Ontario 4-Wheeling Adventures

“Wheelfest… a new Fall Classic!”

Story & photos by: Bob Norton

Autumn is a great season to four-wheel in Ontario. Bugs and flies are gone, the weather is cool, often clear, and the spectacle of the changing colors of the hardwood trees has begun. With warm memories of my first visit 2 years before, I informed my friend Kris, a member of the North Hastings Four Wheel Drive Club, that I wanted to revisit Ontario in the fall. He began to work on an agenda, one that included the long Canadian Thanksgiving Day weekend. Well, what would become of this were plans for a full week of backcountry adventure. Wheelfest 2000 was born!

Word spread and several members of the North Hastings 4WDC made arrangements to take vacations for the entire week. Others would be able to join in the 4-wheeling fun for a few days. And I would make the long trek from New Mexico.

The first trail run during Wheelfest 2000 was an overnighter to very remote Killer Lake northeast of Madoc. The forests were dense, a canopy of gold typical in many places. And a sputtering of snow did not dampen our spirits as we anticipated week’s adventures ahead. While not a difficult trail this time of year, tall tales abound within the North Hastings club of the time people and vehicles were stranded here on one springtime run!

Tame during Wheelfest 2000, Borlan's Hole can be a nightmare in the spring.
Snow fell during our visit to Killer Lake.

An obstacle that gives most folks serious trouble during the spring runs to Killer Lake is a deep water crossing known as Borlans Hole. Fortunately, during Wheelfest 2000, the water level was low and no difficulties were encountered. A hunting cabin served as our quarters for the night and the roaring fire in the wood stove was very welcome against the cold and damp. Talk that evening drifted to subjects of 4-wheeling in Canada and the U.S. Southwest, plus land access issues important to all of us.

Weather would improve and be favorable the next few days. A restaurant in Kaladar was our rendezvous point for several of the trail runs and on the third day, we head out after a delicious, leisurely breakfast. Just past Mazinaw Lake, near Bon Echo Provincial Park, we head eastward. Upon reaching Browns Power Line, our group of 4×4’s starts up a trail which the club has dubbed the Blue Berry Run. Of course, I missed the opportunity to eat any of the delectables this late in the season. The highlight of this short trail is a beaver pond crossing. It has been known to swallow Jeeps in the past. After driving through the water, my Cherokee died, just as it would a couple more times during the week at other deep water crossings. A very peculiar problem, perhaps caused by a faulty sensor fooling the engine’s computer. In these incidents, the engine would stall due to flooding from a sudden injection of great quantities of gasoline.

Sublime color from the hilltops along the Vennachar Power Line.
A successful climb up a virtual ski-slope by Doug’s Samurai.

After lunch we head for Vennachar. A power line can be followed here all the way east to Calabogie. 4-wheeling opportunities are possible along the way at a variety of Canadian Shield rock outcrops. There are some challenging ledges and steps on the steep, ski-slope-like hills. And the views from the hilltops are quite impressive, the foliage color variations a delight.

A day is taken off for rest, relaxation, and repairs before the big trip to follow. That trip? A long drive to Buckhorn and the Kawartha Highlands for a run up renowned Greens Mountain. A destination for many Ontario 4-wheelers, Greens Mountain can be very difficult. Some portions of the trail are likely to be damp year-round. In fact, we would find the trail surfaces quite wet during our visit.

Dave crosses the hidden road at a beaver pond.
I avoid the new bypass, opting for the original route up this Greens Mountain slope. Mistake, new body damage!
Jason makes one of the steep climbs on the power line route.

Even before we reach the turn off At the Greens Mountain Road sign, we encounter a large pond built by busy beavers that had inundated a portion of the road. Some of us chose to go around, rather than through, paying the price in the mud by one hungry tree. And further along, a very slick muddy uphill climb required a bit more throttle than normal to proceed. Recently, a group of 4-wheelers from the Toronto area had built some bypasses to avoid areas of particular concern, such as the large mud bog.

A colorful reflecting pond on Greens Mountain.
There is rock-crawling in Ontario. Dean demonstrates the line over some boulders.
This portion of the trail was particularly soupy
Air time.
Fluffy, driven by Al, just loves to roll over and get its belly scratched! Actually he drove through this obstacle with nary a scratch!

We discovered that with tires, ever muddy, the rock outcrops at such bypasses were very nasty indeed! And, in spite of our collection of well equipped and capable 4×4’s, everyone would have to be assisted at least once by winch or strap this day on the climb up Greens Mountain.

Eventually, after many difficulties, we reach the top and enjoy the panorama of lakes and forests. Our group took the shorter route back down, which consists of a seemingly endless series of steep nose dives off muddy ledges and slopes!

