Boreal to Barrenlands: Traversing Labrador

An unprecedented canoe journey through the Labrador wilderness

On July 12th, 2019, Noah Booth, Alex Traynor, Dave Greene and Chris Giard will embark on a 35-day canoe expedition where they will paddle, portage and track their canoes 840 kms from Labrador City, Labrador’s westernmost community to the coastal village of Nain, Labrador’s northernmost permanent settlement. The route is designed to traverse Labrador in its entirety where they will travel through three major ecosystems, and cross two heights of lands.

The key objective of the expedition is to gain a cultural and environmental perspective of one of Canada’s last remaining wilderness frontiers and become the first modern day team to connect Labrador City to Nain in one trip. Throughout, the journey will be captured through film to produce a documentary that will be submitted to film festivals, as well as be promoted through their social media platforms and sponsors. In doing so, they will highlight and pay homage to the historic travellers such as the Naskapi and Montagnais Innu people who have used these lands for generations as ancestral hunting grounds as well as the European explorers such as A.P. Low, William Cabot and most recently Herb Pohl who have mapped these lands through extraordinary exploration.

Expedition Team:



The Meanest Link: Around Algonquin Park In 10 Days

Introduction

Each year we like to plan a big trip that either brings us to a new exciting area, or challenges us in a new way. This year we struggled with limited vacation time. Only having a total of 9 days to spend on the water, travelling far for a trip was only going to shorten that available time. Kaydi, a colleague of mine, suggested that we try to complete The Meanest Link in Algonquin Park. 380km (the distance we thought the trip was) in 9 days meant we would be paddling a minimum of 43km per day. More than double what we usually plan for in daily distance. Noah first asked me, “Is this even possible?” To which I referred to the current record holders time of 7.5 days to complete the loop saying “Maybe?”

The Meanest Link route in Algonquin Park - Full Map

This idea was equal parts scary and exciting which made it feel like the right choice for this years trip. Since we were going to be pushing our limits to a new extreme, we thought we could also use this as an opportunity to raise money for Project Canoe, an organization taking at-risk youth on backcountry canoe trips. Once solidifying this with Tim Richardson, executive director of Project Canoe, we turned to some of our favourite brands to help with the fundraiser. With the support of Salus Marine Wear, Grey Owl Paddles, Agawa Canyon Inc, and Project Canoe, we were able to raise a total of $3295. We also had great support from Randy Mitson and Gord Baker with Algonquin Outfitters in organizing 2 food drops and providing real time trip updates in the Meanest Link facebook group.

The final weeks before our trip were really starting to weigh in on us. Talk amongst people online were really starting to make us question our ability to do this loop. We had other trippers warning of the Big East, Nipissing River, and other sections that were going to add major struggles. Some people wished us luck while others were convinced we didn’t have a shot at completing this loop. All very encouraging for a couple dudes that were already questioning if they had bitten off more than they could chew.

Preparation

Food organized into 3 portions. 2 would be food drops.

Noah has moved to Halifax and so this meant that we would have to be very coordinated in what we were going to bring. Noah created a spreadsheet to highlight who was responsible for bringing what. We split the gear and food list in half having weekly calls to make sure we were both on track.

Noah was going to be catching a flight from Halifax to Toronto on Thursday night, arriving at 10:30pm. The plan was to meet at the Oxtongue Lake Algonquin Outfitters for 7am Friday morning.

SNAPSHOT

  • Trip Distance: 424km

  • Total Portages: 107 (based on Jeff’s Maps & not including the endless wading up the Big East)

  • Total Portage Distance: 64km based on Jeff’s Maps & not incl. Big East Wading

  • Longest Portage: 5,400m

  • Most Difficult Portage: Wading up the Big East River

  • Resources: Jeff’s Map (Maps) | Algonquin Outfitters (Food Drops)

Friday August 3rd 2018 - Algonquin Outfitters (Oxtongue Lake) - Big East River

Distance: 46km | Portages: 3 | Portage Distance: 5.5km (*Portage numbers based on Jeff’s Map)

My alarm went off at 4am and the excitement and nerves hit me right away. My car was packed with the canoe already on the roof, I grabbed my coffee and hit the road. I arrived at Algonquin Outfitters at 7am and Noah who was driving from Toronto arrived shortly after me. Noah’s mom Anna, was nice enough to drive Noah up to Algonquin that morning seeing as his car was in Halifax. Despite having all our food split into bags for our 2 food drops, we still pulled all the food out to have another look at it all. This also included a final run through of all our gear. Packing your bags at the beginning of a trip is always more difficult until you find the best way to fit everything and it becomes a choreographed dance.

Algonquin Outfitters - Oxtongue Lake

We had all our bags packed and we were on the dock at the Algonquin Outfitters on Oxtongue Lake for 10am. It was much later than we had hoped to be on the water but we didn’t foresee the later start to be an issue at this point. Anna took our final send-off photo and we were off.

