Wild Wabakimi

The Conception

We were at the Outdoor Adventure show this past February, like many others, buying gear, swapping stories and getting excited for the paddling year to come. Alex and I have slowly been getting more and more obsessed with filling as much vacation time as possible with rough portages, remote lakes and good fishing. This coming summer we were planning a 2-week trip to Northwestern Ontario. We’ve heard rumours of it’s unspoiled wilderness and legendary fishing which had us very interested in getting up there to experience it for ourselves.

Not having a plan or idea of the logistics, we were eager to reach out to experts and outfitters at the show to hopefully fill in a few blanks. This is where we met the lovely Bert and Brenda.  The duo help run an outfitter in Wabakimi Provincial Park known as Wabakimi Outfitters and Ecolodge. Bert is an old timer who knows the Wabakimi bush like the back of his hand and was eager to share his knowledge with us. We sat down with a few maps as he gave us recommendations regarding routes, prices and opportunities. It was safe to say we were easily convinced that Wabakimi would exceed our expectations. We were sold and decided on a route which would require us to be flown into the heart of Wabakimi where we would paddle 230 km to a dirt road for pick-up 14 days later. We shook hands, grabbed some maps and waited patiently for August to arrive.

Thursday, August 3rd, 2017

Getting There

August had finally arrived, and we were eager to get on the road. We went to work that day but our minds were already racing through our pack list and last minute things we needed to pick-up. We met in Etobicoke that night and did a last-minute pack before heading out at 8:00 pm. The drive from Etobicoke to Armstrong was clocked at 1600 kms and would take roughly 18 hours.

Car sleep in Sudbury on route (Thursday night)

That night we made it to Sudbury by 1:00 am and slept at a boat launch in the car. We hoped that the slant of the launch would add to the quality of our sleep by making us more horizontal. For those that have slept in a sedan know of the difficulties of getting a good night’s rest.

 

 

Friday, August 4rd, 2017

We woke at 6:00 am and continued the commute. We split up the day by check-points at towns and view points where we made stops for coffee and snacks at “Slim Hortons”. We found Tim Hortons along the Trans-Canada had slim pickings – thus getting the name “Slim Hortons”.

We took the Trans-Canada to Thunder Bay where we then headed North to the small town of Armstrong. The drive from Thunder Bay to Armstrong had an abnormal amount of rabbits. We arrived at Wabakimi Outfitters at 9:30 pm. Exhausted, we had a few beers and shared stories with the staff before going to bed early. Our trip still seemed surreal.

 

SNAPSHOT

  • Trip Distance: 220km
  • Total Portages: 37
  • Longest Portage: 2000m
  • Most Difficult Portage: 1300 km (Butland Lake to Cliff Lake)
  • Portage Difficulty:Well maintained but can get muddy - No Markings
  • Paddling Difficulty: Moderate - Big open water can cause delays
  • Overall route difficulty: Moderate
  • Resources: Wabakimi Fishing & Canoeing Outfitters

Day 1: Saturday, August 5th, 2017

We woke at 7:00 am and had a complete breakfast of coffee and homemade apple crisp, compliments of the lovely Brenda. We spent the morning organizing our gear and patiently waiting for our float plane to arrive which was scheduled for noon. With the excitement and anticipation for the upcoming weeks, we dabbled with a mid-morning glass of Jameson on ice as we reviewed our trip plans with Brenda for any last-minute advice.

When the plane arrived, we were greeted by a young, energetic bush pilot named Oliver. He was from Belgium and had dreams of being a fighter pilot. Being of similar age to us, we instantly connected.

View from the plane

The flight took 30 minutes as we flew 40 kms into Wabakimi’s interior. Along the way we were treated with some of Oliver’s flying maneuvers as we dipped and dug around rivers and rock faces. It was a great overview of the terrain we would be paddling for next 14 days.

Granite Lake

Noah picking some blueberries right after the plane dropped us off - Granite Lake

We landed on Granite Lake where we gave our final farewell to our new friend Oliver. Upon his take-off we asked if he could give us a cheeky send-off. He agreed as he took off circling around to give us a very low flyover. The plane slowing disappeared into the distance as the sound of the engine slowly died off. We were now alone. The year of anticipation, planning, and dreaming had all come to this moment. We paddled over to a nearby beach to collect ourselves. We set-up our rods, rearranged the canoe and started our paddle North on Granite Lake.

Granite Lake had strong headwinds coming from the North. It was tough to make the distance as we slowly made our way to Brennan Lake. We got to the first set of swifts where we thought we could paddle up current. We were wrong. We ended up having to drag the canoe through a shallow, rocky pass.

We continued our paddle until we got to a section that our map noted as a “sneak route”. The name alone was enough to entice us to take this side option.  The sneak route was another section that required us to paddle up current. Again, being full of piss and vinegar, we thought we could muscle up current. Upon execution we were almost at the end when suddenly I heard a snap.  

My dear paddle broke in half as we started floating backwards with the current. It took a moment to process what just happened. We always bring a spare paddle, but now we had no reserve and still had 14 days to go. It was a very humbling experience.

Overcoming the set-back, we continued up stream until we reached the first defined portage. Not knowing the quality of the portages in Wabakimi, we found an take-out that looked to be of the same quality as the Temagami portages we were working with earlier that summer. We took the overgrown trail to the put-in on the other side. This was a huge eye-opener for us because it was extremely demanding; already being on a low from the broken paddle, we were questioning how difficult this trip was really going to be. Once we got to the other side however, we followed a much clearer path back which took us to another take-out about 100-yards North of our docked canoe.

After shaking ourselves off after yet another slip-up we had to portage around another set of rapids. This portage was much shorter and clear. Despite the hiccups, the landscape is this section was stunning. A network of smooth, glaciated islands followed the river up to a surging waterfall. This would be the spot we would spend our first night.

We set-up camp on one of the many islands and headed to the falls to catch some pickerel for dinner. We kept two nice size fish that we paired with Bacon Carbonaro Sidekicks. The sun sunk below the treeline, dropping the temperature dramatically. Compared to Southern Ontario, the nights had proved to be much colder. We enjoyed a fire and drank the few beers that we brought along. We did a ceremonial burning of my broken paddle and went to bed.

Day 2: Sunday, August 6th, 2017

We were up by 7:00 am, made our coffee and oatmeal and prepared our gear for the white water we would be hitting that day. The travel from Granite to Brennan was a side-route we wanted to explore which required us to double back into Granite to continue our route. The current we had to paddle up the previous day was now on our side. We lined the first set of rapids on river left. The second much larger and dangerous set, we portaged around. This time we did not take the “sneak route”, as the bad memories were still fresh. We went around the other side where we ran a short Class I.

Once back on Granite Lake we continued North towards Allan Water River. We stopped for lunch on a small island where we had cured pork and trail mix. We continued to Granite Falls which was the start of the Allan Water River.

Allan Water River

Granite Falls

Noah pulls in a nice pike at the bottom of Granite Falls

The portage around Granite Falls was a well-maintained trail on river right which brought us around to the bottom of the falls in a deep pool. Tempted by the churning water, we did a few casts. While I was retrieving my spoon I saw a big flash behind the lure. Alex casted in right after and hooked into a 33” pike. I casted back and hooked into a 34” pike. We spent the next while casting and catching what seemed to be unlimited pickerel.

 Following the put-in there was a short Class I around a bend. If you don’t want to run this set, the portage continued down river to a calmer put-in.

Pickerel following the Black River Rapids

Black River Rapids

The Allan Water continued downstream to another set of rapids. This set required a portage on river right. Again, the trail was well maintained and the put-in was stacked with pickerel. Following the rapids there was 2.5 km of intermittent swifts.

Little Sturgeon Rapids

Approaching the rapids, there were two islands crossing the river. The portage can be found on river right just after a bend around the islands. To get there, there is shallow swift where you must eddie out to reach the portage. Once we reached the take-out we scouted the river which looked runnable. We took out important gear and ran the rapids. The line involved a swift around an S-bend with pushed us into the chute. The chute was on river right which brought us into medium haystacks with few obstacles.

Sturgeon Rapids

We continued down river 1.5 kms to the Sturgeon Rapids to set-up camp for the night. The weather was becoming dark and a storm was imminent. We set-up a tarp and had fish and beef tacos for dinner. There was light rain, but the skies cleared before bed. We stayed up late enjoying Kraken and shooting night photography.

Day 3: Monday, August 7th

We were up by 8:00 am and scouted the rapids over breakfast. The set literally wrapped around our campsite which started with a non-runnable chute, followed by 200 m of Class II-III rapids.

 Camp 2 was surrounded by a nice set of class II rapids

Camp 2 was surrounded by a nice set of class II rapids

We packed up by 12:00 noon, and ran the rapids. Access to the runnable section was in a small pool downstream of the chute. The line started in an eddie where we cut into the current following the flow around the campsite. This brought us into the deep-water channel where we were greeted by three large haystacks.

Wabakimi Lake

A short paddle past the rapids we reached Wabakimi Lake. Wabakimi has big water with the potential of dangerous waves and headwinds. While we paddled, waves broke over the canoe though the wind direction eventually changed giving us a tail wind and opportunities to drift fish. We made our way across the lake into the lower channel. Along the shore there were remnants of past forest fires evident from charred wood and early succession flora. We continued through the narrow channel into lower Wabakimi Lake as a storm built behind us.

 We headed to the far East shore to camp near a section known as “Stone Henge”, possibly named for the large amount of near-surface rocks which scattered the area.  On route we saw a group camping on the Northern shore.

Camp 3 on Lower Wabakimi Lake

We camped at the mouth of a shallow channel that lead into the next lake. The site had standing dead trees which made tent pad locations sparse. We set-up camp and then waded downriver to catch some fish. The wading was more difficult than we first anticipated, as we ended up wading through marsh up to our waste. Once at our fishing spot, the weather worsened and pushed us back to camp. Along the way back, Alex lost his crock in mud which handicapped his campsite attire. Dinner was fish burritos with tea which was shortly followed by bed.

Day 4: Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

Swift River – Lower Wabakimi to Smoothrock

We were up at 7:00 to a strong, cold wind which made for a slow start. Despite the weather we were on the water by 9:00.

We started the day wading all our gear down the shallow creek. Once down creek, there was a small unnamed lake to the first portage around a waterfall. For the next 4 kms there was a narrow scenic river that is unnamed which is possibly a continuation of the Allan Water, but that is unconfirmed.  At the put-in I caught a 34” pike followed by Alex catching a 32” pike. It seemed like in every pool following waterfalls, there were a couple nice pike to catch.

The river continued with intermittent swifts until the next waterfall, requiring another portage on river right. We portaged around the falls and ran the next two Class Is/swifts. At the end of the section the river opened into a small lake where we had shore lunch on a rocky island.

Following lunch, we continued back onto the river where the shorelines became more elevated as we paddled through a beautiful passage. On route there were two runnable Class Is followed by another waterfall. At this portage there was a great campsite which overlooked the main chute.

The entire section from Wabakimi Lake to Smoothrock Lake was very beautiful and full of fish. If you are reading this as a reference for an upcoming trip, I urge that you consider spending a night along this portion of the river.

Smoothrock Lake

Smoothrock is another big lake where there were signs of fishing camps. During our paddle we saw a couple motor boats as we pushed Northeast towards Outlet Bay. On route we were trolling when Alex hooked into an unrecognizable fish which put up a tough fight and came off near the boat. We concluded it may have been a Lake Trout but that is unconfirmed.

Camp 4 in Outlet Bay (on Smoothrock Lake) littered with Caribou & Moose tracks.

Outlet Bay has an Eastern shoreline linking 4 kms of sandy beachfront. We paddled over and found that the beach was full of animal tracks – Moose, Caribou and Bear. Like the animals, we found this waterfront appealing and set-up camp on our own private beach as the warm, sunny afternoon turned into the evening. The beach was perfect for swimming as we cleaned up and had a fire. Sunset was at 10:00 pm as we witnessed one of the most stunning sunsets of the trip.

Beautiful sunset in Outlet Bay on Smoothrock Lake

Day 5: Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

We were up at 6:30 hoping to be greeted by a Moose on our front porch. We combed the shoreline for fresh tracks, but it had seemed we had no company through the night. We had breakfast and were on the water by 9:00. We continued North on Outlet Bay towards the notorious Berg River.

The Berg River

 Entering the Berg River

Entering the Berg River

We arrived at the mouth of the Berg by 10:30. Typical planning, we did not do much research before heading on this trip. I think we subconsciously do this on purpose as it adds to the excitement of unknown routes. One exception was the Berg River. Before choosing this route, we had heard many wild stories of the Berg. The area was known for wildlife, good fishing, and some feisty whitewater. The Berg was a section we were looking forward to since our original conversation with Bert and Brenda the previous February.

Upon entering the Berg the map showed a portage by-passing a large stretch of river. We were assuming this was due to unpassable rapids but were convinced that taking the river would be the better option.  We lined the first set of rapids on river left. The shoreline was peppered with football-sized rocks and shallow moving water. Once we started lining we realized we were in over our heads (metaphorically speaking), but we were already committed. We completed the first of four sets of rapids with only a few slip-ups. The next set would be a little trickier. We were already committed to the left shore which prevented us from lining the second set due to a sweeper and a thick barricade of bush behind us. We concluded our best bet was to try to shoot the set. The section was short but technical.

We got in the canoe, paddled into the current an then eddied out on the left to scout our route. We discussed lines and saw that it was possible to shoot the following three sets of rapids, each showing a deep-water channel, as well as a large eddy (a safe haven). We ran the sets successfully and celebrated with some pickerel fishing at a pool at the end of the final set of rapids.

Near the end of our casting session, Alex hooked into a heavyweight. Using only monofilament and a jig, Alex adjusted the drag accordingly. 10 minutes into the fight and we still hadn’t seen what was on the end of the line. Every so often Alex would make progress and then with a few hard sweeps of the fish’s tail it was back into depths, though eventually the fish did get close enough. Out of the depths a monster pike emerged and just like that it opened its mouth and the jig fell out - heart breaking. We decided to have a slug of whiskey to the Gods in hopes for better luck in the future. We carried on.

Hole in the Wall Rapids

Down river we reached a set of rapids, known as “Hole in the Wall” rapids. We still aren’t sure why they were called this. After scouting, we agreed we could run the set. Class IIs, the set involved a long in-run where the smooth, quick current swept us into playful haystacks. We stayed on river left to avoid several large rocks and a souse hole. We cut through the haystacks and eddied out on river left.

Double Falls

Noah fishing at the bottom of Double Rapids along the Berg River

We continued paddling to the Moosechute Rapids which did not require any scouting as they were straight forward. So far, the Berg looked to be a mecca for Moose, though we did not see any. We arrived at the Double Falls and did the portage on river left. At the put-in at the base of the falls, the river opened into a large pool. The entire bay slowly churned with a constant chop on the surface. The air smelled like fish and the scene represented a picturesque remote Northern river.

Upon reloading the canoe, we decided it would be apropos to do a few casts. Floating into the middle of the bay, situated in a shallow eddie, we rigged our lines for some routine pickerel fishing:  A white grub, ¼ jig head and 10-lb mono, a deadly combo for Northern Ontario pickerel.  We quickly got down to business casting our jigs into deep pools.

 It was not long until Alex casually announced, “Got one…”. The fish did not hammer the bait, nor did it do anything out of the ordinary.  Alex could only describe the fish as “having weight”. Not knowing what it could be Alex adjusted his drag to let the fish run. If the fish was a pike, their sharp teeth are known to cut monofilament and for the fish’s sake, we did not want to leave any jigs in it’s mouth.  Due to the circumstance, the drag was set back so loose that with a flick of your wrist, you could peel line.  Next thing you know Alex was playing a fish that seemed to just be sitting in the dark, no advancements being made. Having no idea what we were dealing with, Alex was enjoying the fight of this elusive fish.

Every time we thought it was coming to the surface, the fish would peel off line until is was back, deep into the pool. My first thought was that is was a good size pickerel. “How loose is your line?” I said, getting a little impatient with Alex’s finesse fishing. “I don’t know man, it’s hard to tell with the drag” After about 10 minutes, Alex thought the unknown fish might be getting tired-out, so he increased the tension on his reel.  Using the power technique, Alex slowly pulled the rod tip up, and then reeled in the slack; the fish was cooperating as Alex made advancement. After a few more pulls and reels, the fish was under the boat, still out of sight.

