View topic - Turnbull LakeTrip, and the Gathering

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PostPosted: March 4th, 2003, 12:48 pm 
As some of you know, my tripping partner Hans Veit and I worked the Gathering into a longer trip. We started the previous Saturday and rode the Budd Car further west, past Biscotasing, to Turnbull Lake. There were some delays with the train (which is not unusual) but we still had lots of daylight left to set up a hot tent camp.

Turnbull should be renamed "Firewood Lake" It has vast stands of dead, dry, sound, hard, perfect Spruce firewood. What I believe may have happened is that when the beaver were trapped there were no dams and the water was low. Many spruce grew on some low-lying shores up to about 10" diameter. Then later, as a result of the anti-fur movement, the beaver came back, dammed the outlet and drowned the flats. Result: a truly unlimited number of perfect poles for tent support and firewood.

There are 2 cabins at the north end of the north lake, but very little sign of human presence. We met no one, of course, during our time there. It's a pretty lake, long and winding. We had a lovely tailwind on our walk south, and 4 days later again on our walk north. (Next time my sled will have a sail!)

The locals say it's a pike lake, but there was a thick slush layer under a top crust, so we didn't fish. (Putting a hole through the ice with 8" of water on top, using an ice chisel, is a very wet process.) We saw some wildlife tracks, but not a lot.

We'd hoped to get into Frechette Lake from Turnbull. This is a huge, wild, varied lake to the southwest. A small creek/valley showed a possible connection. Hans and I spent one day exploring and found it was do-able, but difficult. There's no actual water connection. There's a low height-of-land in between. Also, the area to the SW was logged about 8 years ago though there's no sign of it from the lake. We walked from S. Turnbull's SW corner up over the hill, through the old clear-cut, over a still-in-use logging road (they're cutting and hauling NW of Frechette at the moment), and down into the connecting valley. This was a thicket of alder and willow and would be awkward to haul a sled through. Pushing through, we got into Frechette, made a fire on the shore for tea and lunch, and returned. We decided to stay put in Turnbull.

The weather was clear but cold. One night went right to 40-below. (Those were the night we blessed that firewood.) This, plus lots of wind and sun made a firm snow-pack on the lake, so that after 5 days on Turnbull we broke camp and were able to ski-tow our 2 sleds back to the railroad. We made a fire in a copse of trees beside the track (as is standard practice), brewed a lot of tea, toasted our sandwiches, and waited for the Budd Car.

Once on board we hardly had time to sit down before we were dropped off again at the Gathering Lake. It was late, right at sunset, so we were pleased to see that Smokey and the others had already packed a trail hard the day before. We had planned to sleep under a tarp rather than set up in the dark, but when we got to the Gathering (easy hauling -- no snowshoes required on the now-hard trail) we found they'd already cleared a site and cut poles for us. (This was good service! We should arrange this all the time!) So we lit the little naptha lantern and erected the tent using a 3-pole set.

That first group had had a hard time. The trail was unpacked and their loads were heavy. Hauling was difficult. They had to multi-pack the trail before pulling a sled over it. (The trapper had not been over it with a snow-machine.) This slowed the rate of travel so that late afternoon found the group in the small marsh-lake well before Third Lake, but that spot was quite nice. They made camp there. Smokey brought a chain saw, which made some large dead pine accessible and thus there was lots of wood.

Hans and I packed a trail through to Third Lake on the next day. This is a pretty spot. Both the valley leading in and the lake itself have many good places to winter camp. As we stepped out onto the lake we saw an otter poking his head up quite far away. Soon we could see he was making a crossing of the ice. In fact, he was coming nearly straight at us. The south wind kept out presence unknown to him (plus the fact that they don't see very well). He came very close, 60 or 70ft at his closest approach. His method of locomotion was amusing: he'd leap high and forward, pull up his legs as he landed and toboggan smoothly across the packed snow. Then his back legs would give a couple of pumps and he'd slide along for another dozen feet or so. If he hit a smooth patch he'd go quite a ways on his belly with no pushing at all. Then he leap forward again and start it all over. When he got close I hollered out to him. This caused him to panic, speed up his push-slide-push cycle, and he flowed over the ice like a greased torpedo until he arrived at his access hole on the far shore, where he slipped under and did not reappear. This was a most unusual sight. It was a great pleasure to witness it.

From there we crossed the lake with the intention of packing down a trail to 4th lake, but got sidetracked halfway by one of the trapper's trails and ended up climbing a steep hill to a lookout. This was hard uphill work in the deep soft snow, but worth it for the serenity of the view at the top.

Back at the camp Richard and the others had arrived, and the rest of the time was spent in a very pleasant round of socializing and visiting and a great deal of eating. There was a fire every night, and a clear sky too, so that Tony4, an amateur astronomer, could point the heavens out to us. We had a very good gathering I believe. There wasn't anyone there whom I wouldn't paddle with.

The gear comparisons were interesting too. There were 3 wall tents, Richard's new Explorer, 2 quincees, a flysheet-with-snow-walls, Merlin's tent made from a tent-trailer top (which worked simply and well) as well as several modern summer tents. Lots of different stoves too, from my little 11-pound special to some great big roasters that could cook you out of your tent. There was always a place where you could get warm, and a place to hang up your wet mitts to dry.

As we walked back to the camp you could hear the laughter half a mile away. (That laughter only stopped in the dead of night.)

On take-out day we got back to the track early. The wind was against us, so the haul up First Lake was dangerously cold. It was blowing 20 kts and the temp was -25 or so, thus the wind-chill was considerable. A deep-cowl hood was a fine thing to have right then, or at least a full balaclava. There were light touches of frostbite nonetheless. It's a good thing it wasn't a 5 mile haul.

The temp dropped and the wind kept up. Later we discovered that this put speed restrictions on the trains. The Budd Car was over 2 hours late. Standing at the tracks was brutal, so we retreated into the bush, cleared a pit in the snow, lit a good fire, brewed more tea and waited it out. Some of us got a little concerned as the time went by and the sun got lower and the temp neared -30. The fire was very necessary. We were discussing how many people we could squeeze into Smokey's big tent and just where we'd set it up when we heard the welcome whistle blow and the Budd Car appeared around the corner. Soon we were aboard. Some of us were quite glad to be there.

We weren't quite so glad when we got stopped on a siding a mile from the station (frozen switches) for over an hour, but we rolled in eventually, unloaded, and the truck even started!

Nice trip. For me, it was a good combination of wilderness, remoteness and pleasant company.

Thanks to Richard for the site to coordinate all this, Smokey for the aerial recce (and the chainsaw) to all for the hospitality and good fellowship, and for the Budd Car for making it all affordable and practical.

I recommend the experience for next year.

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PostPosted: March 4th, 2003, 12:50 pm 

Joined: April 11th, 2002, 7:00 pm
Posts: 1152
Location: Barrie, Ontario Canada
For some reason that post went in as anonymous, but it's me, Dave Hadfield, who wrote it. (And had the good fortune to experience it!)

 Post subject:
PostPosted: March 4th, 2003, 3:48 pm 
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Joined: June 20th, 2001, 7:00 pm
Posts: 7514
Location: Scarbados, Ontario Canada
I was looking for the details on how you folks coped with Sunday's temperatures and the wind, and now I know.
Neat thing with the otter: I have seen the slide tracks but never how exactly they are made. Amazing!

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