Wheelfest 2000 next visited the Lingham Lake Power Line. Between Northbrook and Cloyne, we take the road that follows the power line in a southwesterly direction. This is an area that features abundant rock outcroppings, glaciation has left its mark here. Forget the mud, here we can do some real rock-crawling. There are numerous ledges, slabs, and even some rock hills to climb. And we do just that, testing our vehicles respective climbing capabilities and articulation here and there. Ultimately we drive up to a steep, oblique surface that reminds me of Southwest sandstone. However, this is granite, usually slick, but here pitted through the eons by the effects of lichens and weathering. We had visited this spot on my first trip to Ontario and then had agreed that this obstacle would likely never be climbed.

Numerous rock outcrops along the Lingham Lake Power Line beckon. Here Kris gets a bit vertical with his stretched CJ-5.
The trip down Greens Mountain was often steep, always slick.

But North Hastings 4WDC member Phil, considered to be hopelessly dedicated to only 4-wheeling Ontario’s mud trails, had a surprise for folks a few months back. Well, he built up a Scrambler with conquering this very obstacle in mind! And he eventually did just that, becoming probably the first 4-wheeler to climb it.

Now, our group studies this imposing wall and what must be the safe line to take. Kris decides to give it a try. His stretched and lifted CJ-5 (I call it a CJ-5.9!) makes the climb look easy. No more takers.

I eye a steeper section further to the right, no one has ever gone up at this spot before. Finally, I succumb to the challenge and prepare by letting more air out of the tires. For safety’s sake, I decided to do a test before committing to a potentially more hazardous situation. After all, a long slide backwards would be bad, indeed. So I drive the Cherokee upward about 6 feet and stop, then proceed a couple more feet. (Automatic trannys are great for this kind of climbing!). The Jeep holds, there is no uncontrolled slide backwards to the bottom. I am impressed by the traction and my confidence grows. After backing down slowly, preparations are made for the launch. A quick double check, low gear, low range, air lockers front and rear engaged… and then away I go. Upward, the XJ is a mountain goat and I aim towards a point just to the right of my spotter’s head as I cannot see much else besides hood and sky. Success, I conquer this steepest part of the rock face… and continue to shake for some time!

On the last day of Wheelfest 2000, we traveled again to Kaladar. Nearby, a large chunk of private land where the owner has allowed the North Hastings club to develop a trail though some of the hardest rock obstacles. We first looked at a tangled jumble of rocks that littered the base and face of a cliff. They call this Carnage Hill and it cannot be conquered, yet… I envision that a group using levers and winches might just be able to fill in the gaps between boulders enough for the Biggest Dogs to actually drive to the top!

My XJ is the first to climb the rock wall at its steepest part.
The hillclimb at the start of Suicide Sluice Trail proves to be too slippery for everyone.

The glacier tortured landscape provides some fun rock-crawling on this trail.

Our destination on the property was the route dubbed Suicide Sluice Trail. At the start, a steep climb through the trees. Even the best equipped vehicle could only get so far upward. Water was seeping out of the hillside and the surface was getting slicker with every attempt. Rather entertaining to see folks sliding backwards to the bottom in, at best, a semi-controlled fashion. Everyone had to be assisted upward by winch to proceed. At the top, a number of outcrops provided ledges, mounds, and slopes to try out. Some of the group was content to try out assorted challenges.

Ribbons tied to trees to mark the route club members had laid out previously and Kris was the first take on the challenges of the trail. I followed. But soon I was high centered on a pile of rocks, wedged in such a manner that I would need some assistance to be extricated. In the meantime, Kris had continued ahead and successfully drove through the sluice that gives the trail its name. Big rock ledges to climb, some outcrops as big as Jeeps and Zuks. Well, fiddling around with my predicament, I missed getting photos.

Finally, my turn at Suicide Sluice. While I have some success, I eventually get high centered… this is a Big Dog trail that requires big tires. Now, the rains have started to fall and things are getting much more slippery. My Cherokee is winched upward over the tough obstacles. Everyone else wisely chose the bypass this time. Further along the trail, we came to a ledge which requires a hard left turn part way up. Pesky, a threat to rocker panels, and with varying degrees of difficulty, we all make it up.

Eventually, this trail leads to a long downhill. But, the rains continue and it was decided that it would be too treacherous this day. Wet, tired of repeatedly slamming our 4×4’s while slipping off the granite, and satisfied after a week’s worth of 4-wheeling, we call it a day on the trail. We backtrack to where we started and enjoy a short uncontrolled slide past the trees to the bottom!

The glacier tortured landscape provides some fun rock-crawling on this trail.

During the week, a total of thirteen 4×4’s participated, plus family and friends, and five Ontario 4-wd clubs were represented. Those that drove all 6 trails during the 7 day period accumulated some 1500kms (over 900 miles)! And, it seems that everyone that joined in the 4-wheeling adventures this week had a great time. So much so, that there is strong interest in repeating this event yet again. So plans for Wheelfest 2001 are underway… it appears that a new fall classic has been established.

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