We made our way down Oxtongue Lake dodging the cottagers in their larger boats as we made our way to the Oxtongue River. It was a nice treat travelling with the current on the Oxtongue knowing that it would be a different story once we reached the Big East River. Jeff’s Maps had a 3.8km portage marked on this river that we seemed to have been able to skip a good portion of. The water was high enough for us to paddle down some of the rapids and swifts as we made our way to Lake of Bays. The few portages that we did have to do were really making us question our decision to bring the pelican case with our Canon 80D camera in it. It must have weighed 10lbs with the 6 Canon batteries and extra zoom lens we brought for the chance of seeing wildlife.

Portage Road

Lake of Bays had a lot of natural waves from the wind and the number of large boats present on this lake did not make it any easier for us. We kept our heads down and bopped along making our way from Dwight Bay to Portage Bay where we would make our way into Peninsula Lake. This portage literally went along a road called “Portage Road” which was obviously very fitting. We had a car pull over while we hiked our way down this road saying that they had never actually seen anyone portaging on this road and they were happy that we were justifying its name. After turning down their kind offer to take some of our gear to the end of the portage they were on their way.

As we crossed Peninsula Lake we started to get concerned about our timing. We knew we wanted to make it a decent distance up the Big East River that day and we were slowly losing daylight. We paddled through “The Canal” listed on Jeff’s maps which was a pretty cool river system that larger boats were still able to utilize to get between these two lakes. By the time we made it to Fairy Lake, very dark clouds had formed in the sky and started to roll over the lake. Noah and I discussed the option of paddling along one of the shorelines to be safe but seeing as we were already in the middle of the lake trying to draw the straightest line to Huntsville, we opted to paddle as hard as we could to beat the oncoming storm.

About halfway across this lake we had a larger boat approach us and ask if everything was alright and if we wanted a hand to get to shore quicker. We graciously turned down the offer and continued paddling as hard as we could. The storm seemed to be passing us and never actually hung over us for too long.

We made it into the river system that flows through Huntsville around 6pm and we were starting to get very hungry. As we were tight on time, we considered the option of buying hot food in town, instead of pulling over to boil water and hydrating one of our meals. There was one problem with this idea, neither of us had our wallets on us. Who needs a wallet on a camping trip right? Noah joking asked me “any chance you have your credit card number memorized?” To which I answered “I actually think I might.”

Boston Pizza in Huntsville. Not your typical canoe trip dinner but welcomed with open arms.

We made a phone call to Boston Pizza which we knew was right along the river in hopes to grab a slice and continue on our way. We placed the order for pizza as we figured we were about 15 minutes from reaching the store, they tried charging the credit card number I had provided and it went through! When we arrived at Boston Pizza we had completely forgotten that they actually had docks for boats to land and go for dinner. We pulled up with our fully loaded canoe, tied up and walked onto the patio with our life jackets and bare feet. The Pizza wasn’t quite ready so we grabbed two beers to enjoy before heading out. At this point we were less concerned about making quick time because it was pretty funny being on a canoe trip and having a “fancy” meal.

Huntsville Sunset

We left Boston Pizza at 7pm and continued our paddle towards Lake Vernon. As we paddled under Highway 11 there was an amazing pink sky for the sunset which can be seen perfectly in the first video. Paddling through The Narrows on Lake Vernon there were a number of cottagers who were on their docks watching the sunset since campfires were not an option with the current fire ban. There must have been about 6-8 cottages in a row where people were out on their docks waving as we went by.

As we crossed Lake Vernon it was getting very dark and it was clear there was a big lightning storm in the distance. It was actually really cool to watch as we paddled. The wind was low and we were experiencing the calm before the storm.

The mouth of the Big East River was difficult to spot in the dark and it was a big help having our GPS to keep us on track. Once we were about 25 metres from the entrance we hit the sandy bottom and we both looked at each other with fear. We knew the Big East was going to be a big variable at this time of year due to low water levels and this was not a great sign. We pushed through the sand walking beside the canoe and within a few minutes the water had gotten deeper again and we were back to paddling. A sigh of relief.

It was dark, and it was very difficult to see anything on shore in this river. The storm was making its way closer to us by the minute and although we wanted to make more distance, it was going to be a lot better to set up the tent dry than setting it up getting soaked. We made the decision to pull over and find a place to camp at 9:30pm.

The banks of the river were very high and it was going to be very difficult to get all our gear up including the canoe. Noah scaled his way up and I started passing him gear. We had found a small 8x8 pad just the right size for our tent. We made some dinner, each had a beer to lighten our load for the next day, and watched as the lightning rolled in over our head. Just after we finished our drinks, the rain started to come and we crawled into the tent for the night.

