Camping

Steve’s excellent Canadian camping adventure

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Steve Linenfelser, the Exponent Outdoor Adventure writer, recently took a trip to Canada. Following is his story, and he is sticking to it.

Canada, our northern neighbor is beautiful to visit and has more than 8 million tourists each year. If you’ve ever visited for hunting, fishing, or just plain sightseeing, you would understand the attraction.

I took a fishing trip to Canada last weekend and I thought I would share my adventures with you. My buddy Jim, his 14-year-old son Garret and I drove up there to fish for walleye and northern pike. We weren’t disappointed, but had our share of challenges along the way.

We decided to leave late Thursday night. It was a 14-hour drive from my buddy’s house in Breckenridge, Mich. to Wa Wa, Canada. My buddy had been there several times and knew of a lake that would be perfect.

We’d camp on an island in the middle. We each had a nap before our departure. The weather traveling up there was good, and as always, it was breathtaking crossing the Mackinac bridge into the Upper Peninsula. No matter how many times I’ve crossed it, it is amazing each time.

Although I have a CPL (concealed pistol license), Canada does not allow hand guns. You are allowed to bring in a rifle or shotgun, but we decided at the last minute not to bring any – which we later regretted – because it would delay us at the border and we were anxious to get there and start fishing.

The scenery along the way was beautiful. While we were driving into Canada we saw several bald eagles, a bear (it literally ran right in front of our vehicle), and even a couple of moose. Michigan’s UP has an estimated 323 moose. Canada in contrast has 500,000 to 1,000,000. The two we saw were a cow and her calf. They were huge! We were glad we didn’t hit one of those. It would have totaled my buddy’s Jeep.

We had planned to camp on one of the islands on Lake Obatanga in Wa Wa. We would have to drive down a narrow two-track about five miles before reaching a small river above a beaver dam that we could kayak to our destination. The two-track road looked like it hadn’t been maintained for a while. There were three trees that had fallen that were blocking our path. We didn’t have a chain saw, so we had to use a hatchet and machetes to trim the trees so we could continue our drive in. It took us a couple of hours, but we FINALLY reached our river. We kayaked along the river, with all our supplies loaded in our kayaks. While I was lifting my kayak out of the water, I managed to pull a groin muscle. That didn’t make my kayak trip any easier.

Once we reached the beaver dam, we had to unload all our gear and port our kayaks over the beaver dam. We then reloaded and kayaked about 45 minutes to an island in the middle of Lake Obatanga. The island was basically one big rock with moss, a little bit of grass and some trees and bushes. Since we didn’t have weapons, we felt it was safer from bears being on an island versus the mainland. We each brought along air mattress, which were a lifesaver since the ground was so hard. After pitching our tents, we built a camp fire and listened to the sounds of the wilderness. If you’ve ever been up in Canada or northern Michigan and heard the eerie sound of the loons at dusk, it’s easy to see how they were named. The loons sounded like mad men crying out in the night.

We woke up early, made delicious coffee percolated over an open fire. If you’ve never tried it, I highly recommend it. Nothing like the taste of percolated coffee. We got our poles and tackle boxes, then kayaked on to the lake. The sunrise was amazing and we saw two moose feeding along the shore. My buddy’s boy Garret caught the first fish, a northern 36-inch pike, then we caught a few nice walleye, one was over 30 inches and
nice and fat. We fried potatoes and the freshly caught fish in butter and man was that good! We repeated this several times over the next two days and loved every bite.

The local conservation officers had designated our island as an official camp sight. The really cool thing about staying there was it seemed each visitor had left something for the next camper to use. There was rope. There was a make-shift bench which we placed all of our food and gear, which was nice because the island was crawling with ants. We named it ant island, due to the huge number. There was also, much to our delight, a make-shift toilet that a previous camper had left behind. No pun intended! We ate all of our food immediately and washed dishes every day.

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At night we would build a camp fire and watch the shooting stars over Lake Obataga. We slept like babies, and the weather was warm and sunny. That is, until the third day. The clouds darkened quickly, it got real windy, and we were forced to seek shelter under a tarp we had placed over our gear. Then the rain came. Hard. It rained and rained, and we got over two inches of rain that day before it was over. The next afternoon was
supposed to be even worse, so we decided to leave early to beat the inclement weather ahead. We left behind a few fishing lures, some rope, then headed out. The water was a bit choppy as we kayaked back toward the beaver dam. There was a couple of times we thought we might capsize our kayaks, but we managed to make it back to the river’s edge, loaded all of our gear, then drove back through the narrow two-track before it got dark.

We were out about a mile and a half before getting out of the woods, when we came across a body of water that wasn’t there a couple of days before. The beaver dam had flooded due to all the rain, and we were looking at 3-4 feet of water that we had no choice but to drive through. It was about 200 yards from one side to the other, and just as we were about to reach the end of the water, the Jeep stalled out. The water was up to the windows,
and we two choices. Stay there the night in the Jeep and hike out in the morning, or try to make it out before nightfall. We decided to leave right then, since we were in a mosquito infested swamp and we had the windows rolled up. It was hot inside the Jeep and we were sweating profusely.

We didn’t want to flood the inside of the Jeep, so we crawled out the windows and waded through leech-infested water until we reached the trail. We pulled a couple of leeches off of us, sprayed ourselves down with mosquito repellent, and started to walk quickly as we could along the two-track. My groin was killing me, but we had no cell signal, it was getting dark soon, and we had just heard a few days earlier about the number of
bears in the area from a local bear hunter. He had said there was so many bears that they were feeding on each other. A bear shot and wounded was eventually found the next day. A bear was eating it as the hunter had tracked it.

Just as it was getting dark, we heard wolves howling. They sounded fairly close, and we were reminded that we had no weapons on us except a hatchet and a couple of knives. I noticed Jim’s 14-year-old boy was getting a little scared, but we just kept positive and kept walking. When we finally reached the road, we realized it was 30 miles to the next town. We left our hatchet and knives along the trail as we figured it would be easier to hitch a ride without carrying those things. After about six miles of walking in cold, wet socks and shoes, we were picked up by a local couple who gave us a ride in the bed of their truck. Hey, we were just HAPPY TO GET A LIFT! They dropped us off at a little motel called the Half Way Lodge. It had a little store attached and we took hot showers and ate frozen pizzas. The owners of the lodge were from Paw Paw, Mich.; Wayne and Vicki Avery. These people were awesome. Wayne took my buddy the next morning with his personal truck, a Ford F-350 with huge tires that was able to get back through the dense trail and deep water, and pull the
Jeep out. We tried to pay him but he wouldn’t accept any money. Class act all the way. We vowed if we went back, we would stay at the Half Way Lodge.

We had the Jeep towed to the only dealership within 100 miles and got the bad news. The engine had seized up. The dealership gave us a ride to the only place where we could rent a vehicle, and when we got there, they had one truck left. It had a tow package, so we were able to tow our kayaks back to Michigan, but my buddy had to leave his Jeep there until a new engine was installed. All in all, it cost him about $4,000 but we
realized the important thing. No one was hurt. We all got out safe and sound. Cold, tired, sore, but safe.

As we were leaving, we came upon a gift store and decided to get a little souvenir. I saw this T-shirt that pretty much summed up the end of our trip. It made me laugh out loud when I saw it. I bought the shirt along with some wild blueberry jam. The shirt had a picture of a wolf and a bear and it said:

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Except for bears and wolves. They will kill you!”

How apropo, indeed.

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