Watermark Words

a life in transition

Magical Makobe Part 2: Journey up the Grays

Chartreuse-tipped spruce trees filled our day.

The story of our foray deep into a seldom travelled area: the Northern Temagami wilderness, namely Makobe Lake. This story is continued from Magical Makobe Part One. In this second instalment we journey through a whole new world: the Grays River and Lakes. Very little is said about this area so we had no preconceived notions of it. Perhaps that added to the magic.

Day 6 – Rapid South of Shortcut L NLER 

Only early summer produces the kind of rich green foliage that is currently cascading from the rocky ledge of the opposite shore. The fronds of the lush ferns have grown so long that they reach down into the rapid below. The moving water causing them to dance and sway, eternally.

I turn my gaze upstream to watch the smooth water slip over the rocks until suddenly it shoots off into a thousand white bubbles. These converge into a long, lacy V that burbles past my feet. The sky is moody and pregnant with rain, but the air wafting up from the little waterfall is warm and gentle, moistened by the ever-flowing water. Within moments I’ve stripped off my clothes and slid feet first into the little pool that hugs the edge of the rocky ledge and ensuing V of bubbles. The water is surprising, but not cold. I submerge myself once and am instantly content in the new temperature that is rushing past my skin. Carefully I feel my feet along the dark river bottom and plunge my head and chest into the cascade of falling water. I feel out a ledge with my hands and work my way around so that the water is pounding down on my neck, shoulders and back. Ahhh… just the massage I needed after 28km of paddling.

A swim in a rapid = 😀

We started the morning on Florence Lake, packing up slowly after our strange experience the night before (read about that here). We marvelled at the beauty all around us as we paddled North through Florence L, commenting that the lake seemed even more beautiful when paddling North than it had paddling South 3 days earlier. Making good time up the lake and river despite a stiff headwind, we met with the Lady Evelyn River (LER) and felt the current sweep us on our way. The perfectly sunny morning gave way to cloud which slowly built in and threatened rain. We stopped at Duff L to shore up the boat and get out our rain gear in case the clouds let loose. A little while later we stopped at Hap’s cliff top site for lunch. It was even more beautiful than we remembered it from last years trip (read that story here). We continued down stream, the pull of the current making for a really lovely paddle through wetlands and around curves. Pine and spruce covered hills rose up in the distance and then dropped back behind us as we pulled ever forward.

Passing Duff Ridge going North this time.

The day ended with an easy portage through to Shortcut Lake and another 50m hop over to the main branch of the LER. These portages are marked with new yellow signs, as are most things in this area, but finding the 150m was very much aided by our Garmin GPS which cleared up exactly which of the 500 curves in the river concealed our portage.

I complete my swim by washing my hair for the first time this week, letting the falls pound the remaining soap out of my long strands. As I emerge I look up. The clouds have blown away and the sky is a clear light blue. Across the river the evening sun is highlighting my dancing ferns. It feels good to have arrived at this brand new little campsite by the river.

Day 7 – Macphereson Lake

With the music of the falls as white noise we slept soundly. When I got up in the night the bright, full moon hung low over the river, illuminating a beautiful mist that had arisen. Our morning alarm came too early. We’d set it for 530am in hopes of catching a beautiful sunrise and getting a long day of travel up to Grays Lake under our belts. One look outside told us that the sunrise was nothing special so we quickly rolled over and were lulled back to sleep by the falls.

When we woke again it was 8am. We had slowly started about our morning chores when Sean noticed that our water had an acrid, smoky taste to it. We’d left our plastic water filtration system hanging in a tree directly in the path of the smoke from our fire. I guess the plastic had absorbed the smell and taste and was now imparting it to our water. Very unpleasant. I was of the mind to just grin and bear it but he was determined to fix the problem and we wasted an hour or more trying to do so, to no avail. Finally we filtered our water and filled the jug with spruce tips to try and marinate the taste away. By the end of the day we had nice, sprucy water – a tip I will remember in the future!

Exploring the mouth of the Grays River.

When we finally got underway I insisted we try the rapids along the way in our Swift Kipawa Kevlar canoe, not the best canoe for the job. Also, all I know about running rapids was learned from a Bill Mason video that I watched at camp when I was 15. The backcountry is not really the place to learn white-water, but if not now then when? We ran a couple successfully and wasted a ton of time scouting. The last run trapped us against a rock due to a communication error and resulted in me hopping out onto a rock mid river to free the canoe and avoid damage. Once free the canoe of course floated away from me and I had to swim the rest of the rapid in my clothes and boots. Wet boots for the day, sigh.

Just below the Western-most campsite on Macpherson Lake, best campsite in the area.

After that we just portaged the rest of the rapids. We’d wasted a lot of time. As we boulder hopped along side the river I noticed that I was feeling stronger than usual. What used to seem insanely difficult feels normal now. Comfortable. Like coming home. I thought back to my first year in Temagami. After spraining my ankle on day 3 the next 2 weeks of balancing and clambering precariously from razor sharp rock to razor sharp rock seemed to me an almost impossible feet. (Read that here.) We’ve spent enough time in this area that the terrain, the plants and flowers, the various challenges have become familiar. This year my footing is sure.

We pulled up to an island in Mcpherson Lake at 2pm for lunch, having moved super slowly all day and argued quite a bit. As we pulled the canoe up the beach we noticed a campsite marker. Neither of our maps had this site marked. As such it looks like it hasn’t been used in years. The fire pit was blanketed in pine needles, it’s rock rim having sunk down into the ground so that it was nearly reclaimed by the dirt. It was the nicest campsite we’d passed in awhile so we decided to camp here. The next site was 15km away and we just didn’t have it in us today.

Island campsite on Macpherson Lake

Sooty feet by the fire.

We spent the afternoon swimming and exploring. At one point the caw of an Eagle had us running to shore to watch it fly low over our island, circle and move on. There’s a dead tree right in the middle of the island with fish carcasses below it. A great eagle roost. He was probably coming in to land before noticing us. As we ate an early dinner we enjoyed the beautifully sunny and perfectly still evening. A look to the West brought a bank of massive, dark thunderheads to our attention. Suddenly the wind picked up, almost to the same gale force strength we had experienced on Florence Lake. We rushed to secure camp.

Afterward I lay in the tent writing this and listening to the harmony of birdsong and wind in the trees; white-throated sparrows, hermit thrushes and wood thrushes serenaded the evening light.

Camp in evening light

Day 8 – Banks Lake

At 6:30am the sky is leaden and the air is cool. We bundle up for the first time this trip, making sure to wear our rain gear and cover the packs with their rain shields just in case. By 7:30am we’ve packed up camp, breakfasted and pushed off towards the Grays River.

We are not sure what to expect as we head north. We haven’t heard much about the areas that we will be travelling through for the next week, despite scouring the internet. Whether or not it will be pretty we’ve yet to discover, but the sense of adventure is strong as we begin paddling up the meanders at the mouth of the Grays. “It’s gorgeous here!” We’re careful to whisper the few words we speak this morning – careful to paddle quietly to avoid disturbing any wildlife. We’ve already surprised a beaver and an otter.

Morning on the Grays River

This river is not a wetland like the LER’s meanders were, with her wide-open fields and stunted forests. The Grays River is flanked by high forest. Sheep’s Laurel and Alder bushes frame the shore giving way to a thin layer of black spruce, which are crowned with a canopy of tall jack and white pine. The thick, high forest on either side creates a canyon-like feel to the river.

The day quickly warmed up and became sunny. After the first portage the forest changed again and became mostly jack pine, uniform and thick. The banks of the river were rocky all the way along which added so much beauty to the area. The second portage has a fire ring on it’s south end, probably used as a hasty bush site by someone who wasn’t able to make it through the campsite-less section between McPherson L and Grays L in one day. Not the flattest tent site but it would do in a pinch.

Strong morning sun on the Grays River

After the second portage the river widened, straightened and slowly became more and more marshy until it opened up into Graymud Lake. As one might expect, this lake certainly lives up to its name! The muddy, shallow bottom of the lake shortened each paddle stroke abruptly. Progress was interminably slow. But even here the land held a special beauty. The hills to the West were larger than we’d expected and cloaked in beautiful stands of pine. Along the Eastern shore armies of black spruce marched along, their branches tipped with brilliant lime green growth catching the sun and lighting up the forest in the most wonderful way. A little farther along and there he was, the illusive moose we had been waiting for all day. His big, soft, round ears pricked towards us. He remained motionless so long that we wondered if he was even real. We managed to get quite close before he turned slowly and slipped silently back into the brush, quickly becoming invisible despite his big bulk.

Grays River north of Graymud Lake

Loved the rocky shores of the Grays River

Grays L provided yet another pleasant surprise: big hills, lovely rocky points and bluffs. The forest was ever changing. There were whole hillsides of old growth red and white pine. These were interspersed with sections of black spruce—sometimes lush, sometimes only thin trunks with very little vegetation. The Jeffs map of Grays L places the campsites correctly whereas Chrismar does not. We stopped at the Southern-most site for lunch. It boasts nice swimming rocks and one great tent site along with 2-3 others that are feasible. It’s a little more sheltered than the site midway up the lake. This site has to be the best one on the lake though: a lovely white rock point that rises up into little cliffs all along the shore. Farther North on the Western side of the lake is another campsite not marked on either of our maps. It has a smooth rock beach and a less-than-used looking fire pit under a beautiful tall white pine.

The intrepid explorer on Grays L

We made it to the North end of Grays Lake in record time and enjoyed a last look at the hills back the way we came from before hoisting our packs and beginning the last major accomplishment of the day: a 1270m portage to Banks Lake where we would camp for the night. The beginning of the trail is quite boggy and we slipped and slid our way along, balancing on rocks and logs that have been laid down. This section is quite short and afterwards the trail is long but easy. Slowly it climbs a little ways up and then slopes gently down to the lake. Not a bad trail at all.

Beautiful view at the end of the portage from Grays L to Banks L!

Banks Lake!

Portage complete we looked North and were awestruck at the gorgeous, Georgian Bay-esque landscape before us: white rock points and islands dotted the bright blue water. Once we left the Southern bay the lake opened up. We pushed our tired muscled and paddled hard towards a supposedly fabulous campsite about which Sean had read a number of glowing reviews. The NE arm of the lake narrowed to reveal shapely hills and inlets.

Just around the river bend we caught site of what all the fuss is about. High cliffs engulf a red-rocked, desert-like wonderland. Flanked on both sides by small waterfalls, a wide rock expanse of rock is topped with cactus-like red pine and covered with blueberries and lush, bright-pink Sheep’s laurel. A five minute hike in any direction brings you to a view of one of the 3 surrounding waterfalls. The entryway to the site is of beautiful pink quartzite smoothed by the passage of time and sloping gently into the river. Wonderful swimming presents itself either in the river on the East side or in the deep pools below the largest of the waterfalls to the West.

However, the rolling rock makes it difficult to set up an efficient campsite. The only tent site is quite far from the best fire pit location, which is quite far from the water so there’s a lot of walking to be done around camp. Also the numerous blueberry bushes provided perfect hiding places for multitudes of black flies. Our conclusion was that, although beautiful, it was not a place we’d spend more than one night at, at least not until the blueberries were ripe and the blackflies had died down.

Western waterfall at the Banks Lake site

Long day behind us we explored the site. Sitting on a mini cliff beside a waterfall I thought back over all the beauty we had experienced today. Our only hope had been to explore a new and seldom travelled area, which we had certainly done. We had not dared to hope that this new area would be so incredibly beautiful. Perhaps the low expectations added to it’s magic. After dinner and a sunset swim in the river I turned my thoughts to tomorrows journey into Makobe Lake. Someone had mentioned online that Makobe was just as beautiful as Florence Lake. If that was even partly true we were in for a treat.

Beautiful sunset at Banks Lake campsite. The rock is more red than it looks in this photo.

Stay tuned for part 3 of ‘Magical Makobe’

Magical Makobe Part One: Detour to Paradise

Misty Morning on Duff Lake

The story of this years foray deep into a seldom travelled area: the Northern Temagami wilderness, namely Makobe Lake. But first, a detour to Paradise. In this section we journey from the Gamble Lake access point, down the Lady Evelyn River to Florence Lake, with a little side trip as well as a battle with a ferocious storm. Enjoy!

Day 1 – North Lady Evelyn River (NLER)

I am laying here in the tent listening to the light, intermittent pitter patter of raindrops interspersed with bird song. The evening light is fading, the day drawing to a close. I put away my book but not before I catch sight of the Algonquin Park logo on my bookmark. A rock point with an A frame tent and canoe pitched under 3 distinctive white pine trees. Exactly like where I am, exactly like the campsites a myriad of other Ontario campers have chosen for tonight. How many people have enjoyed this exact experience? The tent, the canoe, the water and the trees all brought together by the quintessential campsite—a Canadian Shield granite point. It’s just such a magical thing. I am so thankful for all the days I’ve had the privilege to spend camping. What a way to live!

So begins our two-week trek through the wilderness of Temagami. The drive to our access point at Gamble Lake seems to last an eternity. We arrive in the rain but the clouds break just in time and we push off downstream in golden, late afternoon light. We choose a site on a point just South of Chance Lake on the North Lady Evelyn River (NLER). We remembered it from last year as being the nicest site in the area, an area without any really great campsites. This one boasts a flat place for our tent and the nicest swimming hole along this section of the river. It’s late when we arrive but we have just enough time to set up camp and make dinner. The bugs are out so we pack our dinner and tea into the canoe and paddle a short distance from shore. Sitting in the bottom of the boat to eat we soak in the beauty of the moment. We have arrived.