Saturday August 4, 2018 - Big East River - Distress Lake

Distance: 46km | Portages: 3 | Portage Distance: 1km (*not including endless wading up the Big East)

The alarm went off at 5:30am and it was time to start our next day. It is always fun to actually see where you set up camp when you selected your spot in the dark. The river was perfectly still with mist on the water. We tossed back some “protmeal” - Noah’s mix of quaker oats, protein powder, peanut butter powder, and dehydrated bananas, and took our coffee to go. We were on the water by 7:05am and we knew we had a big day fighting the Big East river.

Sandy shore along the Big East River

The first 20km or so of our day consisted of paddling a windy river with sand dunes at each corner. There were a number of trailer parks including Silver Sands and Lagoon Tent and Trailer Park, with people making breakfast and staring as we paddled past.

We eventually got to Arrowhead Provincial Park and got to paddle through the popular Big Bend Lookout and get a bit of a different perspective of it. Someone from up top shouted down asking how we had gotten there. We responded “we paddled from Huntsville!” which was obviously pretty shocking to them.

Big Bend Lookout - Arrowhead Provincial Park

Eventually the current had picked up and it was getting more challenging to paddle. Arriving at our first set of rapids we had to hop out and walk the canoe against the current. These sets of rapids became more and more frequent only offering short sections of flat water to paddle between. We developed a system where one of us would walk with the canoe, holding the bow to guide the canoe between rocks in the rapids. We were walking along rocks that were constantly moving and shifting our feet into positions we were not always ready for. The bow of the canoe also acted as a bit of a crutch so that you could put all your body weight on the canoe and allow your feet to fall into whatever position the river desired. The second person would have a bit of a mental break and would walk along the dry shore, still jumping from rock to rock but at least you had a visual of what you were stepping on. This strategy was also useful for filming this section of the trip, while still making forward progress.

Wading up the Big East River

After hours of pushing through this current our legs were tired from the extra weight of the water in this up-river battle. We pulled over for some hummus and pita to give us the energy we needed to continue on. There were a few situations where we opted to try and portage along the side of the river. Sometimes the guy who was walking the shoreline would pop into the bush to see if there was a trail. This ended up requiring a lot of bushwhacking and sometimes along angled hills that added the risk of slipping and having all the gear fall down with you. Many times we reverted back to the river.

Beautiful cliff along the Big East

It was getting later in the day and we were concerned with the slow progress up this river. We arrived at a waterfall and I went to explore portage options on the right while Noah checked the left. There was a clear trail along the right hand side but it veered so far away from the river it didn’t make sense that this would be the right way to go. By the time I had returned to where Noah had dropped me off, he had already completed the portage simply by walking along the left side of the waterfall. He picked me up in the canoe and brought me to the other side where all I had left to carry was the canoe. We made some peanut butter wraps and both of us were feeling very defeated at this point. It was going to be a struggle to push on. It was hard not to think about the fact that this was only day 2 and we were still not hitting the daily distance that we needed to.

Waterfall before long cascading waterfalls to Distress L.

More lining of rapids and the sun was really starting to set. We arrived at another waterfall and I jumped out to take a quick peak for a portage trail. When I climbed up the first rock I could see that it was actually a long set of cascading waterfalls that seemed to go on for about 800m which is what we had estimated our distance to be from Distress Lake. We grabbed our gear and set out to complete this portage. We bounced back and forth from walking up the rocks as well as going on the trail in the forest. It is good to note that there was actually a decent trail along the left shore here but we were maybe not thinking straight after a long day on the water and tried to take the rocks which in many ways proved to be more difficult.

At the very end of the portage we found a man-made dam that marked the start of Distress Lake. We put the canoe in the water and paddled off into the dark. There were no campsites marked on this lake and it was a really swampy looking lake. We passed a couple camps set up on the right shore about halfway down the lake but they were all occupied by people already. One site actually had about 10-12 tiki torches lit around the site with a roaring bonfire. This would have been pretty cool aside from the fact that there was a major fire ban on in Ontario at this time and these people obviously could care less.

Finally made it to Distress Lake, time to find a site

We paddled on searching for somewhere to sleep. Toward the end of the lake we found a clearing in the trees on the left shore and it looked like a site to camp. We jumped out and it looked like the perfect spot for us. As we were setting up our tent, we heard someone through the forest fire up their ATV about 600m away from us. We saw the lights driving through the trees and all of a sudden they took a turn and were headed directly towards us. Who was this going to be? Are we in trouble for being here? Noah and I stood speechless and awaited our fate. The ATV pulled right up on our site and we could barely make out who was on it until they turned the lights off. It was an older couple that ended up asking how we had found out about this site. Their line was “did you find about about this place on the Google?” To which we explained we had just spotted the clearing and were desperate for a campsite. They agreed to let us stay so long as we did not post about the campsite on the Google. So for all you future linkers out there, this is not a campsite and will likely have a cottage on it by the time you make your attempt.

