Woodland Caribou: Part One

Okay folks after a severe puppy incident which had me thinking my laptop was for for the pit. I’ve salvaged it all. So over the next few days we’ll be bringing you Tom’s first trip report for the team.

Part One:

Woodland Caribou Provincial Park

August 23rd – Sept 4th 2017

By: Tom Donnachie

Photos – Instagram: @thomas_rowan / @ey_pep / @zmp

Bucket List canoe trips: Quetico, The Nahanni, Mackenzie River….these are all names that arise when paddlers talk of destinations and routes that exemplify their idea of the remote, wilderness adventure. The planning and coordination alone of such a journey often rivals much of the adversity faced during the course of one of these “trips of a lifetime.” Often, the task of simply reaching the start of the route can almost exhaust as much time as travelling the route itself. These challenges, however, only add to the lure of the Bucket List trip, and with a lot of patience and preparation, experiencing an adventure of this scale can become a reality.

My first exposure to Woodland Caribou Provincial Park was through Kevin Callan’s YouTube series in 2012, which documented his 10-day trip across the vast stretch of Boreal wilderness in northwestern Ontario. I was immediately struck by the many elements of the park that were foreign to me as an avid paddler & portageur: Fly-in entry to the park, unmarked/unmaintained portages, little to no chance of encountering other paddlers, CARIBOU (!?!?)…. Before long I had watched the video series several times and while an actual trip there didn’t escalate beyond pipedream status at the time, the park definitely had its hooks in me. Established as a Provincial Park in 1983, WCPP covers a massive 1 million+ acres along the Ontario/Manitoba border and offers an impressive 2000+ kilometers of canoe routes throughout the park. The biggest draw for many is the fact that only several hundred paddlers pass through the park each season. Factor in world-class fishing for walleye, pike, and lake trout and one can easily see why Woodland Caribou represents the pinnacle of so many canoeists’ tripping goals.

Fast forward several years later: a quick chat with Harlan from Red Lake Outfitters at the Toronto Outdoor Adventure show, a few “maybe next year” discussions with friends, and Woodland Caribou still remained out of reach, despite its graduation to a potential trip destination. I simply couldn’t get anyone to commit to specific dates, let alone the scale of the trip itself (cost, travel, duration, etc). Anyone who’s attempted to organize a trip like this knows how frustrating it can be to try and coordinate so many factors into a successful plan. Family, careers, and life in general are huge obstacles to overcome while planning, making the human aspect among the most difficult to work around. I continued to float the idea around of a WCPP trip while backpacking the length of Pukaskwa National Park’s Coastal Trail (DO THIS TRAIL) in August, 2016. We’d managed to gather an enthusiastic and capable group for that trip, so when we hadn’t murdered each other by the midpoint of the 70 km hike along Lake Superior’s North shore, I figured this would definitely present some options for making the Woodland Caribou trip a viable possibility.

January 2016: Time to see who’s still on board, and as luck would have it, everyone was looking forward to Woodland Caribou as much as I was. This trip was actually going to happen. Apologies to those who wanted to join us, but on an adjusted schedule. If we didn’t stand firm on the chosen dates, one concession turns into twenty and suddenly it’s “maybe next year” all over again. Nick, Fulton, Cristian (Crispy), Dan and myself would all be making the long drive to Red Lake, Ontario to begin our adventure at the end of August, and we began the planning with Red Lake Outfitters. This would be my first time using an outfitter for a canoe trip. I like to be as self-sufficient as possible, but seeing as we’d need to use them for the flight into the park and ground shuttle at the end of our route, we figured they’d also be the best resource for route planning. WCPP isn’t exactly a park that someone from the GTA will visit frequently, so we wanted to ensure that the route would be optimized for what could quite possibly be the only chance some of us would ever have to paddle Woodland Caribou. Harlan was great with assessing what our priorities were (big/small water, solitude, fishing, etc), and before long we’d roughed out an approximate route for our 12 days across the park. One of the added benefits of undesignated campsites is that we did have some leeway to deviate from our planned route if need be, due to the ever-changing conditions that can affect travel over such a long distance and time frame.

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