ishpatina ridge, ontario

a canoe/hike to the highest point in ontario

The highest point in Ontario is about 693 metres a.s.l., but the exact number depends on who you ask. 

This was the last canoe trip for me in 2005, jam-packed into the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend.

I drove up to the northwest corner of Temagami on Friday after work. I left Mississauga around 4:40, and got to the put-in around midnight, although traffic was unusually bad (even for a long weekend), and I stopped a couple of times.

During the planning stages, I was a little worried about the condition of the logging access road, known as Beauty Lake Road. I shouldn't have worried. The logging road (despite several MNR signs claiming the roads and bridges were not maintained) was in fantastic condition...the posted speed limit was 70km/h. The road was probably better than Hwy 560. I slept in my car Friday night at the put-in on the Montreal River. 
This was my second trip on the Montreal River--my first trip was in 2004, from Wapus Creek to Elk Lake via Matachewan.

 When I woke up Saturday morning, it was snowing. But not too bad. I got my stuff together and was on the river by 9:30, a rather late start. Fortunately, the wind was at my back and I blew down the river, into Lady Dufferin Lake, and across Smoothwater, which was quite choppy at that point, particularly at the south end, where the waves begin to funnel together. On Lady Dufferin Lake, I saw a beautiful cabin and a mysterious cross, which I promised myself I would photograph on the way back.

I crossed the watershed divide (between the St. Lawrence River and Lake Huron systems) via a 840m and then a 1215m portage, followed by a series of small puddles and portages (65-30-165). I camped at the site along the Mihell-McCullock portage, just as it was getting dark.

It was quite cold that evening, and I snuggled deep into my down bag, which was quite comfy.

I figure that day had about 6945m of portaging, including double carries.

Saturday was summit day. I woke around 7 and put my gear together while making breakfast. To lighten the rest of my approach, I left most of the camp standing and took only a day pack.  

I knocked the ice out of my canoe and paddled through Mihell and found the entrance to Scarecrow Creek after some thought. The creek was quite twisty and took quite a while to navigate. Finally, I emerged onto Scarecrow Lake, and quickly found the summit trail. It traveled through a brunt-over area before beginning to climb.

The trail was quite wet in places due to the recent rain and beaver activity. At one spot it was up to mid-thigh. The trail is fairly well traveled and easy to follow.

I got to the top and spotted the firetower (an interesting "summit cairn"!) and a summit register (actually, an old Nalgene bottle). Seems a group of 30 teenage girls had been here just a few months ago as part of a month long trip from (or to--it wasn't clear) Biscotasing, which is on the Spanish River.

In his book, Not Won in a Day, Jack Bennett notes that he isn't entirely sure if the mound on which the fire tower sits is in fact the highest point in Ontario. He notes that there is another point about two km away (but still part of Ishpatina Ridge) that looks to be of a very similar height.

Is Ishpatina Ridge really the highest point in Ontario?  Read my notes here.

I should note that every other source available to me indicates that the fire tower knob is the highest point (including Temagami's local back-country expert Hap Wilson).



I made some measurements using a home-made clinometer, as well as my compass's clinometer, but found the results to be inconclusive, due to distance, and tree cover. My binoculars proved to be only of limited use.

A better approach to the adjoining knob would be up a drainage from Smoothwater or a bushwack from McCullock. The south face (the one closest to the firetower knob) is quite steep and cluttered with scree. Climbing it would easily involve skills I don't possess (scrambling and roped climbing).

Given time constraints, I decided to not climb the adjoining knob. A bushwack adventure to the top of the adjoining knob would be an excellent experience sometime in the future.

I returned to my canoe and decided to take a rough portage to avoid the sinewy Scarecrow Creek. I returned to my basecamp, broke camp, and pushed back to a bushcamp at the 1200m Apex Lake portage, arriving after dusk.   Saturday had about 2250m of portaging, including double carries.

On Sunday, I returned to the car. Smoothwater actually lived up to its name for once and was quite placid and beautiful with the early morning fog. I hoped that the fog would be thick enough to require the use of dead reckoning. No such luck though. 

On the way back, I stopped at the cottage I mentioned on Day 1. The owner invited me up, and showed me around. The cottage was an old lodge built in the 1930s. It was beautiful, and had all of these old sporting goods relics (cedar-canvas canoe hanging from rafters, stuffed bear on wall, old snowshoes on wall) and was made from these huge old pine logs. It was an amazing and beautiful place.

The owner is a big fan of canoeing and had about 6 canoes and kayaks in his lodge. He lent me a double bladed paddle, and I tried it out for a few minutes on Lady Dufferin Lake. I think my canoe is too wide to make comfortable use of it (when I'm soloing, anyways). Also, I think a double bladed paddle would be a liability in whitewater in a canoe. He really liked them though.

I also stopped at the large cross on Lady Dufferin, but this is an anonymous memorial. I guess I'll never know who this cross was erected for.

Thanksgiving weekend is the start of the moose hunting season, so I wore a reflective vest and orange toque most of the time.  I also wore a bear bell on the portages.  I only saw hunters outside the park boundaries.

A lot of locals were very upset when the Temagami-area parks banned hunting within park boundaries, but in this area, the move seems inconsequential.  The difficult access of most areas surrounding Ishpatina Ridge (think of all those portages) would make transporting a moose carcass very difficult.  In my experience, these are places that hunters avoid anyways.