We finished our Red Curry dinner that Noah had made us and hit the tent by 11pm.

Sunday August 5, 2018 - Distress Lake - Daisy Lake (Officially In Algonquin Park)

Distance: 35km | Portages: 6 | Portage Distance: 8.1km (not including endless wading up the Big East)

We were up at 5:30am doing our usual oatmeal and coffee regimen. We had our camp pack-up and set-up process down to a perfect 1.5 hour routine. Noah would usually get breakfast started as he would be out of the tent first, and I would tear down the tent and pack the inside up. We hit the water by 7am and we were back to the Big East struggle. There was a bridge we paddled under at the end of Distress lake that we should have taken out at and walked along the road that lined the left side of the river. Unfortunately we did not know this and we tried to take the river up a little further. Then the rapids started once again. While Noah was walking the canoe up river, I had gone for a walk through the woods which is where I came across the road. A short bushwhack about 50m from the river's edge had us on the road for about 1km.

As we got close to getting off the road and back on the river, we came across what looked like someones cabin. Just as we got to the property edge, two dogs spotted us and started charging at us, barking aggressively and the owner was not in sight. Noah had the canoe over his head and I envied him as he could potentially turtle up and hide if he wanted to. I on the other hand was carrying the pack mule load that left me like a sitting duck. Noah shouted not to look them in the eye and to just let them walk around us. They circled us barking for about 2 minutes and we wondered what we were going to do. Finally the owner crawled out of a tent and called the dogs back to his side and we got the heck out of there. This road was likely private property so while it is definitely the easier route to take, we want to warn you of this fact.

Approaching Finlayson Lake

We continued our paddle and passed a number of hunting blinds in the trees. The river was still throwing lots of rapids at us and as the river started to get narrow, they started to get deeper and more difficult to walk in. We found a few portages along the side of the river but many of these had not been used in years and it was easy to lose the trail. There were also a lot of blow-downs that required us to navigate our 18 foot canoe up and over trees  causing blockages up to 10 feet tall.

Finally a portage sign….happy to be off the Big East River

As we approached Finlayson Lake, we started to prepare ourselves for the two portages going into McCraney Lake. We know in the past this has been a bushwhack for many linkers but there are two new portages and we were unsure of what shape they would be in. We were tired and there was even more lining to get from Finlayson to the first portage. I specifically recall the feeling when we turned the final corner on the river and we could see a yellow portage sign. Such a “sign of relief” seeing as we knew this was going to take us into Algonquin. While this was just the beginning of many more portages, we were happy to have signs and trails as opposed the the ankle breaking river wading, and sketchy bushwhacking brought to you by the Big East. At this point we said peace to the Big East and put our head down as we entered the park.

One of the two portages going into McCraney Lake had an aggresive incline on it. We must have stopped about 4 or 5 times to take breaks and each time I would say something to the effect of, “there is no way this can go any further up hill.” To which moments later I would put my foot in my mouth as it kept climbing.

Launching into McCraney Lake we stopped at the very first point to take a swim and cool off. I got a leech stuck to me here and after ripping it off, the boat looked like a murder scene with how much blood came out. That “sucker” must have had me pretty good.

On the portage from Little McCraney Lake into Rain Lake, we knew Randy from Algonquin Outfitters had hooked us up with our first food drop. We got to the end of this flat 1.7 km portage and found our food hanging in a tree like a piñata. We were actually a little concerned with fitting all of that food into our bear barrel and took the opportunity to boil some water and make a pasta that was fairly bulky to free up some space in the barrel.

After eating we were both very tired but we knew we had to continue on. We were passing a bunch of families on Rain Lake who were enjoying the nice weather and swimming while we had to stay focused on the task at hand. We made our way from Rain Lake up to Daisy Lake, and by the time we arrived at Daisy, it was completely dark. We could see lightning in the distance so we found a free campsite and set up camp for the night. We arrived at our site sometime around 10pm and were in bed by 11pm.

Monday August 6, 2018 - Daisy Lake - Nipissing River

Distance: 38km | Portages: 23 | Portage Distance: 9.8km

Just a dude who loves to portage

We knew this was going to be a big day of portaging for us. I had previously done the section from Tim Lake to Ralph Bice Lake and knew how tired I was after those 10 portages totaling 6.1km of total distance. This time it was going to be less than half of what we actually needed to accomplish that day. Not to mention that there were 3 portages to get us from Daisy to Ralph Bice before starting the rest.

We put our heads down and we crushed the 13 portages arriving at Tim Lake just after 1pm. We decided to stop here and have some lunch. This is when we first realized that the wraps we had brought were starting to get mouldy. We put summer sausage, cheese, and mustard on these wraps and dusted off what we could of the mould.

