Ascent of Ishpatina Ridge on 2011-10-17
|Others in Party:||Adam Helman|
----Only Party on Mountain
|Date:||Monday, October 17, 2011|
|Ascent Type:||Successful Summit Attained|
| Motorized Transport to Trailhead:||Car|
| Elevation:||693 m / 2274 ft|
Ascent Trip ReportSaturday, October 15:
Our trip began in the evening in Buffalo, NY, where I picked up Adam and Bob at the airport. I had just flown in to Ithaca, NY earlier that day, and I drove to Buffalo after a visit with my brother’s family (my brother was initially interested in coming on this trip but had to bow out). Adam had just returned to Buffalo after a week of peakbagging in New England, and Bob was just flying in from his home in Arizona. We chose Buffalo to minimize the cost and hassle of international flights to Canada.
We crossed into Canada and that evening and managed to bag the easy Niagara County, ON highpoint in windy rain before spending the night in a motel in Burlington, ON.
Sunday, October 16:
We awoke early and drove to Sudbury, ON via Route 400, an easy drive with the expressway going all the way to Parry Sound. In Sudbury we bought groceries at a supermarket and a tarp at Canadian Tire to serve as an auxiliary tent—our original plan was for me to sleep in the car at the trailhead, but we were thinking about camping to shorten our long hike. From there I drove to Capreol, ON, a town that seemed to have just one gas station and one restaurant, and we used them both.
With a full tank and full stomachs we drove from Capreol north on the main road through town and into the wilderness, turning right on Portelance Road after 5 miles. I then followed the excellent driving directions provided by this map from OtterTooth.com and this GPS track from OntarioHighPoints.com. The route was an excellent, wide, easy dirt road with only minor issues with washboarding and potholes. Any passenger car could drive it easily, which was good since our rented SUV was not very rugged or high-clearance. The maps and GPS track helped us not miss any turns.
About 1 hour 40 minutes from Capreol the Gervais Road suddenly ended at the Sturgeon River. We pulled into a small parking area (one other car was there, obviously Ishpatina hikers by the maps and gear inside) and took a look at the ford that we knew began our hike—it didn’t look too bad. Since the weather was nice, and it was only about 3:30 PM, we decided to ford the river now and then hike up the first few miles of road once across. We had thought about camping on the other side of the river, but if we had to carry all our camping gear for the ford we figured we might as well keep going, too.
My brother had loaned me a large pack that I loaded up with everything that would fit, and I carried the tarp as a shelter (Bob had a tent but it only slept 2). We got all our gear organized and started off into the frigid waters of the Sturgeon River. The crossing was up to about my mid-calf at the deepest point, and about 100 feet wide—not too bad.
Once across we exchanged boots for sandals and started hiking up the wide, flat, easy logging road. The first landmark was a well-kept cabin on the left. My only real issue was that my brother’s pack was not set up for my body and the load was pretty uncomfortable on my back. Otherwise, our only obstacles were many wide and deep puddles in the middle of the road from the recent rains.
At a short downhill section we encountered the hikers from the other car we had seen at the trailhead—they were pushing their bikes uphill at this point. We chatted for a bit, and we got some good route beta from them. They told us they had flagged most of the route with pink tape, and indeed it was very helpful to us to have these markers during our effort.
After passing Hamlow Lake on the wide road and not seeing any of the abandoned logging camp buildings on the OBM map, we suddenly came to another ford, this one over the strait connecting Hamlow and Little Scarecrow Lakes. We were about to take off our boots when we decided to look at a faint side path, which sure enough led to a primitive causeway that allowed for an easy dry crossing.
Once across we decided to camp—it was 5 PM and we didn’t know if we’d see any more good campsites near water for a while. Bob and Adam set up their tent, and I strung some twine between two trees to support my tarp. We cooked our dinner, sorted our gear, and relaxed for a while. The weather was quite pleasant, with patches of blue sky, so we were hopeful for tomorrow. I even slept out under the stars, on top of my tarp, warmly cocooned in my sleeping bag.
