegetation, fallen trees and the usual assortment of tree varieties to deal with, but the terrain was much more flatter than the way we came in. We rested about every km or so for a few minutes. We even heard the sounds of our Tower Falls that we passed by earlier, but we were a bit further away from it this time with where we were hiking. At one point while walking through trees, there was the end of a branch that got me right below the eye and went down my face. Oh that hurt. I didn’t see it coming at all. It left a nice scrape coming down below my eye, the same eye I almost got hit by the ember with the night before at the camp fire. I was lucky twice now as both cases I could have easily lost an eye. I was thinking that goggles would have been a really good idea for bushwhacking. I was leading the whole way with hikerT never far behind. We certainly were pushing ourselves to get out of here. I was constantly checking our track line and also the elevation lines on the GPS so that we would not be straying too far away from where we wanted to go. The lowest elevation we ever dropped down to was about 420m. If it wasn’t for the fact I needed to get my drinks where we stashed them I probably would have come out to the ATV trail at about the 427m-442m elevation lines. It started getting dark in the woods with about a km or so to go and out came the flashlights so we could see our way. Now in the dark we certainly couldn’t see as far in front of us anymore, so it was somewhat harder to judge exactly were to walk and we seemed to be walking through much dense trees at this point. With a few hundred meters to go my GPS was starting to act up a bit and I think the accuracy was at about 100m+ as every so often the arrow wouldn’t move, but luckily I got fairly good instincts on which direction to go and we found ourselves on the old ATV trail not far from where we had started the bushwhack in the morning. We just had to figure out exactly where, once the GPS finally began behaving again. I had just finished drinking what little I had left so it was good to be able to retrieve my drinks that I had stashed this morning. We made it out of the woods at 7:30pm, this time only having to bushwhack for 2 hours and 50 minutes, but then again we didn’t take as many or as long breaks as we did on the way in. However, comparing the times, an hour and 40 minutes is still quite the difference. Once again, the bushwhack out was also 5.3km (although it was only 4km in a straight line), even though we took a slightly different route back, but the distance was the same as the way in. Looking at the tracklines our route back range from anywhere between 50m to 350m away from the route we took in.
On our way back down the old ATV trail, we looked for Team Goju’s missing GPS, but we didn’t find it. We were going to leave a note for the other group of 4 hikers along with Fababoo’s drink at the trail that they would come out to join the old ATV trail. However we didn’t see the trail and walked 250m past it. I quickly went back the 250m to the intersection which was hard to spot in the night, to leave the bottle and note saying we didn’t find the GPS. They however didn’t see where I left it on the trail…oh well. Maybe Team Goju spotted it the next day in the daylight when he returned to look for his GPS, which fortunately he did find. So hikerT and I continued down the trail towards Little Scarecrow Lake. The toughest part of the day was now behind us and it was only 3.2km to get to the Little Scarecrow Lake where we would take a break for some time, sit and chat with our friends before making the last 5km trek back to where we started at the Sturgeon River.
Those last 5km along the logging road seemed to drag on a bit and it was nice to see roglatour and KodiakCacher come by on their ATVs to check up on our progress. We declined a ride back and told them how the other 4 were planning on hiking, so they continued on with their ATVs to see if they could spot the others and we continued on with our hike along the logging road. With a km to go, I got out the radio and called to our camp site ahead to let them know we were getting close and were looking for a ride back across the Sturgeon River once we got there and mentioned it was just the 2 of us. With about 75m to go kayn_os along with Keith Watson came across the water to pick us up, but I insisted I still had to walk the last 75m to the river to complete the hike, which we did and hence myself and hikerT completed our adventure at 10:10pm. The batteries in my GPS lasted the entire trip and I never had to change them. It was once again nice of kayn_os to transport us across the Sturgeon River so we didn’t have to get wet.
As we got to our camp it was really nice to see my wife again who came over with a big smile on her face to give me a great big hug. It was very satisfying completing this adventure of a lifetime and the smile on my face was equally as big to be in the arms of my wife again. We took our spots around the camp fire and we all shared stories of our adventures to the top of Ontario and the various ways we all took. Roglatour and KodiakCacher came back eventually on their ATVs, but they couldn’t find the 4 other hikers. We continued to stay around the fire and were somewhat worried about the other 4, especially when it got to be 1:30am and they were not back yet. They only left 20 minutes after hikerT and I did, and yet they weren’t back yet. They also only had 1 GPS and no radio. Most of us went into our tents then for some sleep and eventually after 2am we heard a whistle and some yelling in the distance and it was our 4 friends waiting, calling for a ride to get back across the Sturgeon which roglatour did for them. It was good to see that they made it back safely, about 4 hours after we did.
