TREES, ROCKS, MUD & MOSQUITOS
Wheeling in Ontario’s “Bush Country”
The areas north and east of Toronto are known as Ontario’s “cottage country” or if it’s Crown Land, it is often referred to as ‘in the bush.’ Gravenhurst is located at the southern tip of Lake Muskoka and an easy drive up Highway 11 for those coming south from the Greater Toronto Area.
The Canadian Tire in Gravenhurst was a convenient spot for us to stop and get some insect repellant, as well as some appropriate clothing for the weather since the forecast called for rain all day.
This area of the province is all about recreation and all the commerce that goes with it. Boating, fishing, hunting, paddle boarding, canoeing, powersports, snowmobiling, ice fishing, camping, whatever your game is, it’s all enjoyed here.
Our itinerary for the day was to visit some of the access roads and check out the conditions for some upcoming trip plans. The area is roughly bounded by Gravenhurst to Baysville across to Dorset and down to Minden. It’s a vast and popular area for camping, fishing and hunting while logging is a big operation that takes place throughout the week. However, on Saturdays we usually don’t see too much activity.
Ontario ‘bush country’ doesn’t have much infrastructure (with limited signage) so its best to go with as much knowledge as you can get. I like to use a Garmin GPS with backroads maps or its latest Trak Maps. These show the access roads, rivers, lakes, snowmobile and ATV Trails, fishing and scenic spots, plus other information. I like to use both print and GPS versions.
A big sign with a flashing light lets you know logging and equipment trucks are using these roads. On this day, however, there was an extra sign overhead saying ‘road closed’ at the Pine Springs Rd. Intersection. There didn’t appear to be any reason and looked open. However, we hadn’t planned to go that way anyway so we turned back to a side trail we had taken in previous years that we knew would be a good test of the area.
As much of this area is used for logging operations, the crews dig out stumps, put in culverts for drainage, widen the track and grade some stone for the trucks and equipment to make it through. Over time, different areas are left untouched and the trails gradually grow back in. Other user groups do maintenance but usually much less work is required. As a result, branches or trees fall down, boggy washouts occur, and undergrowth closes in from the sides. Loose rock-strewn trails are the norm, which was just what we were looking for!
Let’s see. We came across rocks, trees, mud, (not too mention the mosquitoes) and not necessarily in that order. On our way to these access roads, we hadn’t seen much evidence of bugs. The hope was the rain would keep them at bay. Wishful thinking.
They were plentiful and we got them in our mouths, ears, and eyes. We grabbed the ‘Deep Woods Off ’ and sprayed it all over until
we almost choked then quickly opened the doors gasping for breath. After a moment, we shut the doors and realized that most of the bugs had returned. Our new fumigation trick needed some fine tuning.
Al agreed to come along with me in the CJ7 as long as I listened to his advice (at least some of the time). Al has experienced most, if not all, of the mishap’s that can occur when four-wheeling, (interesting stories I’ll leave for another day).
As we drove along, I kept getting out to check on the depth of the water and try to see what was around and ahead of us. We made slow progress along the rock strewn and muddy trail. Most of the water crossings had rocky bottoms and we hadn’t experienced much tire slippage. We stopped at a hunting camp to get out for more reconnaissance of the area. A lot of Ontario’s Crownland have hunting camps that are still in use.
After a couple hours of steady trail work, we were feeling confident. That is until we came up to a watery swamp area with the top of a rock sticking out right in the middle! We recognized this as the place where many of us have winched before!
ATVs had cut a narrow trail around the obstacle. However, it was too narrow for us. So, we slowly edged into the watery mud. Low range, first gear isn’t enough to make a run through although with a big rock in the middle, I didn’t feel like leaving part of the transmission or axles in the water. Slow and easy was the order of the day.
After getting out and checking the depth with a stick we thought
it would be best to stay on the left side of the water hole. Slowly, the right tire grabbed the rock and started to climb yet the left tire started to sink until forward progress ceased. Al suggested backing up – good idea! Yet, the tires started to spin, and the left sunk in lower. Not wanting to make it worse, I quickly put vehicle in neutral and jumped out to assess the situation. The Jeep was stuck on the rock and winching looked to be our best option.
At this point we turned the engine off. I usually bring a booster pack and spare gas with me in the event of an emergency but since we didn’t plan on taking any extreme trails, we hadn’t bothered. Now, turning the engine off made me a bit nervous but after hooking up the winch and putting some tension on, the 86 Jeep CJ7 started up again. Phew. I also took the opportunity for a selfie!
The situation proved to be a tough pull to get the Jeep up and out of the water. The Warn 3628 kg (8000 lb) winch is more than 1.5 times the weight of the CJ but I had chosen a tree about 4.6 m (15 ft) away. A winch’s pulling power is greatly reduce on the fourth wrap. So, I spooled out about 24 m (80 ft) and went to another tree. This gave enough pull to get the little green Jeep back on land.
After another half-hour of rocky trail, we were back at Forest Access Rd. Here, there was a barricade set up due to washouts farther along the road to the east. We turned west and then headed north on Hindon Access Rd. Some UTV’s passed and we asked how they were doing. They responded that the rain wasn’t going to stop them from having fun.
By this time, it was well into the afternoon, so we stopped to eat some lunch and then proceeded north. We stopped at various intersections recalling other years experiences and worked our way up to Echo Lake and out to Baysville. Normally, we would have wanted to get an ice cream and sit by the lake but due to the weather, we didn’t feel like it this time around.
Of course, we stopped at Tim Hortons in Gravenhurst for a coffee where we had a chance to dry a little before returning home. See you next time!