On route to Big Bob Lake, tackling portage number 16 on the day

We were both tired and we had a lot left to accomplish this day. My legs were really starting to chafe and I hiked up my bathing suit to try to make my legs rub a little less. You can find this ridiculous look of mine in the video. By the time we made it to Big Bob Lake we had completed 17 portages totaling 9.1km in portage distance. We had one final portage from Big Bob Lake before we would find out what our fate was on the Nipissing River, another big variable at this time of year.

The start of the Nipissing River. Where is the water at?

Arriving at the put-in of the Nipissing River, it was not looking promising. Water levels were low as anticipated and it wasn’t clear how we were getting out of the immediate area were were in. Sure enough the river wound around the corner and while it was shallow, there was enough clearance to float our boat and make progress with our paddles.

The alders had closed in and after a few km’s of pushing through them, we began to wonder if we were in the right place

Eventually the river got wider and we had a really nice paddle down what seemed to be a very remote section of the park. We finished another 5 portages and then started to hit the beaver dams. At this point the river was starting to narrow and the alder bushes that lined the shores were closing in. Eventually the alders were so thick we didn’t have a path to paddle through. We were forcing our way under them and very slowly moving the canoe forwards. At one point we stopped to look at the GPS and it was very difficult to figure out if we were even in the right place. We weren’t sure if in the midst of all of these alders, maybe there was a chance we missed a fork in the river and maybe we were lost. The shore was so covered in alders we couldn’t even get out of the canoe or stand high enough to see anything. It was a very claustrophobic feeling.

We were soaked from the alders, the temp had dropped, there was no more daylight, and we had no idea where we were. Forced to camp on a grass patch along the river.

Seeing as we did not have any other option we pushed onwards. It was getting late and the temperature was dropping. We had gotten completely soaked by going through the thick of the alders and we were getting cold. There was not much daylight left and we were searching for the campsite near the 165m portage before Grass Lake. I was looking at the GPS and thought that we were closer than we really were. I made the decision that we should continue pushing to find this site as the alternatives did not look great.

Eventually we got to a point where we had to call it. We pulled to the side of the river and hoped out onto the grassy marsh that lies on along most of the Nipissing River. Noah used the bear barrel to roll us a place to pitch our tent. We changed into some dry clothes and made dinner. The warm food helped to pick up our low spirits and cold bodies. This was definitely the most rugged we had felt on the trip thus far.

Tuesday August 7, 2018 - Nipissing River to Nipissing River

Distance: 48km | Portages: 14 | Portage Distance: 7.3km

Another view of our sketchy camp setup for night one along the Nipissing River.

We were up at 6am and on the water before 7am. No breakfast for us this morning as we opted to wait until we got to a bit of a nicer spot. Our tent was completely soaked when we packed it up from the grass we had set up on.

The combination of wading up the Big East with the high number of portages meant that we both had a healthy bunch of blisters on our feet. I would cover mine up with band aids in the morning and put socks over to hold them in place. Then I would slide my foot into my soaking wet keen sandals. A great way to start the day.

We set off continuing our paddle down river. After the 365m portage we opted to make breakfast and get some coffee into us. The sun was starting to come out and it allowed us to to dry some clothes on top of the canoe. A few massive trees had fallen into the river requiring us to lift over.

Highview Ranger Cabin along the Nipissing River in Algonquin Park. Wish we could have stayed here…

As we made our way along the 875m portage after Dogay’s Dam, we came across the Highview Ranger Cabin. This cabin used to be utilized by park rangers but was now open for rent through the Ontario Parks website. It was a really cool spot with bunk beds and a wood stove. If the timing worked out better we would have loved to stay here for a night. A good thing to note for others passing this area.

Inside the Highview Ranger Cabin in Algonquin Park

We continued along the Nipissing River trying to cover as much distance as possible. We stopped for lunch along a portage and were disappointed to find out that our mouldy bread had gotten worse. It was getting harder and harder to piece together that million dollar piece of bread. We did do some casts along this stretch of the river and hooked into a few Fall fish which were fun to catch.

It was getting late and we were going to want to start searching for a place to sleep for the night. We pushed through the 1300m portage that has a beautiful lookout over High Falls. We decided we wanted to try to make it to the end of the 850m portage to camp there because we didn’t want to have to do that portage right after breakfast the next morning.

We finished the 850m portage in the dark. We set up the tent and it was absolutely soaked. The fly that was over the tent had a steady drip down onto the floor of the tent. I got my towel out and started to wipe the tent hoping that we could dry it enough that it wasn’t going to cause us any trouble. After completely soaking my towel, I took Noah’s towel and finished the job with his. We let it sit a little longer, had some dinner and then crashed hard for the night.

Last campsite on the Nipissing River. Trying to dry our soaked tent after packing up in the rain on the grass patch from the night before.

