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Thread: Ishpatina Ridge Expedition

  1. #1

    Ishpatina Ridge Expedition

    Trip report by Rob B.

    Ishpatina Ridge and Back
    October 28 – 30, 2011
    So I’m finally getting around to writing this trip report for the Ishpatina summit I partook in with Terry on the last weekend of October. Before I start I would just like to mention that I am disappointed at the amount of trash left behind by some amateurs who had done this trip before us. There is nothing in this area other than Ishpatina Ridge to attract people here. It is quite remote, only being visited by those in a canoe or going on foot as we did. From what we found, one or more fellow hikers from a single trip are likely to blame.
    The seclusion and isolation is what brings most of us to areas such as this, so seeing junk left behind can really diminish that experience. I am not talking about a bit of toilet paper or a couple of wrappers at a campsite; we came across what seemed to be most of a camp kit, even along the sections that weren’t established trails.
    I was hoping to pick up what I could on our way out, but there was too much to carry! We came across a bunch of clothing hung in a tree, some unused canned food, a coffee press, empty bottles, pots and pans, foam pads, and so on. It looked like someone attempted the trip, couldn’t handle their load, and discarded most of their kit on the way out.
    If you can carry it in, you can carry it out. This is a principal most outdoor enthusiasts share, and there is no reason anyone else can’t adopt this principal, regardless of what your intentions are in the woods.
    Happy trails,
    The Trip Plan
    Not long after my return to Ontario this Fall, I was contacted by Terry asking if I’d like to join him on a weekend trip up to the highest point in Ontario, Ishpatina Ridge. My work season was over, weekends free, and he’d supply the food... I’m in! I use the word “goals” lightly because when Terry and I met up to discuss a route plan and go over area maps, we agreed that what he had listed on the site (Scarecrow Cut, South Peak, Tower Peak, Ishpatina Canyon, and the North Peak) would be difficult to accomplish all at once with the time we had allotted. Much of what we would do depended on what we would encounter when we got there, so having as many options as possible gave us the opportunity to tweak the trip as we went.
    The first bit of fat we cut from the trip was the Scarecrow Cut. It wasn’t a part of the Ridge, and being on the opposite side of Scarecrow Lake with no set trail, it was well off course from all the other features in the area. Since we chose to hike/bushwhack the route, we would be starting from a logging road north of Capreol, and essentially hike the entire Ridge south to north, then backtrack. We would be following a route mapped and provided by; , which would take us to the Tower Peak. From there we planned to continue on by hiking into the canyon, and crossing up to the North Peak.
    This plan meant we would be pushing for the Tower right away on the first day of the hike, set camp on the peak, then head for the North Peak through the canyon the next day, carrying only day supplies, then return to our camp at the Tower the same day. The reason for wanting to do this push for the North Peak in one day was because there were no set paths or camps beyond this point, which meant hiking through thick brush and steep terrain. Having light packs would make this portion go more smoothly and cut our time back so we could have the next day set aside to either hit up the South Peak, or make good time back to the trailhead.
    The Trip
    We left around 5PM the first afternoon when Terry finished work, and spent this time driving from North Bay to Capreol, then up a windy logging road going north of Wanapitei Lake. We wanted to cross the Sturgeon River and get as close to the trailhead with Terry’s truck as possible the first night, but didn’t arrive at the river until it was pitch black, so we couldn’t tell what the water level was at. Not wanting to risk getting the truck stuck in a river in the dark, we lit a fire, had some whisky and stayed the night at the comfortable camp plot next to the road.
    The next morning we got a better look at the river which was so dark in colour that it was hard to tell if it would be shallow enough to drive across, so I took off my socks, rolled up my pants and waded to the centre to check the depth. Only getting up to my knees, this wouldn’t be a problem for a truck. Apparently cars have crossed here at low enough levels, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re expecting heavy rain. Crossing the Sturgeon with a vehicle should be considered for a trip like this as it cuts a few hours of hiking along a boring old logging road out of the trip.
    Once we finally arrived at the trailhead, parked the truck and threw on our packs, our journey had started! Well flagged by some recent visitors, the first part took us through a grown in road and almost immediately into thick unmaintained woods down to the Shore of Scarecrow Lake. Although this part of the path is technically a bushwhack to the campsite on the north side of the lake, it has seen quite a bit of foot traffic and flagging tape so we had a track to follow. After a short break at the campsite, we got on the trail to the Tower Peak, and two and a half short hours later were on the top of Ontario; 693 meters high.
