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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.