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PostPosted: February 1st, 2011, 9:24 pm 
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Joined: June 23rd, 2006, 4:25 pm
Posts: 3077
Location: Milton
Agawa Canyon – Winter Style!
Jan. 15 to 21, 2011
For a while now I have wanted to camp in Agawa Canyon in the winter, so the last couple of years I have been building towards that goal by accumulating equipment and more important knowledge of survival in the winter. So many thanks to the members here at myccr and for the information and tips that they freely give.
I was given a collapsible wood stove from John in Shelburne a few years ago, picked up a woods canvas tent and finished the conversion started by jscudds.
So last year I got out for a weekend try out, tough because there was not much winter last year. I asked my son if he wanted to go with me and after a practice session in the backyard with fire and a beer he agreed.
For sleeping systems I have an army surplus -50, for my son we took a rectangular 0 and a -5 mummy, laid a blanket on the bottom between the two bags plus a liner and added a army surplus canvas cover to keep it all together. For our feet we had a pair each of those MEC hut booties and for our heads I picked up a surplus head and shoulder hat that worked great but made us look like the Knights who say ni.
Image ... 7541pdcKjA
My son who had frostbite as a child on one cheek also wore a thin mask with a bridge that crossed his nose and cheek. We also watched the cheek a lot when on our treks because it was a little more sensitive to the extreme cold and wind we had on a few days.
I took the warnings about having a good bed to lie on to heart. We covered the sleeping area with balsam boughs, and on top of that placed an over size foam mat approx 1/2” thick that I made from an ethyl foam floor roll I picked up from home hardware for $25.00. We placed the extra coats and dry snow pants on that and then the air mats on top of that. Mine was a Exped Downmat 9, my son had just a shorty therma rest, (he’s young, I am older and in need for comfort) I can report that neither one of us felt any cold from the ground, but even through all that when we broke camp you could still see that there was heat transfer into the snow (6 nights, same spot)
To be honest, if the weather forecast had been accurate and foretold possibility of the harshest temps for winter, I probably would have shortened the trip or bailed completely. Going from one weekend car camp try at -10c to a 7day remote trip where most days didn’t see much more than -20c it just would have been prudent to play it safe. 2 days before the forecast was still for above average temps with highs above -10c with one cold night but still above -20c.
My down system dried very fast in the hot tent, but the system we made my son the nylon outer shell of the rectangular bag really caught his bodies moisture and was very wet. So we lost some exploring time each day ensuring that his bag was dry for he next night. The 2 camp stools we brought really came in handy for the purpose of let the air get to the bag. If that had not been the case we would have been able to flag the train down and bail on the trip. (south bound Sunday & Tuesday; Northbound Monday and Thursday)
The hot tent itself was hung with polypro ropes and used small prussex to hold the tent taught and in shape. (like Hoops tarp system) When I bought the tent it was 2 woods canvas tents sewn together, I found it too big and bulky so I kept the 2 roofs together, cut off 3 outer walls of the smaller tent. What it gave me was a tent that I could use as a campfire tent for fall or spring or a closed hot tent. I also kept the smaller set of centre set up poles to sit inside the tent for extra support (in case of heavy snows) and to hang a clothes line system. ... 7541muMGnM