In anticipation we were both leaning over the side of the canoe to see if we could catch a glimpse of the fish. The line slowly rose from underneath the boat and like a submarine rising from the depths of the ocean, the biggest pike either of us had ever seen rose from the dark. As soon as we saw it, we both exploded with emotion, we both had never witnessed such a fish, let alone in a canoe with 10 lb monofilament! At that moment, this was no longer a fun casual fight, it was a fishing battle of a lifetime.

It seemed like the pike sensed our emotional high as it made one large kick and disappeared into the dark.  Alex’s drag sung as line raced off the spool. Not knowing how the fish was hooked, or how the line was holding up, Alex decreased the drag once again to let the fish run. If the fight was going to take all day, so be it.

Time passed as the fish dragged us around the bay, we were now a good 200 yards downstream of where it was hooked. Drifting closer to shore, we made the decision that this battle would be better fought on solid ground. As Alex played the fish, I slowly farried the canoe to the shore. We had not seen the fish since the introduction in the middle of the bay.  With deliberation and total concentration, we beached the canoe onto the sandy shore. The beach made for a good spot to continue fighting the fish as it had a graded drop-off into the river with room to walk around. The fight continued, now getting close to the 20-minute mark.

It seemed like the monster was getting tired out, it was miracle that the enormous fish was still hooked. Alex made some advancement as the fish emerged from the dark. Once again, our excitement was sensed by the fish as it took off with renewed energy and power. This continued for what felt like a lifetime. The fish would swim off completely green, and then slowly be brought back just to repeat the motions.

Thinking we had the upper hand, we devised a plan that involved me wading up to my knees, and Alex guiding the fish to where I could grab it. We had a net but there was no way it was fitting in it. Upon execution, our plan didn’t work as flawlessly as we thought. My presence kept the pike at a distance, as we both silted up the water creating a turbid cloud.

Alex’s continued effort made headway, after 40 minutes the fish started to tire out. I stood motionless in the water as Alex again tried to guide the fish over. This time it cooperated as it slowly moved towards me as it stayed perfectly suspended. I stood there with total concentration and vigilance towards this pike, I felt paralyzed.  After what felt like a lifetime, this fish was finally giving us an opportunity.  

As I reached out to grab her tail, I remember being surprised of how thick it felt. I cautiously advanced to her gills as I held onto her thick tail. She allowed me to slip under her gills where I fully committed and clenched down. With what felt like a good grip I pulled the tired-out, monster pike out of the water. Her weight was staggering as this thick bodied fish emerged from the water.

We both cheered with joy as I slowly waded back to Alex to present him with his trophy fish. Upon wading to shore, a renewed breath of life went through the fish as she did an unexpected head thrust. I lost my grip as she free-falled into the water. Out of instinct, I tackled her with my entire body into the river, fully clothed.  I felt the fish underneath me as a straddled her to try to get a better grip.  I locked in on her gills and we both emerged from the water once again. I handed her over to Alex. We were both blown away by this beautiful fish as we took photos, measurements and revived her after the long battle. In such delicate circumstances, one strong head thrash, change of direction or pull of the line could have broken her off. Alex’s rod control, drag setting and patience was the only reason this trophy pike was landed.

 42.5" pike caught on 10lb monofilament line with a jig - 45 minute fight on the Berg River

42.5" pike caught on 10lb monofilament line with a jig - 45 minute fight on the Berg River

She stayed motionless in the water with her dorsal fin breaching the surface as Alex slowly moved her back and forth. Only a moment passed before she regained her strength and slowly swam off like ever nothing happened. The 45-minute fight with 10 lb monofilament on the Berg River in Wabakimi Provincial Park, was a fishing memory we will both cherish for a lifetime. The fish was 42.5“ long with a 17 “ girth. Luckily we managed to capture this entire fight on camera and the video can be seen below!

Oatmeal Cookie Rapids

We continued our paddle down stream, a little dazed and confused. We had planned to camp at “Oatmeal Cookies Rapids” but the campsite that was marked as “Good” on our trip notes was hardly decent at all. It was an overgrown tent pad on the side of the portage trail. We continued onwards and ran the following swift. There were no more marked campsites until the Ogoki River, though we were certain we could find a spot to pitch our tent for the night. Not finding a potential spot, we continued our paddle to the Ogoki River.

Ogoki River- The Berg to Whitewater

Once we reached the marked campsite, we met the second group of campers that we saw in 5 days. Unfortunately they were on the only marked site in the area. The Ogoki was a very shallow, sandy river with many sandbars. We decided our best bet was to paddle down river as far as we could with the setting sun and set-up camp on a shallow sand bar.
 

Camp 5 on the Ogoki River - An exposed sand bank typically covered by water in at higher levels

We reached a narrow patch of sand at dusk and agreed it was our best option. Camping on a sandbar gives you no protection from the weather, does not provide firewood, nor sustenance. The sand bar was also pretty much at water level as you could dig 4 inches and strike water. Not an ideal campsite, but the weather was holding up and it was a unique opportunity. As soon as the sun set the mosquitos started to swarm. We hadn’t experienced bad bugs until that night.

 

Day 6: Thursday, August 10th, 2017

We were up at 7:00 and on the water by 7:45. We skipped breakfast to paddle the rest of the Ogoki River. It was a picturesque morning with mist slowly being burnt off by the rising sun. We made it to the outflow of the Ogoki by mid-morning; it involved a section of shallow rapids and a cascading waterfall.

This required a lengthy portage around river right. The portage itself was a clear trail and had a few boats at the takeout.

Whitewater Lake

Entrance into Whitewater Lake coming out of the Ogoki River

We portaged our gear over to Whitewater Lake and ate a late breakfast of bannock and coffee. Whitewater could be considered the heart of Wabakimi, the monster lake spans 24 miles across and is home to world-renowned Pike fishing and the infamous Best Island.

As soon as we entered the Lake, Whitewater lodge can be seen adjacent to the portage. We paddled North into the open water where we planned on taking a Northern channel and camping in a narrow pass in a network of islands.

Reaching the channel, we stopped for a shore lunch with some freshly caught pickerel. My knot had slipped on one of the “chosen pickerel” and it got away, that wasn’t a problem as we restoked our keeper chain in a few casts.

We made a fire and fried up the most golden brown, perfect fillets we were ever so blessed to witness. We laid the flaky steaks on wraps and had ourselves a lovely shore lunch. Once we cleaned up, we checked the time and realized it was already 5:00 pm and we started looking for a site to stay the night.

Another trophy pike to add to the list - 36" Northern Pike - Whitewater Lake

We found an island that looked to have a good sleeping pad, we had a couple libations and then headed back out on the water for an evening of trophy pike fishing. We found a spot that looked “fishy” and lit up a cigar as a ceremonial start-off to the night. I lit the cigar and passed it over to Alex, he took one puff and hooked into a 36” pike. Not a bad start.  We weren’t out long before the sun started to set, it was another gorgeous sunset. We made our way back to camp, had some popcorn and dirty feet (Nutella dipped in Big Feet) and then went to bed.

Day 7: Friday, August 11th, 2017

We were up at 8:00 to a warm, sunny morning. We dedicated the day to targeting trophy pike and didn’t worry too much about covering distance. We only had 10 km to cover and were in no rush. We started by drifting through bays trying to find deep weed beds. Being mid-August, the water was warm and the larger Pike would be found in deep weeds.

While we fished I spotted a black bear running along a sandy shoreline. Shortly after in the distance we spotted the elusive woodland caribou! We slowly paddled towards it and ended up getting within 100 yards before it disappeared into the bush. Today was feeling special.

As the day progressed we stopped for shore lunch at an island that had a picnic bench. On the bigger lakes in Wabakimi, it is not unusual to see fishing camps and designated shore lunch locations. Having a bench was a pleasure we didn’t fully appreciate until we were using it.

Alex filleted our mornings catch as I collected firewood, the hot sun was hard to escape on the barren island. We ate our fish, cooled off in the water and continued on route. We paddled through another network of small islands and noticed an odd shape on a distant shore…another Caribou! Once the caribou noticed us it swam across to a larger island and disappeared into the bush. Woodland Caribou spend their early summers island hoping as they provide shelter from predators. We were lucky that a few of them decided to stick around.

Second Caribou of the day!! Lots of wildlife on Whitewater Lake

Best Island – Wendell Beckwith’s Cabin

We made our way closer to Best Island, home to the infamous Wendell Beckwith Cabin. We planned our route strategically so that we could stop off at the historic landmark. We landed on the back beach and followed a trail back in the woods as the cabins started to appear.

Wendell Beckwith's main cabin was in pretty rough shape - August 2017

The main cabin was in rough shape. In recent years a large pine had fallen onto the roof and decapitated it. The floor was full of debris, glass and old appliances though the chimney was still fully intact. The adjacent cabin was a much better story, still in almost perfect condition. There were old National Geographic magazines from the 1960s sprawled about and a bed fully made.

"The Snail" - last cabin build by Beckwith

 

The craftsmanship that went into building these cabins was meticulously superb. The mysterious Wendell was a talented engineer who was good with his hands and had an architectural vision. “The Snail” was a good depiction of this. The Snail was the last cabin that he built and was designed to be apart of the natural landscape. This was the smallest cabin and was where Wendell would spend his winters. Upon entering The Snail, I could visualize Wendell’s lifestyle, as tools and crafts hung on the wall. A very interesting man, this was a unique experience on such a remote canoe trip. There’s a book that was placed in “The Snail” by The Wendell Beckwith Historical Foundation where you can learn more about Wendell’s life as well as sign your name and leave a note.

It was getting late as we paddled to the closest island (a small island off Best Island) to set up camp. We had Mr. Noodles for dinner, went fishing and went to bed.

Day 8: Saturday, August 12th, 2017

Forest Fires and Trophy Pike

We were up at 7:30 to the smell of “campfire”. We opened the tent to see what looked like fog rolling in. Soon, we realized that the smell was not a campfire, and the mist was not fog, it was the smoke of a distant forest fire.

Forest Fires develop in the distance 

It was a still morning, the smoke almost blocking the open water from wind and waves. We made our way across the most open section of our route on calm water. As the morning progressed, the western treeline became harder to see as smoke thickened. Luckily the fires were far enough away that we could not see an obvious source. Having no contact to the outside world, we were a little unsettled about the extent of the fires.

We stopped at a rock peninsula for lunch. The rocky point was pinched off by a long white sandy beach. Going into this trip we had no idea of the amount of beachfront we would be seeing. It was like we were on a southern vacation.

Continuing on our paddle we saw another object moving in the distance. We slowly made our way over trying to be as quiet as possible but it turns out it didn't matter. Standing in front of us was a beautiful caribou that didn't seem spooked by us at all. This allowed us ample time to capture him on photo and video.

A friendly Caribou on Whitewater Lake

By the end of lunch the wind picked up and the smoky skies lifted. We continued on Whitewater and made our way to a section known as “Pike Alley” near the North channel. Pike Alley lived up to its name as I hooked into a 39” and a 36” pike relatively back-to-back. We worked the area until late afternoon. Having caught our dinner, we pull over to a sandy beach where we would stay for the night.  The weather started to pick-up as a storm was on its way. We rigged up an A-frame tarp on the otherwise barren beach. The storm front quickly came and left giving us a clear night around the fire to enjoy our dinner. With bellies full of fish and our minds content, we both fall asleep beside the fire.

Massive 36" Pike caught by Noah on Whitewater Lake

Day 9: Sunday, August 13th, 2017

Final site on Whitewater Lake before heading towards Whiteclay Lake

We awoke at 7:30 to hazy skies and the smell of “campfire” once again. The cool morning required a quick fire as we fried bannock and brewed coffee. This would be the last morning of Baileys which was probably a good thing as the Baileys had been in our warm Bear Barrel for over a week. Today would also be our last day on Whitewater Lake as we made our way back onto the Ogoki River.

I am traditionally not the biggest fan of paddling big lakes, but Whitewater proved to be one of my most favourite lakes to date. The large water body is full of rocky islands and sandy beaches. Being from southern Ontario I would describe the lake as a rugged Honey Harbour. The area is also known to hold monster pike and, for us, caribou. We were originally going to bypass the big waterbody but instead we ended up spending over 3 days exploring the endless water and network of islands.

Ogoki River – Whitewater to Whiteclay

We arrived at the first portage leading into Ogoki by mid-morning. The portage was 1 km and overgrown. The river had changed much since our earlier travels south of Whitewater. The river was deep with weed flats covering the shoreline with churning black pools around each bend. We paddled the meandering river until it widened into a large deep pool. The entire area was deep, dark and churning.  On the northern shore there was a small shack and around the corner there was a set of rapids which required a portage.

Alex wanted to try a few casts at some reeds. We pulled over and with one cast he hooked into a “snot rocket” (a small useless pike). I was not interested in having to deal with one of those guys so I decided not to cast as I surveyed the shoreline. In the corner of my eye I saw a swirl in the middle of the deep pool. Out of interest I pulled out my rod and started to paddle over.

Noah trying to find the monster pike that hit his lure and took off - Ogoki River

I casted over at where I saw the swirl with a 3” jointed Wally Diver. I slowly retrieved the lure as Alex wrestled with the snot rocket which was now bleeding all over the canoe. I continued to reel in with the assumption of whatever swirled at the surface was now gone. I casually got the lure to the side of the boat when all of a sudden, an enormous pike comes out of nowhere and sucks up my bait. I only see it for a moment as I was almost shell shocked by the shear size of the monster. Being in a state of disbelief, I did nothing other then hold the rod and try to yell to Alex. The fish luckily hooked itself but as quickly as it appeared it did one big headshake, opened its mouth, and disappeared forever. Having caught many large pike over the past week, this pike seemed to be the largest…or close to it. The head of the pike looked like it could swallow a duck and the body looked to have competed with Alex’s trophy earlier on the Berg. We tried fishing for the next 30 minutes throwing everything we had in our tackle box, but with no luck. Unfortunately, we will never know the true size of that fish.

We decided to continue on-route, in a state of depression, I talked about the fish for the rest of the day. At this point weather had come back with strong winds and a dark horizon. After we finished the portage we pulled over on the side of the river to let some thunder and lightning pass. Sheltering under a cedar, Alex bumped me as said “Hey, do you feel like a Filipino woman working in the cane fields?” A reference from one of the National Geographic books in Wendell Beckwith’s cabin. The front page said “Nothing is sweater than a cigar for this Filipino Woman working the in cane fields” This would be a quote we would use for the rest of the trip every time one of us fancied a cigar. We shared a Captain Black and waited for the storm to pass.

Whiteclay Lake

Our site on Whiteclay Lake

When the weather looked safe, we continued our paddle onto Whiteclay Lake. The western portion of the lake was not appealing. The “white clay” spanned across the shoreline. The description of the soil was a misconception as it resembled more of a “beige mud”. We paddled Southeast towards camp. As we got farther across the lake, the landscape shifted into rock and weeds. We made it to camp by 9:00 when the rain started to pick up again. We were treated with several picnic tables and a fireplace with a built-in grill. The shoreline included a private beach surrounded by smooth rock. A perfect place to spend the night.

Day 10: Monday, August 14th, 2017

We woke to the sound of rain hitting the tent which kept us inside until 9:00. We boiled water for our oatmeal and brewed some lab tea to warm us up on the chilly morning. Lab tea is a plant that can be found all other the North. The plant is distinguishable by the narrow leaf clusters with a fuzzy underbody. The rain hung around as we packed up for the day. The overcast, wet conditions and the rugged backdrop gave a sense of a temperate rainforest.

Just after we left Whiteclay Lake and entered into the Raymond River

We continued our paddle Southeast where we would link up with the Raymond River and start our trip South. Upon reaching the river, we were greeted by shallow mud and a large grassy flat which pinched off the Raymond River. With weather still unstable we dragged out gear across the flat to put-in at the muddy shoreline of the Raymond. I unfortunately had to go to the washroom (number 2) and with sinking mud combined with high winds and rain, it was a very unpleasant experience.

Raymond River

The river was very shallow with areas of floating bog and muskeg. We took the meandering river up stream towards a 300-meter portage. The portage take-out was hard to find as water levels were so low that the river was a rock garden, making a clear path to scope the shoreline difficult. While we were walking the shore, I found a siltstone with a 40 million-year-old horn coral in it. It was a cool find, as it represented life back when the region part of the epeiric sea, millions of years ago. Once we completed the portage, the river became deeper and was more navigable. Along route there were swifts and deep holes where we caught pickerel to keep our minds content. 

