John Sinclair and Barry Simon's July 13-31, 2017 Trip, essential to completing the Kopka River route for Volume V of the Canoe Route mapping series. John is the trip report author and one of the FOW Incorporators. Barry was the mapmaker who worked with Phil on all the FOW Map Volumes. Gratitudes to both for their efforts!!!
Wednesday July 12th - Day 0
On our way to Armstrong from Thunder Bay, we stopped at the Kopka River bridge to scout for the portage trail around the falls. We knew the historic portage is river left and found it. We inspected its condition and made note for our passage in weeks to come. We continued to the airbase, Mattice Lake Outfitters, and coordinated the shuttle in town. We had dinner in town and waited with our gear at the train station. It was very buggy waiting there.
Our train arrived in Armstrong around 1:30 am. We traveled to Allanwater Bridge and arrived at 3 am. The typical schedule of departure is around 10 pm. We shared the train ride with two paddlers from Toronto who were doing the same route we were. They were ending their trip at the Hwy 527 bridge where their outfitter, Wabakimi Canoe Outfitters, would be spotting their vehicle. We noted they were traveling very light in terms of gear, one 60 ltr barrel, one canoe pack and two personal packs. They intended to single carry all portages with each carrying a barrel or pack while jointly carrying the canoe by each end. Their plan was to complete their trip in nine days. We don’t know if they did so, but we followed the red vinyl marks their canoe left on rocks all the way to Hwy 527.
Johnny, the owner of the Allanwater Resort cabins, met us at the rail to take our gear to the cabins where we stayed for the remainder of the night.
Thursday, July 13th - Day 1
We departed on our trip under bright and sunny skies in comfortable 70 degree temperatures.
Our route will be taking us upstream on the Brightsand River for an estimated five days to reach the headwaters of the Kopka River at Redsand Lake. Our kit consisted of two 60 ltr food barrels, one #3 equipment pack, one #4 personal gear pack and two day packs. All gear was carried in Barry’s 16’ Wenonah Aurora. We were completely self contained and would not be requiring any resupply during our planned 21 day trip. During our travels, we looked for the two portages leading into Kawaweogama Lake and measured only the north one. We never located the southern route/portage. This delayed our initial thoughts of reaching Antler Lake for our first night. We ended up camping for the evening at a drop just above Antler Lake. We experienced some flies and mosquitoes in the evening, which were not very annoying.
Friday, July 14th - Day 2
After a restful night in a comfortable campsite, we packed and departed at about 10 am.
Traveling upstream and into the wind, we waded numerous rapids and swifts. The good weather we experienced yesterday continued on this day. The breeze was refreshing and the sun was shining brightly. We continued to follow the red vinyl scrapes left by the Canadians’ canoe. They were no doubt moving very quickly, while we needed to triple portage each carry. Not only did we have much more gear, but we were measuring each portage and annotating our draft maps. This information will be used by Barry to draw the maps for this route which will be published in Volume 5 of the Wabakimi Canoe Route Map booklet series. This night we found ourselves on a comfortable, but compact campsite with several tables built in the trees around the campsite. There was discarded junk about the campsite which was probably being used as a fish camp. Barry was able to land a good sized walleye which provided both of us with several fillets for our evening meal. Thiscampsite is located next to a small falls, and as a result offers a good fishing spot.
Our first two nights on the trail found us not making the progress Barry planned on whenhe created the draft maps for this trip. The campsite we were aiming for tonight was still8 miles away. We reached this site at about 4 pm and decided to stay here, since we didnot know what the next campsite would be like. Tonight we rigged a rain fly, since itappeared as if a weather change was coming from the west.