Day 2 – Duff L

Today was a long day of paddling – 22km in fact! (Which seems to be normal for most canoeists but I’m still proud of it) It was a lovely hot day as we paddled through the meanders of the NLER. Our start-of-trip excitement led to lots of happy talking. This combined with the oppressive heat of the day scared away most of the wildlife. We did catch a glimpse of an eagle and enjoyed the chatter and swooping of many a kingfisher.

South Lady Evelyn River

Making good time through the meanders, we stopped for nostalgic reasons at the logging road that meets up with the river just a few kilometres East of White Rock Rapids (we camped here last year, read about it here) and also because it has a biffy! The only biffy in the area. We should have stopped for lunch here but we have a habit of pushing a bit too far before lunch so we headed off again. There are multiple campsites listed along this section of river and I was happy to find two of them this time around, despite their being mislabeled on our maps. We were hoping to lunch at the area around White Rock Rapids as it is quite pretty, but we didn’t make it that far. Exhausted from the heat, we finally pulled into a corner of the river that was in the lee of the wind for a quick lunch before pushing off again.

The first swift of White Rock Rapids appeared around a bend in the river and it was even more beautiful here than I remembered. Mostly pink rocks rather than white, and with beautiful lush forest on either side of gently burbling swifts. The water was much higher than last year making for easy wading up the river. We could totally have lined it but the thought didn’t even occur to us. The water was such a nice relief from the heat.

The only white rock at White Rock Rapids.

If you’ve read The Cabin by Hap Wilson then you know that he describes a campsite along this section of the river. (If you haven’t read The Cabin you should, buy it here). It’s such a lovely description that I’ve always wanted to camp here. Also, it’s most definitely the best site in the area for miles around. That Hap certainly knows his stuff! Lovely sloping rocks for swimming from and docking the boat. Best swimming hole along this entire section of river and a lovely cliff top, smooth-rock site with a view over the Boreal forest on the opposite shore of the river. However, Sean had a deep-set desire to camp at Duff Lake and as it was just up the river we opted for that.

The site wasn’t nearly as nice but Duff Lake is surrounded by a pretty extraordinary example of old growth white pine forest. I collapsed on shore for a nap and then had a swim before setting up camp. It was a beautiful, still evening so we made dinner and then packed it into the canoe along with our tea and spent the evening floating around the lake, taking in the views from all angles. The forest was lush, the islands picturesque, and it was all framed by high ridges all around.

Dinner on the water with my fabulous husband!

Day 3: Florence Lake

Lesson #1: When you have a long day ahead, don’t sleep in.

We did. Weren’t on the water until 10am. Once again we were super chatty – a good sign that we’re enjoying each other but not so great for wildlife viewing. After enjoying a beautiful paddle down the Lady Evelyn and Florence Rivers we stopped at a beach on Florence L for a quick snack + swim break. The water was a gorgeous temperature which surprised me because Florence is spring-fed, making it a beautiful clear lake that’s often cool even in the summer.

We had a soft goal this trip of exploring an overgrown portage trail that we had found last year. Sean (as always) was enamoured with the idea of going somewhere well off the beaten track and so we thought we’d give this trail a shot. We suited up and started the portage. I figured out our new GPS pretty quickly so while I set our compass bearing, Sean went ahead to blaze a trail. I’m not sure how long it’s been since this trail was used. We weren’t able to find any information about it online. But it was there at one point and if you know what to look for you can find most sections of it. However, the slight existence of some bare earth did little to ease our passage. Man was it hard! Even when we were able to follow the trail (which is pretty much a straight shot on a compass bearing) it was bushwhacking. It was super buggy and being in that bug shirt with my hat on and bugs swarming is so claustrophobic! You just feel like the world is caving in around you. Add that to the super over grown trail at the best of times and straight crashing through spruce at the worst of times, plus a steady incline and the massive pack on my back. My legs were shaking before too long so just getting one foot in front of the other was a triumph, let alone trying to place that foot properly so as to avoid injury. Careening is the word I gave it. I was careening through the bush.

This face kind of says it all. Exhausted and sweaty. That tree though!

Finally the blue of water appeared through the trees. We gave up looking for the trail and just crashed down the hill towards the blue beacon. We arrived at the waters edge in waist high bushes, not a great waterfront. But the water was crystal clear blue and beautiful. We took a rest, ate a Cliff bar, drank some water and turned around to head back.

As we’d careened down the hill to the water we’d completely lost the trail. Now as we headed back we found ourselves deep in spruce bows with no clear way forward. We pressed on, this way and that until Sean started thinking about how he’d have to push the canoe through all this.

We paused, hemmed and hawed. It was hot, we were pouring sweat, we’d lost the trail and were just crashing at a compass bearing on our GPS. We would have to do this twice more just to get to this lake that wasn’t even out destination. It was 3pm and the first trip had taken 2h. Even if we made it back unencumbered in half that time we were looking at a 6pm arrival which meant we’d have to bush a site in these thick alder bushes. We learned our lesson about pushing on too late in the day last year when we spent the night separated from our gear and with only our life jackets and a fire for warmth, and we did not feel like a repeat experience (read about that adventure in Smoothwater Loop Part 2). We had achieved our goal of exploring this portage, bringing us one step closer to the goal of travelling to areas even more remote than Temagami someday, and beautiful Florence Lake was waiting for us back the way we came. These kind of trips require a healthy respect of the wilderness and her wildness. Every foray into new challenges gives the opportunity to learn new things and hone your skill. Picking out that trail brought us one step closer to someday forging our own trails through the bush and so we considered it a success.

We went back, grabbed our bags and headed back the way we’d come, opting to stay on Florence Lake for the night. On the way back I worked out how to use the GPS better and we mainly stayed on the trail the whole way. We also found the fattest, tallest, straightest white pine we’ve ever seen – probably 400 years old! We emerged from the forest bathed in sweat, covered in bug bites (Sean literally had about 50 bites just on his one wrist alone), legs shaking and swearing a blue streak. A quick escape in the canoe brought us to one of Florence Lakes’ many white sand beaches. The first order of business was a swim and a bath. Next, lunch. The afternoon air was perfectly still so we found shelter in the shade from an island and floated there to eat our bagels w salami and cheese.

Moose print on the beach at Florence Lake

After lunch we paddled toward Mecca – the most perfect campsite in the world. Hereafter referred to as Paradise Site. About 1/3 of the way from the S end of Florence L is a long point that juts our into the lake. Sand beaches on either side rise up to a cliff in the middle which rolls down into a long slope of smooth rock that protrudes out of the forest like the bow of a ship and gently dips into the lake. The perfect rock beach. Smooth enough to walk (or dance) around in bare feet, gently sloping enough to offer easy walk-in entrance to swimming and with a perfectly curving rock seat to one side. It is the epitome of what a campsite should be.

Alas! There was someone already camped there. No matter, we’d had the pleasure last year and it was good to see another human using this pristine wilderness. We made camp just across the lake at the Table Rock campsite. I was exhausted. Probably heat exhausted + dehydrated. We’d sweat so much and I don’t think I drank enough water, so I had a headache the rest of the night. We set up camp before napping on the rocks, taking a swim and scarfing a well-deserved dinner of freeze-dried Mac and Cheese.

Table Rock campsite

Sunset on Florence, Table Rock site.

Day 4 – Florence Lake, Paradise.

After sleeping in Sean made oatmeal and coffee while I did laundry and took a refreshing morning dip. After breakfast we thought that Paradise site looked vacated so we started packing up. Sean set the canoe on the shore and we hoisted our bags to load it. Suddenly, a gust of wind came up and swept the canoe into the water. Sean tried to grab it but was too slow. I whipped off my clothes but got stuck in my shirt. Clothes off, I dove into the water after the canoe. At first it was within reach but I sucked back a ton of water which slowed me down. Fortunately the canoe was blowing towards an island that was within swimming distance but once the canoe hit it I wasn’t sure if it would stay or keep blowing down the shore, around a corner and out of reach. I swam around so as to head off the canoe and eventually caught up to it. The rush of events had my adrenaline pumping as I swam the canoe back to camp. The canoe blowing away seems like such a small thing, but if we lost it we would have been stuck. Living outside offers many opportunities to practice thinking clearly under duress, which is actually a seldom-practiced and highly-valuable skill. In hindsight I should have just swam in my clothes as it was a beautiful sunny day. Canoe recovered, we packed up and paddled across to Paradise.

Lovely Sunset at Florence Lake on Day 5.

A quick scout reunited us with our favourite site in all the world. We set up camp quickly and commenced lolling. The rest of the day was spent in blissful rest. Swimming, tanning, swimming, eating, swimming, napping, and hiking around our peninsula. In the evening we made our first fire of the trip and I gorged myself on s’mores.

Day 5 – Florence Lake, Paradise Site

Pale Corydalis, Florence Lake

The day was hot. That heavy, humid kind of hot and we watched as the clouds built up into great thunderheads. Florence Lake really does provide some of the best swimming in the province, maybe even the country! Warm enough to be comfortable but cool enough to be refreshing, crystal clear and turquoise blue. I donned goggles and spent a good hour snorkelling around and enjoying the beauty of the underwater world. We paddled North up a tiny creek and South through Islands and inlets, exploring all that this sacred space had to offer. Known to the Native Anishinaabe people as Shkim-ska-jeeshing or “Lake that Bends in the Middle”, this place was used as retreat and safe place in times of war. Like many places that were special to the Native peoples, there is a certain peaceful aura here.

Storm’s brewing, Florence Lake

The islands in the South arm of Florence Lake are so picturesque.

For dinner I made tinfoil packets over the fire filled with potato, carrot, onion, spices and Halloumi cheese. Two words: so good. We watched as the storm clouds blew across the lake and began to drop their heavy load of rain somewhere to the east, where I now know Alex and Noah of Northern Scavenger were camped (watch their report here). After dinner we sat out on the smooth rocks of the point eating s’mores and relishing the never-ending twilight of northern summers. We washed our dishes and lay them out to dry on the rocks near the shore before retiring to the tent.

Our Eureka! No Bug Zone – had the last minute inkling to take it down before bed in case of wind – so glad I did! I’m sure it would be gone if I hadn’t.

I awoke sometime in the middle of the night to the sound of wind howling along northern shore of our campsite. Our tent was pitched in the sheltered forest on the South side of the peninsula, protected from the wind, but I started to think about the dishes that we’d left down by the shore. With wind like that they might blow away. I woke Sean and together we sleepily wandered down the path toward the rock point. As we emerged from the forest the wind hit me like a sac of flour—ffoomph. Looking up I caught a glimpse of dark cloud boiling and swirling almost into a funnel. The choppy waves were highlighted by a full moon, which mixed with our sleepiness to create a nightmarish feel. All of a sudden Sean was running. The canoe, which had been placed 3m from shore, upside down in a crop of bushes was being blown across the rock and into the water, the edges scraping like nails on a chalkboard. There were no islands to stop it’s flight this time. If it blew out of reach it was gone and the chances of our getting it back were slim to none. Sean dashed into the water and grabbed the boat just as it was about to sail out of reach. Singlehandedly, he wrenched it out of the water and back up the hill of rock. That dealt with, I started looking for the dishes and saw a plate floating out on the water. I knew that the rock created a really shallow beach here so I waded out into the wave and grabbed the plate.

Quickly we ran around camp, making sure everything was secure. We always leave camp tidy but after that experience we weren’t taking any chances. The canoe was placed in a shallow valley deep in the forest with rocks on top. We grabbed the bags and shoved them underneath it along with the dishes and our water filter. Camp secure we stood out on the ‘prow of our ship’ at the edge of the rock beach, revelling in the power of the storm. The only thing we lost was the lids from our coffee mugs.

We set out this year with only very vague plans. We wanted to check out the portage to Airplane and spend a good chunk of time on at Paradise Site but we’d left everything else up in the air. During the day we had pulled the maps out to choose our next adventure. The obvious choice was to continue heading South, maybe through the Solace Lakes, down Pilgrim Creek to Yorston L, then back up through the Pine Torch Corridor and Aimes Creek. A good option with a few drawbacks: 1. we would be continuing to retrace our steps from last year 2. We really didn’t know how the water levels on the Pilgrim would be and 3. This option was portage-heavy. Sean is in love with portages because they tend to lead to less-travelled areas, which is cool, but we never (ever, really!) have had a paddling-heavy trip.

Then there was Makobe Lake. Makobe is a lake that it seems almost nobody visits. It’s hard to make a great route of it because it’s rather off on its own so maybe that’s why? But someone had mentioned on the Ottertooth Forums that they thought it was just as nice as Florence Lake (read that discussion here). If it’s just as nice as Florence, why don’t more people visit it? Was this just a misguided, crazy person? The lure of the road-less-travelled combined with rumoured beauty and a trip that was more paddling than portaging was too much for us to resist. We would head back the way we came and then turn East to continue down the Lady Evelyn to Macpherson Lake before turning North to follow the Grays River Up through Grays Lake to Banks L and on to Makobe to complete our loop and return to our starting point at Gamble Lake. This route wouldn’t fill all of the days we had allotted for this trip so we would then head north up the NLER again, past Elizabeth Falls before turning SW and ending our trip with a couple days at Wabun Lake.

Before too long the winds began to calm and so did we. We headed back to bed to get some sleep before the big day of paddling we had planned for the next day.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of ‘Magical Makobe’

Clearwater Lake Contentment

Clearwater Lake, Temagami. May 2016

Warm air wafts in pockets around my body: hot and close, then cool and green—air conditioned by the surrounding forest. The air is different here. Softer. I catch it’s sweet, pine-needle scent as it smooths past my skin. The sounds are different too: richer, deeper, quiet but far from silent. Wind hushes through the tops of the trees, waves lap and slap against the smooth rock shore, a hermit thrush punctures the lazy air with her song. The land sighs in contentment.