To my knowledge based on the research I have done on the information I found on the internet, that made myself and hikerT the first people to hike entirely from the Sturgeon River to the top of Ishpatina Ridge and back down again to the Sturgeon River in one day. The entire adventure including 2 hours on top of Ishpatina Ridge, the highest point in Ontario, took us 15 hours and 35 minutes.
Sunday, October 12, 2008 – The Morning After
After a good night sleep in our tent, I woke up around 7am and didn’t hear anyone and just fell asleep eventually again and then woke up around 9am and just lay in the tent listening to Steve of Team Goju tell those that were awake about his bushwhacking adventure. Eventually my wife and I managed to get up and head over to the fire for some breakfast. We all sat around the fire that morning again and chatted and eventually everyone woke up. I could feel my muscles in my legs (ankles, calves and thighs) really sore and tight and I walked really slow. I along with some others went looking for the cache that roglatour hid close by. We found it easily and signed the log. My wife and I then took down our tent and packed up our stuff into the car. Even though we didn’t have a trunk full of wood anymore, the car still was completely full. We walked over to roglatour and Ruth’s site since we wanted to see their cat still. We said our good-byes to everyone and we were on our way by noon. We stopped for the one cache that was along the logging road and then decided to just drive home as it was a very fun and rewarding weekend. Part way home I was feeling tired so my wife drove and then we stopped for dinner and then decided to stop somewhere take some pictures of the fall colours. We stopped in Waubaushene and found 7 quick caches and also took some pictures. We then headed straight home without stopping anymore.
Thoughts about my adventure
For me, this trip to Ishpatina Ridge was an experience of a lifetime that I will never ever forget. Hiking to the top of Ishpatina Ridge, the amazing views from the top, the waterfall that we found and even the camping and sitting around the campfire. Also spending time with my friends both old and new and especially my wife, Lisa. It was an awesome weekend and the weather was perfect with around 20C during each of the days. Everything just added to one of the best experiences I ever had. I never had any doubts about the hike or bushwhack as to whether or not I could do it. I am grateful that others were able to make the adventure with me too. Reading all of the logs of my friends that were there with me and knowing how much they enjoyed it, was very meaningful to me too. I would definitely go up to Ishpatina Ridge again and I am sure one day I will. I wouldn’t even consider bushwhacking it again, since I’ve done it that way now already and don’t need to do it again. Next time I would take a canoe approach to the summit trail, since that would be a totally different and new experience for me.
Recommendations for others
Based on my experiences this is what I would recommend:
You’ll have no problems driving any type of regular family car along the 66km of logging roads to the Sturgeon River where there is more than enough room for at least a dozen cars and tents in the pit area on the side of the road.
You can wade through the Sturgeon River or if you have an ATV or suitable high clearance truck\SUV, you can drive those across, especially when the water levels are low.
Canoe in from Little Scarecrow Lake or if you have an ATV, get to Woods Lake and canoe in from there. Or take a float plane.
If you want to bushwhack like I did, hike up part way along the old ATV trail and then bushwhack through the woods just below the 1500ft (457m) elevation line to just above the middle lake which is along the summit trail (see blue trackline in GPS and Trackline Information below).
October is a great time to do it in, since the bugs are gone and it’s not too hot.
Take 3 times as much liquid to drink with you as you think you will need. You will be glad you did.
Goggles would be useful to protect your eyes while bushwhacking.
Wear blaze orange and a bear bell, just in case.
Take a GPS, flashlight, camera and spare batteries with you just in case.
Don’t have any doubts about making it. If you have doubts, there is a good chance you won’t make it. Whatever approach you choose, it will be tougher than you think.
Hiking Time Line
6:35am – Start at the Sturgeon River
7:40am – Little Scarecrow Lake camp
8:30am – Start of bushwhacking
1:00pm – End of bushwhacking at summit trail
2:10pm – Arrive at the top of Ishpatina Ridge
4:10pm – Leave Ishpatina Ridge
4:40pm – Start bushwhacking from summit trail
7:30pm – End of bushwhacking at old ATV trail
8:35pm – Little Scarecrow Lake camp
10:10pm – Arrive back at the Sturgeon River
Total distance hiked: 31.6km (Round trip distance: 30.5km)
Total distance of bushwhacking: 10.6km
Total time: 15 hours and 35 minutes (including 2 hours at the top and rest breaks)
# of people at the top: 26
GPS and Track Information
Click on the following images and links to see the routes we took to get to the top of Ishpatina Ridge and to get detailed tracklines and waypoints that you can load on your GPS. GPS files are in Garmin MapSource format.
Entire hike to and from Ishpatina Ridge
Bushwhack portion of hike (both directions)