Saturday, July 15th - Day 3
Today was a long day of open lake paddling and portaging with the wind at our backs. We ended up camping on an island in the middle of Harmon Lake with a developed but junky fish camp. Not only did the campsite provide us with free standing tables, but there was a large portable garage structure. This was a steel framed dome structure covered with a heavy fitted vinyl tarp complete with zipper closure doors. This was an actively used site. We found recent notes inside the garage listing the fish caught and their sizes. Also inside was a large workbench with camp supplies. The latrine area of the campsite had wooden stands built with toilet seats on top. No attempt had been made to dig pits. The waste was simply allowed to pile up on the ground beneath. This made for very unsanitary conditions, as the flies had ready access to the waste. Fortunately the latrine area was located well away from the campsite. Too bad this very scenic spot was so despoiled. The day ended with a beautiful sunny and cloudless sky and light breezes after an overcast day with a few raindrops. A campfire with already supplied wood was enjoyed with libations before bed. We tried to sleep in the garage structure without using the tent. Due to the flies and mosquitoes, we decided to erect the tent inside.
Sunday, July 16th - Day 4
We arose to a fog covered lake which cleared by 9 am or so with the promise of another sunny comfortable day. We paddled to the south end of Harmon Lake and encountered a tough portage. It was very steep (3m) going up from the water then continuing on a trail with numerous blown down trees. We paddled on and waded several more rapids and swifts. In the afternoon we portaged over the Graham Road Bridge and entered Sparkling Lake. Graham Road appeared to be actively used. Barry reported hearing a vehicle on it before we arrived at the portage. According to Phil Cotton, the MNRF will be decommissioning this bridge. Considerations for a new portage into Sparkling Lake should be made. We camped for the evening at a nice, open and flat island campsite with tables and a comfortable lawn chair needing only a quick repair to be serviceable. This campsite offered all the comforts: rocky points for bathing and sunning, a box latrine with seat, a flat mulched tent site and open to lake breezes with plenty of shade. We bathed in the lake and rinsed out our clothes, which quickly air dried in the sunny and breezy weather. Like most evenings, we found the mosquitoes coming out around dusk, which sent us into the tent. The sky had a high overcast at dusk and the air had a smoky smell which we suspected was due to the large forest fires in British Columbia.
Monday, July 17th - Day 5
We left our wonderful campsite on the west end of Sparkling Lake, headed east into the Kashishibog River, and into Sparkling Lake, heading south. The morning was overcast with an obvious storm moving in from the southwest. We stopped on a small island, and quickly rigged the rain fly in time to off load all our gear and ourselves under the fly, as the wall of rain came. About 30 minutes later, we loaded up our gear congratulating ourselves on outsmarting Mother Nature! An hour into the paddling, we were caught out on the open lake in another downpour from which we could not hide.
We reentered the Kashishibog River and carried a number of portages. We found a campsite on the southwest corner of Kashishibog Lake arriving there about 5 pm. Our travel time today was from 8 am to 5 pm covering about 16 miles. We are a one kilometer paddle and a 517m portage from Redsand Lake, the headwaters of the Kopka River.
Tuesday, July 18th - Day 6
We departed camp at about 8 am and quickly reached the portage into Redsand Lake. We made it within the five days which Barry estimated it would require. We are now at the start of our Kopka River descent, so we celebrated with a shot of bourbon. This was a great way to start the day! As we paddled north on Redsand Lake, we noticed an outpost cabin on the western shore. We paddled into the Kopka River and onto Siess Lake where we soon encountered a motorboat headed our way. While talking with the two young men in the boat, we learned they were from the St Louis area and were staying at an outpost owned by Rusty Myers. They mentioned that he also owned a resort on Uneven Lake. We noticed they had a cooler in the boat, and Barry soon asked if they would sell us a few cold beers. They gave us two beers but declined taking any money. They told us that they were outfitter beers for which their outfitter had charged them $50.00 per case. We were very grateful and immediately stopped for a lunch of cheese and sausage wraps. We were at the point in the trip where cold beers were something about which we were openly fantasizing. In fact, any cold drinks were much desired. The weather changed today from an overcast and muggy day to sunny, breezy and dry. We continued paddling after lunch for another day of seemingly endless paddling over endlessly large lakes. We reached Gaal Lake and set up camp for the evening at the south end. We had searched for a specific campsite in this area noted on a report we had, but could not locate it.