Pickett Lake

The only option for a campsite on Pickett Lake was the exposed sand normally submerged in higher water

We continued the day to Pickett Lake to search for a campsite. Unfortunately, there were slim pickings which required us to make due on a narrow sandy shore. This beachfront had been the most rugged so far. Completely saturated, the sand was inches above the waterline and lay beside a reed bed that spanned 1 km. While we set-up, a Moose crashed through the adjacent reeds startling us.  We finished off the night with fish and rice. The rice was one of Alex’s signature dishes which involved tomato soup, peas and corn. Another great meal.

Day 11: Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

Chained Lakes and Portages

Intense fog on Pickett Lake 

Some extremely muddy take-outs to reach the portages

We woke up at 6:30 to a blanket of fog. We cooked bacon and peanut butte wraps. Once we got on the water, the shoreline quickly disappeared without a trace. It was an eerie feeling but we had a good sense of the direction we needed to go. Once we paddled across Pickett Lake the fog rose enough that we could see the shoreline. We paddled 6 km to the first 1000-meter portage of the day. The portage was clear with a few elevation gains and drops. The dew soaked foliage soaked both of us to the bone.  Once the portage was complete it was a short, shallow paddle to the next portage which had an extremely muddy take-out. The 325-meter portage was easy and takes you to a dramatic rock face at the put-in.

The paddle continued down a very narrow lake where we were forced to wade through the final section. The mud had now been replaced with rock as we had to take extra precaution not to twist our ankles. We leapfrogged through the next 100 and 150 meter portages where we planned to camp on the other side. Being that it was only 3:30, we opted to continue to complete the next two 700 meter portages. These portages went through a floating bog that we were dreading all day. The portages were back-to-back and could have been considered one 1600 meter portage if it wasn’t for a 200-meter Kettle Pond in the middle that had to be paddled.

Small Kettle Pond between the two 700m portages

These portages had their fair share of overgrown sections full of lab tea and blueberry bushes, as well as open muskeg that sunk as you walked. It was impossible to stay dry but overall, they weren’t as bad as we anticipated. We finished the duo by 5:30 and paddled down to Butland Lake for the night. We had pickerel and sidekicks for dinner and topped off the evening with the last of our alcohol, which was Southern Comfort. We were also at the point where we had to start rationing our candy, limiting us to only 5 wine gums that night. If it wasn’t for the bounty of fresh fish, we may have lost more weight than we bargained for.

Day 12: Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

Butland Lake

Blue Pickerel caught on Butland Lake

We were up at 7:00 and on the water by 9:00. Alex caught a pike by accident. At this point if a pike was under 30”, we didn’t have time for it. A little later I caught a 19” pickerel that looked like it had been spray painted turquoise blue. We had caught blue tinged pickerel in the past, but the size and shade of this one was something we had never seen before.

We reached the portage on the South end of Butland Lake which was marked as 1000 meter and “boggy on the south end” on our map. The trail ended up being the worst of the trip. The portage was 1.3 km and had boggy sections through the entire trail.

Cliff Lake

Paddling on Cliff Lake

Post-portage there was a small “lift down” through a chute which brought us to the sacred lake, Cliff Lake. Cliff Lake as the name suggests is surrounded by dramatic rock faces. The shear size of the cliffs were stunning as we paddled in disbelief. More incredible than the cliffs, the lake boasts some of the most spectacular pictographs, with over 40 paintings still visible today. It’s important to show your respect to these historic sites by not touching or disturbing them. 

Pictographs found on Cliff Lake

We continued our paddle to the south shore where we leapfrogged through a 100 meter, 750 meter, and 350 meter portage into Ratte Lake. These portages had some of the highest elevation changes of the route as well as took us through a small scenic chain of lakes.

 

 

Ratte Lake

Camp on Ratte Lake

Once we completed the portages we took a narrow river into Ratte Lake where we paddled directly across to a campsite that was marked on our map as “World Class”. I wouldn’t call it “World Class”, but it was a great site none-the-less. We had ourselves a swim, ate some fajitas and rationed out our candy reserves. This was out last full day on the water.

Day 13: Thursday, August 17th, 2017

We woke at 8:00 and explored an abandoned hunt camp on the lake. The inside had old notes on the walls which told times of big fish and moose hunts from the 1990’s. We continued down to the south of Ratte lake where we linked up with the Pikitigushi River. The shallow outflow of Ratte required us to wade 200 meters until reaching the head of Pikitigushi.

Bottom of Ratte Lake entering the Pikitigushi River

Pikitigushi River

The Pikitigushi meandered dramatically, showing signs of old Oxbow lakes on the map. The river had a few tin boats and a hunt camp on the shore that we passed along the way. The river flows into Gort Lake where we hooked into a few pike at the island just before the portage. The portage itself was a clear trail that happened to be guarded by a garter snake.

The other side of the portage we decided to do a few casts near the outflow of the river. Another spot that was filled with pickerel. As I was bringing in my fish, out of the dark comes a massive pike that explodes on my pickerel right next to the boat! In a fury, I quickly unhooked the pickerel I had just caught and tossed my line back in to see if she was still hungry. We were both hunting for this fish at this point.

The 39" Pike that tried to eat the pickerel on Noah's line

Just as we were about to put the rods down and continue on, Alex did one more cast in the eddy right where the outflow hits the lake. Moments after the Little Cleo hit the water, he had a fish on and it looked like another good one. The fight didn't last too much longer before he was able to get the 39" pike into the boat. 

After putting the pike back, we put on some jigs and started casting for our dinner. Once we had a few pickerel, we continued our paddle into Wash Lake where we would pull over and stop for lunch. As I was cleaning the fish, Alex was getting the fire going and getting the bear barrel from the boat. It had been raining out and the rocks down by the water were very slippery. Only one step away from the boat and Alex slips and falls right into the boat, pushing it off shore and into the lake. It was an overcast and cool day, not one that you would typically want to go for a swim on. Alex had to jump in and grab the canoe.

Old Plane Crash on Wash Lake

After having some lunch we continued down Wash Lake only to discover an old plane wreck that had been pulled out of the water and left on land. The little we know about this crash, was that it happened in the 70's and everyone survived. The plane was located just before the portage which would take us to Derraugh Lake. This portage was a little tricky to find as it was fairly over grown, but once we were past the first 50m, it was a nice trail to follow. 

The other side of these rapids were another school of pickerel. Both of us had managed to pull more than 15 fish out of this pool. While fishing, I managed to hook into another 35" pike. 

At this point it was starting to get dark and we needed to find a site. Luckily once we made it to the main body of water on Derraugh Lake, the point on the right had a perfect elevated site that wasn't marked on our map. It was a bit tricky to climb up to but the top was flat and provided a great place to set ourselves for the night.

Elevated site on Derraugh Lake

Day 14: Friday, August 18th, 2017

We continued down river until we reach Gooseneck rapids which would require a 2 km portage into Pikitigushi Lake. We loaded our gear so we could one-shoot the portage. Being more mentally prepared than the 1.3 km portage that we did earlier, we completed it with no problems. The trail was overgrown with lab tea but always showed a navigable path.

Pikitigushi Lake

The second biggest pike of the trip at 41" caught in the final few hours of the trip

We reached Pikitigushi Lake in good spirits. We were getting picked up at the bridge at 2:00 and it was only 10:30. We decided we would have one last shore lunch to top of the trip. We trolled some deep drop offs and caught our lunch easily. I was jigging a white grub and Alex was throwing a ¼ oz Little Cleo. We had our catch and we were about to head to a nearby shoreline when Alex said those words “Got one…”. This fish however, did not fight like a pickerel, it fought like a pike…a big pike. Alex luckily had a leader on which gave him the upper hand. He fought the fish for 10-minutes until it finally got to the boat. It was a monster 41” pike! After two weeks of catching big fish we were both a little more cool, calm and collected, though the thrill of landing the second biggest pike of the trip still had us on edge. Alex landed it without a hitch as we cheered and high fived.

We had our final shore lunch of the trip and then continued to the bridge. We heard rumours that the south side of the bridge had a Brook Trout pool. The Pikitigushi River flows into Nipigon Lake which is home to world class brook trout fishing.

We paddled around a sharp turn where we saw a big body in the middle of the water. As we approached we saw that it was a moose! The moose either was not bothered by us or didn’t see us as it continued to dunk its head in the water foraging for food. Getting closer than we expected, we slowed down to wait for it to notice us. Eventually it lifted it’s head, looked in our direction, and squared off. It was not mating season, but the thought of being charged by a moose layed in the back of our minds. After sizing us up it turned around and crashed into the bush.

One more wildlife sighting on the Pikitigushi River - the trips not over yet!

Bridge Pick-Up – Surprise Fish

We pulled up to Bear Camp where we were greeted by some local hunters. They offered us hot showers and pop. Though we were more interested in cold beer and a brook trout. We lugged our gear up to the road and with time to spare we headed down to the river for the last few casts of the trip hoping for a brook trout.

First cast Alex hooked into a fish, but we were disappointed when a snot rocket came to shore. Another cast, Alex catches another snot. Discouraged, Alex started heading back to the road to wait for our ride. I agreed to follow but wanted a few casts in a pool a little further down stream. I ran over, tossed my spinner and hooked into my personal best brook trout. Brook trout have always fascinated me because of their beautiful colouring and how they can change in different environments. This trout looked like a tiger with sharp yellow and red spots and measured 17". Alex ran back as he heard my excitement. I got the fish to shore, took some photos and put her back.

Beautiful 17" Brook Trout to end the trip

On the final day we saw a moose, caught a 40+” pike and a personal best brook trout; it seemed pretty fitting for such an epic trip. We headed back to the road to wait for our ride. We didn’t say much as we both struggled to make sense of the fact that our journey was over. The last 14 days flew by but felt like a lifetime. Our lives we were going back to felt foreign, as our routines over the past two weeks had been so simple, yet so fulfilling. Wabakimi Provincial Park is a wild place!
 

Port Loring Loop

With the weather starting to dwindle, and the months starting to shift into that volatile time, I was eager to make use of a three-day window I had in late September. Looking for unique routes, I started looking outside of our Provincial Parks for crownland options. Having no luck online and having little time to research I messaged our buddy Brad from Explore the Backcountry for his take on the situation.

He recommended a route he did back in 2015 in the Port Loring area which he assured would have its fair share of adventure. He sent over his gpx coordinates and I overlayed them onto a topo map which I would use for my reference. On this trip a good friend, Eric, joined me. He is a great guy to trip with because he has an open mind and thrives on routes that have uncertainty, which is great for exploratory routes.

SNAPSHOT:

Port Loring Map (click to open)

  • Total Distance: 46 km
  • Portages: 13
  • Route Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Number of Days: 3
  • Access Point: Legrou Lake Landing
  • Key Features: Small lakes and a shallow Pickerel River connected by unmarked ATV and snowmobile trails

 

Getting There

Port Loring is a small town off Highway 522, Northeast of Noganosh Provincial Park. The area consists of crownland with private property scattered on some of the more easily accessible lakes. The route starts in Legrou Lake Landing, a public boat launch which does not require a permit. From here the route takes you on a counter-clockwise loop into Dutchman Lake. To enter Dutchman Lake you can portage 650 m from the launch or you can drive your vehicle North on Legrou’s Lake Road to an ATV path which requires only a 100 m portage (the better option).

Fishing on Dutchman Lake

Dutchman Lake to Wauqimakog Lake

Wading Pickerel River

Once on Dutchman Lake, head west to the Dutchman chutes which will take you to a bony Pickerel River. Getting down the river is very dependant of water levels. For us, being late September, water was low which required us to wade for 1 km. The river has some dramatic rock faces and some sections which could potentially be Class I’s in higher water. Near the end of the river there is a waterfall which cannot be run. Take-out on the river right which will lead you to an ATV trail. Follow the ATV trail for 1000 m around the waterfall. The portage will bring you down the river which will then require you to paddle less than a km to another large set of waterfalls which will require a portage on river left. From there you will enter Wauqimakog, a cottage country lake.

Wauqimakog Lake to Arthur Lake

Paddle Northwest on Wauqimakog for 6 km. After the third large peninsula on your left, head East towards Toad Lake. Toad Lake is a narrow waterway which is where we found hundreds of freshwater jellyfish, an invasive species which is believed to have first come from the Yangtze River in China. This was also the Lake we decided to camp on night two.

Rainy Morning View on Toad Lake

Continue on Toad Lake for 7 km until you reach Lookout Island. From there head south to a dock which marks the take-out for 1600 m portage into Arthur Lake. The portage is an ATV trail which is used by hunters to reach hunt camps on the back lakes. The trail is well maintained and has three main right-hand turnoffs. Take the second right, the first and third lead to private property.

 

Arthur Lake to Otter Lake

Once on Arthur, the cottages disappear and only the odd cabin is seen. The portage leaving Arthur requires some bushwacking as there is no obvious trail. Head Southwest on the lake until you see a cabin; 100-meters East of that cabin is where we portaged. The route started with a steep incline and then flat ground for ~ 300 meters. Although a bushwack, the forest is a well matured mixed stand and therefore not relatively thick. The following three lakes (Bass Lake, Clear Lake and Long Lake) are a quick leapfrog split up by short 245 m portages.

Otter Lake Survival Set-up

At the bottom of Long Lake there is the longest portage of the route, a 1700 m trail used by snowmobilers. The trail is obvious and marked as “Trail 510”. A reference for the many snowmobile paths that pepper North-Central Ontario.  Follow 510 to Otter Lake.  Otter Lake does not have any campsites. We stayed on the lake for the second night where we made use of a flat section off a rocky embankment.

 

Dog Creek to Le Grou Lake

Dog Creek is a meandering, beaver influenced wetland which becomes more choked up the farther you venture East. Along the creek there are five (5) notable beaver dams, some being over 5’ high. Although traveled late in the year, we were still able to make our way down the creek with few complications. The last 300-meters gets very restrictive and requires some effort to push through.

Once on Dog Lake there is more leapfrogging through four (4) small lakes (Dog Lake, Big Hungry Lake, Little Hungry Lake and Pup Lake). This section of the route felt the most remote and had some of the most beautiful scenery. If time were on our side, I would have pushed to spend more time on Big Hungry Lake fishing for Smallmouth Bass.

Beaver dam on Dog Creek

At the end of Pup Lake there is a 1300 m portage that follows a creek East back into Le Grou Lake. The portage was very marshy and required us to paddle a 100-meter section of it! The portage is not as distinct as others but still very manageable to follow. Once on Le Grou, paddle North back to the public parking lot

 

 

Summary

Overall this route is a great introductory route to experience the Ontario backcountry outside of our Provincial Parks. Sections off the larger lakes felt relatively remote and gave a great sense of adventure. The lack of marked portages, campsites and canoeists also lead to that exploratory vibe. I recommend this route to any canoeist looking to wet their feet in some crownland tripping.

Temagami - Gamble Lake to James Lake

We wanted to cover as much of Temagami as possible over the 9 days we had to paddle. This meant that the normal loops we like to do was not going to suffice. We called Smoothwater Outfitters (SWO) on James Lakes in Temagami. They have a shuttle service that would take us from SWO all the way up to Gamble Lake on the Northwest side of the Temagami region.  This was going to allow us to create a route that would pierce the heart of Temagami.

We arrived at SWO at 7:30am on Saturday morning where we did the final packing before loading up on the shuttle. When they opened the doors at 8am we went inside to meet Francis and Johanna. After discussing our route with Francis, we decided to make a few modifications. Originally we planned on launching from Beauty Lake (North of Gamble), and intended on taking out at the Latchford Bridge just north of Smoothwater. Francis was not going to be able to pick us up until 1pm on Sunday because of other shuttles that had already been booked. This was unfortunately not going to work for our schedule to get Noah home in time to catch a flight.

Loading shuttle at Smoothwater Outfitters

We wanted to know if it was possible to paddle right back to SWO for which Francis said we might want to reconsider as it had not been done in 8-10 years. Francis not knowing us that well, did not realize that this was only going to get us more excited. We opted to change the route to start at Gamble Lake giving us more time to make it all the way back to James Lake (SWO).

While packing the shuttle, I noticed that my fishing reel was broken.  A trip where we knew the fishing was going to be good and I wasn’t going to be able to get a line wet. Francis offered to make a quick stop in Latchford at Canadian Tire so that I could get a new one. Saving our trip before it even started.

