New video up!
We’re very thankful to all of you who’ve subscribed to our channel , commented and liked our videos. We’re slowly but surely finding our legs when it comes to bringing you weekly content and we hope you’ve been enjoying what we’ve been dishing out. There’s lots more slated to be released as team members go through old footage of trips gone by. So make sure to check our channel Wednesday’s and Saturday’s for new video releases.
Many of you read through the trip reports our Paddle In compatriot Tom wrote up for us . They detailed his trip to Woodland Caribou Provincial Park. Well we have a quick video mashup from that trip. It’ll give you a taste of the scenery and portage conditions on Tom’s route.
For more detailed info make sure to check out his trip reports
Quick question folks. Who here is heading to the symposium in April?
We’re very proud to be sponsoring the show this year and as always we’re very excited to be attending. They have a wonderful lineup of speakers this year as well as a great selection of vendors/sponsors. The promoter David Bain not only works his butt off putting this show on , but makes sure its an amazing show each year and we’re lucky to have someone like that to help support the community here in Ontario.
For tickets head on over to https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/ontario-backcountry-canoe-symposium-tickets-41289077743
Why should you go? Multiple reasons.
1)Support the community! Get out and shake hands , talk and enjoy a day spent with other canoeists.
2)The line up
* Swift Canoe & Kayak
* Badger Paddles…
* Kingdom Outdoor
* The Outland Supply Co.
* Backcountry Custom Canoes
* Hunter and Harris
* See Sawyer Run
* Paddling Adventures Radio
* Sail Cambridge
* Friends of Temagami
* oh yeah and of course us
Who have all donated door prizes which will be given out during the show.
4) If that doesn’t sway you I will go above and beyond my normal offering of internet high fives and offer real live high fives at the show to anyone there !
So again I’ll ask. Who’s going to the show?
Big thanks to all of you who have been following along with us and a big hello to all our new followers . Just wanted to highlight some of what’s been going on the last month or so.
We launched our YouTube site. First video of our Coffee Lake trip is up. I finished editing three more last night so keep your eyes peeled as every Wednesday we’ll be releasing more.
We also launched our monthly meet and greets . First one will be March 25th at 2pm . Details can be found here …
Also we introduced you to our three new team members.
Finally we launched our WoodLand Caribou Series.
And word on the street is we’ll have some video footage from Woodland Caribou coming very soon.
Ohhhhhh Day 9. Anyone reading this who’s had even limited portaging experience has suffered through a day like this. The terrain, distances and/or environment may vary, but the common factor is that times like these push you to your limits and beyond. Tempers run short, and while the physical toll is typically exhausting, it’s the mental drain on such days that really make you question your choice of masochistic hobby.
It was overcast and threatening to rain. A strong wind had kicked up by the time we broke camp on Lightning. We’d gone over the day’s route several times before leaving the site, with the words “…and then some creek,” muttered in a low, foreboding tone by each of us. At this point we knew it would be a difficult day of travel, but we settled into a business-like mentality to begin the push: little talk, paddle through it, get the job done. Surprisingly, the wind didn’t end up being much of a challenge for the first part of the day, and what ended up being the most physically rigorous portage of the entire trip also ended up being the most enjoyable. It was a very steep ascent and decline, with a maze-like plateau of boulders and brush on top. We were all reminded of the Pukaskwa Coastal Trail from the summer before. A beautiful landscape, and a testament to the truly varied terrain of Woodland Caribou. Following our relatively successful morning, we were perhaps a little overconfident when reaching our next portage. It had started to drizzle, but we had rain gear and we were making good time. We stopped for a quick snack while looking directly through the path labelled “NP” on the map, which represented “No Portage”. Piece of cake. Needless to say, this is where the day turned.
Our “No Portage” ended up being a few dozen meters of trail leading into a marsh. In higher water this may have been quite passable, but we stared out over at least a half kilometre of boggy weeds between us and open water. We thought it was simply a case of finding a hidden route through the tall growth, but each attempt to navigate an imaginary path ended with the same result: waist deep in marsh after only a few dozen steps. It was basically a reverse minefield. Instead of being blown upwards when taking the wrong step, you had to blindly fumble along until you were inevitably sucked down with the weight of your gear to hold you there. The frustration of making little to no progress over such small stretches of ground proved too much for an unnamed member of our party (RIP Dan), and a mid-bog break was needed to regain our composure after the better part of an hour through the swampy mess. F-bombs aplenty, I tells ya. Not for children’s ears.
