Watermark Words

a life in transition

What Child is This

It feels so fresh, maybe it’s the first time. But it can’t be. Surely I know by now that not everyone remembers. The tiny dancer looks up at me with large, brown, inquisitive eyes. “‘What child is this?’ what a funny name for a Christmas song!” 

A funny name? Surely she knows what child the song is referring to! And then, SMACK it hits me in the face! I can’t say anything because political correctness has completely maligned free speech. Here she is, this inquisitive, trusting child asking me the most important question in all of creation and I can’t answer her. 

“Let me tell you about this child…”

The funny this is that as I’ve thought about how I would answer her I’ve realized that there is no easy, almost politically correct, stealthy way of slipping the answer in. No, the answer to “What child is this” delves into the deepest bedrock of the Christian religion. No wonder people avoid the true meaning of Christmas at all costs – even to glance at the answer from the corner of your heart would cost too much. Even to say the word “Christ”mas is too much. 

“This, this is Christ the King whom shepherds guard and angels sing! Haste, haste to bring him laud, the babe the son of Mary.” 

Of course the version I was using in dance class was from Charlie Brown and had no lyrics. Just enough of a hint, I’d thought, to remind the kids that Christmas is about more than presents. It went right over their heads.

In the secret of my mind I try to break it down for her: The child is Jesus. Jesus is God and he was sent from God – this opens the whole Trinity can of worms. 

Why was Jesus sent? Enter the whole sin discussion… This is so complex!

And why do we give each other gifts at Christmas? Because Jesus brought grace and that is the most extravagant gift ever given. So we give gifts in memory of that first gift of Christmas. 

What is grace? It means that, although you do have to accept that you’re not perfect and you have a fatal flaw which is your sin, you no longer need to try to be perfect. You only need to accept the one who is. 

“Nails, spears shall pierce him through, the cross he bore for me, for you. Hail, Hail the word made flesh, the babe the son of Mary!”

Jesus loves you and he came at Christmas to make a way for you. Not only a way for you to get to heaven but a way for you right now.

A way through the darkness and the loneliness and the suffering that is this life. Not a way away from that pain, but a gift to carry you through it. The gift is Himself – real and present with you now and always. He is the way, the truth and the life – for real. He loves you and you should love him back. 



Morning Dip

Through the mesh the sky is gold. I see the pink, pre-dawn glow illuminating pastel smudges of early morning mist. I am reluctant to leave the cozy comfort of my sleeping bag but I know that these moments are too precious to sleep through. Wriggling free of my sleeping bag, I wedge myself into the small space above Sean’s head and then through the zippered door of our tent, doing my best not to disturb him. Free of the tent I stretch, take a deep breath of the fresh morning air and wander down to the beach. The mist, the first rays of sunlight, that island with its perfect arrangement of rocks and trees: a visual symphony.

The air is still and quiet. The lake is glass. I contemplate the water with my sleepy eyes. I try to make a habit of morning dips. The shock of the cold water on my cozy, just-rolled-out-of-bed skin does a better job of waking me up than any coffee ever could. Ten gasping, gulping, hurried strokes – five out and five in – that’s the deal. If I’m still cold at that point then I can get out, heart pumping, alive, refreshed, ready for anything. But more often than not those ten reaches and pulls through the water are all it takes. The gasping stops, my body adjusts, and the weightless freedom of the water fills me with joy. Its silky texture breathes across my skin and I dive and dance through its depths.

I’ve been sitting here for a while now. The sun has risen through the mist and I’ve savored every moment of it. Soon the tasks of the day will start speeding along: breakfast, packing up, moving on. Still I haven’t drummed up the courage to actually get in the water. I know that I’ll love it once I do. I know that I’ve never regretted a single morning dip. I always enjoy it, always feel better after, always enjoy my day more if I’ve had one, but somehow the knowing doesn’t make the doing any easier.

