Ishpatina Ridge

September 16 – 20, 2005

Day 2

Saturday, September 17th 8:20pm, Scarecrow Lake

So where is the trailhead for Ishpatina ridge anyway? I had thought the Hap Wilson guide said it started at the old ranger cabin near the portage at the north end of Scarecrow Lake.

So when we found the cabin but no trail, I spent about an hour cursing Hap up and down. But once I got back, and before I slandered the man’s good name on my website, I thought I’d verify what in fact Hap does say. Hap is actually ambiguous on the location of the trail. He mentions a ranger cabin and then he mentions the trail head in his next sentence. But he never actually says the trail head is at the cabin.

But where, I asked myself (pleased that Hap’s reputation had - at least in my mind - been rescuscitated) did I get the wrong information? From my twisted recollection of an item on

John Wroe’s writeup contains the following phrase: The trail up the hill is easily identified because there used to be a ranger camp at the base. The cabin that is there now is not the old ranger cabin. It's some sort of private cabin. It’s not where the trail starts. I could not see any evidence of an ex-ranger cabin at the actual trail head.

The trailhead is the site of what looks to have been a serious root fire. The destruction it caused amazed me. Also amazing is that someone (almost definitely the Ministry of Natural Resources) put it out before it really got out of control.

According to this thread on the fire was very recent - less than a week old - and a Ministry of Natural Resources crew put it out. Trees were burned and the ground scorched for at least 30m into the bush.

(Obligatory PSA: if you must have a campfire, never ever build it on anything but rock, or on dirt that you know, by digging down six or so inches, has no tree roots in it.)

But I should back up.

Today we were up for 6am. Michael and Ken, who’d attempted this route last year, had warned me of the killer waves and wind on Smoothwater, so I’d insisted on an early start so that we might have a chance of avoiding rough conditions.

But it was a beautiful morning, with fog burning off in the glowing sun. Windless and calm. We zipped across in no time flat. Sadly I will have to endure much more teasing. "Are you sure we can handle these waves, Chris, I dunno - looks tricky."

The portage into Apex lake is really muddy. As in, you may never see your shoes again muddy. I managed to fall on my ass taking my pack out of the boat. Then, before even hitting the trail, I managed to sink up to both knees in mud, fully loaded. While I pulled myself and all my footwear out after a few seconds, the jokes only subsided several hours later.

Once the muddy bit was done (it claimed another victim or two) the portage was relatively level and clear.

The next stretch of the trip was fairly Algonquin-esque - lots of portages and not a lot of paddling. Some of Hap’s measurements are a bit off, IMHO, though these routes can change yearly depending on what the beavers are up to.

From Apex, we ploughed through to McCulloch Lake via the 1215m route, not the one that takes you through Whitemud Lake. That seemed like an extra portage and a creek paddle that promised to be more like a mud bath than a paddle.

There’s few short paddles and short portages through unnamed lakes. There is a campsite between Mihell Lake and McCulloch lake that seemed nice. Though I hasten to add that (a) it’s in the middle of a portage and (b) the portage gets you around a marsh and a creek so (c) it might not be such a splendid stop in bug season.

In my original trip plan, this site was to have been our second night camp site, but we were there by around 10:30 am and we still had plenty of energy.

We made it to Scarecrow Lake at around 12:20. There’s a beautiful beach on the Scarecrow Lake end of the portage. Michael went in for a brief swim.

We ate lunch and headed off down the lake toward the island campsite, which Hap recommends, getting there around 1:40pm. We set up our tents and decided to hike the ridge today because the weather was perfect: warm, sunny, windless.

We headed out toward what we figured was the trail head, an opening cut in the woods, with two white strips fixed to trees at the lake shore. We walked up to it and saw the ranger cabin, which I had thought Hap said was where the trail starts. But the only trail we could find connected to the portage into Scarecrow Lake.

We backtracked. We scoured the trail, trying to interpret various bits of openness as "trail," but without much luck.

Earlier I had checked our location against my GPS waypoints. It seemed we were off by about a couple hundred metres, but I reckoned my approximate markings were just inaccurate.

"Hap would never lie to me," I reckoned.

But Ken recalled some other description of the route that put the trail head not at the cabin, but "just the other side of a creek."

That one turned out to be correct, as did my original GPS waypoint. But to get to the creek along shore meant mud, bog and likely more leeches. So we went back to get the canoes and hopped over to the burnt out trail head. It cost us an hour, but we figured we had enough time to get to the top and back before dark.

The trail up Ishpatina is in fairly good shape. There are a couple of ambiguous bits, mostly around places where the beavers have been terraforming. From trailhead to fire tower is about 3km, and it’s about 290m elevation gain. It’s easier than Maple Mountain and I think you could safely do it in running shoes but obviously hiking boots will be more comfortable.

At the summit, I drank in 360 degrees of beautiful scenery, trees just starting to turn colour, bathed in late afternoon sun. With the last of my water I toasted the first people who found this place and the rugged, hilly wilderness they called home.

But in the back of my mind I had been growing ever more concerned all day that my tent mate and sometimes canoe partner Michael was going off the rails. See, it’s 6km there and back, not much water to speak of, 290m higher than where we start off, and we’re only coming back down again, and yet he decided to carry a canoe.

Yes indeed. All the way to the top of Ontario’s Everest.

We hung out for a bit. The fire tower is still there and hikers have undone the Ministry of Natural Resources’ efforts to make it impossible to climb. But none of us climbed to the top.

We headed back down and got to the trailhead by about 7pm. All in all, it was about a three hour round trip with about a 30 minute stop at the summit. Mind you, we were really hustling, canoe and all.

Lisa cooked us a lovely Alpine Air dinner of pasta and soup. We were all quite hungry and we devoured it.

Tonight, we have a beautiful full moon and a clear sky. Must go to bed.

Scarecrow Lake from Ishpatina. The island on the near shore is our campsite.

Scarecrow Lake from Ishpatina The island on the near shore is our campsite.

Smoothwater in fog. The most beautiful canoe trip morning I’ve experience in some time.

Smoothwater in fog The most beautiful canoe trip morning I’ve experienced in some time.

Sunrise on Smoothwater. Almost extraterrestrial.

Sunrise on Smoothwater Almost extraterrestrial.

Summit shot. Well, it is a canoe trip after all.

Summit shot Well, it is a canoe trip after all.