The pack on my back is heavy. This winters’ fallen trees have yet to be cleared off the path, so the going is not easy. But it feels good to be here, doing this. As I pick my way along, clambering over fallen trees, I’m careful not to step on the many wildflowers that carpet the forest floor. Trout Lilly and Trillium are having their day in the sun.

As we leave the car, Pond Lake, and the first portage behind us my heart rate begins to slow and the natural world slides into focus. I feel like I can breathe again for the first time in months. I take a deep breath of the sweet, spicy air and heave a sigh of relief. This is Temagami, the year has circled back around to springtime, and we are canoeing again.

Unconsciously we slip into a rhythm of paddling.

The long months of winter are behind us and the length of summer stretches out before us like a golden road. We find our first stop along that road at the edge of the Temagami wilderness with a trip up Obabika Lake to Clearwater and on to Little Fry. As we paddle up Obabika we pass our first ever Temagami campsite. Continuing along we paddle past islands and bays, forests and hills. I revel in the feeling of the soft, humid breeze tickling the back of my neck, the warm sun on my skin, the cool of the water on my hands. We come to a bay and a short hunt reveals the portage to Clearwater Lake. I grab a handful of trail mix while Sean trundles off under the canoe. Then I shoulder my pack and begin the carry.

The late afternoon sun steps closer to the horizon throwing long shadows that fall towards me through the woods. The shady air whispers to my nose that it’s not quite summer yet. All the same I amble along the path, content and comfortable in a T-shirt. Elbows and edges of root-bound rocks have been exposed along the trail by ten thousand footsteps. This is one of a system of ancient 5000 year old Nastawgan trails that link these lakes, one to the next. This specific route into Clearwater Lake is seldom used, probably because it’s a dead end route and not a loop trip. In some places the trail is so faint that only these rock-tips, the earth that covered them eroded over the centuries, distinguish trail from forest floor.

I come to a fork in the trail. At first it looks like the right fork is the wider, more well used trail but at closer inspection I see some flagging tape along the left fork. I head off left and hope Sean caught sight of the tape despite the canoe on his head. After awhile I begin to feel as though I should have caught up with him by now… unless he took the wrong trail. The worry finds a home in that place between my eyebrows where nothing is ever accomplished. I start calling his name, calling and calling until, finally, I hear his voice faintly from across the bay. It turns out that he had taken the more “well-used” trail—only to discover that it was a beaver run. Reunited, we complete the portage.

It’s golden hour as we conclude our travel for the day, paddling across Clearwater Lake. Old growth white pine tower over us. Each fluffy, soft bough is luminous agains the next. It’s been a long afternoon of paddling and I can feel the pull of each stroke between my shoulder blades. We set up camp quickly and I make homemade macaroni and cheese with broccoli for dinner. We boil some water for tea and sit gazing out across the water to the hills on the opposite shore. The moon rises. The fire snaps and pops behind us. Sean accidentally kicks over my carefully crafted tea.

As the wind sighs through the trees I sigh along with it, content.

Smoothwater Loop Part 3: the Lady Evelyn River and Sunnywater Lake

water lily on the Lady Evelyn River

The story of a 2 week canoe trip through the wilderness of the Western Temagami region: mishaps, wildlife, solitude and more. Continued from Smoothwater Loop Part 2. In this section we journey from Florence Lake, down the South Lady Evelyn River, up the North Lady Evelyn River, across a massive portage to Sunnywater Lake and home via Smoothwater Lake and the Montreal River. Come with me!

Day 10, Aug 31, Florence River, Duff Lake to Road on Lady Evelyn River

The Florence River

It was with a heavy heart that I said goodbye to our beautiful site and reluctantly climbed into the canoe. A canoe, by the way, with a broken bow seat. The bow seat had been squeaking all trip and had finally cracked as we had paddled up Florence two days before. We fixed the problem by setting up a life jacket and the dry bag as a temporary seat. However, the dry bag is round and so it’s hard to balance on and sort of rocks back and forth as you paddle. This made Sean seasick so I, with my superior balancing skills 😉 was stuck in the bow of the canoe for the rest of the trip.

massive old white pine along the Florence River

Sean especially loved this section of our trip from the north end of Florence Lake through to the Florence River and on to Duff Lake. There is a swath of old growth white pine forest here that runs through the valleys and blankets the crests of hills. On the north end of Florence Lake there is what looks like another really nice campsite on a rocky outcropping along the eastern shore.

Hoping to see some wildlife we managed to spend the morning paddling in silence. We did not have to wait long for our reward. As we paddled out of Florence Lake a huge brown bird with white speckles flew overhead. Perhaps it was an osprey or a juvenile eagle? Then, all of a sudden, we spotted a moose and her calf feeding in the shallows. Moose had always seemed to elude us. Finally here they were, not a stones throw away. Our vow of silence was working! We kept it up, biting back the constant flow of conversation that usually surrounds us. Then, just at the confluence of the Florence and Lady Evelyn Rivers, we caught sight of a bull moose just before he retreated through the trees. This intersection of rivers was a beautiful area with a field of lily flowers framed by towering old trees set against a dramatic backdrop of hills. We stopped at the Duff Lake campsite for lunch. Sean spent the entire lunch break leaning against a tree at the edge of the site, gazing around at the incredible trees.

Duff Ridge – not the greatest pic but you get the idea

Just around the corner from Duff Lake is Duff Ridge, a really beatific corner of creation, and just beyond that the last nice campsite on this section of the South Lady Evelyn River. We stopped here to poke around. I’ve imagined this campsite many times since reading Hap Wilson’s description of it in The Cabin (find this fabulous book here). It lived up to my hopes with great swimming and docking rocks. A short climb up to the cliff top site reveals a sunset view out over the black spruce forest which cloaks the opposite shore.

It was still early in the day so we continued on upriver. We kept a close eye out for the campsites that are listed on the maps but we didn’t find any of them. We didn’t search high and low but we found neither markers nor level, non swampy areas that would provide even a good bush site. After passing 4 map-marked but non-existent campsite locations we started to get a bit worried. It looked like rain and we wanted to set up camp before the clouds broke. Finally we passed an old, deconstructed bridge and, not wanting to take a gamble on whether the sites upriver existed, we decided to camp on the road for the night. It didn’t have great swimming but provided a wonderfully flat surface for the tent and just up the road and we found a biffy! This bridge isn’t listed on the map as a campsite but it’s obviously being used as one. Sean was feeling nauseous from sitting on the drybag so we went to bed early.

Road Campsite – ahhh flat ground

Day 11, Sept 1, South + North Lady Evelyn River, Gamble L, Junction L, to Sunnywater L

We slept extremely well on the flat, man-made surface and started the day later than normal. After our usual breakfast of home-made granola with chocolate, walnuts and dried cherries served with rehydrated milk, we set off upstream around 9am, placing another vow of silence upon the morning. The river meanders through a marsh here and we paddled all morning with the sun over our right shoulders.

Our silence paid off. We had never seen as much wildlife as we did in these 2 days. First up, 2 black bears! The first didn’t notice us right away and so we were able to watch it eating berries for awhile before he pricked up his big, fluffy, cinnamon ears, sniffed with his cinnamon nose and looked straight at us with his deep black eyes. He was a smaller, more timid bear and trundled off into the bush as soon as he saw us.

Sean finally took a photo! He has a much better eye than me.

After that first bear we kept our eyes and ears absolutely peeled for wildlife – this was getting exciting! Not too far upstream I started pointing and motioning as excitedly as I could while still staying quiet. I had spotted a second bear in the brush just uphill from the waters edge. This bear was bigger, blacker and less afraid of us. It seemed like he had heard or seen us coming and was already heading off into the brush when I heard his snapping steps. He was standing on all fours and we could see his legs ending in long feet. He had a dangerous air about him. He stared at us a long time before moving along.

Upstream and around a bend we disturbed an eagle who had been perched in a field to our right. He spread his wings and flew low across the field and over our heads before gaining height and speeding out of sight. A few bends in the river later we came around a corner and were face to beak with a heron who quickly flew off upstream so that we disturbed her 2 or 3 more times. A little later the longest V of geese that I have ever seen flew overhead, heading south. It was September 1st and I guess all the geese in the area decided that today was the day to leave the north.

Waving maiden hair

The South branch of the Lady Evelyn River met with the North branch without the particular fanfare that I was expecting, just a small T in the road. We kept a close eye on each curve of the river, having discovered that there is more to river travel than ‘point and shoot’. The portage to Dees was well marked and right where our maps placed it, in the elbow of the river. Two otters swam right past us huffing and snuffing in the funny way that they do. Here the river comes out of its wetland and becomes reminiscent of (though not quite as spectacular as) the lower Lady Evelyn with rocky shores and tall pine. Just south of Chance Lake we passed the first decent-looking campsite since the cliff top site just north of Duff Ridge. If you have to camp along this stretch of river I’d suggest stopping here as it’s much nicer than Gamble Lake.

We arrived at Gamble Lake around 2pm planning to camp here for the night. The campsites on Gamble did not inspire us. One of them is on a wide, freshly levelled, gravel road in a clearing amongst sparse baby pine. The other is a shady, dark little hole of a site hidden on the narrow part of the peninsula (not on the point where our not-so-trusty map placed it). It is set amongst small, dark cedars with a weedy, muddy shore. We decided it was too early in the day to settle for these dregs. As it was late in the day, and our packs were rid of most of our food, we decided to complete the rest of the portages in a single carry to save time. We did not want to run out of light again! We had a rest and a snack before tackling the hardest portage we’ve ever done.

Our overly optimistic map strikes again! It clearly lists a 320m portage followed by a creek which finishes in a 2085m portage. Don’t be fooled! Optimistic as always we waded out into the muddy ‘creek’ to save some portaging time only to get stuck in the mud. If you do this route just bite the bullet and stay on the portage for all 3970 glorious meters. Twenty minutes later, when we had extracted ourselves from the mud, we made up a song for our beloved map:

“Map,

I’m gonna punch your face,

I’m gonna punch your face,

I’m gonna punch you right in the

Map,

I’m gonna punch your face,

… Etc, Repeat ad nauseam!

The mud puddle was in a really pretty little field surrounded by big hills and nice trees. It was the most beautiful place we’d seen since Duff Lake. Of course we were too distracted by scrambling through sucking mud to take any pictures, sigh.

While planning this trip we had spent some time studying the maps and had noticed that this portage gains a lot of elevation. So, each time we climbed a hill we hoped that at least that bit of elevation gain was behind us. And each time we descended a hill we groaned. No, this portage saves ALL the elevation gain for the end. The trail rolls gently up and down hills until right near the end where it takes a sharp turn for the skies. One massive, never ending hill and about 400 little breaks later, we made it to the top. From there it was just a hop and a skip across 2 little lakes with their adjoining portages we arrived at Sunnywater Lake.

worth it – look at that water!

Day 12, Sept 2, Sunnywater

The morning was bright and sunny but with a cold, autumn scented wind. I found a patch of sunlight and curled up in the roots of an old, granddaddy white pine near the shore. This magnificent tree had unfortunately crashed to his death not too long ago. The trunk now bisects the campsite. The morning passed in a blur of groggy haze as my sleeping mat had popped and I hadn’t slept much the night before. I spent the time reading and cooking up some cheesy bannock for the next few days of lunches. In the afternoon we took a short hike down the portage to Wilderness lake and found a picnic spot in the sun-soaked woods above the lake. After lunch it was back to Sunnywater for a swim.

With a name like Sunnywater you know there has to be something special about this lake, and there is. The water is astonishingly clear. So clear that at the waters edge you only know where the land ends and the water begins because at a certain point the rocks begin to look wet. Even with that defining line it is unclear exactly where the surface of the water is until your fingers are actually wet. I noticed this every time I went to wash my hands or fill a pot with water. It was like my depth perception was off. It wasn’t, the water is just that clear.

The rocks are white and pink here which makes for lovely snorkelling. I swam way out into the lake and could still see the bottom. Then I flipped upside down and the rocky lake bottom became my ceiling. Ahead turquoise water faded into distant violet and below me my toes brushed a wavy sky. I don’t think I will ever forget that view. I spent a long time swimming upside down and by the time I got out of the water I was chilled to the bone. Clear lakes are always the coldest – everything has it’s price!

Dinner! Not bad for Day 12 😛

I’d been carrying a potato, an onion and some carrots this whole trip. Tonight, the extra weight paid off! A fresh meal of potatoes, onions, carrots and summer sausage chopped up, seasoned, wrapped in foil and roasted over the fire was a wonderful treat after nearly a week of freeze dried meals.

An evening paddle uncovered a little stream flowing down to Wilderness Lake. Ever the explorer, Sean set off to bushwhack his way along it. I continued the paddle solo, gliding on glass and peering through turquoise to catch glimpses of boulders fathoms below. After we beached the canoe for the night I sat by the waters edge and watched as tendrils of steam began ghosting across the lake. We lit a fire and stayed up late into the night, this time by choice, gazing into stars and embers.

There is a certain magic in being connected to the land. When you’re out here it’s easy to see where the inspiration for faeries and giants, sprites and talking trees, magic and quests comes from. It feels to me like there is a novel around every corner. That island could be some great prehistoric behemoth crouched in the water so long that trees have grown on his scaly back. Perhaps this rocky portage is really the spine of a sleeping dragon. At any moment we could stumble upon the woods of Lothlorian or intersect a gaggle of hobbits on a journey.

We had been unsure about whether to take 14 days for our trip and come home with a day to unpack, wash and reorganize our lives, or take 15 days because we love it and we can. I had really wanted to take an extra day at Florence but Sean was uncomfortable with that. He would be going back to school the day after we returned so it was really up to him. As we sat by the fire we re-evaluated our priorities and decided to take a third rest day here, at Sunnywater Lake, instead of heading back to Smoothwater tomorrow and home the next day.