The drive is two hours northwest of the outfitters and we arrived at the launch by 12:30pm. The final road down to Gamble Lake was rough and felt very remote. We were happy that we opted to start at Gamble Lake as the paddle from Beauty Lake would have crossed the road numerous times and looked like it wouldn't have been that fun.  Just as we came over a hill we saw a small black bear take off into the forest getting us excited for the wildlife we might see ahead. Francis unloaded our gear, took a quick photo for us, and drove away.

Noah and Alex at the Gamble Lake Access Point in Temagami

SNAPSHOT

  • Trip Distance: 105km
  • Total Portages: 48
  • Total Portage Distance: 15,010m
  • Longest Portage: 1300m
  • Most Difficult Portage: Between Mountain Lake and The Three Sisters Lake
  • Total number of lakes: 30
  • Portage Difficulty: Wide variety from very easy to very difficult (see below for more details)
  • Paddling Difficulty: Easy
  • Overall route difficulty: This exact route is very difficult. Starting at the Muskego Wildlands, many of the portages have not been used in 8-10 years.
  • Resources: Jeff's Maps

Day 1: Lady Evelyn River

We packed the final gear into the canoe and pushed off. Gamble Lake was not very large and before we knew it we were on our way down the Lady Evelyn River. The weather was teasing for a storm all afternoon.

Noah got the first Brook Trout of the trip!

We managed to skip the very first portage on the trip. We threw a few casts at the bottom of the swift and Noah caught the first Brook Trout.

Once we got to the 280m portage we pulled over at the side of the river to line the set of rapids. This portage goes around 2 small sets of rapids. We stopped to throw a few casts and take some time to clean the fish Noah caught so that it did not spoil. Just as Noah was holding the fish up to the camera a flash of lightning came out of nowhere. Following the lightning was the loudest thunder I have ever heard in my entire life. We knew the storm must be right on top of us. We took cover at the side of the river until the storm had died down.

The 55m portage went around a waterfall and had a tricky put-in. It was very steep and rocky, and was pretty slick with all the rain had fallen. The 345m portage we managed to line along the right side. This however did not go around a waterfall which is what Jeff’s maps had indicated. There was actually a portage along the left side that we did not see until we got to the bottom of the rapids.

Finally we arrived at the 50m portage which we did indeed have to portage. This was a tricky one as it crossed over a boulder section that threatened rolled ankles on each step.

Camp #1 on the Lady Evelyn River

Directly on the other side of this portage was a perfect flat and open area that overlooked the rapid we had just portaged around. This was where we would be setting up camp for our very first night. You can see the rapids and the portage to the left of the rapids in the photo on the left.

Camp #1 on the Lady Evelyn River

 

 

We set up a tarp in the event that we had more rain hit us but we were lucky that it held off for the night. This allowed us to hang our gear to dry it a little. Brook Trout with rice was on the menu for dinner along with some celebratory slugs of Fireball for Canada's 150th Birthday.

 

 

Day 2: Lady Evelyn River - Helen Falls

We woke up to an overcast sky that looked like we may be fighting the storms again today. Its nice when you know the weather could take a turn and you are able to prepare yourself for it a little better. We had our rain jackets on and our rain pants packed at the top of our bags ready to throw on should the rain come down. I had woken up with a bit of a sore throat and stuffy nose but I wasn't thinking too much about it at this point.

The first 70m portage of the day was actually right off our campsite but we decided to load the canoe and try lining it instead. We managed to get to the bottom by lining the left shore, however we would not recommend this to other paddlers as it got quite difficult towards the end. We portaged the 95m as well as the 125m that followed. There was another set of rapids here that was not marked that we were able to line just before the 130m portage into Macpherson Lake. The 130m portage into Macpherson Lake had a very steep put in on the other side and with the rain we had to be very careful with our footing. 

We paddled along Macpherson until we got to the 145m portage that went around the rapids at the outflow of the lake. We managed to line this set of rapids as well along the left shore and took a few minutes to toss some casts. This is where we hooked into some serious Brook Trout! Almost every cast we had a bite while we were tossing small spoons and mepps spinners.

Shore lunch at the outflow from Macpherson Lake along the Lady Evelyn River

With all the fish we decided to take some time to have a shore lunch. We love the bright orange colour of the meat on a Brook Trout and there is nothing better than cooking the fish not even 5 minutes after it had been caught! We seasoned the fish with a new spice we picked up which was a mix of sriracha and lime. 

The 195m portage we were able to line along the right shore. This was actually two sets of rapids that were back to back. At this point the river split and we had a choice to make. Either a 730m portage or two portages that were 395m followed by an 80m. Running some quick numbers we opted to do the shorter route. The 395m portage was pretty clear as we made our way to the campsite. A quick shoutout to this campsite is in order because it overlooks a number of rapids that we were portaging around. A beautiful place to stay if you have the opportunity to.

More Brook Trout along the Lady Evelyn River

On the map it said that the portage ended near the site and we had a short paddle to the 80m portage however we did not feel this was the case. There was actually a portage behind the campsite that went end to end and bypassed the 80m (closer to 600m total). Unfortunately we did not see this full portage on the first pass and actually got off track and ended up bushwhacking the second half of this portage. This was not fun with the canoe over my head. Once we had gotten to the other side we saw the portage sign that was actually on a clear trail. This brought us into Katherine Lake.

The map for this area was not very accurate. After we passed what we thought was the 80m portage while on the 600m portage, we ended up coming to a small rapid that looked like it may have been the 80m portage after all. We were able to line this portage along the left shore. There was another rapid that would have been about 50m in length that was not marked but we were able to line this as well. 

The skies were getting darker and it looked like the clouds could unleash at any moment. Noah and I had our rain jackets on and our pants close by. As we continued paddling, we could hear the rain hitting the water in the distance. Looking back to see where it was, there was a very clearly defined wall of rain that was making it's way towards us very quickly. We rushed to get our rain pants on before we were completely engulfed in this rain. This might have been the heaviest rain we had seen on the trip so far. We put our heads down knowing that we only had 3 portages left.

Alex poking his head out from the start of the final portage around Helen Falls

We pushed through the 165m, and the 265m that were both fairly clear. This whole area was very beautiful and I wish we could have enjoyed it a little more. We were pretty tired after a long day of portages and at this point we just wanted to get to our site.  The rain was starting to let up a bit as we entered into our final portage of the day.

The final section of the portage around Helen Falls

This 340m portage around Helen Falls was a tough one. There were quite a few steep sections to climb up and down along the way. All the rain that had just fallen was only making it more difficult to ensure that you had sturdy footing.

The sky was starting to clear up a bit and it showed signs of better weather that could potentially be in our future. Helen Falls is a nice waterfall that could be heard loud and clear from the site we were camping on. If only we were able to see the waterfall from the site!

Fishing at the bottom of Helen Falls along the Lady Evelyn River

At this point I was absolutely exhausted. My head cold was kicking in much more strongly and all I wanted to do was eat and go to bed. We were so tired we didn't even make a campfire this night. Goes to show how long of a day it was. On the menu was cheesy beef, which is really just Kraft Dinner mixed with dehydrated ground beef. It was the perfect balance of carbs and protein we needed before crashing hard that night. It was a pretty solid day with lots of sights to see and many fish to catch. We totalled 22 Brook Trout on this day alone.

Day 3: Helen Falls to Lady Evelyn Lake

We finally woke up to some sun! It was a great way to start the day and really helped boost my morale as I was not feeling the greatest overall. We used this opportunity to take our time on our site and dry out the tent and some of our other gear that had gotten a bit wet over the past 2 rainy days. 

Camp #2 - Beautiful morning at Helen Falls

Breakfast we decided to change it up a little and have bacon and peanut butter wraps. It is still a quick meal to have when you bring the pre-cooked bacon. You just heat up the bacon and spread some PB on those wraps and boom, you have your breakfast.

After breakfast we packed up all the gear that we had lying out to dry and set off. The first set of rapids we managed to run in the canoe. The water was not flowing too strong and there was a lot of space between rocks for us to maneuver the canoe in a safe manner.

The second portage of the day was a 400m around Centre Falls. This portage had a lot of elevation change and there were a number of very steep sections to climb up and down. We happened to run into a group of kids from Camp Northwaters, who were on a 21 day trip heading up towards the Sturgeon River. It was quite impressive to see these kids carrying the canoes over this rugged terrain. This is a trip that would definitely build some character. There is a campsite that directly overlooks Centre Falls and had we known about this going into the trip I would have love to stay there.

Alex hanging out at Centre Falls 

After setting off after this portage we tossed a few casts at the bottom of the rapids. I hooked into another Brook Trout which would end up being the last Trout we would catch on this trip. We knew that the territory we were headed into was going to be more Pickerel, Pike, and Bass. There is apparently a waterslide at the end of Centre Falls but we did not end up seeing it from the water and didn't venture off to try and find it.

Shore lunch at Frank Falls

We continued our paddle on, enjoying the sun that had finally come out to play. The next portage was a short 125m that went around Frank Falls. We used this as an opportunity to make some lunch. Lunch was wraps with Babybel cheese and mustard along with some fried up Noah's summer sausage.

There was a couple that was fishing in a nice bass boat that pulled out a large Pickerel from the outflow at this waterfall.

Day 4: Lady Evelyn Lake to Isbister Lake

Day 4 started around 7am and we had bannock for breakfast with coffee. This was Noah's first ever attempt at making the well known "bush bread." He did it over the fire so it got a little burnt but was still tasty none the less. Noah went fishing off our site and caught a nice pickerel. We had seen a number of boats fishing around our site the night before.

We left camp around 10am making our way down the river that went right behaind our site. We were now entering the Muskego Wildlands which is an area less frequently travelled in Temagami.

The first portage of the day was 545m and was not too difficult. There was an obvious trail to follow and we just had to make sure to take the right path when it split about 300m in. There was one other 165m portage that was before Carpmor Lake which was also straight forward. There was a bit of a rocky section that you need to watch footing on but it was not too bad. 

Smallmouth Bass caught in Carpmor Lake in Temagami

Once in Carpmor L. we started doing some casts wondering what fish there would be. We knew that the trip was going to start with areas that had more trout and end with areas with more pike and bass. Both of us had caught a bass by the first island on the lake. We continued down the lake until we got to a beaver dam. On my very first cast I hooked into a nice smallmouth bass and around him was a school of about 15-20 other nice size bass. 

We spent a few hours fishing on this lake until the fishing slowed down and we moved on. We also still had quite the distance to go and we were a little behind schedule. As we entered the river at the bottom of Carpmor L. it got narrow quickly. Still deep enough for the canoe with just enough room on either side to paddle or push along on the shore. 

Eventually we got to a spot where we had to get out because the turn was too tight to make with the canoe in water. Right after rounding this corner was a beaver dam that required us to lift over it. At this point I was waist deep in mud.

We pushed forward looking for the 180m portage until the river ended at the edge of the forest. We knew where we needed to go but there was no trail. We did a first walk through to ensure that this was the right direction and also to see if we could find a portage on the other side. 

Unfortunately we had no luck. The only option was to bushwhack our own trail through to the other side. There was a nice bog section to start the portage where we were sinking up to our shins in mud and water, followed by a thick forest section. The canoe was the most difficult as there were so many trees blocking any sort of clear path.

You can vaguely see the trail we had just pushed through after the small pond following the 180m portage

On the other side, there was a very small pond that was followed by another shallow beaver river. Noah jumped out of the canoe to drag us through this portion until we got into Nichol Lake. 

We were getting low on water and we used this as an opportunity to paddle into the bigger lake to get clean water. Paddling along the south shore of the lake, we looked for the portage marked somewhere in the middle of the shoreline, but we were unable to see anything.

At this point it was 7pm and we had to start thinking about the amount of daylight we had left before starting the 1300m portage. Especially not knowing the condition that it would be in after the last portage we had to do. On the far shore, we noticed a big hole cut into the trees that was covered in flagging tape. We figured it must start here before heading down towards Isbister L. 

We tied all the paddles and rods to the canoe in an attempt to do the portage in one shot and just take a number of breaks along our way. Just as I got the canoe all loaded and the pack on my back, I went to pickup the canoe and got a nose bleed. This was likely from all of the snot rockets I was doing with the lack of tissue to blow my nose into. Just as I got the bleeding to stop, I put the canoe over my head, only to step into a soft section of mud and sink up to my knee. 

Finally getting out, I pushed on to catch up to Noah who was well ahead. Noah had put down all the gear he was carrying about 200m in, saying that he could no longer follow the trail. I pulled out the GPS to see where we were, realizing that this portage had taken us in the complete wrong direction. We now had to walk back to the start of the portage, free up all of the paddles, and go back to look at the shore where we had already looked for the portage. 

Luckily on the second pass we found the hole in the trees for the portage which we have now flagged for future canoeists. We were thankful that there was actually a decent trail to follow. In the area's where it was not obvious, we ensured to flag these as well.

We finished the portage into Isbester L. where we looked to find the first campsite along the left shore. At this point it was 9:30pm and we were tired. We rehydrated chili for dinner and we were in bed shortly after eating.

Day 5: Isbister Lake to Eagle Lake

We started the day at 7am with oatmeal packs and coffee for breakfast. We hit the water at 9am as we were concerned about the condition of the portages after the day we had just gone through. 

Paddling down Isbister L. we noticed how much more clear and blue it was in comparison to the other lakes we had been on so far. We arrived in the area where the 185m portage was supposed to be. Instead, all we saw was a wall of trees. 

We got out of the boat and started walking the shoreline in hopes to find a trail. Once again we were unable to find anything. This was going to be another bushwhack and it had a nice steep hill to climb right off the bat. We managed to complete the portage in good time considering the conditions. 

The next portage was listed as 95m and we were able to skip this due to high water we suspect. The 120m portage had a fairly clear trail that was easy to follow. This made us think that there must have been a better path to take on the first portage we ended up bushwhacking. The portage may just be incorrectly marked. 

Marsh on the 430m portage that required us to walk around the shoreline in Temagami

The 430m portage also had a clear trail but about halfway through it met a marsh that we were required to walk around the shoreline. 

Once we arrived at Barter Lake we felt that we wouldn't see anyone else. Of course, just after we say this a motor boat peels around the corner and akes its way towards us. Turns out it was a couple surprised to see us as they do not see many people on the lake. They have a cabin that they own on the lake and access it by plane which they assure us is the way to go. 

We continued on past their cabin and say the plane while we passed. The river coming out of Barter L. was another beaver trail with a few beaver dam's to lift over. 

Once in Avery Lake we paddled to the middle of the lake where the map had indicated there was a portage. Once again we were greeted by a wall of trees and no portage. We walked the shore hoping to find something and eventually moved on to find the best place to start the bushwhack.

We always start with the packs in hopes that we stumble upon the trail at the other end so that we at least have an easier time getting the canoe across. Again no dice. We started clearing a bit of a trail on the way back in hopes that we could bring the canoe through it. Just as we got about halfway, Noah stops me to let me know that he found the trail. 

This portage is actually on the North-East corner of the lake in a spot that does not look very obvious at all. I managed to flag a tree at the edge of the floating bog but even after going back to get the canoe and paddle over, it was still very hard to find the entrance. 

We paddled Turner Lake into the bay where the portage was. Just as we turned the corner, a moose darted off into the trees faster than than we could grab the camera. 

There was a lot of mud in the section leading up to the 195m portage which was fairly easy and clear. Curt Lake was then a short paddle before reaching the start of the 1250m portage where we took time to have a quick lunch. Noah's summer sausage with Babybel cheese on a wrap with mustard. 

We loaded up our stuff again and we were able to complete the 1250m portage in one go. The trail was not too bad again. Once we arrived in Eagle Lake, Noah had a pike follow his lure on one of his first casts. 

Cliff on Eagle Lake in Temagami

We paddled to the island site and did a quick job to set up camp and hang a few things to dry in the wind and sun. It was then time to hit the water for an evening of fishing which to our surprise resulted in no fish. Not even a bite. There was however a very nice sunset that came over the big rock wall that is on the lake.

At the end of the day we looked at the map, back to the difficult portages we had. We have a hunch that the portages that were marked with a perfectly smooth line, were likely guesses. As there were other portage lines on the map that looked to be very detailed almost like it was the actual GPS tracking data. We figured this as the portages that were difficult had a straight line and the easy ones were the detailed and jagged lines. We kept this in mind as we continued on in the trip.