Maybe it’s not a morning dip for you, but what are the things that bring you life and joy? The things that reliably leave you feeling better, more alive, rejuvenated? Do you make space for them? Why does it seem to take so much effort to fit these things into our lives?


Back at home I roll out of bed. Cold November taps at my feet as I shuffle to the kitchen. Coffee will replace morning dip today. Machines rumble and the dark comfort pours into my mug. I curl up in my favourite chair, glance down and there it is staring back at me. Another of those life-giving, refreshing, soul cleansing activities that seem to take so much courage and self-control to dive into. Every time I do I am rewarded and yet, somehow, the knowing doesn’t make the doing any easier. I pick up my Bible, read a few verses, and then switch to my journal:

Good morning God. What do you want to tell me today?

There’s always something. And it’s always worth it.

Backcountry Cinnamon Buns

Cinnamon Biscuits on Makobe Lake

If you read Magical Makobe Part 3 you know that I promised to post the recipe for my super tasty, rest day favourite: Cinnamon Biscuits! I got this recipe from my mom who got it from a Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. It is a quick and easy way to get your cinnamon bun fix at home. And if it tastes good at home you know it will be especially wonderful after a week or two in the bush without fresh food. What is special about my method is that it doesn’t require a reflector oven, which most backcountry baking recipes do. I also talk about preserving fresh bacon so it lasts until day 10 of your trip. Read on to learn all my secrets, or just scroll down to drool over the pictures!

This recipe takes about an hour or so to make in the backcountry and feeds 2 hungry campers nicely. You can also double the recipe and make 2 batches – one to eat today and the other to eat on the road tomorrow.

At home:

Flour mixture (mix in a large ziplock bag):

1c Flour

1T Sugar

2t baking powder

pinch baking soda

½ t salt

(2T milk powder, optional)

Filling (in separate ziplock bag):

1/2c Brown Sugar

2t Cinnamon

Handful of dried fruit

Pack the flour mixture in a large ziplock bag (the large bag is important) and the filling mixture in another ziplock bag. Then place both bags together in another large ziplock to keep the two bags from getting separated in your food bag. I also like to write the “at camp” instructions on the bag so that I don’t forget.

At Camp:

1lb Bacon (or more butter/oil)

2T Butter

1/2c Water

2 nesting pots

Method – preserving bacon:

Make coffee first, for obvious reasons 🙂 Then pull out your bacon. The photo is of our bacon on day 10 of our trip – still lovely and fresh! Now, 10 days is probably as long as I would push it. But depending on the weather on your trip (hot or cold) your bacon might last longer or shorter. Just be sure to make sure it still smells good and doesn’t look green. To preserve fresh bacon what you need to do is take it out of the plastic packaging. Then wipe it down with a little white vinegar on a cloth. Dampen a cheese cloth in white vinegar, wring it out so it’s only damp and wrap the bacon in the cheese cloth. Wrap the cheese-cloth-covered bacon in newspaper and pack it in 2 ziplock bags. The vinegar helps preserve the bacon, the cheese cloth lets the bacon breath, newspaper helps the breathing and the plastic keeps the grossness off the rest of your stuff. (trick #1)

10 day old fresh bacon, safe in it’s cheese cloth wrapping

Bacon wrapped in cheese cloth and newspaper and packed in 2 ziplock bags.







You need bacon because a) who doesn’t need bacon and b) it provides some tasty fat to fry your biscuits in. You could also use oil or butter or any other kind of fat if you prefer. Fry the bacon. Drain off the fat and save it in whatever plate/ bowl/ cup you have.

mmmm bacon…

Method – biscuit dough:

Now, take your flour mixture and empty it into a large pot or bowl. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles crumbs, like this:

flour covered butter crumbs

Next pour some of your water into the flour mixture. This is where the milk powder comes in. You can either mix the milk powder in with the flour mixture at home or you can mix it in with your water to create milk and mix your biscuits with milk instead of plain water. The milk makes things creamier and tastier, but you can also make the biscuits with just water.