The call of the wild was too strong to resist.

Day 13, Sept 3, Sunnywater

I made pancakes and bacon for breakfast after a quick, cold morning dip. I had fixed the sleeping mat the day before and so I had much more energy today. After much suntanning, reading, writing, and staring into the clear blue depths, Sean was stir crazy. So it was off to the Aurora trout lakes for some fishing! Jk, jk. The aurora trout lakes are home to, you guessed it, the aurora trout, a species of fish found no where else in the world but in these 2 or 3 lakes. So no fishing allowed!

Portage over to Whitepine Lake

It was a bright, sunny day with not a cloud in the sky. Columns of diffused sunlight slanted through the forest as we ambled along: short portage, wilderness lake, longer portage, Whitepine lake. The north portion of Whitepine L is quite nice with islands surrounded by tall trees and rocky outcroppings. The south end is nothing special, shorter forest and low hills. We left our canoe at the research station’s dock and walked across a faint trail through a pretty wood to Whirlygig Lake. I can definitely see why fish like this lake! The water is warm and brown with organic matter. I took a rather disgusting swim in the soupy water, quite a shock after the cold, clear Sunnywater Lake.

As we arrived back at camp later that afternoon we passed the first humans we’d seen in since Scarecrow Lake! We’d had 10 full days of complete and utter solitude #CampingGoals 🙂 This group of guys were headed to Smoothwater for the night.

The evening was still as ever so we made dinner and paddled out to the middle of the lake to eat it. The silence was a physical presence pressing in on our eardrums.

Day 14, Sept 4, Wilderness L, MarinaL, to Smoothwater

We woke up early today. I skipped my usual morning dip and we were packed and on the portage before the mist had burned off the lake. Everything felt heavy and difficult this morning. Too much rest had made me lazy! But the woods were pretty and I saw a 3rd grouse to add to the 2 we’d seen on this portage yesterday. Once on wilderness lake we saved a dragon fly from drowning and took a second to bask in the beauty of the trees and mist highlighted by morning sun.

Wilderness Lake

The second portage out of Wilderness Lake and into Whitepine Lake has a nearly-Lady-Evelyn-esque pile of rock scree at the end of it that we had to clamber down – much harder to accomplish with full packs than it had been the day before when we were carefree and unburdened. A quick paddle across Whitepine and an easy portage later, we found ourselves in Marina Lake. This is a very pretty lake with nice white cliffs. We paddled around taking in the sights for awhile before heading off to the well trodden path to Smoothwater Lake to have our hopes of having our last night on a sandy beach dashed. Smoothwater was slam-jammed, packed out. The colourful array of tents reminded us that it was the Labour Day long weekend. All the campsites on the lake were taken. In fact, the beach, which is supposed to house 2 campsites had 4 or 5 camps spread out along it.

It was still early in the day so we paddled across the lake to check out an unnamed lake to the west of Smoothwater. We found the creek that leads to the lake, pulled the canoe up and scrambled along the logs jammed in the creek to check out the lake and see if it was worth the portage. It was so we headed back to the canoe, this time via the portage. This portage has been completely obliterated by a massive fallen white pine.

Unnamed Lake West of Smoothwater

After grabbing our lunch and the canoe we scrambled back over the logs to get to the lake. Paddling across the lake a ways, we found a rocky point with a perfect canoe landing spot and swimming rocks. We weren’t the first people to think this point was perfect. On the top of the small hill we found the remains of a very old, half-built cabin. There was also a completely overgrown fire pit with an old style, rusted out pop can in it and, in the notch of a tree trunk, 5 wooden poles which would have been used to set up an old canvas tent. Perhaps no one had been to this spot since this would be settler had abandoned his dream. We made a lunch of bannock and the last of the salami and cheese. I went for a swim and lay on the smooth, hot rocks until I dried off.

Half-built and abandoned cabin on an unnamed lake just West of Smoothwater Lake.

We considered camping here but decided to make our way to the end of the lake instead with hopes of shortening our journey home the next day. There was a site Sean had liked on the way in that was just at the mouth of the Montreal River. It also had a sandy beach. We quickly beached our gear, went for a swim together and lay on the sand in the sun for awhile before making camp. After an early dinner we went for an evening paddle. All was quiet and still as we drifted along, dipping our paddles into glassy reflections.

The trip is behind us, home is ahead. I’m sitting on a sandy beach, content. The waves are lapping at the shore and the water is moving silently down the channel before me. The sliver of a new moon is just cresting hill opposite, bright against the sunset sky. It’s light is making silhouettes of the pine. The water is rippling gently, rose gold and then violet. Sean is farting and joking beside me.

Later, as I lie in my sleeping bag, I cherish this last night in the tent. The sound of the stillness, of the wind breathing through the trees, the sound of distant loon calls and, closer, a rabbit scuttling through the bush. These sounds all seep deep into my being as I drift off to sleep.

Day 15, Sept 5, Smoothwater L, Lady Dufferin L, Montreal R, Home

This morning was a visual symphony. The land, hills, water and trees providing a grounding harmony which gave depth to the melody of the misty sunrise. As we paddle toward our car and home the last scraps of steam are clinging to shadowy corners of the river. I keep glancing back over my shoulder to see the edges of saw-toothed ridges receding, one made distinct against the next by valley’s filled with mist.

And just like that our journey was over. The journey was over but the memories remain.

Dawn on the North end of Smoothwater Lake

“It had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B. It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.”
Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Smoothwater Loop Part 2: Finally Finding Florence

Finally Finding Florence

The story of a 2 week canoe trip through the wilderness of Temagami: mishaps, wildlife, solitude and more. Continued from Smoothwater Loop Part 1. In this section we journey through Solace Provincial Park (Einar Lake, Solace L, Samson L, Bill L, Maggie L, Pilgrim L, Rodd L,  Benner L, Bluesucker L) to FLORENCE Lake!!!

Day 5: Einar Lake

It’s getting late. We’ve been pushing hard since 8am with the goal of Einar Lake in mind and we are so close! I’m running at about a 3/10 on the energy scale. The sun is due to set “ with clockwork finality”, to quote Hap Wilson, but we have only one more 400m portage and we’ll have reached our goal! Finally finding ourselves in a completely remote location: a roadless, tripper-less wilderness. I count paces all the way across. 100! 200, halfway there! 300… Ok we made it! Now, back for the second load. We’re rushing, we’re exhausted and we’ve done so many portages today (9 to be exact) that I really can’t remember anything distinctive about this one, except that it is short… And that there were a lot of rocks at one point along what looked to be an old, dried up creek bed.

I’m not seeing a lot of rocks and this is feeling rather long but it’s Sean who points out that we may be lost. He had noticed a road on the map that was close to here and he thinks somehow we’ve lost the portage and found the road. Then we see an old snowmobile sign. Nope, that wasn’t there before. By this point the light is really fading. If we’d kept to the portage we should have had just enough time to get the last load and get to camp, but really we were cutting it too close and should have bush whacked a site on Broadbent Lake. Lesson learned.

So we’re lost in the woods in near darkness without the map and with nothing but our sweaters  and a headlamp. We turn around and start walking back along the snowmobile trail. It should be simple enough to go back the way we came to the lake and at least half our gear, but all the ‘what ifs’ are flooding my mind. We don’t even have a lighter with us! I do not want to spend the night in the dark woods with no way to warm ourselves. Is that the water? Yes, we’ve made it back to Einar Lake. By this point it is certainly too dark to go back for the second load. We have the boat and the food pack and that will have to do for tonight.

After singing Taylor Swift all day it feels good to finally be “out of the woods”. Now that we’ve left their shadow behind we still have about half an hour of twilight. Sean remembers where the site was on the map and has seen a picture of the brushed-out point, which is lucky because the map is with the other half of our gear which is still at Biscuit Lake. He’s feeling relieved and happy to have found the lake. I’m still terrified and dry-mouthed.

We find the campsite. Someone has left a good pile of firewood but we gather more before the light fades entirely. Then I take inventory of what we have: 1 ziplock bag, 1 frying pan, 1 rain shield for the bag, 1 garbage bag, 2 life jackets, our sweaters, 1 headlamp, the SPOT SOS device, 1 saw, 1 first aid kit, toilet paper, the camera and all our food.

We wore our life jackets all night for warmth.

We decide to risk beaver fever and drink straight from the lake rather than try to balance the frying pan over the flames and boil water, one small batch at a time. Sans water bottle, Sean paddles out and fills the ziplock bag with water which we then pour into the frying pan for easy drinking. We spread out the rain shield and garbage bag to protect our bums from the damp ground and put on our life jackets over our sweaters because they actually provide quite a bit of warmth. I keep the headlamp around my neck and clip the SPOT to my belt so we don’t loose them in the dark. The saw comes in super handy for cutting fire wood throughout the night and the camera provides a way of checking the time. We sit watching the stars come out until it starts getting cold and we light a fire. Despite travelling for 12h today, neither of us are relaxed enough to be hungry.

It’s a clear, cold night. We take turns dozing and tending the fire. Glancing half heartedly at the star strewn sky we wait for morning. The moon rise causes undue excitement. We take a picture every so often to check the time.

Checking the time in the dead of night

Day 6, Aug 26, Einar Lake

Dawn on Einar Lake

The morning finally dawned, misty and cool. As soon as there was enough light we paddled back across the lake and started down the portage to pick up our remaining gear. About 100 paces in we discovered our mistake. The road joins the portage in a Y shape. When travelling from Biscuit to Einer the turn onto the road is too sharp to notice but when travelling back to Biscuit the choice to go R or L is a very small difference. To make matters worse a tree had fallen across the portage, but the road was clear of debris. It was easy to see how we had made a mistake in the dark. At this point we became very thankful for our primary map. It may have been wrong about many a portage, but it’s the only map we’ve found that lists all the backcountry roads alongside the portages, a detail which had just come in very handy. 

We found our gear right where we’d left it and hightailed it back to camp. Finally relaxed enough to be hungry, I quickly rehydrated freeze dried lasagna which we shovelled into our mouths before collapsing into the tent.

Waiting for breakfast, exhausted.

The rest of the day passed in a haze of naps. It rained on and off all day (praise the LORD that it didn’t rain all night!!). We took advantage of a break in the drizzle to indulge in a much needed bath before lunch. Then it was back to bed until dinner which we ate in the tent due to the rain. It was a soft rain; the kind that sounds like a million tiny needles falling onto a tiled floor. Each drop pricked the surface of the glassy water. After dinner we went straight back to sleep and slept until morning.

These northern Solace Provincial Park lakes were special. When travelling through popular lakes, even on days when you don’t see another human soul, you can feel the energy of recent travellers like shadows lingering even after their owners have moved on. But these lakes were empty. There was a deeper peace here, a feeling that this land was truly undisturbed.

Day 7, Aug 27: Solace L, Samson L, Bill L, Maggie L, Pilgrim L, Rodd L,  Benner Lake

Leaving our site on Einar

The rain continued through the night and we woke early to a misty morning. We gathered our things quickly and pushed off toward Solace Lake. I was very excited to get to Solace. There’s just something about that name. I was not disappointed. It’s a beautiful lake dotted with rocky islands. There is a cabin on one of the islands. The contrast between cabin comfort and backcountry bush always heightens the sense of wilderness for me. The northern end of the lake is enveloped in a forest of old white pine which turns to jack pine as you paddle south.  The recent rain had left everything washed clean, leaving all the colours unusually bright. As we paddled past island after island I was struck by little details like burgundy lichen and bright green moss.

Little details

 

Island on Solace Lake

Too soon we came to the 225m portage into Samson L and a 60m hop over to Bill L before starting what our primary map notes is a 680m portage into Maggie Lake. Our other map of the area lists this portage as 1010m. Being optimistic and slightly lazy we were really hoping that map 1 would win this fight… But it didn’t. It’s definitely a 1010m portage, just as the way into Pilgrim L is 1090m (map 2)  and not 785m (map 1). Deep sigh, keep trudging. Both portages were quite difficult. The Bill to Maggie portage is easier going West to East. As you leave Bill there’s a short steep hill up but then a longer, also steep hill down to Maggie L. Maggie is a very long lake which makes it feel almost like a river. We floated ‘downstream’ while having lunch in the canoe. A tap tap tapping drew our attention to a black backed woodpecker in the woods – a birding specialty, or so I’m told.

Pretty portage trail

There was some discrepancy between maps as to where exactly along Maggie’s Eastern shore the takeout for Pilgrim is. It looks to me like what’s happened a few places in Solace Provincial Park (and also in the North Yorston Conservation Reserve) is that some portages fell into disrepair. When they were re-opened the trail blazers chose new routes in a couple of places, rather than reopening the old trails. There are still vestiges of the old trails left which makes things a bit confusing. The old trails are very over grown so if you don’t think that a trail looks right, it’s probably not. In this instance map 2  correctly placed the new portage landing, whereas map 1 had the old takeout listed.

The portage from Maggie to Pilgrim is very hard. Lots of hills and wet patches with slippery logs and slippery rocks. Slow and steady wins the race. The sun came out as I finished my second load, hot and sweaty. I immediately stripped, walked down the sloping rock, sat back on my heels and slid down the mossy, underwater slope into the water…

Heavenly. So wonderful. The water was that perfect temperature – not too cold but just cool enough to be refreshing. After my short swim we loaded up the boat and continued on past a really nice looking campsite, through a Lilly pad covered bay, 80m to Rodd L and 285m on to Benner.

Benner Lake in the sun!

As we paddled across Benner I was beyond excited to see mares tails streaking across the sky – good weather clouds!!! That means at least a couple days of bright, warm, sunny weather. We’d finally had a normal travel day, it was sunny and we were to camp with plenty of time for a swim and a snack before setting up for the night.