We eventually slogged our way through. The rain was coming down harder now, and we soldiered along saying little. Several more portages and lakes brought us to the last leg of our day: We’d travel northeast towards North Prairie Lake via 300m portage and creek travel, instead of southeast into Prairie Lake with a 1900m into North Prairie. Harlan had advised us that the 1900m was an endless tangle of blowdown, so we took his word and entered the creek following the quick 300m. Appropriately, the thunder began to boom in the distance not long after we had our boats in the water. The sides of the creek were so high that pulling off to the side was out of the question. The water level was surprisingly high though, so we decided to dig in and paddle as fast as we could. The rain came down harder, and the sickening question of why the water levels were so high lingered in the back of my mind. It had to be one or several beaver dams keeping the creek full. We’d come across a few that we needed to pull over, but none of a size that would account for the water depth we were paddling. There had to be something we hadn’t seen yet.
We found the dam. The Hoover Dam of beaver dams. More importantly, we found what wasn’t beyond the dam: water. Our stomachs sank as we looked at what we had in front of us. Several kilometres of winding mud twisted into the horizon, forcing us to remember some of the potential downfalls that we all signed up for with this trip. There was literally no way that we could feasibly drag our canoes the length of what remained. Right on cue, a massive crack of lightning touched down just beyond the treeline to the north of us and the skies opened right up in a torrential downpour. We were completely exposed in the wide open creek, with the only possibility of shelter sitting hundreds of yards away from us on either side. Kids: Don’t try this at home. We had to make a spur of the moment call in the name of safety, so Fulton and I leapt from the canoes and began dismantling the top of the beaver dam to flood the rest of the creek. This wasn’t my proudest moment; I’d never advocate altering animal habitat for ease of travel, but we were in an increasingly dangerous situation and needed to get moving. Surprisingly, it didn’t take much dam deconstruction (maybe an afternoon’s worth of beaver rebuilding) to release enough water downstream for us to get back in the boats and continue the trek towards North Prairie. (Harlan informed us later that someone camping a few km’s away from us that afternoon had been struck by lightning at their campsite and had to radio in to be flown out of the park.)
We got in the canoes. We paddled for a few yards. We got out of the canoes. We dragged for a few yards. This continued endlessly for longer than I’d like to remember. We would have just stayed out of the canoes and dragged for the remainder of the creek, but the tiny sections of water that punctuated the shallow weed beds and thick mud were beyond chest height in depth. The creek was flooded now, but not flooded enough. We persevered through several hours and kilometres of this in&out/drag&paddle monotony, accompanied by an impressive symphony of profanity (courtesy of Dan). Oh, and the leeches. Yes, the creek was full of leeches.
Nick and I reached North Prairie a few minutes before Fulton, Dan, and Crispy; barely able to muster enough enthusiasm for any sort of celebration or congratulations. This was because we knew we had a choice to make. Our initial plan was to camp on either North Prairie or Indian House (a 975m portage to the east). We were soaked and exhausted. North Prairie didn’t have any campsites, and we’d have to find/make our own. Indian House had campsites littering the south shore right off the end of the portage. We managed to convince a VERY RELUCTANT group of guys to push on to Indian House, with the promise of a comfortable campsite waiting for us.
The 975m was relievingly flat (albeit inhabited by finger leeches, as Fulton discovered) and after a short paddle we found our campsite for the night in the continuing downpour as we were quickly losing light. We did our best to get the tarps up quickly and change into some dry clothes. I hadn’t been bothered that much by being wet for most of the day, but began to shiver as soon as we stopped at camp. People took turns setting up their tents under the tarp to keep them dry, and we did a reasonable job of making camp in the approaching darkness. I’d remained fairly calm in the midst of the day’s miserable events, but lost my temper for a few minutes when I knocked the tarp while setting up my tent under it, flooding the interior with the rainwater that had pooled on top of the shelter. Tantrum aside, we gathered under the tarp to warm ourselves with food and booze. Crispy had been changing into a dry sweatshirt, when an audible *crunch* and an ear-piercing scream broke the silence under the tarp. “PUT IT BACK IN!!! PUT IT BACK IN!!!” came from underneath the sweatshirt over Crispy’s head. Fulton, standing right beside him, alarmingly replied, “PUT WHAT BACK IN?!?!” Before the words left Fulton’s mouth, we all knew what had happened: Crispy had dislocated his shoulder. Again.
The next few hours were spent sipping whisky, constructing an arm sling, and trying to absorb everything that had transpired over the last 10-12 hours. We went to sleep early, wet, and completely drained.
Day 10. Waking up to sunshine after the previous day’s ordeal was a massive relief. The rain had tapered off just before we went to sleep, but we hadn’t seen a weather forecast in over a week and had no idea what to expect in the morning. We were regaining our sense of humour after some breakfast, and used the already blazing sun and flat rocks on our site to begin drying out our gear and clothes. One of the mental approaches that helps greatly during rough patches of a lengthier canoe trip is the ability to look beyond the current problem and see it as only temporary. If you’re out in the bush for weeks at a time, you’ll get bad weather and you’ll definitely get wet at some point. The sun will inevitably come out, and eventually you’ll be dry and warm again; always keep this in mind. Discomfort is 99% mental, which is what I kept telling myself now that the chafing on my inner thighs had reached the point of bleeding (gross, I know). It had been tolerable for the time leading up to Indian House, but the full day spent trudging through swampy creek in the pouring rain had only made matters worse. Some loaned baby powder helped significantly, and my minor issue paled in comparison to Crispy’s lingering shoulder problem. After nine days in the park, we’d only had two days of rain, and just one with any wind to speak of. As far as paddling conditions for a dislocated shoulder go, we were getting pretty lucky, all things considered.