Wednesday, July 19th - Day 7
We broke camp and had a short paddle to the southwest corner of Gaal Lake where we located three cached fishing boats with motors nearby. None of this equipment seemed to have been used recently. In fact, the plastic tarp covering the motors had deteriorated due to sun exposure and the motors appeared to have been vandalized with their covers removed and the electrical wires torn up. We began to follow a portage trail southwesterly from this spot which we soon lost. This furthered our suspicion that the boats and motors were abandoned. We assumed these boats had been positioned here for the use of patrons of the resort located in the northern portion of Uneven Lake. After some exploration, we regained the portage trail and followed it to the long thin finger of the southwest end of Uneven Lake. It was there we found a faded fish shaped sign at the portage landing pointing towards Gaal Lake. After a quick lunch at the Gaal Lake end of this portage, we began the job of clearing the portage for our passage. Using a small hand saw, a folding saw and a hatchet, we had this forgotten portage sufficiently cleared in 1½ hours to allow us to carry our canoe and gear into Uneven Lake. The portage was measured at 511m. By taking this portage, we bypassed a northerly loop on the Kopka River which would have had us carrying a portage and running a number of drops. Now there are two routes into Uneven Lake from Gaal Lake. This portage exploration and clearing work was the only instance of this entire trip which reminded me of the many previous Wabakimi Project trips I had participated in. We paddled for about an hour and reached the first campsite on Uneven Lake located on a small island in the southern portion of the lake. It was here we again noticed the red vinyl on rocks at the landing telling us that our two Canadian friends had been here before us. Just off the campsite landing was an old unique picnic table built in a log cabin style. It was deteriorating but still usable. The tent site was located about 20 feet higher up in the central part of the island.
Thursday, July 20th - Day 8
We left our pleasant campsite intending to make it to the campsite on the Kopka River which was adjacent to the portage coming south from Aldridge Lake. This was the popular route from the railroad south to the river which makes for a seven day trip on the Kopka from the railroad to the drive-in campground at Bukemiga Lake off Hwy 527.
As we passed into the main body of Uneven Lake, we noticed the Uneven Lake Lodge. It consisted of a large two story main building and four spacious cabins with 12 overturned fishing boats on the shore. All the buildings appeared newer and well maintained.
From Uneven Lake we again entered the Kopka River, which for many miles was narrow and stream-like. We encountered one portage and a number of drops and rapids which required some maneuvering and some wading. As our trip progressed, the continuing lack of rainfall became more evident each day. Water levels were dropping and as a result, we were having increasing difficulty with the rapids and drops through which we passed. We were banging off a lot of barely submerged rocks, which with a few more inches of water, we would have passed over. After several of our runs through rapids we needed to bale water from the canoe. By mid afternoon we arrived at our intended campsite. This site was located just below a rapids and had a rocky point which the river curves around. Just off the point to the west toward the rapids there is a large eddy which proved to be a very productive fishing spot for Barry. On his first cast into the eddyline, Barry caught a keeper walleye. The second cast yielded nothing, but on his third cast, he secured another and the evening’s entrée was assured. This all took place in less time than it took me to set up the camp. As he cleaned and prepared the fish with hash browns and vegetables, I completed setting up our camp. All this was accomplished by 6 pm - unheard of! A great fish fry was enjoyed with red wine and the day ended with a nice campfire.
Friday, July 21st - Day 9
Today our job was to cross the river and locate the portage north to the Aldridge Lake route. We found the landing several hundred meters downstream from our campsite and on the north shore of the river. The landing was very muddy due to the low water. We quickly discovered it had recently been cleared by a chainsaw all the way north to a small pond south of Aldridge Lake. It measured out at 1015m. By traveling through Beagle and Laparde Lakes and then Aldridge Lake, parties can be dropped on the railroad at Beagle Lake about midway between Armstrong and Allanwater Bridge and make it to the Kopka in a day and a half.