Evening on Benner

The campsite at Benner is fabulous. Another perfect slip-and-slide-in swimming rock, also a perfect docking area. On shore there is a rock chair WITH a footstool. Up a small hill there are a couple of great tent sites and a fire pit with a gorgeous view out over the lake. We lay the sleeping bags out in the sun and wind to air out while we set up the tent. Dinner, coffee, chocolate. A raven called and a family of ducks swam by. After dinner and chores we watched as the golden light danced across the quietly rippling lake and listened to the wind breathing in the trees behind our heads.

It was a perfect, quiet moment.

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight! Sunset on Benner Lake

Day 8, Aug 29, Benner L, Bluesucker L to FLORENCE Lake!!!

As we are obviously obsessed with misty mornings, and hoping to catch sight of some wildlife, we set out early. I said goodbye to this lovely campsite and the rock chair and we quickly paddled over to our first portage of the day into Bluesucker Lake. The early morning calm was just lifting from the land as we finished the easy, flat 200m’s. We paddled past an empty campsite, around a corner and discovered a couple of beavers. They put on quite a show for us as they tried to distract us from their lodge. Around another corner we saw an eagle in a tree and disturbed a heron as we pulled into our next portage.

After Bluesucker it was 3 portages mixed with some creek travel finishing at the fabulous Florence Lake! I had developed a habit of counting paces along the portages to know how close we were to being done. Consequently I noticed that our primary map continued to underestimate the distances of the portages in this area. The first one is definitely closer to 910m than 760m. It’s quite a rocky path but decently flat. At one point we came to a highway of rocks along a dried up river bed.

Highway of rocks on the portage out of Bluesucker Lake toward Florence Lake.

Coming up to the second portage along this creek into Florence Lake we were still holding out hope for map 1. No cigar. Map 1 must be working from old data as there is a very well established beaver dam along here making the portage a concrete 210m rather than 95m.  This trail starts out in a grassy marshy area but the end is a really pretty walk along a charming little chute with Killarney-esque white rock all around. We took a break here to take it all in and soak up the sun while scarfing down some sustenance for the main event of the day. After a short paddle up the creek we came to the big daddy! 1470m of tough slogging.

Pretty little creek

The 1407m portage starts out rocky. Then there’s a pretty long stretch of wide, flat trail before you reach the bogs. We got quite close to both a male and female spruce grouse along here, so that was fun.

Female Spruce Grouse!

This was the longest stretch of bog I’d ever hopped, slipped and precariously balanced through. It’s mostly one long soggy patch. I don’t know if this area is even passable at high water – maybe it would be floatable? We balanced along rocks and logs and tuffs of grass. The logs that had been laid down over super wet patches were covered in water. Finding them was the first challenge. Stepping on them did not prevent a wet foot, but it did keep one from being completely consumed by the marsh. After the bogs is a long hilly section, up and down and up and down and… you get the picture. Then some slippery rock slopes, down one last hill and you’re on Florence Lake!

Balancing on a log in the never ending bogs.

We’d been waiting to get to Florence for years now and after a botched attempt last year, which you can read about here, attaining the goal was that much sweeter. Bluesucker Bay is quite marshy, so it was not instant gratification. But as we paddled through the narrows and out into the Lake I became properly impressed. Around one corner a family of otters. Around another a herd of about 20 ducks running across the water like Jesus. Behind an island a gang of 5 loons calling back and forth with their friends on the other side of the lake. Crystal clear blue water. Steep hills rising up all around. Jack pine forest on the South end of the lake changing to old growth white pine as we travelled North. And in the distance a spit of land, with a sand beach running down it’s arm and a rock point at the end, that would be our home for two nights.  

Island in the South end of Florence Lake

Perfection!

First order of business after pulling into camp is always a swim. Half way across the lake I stopped to tread water. Turning in a slow circle I took in the panorama around me. It was late afternoon on a perfectly hot, sunny day. If I sank down into the water, so that only my head was above, all I could hear was the sound of my own breathing. The heat of the day had dampened all other sound. The rest of the day was spent lying in the sun and reading interspersed with dips in the lake to cool down – my idea of perfection. 

In the evening we hiked up behind the site to a small cliff looking west across the lake to the shore. Dinner was freshly made (ie: not freeze-dried) macaroni and cheese finished off with tea and chocolate. The sunset was less than fantastic with a bit of mackerel sky moving in. After seeing those mares tails yesterday I was really hoping for a stretch of good weather, but the sky never lies…    

As the darkness thickened I spent some time sitting in a curve of the rock near the shore. The night was velvet and silk. The air was warm and close. A soft, warm breeze caressed my hair. The smallest of waves lapped at the shore.

On my way back to the tent I heard a scuffling and my flashlight beam fell on a rabbit at my feet. I watched as she tentatively hopped away through the brush.

Day 9, Aug 30: Florence Rest Day

Cinnamon buns for breakfast!

After sleeping in we rolled out of bed and took our time over a breakfast of cinnamon buns, bacon and coffee. Overnight some cloud cover had rolled in, just as the lacklustre sunset and mackerel sky had predicted. The air was warm and humid so the clouds provided a nice respite from the sun.

Around noon the sky over us cleared up to reveal bright sunshine and blue sky. We spent the afternoon reading, tanning, swimming and paddling around the lake. A sandy point, called an isthmus, stretches across Florence lake almost separating it in two. It was much wider than we had expected. Only at its narrowest point could we actually see across it to the other side of the lake. There’s a cabin built here, “the good tent”. Whoever chose this place to build their cabin had good taste! From here there’s a view of both the southern and northern halves of the lake: to the south it’s islands and rocky outcroppings overhung with hills, and to the north are cascading ridges of tall pine piled up against each other in an ombré display of greens and blues. Absolutely gorgeous.

We returned from exploring late in the afternoon and improvised  a floaty football out of a rain shield all bunched up in it’s compression sack. After playing a game of catch in the water with Sean, I grabbed the goggles and took a long swim around our site looking through the clear blue to underwater cliffs dropping down deep and out of sight. This would be a great place for cliff jumping.

Florence Lake is probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever been in my life. And the site we were at is probably my favourite site of all time too. Also, this was our 8th day of complete solitude. (We wouldn’t see another human for 10 of our 15 days.) Add all that together and you have a recipe for a pretty spectacular experience.

Thunderheads just missing us

We watched all afternoon from our sunny local as thunderheads rolled across the Southern sky. Finally in the evening they dropped their load somewhere to the South East of us and we listened to the music of thunder in the distance, happy to be here and not there. Our site had a lovely flat expanse of rock so I set up the camera and took some footage for #GetOutsideDanceOutside, a project I’m working on that uses dance to animate and draw attention to outdoor spaces. (If this project sounds interesting to you drop me a line! I’m always looking for people to collaborate with.) After a simple dinner we built a small fire and feasted on s’mores until dark.

#GetOutsideDanceOutside Florence Lake

Stay Tuned for Part 3!!!

Smoothwater Loop Part 1: Apex, Mihel, Scarecrow, and the North Solace Lakes

August 22 – September 5, 2016

The story of a 2 week canoe trip through the wilderness of Temagami: mishaps, wildlife, solitude and more. In this section we journey South from Smoothwater Lake (through Apex L, McCulloch L, Mihel L, Scarecrow Creek, Scarecrow L). We stop to hike Ishpatina Ridge and then continue West across the northern Solace Provincial Park lakes (Woods L, Little Scarecrow L, Hamlow L, Regan L, Melanson L, Tooth L, Carrying Bar L, Broadbent L, Biscuit L and Einar Lake). Come with me!

***

“Following the chain of lakes south to Mihell and Scarecrow Lake, we were surrounded by hillsides clothed in the richest, loveliest, most fantastic stands of white and red pine.”
– In the Footsteps of Grey Owl by Gary and Joanie McGuffin

Day 1, Aug 22 2016, Montreal River

“Oh look! Shhhh, quiet now. Let’s see how close we can get!” The whoosh of wings had drawn our gaze overhead and now we were paddling quietly toward an old tree with a dead top where the owner of the wings had found his perch. His white head and tail stood out in clear contrast with the dark foliage. We watched as he furled his great brown wings around himself. A bald eagle! We would see one of these majestic birds on almost every one of the 15 days we spent camping and canoeing in the wilderness of the Temagami region. We had been unsure of where to camp for the night, how far to push down the river in the fading light, but the eagle perched directly across the river from this campsite sealed the deal. We’d rest here tonight and push on to Smoothwater Lake in the morning.

We had started the morning in the urban jungle. A last minute errand had sent us into the heart of Monday-morning downtown Toronto – the natural habitat of the ‘stuffed shirt’ and his office towers. It was quite a transition to go from the crowded, buzzing streets to the quiet, empty shores of the north. We spent most of the day driving. Past cottage country towns quaint on the shores of rivers and lakes, past stretches of northern highways nearly tunnelled by rock walls and towering trees, to flat stretches of farmland interrupted by nowhere towns. Finally we turned down the Beauty Lake road and parked our car. We were nearly on our way when a bear of a man trundled over from the campsite across the road where he’d parked his massive RV. He chatted us up, asking where we were going and generally checking us over, making sure we weren’t rookies about to get ourselves in over our heads. Both my husband and I look younger than we are so this once over is a bit of a pre-trip tradition. He told us stories of travelling all over the park on his snowmobile. “Wouldn’t never go nowhere without a motor though!” he barked and chuckled. Then, looking at our map “Oh I don’ know of any campsite along this stretch of river. Bin comin’ here over 15 years! But there is a cabin”… Twenty minutes later we set off upriver.

We made camp at dusk in the curve of the Montreal River. After a quick dinner of sausages and steamed broccoli we retired to our tent. Enveloped by our luxurious sleeping bags and the sound of the wind in the trees, we drifted off to sleep.

Day 2, Aug 23, Montreal River, Lady Dufferin L, Smoothwater Lake

We woke with the rising sun to the sound of a brisk headwind whistling down the river. The wind had been in the forecast the night before so we knew that there was no point trying to beat it by either getting up extra early or waiting it out. This would be an all day affair. We packed quickly and pushed off. The paddle up the Montreal was really lovely. Lots of tall pine trees and around each turn a new ridge of hills piled up, one behind another.

There’s a cabin on the East shore of Lady Dufferin Lake. Before we set out, RV man had leaned in towards us and whispered the story in hushed tones, full of pride to have scavenged this insider information. He had heard from a reliable source that back in the logging days this cabin had been a “whooore house!” As he said this last bit he puffed out his chest and glanced at Sean for approval. They would bring the girls up to live in the cabin for the summer and keep the loggers company on their days off. He said he wasn’t sure if we should believe it but he knew a guy who knew a guy who swore by this tale.

We pushed on into the headwind and when we came to Smoothwater Lake the water was less than smooth – a joke I’m sure has been made one too many times what with the size of this lake. It wasn’t the worst chop we’d paddled through and so we surfed our way along until we found the fabled crescent of sand beach on the Eastern shore of the lake.

Smoothwater Lake Beach

Smoothwater is quite a big lake with large hills all around. The forest is a bit inconsistent—some stands of the big, tall, old growth white pine that we’ve come to associate with Temagami and some areas of shorter pine and poplar. The water is relatively clear and a lovely turquoise blue/green colour. But it’s the beach that really makes this place special. It stretches for about 2-3k along the Eastern shore and has 2 campsites spread out along it. The Southern site is the most desirable but, as Smoothwater is accessible by motor boat also, there was already a tent there. We chose the more northern site and it was quite nice as well. It was only 10am but we had been looking forward to camping on this beach for a long time and we had plenty of days to cover the kilometres ahead. We were apprehensive about how far we would even get on this trip. I’d had a concussion a month before due to a bike accident. So we eased into things.

Sunset on Smoothwater

We were a bit antsy but enjoyed our beach day, eating, reading, swimming and walking in the sand. It was really nice to walk around camp on the smooth, warm sand. Much easier than it is to clamber around on rocky shore like a billy goat, up to the tent and down to the water. We found a handy fire grill so we BBQ’d the just-thawing, spice rubbed chicken thighs over the fire alongside potatoes, carrots and onions all fried in bacon fat.

Dinner – not bad eh? 🙂

Day 3, Aug 24, Apex L, McCulloch L, Mihell L, Scarecrow Cr, Scarecrow Lake

This is a great time of year to travel. Light comes at around 6am and fades to dark by around 9pm so rising and sleeping with the sun gives you the perfect ratio of sleep and travel time. It also means that you don’t have to stay up until 1am to see stars and then try to sleep in a tent that is as bright as day by 5 or 6am. It’s late in the summer so there are almost no biting bugs and even in typically clear, cold lakes the water has had time to warm and is the perfect temperature for swimming. We slipped easily into a rhythm of rising and sleeping with the sun and were on the water bright and early. There was still a light SW wind but no waves and we made good time down the lake.

Sleepy and frizzy but happy 🙂

We were sorry to leave the wide expanse of Smoothwater Lake. It was quite pretty and we hadn’t heard much about the lakes between here and the Solace Lakes. For some reason we assumed that because they were small lakes they wouldn’t be as nice. Were we ever wrong! For the remainder of the trip we compared wherever we were with these Ishpatina valley lakes and, with the exception of the spectacular Florence Lake, voted these lakes as our favourite every time. Their small size brought the scenery into macro focus, everything up close and in your face. Massive shapely hills, forests of red and white pine reaching up to scrape the sky, and blue green water all combined to create perfect Temagami gems. Unfortunately, we didn’t take any pictures…

As we paddled down McCulloch we past a solo canoeist with his dog who tipped us off to an especially nice campsite on Mihell that wasn’t on the map. Mihell was my favourite lake of all: bays and peninsulas swooping in and out. A line of islands down the middle perfectly framed a tall, exposed rock face on the Eastern shore. We found the unmarked site just SW of the marked site on a point to the E of the mouth of Scarecrow Cr and just behind/ to the N of the big round island. It is a really nice site with a beautiful view of the lake and islands. A faint smell of wood smoke hinted to a recent breakfast fire. We stopped here for lunch: summer sausage and cheddar on bagels.