Now, it’s very important not to add too much water/ milk because that will make the dough sticky and hard to work with. Depending on your altitude and various other ‘scientific things’ you might need less or more than 1/2c of liquid. So start with a little liquid and add more until you have a soft dough.  It’s also very important not to stir the dough too much – the more you stir the tougher the dough. You want to stir the dough as little as possible to create the fluffiest possible biscuits, but mix it enough that it sticks together in a ragged clump.

Soft, lumpy dough

Now take the large ziplock bag that held the flour mixture in it. Cut it down the sides and open it up to create a floured work surface! (trick #2) Turn the dough out onto the floury plastic and press it out into a rectangle about 1cm thick. Spread your cinnamon, sugar and raisin mixture over the dough rectangle. Roll up long-ways. Cut into pieces about 1 inch or 2-3cms wide. You don’t want the pieces too wide otherwise they will take forever to bake all the way through.

Grease your pot or pan with the bacon fat, place your cinnamon rolls in the pan and bake.

Method – baking in the backcountry without a reflector oven:

If you’ve brought a reflector oven you can place your biscuits in the oven and bake them as you normally would bake bread or bannock. Now I have heard that once you travel with a reflector oven you will never look back. However, if you’re like me and you don’t relish the thought of lugging around extra weight and/or don’t want to spend money on yet another piece of gear, then today is your lucky day!

To bake my biscuits I use a double boiler method. The idea behind this is that in order for the biscuits to rise and become fluffy and moist rather than hard and dry they need to cook slowly at low heat. For this method to work you will need:

2 pots that nest inside each other

1 tight fitting lid

Stove or very low burning fire

Enough fuel. Your biscuits will be baking for 30-40 minutes.

Grease the smaller pot, place the biscuits inside. Place the smaller pot inside the larger pot. Fill the larger pot with enough water in the bottom that the lip of both posts are at the same level, so the smaller pot is floating inside the larger pot (about 1 inch of water). Place the lid on top. The tops of both pots should be touching the lid, or the smaller pot can be floating just below the lid.






Place the pots together over your stove and bring the water to a boil, then turn down the heat so the water is just simmering. If the small pot is floating below the lid that’s ok, you do want the steam from the water to get inside the small pot a bit to help cook the biscuits. But make sure that the lid is firmly closed on the large pot as you don’t want the steam to escape.

Bake the biscuits like this until they are looking poofed and are mostly cooked through. You may need to add more water to the large pot if you have a hot fire and the water is boiling off too fast. Try to keep the water just simmering gently. The biscuits will look a little wet because of the steam but if you poke around in there the centre shouldn’t be too doughy – about 30 minutes, depending on your heat source.

Once the biscuits are cooked take the small pot out of the large pot and place it directly on your heat source. Now you want to fry the biscuits so they get brown and crispy on the outside. Fry for just a few minutes and then flip the biscuits and fry the other side.


And voila! The best backcountry breakfast you’ll ever have. Let me know what you think and if you try them!

Magical Makobe Part 3: Arriving and Departing

Magical Makobe Lake

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 1 and Part 2. In this third instalment we finally reach our destination: Makobe Lake. After enjoying Makobe we complete our loop, travelling through the most wild and challenging area we have ever experienced before coming up against some bad news. Read on to find out the surprising number of campsites this huge lake has to offer and complete the journey with me.

Day 9 – Makobe Lake

A shiver passed across my skin as we entered the waters of Makobe Lake, as though we’d crossed some invisible barrier protecting this remote land. Perhaps the area still holds a certain magic cultivated by the Temagami people. Or perhaps this was a blessing saved especially for me. Unsure about which route to take this year we had prayed. We felt God direct us North to Makobe Lake. Each dip of the paddle North had felt right and now, finally at our destination, that feeling increased. God had prepared this place for us as the right place for right now and I felt His blessing on it.

First look at Makobe – this is looking back up the mouth of the Makobe River.