    The day had brought a lot of fog, drizzle and snow so there was no view to be had, which made it a bit unrewarding to say the least! With no sites to take in we spent our time setting up the tent, and getting a fire going with what little wood we could scrounge up. The Tower Peak has a scarce supply of wood to burn (populated only with tall shrubs), and no water supply
    nearby – something to consider for next time. That night, below zero temperatures rolled in and pushed the fog below us revealing a clear, starry sky.
    What we woke up to was a blue sky and a blanket of condensed fog covering the forest in every direction, with only the tallest peaks poking their heads out the top. To me this was the highlight of the trip because it was as if we were on a mountain looking down at the cloud line; something you wouldn’t think could be experienced in Ontario. What made it more of a mountain experience is that we had to carry all our drinking water with us, which was in short supply.
    After a quick breakfast, we packed the day’s food and supplies, and set off into Ishpatina Canyon towards the North Peak. We tried to keep as straight a path as possible, but with bush that thick you end up zigzagging a lot, so we used plenty of flagging tape to make our way back easier. Our plan was to head towards a lake in the Canyon to have some lunch and refill our water supply before following the tree line to the summit, but once we got in view of the rocky face between us and the North Peak, we continued on away from the lake and up to the cliffs.
    We were told by others before our trip that getting to the North Peak via the Tower Peak was virtually impassable. I’m not sure why anyone would say that after being there, because we could see a way up. Only trouble was that it wasn’t in the direction we were going.
    It must have been part excitement and part dehydration, but when Terry and I arrived at the base of the cliffs between us and the North Peak, we continued up. This is where we hit our first real snag of the trip. With no discernable safe path up these cliffs, we were forced to take a moment to rethink our point of attack. Having both run out of water an hour before, and burning more daylight than expected, we had to come up with a new plan.
    After butting heads on the issue for a few minutes, we agreed on what to do. For one, we didn’t want to get stuck bushwhacking back up to the Tower Peak in the dark, so we set a time limit for ourselves to head back to camp regardless of where we were. We also needed time to find water since we would likely be forced to stay on the Tower Peak a second night, especially since all our meals were dehydrated. We also agreed on not taking a route that was unnecessarily risky. There was some potential to find a way up the cliffs by free climbing some relatively simple lines, something we aren’t unfamiliar with, but the remoteness of our location put the risk factor way to high to make it worth attempting.
    We went back down into the Canyon and found a small runoff of water where we took a break, and made some tea. Heading down to the lake to find a way up the tree line was considered at first, but we ultimately decided to head back up to the Tower Peak for our second ascent, leaving the North Peak behind. Having a better idea of what we were up against going back, we practically ran to the top and surprised ourselves with how quickly our second summit of the Tower Peak was. This meant we had time to break camp and head to the much more comfortable site at the lake.
    Again we surprised ourselves with how fast we were able to descend, so while taking a breather we thought we’d take a chance and try our luck at racing back to the truck before
    sundown. By keeping a strong pace we were able to get back to the truck with light to spare. From the Tower Peak to the truck, we made it back in just under 3 hours. It wasn’t the original plan, but it was a pretty cool challenge to have accomplished.
    An interesting end to this trip was on the drive out in the dark. The logging company in the area had picked that night to burn the waste wood at every cut on the road, so our drive out was lit up most of the way by a wall of fire on either side.
    Although we didn’t get to summit the North Peak as planned, I don’t consider this trip at all a write-off. It gave Terry and myself the opportunity to scope out the area and gain a clearer understanding of how to go about making the North Peak summit happen for next time, because this trip has confirmed for us that going via the Tower Peak is not impossible.
    If we were to attempt this again, I don’t foresee us having any problem checking off all the peaks in one trip now that we know the terrain. There are only a few minor things we should reconsider next time around to make it run more smoothly; having extra water bladders for our stay at the Tower, earlier mornings to give us more daylight, and maybe even slim down our packs for good measure. Having Plan Bs and Cs ironed out before the trip would have been helpful this time around as well.
    All in all this was a fun trip, and a beautiful part of Northern Ontario. Doing it this time of year was also great as we didn’t encounter a single soul, and had cool temperatures to make the back packing less of a burden. I would like to return again sometime, possibly even over the winter.

  2. #2

    Re: Ishpatina Ridge Expedition

    Looks like a sweet trip