Despite the beauty of this site we had our hearts set on the island site in Scarecrow Lake. Leaving Mihell we had a choice between Scarecrow Creek or a 1260m portage. Having already scrambled in and out of the boat for 6 (albeit short) portages with heavy, fully loaded packs, we opted for the creek. Bad choice. The water levels were fine, that wasn’t the problem. The 1-2 foot high beaver dams weren’t a big deal either. We were travelling downstream and so pushing the boat down over the dams was a breeze compared to what it would have been trying to get up them. Also, we added river shoes to our gear this year which made a ginormous difference when jumping in and out of the canoe during creek travel. The issue was the hairpin weaving of the river back and forth and back and forth. It made the creek at least 3x longer than it would have been otherwise. Maneuvering the canoe that sharply took a lot of strength and meant we didn’t travel very fast at all.

A ‘long’ straight stretch on Scarecrow Creek

The wetland was beautiful, as wetlands are. The heavy cloud above highlighted the rust, gold and green colours of the surrounding bushes and grasses. Unfortunately, those heavy clouds opened up when we were only about half way down the creek and by the time we arrived at the island everything was wet and we were feeling rather cold. If we had taken the portage we probably would have made camp before the rain started. Bummer.

I set up a very useless tarp while Sean got a fire going. We decided to make tea on the stove under the tarp but as it was quite windy we left the stove on high while we ran around getting fire wood. Sean is quite the master fire maker and it wasn’t too long before he had a nice fire going despite the wind and rain. Whether we were able to get warm by the fire despite the wind and rain is another question! As the rain wasn’t letting up I decided to put the tent up quickly anyways. This worked out fine and all the tent things (sleeping bags and pjs etc) were in the drybag so the inside of the tent was mostly dry at least. Of course 10 minutes after I rushed to put the tent up the rain slowed and eventually stopped.

That evening the forests and hills around us were a misty, magical wonderland. Tired and hungry we opted for a freeze dried meal and hoped the rest of the chicken would keep for tomorrow’s dinner. After dinner we watched the steam rise from the forest and waft through the valley’s between hills as we brushed our teeth and tidied up camp.

Day 4, Aug 25, Scarecrow Lake

We slept in and then lay in the tent for awhile enjoying the warmth. It had rained on and off all night so it took me awhile to convince myself to get up and go out into the damp. We opted to take a rest day today. All our stuff was wet so we wanted to dry out a bit and we also didn’t want to pass up our chance to do the Ishpatina ridge hike. Once I did get out of the tent I went straight into the water for a morning dip – if I have to be wet I might as well enjoy it right! I swam around the island with a loon and then had a bath. Clean and warmer it was time for breakfast.

Flowers by the trail on the way up

Here’s a question: why do dry batter mixes always call for too much water?! Muffins, bannock, biscuits, I always follow the recipe to a T and end up with watery batter. Today the culprit was a pancake mix which caused me a bit of a headache. Also, we ran out of propane in our first of 2 tanks. I guess leaving the stove on high in the wind wasn’t the best idea! We did have a second tank which I kept on extremely low heat for the rest of the trip and managed to cook everything, no problem. I also managed to salvage the pancakes, and the bacon and coffee were predictably great.

Scarecrow Lake

We hung everything to dry while we went for another swim and relaxed. Then we tidied the site, put everything away in case of more rain, and paddled over to the Ishpatina hike. For Temagami, this was a pretty easy hike on a decent trail. Not a lot of boulders or climbing up sheer cliff faces like you get on the Lady Evelyn River 🙂 But it’s still 3h round trip and consistently up hill. There are a number of lakes along the way which were quite pretty. I want to say that the view at the top was worth the trouble but I have to admit that I was disappointed. There is quite a bit of brush and small trees at the top which obstruct the view and there aren’t many defining features to the landscape that would draw your attention and make you catch your breath. If you climb a little way up the (decommissioned) fire tower you can see quite a distance across the rolling hills with their little pockets of bright blue lakes, so that was nice.

Scarecrow Island from Ishpatina Ridge

The highest point in Ontario! The land rises higher and higher for miles around until you get this cherry on top.

Sorry mom, had to climb it to see anything 😉

Back at the site we had a relaxing evening. A group of about 8 loons gathered, barking and hooting back and forth to each other. We slipped in for a swim as the sun dipped towards the horizon and the light turned to gold. I BBQ’d the last of the chicken for dinner, making sure to really cook it just in case it wasn’t as fresh as it should be! We sat by the shore while we ate, watching the sunset, listening to the loons, and marvelling at the beauty of the place.

Last of the chicken

Some incredible trees through the Ishpatina Canyon!

Day 5, Aug 25, Woods L, Little Scarecrow L, Hamlow L, Regan L, Melanson L, Tooth L, Carrying Bar L, Broadbent L, Biscuit L, Einar Lake

Throughout this long-ass day I had sung Taylor Swift songs at the top of my lungs as a distraction during portages. “Are we out of the woods, are we out of the wood yet?” Also Beyoncé. Lol

We started this day unsure. Sean had read a report on Ottertooth of a group who had come through this route to re-open it 5-10 years ago, but we weren’t sure how well they had marked the trails or what condition they would be in now. The portages on our spring trip into Little Fry Lake (trip report in progress) had been either completely unmarked or marked by only the tiniest bit of flagging tape. We had really sharpened our path finding skills on that trip and were expecting to put them to good use today. So we weren’t surprised when the 690m portage from Hamlow into Reagan was obscure and not where it seemed it should have been according to our map.

A little aside about our map situation. We don’t have a GSP device but we did bring 2 maps as well as Hap Wilson’s guide to Temagami. Each have their own strengths and weaknesses and little discrepancies. It’s nice to get a second opinion sometimes. One of the maps is easier to read so we mostly use it throughout the day. It turned out to have many inaccuracies so we got pretty upset with it by the end. It does, however, list all the roads or snowmobile trails in the area. This would come in handy later. The other map is a little bit more difficult to read, so we only pull it out when we need to. For this trip our secondary map turned out to be more accurate. The book is, well, a book. Big and clunky but good if we’re really confused and nice to read in the evenings.

We didn’t see the sign for the 1100m portage, although it’s probably there. We also didn’t see any campsites in this part of Hamlow. The shore seemed rather overgrown and marshy. We opted for the shorter portage and found the take out farther into the bay on Hamlow than we expected. Near the beginning there was a big blowdown but we managed to clamber around it and find the trail again on the other side. After this it was a simple jaunt uphill to the first logging road of the day. We checked our map and compass and found where the trail continued just across the road and a little south (this jog south isn’t marked on either map). This part of the trail follows a road of some sort which curves west just after you see a boulder strewn creek bed through the trees to the North. It grows smaller and smaller and starts to climb uphill. We followed the trail uphill for a little ways before deciding that we shouldn’t be going uphill to get to this lake. We dumped our gear and back tracked a ways, checking our compass against the map precisely before we found a bit of flagging tape that marked where the portage leaves this road and plunges once more into the bush. We rearranged the flagging tape so that it could be more easily spotted and went back for our gear. All our gear across we packed the boat and pushed off into Reagan Lake. As we paddled along we looked over and saw a large take out area with a lovely bright yellow portage sign. That must be where the longer, 1100m portage comes out. The group that came through to re open these portages must have picked the 1100m one to clear.

We continued down to the end of Reagan and commenced our search for the next portage. Seeing as the 1100m portage was marked clearly, I thought that we might also find this one easily. But we didn’t. We were still relying on the wrong map at this point. This time we found a barely there 1cm bit of flagging tape. We took turns. I set out first and followed the trail until I lost it in the underbrush. Then I returned to the canoe and Sean had a go. The trail was extremely faint but we are able to follow the it until it met the road. According to the map we should jog left along the road before finding the remainder of the portage. We spent at least 2h scouring the North side of the road.

I was absolutely determined. Last year we got spooked and turned around. In the spring we took our time and eventually found the trails. This time I was going to find a way forward, no matter how long it took. We found faint markings, ancient axe blazes, decaying logs that have been sawn in half and thus marked by some sort of human existence, even bits of flagging tape in completely random places, but no trail. Defeated we headed back to Reagan Lake. It looked like we would have to adjust our route and go down the Sturgeon River and into the Solace Lakes from there. It would take longer, and we’d miss out on the (obviously) less-travelled Northern portion of the Solace Lakes. I spent the afternoon praying furiously for God to help us find our way. We were really craving the isolation of a “road less travelled by”, hoping that it would make all the difference. We pushed off down Reagan Lake, past the shore where the map says the portage should be. We continued on and, just by chance, Sean turned his head North at the exact moment when we were passing a clearly marked, well used portage landing. HURRAH! We had found our way!! Cursing our primary map for being wrong, again, we unloaded our gear.

Unfortunately I had adjusted the inch of flagging tape to a more prominent location on the phantom portage we had just left. If you’re following this route DON’T FOLLOW the pink flagging tape. Follow the lovely yellow portage signs. They’re quite clear. I think what’s happened is that when this area was logged the 5000 year old nastagan trails were obscured. When this route was reopened, in some places, the old trails were left and new trails were forged. You can find bits and pieces of the ancient trails still discernible even after all these years. That’s how we got confused.

One of the little lakes we passed through – beautiful gems.

Anyways, most of the rest of the day went without a hiccup. Once we knew what we were looking for the portages, with their nice yellow signs, are easily found and mostly free of blow downs. The lakes through Melanson to Einer are a dream. If they have been logged it’s less discernible as the forests are tall and lush. On Melanson we are greeted by a loon. Around a corner we discover a family of otters. There are wild flowers, a ridge of bright white cliffs on Tooth Lake, and gorgeous little Islands on Broadbent. It’s too bad there are no campsites through here. If we had looked around, as we should have, Broadbent probably could have provided a bush site for the night. As it is we scrape the bottom of our energy tanks for left over fumes and push on to Einer.

Wildflowers on Melanson Lake

We paddled past the still morning when weak sunshine reveals perfect reflections in mirror like water, through mid-afternoon when the sunlight falls straight down through the water, rays of light meeting at an ever-elusive point just below the surface. We paddled on past golden hour when the low light bounces off the water, creating rippling light-shadows that reflect off the cliffs at waters edge. As the light is stripped from the water by the shadow of the overlooking hills we pull up to our last portage of the day…

The story continues in Smoothwater Loop Part 2

 

Temagami Part 2: The Lady Evelyn River, Chee-Skon Lake and Obabika

Continued from Temagami Part 1…

Fabulous Frank’s Falls!

Day 8: Sucker Gut Lake and Frank’s Fall’s, Rest Day

What a beautiful day—hot and sunny all day long! We have had so much sun and warm weather this trip but today was especially hot and clear. The morning was less than perfect because the cinnamon biscuits I was trying to steam/fry up totally didn’t work (see my recipe for steamed cinnamon buns! I promise they usually are amazing, lol). I cut them too thick so they never baked through to the middle. But the bacon was amazing (real bacon! preserved in a vinegar-dampened cheese cloth), the swim and bath were refreshing and the laundry and dishes got done.

Then off to Frank’s Fall’s which I dubbed “Fabulous Franks Fall’s”! We explored, we rested, we swam under the fall’s and floated down the current, we suntanned and read and had a lunch of pepperoni and gruyere cheese on flattened bagels with an apple each. It was glorious to just sit and look and listen to something so beautiful. I finally started to relax after the slightly hectic start to this trip. This is why we came here!

Playing in Franks Falls

The evening was calm and quiet. We sat at the edge of our cliff top island campsite and watched as the sun turned the hills opposite to gold.

Day 9: Centre and Helen Falls, Lady Evelyn River

We have arrived; finally in a place we actually want to be. We woke up at 630am and broke camp before 8. After paddling up to Fabulous Franks Falls in the morning stillness we ate left over cinnamon biscuits while enjoying the falls one last time. Short hump around the falls and onto the Lady Evelyn River—a beautiful name for a beautiful lady! Except for the distant rumble of the falls behind and before us all was calm and quiet. A breath of air caused slight ripples in the otherwise glassy reflections. A loon popped up just beside our canoe once, twice, four and five times flapping and preening and preparing for the day ahead, guiding us upstream. An osprey continued the call onward, gliding low overhead before disappearing just around the river bend: a picture of peace. Before we knew it we were at Centre Falls.

Jeff’s Map told us that there are water slides in the rapids below Centre Fall’s. We have very little prior experience with rapids and we’re basically self-taught so we took some time to scope out the waterslides before we felt comfortable riding them. But once we did we had so much fun playing in the rapids, riding the slides, lying in the sun! When we were starting to feel that it was time to head off to our planned destination for the night, which was Helen’s Fall’s, we saw some trippers through the trees. They kept looking at us and we figured they wanted the Centre Falls campsite for the night. Not wanting to give the impression that we were staying we packed up and finished the portage, which included scaling a cliff with a canoe on your head.

Waterslides at Centre Falls

Honestly one of the craziest portages we have ever seen, dubbed the “golden staircase”. Not sure where the gold is, but it’s certainly a staircase! The downriver portion of the portage is a comparatively easy boulder garden but right before the upriver take out there was a chasm. Later we found out that there had been a bridge over said chasm, which had been taken out due to liability issues. The park wasn’t able to properly maintain the bridge and they didn’t want to get sued if someone had an accident on it. So down one side and up the other it was! The Lady Evelyn would prove to be not very ladylike as far as the portages were concerned.

We continued on to Helen Falls and, looking but not finding the campsite on the cliff beside the falls, camped at the base of the falls instead.