Wednesday August 8, 2018 - Nipissing River to Radiant Lake

Distance: 54km | Portages: 8 | Portage Distance: 4.4km

Our first of 5 moose sightings along the Nipissing River. Noah mentioned “There is a real moosy vibe this morning”

We started our paddle down the very calm waters on the Nipissing River. It couldn’t have been more than 15 minutes and we came paddling around a corner only to see a moose standing at the side of the river. Luckily we didn’t spook it right away and were were able to get a little closer to take a photo. Shortly after the moose took off and we continued down the river. After only a couple other bends in the river, we came across yet another moose.

Beautiful morning paddle along the Nipissing River

At this point we decided that we would leave the camera outside of the pelican case since there was a rather “moosy” vibe to the river that morning. As we continued our paddle I took the camera out to get a shot of just the river, while I was looking into the screen on the camera, I could see two objects moving. I look up only to see a cow and calf moose standing at the side of the river together. It didn’t take long for the two of them to run off into the grass. We ended up seeing a total of 5 moose (or meece as we liked to call them) all within an hours time paddling along this beautiful river.

Another moose, or meece as we like to call them

Finally after a few hours of paddling the Nip, we arrived at the 945m portage that goes from the river into Cedar Lake (or the river leading into Cedar Lake). This was the first time in a few days that we had seen a portage sign that said something other than Nipissing River to Nipissing River which meant we were officially moving on to new territories. This was good news for making time but this portion of the trip held a lot of beautiful areas we will have to plan to revisit one day.

Algonquin Outfitters Brent Store - The most northern part of our trip.

We got into Cedar Lake and started heading towards the Algonquin Outfitters Brent Store. We had a few items that we were hoping to buy while here. I obviously did not have my credit card on me but we were hoping we could give them the number. This store itself is really cool and holds a true northern feeling to it. Many antiques line the walls as decoration, signature boards hang from the ceiling showing other paddlers that had paid a visit. Gord Baker had arranged for us to receive ice cream cone upon our arrival which was a welcome treat from Jake at the store. We grabbed our chocolate bars, batteries for the GPS, and band-aids that would hopefully get us through the balance of the trip.

Old train bridge along the Petawawa River

Catfish at the end of the 860m portage going into Radiant Lake

We made our way down Cedar Lake making our way towards the Petawawa River. We were tired from the long day we had already endured but overall our spirits were high. This stretch of the Petawawa was absolutely stunning. Completely calm water with very rocky shores. Once we completed the 860m portage over the old CNR track, Noah did a few casts and managed to catch a decent size catfish. The final stretch of river that follows the 860m portage into Radiant Lake is beautiful and we had an amazing sunset to go with it. We slowly made our way into Radiant, paddling into the dark.

Once we were on the lake we paddled along the left shore looking for an open site. Many of them were taken. Since it was completely dark out we actually had someone yell at us to see if we were alright. I guess they don’t usually get to camp that late. The depths in this lake were interesting and despite being far away from shore, we actually hit ground at one point completely unexpectedly.

Finally we came across a rocky beach that we were able to pull up on, that had a nice open campsite. We made some dinner, set up camp and went to bed for around 11pm.

Thursday August 9, 2018 - Radiant Lake to Bonfield Lake

Distance: 49km | Portages: 21 | Portage Distance: 13.3km

We were up at our usual time but something felt different. I had fallen asleep with my contacts in and it appeared one of my eyes was infected. I could barely open it and the brightness of the sun made it challenging for me to keep my eye open. I had removed my contacts already and was preparing to spend the day wearing my glasses.

Kildeer Lake to Petawawa River. One of many portages, a short one at least!

We set off on Radiant Lake and we knew today was going to be a long one. Lots of distance to cover and definitely over 20 portages. Looking at the map with all the red lines between Radiant and Lake Lavieille, we couldn’t help but laugh.

We made our way down the Petawawa River one portage at a time. There were a lot of floating logs showing obvious signs of the old logging route that went through this area. We happened to run into another group of kids who were all doing a trip down the Petawawa and we paddled alongside until branching off to the Crow River. This section of the river we were back to paddling against the current. We arrived at the 2.4km portage and didn’t waste any time to start making distance. When we arrived at the end of the portage, it wasn’t the greatest feeling seeing the start of the next portage only a few feet away. We crossed the river that was no more than two canoe lengths wide, had a couple beef jerky strips to fuel up, and we were onto the next one. This portage was a straight hike uphill. A tough portage but we were determined because it was the longest portage we were going to have to do for a while.

After a short paddle down Lavaque Lake, it was time to put our heads down. The next section had 8 portages but the largest of them was 610m. When we arrived at the final portage going into Lake Lavieille, there was a sign posted that said Hardy Bay and Dickson Lake had recently been found to have Blue-Green Algae, and that we should not be using this as a source for water. This was going to be a slight problem seeing as neither of us had more than 1 Nalgene of water to last us the next 15 or so kilometers to the bottom of Dickson Lake. Not to mention the 5.5km portage that was going to come after that.

