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….
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.
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.
Totally forgot to introduce my personal favourite new addition to Paddle In. Meet Bannock everyone! He’s a Blue Heeler (Australian Cattle Dog) and our newest canoe pup. He’s already been winter camping with us and he’s realized he loves the wood stove (pictured below) We’re hoping he takes to the canoe as well as our other pup Whisky has. His canoe training has already started even though there’s snow on the ground. He’s been in and out of the canoe on dry land and been allowed to check out all our gear and how it smells. Very excited to get him on the water and see how quickly he throws me in the drink the first few times. So while we’re very excited to have new two legged additions to Paddle In we have to admit we’re just that much more excited about this four legged addition (sorry guys) .
It’s another warm one this weekend folks. Hope everyone stays dry and safe. We won’t be paddling or winter camping this weekend. But we are headed to the Capital of Canada 🇨🇦 for a visit with some great friends (without the dogs and kids!) Have a great weekend everyone.
The final new member we’ll be talking about this month is someone the Paddle In family has known for quite awhile now. We’ve been on trips, we’ve suffered through black flies, hit the 100th meridian , and talked about the finer points of the novel Minnow Trap (surprise! There are none). Mr. Tom Donnachie . So who is Tom? What is Tom? Let’s ask him and find out.
“Tom Donnachie is a seasoned canoe tripper, with almost 30 years of portaging experience under his belt. Soloing has become a recent passion over the past decade, and Tom is always looking to push his limits and expand on his backcountry capabilities and knowledge. With joining the Paddle In team, Tom is eager to share his experiences, learn more from others, and contribute as much as possible to the rapidly growing paddling community in Ontario.
1)Who got you into canoeing?
I was fortunate enough to be raised by some strong role models with a genuine appreciation for the outdoors. I had a fishing rod in my hand not long after I could walk, and summer vacations spent bass & pike fishing at Lake on The Mountain Provincial Park were the highlight of every childhood summer. My uncle, a former Ontario Parks ranger, took me on my first portaging trip into Butt Lake (now Ralph Bice – significant name upgrade) in Algonquin Park when I was 10. We saw multiple moose and heard howling wolves at night, and I’ve been addicted to it ever since.
2)What do you Paddle?
Swift Prospector 16
Woodland Caribou PP fly-in. Larus Lake to Johnson Lake access point over 12 days.
Opasquia Provincial Park, The Nahanni (Valley of the Headless Men), Superior to James Bay, Great Glen Canoe Trail in Scotland….you could say that I have a lot of dream trips.
5)Fireside beverage of choice
My Nalgene full of Jameson. I’m a classy guy.
6)Favourite tripping meal?
Freshly caught walleye, if available. Packed meal: rehydrated Backcountry Burritos.
7) Do you believe in ghosts? Bigfoot? Bigfoot’s ghost?
Not exactly a believer, but who doesn’t love a really creepy ghost story? I can deal with Bigfoot if they’re the goofy, “Harry & The Hendersons” variety….I can do without the “throw logs at you and scream Bigfoot noises all night” type, though. Ghost ‘Squatch? That sounds like a movie script waiting to be written…. Paddle In’s first foray into feature-length film? Hopefully John Lithgow can get onboard.
8)What does the canoe mean to you?
For me, the canoe is a means to connect with the traditions of both the indigenous people of Canada, and the explorers who blindly and fearlessly set forth to chart the massive country that we call home. It’s a tool to disconnect from the trivial, mundane trappings of modern life. Honestly, I feel more comfortable in a canoe than most places on land. It sounds pretty hokey, but for me it’s extremely therapeutic.”
So there you have it folks! We are beyond excited to to have Tom joining the team and look forward to what he has to bring to Paddle In this year. So please join me in welcoming our newest member, who already has his first trip report ready for all of you! (No pressure to the other two new guys 😬) We’ll be diving into his Woodland Caribou P.P trip this week as I’ve broken it up into a few sections.
~New Journeys, Old Traditions~
Summer is officially here for the Paddle In crew. Kids finished school yesterday so we get to up our game when it comes to canoeing. This year will be a little different for us and the kids will be with me a lot more this year. What does that mean? It means we’re sitting around the breakfast table with a bunch of maps out and a notebook. The kids each have a few places they’d like to visit and it’s really the first year they’ve been this involved. We have a list of 20 different routes at the moment. The real question is where to go first.
