Temagami

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. 

Chiniguchi River Loop

Metagamasi Lake - Launch

Metagamasi Lake - Launch

SNAPSHOT

Total Distance: 60km Loop

Portages: 14

Longest Portage: 950m

Total Portage Distance: 6280m

Portage Difficulty: Difficult (most were fairly difficult especially on the second half of  the loop)

Paddling Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (many areas you are required to wade in low water)

Overall Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult

Time: 4-6 days (4 would require really pushing it each day)

Day 1: Get to Metagamasi Lake Launch, Sleep in car (Classic)

The Sudbury area has so many different lake and river systems to explore and this was going to mark another on the list. 3 of us were able to get the Friday off work and so we drove up after work on Thursday. On our drive in we saw a bear at a gas station about an hour from the launch, and also 2 moose walking down the final road we were driving in on. We pulled up to the parking at Metagamasi Lake around 2am in the morning where we had a quick beer before going to bed. The stars that night were absolutely amazing.

Day 2: Relaxing day on Metagamasi Lake

We woke up early on Friday, as none of us are ever able to get a great sleep in our cars. We still like sleeping in our vehicles despite the poor sleep, as it saves us having to pack anything up in the morning. We quickly unloaded all our gear and packed up the canoe. Our goal for the day was to paddle a few km’s up Matagamasi Lake and camp at one of the sites along the left shore. The remainder of our group was coming up late Friday night and we were going to pick up in the dark and guide them to our site. It would be much easier for us to get them to the site having already done the paddle earlier in the day. We also had the GPS to tell us exactly where the site was that we had set up on.

We arrived at our site around lunch and after setting up our tents, had a full day on our hands to have some fun. We spent a large portion of the day fishing and lounging around our site. We brought some extra beers in with us planning on dropping the empties off at the car when we picked up the rest of our crew later that night. I happened to catch a pickerel that day which we enjoyed in our soup. The rest of the group arrived at midnight and we got them all packed and did the approximately 3.5km paddle to our site in the dark. Having the GPS made this a much easier task.

Day 3: Metagamasi Lake to Wolf Lake: Intense Rains and Beautiful Lagoons

Paradise Lagoon

Paradise Lagoon

It is never a good feeling when you wake up in the morning and all you can hear is rain hitting your tent. It was tough to get everyone excited to pack their gear up while trying to keep everything dry. But you know how the story goes, get a cup of warm coffee and oatmeal into everyone and try to make light of the situation!

After packing the canoes and setting off on the North Arm of the Chiniguchi River, the rain got worse. The group was not entirely prepared for this severe weather and most of the gear people had for rain, was so wet it became practically useless. Not only were our canoes filling with water but everyone was getting cold quickly. We pushed on nonetheless, knowing that we would be passing by the Paradise Lagoon that day. We are also getting quite good at laughing at unfortunate situations and finding comedic value in things that really aren’t funny.

After the first 350m portage, the rain had let up and this section of the river was absolutely stunning. The water was crystal clear and had a blue tinge to it. We needed this kind of view after what we had just endured. A short paddle down the river brought us through a small lake and up to our second portage, which was 360m. This was also the location of the Paradise Lagoon. As we started bringing our gear over the portage itself was quite elevated. It climbed straight up to a peak and straight back down to the next lake. The entire portage overlooked the beautiful river as well as multiple sections of rapids and waterfalls.

At the very peak of this portage, there was a large group that had decided to camp on the portage. While I envy the location that they had secured for themselves, they were not very courteous to leave a path for other canoeists to get by. We were portaging our gear under lines that they had put up and around tents that were on the path. This wasn’t making our lives any easier, and after the rain earlier that day, our tempers were wearing thin.

The rapids we had to cross to get to the Paradise Lagoon

The rapids we had to cross to get to the Paradise Lagoon

After bringing all our gear over, it was time to hike part-way back on the portage to where the Paradise Lagoon was. There was a strong set of rapids seen in the video that we had to cross in order to get to the waterfall hidden from sight. There is a pond in the back where there is a beautiful waterfall and a great swimming area. We could have spent the entire day here if we had more time. A few of us went for a swim while others relaxed on shore.

