Rough Running in Northern Ontario

A weekend 4×4 trip in Marten River provided a challenging experience even for this hardcore group of wheelers.

by Quinton Neufedlt December 11, 2019

Lead. Maretn River Photo Quinton Neufeldt

Words by Quinton Neufeldt

After several months of planning, our weekend camping and 4×4 trip in the Marten River area near the scenic region of Temagami, Ontario, had finally arrived. Searching the Garmin Back Road Map Books, Version 8 Ontario-Base Camp, I discovered a few interesting resource roads and access trails that were definitely worth exploring.

1 Marten River Basecamp Route Photo Quinton Neufeldt

On the Friday of our weekend, I met with Al and we drove North from Stouffville, North and East around Lake Simcoe to Highway 11, then straight North past The Muskokas and North Bay before arriving in Marten River. In all, the one-way trip was approximately 366 km (227 mi).

The Ontario Parks website is a great resource for information about the Provincial Parks and campgrounds. We chose to stay at Marten River Provincial Park. Up to six campers are allowed per site however, they are not that large due the rocky terrain. The campground offers swimming, boating, fishing, hiking, and even has electrical hookups for RV’s, comfort stations with hot showers and laundry facilities, to name a few features. The fee for my site over two nights was $96.32 including taxes and fees.

2 Marten River Sat am at Marten River Photo Quinton Neufeldt.

On Saturday morning our group met at the general store next to the campground. Our group consisted of Brian in his 2007 Jeep JK Rubicon; Jeremy and his daughters in his 2006 Jeep TJ Unlimited; Simon and John in their 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee’ and Al and I in my 1986 Jeep CJ7.

3 Marten River ready to go Photo Quinton Neufeldt.

Our plan for the day was to run two loops. The first loop consisted of taking Highway 64 to one of the township roads into a powerline corridor. We would then explore some of the side trails if time permitted as they would lead us to a series of scenic lakes to enjoy.

4 Marten River narrow track Photo Quinton Neufeldt.

Our first venture was across a side road that took us to a swamp, so we turned around and went back to the highway to take another road. This one led us to the powerline corridor that was shown on our map and then after some contemplation, we decided to go south.

We had a small adventure getting over a rusty culvert by stacking some rocks and branches, then made slow progress along the windy, bumpy powerline trail. By now, it was early afternoon and we toured approximately 10 km (6 mi) along the powerline. Jeremy then noticed the temperature gauge was indicating his engine was overheating. So, he lifted the hood to let it cool, providing us the chance to explore the immediate area on foot.  

After hitting the trail again, we met a small group of locals on ATV’s with some chainsaws and other gear. After mentioning where we were going (as we planned to continue on our current route until we reached the highway), one of them looked mildly amused. He told us we may encounter some mud up ahead. However, after noticing we were all prepared with our winches, he suggested we would be ok.

The confidence level of our group was high at this point and we hadn’t really experienced any terrain that was remotely difficult. There was doubt about the “muddy conditions ahead” and after at least another hour, the trail split away from the powerline and lead into the bush. Our first indication that we might have a challenge came when we encountered tighter and muddier conditions.

Jeremy had the smallest tires of the group on his TJ and as a result, his radiator was getting more than its share of mud. He watched as the engine’s temperature gauge stayed on the hot side. After passing a tight corner we ended up at a large swampy area with a series of scattered logs. I made steady progress in 2nd gear, low range. Simon went in with a little more momentum but caught a rut or a log, which threw his Grand Cherokee off to the side and was stuck. A log was firmly wedged under his vehicle and the right side was in the soupy mud.

5 Marten River how did i get here Photo Quinton Neufeldt.

Since the log was in front of his vehicle, we decided to pull him out from the rear, using Jeremy’s winch for the extraction. Yet, with his engine running and the radiator caked with mud, his rig was really heating up. After pulling Simon out, we turned off Jeremy’s engine to allow it to cool off and took a break to stack logs for ‘corduroy’ that allowed us to cross the swampy area a little easier.

  • A good thing for winches.

After a 15-minute break, Simon, Jeremy and Brian drove across the corduroy at slow, steady speeds, but the fun wasn’t over yet. The trail beyond was covered with a lot of water and of course, tons of mud. Jeremy got a scare when his vehicle suddenly seemed to have transmission problems. After checking the fluid, he realized it wasn’t showing a level on the dipstick – uh oh. There didn’t appear to be a leak but for whatever reason the level was low. So, Brian came to the rescue as he had a spare litre of ATF and we were back on our way. Soon enough, there was another muddy stretch and once again Simon got pulled off to the side. He went in really deep this time.

Driving ahead would have been a long, difficult slog. So, Brian offered to pull Simon back. After getting him out, we all took the bypass that the ATVers had been maintaining. We weren’t done yet and encountered several more challenging spots. I went in slow because I had a feeling that I would get stuck. Even though I tried to hug the bank, I got sucked into the centre very fast.

Simon pulled me out and we went around on the ATV bypass. By this time, it was approaching 4 pm when we encountered a real long, swampy stretch. We got out to assess the depth and length. The Garmin handheld GPS showed this to be the way to highway 64. However, it was long, muddy and deep. ATVers had cut a trail to the West not shown on the Backroads Map Book or Garmin device. So, I explored it on foot and realized it was most likely the route to high ground for approximately 1 km (.6 mi) before it rejoined the trail.

9 Marten River bypass Photo Quinton Neufeldt.

It was tight to say the least, but we all made it through without any damage. We rejoined the trail and as it began to get wider, we all were relieved.

This took us to a much wider, graded, and gravel trail that ran adjacent to Highway 64. Once back on the pavement, we went North and back to camp where we spent a nice evening along the water where we told stories of the day around the campfire.

10 Marten River all packed up Photo Quinton Neufeldt.

Sunday morning Brian and Jeremy needed to get back home so Simon and I went out to Lake Timiskaming to hike a portion of the Grand Campment trail. Once again, we were fortunate to meet a local doing some trail maintenance who was marking trees and clearing vegetation.

Then, as all good things must come to an end, we made it back to my rig and hit the highway for the journey home.

See you next time – QN

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