MOUNTAIN LIFE - Ontario | Winter 2016 - page 76

Words & photos by Conor Mihell
On a sunny mid-March afternoon on Bolkow Lake, a frigid winter has seemingly
come to a sudden end. The temperature soars into the positives for the first
time inmonths and the lake’s frozen surface turns tomush—pleasant conditions
for spring downhill skiing, maybe, but far less desirable for Day One of a
100-kilometre snowshoe and toboggan trek in northern Ontario’s Missinaibi
Provincial Park. We’re depending on solid ice, dry snow and crisp days to stitch
together frozen lakes and rivers, hauling a canvas tent and wood stove on a
weeklong trip.
It’s fitting that our traditional means of winter travel began with a ride on the VIA
Rail Budd Car, an old-fashioned, two-car passenger train that runs from Sudbury
toWhite River. After being dropped off at a railroad siding near Bolkow Lake,
my wife Kim and I planned to trace an obscure canoe route linking a series of
lakes to the Little Missinaibi River, which tumbles raucously intoMissinaibi Lake.
Among canoeists, this sprawling, Y-shaped lake—the source of the renowned
Missinaibi River—is famous for its pictographs, age-oldAboriginal rock paintings
made on the smooth granite of Fairy Point. Visiting this sacredmonolith in winter
was the objective of the trip.
But now, the outlook is tenuous. Kim carries a backpack while I drag a narrow,
10-foot-long, plastic toboggan containingmost of our kit. The morning goes
smoothly. With the shore in shadows, the toboggan glides easily. By noon,
however, the sun is beating down. Our feet become soaked, the toboggan
bogs down and it’s all we can do to slog across Bolkow’s last bay and struggle
over the portage to the next body of water, a meandering swamp. Wet, crotch-
deep snow gives us little choice but to set up camp early and hope for cooler
conditions in the morning.
For the next two days, the pattern repeats itself. We awake before dawn to take
advantage of relatively cool temperatures; by afternoon, we’re marooned by
slush, having covered only a fraction of the distance we’d intended. The break
we’re waiting for comes on the evening of Day Three. The wind changes direction
and the pines moan over our tent. Gusts from the northwest buffet our shelter’s
broad canvas walls and the wind causes the stove to belch smoke into the tent.
By headlamp, I rig a shovel blade to shield the stovepipe, and pause to glance
worriedly at the tall trees arcing and bowing overhead.
“Snowwalkers”datingback toNativehuntersand
used frozen riversas
travelways—but adarkblot of steamingwater, flowing
likeapool of blood from thebaseof a rocky rapidunder a
sheet of ice,makesmenervous.
TOP:Withbare arms onRibes Lake, the author andhis dog trudge through the slushonDay
Two. BOTTOM:The pictograph site at Fairy Point on LakeMissinaibi—completewith smiling
“emoticon”—is one of the largest congregations ofAboriginal rock-art inOntario. CONOR
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