As we were departing the portage landing to head back to camp, a green canoe suddenly appeared at the landing. To our surprise two young Canadians had just completed the trip south from the railroad to the Kopka. They explained they were with a party of four, and soon their companions arrived at the landing. They informed us the trip from the railroad took 1½ days to complete. The park superintendent had told them a park portage crew had been sent to clear this route from the railroad all the way to the Hwy 527 bridge over the Kopka. Additionally, we learned they were using commercially available maps of this route marketed by Wabakimi Maps (http:/www.wabakimimaps.com). They allowed Barry to copy the upcoming portage info from these maps to our draft maps. On our draft maps, pertinent info such as portage landings and lengths, campsite locations, outpost cabin locations, abandoned/wrecked boats, etc. is recorded. Barry did note finding several errors on the commercially produced Wabakimi Maps such as portage landings on the wrong side of the river during the trip. Let it be known, all Wabakimi Project/Friends of Wabakimi maps are not published and available to the public until the area covered by the map has been field surveyed or ground truthed by a project team. We had a layover of two nights at this campsite adjacent to the Aldridge Lake portage route.
Saturday, July 22nd - Day 10
We departed camp and headed downriver, encountering and running many small, fast drops. The canoe was taking a beating with many rocks exposed while it was evident that the water level continued to decline due to no rain. As we progressed we ran more drops without scouting, since they seemed to be straight forward without much maneuvering required. Mid-afternoon on this overcast day we attempted a fast, short drop which like many of those before seemed to be uncomplicated. However, before we could react, the bow struck a rock on the right side instantly swinging the canoe broadside to the swift current. Initially I thought we were about to complete our transit of this rapid stern first, when the right side of the stern, where I was seated, struck another rock pinning thecanoe sideways to the current. Both of us immediately exited the canoe on the upstream side. We were able to steady it while keeping the upstream gunwale fromrolling into the current. Quickly considering our situation, Barry directed me to maintaina firm grasp of the stern line with the plan being that I would slowly pull the canoe toward me while he lifted the pinned bow. Once the bow was free, allowing the canoe to swing downstream bow first, I would pull it into the eddy on my side of the river. It seemed like a plausible plan to me. However, as soon the bow was free of the rock holding it, the upstream gunwale rolled and started to fill the canoe with water, which forced the swamped and fully loaded 16’canoe through the 14’ opening between the two rocks. I was able to maintain my grip on the stern line and did swing the canoe into the eddy on river right. Unfortunately, my partner, a food barrel, equipment pack and the map case flushed through the remainder of the rapid. While I got the canoe secured among the rocks in the eddy and began to bale, Barry swam after and retrieved the barrel and pack as they floated downstream. After placing them on the shore of river left, he swam out after our map case, which was rapidly on its way downstream. By the time he got back to the canoe, I was nearly finished baling. The canoe buckled badly behind the bow seat deforming the aluminum gunwales. We paddled off in our damaged canoe and picked up the barrel and pack.
Immediately we continued on downstream seeking a campsite. Not only did we want to assess the condition of the canoe, but the sky to the west was darkening and indicated we needed to find a campsite now and rig our camp. After several stops with no campsite apparent, we located a mediocre site which we could make work. While Barry rigged the tarp, I found a spot well back from the rocky point where the tarp went up and erected the tent. While waiting for rain that turned out to be very light and short term, we broke out the hard stuff, the red wine and pondered our situation. We decided to forgo any repair attempt on the boat that night but instead made supper and had a few more drinks. Our mood and the overall situation seemed to improve as the evening wore on.