The day’s travel would begin with leaving the south end of Indian House by way of – you guessed it – more creek travel. We could see on the map that it appeared to be much wider than what we’d been slogging through previously, so we sheepishly approached the creek mouth that morning praying that there would be enough water to pass through with ease. We were in luck. This stretch of the park ended up being another one of the highlights of the trip, with more than enough water to paddle, loads of waterfowl around every corner (including A LOT of aggressive trumpeter swans), and all of the sunshine we could possibly ask for.
After the creek widened into more open water and a chain of unnamed lakes, we completed a 525m portage with the plan of taking a break shortly after for a snack. We stopped on a steep, tiny island and enjoyed the view across the lake of another massive rock face that loomed over the small body of water. We were now entering the eastern half of the park and were still seeing a wide variety of terrain every day. I’d watched as many videos filmed in the park as I could in the months leading up to the trip, and most seemed to portray the area as an incredibly flat and homogeneous landscape. This couldn’t be farther from the truth, and it was a constant pleasure throughout the trip to be repeatedly surprised by so many different aspects of the park on a daily basis. We stopped for a full lunch on another island later on in the day, this time across 375m and 225m portages into Crystal Lake. The lake itself was aptly named, as the lake bottom was still visible at several dozen meters from the surface. We had been back onto a formal canoe route since hitting Indian House, and as we moved eastward towards our pick-up point, the float planes overhead became more frequent; people beginning their trips as ours was almost coming to an end. We crossed one final 175m portage for the day into Bell Lake where we would camp for the night.
Our choice of locations for a campsite were fairly limited on Bell. It boiled down to deciding between an exposed, scrubby point with bush garbage (rusted-out oil drums, etc) scattered at the back of the site, or a sheltered bay just around the corner with almost nowhere to set up a proper camp. We opted for the sheltered bay because the wind had begun to pick up a bit in the late afternoon (much to Nick’s dismay – he really liked the rusted-out oil drums for some reason). We all ended up fairly spread out over the woods in the bay, at various heights along a series of graduated platforms in the rock: Dan, Fulton and Crispy in their hammocks on the edge of the treeline, Nick much farther back on the hillside on a clearing, and myself almost right at the shoreline in a flat bed of lichen. The waves lapping against the rocks in the bay put me to sleep pretty quickly that evening.
At some point late in the night I was awakened by what I thought was a splash. I sat and listened for several minutes, still hearing the slight movement of water on rocks. I figured that I must have dreamt the splash, or that a larger rogue wave had come into the bay and made louder contact with the shore. I was on the verge of falling asleep again, when I heard what was definitely small rocks falling into the water about 20-30 yards away from my tent. This had me alert in a hurry. I always sleep with my buck knife beside my pillow, so my hands instinctively reached and had it out of the sheath in a flash. I sat straight up in the tent to get a better bearing of where the sounds were coming from in relation to where I was. I sat still for several minutes without hearing anything more, eventually considering that it may have been a raccoon or an otter combing the shore for freshwater mussels. Being as far away as I was from the rest of the group, I began to think that I was just being paranoid and sheathed my knife again… and that’s when a considerably large branch snapped, some 10 metres away from my tent. Whatever it was was moving closer, and after I unsheathed my knife again and listened closely, I could hear what sounded like sniffing and heavy breathing. I’d been in a similar scenario the previous fall on a solo trip in Algonquin, so immediately I reached for the day pack which contained my bear bangers. I let out a few HEY!!!!s and listened again for movement while I screwed a banger into the launching pen. Nothing for a minute or two, and then more sniffing/breathing. I quickly unzipped a small enough portion of the tent fly for my hand to stick through and released the banger up and away from the tent. The explosion caused whatever had shown interest in my tent to barrel off in the woods, and woke up the rest of the group in the process. I’m fairly certain it was a bear and not a moose, if only for the speed that it left the camp. We were getting closer to civilization as we neared the end of our trip, but we were still several days out in the bush… and bears really seem to like my tent.
Day 11 would be our last full day in Woodland Caribou. We’d be meeting Harlan with the ground shuttle at the Johnson Lake access point the following day, so the plan was to make camp on Douglas Lake that night to position ourselves nice and close to the pick-up point. We’d paddle through Page, Peterson and Hatchet lakes with back-to-back 200m portages, a 325m and finally a 150m before reaching where’d we stay for our last night. The temperature had dipped significantly overnight, and it was overcast when we broke camp and left Bell.