Day 6: Eagle Lake to Whitewater Lake

We were a little sore on this morning after the hard work we put in the day before. We were up at 7am and it was tough to get out of the tent with the wind that was coming off the lake. Proatmeal and coffee for breakfast to give us the energy we needed for the day ahead. We were on the water by 9am as we did not yet know the condition of the portages but were hopeful because we saw a lot of jagged lines!

We made it down to Little Eagle Lake in good time. We were able to do the 1030m, the 395m, and the 445m portages in one shot. We saw a cabin on Birch Lake and there was a shed with fishing gear at the put-in to Whitewater Lake. We were ahead of schedule arriving here for 2pm.

At this point in the trip we were thinking that we would avoid the difficult portages that would have us end at SWO and do the easier route to the Latchford bridge. This would allow us to enjoy the remainder of the trip and get some quality time in fishing. 

Wood Tick in Temagami 2017

Camp was setup on the island site and we got the smoked sausage and chips out for lunch. I looked down while sitting without my shirt on in the sun only to realize that I had a tick just below my belly button. This was a wood tick which is not as common for the transfer of lime disease but still one that you want to ensure you remove properly. Not having tweezers, I used a knife to ensure I was getting traction as close to my skin (and the top of his head) as possible. He was off and I felt a lot more comfortable being tick-less.

We went out fishing for the afternoon mainly targeting pike and bass. The lake was very clear. Noah caught a bass but that was the only fish we got in the boat before the nice day we had turned dark. The wind was blowing from west to east but the storm was coming east to west. We knew this was going to be a big one. 

Survival setup with canoe on Whitewater Lake

Paddling as fast as we could back to shore in order to collect a few things off the site and dive into our tent before the downfall started. We had a real survival setup going using the canoe to cover some of our things as well. 

It poured for about 45 minutes before clearing up around dinner. Noah and I had both been looking over the maps, both pondering the option of reconsidering our route back to SWO. I think this had to do with the lack of fishing we had experience the past two days and it would be boring if we took the easy way back to fish and didn't end up catching anything. So the decision was made to continue with the original plan. We made some dinner and had an early night in order to rest up for the next few tough days we would have.

Day 7: Whitewater Lake to The Three Sisters Lake

The alarm was set for 6am, an early start for the first big day. Now committed to get back to James Lake across a route rarely travelled in the last 8-10 years. 

Whitewater Lake was a nice paddle early in the morning. There was a large stash of boats at the entrance to the 190m portage into Anima Nipissing Lake. Portage was very straight forward and had a nice clear trail.

Pictographs on Anima Nipissing Lake in Temagami

We took some time to check out the pictographs on Anima Nipissing just after the portage. 

There was a long paddle up this bigger body of water we were now on but we still did not encounter too much traffic. We tried a few casts on route but unfortunately did not get anything. 

We made it down to Breeches Bay where we were able to do the 200m and 75m portages in one shot with not much difficulty.

A short paddle down Breeches Lake to the 750m portage into Mountain Lake. This was another fairly straight forward portage. 

Once on Mountain L. we stopped at an island site for lunch. Beef Jerky and trail mix was on the menu. There was an old chair and some other garbage left on this site and we also saw a garter snake on this island.

There was actually cell phone reception on this lake which we had to check after being told this by Francis on our way in. Hard to believe that this area actually gets a signal. 

"Entrance" to the 280m portage at the end of Mountain Lake in Temagami

The next part of our day is where things get interesting. We arrived at the bay where the 280m portage should have been. Unable to find a trail but we were able to get the canoe and gear up and through the trees into the forest. This forest was actually fairly open in the beginning. You could see remains of an old trail that has been grown in making it a little more difficult to pass through. 

Just before the fen we had to walk around below. Very narrow and shallow river

This portage got us to another beaver trail that was barely wide enough for the canoe. We had to get out of the canoe multiple times due to shallow water. This river eventually ended at a fen which was labelled as a lake on the map. Instead it was actually a large bog that looked like grass but was soaked mud waiting to submerge your leg when you least expect it.

On the fen between the 280m portage and the 850m portage going to The Three Sisters Lake.

We grabbed all our gear and started walking the shoreline. Halfway across this fen, Noah realized he left a rod at the start of the bog and went back to get it. I grabbed the packs and canoe to push out the final distance before the 850m portage taking the odd dunk in the cold and wet mud along the way.

Arriving at the hole in the forest that we believed to be the start of the portage, we quickly realized there was no portage. We took a water break now realizing how low we were on water after portaging all of those bogs. 

We started to bushwhack through with just the packs and it was proving to be a real challenge. The forest is very dense with a lot of fallen trees making many areas unpassable. Also the decaying ground made every 5th step a soaker and also a great opportunity to injure your ankle.

We came across a number of blaze marks on the portage as well as old flagging tape that you could barely see now that the tree had eaten most of the tape that was there before. It really appeared to be an old cottage that had not been used in years. 

Using the GPS and a compass we made our way across to Three Sisters Lake. Each way took us over an hour to walk.

Going back to get the canoe we were dreading the final trip through the forest. We took a completely different route on the way back because the forest was too thick to follow the same way we came in the first time. Unfortunately we do not have much footage from this portion of the trip as we were just focusing on keeping one foot in front of the other.

We crashed our way through on the final pass alternating the canoe carry. The other guy was then used to try and clear and find the best way to get through the forest. 

We had been out of water for a while and Noah was starting to feel really dehydrated. He even noticed that he stopped sweating even though we were working harder now than ever. 

The only place we could find on The Three Sisters Lake to fit our tent

Finally we made it to The Three Sisters L. where we could refresh our water supply and get Noah back to full strength again. After drinking the water he got the chills so planned on having something warm for dinner. 

There was a site marked on the map along the left shore from where we had just come from. We could not find where this could be. It wasn't until we arrived in narrows just before the 85m portage that we found an area just big enough for a tent. The forest was not looking like a good place to have a fire so we skipped this for tonight and had some Mr. Noodles for dinner.

Day 8: The Three Sisters Lake to James Lake

The next morning we were up early and had a quick breakfast of PB Bacon wraps with coffee. Once again we were not sure what we had ahead of us for portages. The 85m portage was tough and it was setting the tone for what might be ahead. At this point we were now in the lower section of Three Sisters L. where we saw some loons calling out on glass calm water. 

Beautiful morning featuring 2 loons on The Three Sisters Lake in Temagami

We then arrived at the 650m portage which was actually marked in the beginning. We were hopeful for a trail. It appeared to be somewhat of a snowmobile trail in the winter. There was a definite path to follow but it was very grown over and a few fallen trees made certain sections difficult to pass. Still not an easy portage but I would take this any day over the bushwhacking.

End of the 650m portage into Wendigo Lake

We paddled Wendigo Lake just before the first 280m portage. Unfortunately we do not have the best notes on this section in regards to specific portages but in general this was a difficult area to get through. There are more bogs to walk through and also a few portages where the trail becomes very difficult to follow. 

The final 405m portage was very overgrown and there was a very wet section at the bottom end of this portage. It was formed because of the low section on the trail, filling due to the higher water levels at this point. We actually tried to use the canoe to get through on this part. 

Just a couple dudes after completing their adventure through Temagami

Finally finishing this portage we paddled our way across James Lake back to Smoothwater Outfitters. Francis was rather surprise to see us back ahead of schedule after going through this final section of the trip.

Overall an incredible trip that we are happy to say that we completed. From a difficulty perspective, the end of the trip was the hardest but is also the area least travelled by other paddlers. 

150for150 - 150 Canoes for Canada's 150th

 150for150 logo - 150 Canoes on Canoe Lake

150for150 logo - 150 Canoes on Canoe Lake

As we all know too well, it's Canada's 150th birthday this year. We knew that we wanted to do something special for it, but had no idea what it was going to be.

David Lee (@PassionatePaddler) had the golden ticket idea. Why not get 150 canoes on Canoe Lake, for Canada's 150th birthday...I was sold before hearing another word. Once getting a phone call from David asking us to help plan the 150for150 event, we wanted nothing more than to be apart of this special day. Below is the video from the main event and at the bottom there is a video recapping some of the action on the Saturday.

The Mission

  • To acknowledge the grassroots ingenuity and craftsmanship of the First Nation’s gift to this country and people.
  • To inform the public as to the pivotal role the canoe played in the creation of this country.
  • To share in the passion for the sport and how it intimately connects us to this land and country.

In support of Project Canoe

By using the power of the outdoors, they empower youth who face challenges in their lives; working with them in order to recognize their abilities to feel worthy, capable and appreciated.

This wonderful organization relies on strategic partnerships and donations to deliver their “best in class” programming.  The Canada 150 for 150 event is humbled and honoured to help support such an organization.

 

Post Event Debrief

150for150 - Flag

The rain started the day off testing the will, determination, and passion of the paddlers that were to gather on Canoe Lake later that afternoon. Not to my surprise, many paddlers were not even fazed by this rain as the event meant more to them than getting a little wet in the rain. 

Due to the high volume of cars dropping off canoes, and the already high volume of traffic on Canoe Lake, we were forced to set the registration table up in the Smoke Lake parking lot and portaging all 150 canoes across HWY 60 to Canoe Lake. Luckily not everyone was parking in Smoke Lake so we didn't have quite 150 canoes to portage.

Those on the water early had a chance to win prizes being handed out by Kevin and David off the docks. Once we got the canoes on the water it was time for the speeches. First was the Algonquin Park Superintendent David Coulas who spoke to some of the history of the park. He was followed by The Happy Camper, (Kevin Callan), who talked about the passion that burns inside all of us. 

After this it was time to hit the water to make a bit of history. There were markers in place by anchors to help secure boats in an attempt to get 150 canoes in a circle. After some floating and shifting here and there we finally managed to get everyone into a circle.

We wanted to know that we got 150 canoes in a circle. We chose a canoe to start a count around the circle, each canoe shouting out their number, all the way around. Finally, we got to the last 3 canoes and we were at 139....this meant we only had 142 canoes...

2017 150Canoe (71).jpg

For those who know Algonquin, you will understand that Canoe Lake is one of the most popular access points in the park. You can only imagine how quickly we were able to find 8 other canoes to join the circle. We started to think about what it would have been like coming back from a week long trip to a group of 150 canoes in a giant circle on Canoe Lake. And to top it off, we were all shouting at them, "Get over here!!!"

We did another count around the circle to solidify reaching that golden 150 number to celebrate the accomplishment. The group raised their paddles in a salut to Canada and sang the national anthem, acapella. It was truly a moving moment hearing close to 300 people singling "oh Canada" all together, in one of the most iconic places in Algonquin Park. 

This is an event we will never forget and we want to thank all those who helped make it possible!

 

Schedule of Events

Day 1: Canoe Olympics 

  • Opening Ceremonies - 150for150 flag unveil  
  • Prize Giveaway - from our amazing sponsors listed below
  • Canoe Olympics - The organizing crew battles head to head

Day 2: 150for150-Main Event

  • Registration 
  • Portage canoes from Smoke Lake to Canoe Lake
  • More Prizes from our great sponsors
  • Speeches | Kevin Callan (Happy Camper) | Algonquin Superintendent David Coulas |
  • The official 150for150

Organizers 

  • David Lee (@PassionatePaddler)
  • Brad Jennings (@ExploreTheBackcountry)
  • Matt Olsen (@Paddle-In)
  • Gayle Labuz (@Sometimes Eventful)
  • Marian & Duane (@TheCampingFamily)
  • Karla Armstrong (@CurvyPortager)
  • Christina Scheuermann  (@Camping Christina)
  • Johnny Stinson (@Two4Adventure)
  • Dave Johnstone (@TheCanoeCollector)
  • Scot Robinson (@ManCamping)
  • Noah Booth (@NorthernScavenger)
  • Alex Traynor (@Northern Scavenger)

Official Event Pages

150for150 Website

Facebook.com/onefiftyforonefifty

Petawawa River Loop - Algonquin Park

Paddling on the Petawawa River 

When original white-water plans were canceled last-minute, we had an open weekend to fill. It was Thursday night and with no plans we started skimming through maps and trip reports. After reviewing Jeff’s Maps, we decided on heading to the Magnetawan Access Point for a trip down the Petawawa River. We would plan on paddling down the Petawawa before heading North into Queer Lake, then we would make our way back through Ralph Bice back to the access point.

SNAPSHOT:

  • Total Distance: 29 km
  • Portages: 10
  • Route Difficulty: Novice – Intermediate
  • Number of Days: 2
  • Access Point: Magnetewan Access Point
  • Resources: Jeff’s Algonquin Map
  • Key Features: Small lakes and shallow meandering river connected by easily navigable portages.
     

Getting There:

We left Toronto on Friday after work and made our way up to the small town of Kearney. Kearney is the starting gate for Algonquin’s Tim River, Magnetawan River and Rain Lake Access Points. We arrived in town at around 10:00 pm and spent the night in our car in the Algonquin Office parking lot.

The next morning we purchased our permits at 7:00 am and made the 30-minute drive down dirt roads to the #3 Access Point. Along our drive we discussed our game plan, route and expectations.  We heard from friends that bugs were going to be bad, but that wasn’t something we thought much about. We were more concerned about how the fishing was going to be and what lures we should use.

Magnetawan Lake to Upper Petawawa:

On the Petawawa River right after the portage from Daisy Lake

We spent the morning paddling through the small lakes and portages as we made our way to the Petawawa River. Hambone Lake and Daisy Lake were moderate sized lakes and had very nice, clean campsites that would make a great trip for a quick weekend getaway.

Daisy Lake was the final stop before reaching the Petawawa. At the end of the Lake there was a brief 135 m portage which brought us around a shallow creek and cascading waterfall. The waterfall is a scenic spot as the water is pushed into a deep pool with the Petawawa as the backdrop. After paddling for a couple hours, with the sun and bugs becoming stronger, this was the perfect spot for a quick pit-stop as we refueled with some beef jerky and libations.

Petawawa River to Little Misty Lake:

The Upper Petawawa is not what you think of when you hear the name. The white-water enthusiast won’t be found for another 100 km or so. Up here, the Petawawa is a meandering flood plain with beaver dams and wetlands. During early June, water levels ranged from 1 to 2 feet with shallower sections present. During late-summer, sections of this route may require some slogging so it would be important to check water-levels before hand. We paddled the river for 5 km before reaching Little Misty Lake at 3:00 pm.

Little Misty Lake has one campsite on the North shore which looked to be in very good condition. The overall quality of the lake and surrounding landscape was also breathtaking and in other circumstances it would have been great to camp there. Unfortunately for us, our time here was brief as we were heading off the lake and heading North towards Queer lake via the 2.5 km portage.

Little Misty Lake to Little Trout Lake:

The portage from Little Misty Lake to Queer Lake is unquestionably long but is overall friendly. The trail is flat and clear of obstructions other than some muddy sections. We completed the portage in 45 minutes and if it weren’t for the horrendous bugs, we would have found it easier than anticipated.
 
Once on Queer Lake, we paddled another 2 km to Little Trout Lake where we planned on spending the night. Along the route we did not see any other canoeists and even got a quick glimpse of a Moose.

Little Trout Lake (campsite):

 One of the island sites on Little Trout Lake

One of the island sites on Little Trout Lake

As our paddling day was coming to an end, it seemed as the farther we got into our route, the thicker the bugs were getting. By the time we reached Little Trout Lake, the bugs were so thick that we weren’t able to take our bug nets off without inhaling a dozen blackflies. The bugs were swarming us so badly that they sounded like rain hitting a tarp. The tough part was that these guys weren’t just lurking the shadows of the portages, these bugs were just as bad in the middle of the lake.

We reached our island campsite on Little Trout by 5:00 and were physically and mentally exhausted from the days portages and constant bugs. As soon as we got to site we poured ourselves a couple glasses of wine and shared a cigar.

The late-afternoon sun filtered through the pines forming beams of light on our camp. The blue smoke from the cigar peeled off like a ribbon as it sat motionless in the air with the thousands of blackflies that surrounded us. Sitting on a rotten log, wearing our sweat and blood-stained jackets, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace knowing this was one of those moments I will remember for a long-time.

After gathering ourselves, we headed back out on the water for an evening of fishing. Although still being pounded by bugs, we enjoyed the perfect weather and had a few laughs as we trolled for some trout.  After an hour we managed to catch a couple nice sized brook trout that we would take back to camp with us for a dinner.