Sunday, July July 23rd - Day 11
We awoke to a clear and sunny day and had a quick breakfast. I started breaking camp and Barry started on the canoe repair. Damage to the canoe consisted of both gunwales buckled behind the bow seat with another smaller buckle in one gunwale, a number ofpopped rivets supporting the gunwale and the front seat right hand bracket which had broken free from the canoe. The canoe, being made of royalex, had nothing more than several creases in the hull, which had returned to its original shape. Barry made a quick and ingenious repair using paracord and several small holes drilled in the hull on either side of the loose seat bracket. With the seat secured to the hull, we continued our trip. The canoe handled well and we decided with reasonable care, we could continue our trip. The thought was that the canoe could be repaired at home. No gear was lost, nor were either of us hurt. We were lucky this time. We ran several short drops but portaged many more on this increasingly steep sided river. After our experience yesterday, we became much more cautious and spent time scouting before we ran most drops. Today was fatiguing but sunny and warm. We stopped for the evening at a pleasant river spot on a large open rock face which was not marked on any of our maps.
Monday, July 24th - Day 12
We arose to another day, which feels like it will be hot again, probably in the 80’s. Aside from the lack of rain, our best weather was during the first week with cool, dry days, temps in the 70’s and light breezes. The past week has been hot and more humid. Barry asked if I had heard the caribou grunting during the night on the open ridge behind our tent. I had not of course due to my hearing problem, as well as being a heavy sleeper. The moss on the open expanse ridge behind the tent was completely dried out and heavily trampled down due to all the animal traffic. Today we found an unmarked portage around a small scenic falls, so we flagged, cleared and measured it. Most of the great work of the park trail crew is still very evident and much appreciated allowing for unobstructed portaging.
At our lunch stop, we found another nice campsite next to a falls. After consulting the GPS and sat phone, we agreed on what day it was and decided to stop for the day at this pleasant spot. The campsite obviously receives a lot of use, and there is an abandoned fishing boat nearby. Consulting the maps we agreed we can be at the Hwy 527 bridge on Saturday to greet Ken B’s group as they head to Mattice Lake. At our current rate of travel, we should be able to complete the trip by Monday.
Tuesday, July 25th - Day 13
Today was a long, hard day of paddling into the wind on Kenakskaniss Lake with some tough portages. We passed the four campsites on the lake established by earlier Wabakimi Project trips. They really stood out with their signature benches and WP fire pits. We took a short break on a small sandy beach looking back north up the lake. We saw a group of four canoes following us, as they disappeared behind an island to get out of the strong southerly wind. As we continued heading southeasterly on the lake, we noticed another group of six identical large green canoes and their occupants headed our way. Near the southeast end of the lake, we met and chatted with them on the water. They were a group of two young men leading 10 kids ages 12 to 16 on a 28 day trip from Camp Keewaydin. The leaders explained that this was day 21 of the trip. They were heading upstream on the Kopka and using the most traditional of tripping gear. Their boats were large wood canvas canoes and their gear was packed in wanigans, steel ammo boxes, etc. The leaders explained that the camp has been tripping in the same manner for the entire 125 years of its existence. I was surprised at the excellent condition of their very heavy canoes. Fortunately, they had a sat phone we could use, as our rental phone would not take the number 5. Our problem was our outfitter, Mattice Lake Outfitters, Phil Cotton and our other Thunder Bay contact Debbie D. all had a 5 in their phone numbers. If we needed to make a call, we would have to call John’s wife in SE Wisconsin, who would then pass our message on to the appropriate person in Canada. Barry called Phil and explained our phone situation and tried to arrange a phone swap with the outfitter. After a quick lunch stop at the boulder portage landing, we carried the difficult boulder portage out of the lake and into the river. This portage measured at 674m, and we both agreed that it was probably the worst we had ever encountered in the entire Wabakimi area. This was the beginning of what is called the Seven Sisters chain. The landscape from here will change drastically and drop in elevation of around 250m. We camped for the evening at multi-drop falls, which were scenic and loud. It rained during the evening for only the second time on this trip.