A massive thank you to the good folks at Swift Canoe & Kayak for lending me one of their Canada 150 themed 16 foot prospectors for our 150 for 150 event. Only 150 of these will be produced and we were lucky enough to paddle number 16. You can find out more about them by clicking this link…
Even sitting on shore the canoe drew people to it with the Canadian flag emblazoned on the bottom. It felt very fitting to be paddling such a canoe during an event which celebrated Canada and the importance of the canoe to Canadians. We had many compliments on it as both myself and my father paddled it around canoe lake , eventually into the circle of 150 canoes who were gathered for the event. I think every member of the Paddle In crew would of been happy paddling it around and there were whispers of a possible abduction , so I made sure to keep my eyes on it at all times. So as I said before, thank you for your amazing products and your support of the paddling community.
P.S also big thanks to The Canoe Collector for picking up and dropping off the canoe. You’re the man Dave! 🇨🇦🛶👍
“How were the bugs?”
Well here’s a few shots from our first night on Lake Temagami. Kids in the bug nets, Dad and Grandpa out collecting drift wood for a fire, and no the camera lens wasn’t dirty all those black dots are black flies buzzing around the kids heads. They’re attracted to my kids pretty fiercely . But never a single complaint was uttered by either of them. They were happy to be back in Temagami bugs and all.
We’re back! The Obabika River P.P was a great place to celebrate Ireland’s 7th birthday. We had a little bit of everything thrown at us this trip. Thunderstorms, wind, hordes of black flies and mosquitos but it was worth it. I had been in major Temagami withdrawal and this was just what I needed. We’re busy unpacking and cleaning up our gear (there are black fly corpses in everything). We have lots of photos and stories to share with all of you soon.
Have a great weekend! Hopefully you can all spend some time putting paddle to water.
We recently got our hands on the All-in-one collar + leash combination from the folks over at www.MyRadDog.com. I’ll be referring to it as the collar/leash for the rest of the blog.
Well I think before we say anything we’d like to state that Whisky our wonder test dog loved his new collar/leash. He loved it so much he wrote his own blog about it, but since he’s a dog it didn’t make any sense and he just got mud all over the keyboard. So we stepped up and decided to write one for him.
Okay we love this product! It eliminated the need to bring a leash for our dog Whisky on our canoe trips. If you’re like us you don’t leash your dog in the canoe but then hook them up once you get to a portage. Or as we’re often crownland camping we don’t have him on a leash at all. Eventually though you hit the portage or the need arises to leash him up. So I’m loving just being able to reach down and grab the handle on the collar which then extends the leash. The leash retracts back into the collar when you release it. Making it a very tidy little package.
The durable collar is made with climbers webbing (Cordura) and has a leash (an extra strength material called Spectra) built right into it. Which makes controlling the dog in the canoe and on the portages easier without having their leash dangling all over the place. The Spectra leash is rated for dogs up to 110lbs which would be a pretty big dog to have in the canoe with you, so we’re thinking if you’re reading this the collar would be suitable for your dog. The product comes in a variety of colours and for sizes ranging from small (up to 40lbs) to XLG (41 lbs – 110 lbs).
We had the collar/leash out with us on our last canoe trip. Once we adjusted it Whisky had absolutely no issues wearing it. He was in and out of the canoe/water quite a bit and it held up nicely. Not having to unpack his leash at each portage was fantastic, my kids and my wife commented how convenient and easy the collar/leash was. We’re all about streamlining the canoe packing process, so if can ditch a piece of gear I will.
I’ll say again we absolutely loved the collar/leash and would recommend it for any of our fellow canoeists or hikers. For anyone interested in picking up this cool product from Rad Dog you can head over to their website www.MyRadDog.com. The MSRP is 39.95 which we feel is totally in line with a standard leash and collar purchase. We’re definitely fans and we’ll be picking up a few more for our other pups.
Tis the season to wear bug nets fa la la la la la la la la..okay sorry I got a little carried away there. But it’s true the legions of blood sucking , biting creepy crawlers has risen from the fast moving brooks and stagnant beaver ponds. Yesterday we had a few conversations about bug prevention on canoe trips, now it’s all we’re thinking about. Luckily we make sure to have the following on our trips
1) Bug Jackets. The ones from The Original Bug Shirt Company are fantastic.
2) Bug spray. I’m not a huge fan of bug spray myself but we make sure to have some DEET , some all natural and some designed for kids on each of our trips. If the biting hordes get to much for my trip mates sometimes just the act of spraying a little on them will put their mind at ease.
3) Eureka Canada vcs tarp system and screen shelter. We have the older version they have a no No Bug Zone version which is just as good. It’s nice to have an area set up at camp that’s bug free, especially for the kids.
4) Patience and will power. Biting insects don’t really bother me. People often state on trips that they have no idea how I’m not losing my mind over the bugs. I think once you put it out of your mind it’s a little less of an issue. Also just paddle out into the lake. There is normally a breeze and less or no bugs out there. Lay back , cast a few lines and enjoy your big free area.