We paddled north on Lake Lavieille to make a visit at the Mean Dude’s favourite campsite. It is the single campsite on a lone island in the north end of the lake. This was a few kilometers out of our way but is a staple for completing the Meanest Link route. The idea is to go here and drink his favourite beer which was a brand known as Genesee. As we were unable to find this beer we went with a Muskoka Cream Ale that was luke warm after travelling in our bear barrel since the Rain Lake food drop.

We drank our beers and shared some pasta that was left over from dinner the night before. We had actually carried this cold pasta in a ziplock bag all day and were snacking on it periodically between portages. This carb-combo we had just indulged in had us feeling lethargic and absolutely not ready to tackle the long distance we still had left. One stroke at a time we made our way down Lake Lavieille and into Hardy Bay, then into Dickson Lake. When we arrived at the 90m portage into Dickson we enjoyed a wonderbar that was specifically planned to be eaten at this spot to give us the boost we needed for the big portage ahead.

Trying to look happy about starting a 5km portage after doing 44km in total distance and already having done 20 other portages…You can also tell something is going on with my right eye (on the left).

We arrived at the start of Algonquin Park’s longest portage at 7:40pm. We had already travelled 44km that day and our portage count was at 20. Nothing like pinching off another 5.5km of portage after a very long day. We tried not to waste any time thinking about it and picked up our packs and started the hike. We took many breaks along the way and the forest was getting darker each break we took. We finished the second half of this portage in complete darkness and arrived at Bonfield Lake at 9:40, exactly two hours to complete this beast.

The stars were shining bright that night and there was a nice fog blanketing the lake. We made some dinner, set up our tent and passed the hell out.

Friday August 10, 2018 - Bonfield Lake to Madawaska River

Distance: 43km | Portages: 11 | Portage Distance: 8km

Camping at the end of the 5km portage going into Bonfield Lake

When we got up Friday morning, the lake was entirely covered in a fog. We could barely see more than 200m in front of us. The sun was shining bright and made for a beautiful morning.

On the water by 7am we started our journey towards the Opeongo Algonquin Outfitters. The short 285m portage going into Lake Opeongo had a really cool open forest leading into the beach along the shores of Opeongo.

Arriving at the north end of Lake Opeongo

Lake Opeongo is Algonquin Park’s largest lake and we knew we had a lot of paddling ahead of us. We had our thermoses of coffee ready to go and the lake was like glass. We made our way out of the East Arm and down into the South Arm. We had been passed by a number of water taxis that were shuttling people from Algonquin Outfitters to the northern parts of the lake we had just come from. It looked like a much easier method of travel across this lake but we were enjoying our paddle, luckily with no headwinds to battle.

After a while the portages will start to get to you.

We arrived at Algonquin Outfitters sometime around lunch and we went inside to grab our second and final food drop and also grab some ice cream. The ice cream snack ended up becoming a real commitment with the large cups they provided it in. It had both Noah and I not feeling great before the upcoming 3km portage we had ahead of us. Still worth it.

The 3km portage going from Opeongo Lake into Sproule Lake was over before we knew it and there were only 5 more between us and Whitefish Lake. There are some beautiful lakes along this stretch and we enjoyed passing through. It had been a long day so far and energy was dwindling. We arrived at the Pond to Kearney Lake portage and expected the usual Algonquin style portage however, we hit a very boggy section that completely divided the portage by what seemed like a micro lake. Using random stumps and rocks that stuck out of the water we managed to navigate our way across without getting soaked in the mud. The end of this portage had also been heavily grown over and became a bit more tricky to get the 18-foot canoe through.

We arrived at the beach on Kearney Lake that would take us across Highway 60 and down into Whitefish Lake. It was funny once again to look at all the people who had driven to this beach all splashing around and relaxing while we were on a whole other mission.

Crossing Highway 60 on a portage is something I have always wanted to do. I grew up car camping in Algonquin Park and always thought it would be fun to portage a canoe across this highway. Really not sure exactly why. Dodging the oncoming traffic we made it across and into Whitefish Lake.

The start of the Madawaska River portion of our trip

It was getting later in the afternoon and we still had a lot of distance to cover. The typical story on this trip. We had some lunch and set off on Whitefish. By the time we hit Lake of Two Rivers my back was killing me and it was getting difficult to push on. At the other end of Lake of Two Rivers we struggled to find the opening to the river system. Once we figured it out we started paddling down the river and found a campsite on the far side of the 195m portage. We opted to get to bed a little earlier in order to wake up a little earlier the next morning.

Saturday August 11, 2018 - Madawaska River To Oxtongue River Provincial Park

Distance: 58km | Portages: 17 | Portage Distance: 6.1km

Early morning paddle on the Madawaska River

We woke up at 4:30am and we were on the water by 5:30am. We knew we had a long day ahead of us. We had a perfect morning to paddle with calm water covered in fog. Once again feeling very “moosy” so we paddled quietly in hopes of seeing more wildlife. We pushed along the winding river making our way towards Cache Lake.