Wednesday, July 26th - Day 14
We were packed and gone quickly this morning. We had a small cliff to lower our gear down to the next level and then a few more portages, one of which was quite steep. After about 20 minutes time, we arrived at the most beautiful campsite I have ever encountered in my 11 years of Wabakimi area travel. It was occupied by the four young Canadians we had met on the Kopka, who had come down from the railroad a week or so ago. They agreed to hold it for us, since we had another party coming up behind us. We moved in as they departed after a round of group photos. Barry secured the contact info from one of them, so he will be able to share photos and trip info. Our timing in securing this campsite was perfect, as a group from YMCA Camp Pine Crest arrived within minutes of our Canadian friends’ departure. We watched from the comfort of a natural bench in a stone wall facing the lake, as the camp group paddled down the lake and opted to take a boulder strewn portage instead of the dreaded Billy Goat portage which the Canadians took to the next lake. Not long after these two groups cleared the lake, another group of three canoes arrived at our campsite. They were a family group from Florida and Georgia who were using Bruce Hyer’s Wabakimi Canoe Outfitters. They had been flown into Uneven Lake and were ending their trip at the campground on Bukamiga Lake with a road pickup.
After lunch we paddled to the north end of the lake and hiked/measured both portages. We measured the first part of the Billy Goat portage cliff at 13m. We hiked the alternate boulder mountain portage and it measured at 278m. It would have been difficult to carry due to a lot of large boulders you would have to scramble over, as well as the elevation gain/loss. After observing and walking both portages, we tentatively decided to take the Billy Goat. We still needed to determine how to lower the boat, so the remainder of the day was spent at our scenic and comfortable campsite.
Thursday, July 27th - Day 15
After a quick paddle, we were at the Billy Goat portage. It is shorter but has the 13m cliffafter which you must scramble down another 45 degree slope to the water. Both sections of this portage have fixed ropes installed which appeared to be trustworthy. The first section requires you to climb over the cliff edge, and using a rope with knots placed every foot, carefully climb down while hanging out enough to see foot placement spots. To lower the canoe you attach it to a higher fixed rope above and lower it to the base of the cliff. To do this you should have your own 30m rope and some carabineers. Once the canoe is down you can lower it the rest of the way to the water without too much difficulty. Packs and barrels are lowered most easily using your own rope and then tumbled down carefully. We completed the entire Billy Goat portage in about one hour. Almost directly across the river was a campsite occupied by the group from the YMCA Camp. This is another spectacular site, as it is directly in front of the two-tiered falls the Billy Goat portage bypasses. The view is straight up the falls and very scenic. We paddled off down the Kopka and will have only two more portages before we reach Bukamiga Lake. However, we were looking at a 16-17 mile travel day to do so, and with no wind, we knew we could accomplish this. The final portage of the day from Wigwasan Lake into Bukamiga is heavily used by fishermen. A number of boats are stored on the shore of Wigwasan where a campsite is indicated. We had a quick lunch on the west end of Bukamiga and paddled the remaining 5-6 miles to the campground near the south end of the lake.
About a mile north of our destination we passed the Florida group who are scheduled to end their trip tomorrow at the campground. After arriving at the campground shortly after 2 pm, we found one of the four young Canadians. He explained their pickup was late so his partners walked out to Hwy 527 to try to hitch a ride back to Mattice Lake Outfitters. An hour or so later, Don Elliot of Mattice Lake Outfitters, showed up. After the Canadians’ gear was loaded, Barry explained our sat phone situation and rode back to Mattice Lake with Elliot. I set up the tent and relaxed at a table under a tarp near one of the 6 or 7 trailers that appear to be permanently located here. A truck came in with a boat and the two occupants were from Wisconsin. They will be camping on the lake to the north for a week. They explained that Barry and I probably don’t want to be here Friday night and over the weekend. This campground has a reputation as a hard partying weekend retreat. Barry soon returned with another phone, a 12 pack of beer on ice and a large bag of salty chips. What a treat! Thanks Uncle Phil! One of the things I found I missed most on this trip was cold drinks, and now I had six of them. We looked over the maps and Barry indicated that we will probably have 30 kilometers left to travel.