For food we ate well and I way over packed, we had enough left over for 3 or 4 days easy, but we would have run out of coffee….;) We used the wood stove for warming the food, could have used it for more cooking but opted for the one burner Colman which we used only 1 litre of fuel for the week.
I had 2 campsites for a base camp in mind, one by where the ice climbers have their base (I was invited to stay there if we wished) or by the falls at the Little Agawa. I opted for the little Agawa because it was more central to where I wanted to hike. It was a good decision because it was very protected from the winds that would follow during the week. Since we would not be moving far from the tracks we also took in 4 bags of firewood and 10 Dura flame type fire place logs which on those cold mornings paid great dividends in quick heat (especially since I was the first up every morning….) and give us a head start in the firewood collecting department.
I have taken the ACR many times before to canoe the Agawa, but this is the first time I rode it all the way from Sault Ste. Marie. And I must say that without the leaves on the trees it really shows off the incredible terrain of the area and I found it much more breath taking. The snow train may not be running this year but for those who may not want to venture out in the cold, it would be well worth the trip.
We drove up from the GTA on Friday night and booked into a motel, got our ticket at the ACR Station in the Sault downtown and then drove over to the rail yard to load up. The temperature was pretty moderate and with a couple inches of fresh snow on the ground we settled in for the ride. There where only a few others going up to their camps for ice fishing and one snowboarder going up to the ski hills at Searchmount. Even with the snow there was not that much snow on the ground since he earlier melt, but the ride was still incredibly beautiful. Once we got to the Montreal River there was a lot more snow on the ground. It was here that I noticed that the temperature had really started to drop, I had been hanging out between cars taking pictures and the change was pretty drastic. When the train dropped us off we had over 3 hrs. of good light left so we set out to find a spot for the tent. It was decided to place the tent about 50’ away from the tracks just on the edge of the tree line. It didn’t take too much prep. We cut away a deadfall balsam, which would later become split wood (it wasn’t lying on the ground) and a bit of shoveling to flatten out the area. There was a lot of frost in the snow so it was packed down pretty hard already. From start to fire it took us about 1.5 hours to set up. My son started cutting some wood and I gathered balsam boughs for the bed. We were all set up and ready for dinner at sunset and still had some time to wonder around and enjoy the frozen waterfalls.
In bed by 11, and natured called just before sunrise, I new it was a little chilly by the circle of frost around my head enclosure and the sound of trees cracking. A quick run to my new favorite spot, grabbed a duraflame log on the way, lit it and as the tent warmed fell back asleep…..woke up several hours later, threw another log on the fire and fell back asleep again… finally awoke just after 11, well we were on holidays… except for the fact we were wasting the warmest day of our week….
The plan had been to collect and cut wood for the week and go for a short hike. It was warm and sunny (-4c in Wawa) There wasn’t as much standing dead wood that I thought we would find so we had to do some minor trekking pulling the sleds and finding wood on some hills that were not too steep. We cut the wood to 4 and 5’ lengths and took it back to the camp to cut. By the time we where done it was starting to get dark and it was clouding over with light snow.
Woke up the next morning to heavy snow, took our time with breakfast and got ready for our first good hike. We had hoped that visibility would improve but it kept snowing and at times you could see less that 200m.

During our hike we could see the result of the very warm wet spell they had. The Wawa/Sault snowmobile trail where it crosses the Agawa river was not safe at all.
You could hear the river through the ice in the ice cave created by the raising and falling river. ... 7541QWqMfN ... 7541AvbBoQ

It was still snowing heavy when we got back so we cut some small poles from some dead balsams so we could raise the tarp on top of the tent to deflect the snow better. Several times that evening and night that pretty snow you see on the branches dropped on to the tent, so the extra angle we put on the tent was major bonus.
The temperature was dropping so we also took an extra tarp and re-piled and covered the wood.
The next morning we woke to over a foot of new snow, clearing skies and a wind out of the north, a sign I knew meant for colder temps. By the time we packed the sled (Tarp, saw, rope, food, water, heavier coat for lunch, cookie tray for a fire small shovel and some other safety items) the days ski to Bridal Veil falls the wind had become pretty brisk but there was still some spots to get out of it. Trekking with the skis was a lot slower than I thought. Usually the tracks and along the side are plowed and hard packed, the new snow made it tough. On hindsight we should have delayed this trek and opted for a snow show in the woods instead. By the time we got to the ice climbers camp at mile 112, the temp. had dropped more and the wind was now howling out of the north down the canyon. We left the sled here for the push to the falls. ... 7541QWqMfN

I have got a very good pair of leather ski boots and have never had a problem with cold before but with a few more years under the belt and the temp. Still dropping and some extreme wind chill my feet where more than a little cool. So when we got to the falls took some pics I told my son we need to bug out so my feet don’t get us in trouble. The plan had been to stop, have lunch and fire, but with the wind swirling around in the canyon, there was no good place to get out of the wind. We stopped for water breaks and too switch pulling the sled. ... 7541BmjHlw

As cold as it had become the beauty of the frozen landscape and the wind singing through the trees and canyon wall still was captivating. The swirling winds would knock the snow off the balsams and black spruce on the cliffs and it would look like smoke as the snow was carried hundreds of feet into the air.

Even though we were pushing hard it was hard to stay warm with the wind, but the last half km before we started to climb we got out of the wind and in the sun, within minutes of being out of the wind we warmed up. Even though our faces were frosted up pretty good, so the almost 2 km back to the camp was pretty nice.
We got back, got the fire going and stepped out to a gorgeous sunset. Not only was the sky pink in the west, but also the east and it seemed to glow. ... 7541SYCRXX

The winds had died down for the evening but it was a little cold but the night skies where setting up for the night shots I was hoping for…. But not for the camera freezing up…. Should have brought the film too! Even though there is some digital camera noise the shots can be fixed, but it was incredibly beautiful. ... 7541mTMKzy

