New video is live! A short one on one of the trips from last year we took with the kids through Temagami. Thanks for watching.
New video is live! A short one on one of the trips from last year we took with the kids through Temagami. Thanks for watching.
We’re back for another tips Tuesday.
Who makes a trip plan?
Who then leaves the details with someone they know? It’s a good idea to leave a detailed version of your trip plan with friends or family. Marking where you’ll be staying and when. This way if something does happen to you help can be sent out right away and search and rescue can target the areas you were supposed to be traveling through? Now some folks might say “wait I have a spot device for emergencies like that!” True it’s great to have a spot device but electronics break so it’s always good to have a backup plan.
Do you take proper precautions before you head backcountry?
What are some other good safety tips that you take before heading out?
Tips Tuesday continues! This time we’re heading back to the basics.
In this day of electronic gadgetry and SKYNET like computing its easy to forget about the basics. Electronics can and will break, run out of power or turn on you and blow you out the airlock. We’d strongly recommend working on your map and compass skills this year. Many classes are held online and locally (I took a course just last year to hone my skills) A great thing to have on your belt as a Canoe tripper. Use the blood thirsty human hating GPS unit but have the skills and tools to back you up if and when T1000 tries to ruin your trip.
Hope everyone’s enjoying their day, I don’t know why but I have a strange urge to watch Space odyssey or Terminator.
Aha! You knew this was was coming . So here we go with some PFD tips for sizing as well as care! Remember to share your photos with us here on FB as well as Instagram with the hashtag #wearapfd and #leadbyexample
Aren’t PFDs uncomfortable?
Long gone are the days of the hard foam strangling boy oh bouy PFDs . There is an insane range of different styles , colours , weights , ect in PFDs now. Not only are they a life saving device but some models are basically 90’s Dad cargo shorts for your chest! Pockets in pockets allow you to become a Swiss Army knife while paddling. Clif bar…top pocket. Knife..side pocket. Compass…oh room for that to. Map?…clip to the front. Fruity Pebbles? Eat your cereal at home you feral animal the canoe is no place for cereal.
Make sure to try them on before you purchase. Roll those arms , crouch, sit, do some burpeees. Make sure it’s comfortable and make sure it’s a proper fit. If not you’ve just purchased yourself a $200 seat pad which is basically the same as cutting your car seatbelts off and stuffing them in your back pocket…which if that’s your thing all the power to you just seems a like more work than just wearing it.
How do I care for my PFD?
Water and feed it three times a day….wait I’ve mixed up my notes here.
Store it somewhere dark and dry. UV rays will degrade fabric and the foam innards.
Try not to sit on it. Compressing the PFD is actually bad for it and will shorten its lifespan. If you’re a clean freak you can wash it with warm water and mild soap just make sure you dry it completely before putting it away, because moldy PFDs are gross. PFDs do have a lifespan so if you’re still rocking that 1970’s was once yellow but now is kinda brown and smells likes Nana’s basement PFD…get a new one.
Forgot yours? Ontario Parks actually has a PFD lending program. See here https://www.ontarioparks.com/pfdlending
It’s your choice though folks we’re not here to judge you on what you wear and don’t wear. My only suggestion is that if you’re promoting canoeing , if you’re taking out new individuals to the life, if you’re teaching a new generation about backcountry canoeing and camping #leadbyexample and #wearapfd.
Thanks for participating in another great tips Tuesday. As always if you’d like to see some of your tips featured drop us a line at
Here’s our final tip for the day and it’s an important one. Something huge is coming this summer to the Paddle In page. Wanna get in on it? Really simple just head on over to our YouTube channel and subscribe. That’s it nothing else fancy log into your account and hit the subscribe button. We’ll be rolling out more hints very soon but I can tell you this you do not want to miss this one.