Little Trout Lake back to Magnetawan Lake:

Dangling some trout caught on our way out on Ralph Bice Lake

The next day we woke to overcast condition with rain in the forecast. Armed with proper rain gear, we were not too concerned about weather as we spent the morning around camp, drinking coffee and enjoying the fire. We left site at 10:30 and started our 8 km paddle back to the access point. Along the way we spent time fishing on Ralph Bice where we managed to catch a few feisty lake trout.  We reached the access point at 3:00 and were back in the city by 7:00 pm.

Summary:

Overall this route is a great option for a one-night trip. The route boasts Algonquin’s signature landscape and is also a loop, and who doesn’t like a good loop trip? The challenging aspects of the route include numerous portages including one that is 2.5 km, as well as the possibility of running out of water on the Petawawa. We highly recommend this route to any avid canoeist looking for a weekend getaway.
 

Barron Canyon - Algonquin Park

 View from the top of the Barron Canyon - Algonquin Park (On the Barron Canyon Trail)

View from the top of the Barron Canyon - Algonquin Park (On the Barron Canyon Trail)

SNAPSHOT:

  • Number of Days: 3-4
  • Route Difficulty: Moderate
  • Total Distance: About 35km
  • Portages: 18
  • Total Portage Distance: 5495m
  • Longest Portage: 750m
  • Access Point: Achray Campground/Grand Lake
  • Key Features: The Barron Canyon, High Falls, Natural Waterslide (near High Falls), and a few other sets of waterfalls and rapids along the way!

Never having explored the East side of Algonquin Park, and hearing so many great things about the Barron Canyon, I was eager to check this area out.

 On the drive in from Sand Lake Gate Access towards Grand Lake

On the drive in from Sand Lake Gate Access towards Grand Lake

Bags were packed and we set out late on the Friday of the long weekend in September. We drove to the Sand Lake Gate access point fully knowing that the office would be closed. It was the 6-hour drive from Toronto that we were happy to get out of the way on Friday, so we could have an early start on Saturday.  We slept in the car at the Sand Lake office as opposed to driving all the way in to Achray Campground, only having to drive back for the permit in the morning.

Day 1: Grand Lake to Lower Barron River

After picking up our permits we made our way to the launch, making a quick pit stop at the Barron Canyon Trail which overlooks the river we would be paddling later that day.  The trail is only about 1km or so which makes for a quick hike. For the view, it is definitely worth the stop.

Arriving at the launch we packed our canoe and got ready to set off for the long day ahead of us. The first 2 portages are very short and well maintained. The first was a 50m over a man made dam and the second was a short 75m into St. Andrews Lake.  Shortly after that was our 550m portage into High Falls lake which featured a few extra hills and rocky sections compared to the short ones.

 Photo: Algonquin Park - 30 Hector Fire in the forest surrounding High Falls Lake which was created by humans. Taken on August 10th 2016.  Read more about it here

Photo: Algonquin Park - 30 Hector Fire in the forest surrounding High Falls Lake which was created by humans. Taken on August 10th 2016. Read more about it here

I was eager to get into High Falls Lake because there had recently been a forest fire that had gone through the area. You could actually see signs of the fire right from the lake while you paddled across. I have been through areas that have had forest fires years before that have now grown back but this was the first time that I was seeing one fresh. The fire had gone through the area only about a month before we arrived. Apparently the cause of the fire was due to humans and it at one point was 30 hectars in size. Goes to show the importance of being responsible with your fires and ensure proper extinguishing. I was able to pull an image from the Algonquin Park website and have included it below. As we were camping on this lake the following night we opted to wait to explore the burnt forest.

At this point we had only finished 3 of the 8 portages we had to do that day. This is what happens when you book a trip late for a long weekend. The next 3 portages we put our heads down to complete, in hopes of getting them done quickly. All of the portages on this route are well maintained. While there are definitely some rocky and hilly areas along the way, it is a frequently travelled route that is well kept. None of the portages on this trip seemed to stick out as being very difficult. Unless of course you decide to do 9 in a day in which case they seem to add up fairly quickly..

Finally arriving at Brigham Lake, we only had 2 portages left to go, and we could not have been happier about that. It was a long day and we were looking forward to some dinner.

 Paddling through the Barron Canyon

Paddling through the Barron Canyon

After completing the last of the portages we were treated with a beautiful paddle down the Barron River right through the Canyon that we had stood atop earlier that day. I’m not sure if I enjoyed the view more from the top or the bottom, they were both amazing. There were a few other boats paddling in our direction but they were just day tripping and were not anyone we had to be concerned about “beating” us to get first choice at a site.

After passing through the Canyon, many of the first sites had already been occupied. We finally came across one just a few sites up from the 420m portage.

The site did not have a great spot to swim but after a long day in the sun, that wasn’t going to stop me from taking a quick dip.

Day 2: Lower Barron River to High Falls Lake

I was up early with the crack of dawn. We had a beautiful sunrise and I was doing everything I could to enjoy it before we had to get back on our feet and working towards our next destination.

 Paddling along the Barron River in Algonquin Park

Paddling along the Barron River in Algonquin Park

Unfortunately my morning fishing trip turned up with nothing to talk about, but I did manage to get some great photos!

After making some pancakes to give us the energy we needed for the day, we packed our canoe and set off towards High Falls. Today we decided we were going to go a different way, over the Cascades section as opposed to going back through to Opalescent Lake. It was a total of 7 portages to get back to High Falls but it meant that our last day was going to be an easier trip.

The Cascades were a beautiful section of the paddle. Often you hear more about the water falls before you hear anything about rapids and other areas with lower volumes of moving water. Some of these hidden areas with small flows of water can be the nicest places to sit. Not to mention the fact that they are also usually a lot less busy than the main attractions. We took our time through this area having some lunch and ensuring to take lots of photos along our way.

Finally we arrived at High Falls Lake and it was just around 5pm. We quickly unpacked our gear at our selected campsite before paddling over to the 550m portage to head over to High Falls.

We paddled over near the 550m portage where the trail continued over towards High Falls. From what I remember it was about a 20 minute hike through some interesting terrain (unless we lost the path for a while) to get to the water slide and High Falls area.

 High Falls - Algonquin Park

High Falls - Algonquin Park

The water slide itself is located on the upper part of the Barron River that flows from Stratton Lake into High Falls Lake. The waterfall is lower than the water slide (which you pass first when coming from our direction) but is located on the same channel and flows into a pond that feeds into High Falls Lake.

 Natural Waterslide near High Falls in Algonquin Park

Natural Waterslide near High Falls in Algonquin Park

Seeing as it was the long weekend, there were a few other groups enjoying the area with us. Even a dog decided to take a slide down, although if I were a critic, I would say it was more of a run. We went for a swim and hung out in the area for a while, ensuring to take some time to enjoy the waterfall as well.

The sun quickly vanishing behind the tree line, we made our way back to our site. We had a campfire while setting up camp and hit the tent after a long day of activities.

Day 3: High Falls Lake back to Grand Lake

We woke up early and had a quick breakfast before paddling over to check out the area that the forest fire had gone through. It was incredible to see the damage that was done. It almost felt like we were aunts walking through a fire pit. All the trees that were still standing resembled the burnt logs you find in your fire pit the morning after a good fire. It was pretty eerie to walk through.

We completed the 550m portage getting it out of the way, and only leaving us with 2 short portages before being back at the launch.

This route has so much to offer. The Barron Canyon, High Falls, water slide, forest fire, the Cascades, and all the other smaller attractions along the way will definitely keep you occupied. If you haven’t had a chance to check this route out, I highly recommend you add it to your list!

 

 

Pickerel River

 Pickerel River

Pickerel River

There is a stigma about Ontario from people out of province. People who have never experienced Ontario think of our province as the home of Toronto and the sub sequential city life and fast pace lifestyle that is affiliated. Fortunately for us, this is simply not the case.

 My girlfriend was born and raised in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and has been spoiled by the beautiful rugged coastline and rolling landscape of the Highlands. For the May long weekend she was coming to Ontario and I wanted to take her on a trip that encapsulated Ontario’s natural beauty. I knew I was going to be taking her camping but I hadn’t figured out a plan.

Having a history of physically demanding and somewhat grueling trips, I really wanted to avoid that this weekend. I wanted a route that was < 4 hour drive from Toronto, had river systems, had easy portages, was relatively remote AND could be accomplished in two nights. This was a tall order to fill!

After reviewing park maps and consulting with a friend, it seemed like the French River Provincial Park would be our destination


SNAPSHOT:

  • Total Distance: 26 km
  • Portages: 0
  • Route Difficulty: Easy
  • Number of Days: 2-3
  • Access Point: Hartley Bay Marina
  • Resources: Friends of Killarney French River Topographic Map
  • Key Features: Many islands and narrows. Makes for scenic river travel with the possibility of wind channels.

Getting There:

Hartley Bay Marina is a 3.5 hour drive North of Toronto, where you take Highway 11 to Hartley Bay Road (right after French River Trading Post). From here you drive along a winding dirt road for 17 km before reaching a sharp right turn over train tracks which mark the entrance to the Marina

Access Point and Park Permits:

Hartley Bay Marina is a great put-in for accessing the French River. They provide park permits, maps of the park, essential camp items, as well as paid parking services for parties looking to spend time on the French.  

Unlike other provincial parks, the French does not require you to specify which lake or site you will be staying on. This allows for a little more flexibility if weather turns sour or you have an impromptu change of plans.

Topographic Map:

Before arriving at the Park, I purchased the topo map from the Friends of Killarney website. This map has become a great resource for me. The map encompasses the entire park and surrounding crown land as well as marks off all the campsites and portages. It also includes interesting tid-bits of information including the geology of the area, historic landmarks and past voyageur routes. Did I mention it’s water proof?

Wanapitei Bay to Pickerel River:

We left Hartley Bay Marina and paddled West towards Wanapitei Bay before heading south down into Ox Bay. This area has a lot of boat traffic and cottagers. Expect this section to be relatively busy during summer weekends and be aware of rouge waves from ignorant boaters. 

From here we crossed Ox Bay past Green Island to reach Pickerel Bay on the Southeast.  This is the section where the French River and Pickerel River meet. Consult your map when paddling across to make sure you follow the right channel. Once in Pickerel Bay the channel narrows and the cottages become less frequent as you travel East through tightly woven islands.

Pickerel River to South Channel:

Not having a defined plan, I knew I wanted to duck off the main river to find a secluded bay we could call our own for the night. After reviewing the map, site #910 looked to be a good spot. We paddled 3 km East on Pickerel River before finding the very narrow entrance into the South channel. This section of the Pickerel River is full of tiny islands and bays so again, it is important to consult your map and GPS.

 It is also important to note that on the GPS I was using, there was no connecting water from the main river to the small south channel leading to site #910. Though after reaching the mouth, there was an easy entrance behind a long jut-out.

Once we turned south down the channel, the tightly packaged islands and narrows provided relief from the wind, boaters and cottages as we paddled another 3 kms to our site in a back bay.

Site #910:

The site sits on a thin peninsula surrounded by two narrow channels.  The site has a great rocky point which helps keep the bugs at bay as well as a flat outcrop that is great for the fire pit and hanging out. The one downfall is that the only flat tent pad is on rock, so make sure you bring a sleeping pad.

Change of Plans:

The goal for the next day was to continue south towards Georgian Bay, exploring the endless islands and routes. Just South of #910 there is a short 90 meter portage which spits you back onto the South channel. This section looks to have even tighter passages and was begging to be explored. 

Unfortunately, due to a forecasted cold front and rainstorm, we decided to spend our second day paddling back up to Wanapitei Bay to camp closer to the put-in. This would make our third day (the day of the shit storm) much shorter and not as wet and cold. We ended up camping on Site #600. The site is right across from cottages and had some garbage, pots and cutlery left behind from past campers… the unfortunate truth about camping at easily accessible spots.

Conclusion:

Overall this was a great trip for anyone looking for a relaxing paddle with no portages and spectacular views.  For being right off the main channel, this small tributary off the Pickerel River aloud for a peaceful getaway disconnected from the cottages and boaters.

Depending on wind direction certain sections can become wind tunnels and either cause for tough headwinds, or easy tailwinds. This route also has many alternative options due to the complexity of passageways scraped into existence by the glaciers. Having a trusty map and GPS, one could spend a long time exploring the nooks and crannies of this beautiful Provincial Park.

Paddler Co-op - Palmer River Fest 2017

Palmer River Fest - 2017

We are starting to incorporate whitewater into more and more of our camping trips each year. Noah and I do not have too much experience or training when it comes to whitewater. Most of what we know comes from watching hours of youtube videos and having a natural sense of maneuvering the canoe. One of the very first videos we watched in relation to whitewater was Bill Mason's, Path of the Paddle.  Seeing as we are hitting whitewater more frequently now, it was about time one of us got some additional training.

I arrived late on Friday evening of the May long weekend. I had bailed on a large group of friends who were all camping together that weekend, to come to this festival on my own. I must say I was interested to see what all the hype was about! The first night was primarily a night to meet new people and have some drinks while looking forward to what the next day had to offer. 

Saturday morning came rather quickly after a late first night. Many were up early to ensure time to have some coffee and breakfast before starting the day. I had opted to bring my own food for the weekend, but brought some cash with me in the event that I wanted to buy something. All the food looked great but a specific shoutout to the honey glazed donuts that you could buy. They were too good.

I had signed up for the Intermediate Tandem Canoe course for the first day, and for the second day I signed up to do a full run of the lower Madawaska River. Our day was split into 2 parts to allow some time to warm up. The morning we stayed on flat water working on our paddling strokes and technique. After a short break for lunch it was time to get into the whitewater. We spent the afternoon working on our C turns and S turns and at the end of the day did a run of a short section of the river leading back to the camp. The rest of the night was spent socializing while listening to live bands play in the background. 

I was up early on Sunday morning as the weather had been calling for rain and I was hoping to pack up before it hit us. Many people were tearing down their camp so that they could leave directly from the take out after the run of the river. Apparently there were many people who did not make their classes on Sunday after the late night they had Saturday.

Once we were fully packed we shuttled all the cars and boats down towards the lower Madawaska River.  The first few sets of rapids were nice warm ups and did not have anything too difficult. Many sets were very good to practice eddying out, as well as C turns and S turns. We also had a number of opportunities to work on ferrying across the river. 

Halfway down the run of the river, we took a stop for a quick lunch at one of the larger sets on the run. This gave people the opportunity to run the set a few times for practice. There were a number of boats that were flipping due to the high waves that were featured at this set. Once everyone had had a few chances at the rapid we continued on down the river. There are still a number of fun sets of rapids to hit beyond the lunch spot.

After arriving back at the takeout spot, I returned my gear, and loaded up into my car to drive home. I believe I have officially been converted to be a regular at this festival. I would highly recommend to those who are looking for a fun weekend filled with excellent instruction.

Alex

Kawartha Highlands - Serpentine Lake Loop

SNAPSHOT

Time: 2-3 days

Total Distance: 22km

Portages: 7 

Longest Portage: 1400m

Total Portage Distance: 2765 m

Portage Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (1 long portage but fairly easy to complete)

Paddling Difficulty: Easy

Overall Difficulty: Easy

We decided to do a 1 night trip to celebrate the ice out and get our paddles wet for the first time this year. Kawartha Highlands was one of the only parks we called that could actually say that the ice was out. It was also just past Trout opening and we were hoping to maybe have some luck on the few lakes in the Kawartha Highlands that are actually stocked with them. 

Day 1: Anstruther Lake Access - Serpentine Lake

We left early on the morning of Saturday April 22nd, with Noah doing the majority of the packing the night before. We were on the road shortly after 6am and arrived at the parking lot at the Anstruther Lake access point around 9am. Having only one other car in the parking lot, we were hopeful that we might not see anyone on our loop.

Taking our time packing the canoe we were on the water before 10am. We started our paddle up Anstruther Lake slowly regaining our feeling for being in a canoe loaded with gear. There are many cottages on Anstruther Lake and I would imagine that during the prime months of the summer it would be a busy lake to paddle on.

 Cascading waterfalls flowing from Rathbun Lake to Anstruther Lake

Cascading waterfalls flowing from Rathbun Lake to Anstruther Lake

Arriving at the top of Ansruther Lake we could hear moving water near the portage. There was a long cascading waterfall that slowly flowed out of Rathbun Lake and into Anstruther. With the water levels being a little higher this year, this was a really cool spot to explore. The portage itself is fairly straight forward. A short 201m portage that is uphill as you make your way to the higher water in Rathbun Lake. 