We began to see more boat caches and the occasional piece of litter on the portages towards Douglas. We still hadn’t seen anyone since the lone canoe on Royd at the end of Day 6, but the signs of human activity were increasingly evident with the portages becoming more open and worn down. The skies threatened rain for most of the morning, and besides a brief period of drizzle on Hatchet Lake, we remained dry for the majority of the day. We stopped for lunch on a well-used point once we reached Douglas. An old barbecue and picnic table had been left there, probably from the fishing lodge at the north end of the lake. It was a nice place to stop for a meal, but compared to what we’d experienced over the past 10 days, something as simple as a picnic table felt like an intrusion on the rugged conditions that we’d become accustomed to.
Strong winds had begun to blow in from the west as we finished our meals, and with the winds came a wall of dark clouds on the horizon. We hadn’t found a campsite yet and we were in an increasingly vulnerable position. We’d spotted a beach to the east while having lunch, so we launched the boats and paddled hard with the wind at our backs, trying to beat the oncoming storm that would soon bear down on us. We’d barely beached the canoes when a violent downpour chased us back into the tree line for shelter.
Crispy, Dan and Fulton all looked for suitable hammock spots in the rain while Nick and I (the tent dwellers) waited out the rain hunkered down beneath the trees. The storm rolled by quickly, and within the hour we were on the beach drying out our rain gear and gathering the abundance of driftwood along the shore for our final night’s fire. Like our first beach experience in the park, this one also seemed to be highly travelled by the area’s wildlife. The game trails leading into either end of the beach were more well-worn than any portage we’d seen the entire trip. This, coupled with the previous night’s campsite visitor, inspired Nick to construct a virtually impenetrable bushcraft tent defence system (see below). No animal would dare risk its life in an attempt to a breach such a formidable structure.
We were treated to an incredible sunset on the beach, and witnessed the largest flying ‘V’ of geese that any of us had ever seen. Hundreds of them emerged high above the treeline behind us and we stared upwards to see the formation stretch clear across the width of the entire lake. We were obviously disappointed to not have seen a single caribou or moose throughout the trip, but our time in WCPP was not without an exceptional amount of memorable wildlife experiences.
As it was our last night in the park, we soon had a ridiculously large fire burning at the water’s edge. Any remaining snacks and desserts were divvied up after dinner, and the rest of the night was spent feeding our massive beach fire and watching the impressive show of stars in the sky. I fell asleep to the waves rushing up on the beach, and the certainty that Nick would somehow impale himself on his branch fence at some point during the night.
Day 12 ended up being the coldest day we spent in Woodland Caribou. The skies were clear that morning, but the temperature had definitely dropped to single digits overnight and it was evident that Autumn would soon arrive in northwestern Ontario. The strong winds from the west had resumed, but thankfully we’d camped only a brief paddle away from our first portage, and the wind would be at our backs once we rounded the corner from our site.
The journey from our final campsite back to the access point involved a stretch of (easy) creek travel and two portages: A 155m into Stan Lake, and a 525m into Johnson, the access point where Harlan would meet us later that morning. The prospect of hot showers, greasy food and cold beer (Harlan – you still owe us beers) was a welcoming thought, but a big part of me was extremely disappointed that the trip was coming to a close. However, we saw some fallen coloured leaves on the portage into Johnson, and those first real signs of autumn had me looking forward to upcoming canoe trips in my favourite season of the year. We’d only been sitting in the parking lot at the access point for about twenty minutes when we heard the Red Lake Outfitters shuttle rattle towards us with its large canoe trailer in tow. Rather than greeting us with congratulations or questions about our trip, the first words out of Harlan’s mouth were, “OK, whose mother was supposed to get SPOT messages sent to them?” It turns out that some of the email addresses I’d added to my SPOT list didn’t receive any GPS “OK” alerts for the entire duration of the trip, and Nick’s mother had been in touch with Harlan. We all had a good laugh at his expense, and everyone relayed back to home that we’d survived the trip once we were back in cell range.
I can’t say exactly when I’ll return to Woodland Caribou, but I couldn’t recommend both the Park or Red Lake Outfitters highly enough. To the novice paddler: I’d definitely get a few lengthy, remote trips under your belt before attempting something of this scale, but if you’re looking to get out of your comfort zone and experience a world-class wilderness adventure, you’re absolutely in for the trip of a lifetime.