“I’ll die with the black flies picking my bones. In North Ontario”
-The black fly song –
So if you’re like me your FB feed is full of people who have already got out for their first paddle as they live further south or are lamenting about the remaining ice and dreaming about paddling a northern lake. I’m just here to remind you what follows iceout just a few short weeks later. Those are not birds in the photo , nor is it a fleet of airplanes soaring in the skies of Temagami. They separate the dedicated from the fair weather, the complaints change from to cold to to buggy, they crawl in your eyes, nose and ears. But truth be told I miss them a little. That constant buzz, the tap tapping on the tent fly, the black halo around your bug net on the portage. The super resilient ones who manage to somehow crawl inside the bug jacket, and you’re not sure if they’re inside or out till you feel that familiar pinch. They’re waiting right now, just for you, they’ve missed you and if you think about it and are honest with yourself you missed them a little as well.
The Black Fly.
What’s the one piece of kitchen/cookware you can’t leave at home on a backcountry trip? Let us know in the comments below or better yet show us a photo.
Food Barrel Friday continues….
As some of you may or may not know it’s Canada Water Week . Now I think we can all agree that without water we wouldn’t get very far as Canoeists. We travel on it, we fish from it, most importantly we drink it.
So here’s a question for all of you. With choice of beverages in short supply on a canoe trip. What do you do to your water for a change of pace? Add crystals? Lemon? Wintergreen? Whisky?
Let us know in the comments below.
What’s your go to snack on the portage?
Are you a die hard blue berry addict?
Let us know in he comments below.
Here’s one of our favorites around the Paddle In homestead
Maple Trail Mix
3/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup oats
1 cup mixed nuts
2 cups whole natural almonds
1/2 cup golden raisins, a couple of handfuls
1/2 cup dried sweetened cranberries
1/2 sunflower seeds
1 cup M & M’s or Reese’s pieces
Pre heat oven to 375
Warm and combine Maple syrup and vanilla extract
Mix wet and dry ingredients (except the m&m’s they’ll melt!!) . Spread on a baking tray and bake 15 minutes. Remove cool and try not to eat it all right away.
Do you bring your kids backcountry?
Having a bit of a walk down memory lane with my son this morning. Eating away at breakfast he asked when and where we’ll be headed out on our first family canoe trip this year. As some of you may remember Finn’s love for tripping really blossomed last year. Spurred on by learning to solo paddle in Temagami and ending in a week long trip across Algonquin , last fall, where he really shone and impressed the hell outta me. As of this morning he’s settled on five father and son trips he wants to do. Three new routes in Temagami, the French River, and anywhere he can catch his first trout. Looking forward to warmer weather and more stories to share with all of you.
The trip posts can be seen here
Any plans to bring your kids out backcountry this year?
What’s your favourite meal to bring on a canoe trip??
Welcome to our new feature “Food Barrel Friday”. A new weekly post we’ll be rolling out to all you folks.
Today we’ll be bringing you three different posts through out the day that focus on….you guessed it FOOD. If anyone out there has some amazing recipes or meals you’d like to see featured on a food Barrel Friday please send us a message.
Here’s our recipe of the day. Let me say this we tried this recipe on a recent winter camping trip and man oh man it was delicious. We got all fancy and added some double smoked cheddar.
Bacon and Cheddar Bannock
Our recipe today is brought to all of you by My Outdoor Adventures. Dave was kind enough to share this with us. So in turn we’re sharing it with all of you. So make sure to pop by his page and check out what else he has going on. Warning! There are pictures of delicious moose burgers on his page and you won’t be able to get them outta your head.
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tbls baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup cubed smoked sharp cheddar
1/2 cup cooked, chopped thick sliced bacon
1 cup water ( may require more or less depending on ingredients )
Mix all ingredients, slowly add water until mixture is consistent
Heat oil in a frying pan and cook over medium heat
carefully flip when the first side is golden brown. Check the middle with a small thin stick (toothpick)
If nothing sticks then its done inside
Throw out the potatoes and grab yourself some crickets? Okay okay maybe don’t go that extreme but since it’s food Barrel Friday our resident beast Johnny is going to share with you his meal plan for his trip to the Adirondak peaks (where he currently is right now) . This is not for everyone but it is interesting to see the planning involved to trip while on a ketogenic diet. Enjoy folks and send Johnny warm thoughts as he hikes the Dacks!