At this point we were only 4km to the top of Wolf Lake where we secured the very last site closest to our third portage. It was a large rock face that had a fairly steep slope to it. There was 1 good pad to set up a tent and a second area that we make work. Managing to setup all 3 of our tents. There was also a great spot to have a fire that night.

Site on Wolf Lake

Site on Wolf Lake

Wolf Lake may sound familiar to some people and that is because the lake itself is iconic and has some history to it. What is the history you ask? Does the phrase “Save Wolf Lake” ring a bell? If not, the story here is that Wolf Lake is surrounded by the world’s largest known contiguous ancient red pine forest. The old-growth red pines are part of a critically endangered ecosystem that is estimated to remain on only 1.2% of its original range. If you are interested in reading more about this you can find it here.

Day 4: Wolf Lake to McConnell Bay: Ranger Cabins and a lot of paddling

Ranger Cabin on Dewdney Lake

Ranger Cabin on Dewdney Lake

Waking up to a beautiful sunny day was just how we wanted to start the day. It even gave us a chance to dry a few of our items that had gotten wet in the rain. The first portage we had to tackle was in sight from our site (haha). We didn’t bother packing the canoes too well since you could throw a stone and hit the portage from where we were. This portage was the fourth on our trip and was only 200m. After this we knew it was going to be heads down paddling for the next while.

Inside the Ranger Cabin on Dewdney Lake

Inside the Ranger Cabin on Dewdney Lake

Dewdney Lake had an old abandoned Ranger Cabin on it. It was starting to fall apart quite a bit but was still intact. The walls on the inside were covered in carvings and signatures from other canoeists. It had a very eerie vibe being on the inside of it and was a really cool place to explore on our journey.

We continued our paddle aiming to make it to one of the campsites on McConnell Bay knowing it was going to be about 15km from our location on Wolf Lake. After a long paddle we finally made it into McConnell having to stop once to allow the crew to fuel up with lunch. The paddle was well worth it. The site we settled on had a beautiful beachfront that led into a forest with endless locations for a tent pad. This was a favourite site among many on our trip.

Day 5: McConnell Bay to Wessel Lake: Who’s up for 8 portages?

Camp 3 - The Beach site on McConnell Bay

Camp 3 - The Beach site on McConnell Bay

I hoped that the soft ground provided the group with a good nights rest, as this day was going to be a big one. Today we had a similar distance to cover as the previous day (15 km), but this time we had 8 portages to crush out along the way. This is the part of the story where I need to cringe a little…

Oops..this isn't the portage

Oops..this isn't the portage

The weather was nice which helped quite a bit. We were under the impression that the portages from this point on were going to be less maintained, but didn’t really know what to expect.  The map we had was poor and provided little detail as to where the first portage actually was. Pulling up along the shore there was an area that appeared to be where we needed to go. This was the first time there was no sign marking the portage. I was confident looking at my GPS and decided to tell the group to start lugging our gear along this trail. Well, it was a trail…for about 100m…and then it was more of what you might refer to as bushwhacking. Thick bushwhacking. It wasn’t until we were about 300m in or so that we all really questioned if this was the right way. Although I will say many members of the group had their doubts well before this point. Looking back at the GPS it was clear now that we were in the wrong place and on a day that was already going to be a long one, this was not helping us. It was not an easy trek back out to where the canoes were.

Moving about 200m further along the lake we found the sign marking the actual 750m portage…oops my bad…apparently a better map would have come in handy. This portage started like many others, fairly clear with minor slopes along the trail. There were definitely more fallen trees but it was nothing too crazy. That is, until we got to the bog which we were not expecting. This was a section of deep mud that spanned about 150m. Over time people had placed logs and rocks in places to try and help you get across but none of them were very sturdy.  Every single one of us had a moment where we fell in at least knee deep if not waist in some circumstances. You can see one of our friends struggling to catch his footing in the video. This was a real breaking point for our group. Spirits were low and people were starting to worry about the 7 other portages and if they were going to resemble anything like this one.