Day 5 began earlier than I expected due to my choice of sleep shelter. Even though the open setup provided loads of crisp Northern air that knocked me out cold for the night, the site’s wildlife didn’t agree with my plan to sleep in the next morning. Not long after dawn, a red squirrel bolted over the midsection of my sleeping bag, jerking me right out of my deep sleep and into fight-or-flight mode with the thought that I was being attacked. You’re definitely not falling asleep after that, especially when the sun starts to penetrate the tree canopy and heat the morning air. I grabbed my fishing rod and went down to the water for a few early morning casts before breakfast. Dan must’ve had the same idea, since he arrived rod-in-hand at the shoreline just in time to see me reel in two consecutive 28-30 inch pike. I kept and cleaned the second one, and we shared the ample fillets for part of our breakfast.
The rest of the day could only be described as complete and absolute sloth. Swim, eat, drink, nap. Repeat. I don’t know if we’d gotten too much sun the day before, but none of us could find the motivation to leave the campsite that day for much more than a quick paddle out from the site to take a few casts. Granted, it was our “rest day”, but in retrospect we really should have taken more advantage of the fishing that Wanda has to offer. Oh well, next trip to WCPP maybe? In the midst of the utter laziness that defined our full day on the lake, there was a minor incident that occurred that afternoon: Crispy dislocated his shoulder. That’s right – one of our group members, who also happened to be the only solo paddler on the trip, DISLOCATED HIS SHOULDER in the middle of a 12 day canoe trip. I know you’re all hoping for an emergency helicopter airlift and/or Mel Gibson-esque, Lethal Weapon shoulder relocation story, but I’ll disappoint you on both fronts. Crispy went for a swim, and the simple motion of raising his arms out to dive in the lake had popped the shoulder out. Yep, he’s one of those guys. He’d already put it back in by the time he got back to our campsite, but from his description, the crawl out of the water along a sloping, slippery underwater rock face was somewhat of a challenge. Thankfully, Crispy had opted for the solo canoe/kayak paddle method for the trip, so there was a little less concern with how he’d fare for the rest of our time in WCPP. The fact that he’d dislocated it many times before (thanks for the heads-up, Crispy) also helped with knowing what he’d be physically capable of following the injury. I had my SPOT messenger with me as well, so there was always the airlift option as a last resort. I’d also been sending daily “OK” GPS check-ins to our group’s email list on a daily basis….or so we thought (more on that later). I’d like to say that the injury snapped us out of our lazy ways for the remainder of our stay on Wanda, but the lounging and napping continued into a night of star-gazing and drinks around the fire.
DAY 6 would give us our first real taste of late-season Woodland Caribou “creek” travel, after receiving a hefty dose of overconfidence from the wildly fortunistic conditions along Simeon Creek a few days prior. That stretch has been marked on the maps as “seasonally low” but we’d made it through without too much of a struggle. A little more “seasonally low” creek to the east couldn’t be THAT much more challenging, right? Wrong. We had to leave Wanda via the same portage we entered it, then hook east at where the creek forked towards a long series of thin, unnamed lakes that would lead us down into Royd Lake and our next campsite. We had the impression that it would be similar to the conditions we experienced on the way into Wanda, but we quickly realized after turning at the fork that there was significantly more sawgrass than there was water to paddle in the direction we were heading. The creek bends in this section were incredibly tight as well, so it quickly became an excruciating game of ram the creek edge with the bow… back up… squeeze through the turn… pry off the creek bottom slop for a few yards… ram the creek edge with the bow… You get the idea. This continued for longer than any of us expected, and the creek became so thin at points that we ditched the canoes several times, and trudged through the marshy grass to scout ahead for open water.
We questioned ourselves repeatedly, but knew we were headed in the right direction and simply had to push through this ungodly section of creek. Our “glass half full” was that we had at least eight km of unfettered paddling after clearing the creek and a tiny 90m portage. Following that, a 40m, 150m, and 800m portage were all that stood in the way of us and Royd Lake. We struggled… good lord, we struggled. Eventually we made it to the 90m portage, having to pull a good 50m over nothing but grass and mud as we approached it. It was that dry.
The paddling over the next section of a chain of long, narrow, unnamed lakes was some of my favourite canoeing of the whole trip. We had a slight tailwind, and the sun was beginning to hang low in the afternoon sky after the ridiculous amount of time we spent “creek” travelling. Sparse treelines to the southwest and towering rock faces to the northeast were found through almost the entirety of this stretch. Finally hitting the north end of Royd as dusk was approaching, we bounced around several potential sites before making camp on top of a sloping piece of Canadian Shield as the sun set. The aforementioned slope also happened to drop off a good 15-20 feet straight into the lake, so a fair amount of nimble footwork was required around the campfire that night.
