Ishpatina Ridge
4719.000' N, 8045.051' W 693m
September 3 to 6, 2001



Looking NE from the summit of  the Ishpatina RidgeFor my first provincial highpoint, I decided to concentrate on
my home province of Ontario. I figured that it should be an easy accomplishment... after all, the Ishpatina ridge was less than 5 hours away by car and was only 693m high - much lower than some of the ice climbs in the Canadian Rockies !

My initial concern arose when some preliminary reports seemed to indicate that the ridge was inaccessible by foot. I immediately purchased a 1:50 000 topographical map along with the book "Not Won in a Day" by Jack Bennet and put those concerns to rest. Both of them indicated the possibility of doing the ridge from the south - a route which involved driving up 80km of logging roads, crossing the Sturgeon river and bushwhacking for 6km. But just to be safe, I decided to confirm this with the superintendent of Lady Evelyn Provincial Park. "How do you expect to get to the ridge without a canoe or kayak ?", was his immediate response. I answered his question by telling him about my intentions of biking, hiking and bushwhacking when he basically laughed me off with the words "That is a serious outing. I wouldn't recommend it".

I ended up leaving for the ridge on Monday morning and after 5 hours of driving along Highway 400 and 69, I finally reached the town of Capreol where I decided to get some gas. After topping up my tank, I asked the gas attendant if I was on the proper road to the logging area when he suddenly burst into an uncontrollable stint of laughter. "You're taking this car ? You're crazy ! I wouldn't take my rusty old Neon onto those roads!", was his response as he walked away shaking his head in disbelief.

Fifteen minutes later, I turned off of the paved highway and drove onto a dirt road which led to the Wanapitei lake and river. The road wasn't as bad as I had anticipated but the fastest I could drive was 50 km/h before my car started to jump around uncontrollably. After driving about 60km up the logging road, I finally reached the turnoff to the east which slowly winds itself towards the Sturgeon river.

Abused Camaro In contrast to the main logging road, the sideroad was only one car-width wide and made the previous road feel like a newly paved highway. Some of the potholes were large enough to swallow a small animal and the roads were just bursting with rocks the size of grapefruits. After about a dozen scrapes and crunches (some of which were so hard that the force could be felt under my feet), I decided to park my car on the side of the road and call it a day. The time was 21:15 and I had felt as though I had just competed in a rodeo. But then again, I'm sure my car felt a lot worse than I did...

The next morning, I woke up at around 7:00 to the sound of thunder and light rain. I reluctantly crawled out of the drivers seat and removed my mountain bike from the back of my car. I then made a quick check of my gear and proceeded to pedal down the poor-excuse-of-a-road.

Sturgeon RiverAfter about 2 hours of cycling, I finally reached my first landmark; the Sturgeon river. The river was approximately 20m wide and was relatively easy to ford because of it's low water level. (The deepest part of the river was just above my knees.) From here on, I continued north past an old sawmill until I reached the supposed bridge between Little Scarecrow Lake and Hamlow Lake. To my dismay, the bridge was simply nonexistent and required another time consuming crossing on foot. After another 15 minutes of cycling, I finally reached the area near the Bailey bridge between Stull Lake and Upper Stull Lake. I continued along a dirt road to the north - just before the bridge - when things began to get a little confusing. The topo clearly indicated a path branching off to the east from this road which led to a small lake due west of Scarecrow Lake. Well, after 15 minutes of searching back and forth, I came to the conclusion that the map was incorrect since there was absolutely no sign of any path leading to the east. I realized that I had no option but to start bushwhacking.

I took a moment to mark the position of my hidden bike into my GPS and walked towards the side of the road. The first thought that came to my mind was, "What the hell is this ?! There's absolutely no way that I can penetrate this forest !". Trees of maple, birch and cedar stood united, side by side, determined not to let anyone pass.

But I wasn't just "anyone". I was a crazy guy on a serious outing who decided to drive his Camaro onto a road which was made for Humvees and Land Rovers. I lowered my head, closed my eyes and started to push into the depths of the forest.

Bushwhack This !Thirty minutes later, my face and hands were scarred with the scrapes of a thousand branches and my shins were bleeding from the constant battering from fallen trees. My Goretex jacket was torn in a couple of places and my entire body was drenched in both sweat and rain. All for 300 meters of travel ! Pathetic ! Before my foray into the forest, I was a little concerned with the fact that I didn't bring a bear bell with me. Well, it turned out that it was completely unnecessary 'cause anything with ears would have heard my curses from at least a mile away ! The image to the left was taken from one of the lighter forests around Scarecrow lake.

They say that suffering builds character. If that's really the case, I must have built a whole lot of character that afternoon.

After about 8 hours of this horrendous bushwhacking, I finally reached a point north of Dick Lake by 18:00 - approximately 600m away from the summit. I finally managed to smile as I envisioned myself camping at the highest point in Ontario when I suddenly realized that I was completely out of water. But that was no problem. I knew that I was less than 500m away from Dick Lake and I was confident that I could retrieve the water before dark. I immediately dropped my pack, marked it with my GPS and walked towards the lake with my empty Nalgene bottle. Little did I know that this bonehead maneuver would end up adding a lot more to my character...