While none of the other portages were quite as bad as the boggy one, none of them were easy. Each posed it own challenges. Many of the rivers that we paddled down this section of the trip were absolutely beautiful. There were some areas that you might be able to potentially skip portages if the water levels were high enough. There were some portages that had difficult put-ins and take-outs as the ground was deep mud that your foot would easily go through. This made it really difficult to load and unload our gear at each portage.

There were a few spots along this route that proved to be great fishing locations. We caught quite a few Bass in our travels and some were very decently sized.

Just an average size bass along the second half of the Chiniguchi River Loop

Just an average size bass along the second half of the Chiniguchi River Loop

By the time we got to Wessel Lake, the clouds were rolling in and our group was absolutely exhausted. We wanted to get to a site quickly to setup before the rain rolled in. We got a good tarp setup going and got all our stuff protected in the event the skies decided to let us have another good dump of rain. Good news was the rain did not hit nearly as hard as we expected and the night remained primarily overcast.

The fishing that was on this lake was the best fishing we had experienced so far on the trip. We were pulling bass out in large numbers and many of them were larger. While it didn’t rain, the bugs were out in full force. I had my headlight on and could barely see past the cloud of mosquitos and black flies. As you can imagine, the combination of bugs and pure exhaustion led to our group having a pretty early night. We all felt very accomplished after this day but I swear some of these friends of ours may never come on another trip with us.

Day 6: Wessel Lake back to Metagamasi Lake: (Pictographs and head winds)

Pictographs

Pictographs

This was by far the best sunrise of the trip! The perfect amount of mist on the water and the lake was glass calm. We only had one portage to complete today and then a paddle back to launch through some larger bodies of water. We were very excited about potentially seeing some pictographs along a rock wall that we would be passing by on our journey.

It took us a while once arriving where we believed the pictographs to be to actually find the markings. We have been told in the past that sometimes it takes a certain light to actually be able to see them well. The older they get the more difficult they are to see but we definitely were able to make out a few markings.

Continuing on our paddle back to the launch, of course nothing had been easy and this was no exception. The winds had picked up stronger than ever and we were paddling directly into a head wind that seemed to have us moving forward at a snails pace. What a great way to finish off our trip…

Completing this trip was a very accomplishing feeling and there were many amazing rewards for the hard work that we put in. Waterfalls, crystal clear water, abandoned ranger cabins, cool campsites, and pictographs are only a few of the many things that would bring us back. Plus, who doesn’t love a good story…

Touring Temagami: A 17 Day Expedition PART ONE

Author: Tierney Angus 

5 - Obabika Inlet.jpg

SNAPSHOT

Time: 14 days for speed freaks, 18 days for slow-pokes

Total Distance: My GPS data said 207km but it felt like a million

Portages: 56 plus several around rapids that we ran, lined, or waded and about 40 logjams and beaver dams on the Nasmith Creek

Longest Portage: 1535m from the Nasmith Creek to Chapin Lake. The first 200m are flat and easy, and then it climbs 120 vertical metres straight up a fucking mountain

Total Portage Distance: 19756m or 19.75km (!) If you count doubling back, we walked 59.27km, 39.5km of that with a load. I’m really selling this, aren’t I?

Portage Difficulty: Mostly insane, with the exception of the ones surrounding Lake Temagami

Paddling Difficulty: Moderate, with the exception of the rapids on the SLER and strong wave activity on Lake Temagami, Obabika Lake, and Lady Evelyn Lake

Overall Difficulty: Due to the portages, the rugged terrain, the time involved, and the infrequency of signage I’m gonna rate this one CHALLENGING

 

The Big One. 17 days and 16 nights through the heart of the Temagami wilderness. Our longest, most challenging, most spectacularly scenic route to date. This canoe trip took us on a journey of over 250km through some of the most rugged terrain in the region, with abundant wildlife, magical old-growth forests, sacred spiritual sites and ancient portage trails in use for over 5000 years, through areas of historical significance in relation to industry and environmental activism, and travel upon 5 rivers and 31 different lakes.