Day 7 promised to be one of our shorter travel days, but began with a great deal of concern. We launched fairly early from our site on Royd in search of the 80m portage that would take us into the lake’s east arm, and eventually towards Constellation Lake where we would be staying that night. We’d only seen one canoe on the lake, right before we reached our site the night before (probably from the fly-in lodge at the south end of Royd – these were the first people we’d seen since Larus), but I commented shortly into our paddle about smelling a campfire. The smell became stronger as we paddled south along Royd, but we still couldn’t see any evidence of another group camping on the shoreline. Earlier we’d noticed (what we thought was) either a lingering morning fog, or the impending haze of a humid day when looking across the expanse of the lake. It was now late enough in the morning that the sun should have burned off the fog, and if it was developing into a humid day, the temperature should have started to climb. Noting that there was still a bit of a chill in the air, the wheels began to spin. It wasn’t haze or fog. It was a forest fire.
We didn’t panic. We could tell by the wind direction that once we started travelling northeast, we’d be moving away from any spreading fire (temporarily, at least). We learned later from Harlan that the annual forest fires in northern Manitoba pour so much smoke into the air that the entire Red Lake area is often is often blanketed with ash in the summer months. This would’ve been handy information heading into the trip, but it didn’t bother us much by the time we reached Constellation Lake. The haze was still there, but we didn’t seem to be in any immediate danger, and shrugged it off for the remainder of our time in that section of the park.
Constellation is another beautiful lake, located in the centre of the park. The site we chose had a perfect rock ledge embedded just under the water offshore, and straight out into deep water. Perfect for swimming. We did some camp laundry after getting our shelters set up, and easily gathered enough wood for several days’ stay on the lake if we needed to. I should say at this point, that coming from southern Ontario and frequenting parks such as Algonquin and Killarney, the firewood situation in Woodland Caribou was a dream. Everything is bone dry (hence the forest fires) and you only need to step a few feet into the forest to find an unlimited supply of deadfall. Another afternoon was spent swimming and lounging, capped off with a massive White Man fire that night.
Day 8 turned out to be a fairly routine day in terms of strenuous travel, but it marked our entry into a recently opened canoe route. This was another big draw for me while planning the trip; being some of the first people to recreationally portage a remote canoe route in northwestern Ontario was impossible to pass up. We’d be making our own campsites for this section of the trip, as none were even marked on the topographic maps provided by the outfitters. We made fairly decent time to Lightning Lake that afternoon by way of smaller unnamed lakes, and a series of 300m, 100m, 150m, 125m, 50m, and 100m portages along the new route. I spotted what looked to be somewhat of a rocky clearing across the lake as we finished our final portage of the day, and we agreed that it was worthy of investigating. The wind was fairly strong at this point, so we had a tough paddle directly into it, towards what would be our campsite for the evening. The skies were gloomy, but we were fortunate enough for the rain to hold off that afternoon. The clouds parted shortly after we pulled our boats ashore, offering us some late afternoon sun. This makeshift site of ours really required a decent amount of work. There were a few rocks laying together that looked like they may have been used for a fire at some point, but the grass growing throughout the cluster indicated that it would’ve been quite some time since this spot had last been visited. Beyond the rocks, there was no evidence it had been camped on. Some deadfall clearing was required to accommodate our shelters, but the bulk of the work put in was to the sloping rock face where I’d set up my tent, and we’d build our new fire pit. Massive hunks of lichen had to be stripped off of the rock to ensure that it wouldn’t catch fire, and Nick spent a considerable amount of time scavenging rocks to build a new pit. It didn’t look like much when we arrived, but we hoped that someone would have the opportunity to use our newly forged campsite after we vacated it.
We were treated to a hazy sunset that evening, with the effects of the forest fire smoke still evident on the horizon. We could all sense that the weather was about to turn and none of us were remotely prepared for what lay ahead of us the next day.
To be continued..
Part Three: Woodland Caribou
Day 2 ended up being as leisurely a day as one can imagine. We only had one portage to the western portion of Larus, which would position us for the following day’s travel south into Simeon and eventually Dunstan Lake. We slept in, ate a relaxed breakfast, and slowly packed up for the day. Our paddling was extremely laid back that day, with little urgency to cover ground quickly. We cruised past the fly-in lodge situated on the lake’s south end, realizing that this would potentially be the last piece of civilization we’d see for the remainder of the trip. Two bald eagles were spotted on our paddle east, and we stopped for several hours at our only portage (a 100m section of rock around a nice set of falls) for fishing and a delicious shore lunch of walleye and smallmouth.