Day 10: Helen Falls, Lady Evelyn River, Rest Day

Helen Falls

Helen Falls is an untouched wilderness waterfall that consists of two separate falls that cascade through a canyon, around a corner and out of sight. This was our first time seeing a waterfall that can only be accessed by canoe and it was a pretty special experience. We spent two glorious nights at this site recuperating and enjoying the beautiful surroundings. I wished we’d brought the fishing rod as the waters around our campsite were absolutely swarming (or swimming!) with brook trout!

Upper Portion of Helen Falls

We slept until it was too warm in the tent and then I went for a lovely morning dip in the bright sunshine. We made fresh bannock, bacon and some freeze-dried eggs for breakfast. The eggs didn’t turn out so well, we’ve tried freeze-dried scrambled eggs a couple times and I wouldn’t recommend them. The bacon was amazing though! I’d wrapped it in vinegar soaked cheesecloth at home and it was still fresh and salty and wonderful on day 10! The bannock was also better than normal. We used Hap Wilson’s recipe from Temagami: A Wilderness Paradise, which includes a few secret ingredients to add flavour and staying power.

In the afternoon we went for a bushwhacked hike up the south bank of the river. Sean had seen pictures of the cascade in its entirety that looked like they came from that general direction. We didn’t find this specific viewpoint but had fun scrambling around and did get a rather nice view out over the river and canyon.

View from the top of our hike

Above Helen Falls – this one’s for you mom 😉 haha

Back to camp for a nice fire, dinner, tea and s’mores.

Day 11: Portage Trail to Bridal Veil Falls: L Ev

We left Helen Falls en route to Shangri La, a set of rapids with a campsite rumoured to be just as nice as the name makes it sound. This leg of the journey would finally connect us back with our originally planned route. (See Temagami Part 1 for how we got lost and had take another route.) Our deviation had left us with more days than necessary to complete the remaining kilometers. We decided to take our time, paddling only a short distance each day and enjoying all that the river had to offer.

wild rose at the end of a portage

We arrived at Shangri La quite early in the day having passed 2 couples along the way – one with a green canoe and the other with New Zealand accents. After a lunch of PB&J on bannock and a quick swim in the rapids there we decided not to stay at Shangri La that night but to head down the south branch of the Lady Evelyn to Cabin Falls.

A couple years ago, after a trip in Algonquin Park, we had stopped at the visitors centre there and bought The Cabin by Hap Wilson. This book opens with the most wonderful description of a canoe trip across Temagami. After we both read this book we picked up all of Wilson’s other books and read and re-read them until we could quote them. (Wilson’s writing is where I’ve found most of the trivia I mention throughout this blog about the Temagami area. I’ve done my best to give credit where it’s due but if something sounds like it needs a footnote, it’s probably taken from one of his many wonderful books! Check them out at hapwilson.com) Wilson’s writing is the reason we chose this trip in Temagami, specifically his descriptions of Florence Lake (which we were very sad to miss), the Lady Evelyn River, and especially Cabin Falls, which he describes as “a place that, in every conceivable imagining [is] the most beautiful place on this earth” (The Cabin). Though I’m sure many people have a “most beautiful” place, we were very excited to see this place that Hap Wilson loves so much.

So we pushed off towards Cabin Falls. As we paddled down Katherine (or Divide) Lake who should be sitting on the shore but the King of Temagami himself! Hap Wilson and his wife Andrea! In. The. Flesh. Too shy to stop and say hi we slid on by, exchanging waves. Fully aware of how voices can travel over water we whispered excitedly, straightened up and showed off our very best paddling technique.

I was desperately hoping to get just a few seconds to walk by The Cabin and soak in this most famous of canoeing destinations. When we arrived the NZ couple was there, getting out of their canoe and making themselves comfortable in The Cabin. Now how did they get so lucky?! They must have stopped to chat with Hap and Andrea, hit it off and been invited over! We should have stopped to chat… (As it turned out, they were old friends of Hap’s). As there are multiple signs on the trails to The Cabin discouraging snooping, we opted for being respectful and pushed on to the portage located on the opposite bank.

Over the portage and on to the next hoping that the site beside Bridal Veil Falls is nice. There is a site beside Cabin Falls but it’s buried in the bush without a view of the water.

We arrive at the Bridal Veil site (which is perfectly picturesque and pitched almost on top of the waterfall, an extremely nice site) and Mr. Green Canoe and his girlfriend had already set up camp! Man, we just cannot get a break here. So we head back to the (very buggy) north end of the portage trail and camp there, not wanting to disturb anyone but also not wanting to do the Cabin Falls portage again.

portage around cabin falls, hence the reluctance to do it twice!

portage around cabin falls, hence the reluctance to do it twice!

Since our site was so buggy we prepared dinner quickly (freeze dried Backpacker brand curry, quite good) and paddled out from shore, away from the bugs, to eat. The hum of the falls above and below us filled our ears. A beaver smacked his tail in futile competition with their music. The graceful figures of the lofty white pine danced with the gentle breeze. A loon fished and sang.

There is a particular peace here.

Day 12: Cabin Falls, Rest Day

Lady Evelyn River from our portage campsite

We woke early today. Our tent site wasn’t very level so the sleep wasn’t very great. Above Centre Falls the river is deep and wide and calm. I took a lovely swim in the morning sun before heading back to camp for breakfast. We prepared our powdered milk, poured it over granola and again pushed off away from the bugs. After eating we paddled up to the Cabin Falls portage, wanting to check out the upper portion of “paradise” again. This section of the river is situated within a gorgeous old growth pine forest.

Lady Evelyn, lush pine, bright sun, happy place 🙂

We lily dipped along, enjoying the sun and taking pictures of pink flowers.

pink flowers

pink flowers

As we headed back to camp we pass the NZ couple and say hello, a few seconds later we see Hap and Andrea paddling up with their funny hut stroke. This time I was determined not to be shy.

“Hello! What a beautiful piece of paradise you have here! We love your books!”

“Our friends were saying you wanted to check out our cabin,” says Andrea, with a lovely warm smile.

“Yes we’d love to! But we didn’t want to intrude.”

“Go on over,” says Hap, “we’ll be back in around half an hour. Do you drink coffee? I’ll put on a pot and we can chat.”

Do we drink coffee?! What a question. We’ll drink a pot of lake scum with you Hap!

“Yes we drink coffee. That would be great!”

A most wonderful turn of events! We had just the right amount of time to wander around the property, snapping pictures like the tourists we were, and compose ourselves before settling down with a pot of joe.

my favourite picture of the whole trip

The Shoots above Cabin Falls: my favourite picture of the whole trip

You never know what it will be like to meet your hero. What will you talk about? Will they live up to your expectations? The Wilson’s surpassed ours. Hap is the quiet contemplative one might imagine him to be, with a large dash of humility and gentleness thrown in. Andrea is one of the most friendly, welcoming people I’ve met. Certainly a perfect pair. Sean had a great time talking conservation and looking over maps with Hap while I gravitated towards musing about life with Andrea.

Hap and Andrea's deck overlooking Cabin Falls, perfect setting for a chat :)

Hap and Andrea’s deck overlooking Cabin Falls, perfect setting for a chat 🙂

The original old cabin is perched on a rocky knoll above the newer buildings, which include a screened in dining room and Hap and Andrea’s personal cabin. All three sit side by side just on the rivers edge with a wood-plank patio running the length and reaching out, almost over the falls. A path leads out behind the dining room to the biffy (oh the joys of a biffy!) and on to the newest edition—a brand new guest house which has been outfitted with as much luxury as you can ever hope to find in the back country. All of the building material has been paddled and portaged down the Lady Evelyn from Divide Lake. Andrea has even carried a couple of wood stoves and a fridge ON HER BACK. You can book your own private adventure with Hap and Andrea at hapwilson.com – I’d love to send my parents!

the old cabin

the old cabin

After coffee, Hap and Andrea invited us to have a swim in the eddy at the edge of the falls while they set off to continue work on the new guesthouse. I actually swam right up the edge, clinging to a rock and peering down into the mist.

Is there a better cabin location in the entire world? Not that I’ve seen. From where I’m sitting at a writing desk in the old cabin I can look out 3 windows. To my left the river flows south enrobed in cedar and pine shores. Large white and pink granite boulders dot the river and the baby ledges and shoots that mark the beginning of Cabin Falls. This is probably my favourite image from the whole trip. Straight ahead is a large window overlooking a beautiful island with perfect, fluffy young white pine poking up through edges of cedar and rock. Cliffs mark the opposite shore and in the foreground is a perfect V leading to a swimming-hole eddy on the edge of the falls. To my right is the door to The Cabin with a little square window framing the soft needles of a white pine bow.

the writing desk!

the writing desk!

We take some time in the afternoon to do laundry and bathe. My fingernails are clean for the first time in 12 days.

goodbye Cabin Falls!

goodbye Cabin Falls!

Day 13: Fat Man’s Falls ~2km (lol! We had fun, ok)

It was a cold, grey moring but we soon warmed up on the portage around Bridal Veil Falls. What an incredibly beautiful waterfall—probably my favourite of the trip! My pictures do not do it justice.

One side of Bridal Veil Falls

One side of Bridal Veil Falls

Taking in the View!

Taking in the View!

On we went to Fat Man’s Falls, another short day. Named for a section of the portage trail where a, preferably slim, ‘man’ has to squeeze through a fissure in the rock, Fat Man’s Falls cascades through a canyon and over a series of ledges.

the bottom end of the portage around Fat Man's Falls

the bottom end of the portage around Fat Man’s Falls

There’s a campsite at the North end of the portage that I would recommend—sheltered and with a nice fire pit. We chose to camp on the ridge as a blog Sean had read mentioned that there was a nice site here. It wasn’t that nice of a site and, as this was June and as black flies seem to love congregating along the crests of hills, we had a few too many friends. After setting up camp I found a ledge to sit on right beside the falls, part way down the canyon. It was so nice to sit quietly and watch the patterns that the water makes as it froths and flows, to let the roar fill my ears and think of nothing.

Final cascade of Fat Man's Falls

Final cascade of Fat Man’s Falls

We’ve done a lot of rushing around this trip, but every time I do stop (and even sometimes when I’m not stopped) I think how incredibly perfect and wonderful it is here. It’s so nice to have such a long trip that you can take it for granted for a few days and still have time to get back to appreciating it.

We spent some time reading in the tent (sometimes it’s just nice to be inside) and then took the canoe out for a spin. The rapids below Fat Man’s are extremely easy and straightforward so we finally had our inaugural rapid running experience! Once back at camp we built a small fire to smoke away the bugs and had freeze dried dinner and some rather bland tea. People always seem to complain about freeze-dried food but I actually really like it (Mountain House or Backpackers). However, our time with Hap reminded me that I must remember to pack coffee next year!

After dinner we took the dishes and toiletries down to the pool above the falls to wash up for bed. Mist was rising from the perfectly still water to my right, and to the left the falls slipped over the edge and crashed out of sight. It was one of those picture perfect evenings. I indulged in a much-needed restorative yoga session. Part way through a trip a good stretch is in order. (Mid-trip stretching tips to come!)

Day 14: Unnamed Lake (Wapho?)

Today was the day of the dreaded “TWO MILER” or “Dead Man’s March”—a 2-4km portage (Hap’s book and Jeff’s Map don’t agree). First carry I was moving quick and feeling strong and so of course I sprained my ankle. (Pre-trip ankle sprain prevention tips also coming!) Second bad roll among countless smaller ones (literally like every other day, serious prevention happening next year). Sean was great. He ran up, got me some water and advil, put my bug hat on, tied up my shoe tighter and generally comforted me. This one really hurt. I cried … then got up and kept going, more slowly now of course. We still had another load to carry over (wish we’d been able to fit it all in one carry but it was a long trip so we had lots of stuff). 3.5 hours later, Hello Diamond Lake! The Diamond Lake side of the Dead Man’s March is extremely boggy. Took us forever to gondola the canoe down the stream leading out of the marsh. If you go later in the year the marsh is probably dried up altogether. This might account for the difference in distances listed regarding the portage.

Cold swim off a small rock island and a lunch of PB&J bannock and a handful of roasted chickpeas. Diamond is such a nice lake! While we paddled across Sean asked if I like it better than Nelly or George Lake (Killarney). I said that I did. Bright blue water dotted with islands is edged in shapely hills. The west end is sculpted out of this beautiful pink and white rock, reminiscent of Killarney. Just west of centre sits (though not named on the map) Blueberry Island, covered with bushes and rock that slopes gently into the water. An old growth Pine forest stretches all along the south shore. Sean said he might even like it better than Hogan Lake (Algonquin), another favourite. I wish we’d taken a rest day here on Day 7.

Next was a short, pretty portage along a creek into an unnamed lake between Diamond and Small. We guess that this is where Hap built his first Temagami Cabin, Wahpo. The cabin has since been destroyed but apparently the biffy is still standing. We didn’t manage to find the site but decided to camp here anyways. Round hills to the East and Red Pine-topped cliffs to the West give this small Lake a hidden feel. While we paddled across it we saw a beaver, a pair of loons and were serenaded by songbirds.

Jeff’s map says this lake has 2 sites. Neither is marked and we didn’t find the more southern site until we took out for the portage into Small the next day. We camped at what was possibly the more Northern site. We guessed that this might have once been a site because there’s a decent place to park the canoe and upon further investigation we found an ancient, overgrown fire pit. There was not, however, a good place to put the tent. If you can find it I would recommend the Southern site.

