Archive for January, 2016

Wanderlust

Sunday, January 31st, 2016

IMG_150703_0050

Wanderlust. It should be recognized as a disease whose treatment is fully funded by worker’s compensation. And recently, I’ve had an awful bout with the disease. Too much time behind a desk wears at the soul and a three day weekend with no commitments was just what I needed for a little treatment.

I had no concrete plans for the weekend, but knew I wanted to go north and that I had a small list of places to check out; mountain bike trails that appeared on a map but I had never otherwise heard of, waterfalls and scenic lookouts that sounded interesting but were just too far off the beaten path to work into most trips, and stretches of highway that I hadn’t yet seen. So armed with my small checklist and some gas money, I loaded up the truck with a little biking gear, some hiking boots and some minimal camping equipment and hit the road. I would keep SPOT on the dashboard or clipped to my waist for the weekend and left a note on crackbook inviting people to follow along and steer me in new directions if they had suggestions along my path.

As with most of my trips – something came up in the morning as I was trying to leave that pushed my whole day back. My landlord asked if my camera and I might be able to hang back a little to document his first harvest of honey. Getting a little fresh honey for myself just sealed the deal, but soon I was off and following the page of a friend who had seen the expedition call on crackbook whom I hadn’t visited nearly often enough recently. A fact that was beaten in to my brain when I pulled up to her “new” house only to find she had moved back down the street to the old one without my realizing. Make time for your friends boys and girls.

I had hoped to steal her away for a quick spin on the bikes since the first mystery trail on my checklist was only a few minutes drive from there but it seems not everyone can get random Friday’s off work. So after a short visit I was twisting the jeep through some poorly marked backroads towards the promising sounding Dead Horse Trail – a long stretch of trail winding right along the edge of Algonquin Park that with a detour onto the nearby Twentyseven Lake Loop Trail and Ridge Road Cycling Trail could be turned into a twenty or so mile loop. With the late start I opted to drive in as far as I could then cycle from that point.

Best laid plans however have their own path and it seems the time and money I had invested into improving the off road abilities of my Jeep turned it into more than enough vehicle to drive the entirety of Dead Horse Trail. My cycling plans had been thwarted for the afternoon but I still enjoyed winding over and around some great terrain and paid visit to a couple bears along the way. It’s amazing how something like a bear sighting on the road can be such a great occurrence miles from town on a sunny day but be such an annoyance when you’re rushing to work in the morning. Almost surprisingly given the terrain I was driving through though, there were no moose sightings today.

IMG_150703_0092

With a quick top up of the tank in South River it was off along some long forgotten roads built around the turn of the century as the Nipissing Road first brought settlers into Ontario’s North. Years of research had shown me much of the history of the Nipissing Road, culminating in a cycling trip with my friend Mat down the historic ‘Road of Broken Dreams’ a few years prior. At one point on that trip we discovered that our Bob trailers loaded with camping gear would float as we waded knee deep through a wetland that had consumed the road decades prior, but today I was discovering some of the roads those pioneers had built around that problem spot and unwrapped another little piece of the history for myself. This trip stayed mostly dry though with just a few stretches of mud as the trees narrowed in around the little used wagon paths.

IMG_150704_0193

By that evening I had made my way over to Killarney and probably the best fish and chips I’ve ever had. Something about being cooked by the fishery likely makes the difference. After an evening camped out in the truck I got an early start and headed up a trail in the provincial park under flashlight. Winding through some low lying swamps and spruce stands before starting up the slopes of the quartzite LaCloche mountains. I’ve always found the white mountains fascinating but was a little surprised by the hike straight up their face. I’m used to park trails claiming to be tough but actually being incredibly sanitized paths ready to race golf carts through. Instead I was racing the mosquitoes while scrambling over and around the rocks – it was a great early morning workout. I reached the top not too long after sunrise – the light was great and the elevation gave a good perspective of the park and town.