Bridge along the Madawaska River

At one point along this river Noah stopped paddling just as he noticed a beaver was swimming directly in front of the canoe in the same direction as us. Before he had time to say anything our canoe had caught up and hit the back of the beaver which sent him on a scurry to get away. His tale smacked the bottom of our boat as he took off in the other direction. Pretty certain this could only happen once in a lifetime.

We arrived at Cache Lake and only had a short paddle to get to Tanamakoon Lake. From here we crossed over Highway 60 and into Source Lake where we planned to visit Camp Pathfinder. This camp has groups of young teens doing some intense tripping over the summer. The Meanest Link is one of these trips along with many others including destinations in the Hudson Bay region.

Portage coming out of Source Lake

When we pulled up to Pathfinder Island all the kids were out cleaning canoes and tents on the docks and packing up after getting back from a recent excursion. We met Jack, the owners son who is one of the staff members at this camp. He gave us the full tour showing us where trips were planned, where all the meals were made and also where they build and repair their canoes. Noah and I wished we had gone to this camp when we were kids. Jack offered us a place to stay on the Island and welcomed us to stay for dinner but we had to take off to cover some more distance.

Arriving at the Oxtongue River just after the Tea Lake Dam portage

Leaving Source Lake we crossed Highway 60 once again and went down into Smoke Lake. We were getting tired as it had already been quite a long day. We paddled through Smoke Creek and into Tea Lake where we portaged around the dam that would connect us to the Oxtongue River. The river had a decent current in certain sections and provided some swifts to help us pick up some speed and cover more distance. It was very cool paddling through sections like the Whisky Rapids and Western Uploads trail as these were places I had previously been to hike. Never thought I would ever be paddling the river that goes through them.

One of the reasons we opted to camp an extra night rather than push to the finish in the dark

The Oxtongue River is very windy in this section and was even worse after we passed upper and lower twin falls. We continued pushing along to make as much distance as possible. Darkness was approaching and we had hit a few sets of small rapids. We were getting concerned that if we pushed much further we would risk hitting rapids in the dark. There was a campsite part way along the 955m portage and we opted to stay here for the night.

Noah had turned on his phone to get a photo and happened to notice that there was actually cell signal here. At this point he had a text from his mom informing that the fire ban in Algonquin had been lifted and we were good to have a fire. So on our last night of this very difficult trip, we got to enjoy a nice campfire before hitting the sack. We knew were were very close to the end.

Sunday August 12, 2018 - Oxtongue River Provincial Park To Oxtongue Lake Algonquin Outfitters

Distance: 6.5km | Portages: 1 | Portage Distance: 450

Ragged Falls, Algonquin Park

We were up at 5:00am and on the water by 6. We had a few small sets of rapids to do right off the bat which led to Ragged Falls where there was a beautiful waterfall to portage around. We continued down the river and before long we were paddling under Highway 60 for the final time, and paddling into the docks at Algonquin Outfitters on Oxtongue Lake. 7:40am was our arrival time meaning that we managed to complete the entire Meanest Link route in 216 hours. It was a very rewarding feeling taking a photo on the dock to celebrate the trips completion, and looking at the plaque in the rentals section of the store that holds the names of previous linkers.

Beautiful sunrise as we complete the final stretch of the Meanest Link

We look forward to our names being added alongside the other linkers who have completed the route in the past. The best feeling however was knowing that we had pushed our personal limits to a whole new level and that because of this, we were also going to be able to donate $3,250 to Project Canoe to hopefully inspire some other kids to do something similar one day.

Trip Complete, The Meanest Link - Algonquin Park

Notes For Future Linkers

  • Big East had enough water for our boat to float through most sections, but the strong current made travel upstream very slow. We would walk up rapid sections with one person wading and using the front of the canoe as support, the other person would get a break and walk along the edge of shore.

  • There is a solid 10km on the Nipissing River with thick Alder Bushes

  • The west side of Algonquin heading north, and from Radient Lake south to Opeongo Lake have a crazy number of portages. Would be ideal if you didn’t have to do them all in one day.

  • If you are using Jeff’s maps, make sure to download the “Wall Map” version to have the information you need outside of Algonquin Park (Oxtongue River and The Big East River).

Funny Trip Comments

  • “Hey man you want to have a couple calorie parcels?” - Noah in reference to snacking on a couple of mini bounty bars

  • “I’m just out here sacrificing my body to the elements” - Alex in reference to how sore and uncomfortable he was feeling

  • “When we start to feel rugged we can have a smoke” - Noah and Alex talking about not being that into cigars until you are feeling rugged. This eventually turned into, “Hey kid, you feeling rugged” when asking if the other wanted to share a cigar.

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.