Fueling for the Dack’s
Food preparations have been made for my upcoming trip to the Adirondack Mountains to hike the High peaks in Winter. Something you will notice as you look through the pictures of food below that I will be taking, is the lack of foods like oatmeal, pasta or breads. The reason for this is because this trip will be fueled by a ketogenic diet, low carbohydrates, moderate protein and high fat. The macronutrient ratio is approximately 5%-10% calories from carbs, 15%-30% calories from protein and 60%-75% from fat and in the case of fat, even sometimes more. I have dabbled with this style of eating in the past and have experienced ketosis. This time however I went through a 38hr fast to kick start the process of depleting my glycogen stores and producing ketones in the absence of glucose. I transitioned into a ketogenic diet immediately following the fast and have since fasted each day from approximately 8pm until between 9am and 12pm the next day. I have narrowed my eating window to 2 meals a day with some light snacking on a handful of nuts or seeds. I feel very satiated in times of a lengthy absence from eating as well as my relationship with food and hunger changing. My upcoming trip will be a true test of my ketogenic state and how I respond. My energy levels have increased so I am very optimistic about my performance in the mountains, however only time will tell. Below I will breakdown the foods that will be going with me on this trip.
On the top in the containers, starting on the far left in the GooTube I have avocado oil. Working our way right I next have MCT oil. The next container is almond butter. To the right of that is Frank’s Redhot powder and pepper split. Lastly at the far right is coconut oil.
Going back to the far left column going down is dehydrated lemons for my water which helps boost metabolism first thing in the morning. I then have green tea and instant coffee (much prefer coffee done in a French press) which I drink both black (or green in the tea’s case).
Below that is a baggy with Pink Himalayan salt which provides up to 84 trace minerals.
Next column starts with Hemp seeds and below that a mix of hemp seeds and super seeds which will provide a full protein profile. Organic pumpkin seeds are next on the list and are very high in healthy fats along with the previously mentioned hemp and super seeds.
The next baggy contains organic dark chocolate wrapped super seeds as a nice sweet tasting healthy snack. Below that at the end of column #2 is everybody’s favorite, roasted crickets containing 100% of daily B-12 as well as a good amount of sustainable protein. So far what I have mentioned are mostly snacks, drinks, spices and things to add to meals to help compliment the macronutrient ratio.
The next column we get into the meat and potatoes. Wait… no potatoes, they are not keto friendly, just meat lol. First of we start with a bag of chipotle beef jerky. Next is dehydrated ground chicken and last in that column is a yummy salmon jerky.
Now what would all this food be without veggies (all dehydrated), which brings us to the last column on the far right. The top bag is onions, followed by green and orange bell peppers. Second last is chili pepper topped tomatoes. Finally I put together a baggy of celery and cucumber.
Other food items not shown in this picture include a package of salami, a mozzarella ball, two baggies of spinach and some eggs from our backyard chickens.
As an afterthought and as I write this post I also have sausage jerky and cinnamon avocado slices in the dehydrator to take as well. All of these items that I have listed fit nicely in 2 large freezer baggies that will go into a ditty sac in my backpack.
The oils and seeds will be added to the spinach and meats for the fats and the veggies will provide fibre and low amounts of carbohydrates. Most likely I will be in a fasted state for most of the morning and if I do get somewhat hungry I will have an egg or add MCT oil to my coffee to help satiate. Hopefully I have calculated everything properly but the trip will be my source of feedback.
If you have any questions regarding details around the foods or any other questions regarding keto, fasting or health in general when tripping, please feel free to comment or send us and email or message and we will gladly try to help. I hope this inspires you to take a hard look at what you are using to fuel your outdoor trips. We want to be as healthy as we can for as long as we can so we have many years of tripping ahead.
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?
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..