12-Aug-2008 -- 48°N 85°W was the nearest unvisited confluence point to us, and it was within a day’s drive so it seemed reachable without an excessive amount of planning and commitment. We chose August in the hopes that the bugs would have abated somewhat. But every biting insect came out to help make it a “pleasant” walk in the woods…black flies, mosquitoes, horse flies, and deer flies… a typical walk in northern Ontario. DEET to the rescue.
After poring over the maps and Google Earth images, it seemed like a small forest road to the north of the confluence point offered the best chance of approaching the confluence. If the road was passable and the bridges still existed, then this would get us to within 2.5 km of the confluence point…still a rather significant bushwhack through the forest. Another option was a paddle down Lake Superior (a somewhat risky and weather-dependent venture in a small boat) followed by a 4.5 km hike up from the shore over what looked like steep cliff terrain. The nearby creek would almost certainly not be navigable given the number of contours it crosses. This option didn’t seem very enticing. A further option was to try the route of the previous confluence seekers and face a 5.1 km hike through the bush from Dore Lake. Google Earth also shows this to be fairly rough terrain.
We contacted the Ministry of Natural Resources in Wawa to inquire about the forest road. The staff there were very friendly and knowledgeable and we are grateful for their help. They informed us that the road is Henson Road and that, though rough, it might prove passable as far as its closest point of approach to the confluence. It turned out to be little problem for a 4x4 but inadvisable for a normal car. Henson Road leaves Highway 17 at 48° 1.855’N 84° 49.904’W where we were immediately greeted by a “Road washed out. Do not proceed” sign. We decided that we’d simply drive as far as we could and then hike the rest of the way down the road. We were prepared to camp. If you camp, then remember that this is bear country and come prepared.
We started out down Henson Road at about 9:30AM. After crossing two or three washed out sections that had been repaired enough to be passable by 4x4, we reached the power lines at 48° 1.814’N 84° 58.861’W by about 11:30AM. This was just about 1.5 km short of where we had intended to park. Here we encountered a creek flowing across the road, the situation being made a little worse by a beaver dam. Although probably easily crossable, and despite the fact that we had come prepared with enough equipment to get ourselves unstuck, we decided it was silly to risk the consequences of getting stuck just to save a 1.5 km walk. We parked there and had lunch.
Just after noon, we started hiking down the road. At about 12:30 we left the road at 48° 1.298’N 85° 0.019’W and headed south into the bush. It turned out that this particular area had been logged at some distant point in the past (the regrowth was perhaps 50, 60, 70 years old). This made the walking both easier and more difficult. At times we were able to follow overgrown ruts left from the logging equipment but when these did not exist, then forest was denser than that which you normally might expect. After about 1 km, all signs of logging disappeared.
Walking through this terrain is strenuous and one’s sense of direction is easily lost. The forest is fairly dense with undergrowth and, although the contours don’t show it, there were several areas of cliffs to navigate around. In only one place could we get an overview of the countryside (see photo) by climbing up a fallen tree. One could get into serious trouble in these woods without a compass or GPS. Even with a GPS, we relied on the compass once or twice simply because you cannot walk fast enough or straight enough through this forest to easily get a reliable direction reading from the GPS. The hike to the confluence point was 2.4 km (as the crow flies) through the bush from the road. We averaged approximately 1 kilometre per hour when walking through the bush. The walk in and out from the road took us about 5 hours.
We decided that the longer hikes from the south (Lake Superior) and from the east (Michipicoten and Dore Lake) through countryside that appeared from the Google Earth images to be clearly more rugged, would in no way be a “walk in the park” and would take a significantly longer amount of time…perhaps even an overnight camp in the bush.
We took no camping equipment on the actual walk in the bush. However, looking at the various maps and images, we weren’t quite sure that the actual confluence point was not within the small lake nearby. So we did take a small inflatable boat! Luckily, it turned out that the maps are correct: the confluence point is just beside the small creek flowing south out of the lake so the boat was unnecessary. Even better, the confluence point is in fairly open ground right beside a large exposed rock next to the creek. This made for better photography (we were expecting photos of trees in all directions) and much better picnicking! We got to the confluence point at about 3:00PM. The nearby lake is quite pleasant and enticing for a swim but we didn’t really have time since we were still facing the walk and drive out. We didn’t expect to get back to Highway 17 until near dark. We eventually got back to the highway at about 8:00PM.
At the confluence point and all along the walk in, there were many signs of moose. We saw signs of bear but none of them recent. We saw no actual animals other than the small ground variety. This may have been due to the bear bells we carried but more likely due to the chaos and noise of our crashing through the bush! The forest consists primarily of birch, fir, and cedar. There is a good deal of fern as well as deep moss in the lower, damper areas. In a number of places we saw Indian Pipe, a small white parasitic plant that you don’t find very often.
A final tip: If you hike in woods this thick, then don’t wear anything at all on you that can be torn off by the undergrowth. There is now a wristwatch fairly close to 48° 0.990’N 85° 0.050’W …(finders keepers!). Although not expensive, it has a new battery and should happily be telling the time for the bears for the next couple of years.