The main lodge building

The main lodge building

Months of research, food preparation, canoe repairs, and map reading found us at Smoothwater Outfitters and Eco Lodge on the first of August where we had lovely accommodations and a fabulous dinner before beginning our voyage. We had driven up to the lodge in record time and counted over 140 canoes heading in the opposite direction on the highway after the long weekend. We congratulated ourselves for being so clever with our timing. Had a nice chat with our dinner companions, a family from Peterborough, and Johanna Kilbridge who co-manages the lodge with her partner Francis Boyes. The night before our trip was spent re-organizing gear and food supplies and we were both looking forward to getting on the water the next day.

Day 1: Ferguson Bay to Devil’s Bay, Lake Temagami (12.2km)

Me and the taco and the happy adventure, featuring hillbilly rack deluxe

Me and the taco and the happy adventure, featuring hillbilly rack deluxe

After a nourishing muesli breakfast prepared by Johanna at the lodge, we finalized some last-minute details and obtained our camping permits before driving down the Red Squirrel Road to the Ferguson Bay access point. Andrew’s new truck with homemade hillbilly canoe rack tackled the rough road with ease and we shared a beer before lazily triple-carrying our gear down to the beach from the parking area. It was sunny, hot, and windy, and we went for a quick swim before hopping in our canoe and setting out across Lake Temagami.

Ferguson Bay - Lake Temagami

Ferguson Bay - Lake Temagami

It’s an enormous lake, and we were paddling against a stiff headwind into high waves almost immediately. Andrew’s birthday gift, a beautiful Norquay paddle, lasted all of two kilometres before cracking horribly right down the blade. From this point on the paddle had a leisurely tour of Temagami, carted around in our canoe and by hand for hundreds of kilometres. Thankfully, Andrew had brought along his trusty Badger paddle too, and we hugged the coast until we made a difficult crossing of Devil Bay through some severe whitecaps and rollers. We had planned to make it to Obabika Inlet on the first day, but our late start and the wind forced us to seek shelter on a big campsite a few km from the portage to the inlet.

Devils Bay Campsite

Devils Bay Campsite

Hot hot hot. Went for a dip before dinner (steak and a bean salad I had made the day before). Tested the new camp chairs (Helinox Ground Chairs) and found them to be excellent. Chased away several voles from our food supplies and were attacked by vicious biting houseflies. In the tent shortly after sunset to escape mosquitoes.

Day 2: Devil Bay to Obabika Lake (16.5 km)

Obabika Inlet

Obabika Inlet

Another hot morning. Coffee, breakfast, packed up and loaded by 9 am for the paddle down Devil’s Bay to the Obabika Inlet portage. Passed by and then caught up with group of slightly older guys using Keewaydin wannigans and cedar-canvas canoes at the portage. Bit muddy at the takeout, but 600m of straightforward and relatively flat trail. Battled bit of a headwind across Obabika Inlet to the next portage, where we came across a boys’ camp spread out across the takeout. One of the young campers had an injured ankle and was being evacuated. As we waited in our canoe for the group to gather itself and move out of the way, a group of girls from Camp Wabun came across the portage with their wannigans and canvas canoes. Very impressed by their organization and teamwork, as well as their traditional gear.

On the trail (probably the easiest 800m portage in all of Temagami) we ran into another camp group from Philadelphia heading the opposite direction. Waited out a brief thunderstorm at the far end of the portage and chatted with one of their leaders, then took advantage of a very calm and still Obabika Lake and raced across to the western shore and north to find a campsite. Caught up with group of older guys who had made camp during the storm a few km away. Seeing more dark clouds whipping up behind the hills, we paddled hard and fast to the next cluster of campsites and quickly set up our tent and tarp in case of another downpour without exploring our site too much. After the clouds disappeared and the threat of rain vanished, we were pleased to discover that on the back of our campsite we had our own private beach!