Monday, October 17:
I was awakened by shouts from Adam at 4:00 AM—he heard sprinkles of rain on his tent, which I had not yet noticed. So I quickly threw my tarp over my pre-strung twine and got back to bed as the rain got stronger and a dull gray dawn approached.
At 7 AM we all started stirring, and I got dressed under my somewhat claustrophic tarp shelter. We ate some cold food for breakfast and by 7:20 AM we were hiking up the road in a steady downpour. We figured that this climb does not involve any technical or exposed terrain, and we could handle getting a little wet.
The easy road continued for another mile from our camp, and then we turned right on a slightly more obscure road. This led us to a spot where I knew we have to find a faint trail left—after a false path we found the right one, helpfully flagged with pink ribbon. We were now on a relatively new trail, probably created or improved by Isphatina-bound hikers, that helpfully cuts off a mile or two of nasty bushwhacking.
The trail was certainly rugged and rough as it cut through a swampy area and then meandered uphill, and we lost it near the col at the 412-meter OBM spot elevation for a little bit, but the footway and pink flagging reliably kept us moving forward. The last section was a short but steep downhill slope and then a flat beeline to the shores of Scarecrow Lake.
The faint trail theoretically ended here, and we faced a gap of about one brushy mile to the start of the well-used fire tower trail at the north end of the lake. We heard it was often possible to walk along the shore of the lake if the water level was low, or else bushwhack. The shore did not look appealing at first, so we started off northeastwards in the woods, keeping the lake and a small offshore island in sight. I took a brief detour along the rocky shoreline, but the rain made the boulders slippery and dangerous, so I returned to Adam and Bob in the forest.
The bushwhacking was not terrible. Indeed, a very faint way-path or route seemed to be taking shape along the lake, undoubtedly coalescing from the increasingly common tread-ways made by Ishpatina-bound hikers like us. We still had to make many small detours and move branches out of our way, but it always seemed like there was an obvious way forward as we paralleled the lake. Still, at a few brushy points we did go to the lakeshore, where, when lucky, we found easy going on gravel shorelines or surprisingly solid mud flats. But eventually a log or thicket right to the waterline would force us back into the woods and more bushwhacking. Along this stretch we encountered a moose skeleton, and a strange collection of underwear hanging on tree branches, as if forgotten by a swimmer.
We knew our bushwhacking was over when we arrived at a lakeshore campsite clearing with cut logs for chairs and a fire pit (and scattered trash). We took a good rest here as the rain continued to pour down. We were all pretty soaked to the skin at this point, and Adam’s hands seemed to be the most serious issue for us—his gloves were simply not insulating at all when wet.
After some snacks we started up the Fire Tower Trail, which passed by a canoe dock area and started uphill in a fire-burned clearing. It became very rough and rugged passing by a small lake a few minutes up from Scarecrow Lake, climbed a bit, leveled off, then passed over a couple of swamps and a rough dam across Dick Lake. I was looking for the Fireman’s Cabin, hoping that even if was just a ruin it might provide us some rain shelter for a rest, but I never saw it (I think it is long gone). After Dick Lake the trail ascended more seriously, helping to warm us up, but the higher elevation also turned the rain into wet snow that was accumulating on the ground. The wind also picked up quite a bit, chilling us further.
At about 12:30 PM we saw the summit fire tower ahead and soon after reached the summit area of Ishpatina Ridge, spot elevation 693 meters on the OBM maps. We saw a large boulder to the right of the trail that we read might be the high point, so we tagged that first, then went over to the area under the tower—it was semi-open and the wind was frigid, and thick clouds obscured all views. We didn’t stay long at all and instead headed northwest to OBM spot elevation 689, which Derek Standen had told me might be a high point candidate. Now that we were here, we figured we best make sure we got the high point.