With the condensation on my son’s sleeping system he came up with the idea of putting one of our quick dry towels between the rectangular bag and the canvas cover. And it worked pretty well to help collect condensation from any breath that got under the canvas cover and the moisture that was condensing on the outside nylon shell of the bag.
It was another clear cold morning and we were much more used to the weather now. After coffee I looked at the woodpile and figured if we where going to be in for that kind of cold and need more fire time to dry my son’s sleeping system we would need more wood to last the full week. We snow shoed up the hill from camp to find some more wood and dragged it back to camp to cut. At this time a CN service truck stopped by to make sure we where ok and prepared for the cold that was coming. He said it was -30 c that morning and the forecast was going to be the same for the rest of the week.
We finished the wood had a coffee and decided to hike west up the tracks since they where now plowed and the shoulders were well packed. Since it was good and cold we went with the warm boots snow pants and heavy coats and masks. It was needed but it was nice hearing the crunch of winter that is seldom heard in the city. But again the views speak for themselves.

We had adjusted quite well to the cold temps, it was just a matter of having a relaxed mind set and not trying to do too much. We were warm well fed and relaxed and it was proving much easier than anticipated in coping with the conditions.
Our last full day we hiked down beside the Little Agawa River to get a better look of the falls in some good light. ... 7541dejnqF ... 7541CoiTsR

There was a snow squall approaching from the west off Superior and with the different level of clouds, a few flakes of snow and some blue sky we got this great view of the cliff where the river turns north. ... 7541xJaGLQ

Summer comparison ... 7541nhLYyU

We traveled down the river a bit, going over the ice caves to stay along shore looks scary but we could see the river was only inches deep flowing through gravel and the fact I am very familiar with the river here and it’s depths. ... 7541NrILtp

We wanted to see the Agawa pyramid so when we got to the flat stretch of water at the bottom of the rapid, we proceeded with caution. ... 7541VGgDbY ... 7541hnEAfh

On the return we could see water/slush where we had walked before. With as cold as it was the river was narrowing at the end of the rapid and the water was being forced on to the ice.
Another thing the cold benefitted us was the zig-zag trail the was fairly good work going down, (a few places where I broke through the old crust up to my hip) but was quite easy going back up. There was already some good frost in the snow and for a deep snow track that only the 2 of us had gone on was quite impressive. The next day while waiting for the train I was able to walk on top of the trail with boots! Stepped off just for fun and right back up to my hips. (I am 6’) ... 7541EWAzFB ... 7541IOQKjq

Last night of the trip and as the sun went down it was already very cold at sunset. Just a short time out and staging some stuff for pack-up the next day and we were frosting up fast, it was still snowing so we made sure we tarp our sleds. The conductor when we where picked up said their electronic readers along the tracks recorded -37c !!! My son had not worn the slippers since the first night (too warm) but even he thought he would need them this night. But thanks to all the bed prep and advice from the winter camping family we where still warm… at least until one of us… (me) got up to start the fire. With the slow pace we had adopted I knew we would have to get up early so I set the alarm for 7, waited awhile to get the courage up to get out of my warm bag, lit the fire, quickly crawled bag into my still warm bag, and waited for the tent to warm up… and maybe a little longer… ;)
All our sleeping stuff dried really fast except for my son’s rectangular bag, which we packed in a separate plastic giant Ziploc. We knew we could dry it if we got stuck and the rest of the stuff was ready to go if needed. After a long leisurely breakfast and coffee we started to pack up. We wore our slippers (they have plastic bottoms) in the tent for cleanup so our big boots would not get wet with sweat incase the train was late for pickup. The train was supposed to pick us up at 1:35pm at noon the only thing we had left to pack was the tent, wood stove, and foam bed rolls. So we enjoyed the fire inside for another 45mins, at which time we got dressed really warm for the wait. After rolling up and wrapping the foam bedrolls, we disconnected the stovepipe and carried the still burning stove outside. We rolled up the tent and then I emptied the burning coals into our stove pit from the tent. My son then started to rebuild the fire. ... 7541pflEKQ

You may wonder why the prep, the trains can easily be late, depending on how many stops and pickups they have on the way down, then there like any trip, the surprises. On the way up the conductor told us of a “switching” problem they had on the night before we started. It seems they had to wait at Oba on their way south for a green light. Seems that there was some problem in Toronto where the switches are controlled and by the time they got the green light, the pickup of those in the south was over 4 hrs late! The area that melted around the stove in the tent during the week made a great bench setup around the fire, I just added the balsam boughs from our bed to make a nice sitting area. So already by 1:15 and by 1:30 the pot of water we saved to put out the fire was freezing over. (Even though it was close to the fire) The train was just over 30 min late so it was not too bad. The ride out clear and the views just incredible and the ACR Conductor Robert had tea for the few passengers on board! What a great treat!