looking across to ranger point from the beach. you can just barely make out the white prospector tents of outpost co in the background

looking across to ranger point from the beach. you can just barely make out the white prospector tents of outpost co in the background

We went for a swim, shared a beer, and made poutine with smoked sausages for dinner over the fire. Our campsite was directly across from Ranger Point, where Outpost Co has set up some glamping tents and offers a private chef to its clients. It’s a point of contention amongst the Temagami locals as the location they’ve chosen is crown land and occupies two prime sites next to a cool-water spring. We were curious, but didn’t see much activity across the lake and didn’t feel the need to detour from our intended route to see what all the fuss was about. Lovely quiet evening.

Day 3: Obabika Lake – Obabika River – “Kwa-pwa-say-ga” link – Lahay Lake (17.2km)

Obabika Lake - Sunrise

Obabika Lake - Sunrise

Morning swim from the private beach after coffee, breakfast, and packing up. Paddled north to mouth of Obabika River and saw Alex Mathias’ homestead (aboriginal elder who lives on traditional family grounds off reserve). Didn’t see anyone around so set off downriver, floating over huge fish which excited Andrew greatly. Shortly before a small portage around an old dam, I saw a black furry face on the shore. BEAR! As soon as I yelled “Andrew, a bear!” it crashed away through the bushes and he didn’t even have the chance to see it. I was glad it ran away, as wild bears should. My heart was racing. We chose the shorter of two portages around the dam on river left and ran the small rapid just below. After many winding wiggles of river we passed a group of Keewaydin campers who were paddling upstream. They had come from Lahay Lake, which was where we were headed ourselves.

Another hot day. We kept soaking our shirts to cool off

Another hot day. We kept soaking our shirts to cool off

Found the takeout for the 380m portage into Kwa-pwa-say-ga next to a shallow creek, which was rather overgrown with ferns. We put-in too early and paddled straight into a bog which swallowed Andrew up to his thighs when we tried to lug our gear across it to the lake proper. By the time we reached the next overgrown portage into a small pond, I was very hot and hungry and cranky, so we made a quick lunch of rehydrated white bean dip and pitas and chugged a full litre of lemonade.

Old prospectors camp on Lahay Lake

Old prospectors camp on Lahay Lake

The start of this ~600m portage was full of blowdowns and quite steep, and with our heavy packs we had to take a short break halfway up the hill before continuing on. The next little lake was quite pretty, but we got a bit muddy again at the takeout for the portage into Lahay Lake. This trail was easier and shorter than the last at about 360m, and culminated at a campsite next to an old, decaying prospector’s cabin. Poked around a bit at the ruins and set up camp, then went for a quick dip in the lake and tangled our feet in some gross reeds before preparing halloumi and vegetable skewers and our final beer for dinner. Our zucchini had already succumbed to the hot temperatures and was quite slimy and wet, so after supper Andrew built up the fire and we torched the lot of them until nothing was left. Farewell, fresh vegetables. You will be missed. Our tent was pitched on a patch of blueberry bushes (the only semi-flat spot around) and we slept easy, knowing we had left the bear far behind us.

Lahay Lake

Lahay Lake

Andrew Processing Firewood

Andrew Processing Firewood

Day 4: Lahay Lake – Nasmith Creek – Dorothy Lake (11.1km)

Bit of a wet morning on Lahay Lake, "Interesting" Tent Pad

Bit of a wet morning on Lahay Lake, "Interesting" Tent Pad

Spot of drizzle in the morning and had coffee and oatmeal under our tarp after packing the rest of our gear. Paddled under cloudy skies to outlet of the Nasmith Creek. The Nasmith was very interesting and around every bend we saw different environments and trees, starting with some impressive old-growth forest, changing to black spruce and tamarack and jack pine.

Up the Creek

Up the Creek

Several log jams, beaver dams, and liftovers around little cascades before our first official portage of the day around a series of waterfalls. We elected to take a lunch break at a campsite beside one of the falls which was extraordinarily pretty, and then shortened the overgrown portages by paddling between the different sets of falls.