The bushwhack to Point 689 was miserable—the brush was much thicker than down by the lakeshore, and no paths were evident at all. After fifteen minutes of intense and soggy brush-bashing we found the highest point in the area, and I took some quick GPS and altimeter readings before we returned to the tower. It was way too cold and exposed for us to hang out there long, so I snapped some photos and we started down. I did take time to read my GPS and altimeter at the high boulder, though—the GPS read within a foot or two of Point 689, and my uncalibrated altimeter actually read 5 feet lower at the boulder. However, I have found the OBM to usually be uncannily accurate, and I would be very surprised if a 4-meter lower spot elevation was actually a higher point.
We took a rest a little ways down the trail, out of the wind, and Adam tried desperately to warm his hands—I temporarily loaned him some dry socks to help the cause. We ate our lunch here, and, cold and soaked, started downhill. However, the rain now eased up, and we even saw patches of blue sky above briefly. On the steeper parts of the trail, we even had some nice views of Scarecrow and Mihell Lakes spread out below us under the overcast clouds.
We took another rest at the campsite at Scarecrow Lake and headed back the way we came, following the lakeshore on a mix of mudflats and bushwhacking, then easily picking up the use trail/herd path that led back to civilization. The pink flagging was a big help, and on the way back we did not lose the trail near spot elevation 412 like we had in the morning. We were cold, wet, and tired, but the drier conditions (only intermittent rain showers) and our happiness at making the summit helped compensate. We arrived back at our campsite just after 5 PM.
We never had any intention of camping here a second night, so we packed up our soaked tents/tarps and other gear, once again cramming most of it in my brother’s overnight pack, and took off for the three miles back to the car. It was uneventful trudging along a good road, big puddles the only issue. At the cabin before the ford, we saw a pickup parked nearby and inside a guy was watching TV! The ford was not particularly deep and we had guessed that most sturdy 4x4 pickups/SUVs could have made it across.
We arrived at the ford in near darkness just before 7 PM, and Adam walked right across in his socks and boots, figuring they couldn’t get any wetter. Bob and I thought we’d be taking them off at the car once across anyway, so we changed into our sandals and crossed, noticing that the day’s rains had raised the water level a bit.
At our rented car we changed clothes, threw our wet gear in back, and we were headed to Sudbury as soon as we could. We had no desire to pitch a wet tent when we could be in a motel room in 2 hours. So I drove back in the pitch darkness, following my inbound GPS track to make sure I was on the right road, and at Capreol we started looking for lodging. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find anything until we were in downtown Sudbury, and even there the hotels in town were almost all full with business travelers. We finally found some expensive rooms at the TravelLodge and happily laid our stuff out to dry, took showers, and got a good night’s sleep after a long but rewarding day.
The overland route to Ishpatina Ridge appears to be getting easier and easier with the passing of the years. It is not hard to envision the route along the shore of Scarecrow Lake becoming an extension of the existing path to the lake as more hikers head for Ontario’s high point. It’s already a doable day-hike for strong hikers from the Sturgeon River ford, and a relatively easy overnight trip. Removing the last bushwhack link would make it easier, and a rumored new bridge over the Sturgeon River would remove 3 miles each way from the trip. This could become a popular hiking destination.
I would like to thank the pioneers that preceded us on this overland route, greatly easing our ascent, including: Ken Takabe (originator of this route), Brain Back (Ottertooth.com), Andrew Lavigne (ALavigne.net), Derek Standen (OntarioHighPoints.com), and Bob Bracht and friend (who flagged the route the day before our ascent).
|Summary Total Data|
| Elevation Gain:||507 m / 1670 ft|
| Extra Gain:||85 m / 282 ft|
| Distance:||31.9 km / 19.8 mi|
| Route:||Overland from SW|
| Trailhead:||Sturgeon River ford 356 m / 1168 ft|
| Quality:||7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)|
| Route Conditions:||Road Hike, Unmaintained Trail, Bushwhack, Stream Ford|
| Gear Used:||Ski Poles, Bivouac|
| Nights Spent:||1 nights away from roads|
| Weather:||Raining, Cold, Windy, Low Clouds|
Miserably wet and cold
| Time Up:||6 Hours |
| Time Down:||5 Hours 30 Minutes|
|GPS Data for Ascent/Trip|
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Peaks: climbed and unclimbed by Greg Slayden
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