 Canoes left at Rathbun Lake from cottagers on Anstruther Lake

Canoes left at Rathbun Lake from cottagers on Anstruther Lake

We set our rods up knowing that Rathbun was one of the lakes that had actually been stocked with Trout. I was loaded up with a little cleo and Noah was trying his luck with a diving Rapala. You are actually not allowed to fish on Ansruther Lake which was very obvious by the number of canoes and boats that were left at the other side of the portage on the Rathbun Lake side.

We tried some areas that were a little more shallow and close to shore first and then moved to trying to troll while we paddled. Unfortunately no luck by the time we reached the end of Rathbun Lake. Here was another short 164m portage into North Rathbun Lake that is not overly difficult. 

 North Rathbun Lake

North Rathbun Lake

North Rathbun Lake is a really nice looking lake. You could tell you were getting a little more remote at this point. We continued our paddle up North Rathbun until reaching the long portage of the trip. We didn't waste time getting started on this portage. We just wanted to get this one out of the way. Carrying "The Mistake" (our heavy Coleman canoe), had proven to be quite the challenge with its weight, as well as the metal bar in the place of the yoke...Also I don't think we were quite warmed up to the idea of portaging this early in the season. The portage itself is not very challenging, but its distance makes it fun with a metal bar across your neck.

Arriving at Serpentine Lake was when we realized why people love this loop. Not that we didn't enjoy the rest of the loop so far, but this was an absolutely beautiful lake. We had not seen a single person yet on our trip which was amazing considering how populated this area gets during the summer. 

We set up camp on site #220 on Serpentine Lake. Our afternoon started off as it typically does. Noah and I like to quickly tackle the task of preparing enough wood for the duration of our stay. Surprising to some, we actually really enjoy processing wood. Especially if we can get our hands on some dry hardwood.

 No bugs means one more night spent in the open concept tent

No bugs means one more night spent in the open concept tent

Once we had a sizeable pile of wood, it was time to setup our tent. Seeing as there was not a cloud in the sky and we had yet to come across a bug, we decided to do one more night with our open concept tarp. Before long, the bugs will be out and you will be thankful to have a place to escape in peace from the hum. 

 

We had a solid coal base in the fire to cook our steaks that we had brought with us for dinner. As this was a shorter trip we had also brought a few beers for us to enjoy around the fire that night. Noah recently got a new Canon camera that he was keen to try out some night shots around the fire. Our night was spent sipping beer and taking night shots before passing out under the tarp.

Day 2: Serpentine Lake - Launch (Anstruther Lake)

Noah was the first one out of the tent at 6am, eager to try and get some photos of the sunrise with the new camera. It was the perfect morning. The site we were on faced East and we had a perfect view to watch the sunrise over the tree line.

 Sunrise on Serpentine Lake site #220

Sunrise on Serpentine Lake site #220

We had plans to be up and out in good time but it's hard to leave when you have a glass calm lake in front of you with weather that allows you to be in a t-shirt. Taking our time making breakfast and having some coffee, we were not off the site until about 10am.

We paddled the remainder of Serpentine Lake until we arrived at our next portage. Another short 220m portage that ended in a creek that led into Copper Lake. 

 End of portage from Serpentine Lake to the creek leading to Copper Lake

End of portage from Serpentine Lake to the creek leading to Copper Lake

We paddled our way through the creek and into Copper Lake. We were already feeling the winds picking up a little and were worried for what we had ahead of us on Anstruther Lake. We arrived at the next portage that goes from Copper Lake and into what we believe to be still part of Copper Lake (it was unnamed on the map that we had).

This portage requires a little bit of attention. There is a cottage right where the rapids start for this portage. There seemed to be an ATV trail that starts by going along the portage, but then the portage actually branches off to the left. Something that Noah missed while having the canoe over his head, and I didn't notice as I followed closely behind him. It wasn't long before we stopped to take a break only to realize that we were not going in the right direction. Most of the portages so far had been marked very well. When I had not seen a sign in a while, I questioned the route we had taken.

Retracing our steps we came across the portage sign that we had walked right past on the first run. A perfect example on how to turn a 370m portage into a 750m portage by going in the wrong direction. I think this is why people recommend not taking the heavy stuff on your first trip...This portage is a little more tricky with the long stretch of downhill at the very end.

Paddling a little further we arrived at the 214m portage into Rathbun Lake. This portage has a beautiful waterfall that flows into Rathbun Lake. If we were not on a schedule to get back I think we could have spent the entire day there. 

We continued our paddle until we arrived at the portage with all the boats again. This was the final portage back into Anstruther Lake. We loaded the canoe for the final stretch of paddling we had back to the launch. The wind was fairly strong right off the bat, but little did we know we had not yet seen the peek of its strength.

Slowly approaching the turn where we would head west before the final stretch south to the launch, we could see white caps on some of the waves. We took a few moments to rest in the calm waters that were on the leeward side of the land before setting off for our final stretch. 

Noah was sitting in the front and would turn around every so often after we would go up one wave and come crashing down into the next. Somehow we always seem to find humour in these situations while ensuring to stay focused on the task at hand. Before long we were back at the launch with another successful trip under our belt. 

The Kawartha Highlands is a beautiful place to visit. We have particularly enjoyed visiting these areas in the off seasons when it is significantly less busy than the prime season. We managed to make our way around this loop while only seeing other people on Anstruther Lake, which is the one with the most cottages. We highly recommend checking this area out!

Bronte Creek: Spring Run in Southern Ontario

As I’m sure we can all agree, the weather is starting to heat up and people are starting to pull out maps and book time off work for summer trips and adventures. For us, spring means the birth of a new canoeing season.

Before we get into more northern lake system camping, we have started kicking off the season with day trip river-runs in Southern Ontario. For one, these areas are accessible earlier in the season and two, most of these routes are only runnable during the spring melt. These factors make Southern Ontario an ideal place to scrape of that winter rust and get some strokes under your belt before the real “camping” season begins. Last year we started the season with the Credit River, this year we started it with a new route, the Bronte Creek. I first heard of the Bronte Creek last summer and it has been on my radar ever since.

This route is ideal when water levels are between 6.10 and 6.30 m at Station 02HB011  and for canoeists and kayakers who are confident with their ability to navigate around sweepers in quick moving water. The route primarily consists of swifts around bends with a few Class I's and an occasional Class II.

The conditions of the Bronte discussed in this report are based on our findings on April 2nd 2017. Environmental conditions including water levels, river obstacles, portages and technical sections may differ over time. It is very important to check current local hydrology trends at the Water Office prior to canoeing this route. A lot of river systems can become extremely dangerous during high water.

Only paddle your skill level and what your equipment is rated for. Flood water in the early spring is not the place and time to be pushing your limits. 

Route on Bronte Creek from Lowville Park to Lake Ontario

SNAPSHOT:

  • Total Distance: 25 km
  • Portages: 3 (not including pull-overs and lining)
  • Total Portage Distance: 350 m
  • Longest Portage: 150
  • Portage Difficulty: Easy
  • River Difficulty: Intermediate (technical sweeper sections)
  • Number of Days: 1

We arrived at Lowville Park, in Burlington at 11:30 am on April 2nd. The weather was 11 degrees and sunny. We were on the water by noon and we were quickly welcomed by swifts and Class Is which were at every bend of the river. For the first few kms the river meanders through parkland and residential area. This area becomes technical and requires competent paddling. The water levels themselves weren’t the challenge but the excessive amount of blow downs and sweepers were. It seemed like every bend had a sweeper crossing it. Because of this, a lot of sections required initial scouting to successfully get through the tree blocked sections.  

Sweeper City and Rough Canoeing

The first 5 kms of the route consisted of short paddle spurts followed by getting out of the canoe to scout, line or portage technical sweeper sections . These delays caused us to only accomplish 5 km in the first 2 hours.  This section of the route was very taxing and the short we distance covered started to become a concern when we realized it was 2 o’clock and we still had 20 km to make it to our take-out at Bronte Beach Park on Lake Ontario.

After the first few hours we were starting to get a little discouraged, a little dazed and in retrospect we our minds started to wander and we lost focus. This is a mental state you don’t want when you’re trying to navigate unfamiliar water. And a lesson we quickly learned.

The Canoe Tip

At about 7 km down the river we started to enter a heavily forested area. The sweepers were slowly starting to ease up but at this point we were trying anything to avoid getting out of the canoe.

We were paddling around a bend when we caught eye of a log crossing the entire river. It was semi-submerged and there was moderate waist-deep water flow . This low consequence obstacle motivated us to try to shuffle over it to avoid getting out of the canoe again.

We paddled up to the log, beached the canoe and slowly rocked ourselves as the boat shuffled its way across. This was an easy maneuver and it seemed like the best option at the time.

 As we shuffled off the end of the log we were both focused on the stern not getting stuck. Finally being released, we became dislodged on an angle as we floated down river. Being happy that we didn’t have to get out we started patting ourselves on the back. What we didn’t notice was that we were floating down stream sideways with a small sweeper approaching. Not realizing the true power of the water, we bumped up against the tree sideways and then started trying to reposition ourselves. By that time it was too late. As soon as we hit the tree, the canoe started tipping and the water started flowing into the boat and by that time it was game over. Before we knew it the boat was fully submerged.

At the time, I was in the stern, and quickly jumped out of the canoe into the waste deep water. Alex on the other hand, was in the front and somehow got between the sunken canoe and the sweeper. For a moment Alex found himself stuck in an awkward position that was more of a surprise than anything. He quickly stood up and pushed himself and the canoe off the sweeper as we both took a moment to take in what just happened. We were standing in waste-deep ice water with a sunken canoe in early April.

Having a momentary lapse in judgement, we quickly paid the consequence. Although we did not feel that we were in severe danger it was overall a truly humbling experience. We quickly dragged the canoe and our equipment to shore and took a moment to reflect on what happened.

 After the spill we had a new appreciation for the power of moving water and it really enforced the necessity to always keep your mind on task when you’re on the water. Luckily for us it was a low consequence situation but none-the-less, an eye opening experience.

After collecting ourselves and our Nalgenes (which floated down stream) we continued down river fully engaged in every stroke and turn of the canoe.

Bronte Creek Provincial Park

About an hour after our tip, the river started to become more free of river-wide sweepers and we were able to travel at a more efficient rate. The route as of now had been relatively flat in low lying areas with rolling grassy hills in sparsely forested areas. At about 11 km the landscape started to transition into steeper banks and shale outcrops as we approached Bronte Creek Provincial Park. As we paddled we were accompanied by large spawning steelhead and suckers as we floated through crystal clear gravel beds. A note to mention is that it is very important to have minimal impact on the breeding grounds of these delicate fish species. When paddling, be mindful of your strokes and try not to disrupt the river bed. For an urban canoe route, the river was teeming with life which is great to see and something we as canoeists should try our best to preserve.

As we entered Bronte Creek Provincial Parks, water became faster with short Class I and IIs. This portion of the route, in my opinion, is the most spectacular with views which include large, vertical, red shale cliffs.  In this section you are committed to the route because you are surrounded by an 80 foot gorge for 10 km.

There are a few sections that require some scouting as well as one 150 m portage around a log jam.

Once out of the Bronte Creek Provincial Park, the river continues to meander as the river starts to widen and slow down after Rebecca Street, 23 km from the put-in. Once you reach Lake Ontario there is no significant moving water.

We reached the take-out at Bronte Beach at 6:00 pm. After the initial hiccups and slow travel rate, it took us 6 hours to complete the 25 km route. Overall, the route was very rewarding because of the amount of technical sections, as well as the beautiful scenery and wildlife. We would recommend this route to anyone looking for an intermediate river in Southern Ontario during the spring melt.  

The Crack - Killarney - Winter Camp

 The Crack - Killarney

The Crack - Killarney

SNAPSHOT:

  • Total Distance: 6 km (3 each way)
  • Trip Difficulty: Easy-Difficult (depending where you want to camp)
  • Number of Days: 2-3

It was a last minute trip that we decided to do in Killarney. Our initial weekend plans fell through, and we were eager to get out for another winter camping trip.

Noah, Andrew and I were going to be towing our blue sleds once again, and our friend Gary was going to be pulling a sled that he had built, that seemed to have a better construction.

We drove up Friday night after work pulling into the parking lot at George Lake at 11:00pm. Gary had driven up separately and was there when we arrived.  We shared a few drinks by the car while looking at the stars and planning our excursion. We had very rough plans that involved camping somewhere on route to “The Crack.”

We woke up at 8am and there was moisture on the insides of all of the windows. I guess squeezing 3 guys into a vehicle would do that. Needless to say none of us got the best sleep that night. Noah sleeping on the sleds, Andrew sleeping in a sitting position, and I had my feet wedged between the front two seats so I could stretch out while sitting in the back.

The office opened at 8:30am and I picked up the permits while the rest of the group boiled water for oatmeal and coffee. Noah and I had both recently bought new “Stick Stoves” that we were pretty keen to try out. These stoves basically give you a container to build a fire in using sticks so you don’t need to bring fuel with you.

Since the planning for the trip was fairly rushed, we managed to make a mistake on the meal prep, bringing only 8 packs of oatmeal for the 4 of us. This had to last two breakfasts! I think Gary was starting to question his decision to leave the meals up to us…luckily between all of the granola bars and jerky, we managed to get a bit of food in us that would hopefully get us to the top.

After we finished breakfast we drove the 7km down the road to the parking lot for “The Crack,” which is really not marked well at all.  There was only one other car in the parking lot, which is a lot different then when you come in the prime months and people are parked all the way out to the highway.

We loaded our sleds and set underway at 10am. We didn’t yet know exactly where we could camp but we knew we would figure it out as we went.

 Starting the trek to The Crack

Starting the trek to The Crack

The first section of the trail is nothing too crazy. It is relatively flat for the first kilometer or so before it starts to climb up the mountain. Shortly after we passed over Kakakise Lake is where the real incline starts. This is where we decided to leave our sleds thinking that it might be too difficult to get the sleds up the hill.

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We packed a few beers and some lunch and began our hike. Noah, Andrew and I used our snowshoes for the first section of the climb and it seemed to help in some areas. Gary was doing well trekking on with just his pair of boots leaving his snowshoes behind with his sled.

The climb to the top of The Crack really does not take too long. It seemed to go by very quickly but I find I am easily distracted on these hikes that have such beautiful views.

The view from the top is absolutely stunning. Being in the same spot in the fall, it was nice to be able to see it in a different season. We had lunch and a beer and continued hiking past the top section of The Crack. Gary was familiar with 3 other smaller lakes that he was interested in checking out.

 The top of The Crack with frozen lakes

The top of The Crack with frozen lakes

The hike continued for another kilometer or so before we arrived at the first of the small lakes, Little Superior Lake. The hike along the ridge offers many scenic views over the lakes that are below. It is worth the hike back if you have the time to do so.

At this point it was around 3pm, and knowing that Noah, Andrew and I had to set up a tarp to sleep under, as well as gather wood for the night, we opted to make this our turn around point. Gary continued on to check out the other lakes, which he assured us we missed out on.

For those who are familiar with the trail, the very first of the incline sections is one of the most difficult sections of the hike. It is steep, you need to watch your footing, and there are not many flat sections to give you a break. This section takes you up and into the forest that is on the same level as Kidney Lake.

We had made Gary a deal that if we were to carry his sled up for him, he would accept the new location to set up camp at the top of the first steep section. The spot at the bottom where we had left our sleds did not offer much privacy from the trail or much protection from the wind. Also we were really keen to set up in the forest by Kidney Lake.

Dragging 4 sleds up a steep incline is no easy matter. Breaks were taken frequently but it still didn’t save the sleds any damage. Once we got our first 3 up, Noah and I climbed back down to grab Gary’s sled, which we chose to carry on our shoulders to keep it in one piece.

 Feeling pretty warm in our cold tent

Feeling pretty warm in our cold tent

The next few hours were spent doing what we like best, setting up our tarps and sleeping bags, as well as processing all the wood we would need for the night. Dinner that night consisted of Chilli and Sausages. It was nice to have a solid meal after a hard days work.

We watched the sun set over Kidney Lake with The Crack in the background. We had seen another gentleman who was climbing to the top of The Crack to camp for the night to get some photos. We could see his headlamp as he walked around the rocks up top that night.

Sharing some drinks and good stories around the fire before we settled in for the night. Gary had brought some southern comfort with him to share and we think it will be a staple on our trips going forward. This was Andrew’s first experience sleeping under a tarp and he was pretty excited to give it a go. Once again we made a fire close to our heads as a nice way to fall asleep.

