Submitted by Ken Babinchak, founding member of the Friends of Wabakimi, and longtime Wabakimi Project trip leader and participant with Phil Cotton, Barry Simon, Bill McCarvell and many others.
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In August 2007 I participated in my second trip with the Wabakimi Project in Wabakimi Provincial Park. Along with Uncle Phil Cotton, my fellow travellers were Barry Simon and Bill McCarvell. Barry is The Project’s map maker, and with Phil is responsible for the 5 Volume set of map booklets which in detail map the canoe routes in and around Wabakimi Provincial Park. Bill was the Project’s webmaster and maintained the extensive resource that www.wabakimi.org had become for travellers in the Wabakimi area.
Like most of the Projects trips we three met at Phil’s house in Thunder Bay, Ontario on Friday afternoon and got acquainted, had our orientation meeting and went out for a beer or two with dinner. Saturday morning at 5 a.m. we were up and we packed the van and drove up to Armstrong, Ontario via Tim Horton’s. We got to Mattice Lake Outfitters and found out we had time for a quicky breakfast in town before our 12 noon flight to Scrag Lake where the previous week’s team had ended up on Friday afternoon.
At noon we flew out of Mattice Lake Outfitters in one of their Beavers, and after a 35 minute flight through blue skies, we circled Scrag Lake and spotted the two canoes floating like a couple of toothpicks on its shimmering surface. Another circuit and a quick steep bank and we were down skidding to a halt a couple of hundred yards off shore. Last week’s crew paddled up on either side of the Beaver and we commenced to unloading and loading the plane, saying our hellos and goodbyes, and within 10 minutes, Barry, Bill, Phil and I were in our canoes and paddling towards the campsite. The Beaver started up with a sputter then roared away.
Our campsite was a nice flat site with water on 3 sides. The tents were pitched and the tarp was up and a Wabakimi fire place was already stocked with wood. We sat around with Phil and shot the breeze, had another re-orientation meeting and chose our paddling and tent partners. We had dinner (Phil cooks all the meals) and a few after dinner schnapps and then called it a night.
Day 2- Sunday
I’m an early riser so I was up at around 6:15 to find Barry brewing some tea. It was a bright, sunny and warm morning.
So we shared a couple of smokes and had a cuppa, coffee for me. By time 9 am rolled around Bill was up and Phil managed to achieve an almost upright state by 10 am. We don’t get going too early on Wabakimi Project trips. A quickie breakfast and some more coffee and conversing, then we packed up and hit the water by 12:30… in the pm. We headed north-east on Scrag Lake, a lake dotted with islands and lined with cliffs, and then headed north to the Grayson River, which at this point was a creek, leading to Arril Lake. After slogging through about 150m of loon scat we hit our first portage which I had helped clear in 2006. 235m later we were into a pond and then another portage about 600m. This was the first use of the chain saw (Husqvarna, the Husky or the Dog) for us. In previous years we had hand saws, which, considering the enormity of the task were totally inadequate. Barry had a little difficulty with the footing at the put in.
Down the creek a bit Barry spotted a bull moose on the left shore with a huge rack that watched us through the woods for a few minutes. It then turned and slipped out of sight. We had to clear a couple of logs that had fallen since last summer. After only a year, this portage, which had been cleared a year earlier still required about 40 minutes work. Then Barry and Bill took a dip in the creek to cool off. Ahh! After action… satisfaction.
We cleared another 65m portage and broke through to the creek/stream and wound our way down the wide river that took us into Arril Lake. It’s very bouldery and shallow through this section. We came to a narrows where the creek got very rocky. The previous year we had done some re-arranging of the rocks here to allow the canoe to be lined through. We stuck around and cleared it a bit more, then located the 30m portage river right.
After that, Arril Lake is wide and open and the wind was really picking up out of the west. We were making good speed, 8+km/h according to the gps with a nice 1.5 foot chop.
By time we made it to the east side of Arril Lake storm clouds were brewing in the west. The island site was occupied by a girl’s camp group on a 29-day trip, so Phil asked for permission to set up on the south tip of the island (where I had also stayed in 2006). We set up the tarp just in time. A vicious thunderstorm blew through. It rained so hard we couldn’t see more than 5 feet out into the lake. The drops were splattering so hard there was a thick mist. Half an hour later the sun was out. We invited the girls over for some map talk after we set up and finished dinner. We had to bushwhack a site for the tents, and things got a bit damp and lumpy overnight. We stayed up till after mid-night trying to encourage the Northern Lights, but they fizzled out before we did.
Day 3- Monday
Dawned overcast and breezy. More morning coffee and couple of smokes, and then breakfast. We were still in the formative years of The Wabakimi Project, so we had a long discussion with Bill and Barry about how the website was going to be designed and how we were going to create and sell the map booklets. It was great to be included in these early discussions though I knew little about making maps and websites, my opinions and ideas were considered.
We packed up camp around 12 noon and got on the water. It was still overcast and threatening. We headed due north on the Grayson River into the bottom end of Dawn Creek. We found a spot where the otters would break open their clamshells and scatter them. Further upstream we came around a big bend where all the trees were down and their root balls were sticking up. Hundreds of acres were flattened by a shear wind and under the grey skies this area looked very foreboding.