Friday, July 28th - Day 16
As we were packing up, the Florida group pulled into the campground landing and shortly thereafter their outfitter’s van showed up. The van driver explained that Bruce Hyer and his son were guiding a trip on the Albany River at this time (probably using the FOW maps). After chatting with this group, Barry and I departed for the nearby south end of the lake to continue our trip. Barry explained he could find no info on what to expect, as we travel down the Kopka heading for Obonga and Kopka Lakes. It is a short paddle to the bottom of Bukamiga Lake. We exited the canoe and started to seek a portage. After checking both sides of the river, we found no evidence of one on either side. Reluctantly we began to wade the boat down stream along river right. This continued for most of the morning as we encountered one drop after another. Some are waded, most are paddled after careful scouting.
We successfully passed through everything, but the canoe took quite a beating in the low water conditions we are experiencing. We are definitely getting better at paddling the
drops. It was apparent as to why the outfitters end their trips at the Bukamiga Lake Campground. Immediately upon exiting Bukamiga Lake, there is one swift after another; some which continue around bends in the river including the one under the Obonga Lake Road.
By lunch time we had reached Obonga Lake which, we crossed at the east end heading south for the portage to Kopka Lake. We stopped in a shady spot on a great sand beach next to the outlet of the lake. It was another nice day but overly warm for paddling on open lakes.
At the next portage, there was a warning sign of danger ahead on the river directing that the portage be used. This portage was grueling! Not only was it 1513m long, but it started off from Obonga Lake climbing steadily for more than 200m. At what appeared to be the top where it levels off for awhile, is just a place to rest briefly before it climbs again. After some length it descended steadily, at times so steeply, that we had to grasp bushes to ease our descent. Barry noted that at this section he put the boat down and allowed it to slide down the trail. At about 1000m, we reached a small pond that we mistakenly thought was the end of the portage, only to discover after the boat was loaded, that we had further to go. The last 500m were pure drudgery. We finally made it to Kopka Lake in the early evening after an exhausting day. We could see the trailers at the drive in campground on the southeast shore of the lake. We decided to paddle east along the north shore of the lake to avoid the campground and a windy crossing. We found a site and bivouac camped about 2 miles west of the bridge at Hwy 527. This campsite was possible only because the low water west of the bridge at Hwy 527 exposed a temporary sand beach. We were able to clear a relatively level spot just inside the tree line for a tent site. Throughout the remainder of the evening we noted steady motorboat traffic to and from the campground. We enjoyed a nice campfire on the beach and saw a very large campfire at the campground.
Saturday, July 29th - Day 17
We left early today to get to the bridge, since we didn’t know what time Ken B. and crew would pass by. We did not need to hurry however, since their flight time was scheduled for 2 pm. It was a long wait, but they gave us donuts from Tim Horton’s. We had a quick conversation at the bridge and learned they were going into Tunnel or Vale Lakes. The crew consisted of Ken, Debbie and two new guys from Michigan. After the reunion, we carried the historic portage and another shortly thereafter running the rapids for a total of about 700m. The historic portage, just east of the bridge, could use a few minutes of chain saw work even though we sawed a couple of hanging logs.