“Oh it’s so beautiful!” I exclaimed. The mouth of the Makobe River was opening up and for the first time we saw the hugeness of the lake. My eye swept over the huge old white pine on the rolling hills of either shore, past the windswept smattering of islands, across the vast expanse of open water and landed, far away on the opposite shore. There is something incredible about experiencing the land open up into such a wide space after being confined to small lakes and rivers for so long. But this wasn’t just an empty open space. In each direction there something was pulling the gaze. We had come at Makobe from the West and on this side of the lake the hills were large, the trees old and the islands windswept and beautiful. This created an interesting foreground to highlight the majesty of that huge background.

There were four campsites listed on our map. We planned to stay here for a couple of days so we decided to explore the 3 most promising before choosing one. First we paddled into a beautiful collection of tiny islands and took a guess as to which one hid the campsite. As we were exploring the site Sean discovered the biggest anthill I’ve ever seen. A couple seconds after finding it he found ants crawling all over his body – even up to his shoulders! We let the ants keep their turf and moved on.

Next up, the big island. The site on the map doesn’t exist, but the East side of the Northern point of the island housed 2 possibilities. The first was super overgrown and obviously was almost never used. It did, however, have a path the bisected the point and lead up to a really cool cliff-top view across the main body of the lake. Apparently some bush pilot had a cabin up here back in the day. This is probably the site of that old cabin.

View from the top of the cliff at the end of the trail.

A little farther south we caught sight of a fire pit atop a cliff. It looked like the best campsite we’d seen so far but there was still one more we wanted to check out. We paddled all the way down the lake to a small island at the mouth of the southernmost bay. This was no small feat given the size of the lake. We arrived tired and hungry to the discovery that there was no possibility of a site down here. Upset with our maps, we turned around and paddled back the way we’d come to, really, the only viable site on the entire Western shore of this massive lake. One campsite on this entire lake! That discovery confirmed our suspicion that no one ever comes here.

View from our tent.

View looking North from our campsite.

But at least it was a super nice site. We set up our tent on an extremely flat piece of cushy moss so that we had a cliff-top view across the bay. I added extra cheese to our freeze-dried chicken, cheese and zucchini pasta, making it extra tasty to our famished bellies. After dinner we took a paddle through the sunset-still waters. With the sunset as a backdrop we watched two eagles circle and play around their nearby nest. Then we headed to bed early and had one of the best sleeps of the trip.

Sunset paddle through windswept islands, Makobe Lake.

Looking across the main body of Makobe Lake to a gorgeous sunset.

Day 10 – Makobe Rest Day  

The sunrise might have been spectacular this morning but we were not around to see it. Today was a rest day. We had a super comfy tent site and we were sleeping in. When we finally did get up I took the most luxurious morning dip. Given the size of the lake I was pleasantly surprised at how warm the water was. It enveloped me, silky and golden. Awake, I was ready to indulge in all the rest day things. First up, cinnamon buns!

Actually, first up was coffee 🙂

We packed up the breakfast things and paddled over to one of the tiny islands for a view across all that wild water. There would be 3 courses to this fancy backcountry breakfast: coffee, bacon and biscuits. Coffee because what is nicer than slowly sipping something hot while drinking in a gorgeous view? Bacon next because it’s tasty but also because I needed the fat to fry the buns in. Finally cinnamon buns. This is my mom’s special recipe and it’s fabulous. I’ll explain all about how I make them in the backcountry (sans reflector oven) in next week’s blog post.

Cinnamon Biscuits!

The rest of the morning and afternoon was spent lying in the sun and swimming until we’d both had about as much sun as we could take. You know it’s been a sunny trip when you’re overjoyed to see clouds building in. We paddled back to the campsite for some shade, some reading and some writing. I found a chair in the rock at the edge of the cliff and padded it with my life jacket, peering over the edge and into the water below just as a loon popped up to the surface. I watched him fish for a while until my attention was distracted by one of our resident eagles diving for a fish. Empty-taloned, the eagle landed in a tree on the main shore and sat there for a long time hunting. The fishing must be amazing here.