There was one older gentleman who pretty well slept the whole way down, one with a camp where Black Spruce enters the Agawa, and two ladies from the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains. They where on a fact finding and selling their Calendar and after engaging them in conversation I found they where looking for images of activities that various outdoor groups do from the passenger train. So I mentioned I would forward them some links and contacts. It is a benefit to all of us outdoors people to make the effort to get this information to them.

I was hanging out between cars to get a shot of the Montreal river area when I looked down and caught the shadow of the train…. ... 7541FijIAe

It was dark when we got back to the Sault and where packed to go by 7:00pm. We called home to let them know we where out and safe, grabbed a quick coffee and headed for Massey. The plan was to snowshoe to look at the falls at Chutes, but with another really cold morning we had had enough of the cold. Stopped at the gift shop at Espanola, because if we didn’t bring home some of that fudge…. we would have had to sleep in the tent at home…..
All in all it was a great trip, even a better father/son excursion and I am glad I didn’t know the forecast ahead of time and shortened the trip.
I should have been more flexible with our hiking and I should have left that in the trip itinerary that I had left. I usually do that that on my canoe trips and I say I will leave written directions where we will be headed in our tent. (I use google earth and mark all the areas I will try and hike or paddle and use place marks that have all the info that would help find us. And include plans b and c )
I know a self-assembled sleep system will work for really cold temps but choice of bags is crucial. The dense nylon outside of the rectangular bag did not “breath” well enough. The moisture moved from the mummy bag well enough but got “stuck” (frozen) inside the bag, and very little moisture moved into the canvas cover and it took time to dry that moisture out. My army surplus down system worked just as the description by Hoop and others and dried very quickly with little effort in the hot tent.
So thanks to those that post their experiences on these forums, with a little bit of reading it was easy to avoid any surprises (We were still prepared for surprises) and made for a very relaxing and comfortable trip. Even though every one we talked to thought we were missing a few cards from our deck…
And my son… I think he is hooked, he has already asked about next year. ... 7541dlIald ... 7541OcbtEd

Link to more pics ... =community

Choosing to save a river is more often an act of passion than of careful calculation. You make the choice because the river has touched your life in an intimate and irreversible way, because you are unwilling to accept its loss. — (David Bolling, Ho

PostPosted: February 1st, 2011, 11:04 pm 
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Joined: August 19th, 2001, 7:00 pm
Posts: 1879
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario Canada
Hi Jedi Jeffi,

Great TR! I went through your entire album on Webshots. Spectacular scenery! I have never seen the Agawa canyon.

-37C! Now that's serious cold! Sounds like your preparation, mind set and skills were fine, and you adapted to conditions as appropriate. Good stuff.

Thanks for your kind words on the website info too!

I gotta get me one of those Knights who say Ni hoods!

My YouTube channel:

PostPosted: February 1st, 2011, 11:16 pm 
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Joined: May 11th, 2003, 2:57 am
Posts: 555
Location: Burlington On.
A most excellent report Jeff I can see the appeal of camping that area and I know it takes guts and determination to get out there and do that in winter. Well Done
You're a first rate photographer too.!

PostPosted: February 2nd, 2011, 10:17 am 
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Joined: July 30th, 2006, 1:31 pm
Posts: 410
Location: Hamilton ON
Great. Thanks for telling us about it.

PostPosted: February 2nd, 2011, 10:32 am 
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Joined: June 20th, 2001, 7:00 pm
Posts: 7514
Location: Scarbados, Ontario Canada
A neat adventure, and you ought to make sure its report will be preserved no matter what happens to its digital copies.

Print it out onto paper, with the photos in some form added, and save it for future years when your son will reminisce about that neat winter trip you two took in 2011....

“What is the good of having a nice house without a decent planet to put it on?” - Thoreau

PostPosted: December 27th, 2011, 7:59 am 

Joined: February 10th, 2005, 2:36 pm
Posts: 215
Location: Southwest Michigan
I have never winter camped. I came to your report because of my interest in paddling the river. But what a great report! The summer winter comparison pictures were outstanding - an experience just looking at them. The father-son dynamic - icing on the already delicious cake!

Thank you so much for sharing!

PostPosted: December 27th, 2011, 8:43 am 
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Joined: November 24th, 2003, 7:42 am
Posts: 151
Location: Mississauga
Nice report on your trip and interesting results on your sleeping system. That's good information regarding the punctuality of the train. Something to consider for sure. Seems like the trip was a great success and your planning worked out.

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