We reached a portage that had been cleared (more like hacked) recently by the park portage crew, through to the next bay. It was rugged and steep and logs were left all over it. We cleaned it up, gps and measured it. Then we headed out across the bay to another portage that had been cut in the wrong place and had a sharp 90 degree left turn through a cedar copse. It was badly plotted and executed, and left us in a ditch/depression at the other end. We had to get into our work clothes (neck ties), we widened the trail through the woods so we could maneuver a canoe and laid a little corduroy. The weather was clearing, and we then headed north on Dawn Creek and cleared five more portages, 60-250 meters in length. and we paddled and lined up a shallow section where no portage was possible It was a gorgeous day with high puffy clouds and plenty of sunshine. By dusk we made camp near the head of the rapids around a big bend.
We bush whacked a nice campsite and set up a Wabakimi fire place and settled in for dinner. We ate around 11 p.m., which isn’t that unusual. The light was just fading.
Day 4 - Tuesday
Still on Dawn Creek, dawn was gorgeous. A sunny warm day greeted Barry and me, Bill a little later, and then Phil by mid morning. After breakfast and some more business chatter, we headed north on Dawn Creek to clear a few more portages and get us to the east arm of Dawn Lake. It was a great day to do some slashing through the woods, and by 6 pm we were done and heading back to camp on Dawn Creek.
Some weather moved in for a while just drizzle, but we flipped the canoes and battened the hatches. Dinner, some gab, and then an early night. Planning for a long day tomorrow.
Day 5 - Wednesday
It was another lovely day. We had a quickie breakfast and broke camp by 10;30 a.m. We headed north up Dawn Creek via the portages we had cleared on Day 4 and into the east arm of Dawn Lake. I know we did a helluva good job on these portages because it’s so easy to cross them once they’re finished.
Dawn Lake is a four-legged starfish of a lake, It’s 8kms from north to south and 6kms east to west. There’s a fishing outpost camp on the northwest corner where the arms meet.
We stopped and had a shore lunch on the south shore if the west arm. The weather was warm and sunny with a mild breeze. We headed up to the end of the west arm. The weather closed in and the temperature dropped. We located and explored the 700m portage from the west arm of Dawn Lake that runs southwest to Slim Creek that runs south into Slim River. It was very straight and appeared to be a trapper’s sled run. Some of the blazes on the trees marking the trail were very old with sap bubbles about an inch in diameter.
We didn’t find any campsite opportunities, so we bushwhacked a campsite on a sloping open spot on the south shore of the west arm. It was getting cool, and we had to build a fire place and set up some seating and gather firewood. Seating around fire pit was tight, but dinner was hot and the view was nice. We got to bed around 10 p.m. We didn’t sleep well on that rocky slope.
Day 6 - Thursday
Up and at ‘em the next morning. Breakfast and a coffee, then we hit the trail. The weather was overcast, but it was warming up. It was a nice day for travel. We paddled over to the portage we had scouted the day before. We slogged all the stuff over in about and hour then waited at the mosquito infested south end for Phil and Barry who were tape measuring its length.
We were about as far north I had been up to that point in my life. Heading south, the 2+km creek was twisty and winding, with many beaver dams and ponds, drops and pools, and a gravel bottom. We had to break a bit off the top of several beaver dams to get the canoes over, and hopefully get the creek flowing a bit faster. It took us about an hour and a half to get to the large pond at the south end. We couldn’t locate the portage by passing the next section of the creek that was supposed to run from the bottom of the pond to the last few bends in the log clogged creek to Slim Lake. Time was tight, so we headed to the creek at the west side located a 800+m portage that was jammed with tree trunks and windfalls. Three hours later we were at the last bends in the creek into Slim River. Phil thought we could clear some of the logs crossing the creek, but we just paddled under and around them.
We located a campsite on the east shore at the top of Slim River. It was soft and sandy, up on a rise, with a nice view down the river. Slim River is just that. Narrow and long, 14+kms, south and a bit west ending in Slim Lake, down by the Palisade River. We were only about 3 kms from where we had started on Scrag Lake. We set up and had a nice dinner. We sat around gabbing, plotting maps, reviewing the day and smoking and drinking till about mid-nite. The stars were terrific.
Day 7 - Friday
We got up early and broke camp by 10 am. We had a long trip down the 14 km long Slim River ahead. We paddled south scanning the shores for campsites and potential campsites.
On the west side there was a large, expansive site of about half an acre of cleared forest. It was level and appeared tended every few years. Further down the west shore was Corky Creek which our teams had cleared portages on a year earlier. The creek was clogged with fallen trees. It takes you east to the Palisade River and Webster Creek. Tough country to work in.
While exploring the creek and surrounding area we attempted to make a landing. Bill felt for the bottom with his paddle and reported that on the left side it was only a foot deep. I stepped out and unfortunately I found a hole that was 3 feet deep. Down I went, my right toe caught under the thwart and as I floundered the whole canoe tipped over to the left and everything ended up in the water.
We checked the north shore and found the portages from a year earlier. Still in good shape. Then we paddled out of Corky Creek eastbound and again headed down Slim River. We stopped a few times to rest, and around 3 pm we made it to Slim Lake.
We set up at a campsite on the south shore of Slim Lake. It was Friday afternoon and our explorations were over. Time to relax before dinner and check out the swimming a do a little paddling on the Palisade River. We called the airbase at Mattice Lake and arranged for a pickup on Saturday.
Day 8 - Saturday
We packed up and were ready to paddle out to the canoes for our 1 pm pickup. The Beaver circled from the east, then dropped over the trees again on its way around and came to a halt 200 meters away. We paddled up, greeted the new team, unloaded them into the canoes, loaded our stuff and off we flew. Our trip was over. A great time was had by all. We established some criteria for the further development of The Wabakimi Project, we cleared and measured some portages, located and cleared a few campsites and created a very nice route in a seldom used area of Wabakimi Park.