Ski and Scramble: Cavern Lake Canyon, Northwestern Ontario

Over the last few years i have attempted to get into Cavern Lake Canyon while the lake is frozen to ski down and through the canyon. With several failed attempts of turning off bush roads in the wrong direction, running out of daylight, or arriving when the lake is only semi frozen has made this successful trip just that much more exciting and fulfilling.

Cavern Lake is designed by Ontario Parks as a Nature Reserve due to is fascinating geology, rare arctic-alpine plants. Also found here is a large cave occupied by colonies of bats that are very vulnerable to human disturbances, especially in winter while they are hibernating (Please visit the Ontario Parks website for more information). Even thought we quite curious to check it out, we decided to be respectful and stay clear of the cave as disturbing those little bats during their hibernation could cause them to wake early, fly out and freeze to death.

The last week or so a heat-wave has been going through northwestern ontario. Averaging with highs of +10 degrees Celsius and lows of -7, a sure sign that spring is well on its way. I finally got the bindings set up to work with my boots on a sweet new pair of classic nordic skis and was eager to use them so i rounded up a crew for an adventure consisting of myself, my friend Sarah and a couchsurfing friend Caitlyn who came up for the weekend from Hackensack, MN for the Sleeping Giant Loppet race the day previous. We figured it was probably the last chance to get out for a ski adventure this season. It was so warm no need for gloves or hats. I even wore shorts with my gators.

Everything was so perfect, we skied right in through the canyon to the very end. snow was a little rugged in parts on the trail but once we got out to the lake it was soft and smooth, Ice is definitely started to melt though but was still solid with perfect snow cover. We noticed some cool rock formations high up on the cliffs at the end of the lake so decided to scramble up and check them out.

The scramble up was quite sketchy as we were post-holing up to our knees and even up to our thighs between the large, small, and often loose boulders on the talus slopes.

We took our time, carefully making it to the top of the rock ledge. When we got up there it was to our surprise that we found a little un-registered geo-cache hanging from a tree. We signed the log book and took some photos of ourselves with the camera in the box.

We sat up top and admired the panoramic view of the canyon basking in the warmth of the sun. On our ski back to the car there was quite a lot of water build up on the lake as we felt this warm heat warm brush by our faces, a sure sign that the lake was soon to melt. We came out with pretty wet feet just at the perfect time to be able to listen too sweet tunes in Caitlyn nice ride watching the sun set on our drive back to Thunder Bay. (see video slide show below to view all pictures – they are in some what of a reverse order but they are all there, enjoy!)

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Wonderful Winter Weekend With the Outdoor Rec Class

So i have been instructing with the Outdoor Skills and Theory (OSAT) course at Lakehead University over the last few fall and winter terms while i have been in Thunder Bay. I have led a variety of activities with different students groups from the class including navigation/orienteering skills and backpacking in the fall to nordic skiing, backcountry skiing, and winter camping in the winter.

This particular winter skills course went from feb 26th-28th 2010. We snowshoed with packs and pulks of gear into Bentley Lake from the end of Onion Lake Rd about 40min north of Thunder Bay Ontario. The greatest thing about the OSAT students is that they are always excited and enthusiastic and having been through the program before i find it easy to relate to them. This winter skills course was an introduction to winter camping. For most of the students it was their first time camping outside in the winter. Luckily we had great weather with beautiful sunny days that were not too cold. The students got to learn and practice their systems for being warm and comfortable in winter conditions, how to set-up an appropriate camp and safetly harvest wood for fires and shelters.

This form of camping is quite different from the typical “Leave No Trace” ethics that most outdoor education institutes practice which makes this trip particularly interesting. It really allows the students to have a feeling for what it is like to live off of the land and practice some more traditional methods of camping in combination with the other technological comforts we bring with us.

The second day includes a river travel day with a hypothermia first aid scenario. River travel can be potentially very dangerous so for optimum safety we travel in rope teams along ice shelves and across snow bridges, very similar to glacier travel. Students learn about the geomorphology of rivers and how they freeze but can still be crossed safely when ice is carefully probed for the right sound and feel before a judgment call can be made to cross. Students also have to treat a hypothermic victim who falls through the ice.

The third day there I helped run a workshop on alternative fire-lighting methods including the Bow-drill, aluminum can and chocolate, battery and steel wool, fire by ice etc

All in all it was a fun filled weekend with a solid crew.

A New Perspective of the Nipigon Region: World Class Ice

So i decided to join a crew of experienced ice-climbers as they made their way to the Orient Bay area off Highway 11 north of the town of Nipigon in the heart of Northwestern Ontario. The area is a giant canyon that has been carved when water out of Glacial Lake Agassiz (present day Lake Winnipeg) started to flood eastward through Lake Nipigon and out the Nipigon River into Lake Superior about 9,500 years ago. The Nipigon River still has the Largest amount of water flow into Lake Superior over any other river.The valley i like to call the “Northwestern Ontario’s Yosemite Valley of Ice”, has the perfect environment for ice to form along its cliffs creating many ice layered waterfalls which are ideal for ice-climbing. We did a variety of climbs, i think all of which were at least two pitches (70m+) camping out for the night and driving in and out of Nipigon to have a nice meal at the Husky Restaurant while we watched an addicted gambling truck driver display an immense waste of paper from purchasing lotto tickets by the stack over and over again. We camped out for the night and had to continuously move our vehicle off the road to let logging trucks go by. The highway is so tight here you have to dig yourself a parking spot. Some of the approaches were so intense i felt like i was mountaineering (which i guess i was).

All in all the whole experience gave me a lot of confidence with ice-climbing and a new perspective of winter in Northwestern Ontario. Can’t wait to be able to get out again

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