Fifteen minutes was all it took to locate the lake but upon my arrival, I came to realize that the lake was surrounded by a headwall of rock which required some serious scrambling for a safe descent. I carefully climbed down the rock and made it to the lake where I quickly scooped up a litre of water. I then took a detour around the lake and climbed back to the top when I realized how much time I had wasted. A hint of panic went through my mind as I jogged towards the waypoint for my pack.

"What kind of a F%@kin joke is this ?!", was the thought that came to my mind as my GPS proclaimed that I was standing on my pack. "I don't remember burying my pack under a 2 ton rock !", was my own response. The GPS then responded on it's own ... by fluctuating it's distance-to-waypoint by up to 30m in each direction. I quickly took a look around and all I could see was a dark silhouette of the forest with a canopy of shrubs in the foreground. I cursed at myself for leaving the flashlight in my pack and immediately started my desperate search of the area as the sky progressively turned to darkness.

By 23:00, I decided that I had no option but to suffer for my stupidity. There was absolutely no way that I could cover (a potential) 3600 square meters in the dark and my GPS was already in it's last 1/8th of battery power. I stacked a bunch of ferns onto the ground and sat down for the night. I was wearing a T-shirt with a Goretex jacket and a pair of fleece pants but they did little to keep me warm as the temperature dropped into the single digits - as witnessed by the condensation of my breath. I could only sit down and curse at myself as the night went on and on and on...

The following morning, it took me almost 15 minutes before my arms and legs would stop shivering. I was cold, thirsty, hungry, sleepy and frustrated but at least I was alive. Almost an hour later, I finally found my pack in a totally unexpected location and immediately ate some food to ease my hunger. Ironically, I also noticed that my flashlight was missing. Great ! Just f%@kin great !

Looking SW from the summitAt 9:00, I was finally able to resume my climb to the ridge - which according to my GPS was a short walk. Yeah right ! I realized that although there was only 600m of distance between me and the large fire tower which loomed in front of me, there was almost 200m of vertical distance down and up to the ridge since I was standing on another ridge parallel to the summit ! (I was hoping that I would somehow intersect the official trail to the ridge but No ! That would have been way too easy !) The image to the right depicts some of the dense terrain I had to bushwhack to get to the summit.

After limping to the summit at 10:00, I waited for the rush of emotion to flood over me. This burst of exhilaration and accomplishment first occurred during my grueling winter ascent of Mt. Washington in 1998, and happened many times since then. Past experience taught me that the harder the challenge, the more rewarding it was.

But these emotions never came. The view was spectacular, and the weather was perfect, but I didn't feel any sense of accomplishment at all! Is it possible for one to exhaust their supply of emotion? If so, I figured that I must have done so during the previous 12 hours of my trip. (Looking back, the moment I treasure the most was the time I found my backpack in the middle of the forest. I can't remember being so happy to see a small sack of ripstop nylon!)

Scarecrow Lake Since there was no rejoicing to be done, I simply rolled out my Thermarest and decided to take a two-hour nap at the summit before making my way down to Scarecrow Lake using the official trail. The trail was very easy to follow and to my surprise, it actually made it's way around the eastern perimeter of Dick Lake before disappearing into the woods. (Oh how I wished that I had known that the previous day.) I finally reached the trailhead at 16:00 and decided to make camp along the clearing beside Scarecrow Lake. This area used to be the site of a ranger cabin in the earlier days but the only thing that remained was a bunch of logs and debris. The remains of the dock can be seen to the left.

The following day, I decided to try something different and bushwhack along the shore of Scarecrow Lake. And that's when I came upon a startling discovery. The western shore of Scarecrow Lake was covered with a trail of rocks which spanned about a metre wide ! Hopping along these rocks eliminated the need for bushwhacking and allowed me to get to Woods Lake in well under an hour. Unfortunately, the shoreline around Woods Lake was a different story. The rocky shore was only about 40cm wide and the outreaching branches made it almost impossible to traverse. I decided to bushwhack from this point and try to intercept the missing path from the east. I headed due west and crossed my fingers.

An hour later, I jumped with joy as I reached a small clearing which was definitely man made. The clearing was part of a path which was incredibly rugged and overgrown but a sight for sore eyes nonetheless. The trail continued west until it came to a T junction which in turn led to a small maze of trails and roads which were unmarked on the map. After another 30 minutes of trial and error, I found myself on the very same road which I had biked only 48 hours ago. I thought my troubles were all over as I retrieved my bike and started to pedal back towards my car.

After crossing the two rivers along the trail, I started to ascend a long and strenuous hill which provided a great downhill run just two days ago. As I neared the top, I immediately noticed a large dog walking along the road on on the other side of the hill. I wondered to myself why someone would be walking their dog in this part of the woods when I came to a shocking revelation. This wasn't a dog ! It was a black bear cub... which was walking behind another bear at least 3 times its size ! And they were just 20m away ! Amazing ! Just F%@kin Amazing ! I survive a horrific bushwhack and a night in the cold only to be eaten by a mother bear and it's cub ?! The image to the right is not a berry pie ! It's actually bear scat found nearby!