From there I made my way around to Manitoulin Island to check out the Cup & Saucer Trail. I’d heard good things about the trail and it offers a view from the highest point on the island. It was supposed to be a moderately challenging trail as well, but given the number of ill prepared tourists coming out of the trail in flip flops I thought I’d be safe with just a bottle of water and go. It was a fun, if short, trail but the lookout was definitely worth the trip up.

In fact the whole ridge running across Manitoulin between M’Chigneeg and Sheguiandah made for beautiful terrain as I drove through the farms towards the Eastern shore. I made that trip after a quick stop at Bridal Veil Falls in Kagawong and getting crowded out by the tourists. Another trip to the falls later in the season while it was quieter showed the magic of walking behind the falls and it’s a trip I recommend, but the crowds can be insane and it’s probably best timed for a weekday if possible.

For this trip though it was on to the Eastern Shore of the island and, since there were no spaces left on the ferry, back up across the converted rail bridge and back through the mountains. In the past few years I’d been discovering the La Cloche mountains through Killarney Park but I have to say the views of the mountains along the highway north of the island are incredible right from the car. It has definitely made it amongst my list of the best roads to travel. I want to come back some day soon and try to follow the old rail line weaving around the ponds and bays by bike.

IMG_150906_0098

On getting back up to the ‘17’ the truck was pointed further West to see The Chutes in Massey. The Chutes is a kind of cool park where you can take in a series of waterfalls, walk right into some of the upper falls, and swim off the sedimentary sandbar at the base of the final falls. It’s not a outdoors persons park though, the trail around the falls is short and very sanitized, but still worth taking a look on should you ever find yourself slipping by and needing to stretch your legs.

A more interesting trip in this area though is one I chased down some narrow and forgotten roads into Fort La Cloche and the La Cloche Provincial Park. It’s a long and narrow road that often makes you wonder if you should turn back, that is if you can even find the road through the native reserve after climbing a steep and rutted out trail – it’s definitely not a trail for an economy car to take even if I did see a minivan in there with it’s driver trying hard to rip the undercarriage off it. It’s a nice little park that very few I think have ever seen and it’s a road trippers dream – the journey is worth more than the destination.

IMG_150906_0173

On my way back towards home I had one more adventure to take in – I went looking for a set of water falls that had been into a hydro project at the turn of the century but had long since been abandoned. Some online research had promised great exploration of the old industrial buildings and infrastructure. The problem is all the roads had seemingly changed since the printing of the maps, or maybe the online directions had the falls placed incorrectly. Regardless, after two hours of searching and more than a couple wrong turns and u-turn corrections I had found the driveway. A long and dusty road with little upkeep but a sign pointed the way and promised to find the ruins just a few kilometres up the road. As I came around the corner and saw the first building though there was still one problem. Between me and the falls was a twelve foot high chainlink fence plastered in ‘No Trespassing’ signs and signs pointing out Valé’s security cameras. So it was a minor failure but at least I did find the where to find what I was looking for and found a great new road into Sudbury on the way out.

Some time in the near future I want to do an epic cycling trip through some of the logging roads in this area and see what can be found. Hiccups like this fence are bound to come up along the way and become long detours by bike, but that’s all part of the adventure. The promise of all that land that is barely developed, winding through all the lakes and rivers, it’s just too tempting to ignore.

I went out looking for a cure for wanderlust, but as I’m travelling down the highway late at night on my way back home I have to realize that wanderlust can’t be cured – these trips just keep the symptoms under control. But maybe that’s not a bad thing.

2015 Recap

Friday, January 22nd, 2016

Each year I try to take some time to look over my favourite photos of the past year; typically for a calendar but this year there was no calendar. December simply came and went too quickly and the calendar had gotten a little out of hand. This gets back to the original intent of the calendar though, to share some of my favourite adventures from the past year and some of the tales behind them.

image

It seems I missed half the year because we’re into the first of July before getting to the first of my favourites. I did make up for it though with several great trips in the second half of the year. This trip started with a very early morning hike to this lookout in Killarney park shortly after sunrise. It took screaming at bears through fields and a couple of steep scrambles up the rock face in the dark, but I think this view was worth the trip.