Obviously this was my favourite island on the lake – so windswept and pretty!

For dinner I made more fresh food. This time a lentil curry with carrots and onions and sweet potato. Stay tuned for this recipe too! The sun dipped towards the horizon and the temperature started to drop. We huddled closer to the fire. We tidied up the site. Rain started to fall as we zipped up the tent for the night.

Day 11 – Gamble Lake

 It was raining lightly when we awoke so we slept another 45 minutes until it stopped. We toyed with the idea of spending another day here but decided we might as well travel in the rain rather than sit in the tent all day. After eating leftover cinnamon buns for breakfast we packed up camp. As we pushed off across the lake it started to drizzle again.

All of the previous 10 days of our trip were sunny and hot. The clouds and rain were a welcome change but all the sun had made us careless. It wasn’t raining hard so we didn’t bother to put the rain covers on the bags or shore everything up the way we might have. As we crossed the wide expanse of Makobe Lake we decided that the East side of the lake is certainly the more beautiful. The West side was nice too with rolling hills and colonies of gulls and cormorants.

The forests in Makobe’s South Bay are short and as uninspiring as the campsites. The site on the Western shore was completely clogged with blowdowns and the other one looked small and uninviting. (I guess that makes 2 campsites on Makobe, but only one desirable one.) Two short portages landed us in a muddy bay at the South end of Teagarden Lake. (I think this is the name of this Lake, though it isn’t named on either of our maps.) Once we slogged through the mud the lake opened up and became quite pretty. Next, a 480m portage brought us into an unnamed lake north of Teagarden. High cliffs and a nice forest continued from Teagarden across this unnamed lake, which has a lovely campsite on the Eastern shore with a view across the water to an island with the cliffs behind. If I travel this area again I will be sure to camp here.

Not the greatest picture but a decent example of the lovely white pine forests through this area.

After this the day descended into a haze of portages, each one with a landing that was soggy and boggy and absolutely pockmarked with moose prints. The trails between lakes were faint and rocky and littered with piles of poo. Moose, bear, wolf, you name it, I stepped in it. There were no human footprints in the mud or canoe paint on the rocks. The incredible amount of animal sign along these trails led us to believe that this is an extremely unused route and probably the most rugged and wild section of Temagami we had ever passed through.

Crazy steep portage.

We plunged on, hoping to have lunch at a campsite on another unnamed lake just West of the portage to Trethewey Lake. When we found it the campsite sucked so we floated in the boat to eat. This was our last chance at a campsite before Gamble Lake. Between here and there was 10km of tough slogging. Some of the hardest we’ve ever done, but we didn’t know that at the time. The rain was picking up and Sean suggested we camp here for the night. That would have been the wise thing to do but it was still early in the day and we had lots of energy so I voted we push on.

Thankfully during lunch the wind had pushed us down the lake in the direction we were headed. The next portage landing was excessively boggy. The muck looked deceptively solid but I knew that if I stepped anywhere without grass I would sink. The tiny clumps of grass were few and far between. While trying to hop from one to the next I lost my balance. Five boot sucking, soaking wet, mud-up-to-my-knees, stumbling steps later I landed on my back in a puddle. The huge pack on my back made me feel like a turtle: stuck, waving my arms and legs uselessly in the air. Sean was laughing and so was I. Luckily I was all decked out in rain gear but the pocket of my rain pants was open and I could feel the water seeping across my hip as I lay in the mud. Sean helped me up. The next portage was particularly squelchy.

The rain pants were a new addition to our gear this year and I would have been extremely grateful for them on this day. Given my 2 sodden feet I was only mildly thankful for them. But as I trundled down the tiny animal trails I was thankful that the thousands of water droplets I was brushing off the surrounding bushes weren’t soaking my legs afresh.

We continued on—in and out, in and out of the canoe—in surprisingly high spirits. Jeffs map says the 120m portage is often wadeable so we were hopeful. Utterly wrong. Clogged with blowdowns at one end and a rock garden at the other.