First official liftover marked on the map

First official liftover marked on the map

Lost count of beaver dams and log jams we negotiated on this stretch between portages. The next official trail was a short 120m around another little waterfall, and we stumbled upon plenty of blueberries, snacking as we carried our loads. From here the Nasmith opened up into a vast wetland, and we checked our navigational aids several times to ensure we stayed on course. Beaver dam, logjam, logjam, beaver dam, in and out, up and over and down the other side, squelchy boots, mud everywhere.

Pretty spot for a lunch break

Pretty spot for a lunch break

Surprise! Another beaver dam as we enter the Nasmith Wetlands

Surprise! Another beaver dam as we enter the Nasmith Wetlands

We must have lifted over close to 40 different obstructions on the creek until we ran out of water and waded upstream, dragging our canoe to reach a steep 270m portage through a jack pine stand to Dorothy Lake where we would make camp for the night. We were very pleased with the site on Dorothy. It was set amongst tall red pines and blueberry bushes and there was a lovely three-walled fireplace with lots of neatly stacked and split wood at the ready. Shortly after arriving, two canoes came across the lake carrying six dudes with handkerchiefs tied like bonnets on their heads. They were the first people we had seen all day, and as it was getting late we offered to share our site with them. They declined and pushed on through to the next lake, leaving us to enjoy the setting sun, glasses of bush sangria, and a large pot of chili all by ourselves. We stayed up a bit later this night, although the mosquitoes were quite bad, and sipped on hot chocolate with Creamy Beige for dessert.

Dorothy Lake Campsite

Dorothy Lake Campsite

Day 5: Dorothy Lake – Nasmith Creek – Chapin Lake – Sawdust Lake – Pox Lake – Tiny Lake – Pinetar Lake – Livingston Lake – Beaver Lake – Ojidawanmo Lake (9.2km – mostly walking)

I appreciate the assistance Andrew

I appreciate the assistance Andrew

As we were packing up our site, a group of Taylor Statten girls paddled into Dorothy and over to the portage leading back to the Nasmith Creek. We said hello, finished our breakfast, and set off after them. Spent a few hours wading up the creek, dragging our poor canoe through shallow, rocky channels, adding some yellow paint to the already-colourful rocks until we reached a short 90m portage over an old road into a (creepy) swamp full of standing dead trees.

If you don’t like getting your feet wet/scraping your canoe, I advise against travel on the Nasmith Creek

If you don’t like getting your feet wet/scraping your canoe, I advise against travel on the Nasmith Creek

Leave me here to die...

Leave me here to die...

Had a lunch break before tackling the most difficult portage we’ve ever done. I had been warned about this route by a Keewaydin tripper I met through Instagram, who started his journal entry for this section with “This is the worst day of my life!”. The trail from the Nasmith Creek to Chapin Lake climbs 120 vertical metres and is close to 1.3 km long. It is overgrown, littered with blowdowns and boulders, and particularly nasty heading east to west. I thought I was going to die. At times I was crawling on all fours with the barrel on my back, sweating profusely, glasses fogging up and sliding down my nose, getting mauled by mosquitoes in the hot, still air.

Saw the girls’ camp in their canoes across Chapin after our first load. It began to rain, then pour, and we began the steep descent back to the start soaking wet and already exhausted. The deluge stopped in time for us to begin the climb back up the mountain, which was even more of a challenge once the rocks were slick with rain and the mosquitoes came back for their dessert. Worst portage ever.

Sun-shower on pretty little turquoise Chapin Lake

Sun-shower on pretty little turquoise Chapin Lake

Catching our breath on Chapin, we took note of how clear and blue the water was and how much closer we were to the clouds after climbing so high. The little mountain top lake chain we were passing through was incredibly beautiful, and we paddled across to another overgrown 200m portage into Sawdust Lake which had many sandy-coloured rocks along the shore, then a short 30m trail into Pox Lake, 90m to Tiny Lake where we saw little sundews, 175m into Pinetar, 60m to Livingston, and then a longer 390m hike to Beaver Lake which had a very steep descent to the put-in (but at least we were carrying our loads downhill).