image

Later that morning just before getting back to the truck I stumbled across this car on the trail. I’m curious to know how it came to be there. It sits on a relatively wide and straight stretch of trail quite near the road so my first guess would be that this was actually an early road out of Killarney, but it seems to me the car substantially pre-dates the first official road into Killarney. I had hoped to ask at the park office but was back out before they opened and decided just to push on, but maybe someday I’ll find the history of that car.

image

For years I had heard of the Cup & Saucer trail and been curious, but hadn’t been to Manitoulin Island since I was quite young. The limestone of the escarpment always provides for interesting terrain and being on the highest point of the island just adds to the interest.

image

After hiking past some of the biggest pines left standing in Algonquin Park one can find the reason why there aren’t more of these big pines – the remains of an old logging camp. It was amazing how much detail of the camp the park was able to pull out of what was left of the remains of a few foundations.

image

Hidden in plain sight at the top of the trail was this quiet little branch of the Aux Sables River. There were quite a few people rushing further up river to get a glimpse of the top most of the series of falls at Chutes Provincial Park and in the process walked right over the bridge from which this photo was taken. As nice as it was to relax in the falls further up, this is the photo that sticks in my mind.

image

It was almost an after thought after a morning hike with a friend, but finding myself in Huntsville with a little time to kill I thought it finally time to see what Arrowhead looked like without a couple feet of snow on it. After dodging past some campers and playing hide and seek with a couple deer I found the lookout over this oxbow in the Big East River. As nice as the view was though, I just wanted to be paddling down the river.

image

This was also the year that I decided to find the abandoned town of Depot Harbour. It was strange driving through narrow, barely even there lanes grown over from years of abandonment and seeing next to you neatly organized lots and house foundations. What was once a bustling community was now almost completely absorbed by the bush, the most significant remains being the stone steps up to the now missing church. Of course though, you visit Depot Harbour to see the round house remains and they don’t disappoint.

image

While in the Parry Sound area I also made my way to Killbear Park for the first time. I never did find the ever popular Killbear tree that everyone seems to photograph, but I was surprised by the amount of wildlife. From the bears that greeted me at the entrance to the countless deer that seemed torn between running from the camera or posing for it to the two wolves walking in to the park just after sunset as I was leaving. But the most demanding of photographic attention was this little squirrel that followed me for ten minutes constantly stopping just inches from the camera lens waiting for the shutter.

image

After several failed attempts this was finally the year to make it to the top of ‘The Crack.’ I’d heard about this trail for years and always been told it was quite technical and not to be attempted in wet weather as the rock got too slick. Of course every time I made plans to hike it, usually camping overnight at George Lake, it would pour rain all night leading up to it and all day, or at least long enough to ensure that there wasn’t enough daylight to attempt a trail advertised at six hours.

image

After about two hours hike and leaving behind a pair of less prepared groups along the way we made it to the plateau. It was rather anti-climatic. The view was nice but not great. And then we made it far enough into the clearing to see our destination, still a couple hundred feet over head. The final ascent wove over the rubble of a rock slide right up the middle of the crack itself, nearly straight up at times over boulders the size of cars between the sheer faces of this mountain split in two. The view made it worth the trip though.

image

Just travelling Highway 69 is always an adventure. Checking on the latest in the slow, slow construction project and stepping back in time through the little towns and abandoned hotels and gas bars. One of my favourites seems to be rather popular still as a crack retreat so my stay was brief, but it’s also the home of my favourite character, Graffiti Bot.

image

Every year thousands of tourists flock to Algonquin to take in the fall colours, and occasionally I join them. When that happens though I’m always glad that they get suckered in to the easy to reach and obviously named views leaving the best that the park has to offer quieter for those in the know. The fun of exploring though is knowing that there are even better, even less known spots just waiting to be discovered.

image

Just as the year was closing, a friend and I made an attempt at one last adventure – an overnight camping trip in the snow. The weather report called for minus one overnight and just four inches of snow – great conditions for the fat bikes. Instead, we woke to fourteen inches of snow that forced us to push the bikes most of the way home. There’s a more detailed trip report here.