The end of the 120m portage – not floatable!

Then we started the creek. Oh the creek. I would never, ever try to travel up stream on this creek. The only saving grace was that we had the push of the current encouraging us on our way. The current actually made the paddling pretty fun! It was the overhanging bushes that made it difficult.

The creek was about two canoe widths across, a very tight squeeze especially around corners, and it was basically all corners. The water was maybe chest deep for the most part, which would make wading upstream nearly impossible, but the depth created quite a current that swept us along. Apart from the constant switch-backing of the creek the main issue was the alder bushes growing thickly on either bank. These bushes had joined forces across the creek leaving barely enough branchless space above the water to float the canoe underneath, certainly not enough height for us. The branches were so thick that most of the time we couldn’t push them aside. The only option was to lie back, close my eyes for protection from stray sticks while the current rushed us beneath the bushes and hope there would be enough of a break between brush to get in a few quick steering strokes to help us around the next corner. It was a high-stakes, high-speed game of limbo and it went on for hours.

The creek.

The only interruption was the often-shallow corners where we’d have to get out to push and pull the canoe along through gravelly shoals. Every so often there would be a small blow-down to either push out of the way or saw through to clear our path. All this in a constant, drizzling rain. To make matters worse, each time the canoe scraped along a shallow part of the creek, the bottom of the boat buckled under my feet. I tried to push down to add support but the boat was cracking. I kept my fingers crossed and hoped that if I didn’t say anything to Sean, maybe it wouldn’t become an actual problem. As much as I could tell we were still water tight. But it was hard to know as with all of the rain and getting in and out of the boat there was quite a bit of water sloshing around in the bottom.

This creek makes the 1545m portages out of Tretheway look like a walk in the park. But like I said, the speed of the current made the obstacle course really fun. Also, the area was strikingly gorgeous and extremely wild. Old growth red and white pine made mixed with black spruce created a lush forest and cliffs ran all the way along the chain of lakes and the creek. If you camped at that site I mentioned awhile back for a couple days I’m sure you would see and see and hear a ton of wildlife activity, maybe even hear some wolf howls! I am forever grateful to have experienced this wild area.

Sean sawing through a blow down to clear a path for us.

After travelling the creek for about two hours (and covering roughly 1km on the map – which doesn’t include all the switchbacks, but still! So much time for such a short distance) we came to a short portage. I had just, finally, given up my soaking-wet-but-warm hiking boots in favour of water shoes: what a mistake. Another completely muddy portage complete, it was back to the creek. At this point it felt like the creek would never end.

Finally we came to a culvert, which meant we were passing under the road to Gamble Lake, which meant we were almost done for the day! Instead of portaging around the culvert Sean went to the other end and I passed the canoe through the culvert from my side to his. Finally the forest thinned up ahead. Then it opened and suddenly we came around the last curve and the creek emptied out into the lake. We had started the day with grand ideas of heading north three more kilometers and two more portages to Elizabeth Falls, but after 9 hours of some of the most challenging backcountry travel we have ever experienced it was time to set up camp for the night.

At Gamble Lake we were back to the start of our loop. Which also meant that there was a warm dry car waiting for us, a fact that did not escape us during the difficulties of the day. Dock canoe, set up tarp, boil water for tea, extract car keys and dry clothes from the depths of the dry bag, strip out of wet clothes, run to car, turn on heat full blast, ahhhhh. Dry clothes, hot coffee and trail mix to snack on—all is well with the world again. We sat in the car with the heat blasting reading The Cabin aloud until a short break in the rain allowed time to set up the tent and make dinner just before dark.

Day 12 – Where to?

We awoke, toasty warm and dry in our tent. The plan was to head up the North Lady Evelyn River to Gooseneck Lake and South from there to Wabun Lake to stay for a couple of nights before heading home. Slowly we puttered around camp making oatmeal and coffee to boost our dampened spirits while we lay out all of our soaking wet gear in various patches of sunlight to ‘dry’. