A group of us took a jaunt up to the area surrounding Arrowhead Provincial Park mid-September. We ran into our fair share of obstacles hiking in; muddy trails, logging roads, rain, a rogue Russian we met in the bush and an encounter with ground-nesting Wasps… but we persevered. This was also the trip that gave rise to the idea of Canadian Pathfinders, as we all thought it a great idea to share our passion for and knowledge of the great outdoors.
I left Kitchener/Waterloo at approximately 06:30hrs. on Friday morning to pick up Serkan, Will and Drew in Toronto. By 8:30am we were on the road, heading up Highway 11 towards Arrowhead Provincial Park. Roads were clear and as the fresh air streamed in through the car windows, so became our heads. Something about that cool, clean air in Northern Canada that helps wash the city life off…
This was technically Serkan’s first serious backcountry endeavour. As a Turkish immigrant (but now full-on, initiated, “born-to-be” Canadian), he had just been bitten by the camping bug the season previous, and was excited to see what backcountry camping was all about. We most definitely obliged his curiosity and after a few recommendations and pointers from the rest of us he was all geared-up to hit the trails.
We arrived at the trailhead around 11:00hrs., grabbed our packs and hit the trail.
Usually when we explore this area, we camp at a spot just twenty-five minutes in from where we park the cars, but since we were on the trail in good time, and the terrain was forgiving, we decided to just hike the 10-15 kilometers into the area of Crown Land we were intent on exploring.
After traveling through some fairly dense brush and woods, we came upon the logging trail that we use to gain access to Crown Land. (We had learned the hard way the last time we were here that we need to take a left once we reach this road, and not a right as that leads into the Provincial Park and WAY more walking). So we took a hard left, and traveled over the newly-built access bridge[1. Ontario Parks rebuilt this bridge early September 2015, and on an earlier trip while trying to access Crown Land via this route, we spoke with the construction crew who hinted that Arrowhead Provincial Park would be expanding their ski and skating trails up into the Crown Land above the park. This is unfortunately becoming all-too-common today, with Provincial Parks eating up all of the free and accessible Crown Land areas around them.] and up into the hills surrounding the park.
We broke off the main logging road early on. Tracking our progress using a Garmin GPS and a crudely print-out of a Google Maps.
We traveled through dense brush, crossed streams and traversed slopes for approximately 12 kilometres, marking our trail with marker tape as we went (just in case GPS tracking failed or we had to quickly re-trace our steps without the map). I have a new-found respect for hunters that spend time tracking mountain goat and big game – it takes a lot of strength, stamina and experience to do that all day. It drizzled rain just light enough to soak your clothing, so for at least a few hours we alternated between removing and having to put back on our rain gear.
As we approached the last kilometre before what we believed to be the lake, we could see a clearing up ahead. The lack of trees in an area of forest and presence of water creates an unmistakable brightness – you just know there’s a large opening. We crossed a very thin trail (no wider than to accommodate a side-by-side or ATV).
Venturing towards the lake I noticed that there was a structure located to the right of us – a shed? House? Cottage?! Just when I had asked the guys to stop and figure out what this building was, we heard a rustling in the spruces ahead and to the left of us… someone was walking towards us, carrying a machete. The large, older man wore a dirty white t-shirt, dark pants and carried a two foot long machete – we stopped dead in our tracks.
We broke the silence first.
“Hey there! How’re ya’ doing?“
“How’s it going this afternoon?” one of us shouted. It was clear that he could now see the butt stocks of the rifles protruding from our packs.
“You guys lost?” he replied in a booming voice while closing the gap between us.
“Nope! Just thought we would do some camping on that Crown Land lake.“
“This isn’t Crown Land.” he replied sternly with a strong European accent. “Where’d you gentlemen come from?“
“Just through the bush there. We have a map from the Ontario Crown Land Atlas that says that this is Crown Land…“
“Well, I can tell you it’s NOT. I’ve been here for 15+ years. This is my land, my lake and 150 acres under my ownership.” he replied.
The next few minutes were tense to say the least. We went on to explain to him how we had found the map, why we were looking for Crown Land, how we traveled through the bush, and crossed the trails to end-up at his spot. The entire time, he didn’t let go of his grip on the machete, and understandably so – he just had four young men appear unexpectedly out of the woods on his property. Can’t blame him for being apprehensive.
After deciding that we weren’t of any malicious intent, he warmed to our presence. We chatted about his plot and acreage, how long he’d been there, when he purchased and where he lived when he wasn’t in the woods. He is originally from Russia, but immigrated to Toronto, Ontario back in the 1980’s, and purchased the 150-acre parcel of land in 2000. He built an octagonal cabin with open-concept, a wood shed, small dock and an open-air, split-level barn where he can host parties, clean game and store tools. He accesses the spot by driving in on that shallow ATV trail in a Suzuki Sidekick CUV – a feat we were all in awe of! His cabin is situated on the shore of a small 20 acre lake. He told us he enjoys going out for a morning paddle as the sun hits the water… a pretty sweet setup indeed!
We spoke for a good 20 minutes, after which time he offered his lake for us to refill our water bottles. We obliged.
Our new friend mentioned that there were four other gentlemen (a few years younger than us from his recollection), that trudged through the bush and onto his plot not a few weeks previous to our arrival. He was quick to point out that they were less prepared/equipped than us, and didn’t have a map or enough food (in his assessment), to comfortably stay in the woods for a few days as was their intention. He said all they carried with them was a few small bags of rice, some day packs and a rifle. Strange brew… he made the same offer to us as he did them; to stay for the night on his property, as it looked like we’d already endured quite the journey. We told him we’d prefer to find a more suitable area for fishing and shooting, away from other folks.
He also became an invaluable resource for us in short order, having an intimate knowledge of the trail system and land surrounding his. He told us that the ATV road we crossed on the way in to his property was actually a main access trail to a lake farther in… which is where we wanted to be – off private and onto “General Use” Crown Land. He told us that if we had trouble locating our preferred spot, there was a hunt camp not far from the edge of his land, and that the owners of that property were fine with people staying there, provided they were clean, respectful and honest. He even offered to guide us up the ATV trail to point us in the right direction. Super nice fella!
We slung-on our packs, and headed-out on the trail with our new bud.
We passed a few trail junctions, saw fresh, deep purple (blueberry-laden) bear scat and even heard a few gunshots off in the distance; our Russian friend explained to us that his friends were on a bear hunt in the area.
We parted company with our new friend a few km’s up the trail, and he pointed us in the direction of the lake we wanted to access. We said our goodbyes and a big ‘thank you’ and trekked off into the woods.
Approximately 45 minutes and 3-5 kilometres later, we landed on a