Making dinner on Wahpo Lake

Making dinner on Wahpo Lake

We were so tired after that portage that we just sat and munched trail mix for a while before setting up the tent and getting to dinner. Sean took a sunset swim and bath while I boiled water. After dinner we saw a dragon fly drowning in the lake. Sean ran to the canoe and rushed out to save it. We stayed up late waiting for “Gilbert” to fly away and watching for the stars to come out. Our dragon fly friend never recovered and in the morning we discovered that we’d stepped on him in the dark.

Sean with Gilbert, our dragon fly pet

Sean with Gilbert, our dragon fly pet

Day 15: Chee Skon Lake (pronounced “shish kong)

Chee-Skon Lake, pronounced Shish-Kong

Chee-Skon Lake, pronounced Shish-Kong

Throughout the day Sean kept saying that this was his favourite day of travel. The way into Bob Lake was, to quote Hap Wilson, “more travelled by moose than man” and indeed we saw a number of moose prints along the trail. What we didn’t see were many trail markers. Although Jeff’s Map seems to place the 320m portage out of Small Lake (towards Bob Lake) on the West side of the stream it’s actually located on the East side. After this we chose to take the 570m portage into Bob Lake and it was improperly flagged. Perhaps in spring flood you can cut the portage short but in mid June the river into Bob Lake is a boulder garden. You have to continue along the Red Squirrel Logging Road until the road starts to curve north. Then the portage takes a southern turn off the gravel road and towards Bob Lake. This is properly marked on Jeff’s Map but the faulty flagging tape confused us.

I sprained my ankle a THIRD time along a completely flat section of the Red Squirrel Logging Road. I think my proprioceptors were completely shot by this point and so any time I stopped thinking about one foot in front of the other, over I went. Thank God that I never fell on one of the many hard sections of portage in Temagami where you scramble with heavy packs over razor sharp rocks. If I had… well I might never have gotten up! This time my ankle ached for the rest of the day.

Bob Lake was surprisingly pretty. I’m not sure why I was surprised, maybe just because we hadn’t really heard much about Bob. We saw it through a foggy mist of rain, which may have enhanced the magic, but the forest was old, the hills nicely framed the lake, there were some cliffs (cliff jumping possibly?) and the sites looked quite nice.

Mud Lake is aptly named for the take-outs at the portages on either end of it. Try balancing on a slippery log with a sprained ankle! The consequence for falling off—a bath in 2 feet of mud. Happily I managed to stay on the log with help from a paddle in either hand.

We passed a large group from a girls’ camp on the way into Mud Lake and a smaller group from a boys’ camp on the way into Chee Skon. The boys’ camp intended to camp on Obabika that night but had an injured camper so they took the Chee Skon site. We had planned to spend our last 3 nights (yes 3 glorious nights!) on Chee Skon. We didn’t feel like humping the portage to Obabika only to come back the next day. Instead we found an unmarked but well used site on the island at the South end of Chee Skon.

Unmarked Island Campsite on Chee-skon, look at those massive trees!

Unmarked Island Campsite on Chee-skon, look at those massive trees!

Chee Skon Lake has been a sacred place for the Ojibwa people for thousands of years. A standing stone on the west side of the lake called the “Conjuring Rock” was a specific site for worship. The “three sisters” is another. The sisters are three 300-year-old pine trees that grow in close proximity to each other. That evening I took a very peaceful walk along the path to the 3 sisters and really felt the presence of God. This is indeed a “thin spot”.

The Conjuring Rock

The Conjuring Rock

Day 16: Chee Skon Lake

Proper Chee-skon site

Proper Chee-skon site

We moved over to the proper site this morning, got all set up and had started making biscuits when the kids arrived around 12:30pm—2 adults, 2 teens and 4 younger children between 3 canoes—and they wanted our site. They hung around waiting for us to leave for almost 3 hours! They sat and stared at us for a while, left to go for a hike and came back for a prolonged lunch before paddling by with very pouty faces.

“Last chance!” yelled a boy, pointing to our site.

“Just leave them Hamitch!”

Sean was so mad at them for hanging around, disturbing our peace for so long when we obviously weren’t making any move to pack up. I felt bad though because I know how disappointing it is not to get the site you wanted.

Once they left we went on a hike through the old growth. I was warm and sleepy and made up some poetry in my head while we walked. We took turns soloing around the lake and clambering up the HUGE boulders below the Conjuring Rock. Apparently there were once 4 pillars of rock here. What looked like the remaining fallen pillar is nearly as cool as the standing one. Its mid-section, having made a clean break with its base, shattered like a fallen spaceship—like the millennium falcon.

The fallen "millenium falcon" - you can see how it might be a fallen section of a rock pillar.

The fallen “millenium falcon” – you can see how it might be a fallen section of a rock pillar.

We ate pan-fried potatoes with onion and carrots and still-good vacuum-sealed sausage for dinner (fresh meat and veg on Day 16!!) all cooked over a fantastic fire. It was the beginning of July, just after the summer solstice. Since we were so far north the sun wasn’t even setting until 10pm with last light not until 10:45pm! We hadn’t seen stars once this trip so we decided to stay up late tonight. We sat staring into the fire, then into the sky and back to the fire until Sean finally went to bed. I stayed up, back to the fire, headlamp on, reading. The sky never went black. We saw some stars but not many more than you might see almost anywhere. Nothing special. It was nice to sit up with that fire though.

Pan fried potatoes on Day 16!

Pan fried potatoes on Day 16!

Day 17: Chee Skon Lake, Rest Day #2!

Today was the Best Rest Day Ever! I woke up around 8am and read in the tent for a while before taking my habitual morning dip. There is absolutely no better way to wake up than slipping naked into cool morning water for a few seconds. We ate left over cinnamon biscuits with tea and ready crisp bacon for breakfast. The real bacon had finally gone bad. I read some more, wrote in my trip journal, suntanned, swam, and rested. Perfection.

In the afternoon we went for a hike up through the old growth to a view over Chee Skon and across to Obabika Lake. On the way up Sean talked a lot, commenting on almost every tree. But on the way back we had long stretches of silence. I do some of my best thinking while walking peacefully in silence, at least I did today. Exercising and being in good company keeps me from feeling anxious and allows my mind to wander freely.

View from the hiking trails over Chee-Skon and out to Obabika

View from the hiking trails over Chee-Skon and out to Obabika

the three sisters

the three sisters

Day 18: Obabika Lake

And so our trip completes its circle.

One word: wind. Temagami had one last adventure in store for us! We had heard that the long, narrow shape of Obabika tends to funnel air through it making for strong, often southerly, winds. If you’re trying to paddle south on Obabika you’re supposed to head out early in the day (less wind) and hug the east shore. We did neither. We left late and stuck to the west shore because we wanted to check out grandmother and grandfather rock, which we hadn’t done at the beginning of our trip. We scooted from sheltered point to sheltered point. If the waves had been any bigger we wouldn’t have been able to make any headway at all. In fact, we met a couple of guys heading in the opposite direction, with the wind at their backs, who were having trouble even surfing down the lake. It was tiring work and sometimes scary but we actually had quite a bit of fun taking on a challenge and riding those big waves. It showed us how much progress we’ve made with our paddling technique.

We we finally made it to camp 2/3 of the way down the lake we were too tired to do much of anything. Our site was on the west shore on one of the peninsulas just north of the pictographs at the south end of the lake. It was too bad because it was a really nice site: great swimming and a trail to the other side of the peninsula whose end boasted a cliff-top view out over the lake. I jumped in for a second but it was too cold for my tired, wave-stressed body. My last swimming day and I couldn’t even do it! Sean had a nice swim though. In the late afternoon the wind and waves calmed and we went for a paddle, looking for the pictographs. We didn’t find them but we did see a number of loons, a little hidden waterfall and beavers! One of the beavers swam directly under our canoe! Another was out on land puttering about. We enjoyed watching as they went about their evening work. Early dinner (5pm!), s’mores and then off to bed.

See Temagami Part 3 for the final leg…

 

#GetOutsideDanceOutside : Autumn

It all started at a Kaeja show. Kaeja d’Dance is a modern dance company in Toronto, Ontario under the Co-Artistic Direction of Karen and Allen Kaeja. Over the past couple years I have had the incredible honour of being mentored by Karen in choreography and all things dance. There’s something about being around the Kaeja’s and watching their work that makes me feel like anything is possible.

It’s fall of 2015 and I was sitting in a darkened theatre watching these two artistic masterminds create movement out of thin air, right before my eyes. The show was created around rule-based improvisation: no two shows ever the same, but certain perimeters put in place kept the swirl of improvisation fixed around a chosen theme. The ingenuity of the movement and the serendipitous relationship of the partners held me transfixed but also, sent my creative mind into overdrive. The massive sheet of white paper stretched across the stage reminded me of the sound of dried, fallen leaves crunching together. The dancers walking along the edge of it made me think of balancing on the edge of a cliff. At the time we were living in Huntsville, Ontario. The outdoors enveloped me from every direction and was seeping into my imagination. An idea was born: I’ll dance outside and capture my experience with the hashtag #GetOutsideDanceOutside

The idea marinated at the back of my mind for a few days or weeks and then one day we went for a hike. As I was basking in the beauty of the view our cliff top destination provided I was struck with the desire to mirror the beauty of the hills in my body. I gave my husband the camera, devised a pose that reflected the shape of the hills and, voila:
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Fall in Muskoka is an awesome experience: the canopy above and the crests of the hills joyfully exploding in colour. That incredible backdrop of colour called for a subject:

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It made me want to reach and curve my head and spine all the way back so I could gaze at the beautiful colour. Fall is very much about exultation: celebration but with and upward or uplifted focus. As I’ve often heard it said, it’s like the trees are releasing a whole summers worth of stored up sunshine all at once:

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And so the idea evolved and grew. The water tumbling down over these rocks sends me headfirst, up and over:

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But, unless you have proper camera equipment (which I obviously do not) it’s hard to capture the essence of a pose, especially if it’s fluid or hard to hold for a long time:

IMG_3418  But video! So many more possibilities with video. Plus, it gives me the opportunity to dance a little ditty, choreograph or improvise a mini dance around how I’m feeling or what inspires me about this place. If you’d like to see my video clips, visit me on Instagram @heatherlmills . The other joy about video is the ability to take a screenshot! No more need for a sport setting or getting the timing exactly right. This way I can create movement around a theme and then capture the one moment from that video which is expressed most clearly.

I was first inspired to create a video when we visited Palmer rapids on the Magnetawan River. It was such a lovely place but, like many places, a photograph wasn’t doing it justice. There was a lovely flat rock right at the rivers edge, which was begging for a dance. This was the beginning of November so it was quite chilly but I felt that my hiking boots were less than photogenic! So bare feet it was:

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This was my first mini-video exploration and I was pleasantly surprised at how it turned out.

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Here’s a bonus shot. Hands expressing how my insides feel when looking at the babbling, swirling water. Or something…

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Planning to move back to Toronto we spent the day in what is now our new ‘hood: Roncesvalles. I’ve always loved this area of Toronto so I was very happy to wander the streets alone for a couple hours. Our life was teetering on the edge of misadventure and so I spent the afternoon exploring that concept. This little ditty is titled “The Edge of Reason”.

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I’m planning to continue creating movement snippets throughout the seasons. What I learn through this research will then be compiled into some sort of performance, preferably in an outdoor setting in the summer! Maybe this summer! Stay tuned…

Life: a team sport

Jan 19, 2016

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Looking back over the past season, year really, I realize that it’s been a time of asking many questions and, over time, finding answers that have lead to a new level of maturity. The passage of time is the important factor. Sometimes God answers prayers directly; sometimes he delivers the answers naturally, through the course of life. At the time of asking the questions I saw no answers anywhere in sight. My sight was limited to the present moment. As I look back I can see that the answers to my questions were in the process of coming and have now arrived, almost unnoticed except through review. My heart was crying out to God in desperation from deep confusion. But I was asking and seeking and so, as promised, I have received and found.

In the spring I was searching for a life where you open the wardrobe and it leads to Narnia, where that ring you inherit leads you there and back again and where there’s something interesting and exciting and unknown around every corner—True Life Abundant! I thought that the answer was in living an unpredictable life. I thought that the expected settling down into a rhythm of responsibility would completely undermine my purpose. I was, as I rightly diagnosed at the time, experiencing the growing pains of maturity, the transition from unfettered childhood to rather fettered adulthood. What I didn’t realize was that accepting responsibility is finding purpose, taking on that challenge is an exciting adventure and meeting the requirements of it is fulfilling.

I was also exerting a last thrust towards independence. Getting married means a relinquishing of independence in favour of oneness—something easier said than done when one is surrounded by a culture that worships the individual. I think our move to and from Huntsville has finally killed the last bits of me that were clinging to independence within marriage… or at least killed a significant batch of bits…

One reason for this is that I chose Huntsville for Sean over my own dreams. I thought he needed Huntsville, turns out he didn’t, but the act of giving that to him cleansed me in a way. Sure, there were selfish desires involved, I wasn’t in a place where I could do something entirely selflessly, but the main current driving that decision was love for Sean and hope for his best. I really thought I was doing something that would be good for him in ways that even he didn’t fully understand. That heart posture is so healing and freeing. Having done that I finally feel ready to play life as a team sport. When we were first married it was such a news flash to me that I had to run my plans by him! I’d always just done whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted to. Coordinating my schedule with Sean’s is something I’m actually ok with doing now, for the first time in our relationship.

The interesting thing is that in surrendering my independence I now have more freedom instead of less. It’s the age-old gospel truth that, though paradoxical, being a slave of Christ is where we find true freedom. If I’m playing a sport I have to play according to the rules in order to win the game. I was created to worship God and so the only way that I can be true to my calling and myself is by surrendering my will to God and obeying his rules for life. It’s the same in marriage—I have chosen to be married which means that my life is no longer my own. It’s our life now and only when I play according to those rules can I win at the game.

So here’s to winning at life!

Dance Projects

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