Every lake across the Misabi range had gorgeous, clear water

Every lake across the Misabi range had gorgeous, clear water

This was where we had planned to stay, but spying a boys’ group parked on the opposite shore forced us to bush-push north 50m to Ojidawanmo Lake where we knew there was one more campsite. Upon exiting the bay towards the island camp, we came across the Taylor Statten girls, bathing naked in the water. We said, “Sorry! Not looking!” and they squealed and ran to cover themselves. We were so tired. We had nowhere to stay for the night as all the sites in the vicinity were occupied. As we made to circle back and carry over to where we had come from, entertaining the awful idea of portaging an extra kilometre in total darkness, the girls (now dressed) called out to us. “You’re welcome to share our site if you can’t find anything else!” “Are you sure? We have lots of chocolate to share! Thank you so much!” we replied. We asked about their trip and learned they were on day 34 of a 42 day expedition from Biscotasing to the Taylor Statten Outpost on Maskinonge Lake! They offered to help us unload but we declined, and we set up our tent in a bush just behind one of theirs. The site was seldom used and didn’t have much in the way of tent pads and there was no firepit we could discern amongst the ferns and mosses. The little island probably hadn’t seen any campers in years and all of a sudden 11 people were sleeping on it for the night. I dug through the food barrel and produced two bars of chocolate to give to the girls as thanks, and they were very grateful. Andrew was extremely disappointed with me when I said we still had four bars, not knowing he had stashed an extra two in our snack bag and that was why he was so concerned that with only four bars (actually six), we wouldn’t have enough treats left for the rest of our trip. I called him a stingy miser; he said I was far too generous. I thought that after sneaking up on the girls while they were in various stages of undress and them still offering to share their home warranted at least two Ritter Sports. Grumbling at each other, we quickly rehydrated some Three Sisters Soup (one of our favourites) and sat on our overturned canoe to eat while the girls did their dishes and retired to their tents to read. Right after we finished our soup we went to bed to the sounds of giggling, and we slept like the dead after our difficult day of hiking with a canoe over mountains.

Day 6: Ojidawanmo Lake – Beaver Lake – Two pond hops – Lewbert Lake – Ames Creek – Skooztagan Lake – First Lake – Florence Lake (11.2km)

“bye, campsite!” – Ojidawanmo Lake

“bye, campsite!” – Ojidawanmo Lake

Woke to the sounds of the girls quietly preparing breakfast and packing their tents. We slowly rose and began packing our gear while brewing coffee and finding the muesli. We talked with the girls about their incredible voyage so far, and learned they were also heading to Florence Lake. They asked to see our maps with portage information on them as they were relying exclusively on outdated MNR topographical charts. We told them our intended route and one of the leaders shouted “HALF DAY!” with glee as they had anticipated having to travel quite far south in a big roundabout loop through Pinetorch Lake rather than take the Lewbert shortcut to the Ames Creek. I asked to take a photo of them before they set off and they obliged. A truly amazing group of young women. Wish I had been that cool at fifteen, but I spent my summers in a dark theatre singing musicals when I was their age. They were on the water shortly after 8 and we were not much later in setting off. They were single-carrying their heavy canoes and wannigans, and we did not catch up with them again for a long time.

Climbing back up the portage from Lewbert to the Ames Creek for the second load

Climbing back up the portage from Lewbert to the Ames Creek for the second load

We paddled and portaged across two small ponds by way of overgrown 300m and then 60m trails, and when we reached the 600m portage into Lewbert Lake we met with another camp of composed of young girls (Northwaters-Langskib) who were following the boys’ group that had camped on Beaver Lake the night previous. Their goals were not nearly as ambitious as the Taylor Statten girls, planning only to move from Lewbert Lake to Beaver in a day… a move which took us less than two hours. They too were using wannigans and heavy Royalex canoes but these girls triple-carried everything, using a spotter who carried nothing for each trip across the portage. We were finding it very interesting to see the methods employed and the types of travel the different camps subscribed to. The amount of people we had seen in this region was rather shocking to us – we had been informed that the Pinetorch link was relatively unused because of its difficulty – but it was good to see several groups passing through as the portages were all very bushwhacky, most trails marked only with old axe blazes, and there is talk of opening up logging and mining close to this vast, virgin, roadless tract of wilderness. As long as canoeists continue to use these ancient routes and speak up about their preservation, we can hope to keep this area free of industry.