The morning had arrived quickly for me. I think as soon as my head hit the pillow I passed out instantly. Andrew didn’t get as good of a sleep since he had injured his knee the day before and it kept him up that night.

The sun was shining and it was warm out! We loaded up our typical breakfast routine with coffee and oatmeal before tearing down our camp.

The hike back to the car could have been done in a t-shirt it was so warm out. We made great time leaving our site at 11:30am and getting to the parking lot at 1:00pm. We were camped at Kidney Lake so we didn’t have the full hike to do.

 From the left - Gary Storr, Alex Traynor (front), Andrew Ansell, and Noah Booth

From the left - Gary Storr, Alex Traynor (front), Andrew Ansell, and Noah Booth

I think in the future we will need to backpack it, so that we can make it to the top to camp. It would be a cool experience to camp at the top of the mountain but maybe we will save that for Silver Peak next winter. That is one of the benefits of camping in the winter. Being able to camp anywhere really opens up some great options. Another successful camping trip all around, and I think Gary might even consider joining us again!

Steel River Loop

Rainbow Falls - Steel River

BACKGROUND

Over the years we try to get out tripping as much as possible. Unfortunately, like most, the confinements of a day job usually means these last shorter than we’d like. Despite this, we try to get out for at least one annual trip that is a little more lengthy.

With each one of these annual trips we try to add a new twist to the route. This has subsequently meant that with each route we would try to push our limits a littler further and get ourselves a little more remote. What started as extended trips in southern Ontario, quickly became an allure to get ourselves into more isolated regions which would test us both physically and mentally.
 

STEEL RIVER

This past year we found ourselves looking at the Steel River as an option. The Steel River is a Provincial Park near Terrace Bay, Ontario. The park has no facilities and does not require any permitting. The landscape consists of long, deep, narrow lakes, rugged cliffs, ravines, swamps, rivers, rapids and oxbow lakes.

We caught wind of this route in Kevin Callan’s Ontario’s Lost Canoe Routes. For further information we used Ramblin’ Boy’s website. Both of these reports have very useful information including technical maps and other documentation.

The difficulty and beauty of the route portrayed in both Kevin’s and Ramblin’s report made this trip sound very appealing. It was safe to say that we were hooked.

SNAPSHOT

  • Total Distance: 170 km
  • Portages: 19
  • Total Portage Distance: 6000 m
  • Longest Portage: 1670 m
  • Portage Difficulty: Advanced (rugged terrain that is unmaintained)
  • Number of Days: 8
  • Maps: Coldwell- 042D15, Killala Lake- 042E02, Spider Lake- 042E07
  • Resources:
    Kevin Callan’s “Ontario’s Lost Canoe Routes
    Ramblin’ Boy's Blog Post on the Steel River

 

PART ONE: INTRODUCTION

We gave ourselves 10 days to complete the trip which included the 12 hour drive from home in Toronto. On a Friday night in late July we headed up from Toronto and drove until 3:00am to Sault Ste. Marie. Being the cheap, adventurous type that we are, we decided that it would be best to sleep in the parking lot of a grocery store in what seemed to be a relatively sketchy neighbourhood. We grabbed some much needed rest before waking up dazed and confused to continue for the final 5 hours to the put-in on Santoy Lake.

Santoy Lake is 4km off the Trans Canada and is accessed by a dirt road. We arrived at the put-in on the Southwest tip of the lake for 1:00pm where we were greeted by the stunning scenery and one other car. While we were unpacking we got into a conversation with a local who was fishing on Santoy for the day. We explained what our plan was and he proceeded to tell us that we were nuts…particularly because of the grueling terrain we would have to face. After reading Kevin’s report and Ramblin’s blog, we were well informed of a deadly portage that we would have to tackle right off the bat; that being the infamous Diablo portage.

 The Diablo Portage

The Diablo Portage

DIABLO PORTAGE

We left the launch at 1:45 and paddled for roughly 7km before we were introduced to the beast of a portage. Paddling up the shores it looked apparent that this was not your ordinary portage…what we were looking at looked more like a mountain. This infamous portage known as “Diablo” could have been named this because of the adjacent lake, Diablo Lake, but it could have also been named this because of the hell it puts you through. Being only 1600m, it really makes you work for every meter.

We found that the portage can be divided into three main technical sections which all had their own tricks and treats.

 The Fern Forest along the Diablo Portage

The Fern Forest along the Diablo Portage

Section 1: The Slopes. Extremely Steep terrain. This section required switch backs and extreme panting

Section 2: Fern Forest. Ferns covering basketball-sized rocks which worked well in camouflaging cracks and crevices. Be very careful moving over loose rocks and blind sections where a wrong move could easily result in a twisted or broken ankle

Section 3: Rock Garden.  Car-sized boulders which require the canoe to be threaded through small gaps and passages.

For more details on the Diablo Portage, click to watch the Raw Footage

The total portage required us to make two trips and was completed in 2.5 hours. The time it takes to complete really depends on your fitness level as well as the weather because sections of the route can become extremely hazardous in wet/rainy conditions. Luckily for us, Alex was coming off a half iron man and conditions were favourable which led to us completing Diablo in a relatively short time. 

Once we arrived on Diablo Lake we were both sleep deprived and physically drained. We paddled the short distance to the island camp, had dinner and then went to bed.

 

Day 2- DIABLO LAKE

 Perfect morning on Diablo Lake

Perfect morning on Diablo Lake

Diablo Lake is roughly 2.4 km long with a maximum depth of 49 m with an average depth of 6m. Fish species include Brook Trout. Expect to see cliff faces and steep rocky terrain along the water’s edge.

We woke up at 7:00 to another beautiful morning. The lake was glass calm and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. We spent a couple hours at camp enjoying the fire and going through our maps before packing up.

Paddling the short distance up Diablo Lake Alex was able to catch us a beautiful brook trout.  Being Alex’s first brooky, we kept it for a shore lunch where we would stuff it with onion and bacon and slow roast it on a bed of coals. If you have never tried brook trout before I would highly recommend it. The cold, fresh water that these fish live in make for an unbelievable tasting fish.  Be sure to always consult with the areas fishing regulations before keeping any fish.

We reached the end of Diablo Lake where there were three consecutive portages. These portages are relatively short and connect small fens which link Devils Lake to Cairngorm Lake. Assuming we already completed the toughest portage on the route, we approached these with a cocky attitude assuming they would be a walk-in-the-park compared to Diablo. These delusions quickly vanished once we realized the only difference between these portages and Diablo were that they were shorter (and bit less steep). Once again we were pushing our way through tight overgrown paths weaving through rocks and fallen trees.

CAIRNGORM LAKE

 New personal best for Noah on this Lake Trout

New personal best for Noah on this Lake Trout

Cairngorm Lake is roughly 17km long with a maximum depth of 60m with an average depth of 15m. Fish Species include Lake Trout and Northern Pike. Expect to see large cliff faces and steep, rolling, mountainous terrain.

We carried out the rest of the day canoeing through this long, narrow lake. Along the way we hooked into two Lake Trout. These trout were personal bests for both myself and Alex which made this moment an absolutely surreal experience.


We ended up spending the rest of the day on the water fishing and slowly making our way up Cairngorm. We stopped at a rocky point for a shore dinner and had a swim before heading a bit further to find a site.  We paddled until dusk looking for the third campsite marked on Kevin Callan’s map.  For whatever reason we couldn’t find it so we made use of a miniature beach which looked to be just wide enough to pitch a tent for the night.

Day 3

 Camping on a mini beach

Camping on a mini beach

The next morning we were greeted by beautiful conditions once again.  We watched the morning fog slowly be burned off by the rising sun as we pushed off at 8:00am for the day’s paddle.

Near the end of the lake we started seeing the presence of past forest fires. The terrain started to become more barren and was dominated by birch and alders. Once we reached the portage, the path was almost impenetrable with these fast-growing trees, shrubs and blowdowns. Luckily for us, a past canoeist was kind enough to tie up some orange tape which kept us heading in the right direction as we plowed through branches and shrubberies.  This 590m portage took us a little over an hour to complete.

PART 2: Let's get to the turn around

ESKER LAKE

Esker Lake is roughly 1 km long with a maximum depth of 27m, and an average depth of 5m. Fish Species include Brook Trout and Walleye. Expect to see weeds and reeds, rolling terrain and lower succession forests.

After the portage leaving Cairngorm. We reached a small river system that would take us into Esker Lake. This is the first section of the route with creek paddling. The creek had a very mild current and meandered through shallow sections and dead fall from the early 2000’s forest fire. This section requires a few carry overs but is not physically demanding or technical.

 The bridge on Esker Lake road

The bridge on Esker Lake road

 This sign was lying on the ground so did not help in pointing us in the right direction

This sign was lying on the ground so did not help in pointing us in the right direction

Once in Esker Lake it is a quick paddle to more creek paddling through marshy shallow water. Again, this section is short and sweet, until you reach a large-scale beaver dam. The beaver dam is marked on Kevin Callan’s map as a 170m portage around the East shore of the obstacle. It turns out, you shouldn’t waste your time looking along theses shores, the portage is on the west side right on the peninsula. From here there is an easy navigable portage which will take you to Esker Lake road. From here the portage gets a little trickier. The rest of the route takes a little bush wacking as you follow what looks like animal paths that criss-cross through the bush. Eventually you will find one trail that will take you all the way down to the river. The total portage decreases by 10m in elevation from start to finish. Most of this takes place near the end of the portage…watch your footing!

STEEL RIVER

Once at the bottom of the portage, the current becomes a little more apparent and the river meanders through marshy wetlands. Along this section there was an abundant amount of water fowl that kept thinking they could escape us by splashing down river past the next bend. You could see the frustration in their eyes every time we came around the next corner and surprised them. It turned in to a game of Heard the Ducks Down the Steel River! Fun for us, annoying for them.

Near the end of this section the marshy creek starts showing signs of a faster current and cobble. As the creek nears Steel Lake, the creek narrows and a rocky bottom becomes more apparent. Here there is a marked 80m portage which will take you around a section of shallow rocky water. Instead of portaging we lined the canoe down the shallow water. It turned out there were many sharp rocks and if we didn’t have the “The Mistake” (Our beefy plastic Coleman canoe), we probably would have put a hole in our canoe. We don’t recommend lining.

STEEL LAKE

Steel Lake is roughly 28km long with a maximum depth of 64m, and an average depth of 16m. Fish Species include Walleye and Northern Pike. Expect to see the presents of past forest fires, steep, mountainous terrain, and cliff faces. This narrow, long, deep lake is one of the most scenic portions of the route.

We worked our way up Steel Lake catching a couple walleye and pike as we paddled. This lake was one of the personal favourites in terms of landscape and scenery. We weren’t the only people to think this, on the southern portion of the Lake we saw the first signs of human activity. A fishing outpost. Although we didn’t see anyone, it was odd seeing motor boats in such a remote location. It just goes to show you how hard it really is to find a place of total solitude.

 The site we found on a Peninsula along Steel Lake

The site we found on a Peninsula along Steel Lake

We paddled on Steel Lake until 5:30pm where we then found a very nice, scenic site on a rocky peninsula. This particular site was not marked on Kevin Callan’s map but it did look to be used before. The site was open and rocky which only had one traditional flat mossy spot to pitch our tent. Unfortunately, there was a large dead tree right beside the pad. Due to this we didn’t feel comfortable sleeping under dead wood so we had to make due with a flat, open rock face exposed to the elements. To make our pad a little more comfortable we gathered some lichen to put under our tents. Although crunchy, this worked very well to soften our floor.

Day 4

 I can't see a thing past the edge of the shore...

I can't see a thing past the edge of the shore...

We woke at 6:00am with the goal to reach Aster Lake, the lake where we would turn south and start paddling down the more defined Steel River. When we got out of the tent we were welcomed by fog so thick you could cut it with a knife. Like the other mornings, we quickly got to business brewing coffee and preparing our oatmeal.

 Noah caught a walleye that was a new personal best

Noah caught a walleye that was a new personal best

We left the site by 7:50 and paddled the 20km to the end of the lake by 2:45. The conditions along this portion of the route were amazing; the water was glass calm and the sun was shining. Words can’t describe how great the weather was. Along the way both of us hooked into our personal best walleye as well. Another amazing fishing experience brought to you by the great Steel River Provincial Park.

At the Northern end of the lake, reeds start to become present and sand bars scatter the shoreline as the Lake drains into the Steel River. Here there are three consecutive portages that go around rapid and technical sections. Depending on water levels these rapids can either be run or lined. We attempted to run the first 240m portage which had barely enough water to get us through. The second portage could not be run due to a large rocky drop-off on the bottom section of the 510m portage. The third portage would be considered class 1 rapids in higher water, but due to water levels, this 140m portage had to be lined.

ASTER LAKE

We arrived on Aster Lake around 5:30 where there is a site directly adjacent to the final portage. The site is a grass flat with signs of human ingenuity in the form of bushcraft tables and chairs. It was strange to suddenly see signs of fellow campers, but after looking at the map, there is an alternate access route North of Aster Lake from the Kimberly Clark logging road. We opted to stay on this site for the night.

 Campsite on Aster Lake - more obvious signs of human activity at this site

Campsite on Aster Lake - more obvious signs of human activity at this site

Across the lake from the site there is a large landslide which exposed the sandy soil on the steep slope of Aster Lake. The deep, rocky lakes of the earlier portion of the route were slowly being replaced with sandy banks and shallower lakes. One of the many aspects of how diverse this route is.

That night we paddled over to the rapids of the final portage for a little fresh fish for dinner. We were presently surprised to be bombarded with walleye almost every cast. We kept a couple for dinner and went to bed looking forward to what the Steel River had to offer.

PART 3 - The Steel River

Day 5: Aster Lake to Steel River

We rolled out of the tent at 7:30am eager for the day of swifts and rapids we had ahead of us. We had some breakfast and had the canoe packed by 10:00am when we pushed off. There were some emotions that came with crossing the mid-point on our trip. It was going to be all “down-stream” from here.

We managed to get though the first few set of swifts with relative ease. Battling with the low water levels seemed to be working in our favour whiling bumping into the odd rock here and there.

 Alex climbing trees on the Steel River

Alex climbing trees on the Steel River

We think we passed about 15 sets of swifts on our way down the river before hitting the 140m portage that we had to do. It was about 8km down the river when we pulled over at the side of the shore, where a tree was arched perfectly over the river. Alex took the opportunity to stretch his legs and climb the tree for a picture.

Shortly after the tree the river ran along a beautiful cliff face. We took this as an opportunity to try and locate where we were on the map and have a sip of whisky while we were at it. Knowing that we didn’t have much longer until the 140m portage, we continued on.

 Nice cliff face along the Steel River

Nice cliff face along the Steel River

The portage was about 9km from where we had started our paddle that day. The water levels did not permit us to run the rapids, so we were forced to do the portage. At the outflow point of the rapids, there was a place that looked perfect for a shore lunch. It also looked like it could be a great spot to fish.

After about 4 minutes, I had caught us 3 pickerel to have for lunch, and Alex was still tying his line. We had a nice shore lunch that was rushed due to the clouds that were rolling in. Before long we could hear the sound of rain hitting the forest around us, and eventually it was right on us. Luckily we had the chance to wrap the canoe in a tarp to keep our gear from getting soaked.

 The fishing hole - Steel River

The fishing hole - Steel River

We continued down the river trying to keep spirits up as the rain came pouring down on us. Alex and I put our heads down and paddled on. Before this rain, the weather had been perfect with not a cloud in the sky. It was starting to get difficult to focus on making progress forward.

Just when hopes were getting low, Alex turns around and whispers to be quiet. I immediately look ahead to see a giant bull moose drinking in the river. It didn’t matter how cold or wet either of us was, we were completely distracted by the sight we had in front of us.

 The moose that kept our spirits alive during the rain

The moose that kept our spirits alive during the rain

We managed to get a few photos of him before hoping to paddle past without disturbing him. It only took a few paddle stokes before he lifted his head and went tearing across the river to run into the forest. He obviously wasn’t looking for anyone to join his party that day.

It wasn’t much further past the moose that the weather let up and we started to look for a spot to camp. We found a spot where low water levels had created a bit of a beachfront, to a spot in the woods that we could camp. This site had a beautiful rock face right across the river from us.

 Camp 5 - Beach site next to a cliff face on the Steel River

Camp 5 - Beach site next to a cliff face on the Steel River