Our eventual campsite for that day wasn’t anything spectacular: A flat, rocky point covered in scrub, where the western end of Larus bottlenecks before it turns south into Simeon Lake. We’d initially thought about pushing on further that day, but Harlan had suggested leaving ourselves a full day to tackle a potentially bone-dry, late-season Simeon Creek. The site did gain a fair amount of charm towards dusk, though. The setting sun hit the unfamiliar Boreal treeline and provided us with a picturesque reminder of how out of our usual portaging element we really were. Being late August, we were relieved that the bugs weren’t an issue to contend with. The back of our site was surrounded by a flooded, marshy section of forest that would’ve definitely been a nightmare to camp beside earlier on in the season. Southern Ontario had such an unbelievably awful year for black flies and mosquitoes so it was an absolute joy to be in the woods at sundown and not be bathed in Deet or hiding in a bug shelter. I’d made my first attempt at dehydrating backcountry burritos in preparation for the trip, and gave them a trial run that night for dinner. My only regret was not bringing more than three night’s worth, and they’ve been a staple on each canoe trip I’ve been on since then. We stayed up fairly late, as there wasn’t much ground to cover the following day, and our unimpeded view of the stars was putting on quite a show.
It was our second night in the park; we weren’t quite in the full rhythm of a lengthy canoe trip yet, but starting to settle into the daily routine of it all.
Day 3 would offer us some of our first wildlife encounters in Woodland Caribou. As breakfast was being prepared, Fulton spotted the head of a black bear swimming just around the corner of our site, with its wake across the channel visible to all of us. We thought the breakfast bacon smelled delicious, and apparently the bear agreed and wanted to investigate. We remained cautious of the fact that we were definitely being watched from behind our site, but we finished our breakfast and packed up camp without any real concern. The bear, no doubt, was waiting for us to leave so it could have a look around for anything we’d leave behind. We were still fairly close to a fly-in lodge, so the bears in the area were definitely acclimatized to humans and their connection to food. We pushed off from the site without incident, and saw no evidence of the bear as we looked back. We rounded a point on Simeon later that morning to see a large group of turkey vultures gathered on shore. Just as we realized that a large, beached carcass had brought them together to feed, we spotted a Golden Eagle perched in a branch hanging over the water in front of us. These massive birds can have a wingspan of over six feet, and we paddled almost right underneath it before it flew off to reposition itself in another tree. Golden Eagles aren’t typically scavengers, so it was possibly the commotion of the vultures that spiked its curiosity. Regardless, this was a truly rare sighting, and absolutely one of the biggest highlights of our trip.
We were warned of low water levels along Simeon Creek (“miserable” was the descriptor Harlan used), so we were apprehensive upon drawing nearer to the creek entrance. The creek, however, appeared to be extremely high as we entered the winding rocky maze, and while looking down into the water as we paddled, we could see what a nightmare this would’ve been to navigate through in low water. The first several kilometres would have been a torturous push through jagged, column-like rocks with only enough room to stick (and break) a leg in between. The rock walls that lined portions of this section provided an intimate, twisting landscape that was really fun to paddle through. We repeatedly praised the mighty beaver that dammed up this section of the creek as we easily moved through it….not considering what the eventual consequences could be, depending on where said dam would be located further on. We lucked out, though. Even though the water levels dipped a bit after we pulled over the eventual dam, there was still more than enough water to paddle. I don’t think we had to get out of the canoe more than a half-dozen times to carry over rocky sections of the creek. Drizzle had started to come down on us by this point, so we put on our rain gear and pushed through to Dunstan Lake – our destination for the day. We chose a beautiful island campsite halfway down the lake, but it rained fairly hard for our first few hours at camp and we didn’t really have an opportunity to settle in and enjoy our surroundings. We set up the tarps quickly, and strategized as to how we’d get a change of dry clothes on, make dinner, and somehow set up our shelters while keeping them dry. The rain let up after we ate and I decided to have a few casts in the dark, in a small channel between our island and another one situated about 30 yards away. Night fishing for walleye can be excellent, and sure enough there must have been a school clustered on some rocks at the channel bottom. I landed four 16-18 inch (perfect eating size) fish in almost as many casts before they smartened up to my spoon. Steve and his Minnow Trap were unable to join us for the trip, but we’d been having success with artificial lures up to that point. I only kept the last one to eat, but unfortunately found parasites in the fish while cleaning it and had to give it back to the lake. A snapping turtle ate well that night. It’s amazing how some dry clothes and full stomachs can instantly change the mood around camp; we were all in good spirits as the night wore on. The other guys eventually began to retreat to their tents and hammocks for the night, but I couldn’t be bothered to dig my tent out of my pack at such a late hour, so I just set up my pad and sleeping bag under the tarp for the night.
Day 4 began on another lazy note, simply due to the fact that we hadn’t really gotten a chance in the previous night’s rain to enjoy what a great site we’d chosen. The long island provided just enough cover for tents and hammocks, with the majority of it being exceptionally flat rock. Most of our gear was still pretty drenched from the previous day’s rain, so we took advantage of the clear skies and spread out our belongings around the site to dry. We only had a 750m & 150m portage ahead of us that day, so we weren’t in a rush to get moving. We all went swimming, fished, and lounged around camp. This was one of the aspects of the trip that I was really beginning to enjoy; we had days where we needed to travel further than others, but we were in the park long enough that we never really needed to kill ourselves (only distance-wise, as we’d later discover) on any particular day.