At the east end of the second portage at Pishidgi Lake, we stopped for lunch. We noticed a fishing boat with a couple at the outflow below the drop. We paddled out and talked to them, and learned they were camped at the drive in campground/boat landing on the northwest corner of the lake. Their trailer, as well as others, were set up there for the weekend. They were interested in our trip and told us they had a case of beer at their trailer to give to us. Off we paddled, intending to camp at the boat landing. Arriving there, we found a group of guys with three trailers with large awnings, carpeting, generators and lots of cold beer. After listening to the story of our trip, they seemed impressed and gave us a six pack. They also recommended we proceed on to Wabinosh Lake, which has a large sandy beach on the east shore with numerous campsites. The campsite at the boat landing on Pishidgi had almost no room left for a tent, since it was filled with numerous trucks and boat trailers. Further, it is just an open area in the woods on the lake that is mostly a large parking lot.
We paddled off again for about a 6 to 7 mile trip to the recommended location on Wabinosh. There we found about a mile long sandy beach with numerous campsites established at the tree line. There were two other groups camped at this location. All of the campsites were heavily used many with built in tables, frameworks for tarps, etc and much junk lying about. We were told by a fellow camper, that the entire beach area hosts a very large summer solstice celebration of around 30 people. Our campsite and others we checked had commodes back in the woods. Later in the evening a young couple occupying another site at the beach, pulled up at our campsite. They told us an older couple at Pishidhi gave them beer to transport to us. They gave Barry four beers from a case they had in their boat. Upon reflection, Barry guessed the couple at Pishidgi gave them the case intending for it to go to us, and the young couple kept most of it giving us four. They too had heard our story so I guess we were becoming famous. Debbie had told us of the weather forecast for Sunday and Monday, so we rigged the rain tarp and at dusk a light rain started with some lightening strikes to the west.
Sunday, July 30th - Day 18
We awoke to a sunny day, but we noticed a heavy smoke haze and smoke smell in the air. As the morning progressed, we lost sight of the west side of the lake about two miles away due to a thick smoke haze. We wondered if the lightning strikes had started fires to the west. We were concerned about Ken and his crew. That afternoon we completed our trip by paddling down the Wabinosh River toward Lake Nipigon to the first un-runnable drop. In order to get to the portage landing, we actually had to go downstream through a swift and find the landing on river left. The paddle back upstream required effort, as the current was strong. We found the portage trail to be open even though the park portage trail clearing crew had traveled and cleared only up to Hwy 527. The trail measured out at 301m. In the mouth of the river below the last rapids was a small cabin cruiser anchored with an attached dingy, so the occupants had to be inside. Unfortunately, no one came outside, so we were unable to beg for more beer. We saw two dozen white pelicans in the bay and in the upper stretch of the rapids; very pretty. We returned to our campsite and early in the evening a guy with his two young sons motored up to our campsite to meet us. He was camping at Pishidgi and was told about the two canoeists who traveled all the way from Allanwater Bridge. He also told us he would have given us beer if he had had any, but he does not drink. He was from Thunder Bay and has been coming to this area for 30 years. The moccasin telegraph is very efficient in this area. Tomorrow we plan to pack up and visit the site of the WWII POW camp in the northeast corner of the lake and then await our flight out to Mattice Lake.
Monday, July 31st - Day 19
This was our final day. We discussed our departure and decided to forgo the flight and paddle back to the boat landing on Pishidgi for a road pickup which made more sense. Barry phoned Mattice Lake and arranged this for 12 noon. Because of the earlier pickup time, we did not go the POW site. We arrived back at the boat landing to find only a tent and vehicle belonging to the guy from Thunder Bay. This was quite different from the busy place we had left on Saturday afternoon. While we waited for our pickup, two trucks with boats pulled in carrying three generations of a family from the Green Bay, WI area. We were updated on the latest news from home. Soon Don Elliot showed up with Otis, his new German Shepherd, to carry us back to Mattice Lake. The long road out to the highway was slow going with numerous deep potholes and ruts. Don Elliot explained that it was no longer maintained despite the heavy use it receives. We were back at Mattice Lakes Outfitters and our trip was officially over.
After packing the truck we stopped in Armstrong for a burger and of course, a beer.
Total Trip: 258Km, 7.35Km of portages – 19 days!