Several thoughts went through my head. "Should I ring my bell ?" Of course not you idiot ! These are bears... not pedestrians ! "Should I ride past them at full speed ?" What is this ?! The Tour de France ? That's totally absurd !

I decided to do the safe thing and turn back... after all, I had gone unnoticed up 'till then. I slowly applied my brakes so that they'd make the least amount of noise possible. Unfortunately, my soaking-wet-mud-coated rims and brake pads had something else in mind as they let out a blood curling squeal which could be heard from Sudbury! The two bears immediately stopped in their tracks and turned their heads towards me. I then locked eyes with the mother bear for the longest 3 seconds of my life before the cub decided to run for the woods. To my relief, the mother bear decided to follow her cub into the darkness...

I arrived at my car ten minutes later and what a sight it was ! I couldn't think of a time when I was so happy to see my car ! I started to load my equipment into the rear hatch when I noticed something peculiar. Footprints ! Bearprints ! Lots of them ! All over my car ! Hahaha ! It was so funny... until I noticed the scratch marks from their claws.

You just can't win in this world ! You leave your car in the wrong place in city and you get it keyed. You leave your car in the wrong place in the wild and you get it clawed...


Epilogue (ie. If I had to do it all over again)

The following section will be of great value to anyone interested in reaching the Ishpatina Ridge by foot. My trip took 3 days to complete but if you read the directions below, it should be possible to reach the summit from car to car within a long day.

First and foremost; take a proper vehicle ! Leave the Camaro, Corvette, Mustang, etc. at home as this is no place for a sports car ! But with that being said, I'll have to admit that the road wasn't that bad. In fact, I'd almost be willing to bet that a "regular" family car such as a Ford Taurus or Honda Accord could probably make it all the way to the Sturgeon river if driven carefully. Make the trip during daylight and be prepared to fill in some large craters with logs, rocks, etc. The road is not located within any of the provincial parks in that area but you can try calling the Lady Evelyn Provincial Park to see if they can offer any report regarding the condition of the road. Oh yeah, be sure to ask them about bear activity as well.

Where's the bridge ?!Once you ford the Sturgeon river, continue north past an abandoned saw mill and ford the river between Hamlow Lake and Little Scarecrow Lake. As you can see to the left, this river is much smaller than the Sturgeon River. Approximately 1 km later, you should be able to find a road leading up to the right at 4716.053' N, 8047.662' W. Turn onto this road and continue north until you hit the first intersection at 4716.205' N, 8047.618' W. Turn right and continue onto the next intersection at 4716.198' N, 8047.237' W. Finally, turn left and walk west along the faint overgrown road until it suddenly turns towards the north at approximately 4716.2' N, 8046.8' W. At this point, you will be approximately half a kilometre from the shore of Woods Lake. This marks the end of the easy hiking and leads to the fun part of the trip !

Set your compass bearing to 90 (east) and bushwhack towards Woods Lake. Although the forest is relatively dense in this area, you should able to reach the lake in well under an hour. Once you reach Woods Lake, continue north (using the shoreline as a reference) until you reach Scarecrow Lake.

Scarecrow LakeOnce you reach the western shore of Scarecrow Lake, you may be able to walk onto the shoreline and follow this rocky path right up to the trailhead for the ridge. I emphasize the word "may" since the availability of this option is dependent upon water levels, weather conditions, wind, etc. (If you have a pair of hiking poles, now is definitely the time to use them.). If the rocks along the shoreline prove to be wet and slippery, I strongly recommend that you stick to the forest and bushwhack within 20m of the shoreline. The forest along the shore was relatively light and had obvious signs of animal travel - which in turn allowed for reasonable rates of travel. The image to the right will give you an idea of what to expect. Once you reach the trailhead (beside the remains of the former ranger cabin), climb up the well worn trail to the summit.

The map to the left describes (via a red line) the route listed above. If all goes well, you should be able to hike from the Sturgeon River to the summit in appx. 7 hours one way. If you decide to mountain bike from the Sturgeon River, you'll be able to ride to within 1 km of the bushwhack, saving yourself almost an hour of travel time in one direction. Either way, it wouldn't be out of the question to complete this entire journey in one long day during the summer.

My recommendation would be to break the trip into two days. Spend one day climbing to the ridge and spend the evening at the former ranger cabin. Spend the following day returning to your car as you enjoy the scenery and wildlife. You'll be lucky to see even the trace of a human being during this trip.

 

A brief note regarding the use of a GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) unit

Although SA (Selective Availability) has been disabled by the US military, GPS units will still show a slight amount of deviance - even when standing in a static position. To improve your accuracy, you may want to :

  • Never depend upon your GPS unit to mark an object/location of importance. Make sure you have a wand, marker, or landmark to supplement your waypoint.
  • Try to capture as many satellites as possible. GPS units may work in the dense forest but you'll find that you can double the number of satellites (and undoubtedly increase your accuracy) if you walk into the open.
  • Use the "average" option when marking a waypoint (to narrow down any deviances).
  • Always carry spare batteries !