We had a leisurely early lunch on the Lewbert Lake campsite and charged some of our devices in the sun, then paddled northwest to the takeout for another portage leading to the Ames Creek. It quickly became apparent that we would now be climbing down from the mountain range we ascended the day before, and the ~800m portage was another tricky one which crossed right over the Ames Creek and then turned sharply north to a shallow bit of bog at the put-in. I was hot again, cranky, and I fell a couple times as I hurried to catch up with Andrew. I felt that I was at the limit of what I could carry, and I was worried that I was letting Andrew down by being slow and clumsy and a wimp. He not-so-patiently waited for me to get over it, and soon we were wading through muck again and dragging our canoe up to a massive beaver dam that marked the beginning of Skooztagan Lake.

Skooztagan (bless you! sounds like a sneeze) Lake

Skooztagan (bless you! sounds like a sneeze) Lake

Every bit of information we had on this area said Skooztagan was a giant mud puddle, but the fresh dam helped to raise the water level by a good two feet and we paddled north with ease between high mountainous ridges to the far side, where we took out on a boggy patch and began a muddy ~400m walk to a small pond known as First Lake.

bogs, scratchy alders and labrador tea, these are a few of my favourite things

bogs, scratchy alders and labrador tea, these are a few of my favourite things

The portage could have been much longer if not for the beaver dam, and though my legs were scratched raw from the tangle of alder bushes and labrador tea we had been pushing through for days, I felt relieved that we only had one final portage before Florence Lake. We accidentally took the low-water takeout and extended this portage by an unnecessary 150m marked with axe blazes, but completed the carry quickly and with great zeal, our speed thanks in part to a need to outrun hungry deerflies.

Hellllooooo Florence!

Hellllooooo Florence!

What a relief to be on big, beautiful, Florence Lake! We relished the feeling of digging our paddles deep into the water without hitting bottom and fairly flew 3km across the lake to a large island where we paused to take a celebratory swig of scotch. From far away we saw the Taylor Statten girls, who all ran screaming from the shore at the sight of our yellow canoe (they were probably naked again). Though the prevailing winds are generally from the south, we were facing a stiff breeze from the north (if we ever start a jug band, our name will be Always A Headwind), but we soon arrived at the Table Rock campsite which is located just under halfway across the length of this large, perfectly clear, staggeringly beautiful lake. The site was rocky and exposed, which we liked because it was catching a good breeze, but the tent pad had been colonized by ants and the firepit built right into the Table Rock, which we considered sacrilege. Table Rock is a dolmen stone: A large, flat rock propped up on many smaller stones. No one is quite sure how or why it was placed there. I left an offering of tobacco on it and rearranged the firepit to protect what was left of the site (it appeared heat from campfires had caused some of the smaller stones to collapse underneath the “table” – rather upsetting).

Table rock campsite with improved fireplace built next to the “table”, not in it

Table rock campsite with improved fireplace built next to the “table”, not in it

We set up our tent on a small patch of crispy, sun-dried blueberry bushes. We placed our boots in the sun, poured ourselves a glass of wine, and as evening fell we made pita pizzas with rehydrated pizza sauce, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, and fresh pepperoni and cheese. Extra cheese. We ate two pizzas each and stayed up quite late, watching a sliver of the moon rise and then quickly fall behind the hills. The temperature was quite cool, and before bed we lay down on the rocks on the point of our campsite and watched shooting stars streak across the sky. The next day would be a rest day, and we slept well knowing one of the toughest stretches of our journey was over.

Crescent Moon, Crescent Canoe

Crescent Moon, Crescent Canoe