Trip Report – Little Caribou to Miminiska, June/July 2021
Dates: 21 June 2021 – 8 July 2021
People: Brent Sinclair, Mhairi McFarlane – London, ON
Canoe: H2O Voyageur17
Water levels: low for the season, according to Parks. Water 6-8” below spring pollen band on the rocks.
Weather/Bugs: Cold (6 °C, North wind and raining) when we set out – no bugs! Strong winds during first week made large lake travel challenging (e.g. camped on Beaver Island because couldn’t cross Caribou on first day). This gave way to a 1-in-1000 year heatwave and temps >30 °C before cooling off for the last few days. Only one thunderstorm that affected us once we reached our first campsite on the Albany. Once it warmed up we had moderate blackflies and mosquitoes and some deerflies. One or two stable flies towards the end of the trip. We were there before the 2021 wildfires really got going, but we smelled smoke for a few days when we were on the Palisade, and one day was quite hazy.
Route: Little Caribou – Caribou (camp Beaver Island) – Caribou River (camp) – Smoothrock (camp) – Lower Wabakimi (camp in narrows to Wabakimi L) – Wabakimi – River Bay – Ogoki River – Kenoji (camp on island nr mouth of Ogoki river) – Palisade River (Camp at ‘big bend’) – Webster Creek – Redman (camp on point nr where Webster creek continues) – Webster Creek – Webster Lake (camp on Island at S end), Webster Creek – Early – Colehouse (camp, site 500m E of where marked on paddle planner) – Rockcliff (camp 51.01293, -89.87995, site 20’ above water) – Misehkow (camp at site marked at 139 m portage) – Misehkow – Iron Falls (camp) – Blow – Misehkow (camp 51.27711, -89.26564) – Misehkow – Albany (camp 51.44625, -89.18860) – Albany (camp 51.45340, -88.99899) – Albany – Snake Falls (camp) – Miminiska (camp at point S of Albany mouth 51.54992, -88.72339) – Fly out (Single Otter, Mattice Lake Outfitters)
Portage conditions: Apart from a couple on the Palisade, we seemed to be the first people across most of the portages this year and (especially on Webster Creek through to Rockcliff) perhaps several years for some. We were carrying a folding saw and a hatchet, and cleared all the portages to the best of our abilities (only two of ~25 had no trees down) – on average, we think we removed a piece of blowdown every 50 m of portage. The three portages from Webster – Early – Rockcliff took ~10 hours of our time to clear. There had been some sort of recent microburst or maybe even tornado event around Colehouse – most of the S shore of the lake was lined with recently upended root masses of trees all blown down by a wind from the North, and the summit of the portage to Rockcliff had a huge (3+ m high and deep, 50 m long) multistem blowdown which was impassable without a chainsaw (we carved a rough detour, but it requires some canoewrangling to negotiate). We ran/lined as many portages as we could on the Misehkow, but still did a bit of work on them as required. We were running out of portage maintenance enthusiasm by the time we hit the Albany, so although we did some work on the portages around the falls, they could probably do with a little more TLC.
Some notes on our route:
Wildlife: Caribou + calf swimming to island on Caribou Lake; Three caribou swimming to island on Smoothrock. Many moose – mainly cows + calves on the Palisade and Webster and bulls on the Misehkow and Albany (including one fine animal about 10 m from our first campsite on the Albany). Surprisingly few beavers (although plenty of lodges, especially on the Misehkow). Five otter sightings including several on stretch of Albany from Patte Lake to Miminiska. About half a dozen bears… two nice sightings where we were downwind and across the river on the Misehkow and we could watch the bear go about his/her business (rather than the usual view of a bear butt disappearing into the bushes). Great time of year for dragonflies and moths (we found many luna moths). Mhairi was doing Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas surveys, including deploying automated monitors overnight. We don’t have the data from those yet, but some birdy highlights include: small common tern colony on Wabakimi, many boreal chickadees, many goldeneye with ducklings, trumpeter swans, black-billed cuckoo on the Albany near Miminiska, pelicans on Miminiska. Mhairi was also making regular eBird checklists and iNaturalist observations, almost doubling the number of iNat observations for the park.
General thoughts: The winds and hot weather coupled with a lot of time spent clearing portages made this trip pretty demanding for 18 days. We had two short (~5 h) days and our longest was ~13h, and we had no days off – a couple of rest days (or not losing time to portage clearing and wind) would have been nice! Now would be a great time to follow our footsteps, because there’s a lot less work to do, and the days would be a *lot* shorter. Water levels were on the low side throughout. The CII rapids on the Ogoki were in great shape, but the swifts before and after didn’t have enough water. We probably grounded out on about half the swifts on the Misehkow, and the mud on Webster was… something!
Evening on Lower Wabakimi -- Mhairi enjoying a sunset paddle to a couple of sites in the narrows between Lower Wabakimi and Wabakimi to deploy automated recorders for surveying breeding birds. Photo: Brent Sinclair
Portage before, Portage during, Portage After -- A typical bit of required portage maintenance – this one requiring us to cut through two blown down stems. This was on the first portage from Wabakimi Lake’s River Bay on the Ogoki River (we skipped most of the rest by running/lining the rapids). Photos: Mhairi McFarlane.
Viscous water on Webster -- A taste of the mud at the upper end of Webster creek. Fun fact: PFDs work in bottomless mud as well as water! Photo – Brent Sinclair
Horrendous portage -- This is the state of the 573 m portage on the Misehkow. Believe it or not, Mhairi is dead centre of the portage trail in this picture. Running/lining the river sucked in the low water, but was an easy choice once we found this terrain! Photo – Brent Sinclair
Moose on the Misehkow -- We saw several bull moose on the meanderson the Misehkow. Photo – Mhairi McFarlane.
Pelicans -- Three of the 14 pelicans we encountered on our last morning on Miminiska lake.