We didn’t pack up until well after noon, with the goal of hitting Wanda Lake that day. This would be where we’d spend our only rest day of the trip, and we were excited to see why the lake had come so highly recommended by everyone we’d talked to.
The paddle to Wanda was fairly uneventful, with the portages not posing any issues, and only a bit of shallower creek travel in the last stretch before it opened up into our rest-day destination. Wanda is a really gorgeous lake. I have soft spot for bodies of water with islands, so I might be somewhat biased, but the late afternoon sun beaming on the dead calm, glassy surface of the lake had me in awe. We began to comb the shores in search of a site, and settled on what is definitely a well-used camp. The modifications made to it (wooden stairs, etc) led us to believe that this is probably a popular site for fly-in guests, with Wanda having a stellar reputation for walleye and pike. The terrain of the site offered a large group clearing, many tent pads, an excellent fire pit, and paths to both a swimming area and a boat put-in. I’d slept so well the previous night that I decided on the tarp-only option again, and would do so for multiple nights throughout the rest of the trip. There was a noticeable glow on the horizon to the North as the evening wore on, and Nick was able to capture some impressive GoPro footage of the Borealis display – both of our nights on Wanda. We were up fairly late that first night, with no concern for anything in the day ahead except fishing, swimming and relaxation.
To be continued….
Part Two: Woodland Caribou
Almost 7 months later, and it was finally time to depart for Red Lake. Word of warning: the drive from the GTA to Woodland Caribou is a LONG one. A straight shot from East York would have been approximately 20 hours, but with breaks for gas, food, and driver changes, we completed the drive in 24 hours – not an easy feat. Harlan messaged me on our way up to inform us that we could fly into the park a day early due to a group cancellation. We jumped at the opportunity, as even though we were feeling pretty road-weary from the drive, we were even more anxious to get the trip underway. We met up with Harlan at Red Lake Outfitters shortly after sunrise, and he was kind enough to offer up his bush lot just outside of town for us to camp at for a few hours of sleep before our flight out that afternoon.
Day 1. The flight into the park was nothing short of spectacular. The float plane experience was a first for all of us, and seeing the waters and forests we’d paddle and portage over the next 12 days was simply incredible. Large swaths of burn were coming into view as we neared our destination and we had an aerial perspective of the huge role that fire plays in the Boreal. Lightning strikes often cause massive stretches of burn in these forests; the most recent in Woodland Caribou coming the summer prior to our visit. Our plane ( the legendary de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver) began a hard turn to the West and began to descend – we were preparing to land on Larus Lake, which would be the kick-off point for our WCPP journey.
We were dropped off almost right on shore at a sandy beach in the lake’s east end. Crispy would be paddling a solo canoe for this trip, so he arrived by himself in the first plane. Fulton and I flew in the second, with Nick and Dan in the final plane. Regulations permit only 1 canoe tie-up per plane, so keep this in mind if you’re planning a similar group trip. Immediately we were treated to a scattering of massive wolf tracks in the sand….a definite eye-opener that our adventure had begun and that we were finally deep in the North Country. After a celebratory beer on the beach, we decided to push off south towards a portage where the Bloodvein River enters Larus Lake. Beginning at Lake Winnipeg, the Bloodvein is a Canadian Heritage River and is on Canada’s tentative list of potential World Heritage Sites. This wasn’t the direction of where we’d be camping that night, however. One of our must-haves on the trip was seeing some of the many Indigenous pictographs that are scattered along the rock faces of the Bloodvein and we were advised of some just south of where the river empties into Larus at a series of falls. Nick, Fulton and I made quick work of the 750m portage through the regenerating burn, while Crispy and Dan remained at the falls to focus their efforts on losing some monster pike. The side-trip was absolutely worth the effort as the pictographs didn’t disappoint. We were slightly confused by some of their placements, though. Due to their situation in between the water and the top of the sheer rock face, the only plausible explanation would have been for their artist to have been standing on someone’s shoulders while in a canoe. There was also what looked like a stencilling of a two-thumb/six-fingered hand (probably two hands placed on top of each other). The near-impossible placement of the drawings and the mutant hand had us a little creeped out, so we took our pictures and made our way back.
Travelling back across the portage and paddling to what would be our first campsite, we were all fairly relieved that our stay on Larus would be the extent our time spent in burn areas. It’s impressive to see the lush regrowth pushing up against the scorched, sparse forest and witness how quickly the land recovers from fire. The novelty wears off quickly, though, and we were all ready to experience the rest of what the Boreal landscape had to offer. It was sundown by the time we found our campsite that night. We were all exhausted after virtually no sleep over the past few days and we were in our shelters not long after dinner; Nick and I in solo tents, with the rest of the group in hammock set-ups.
To be continued….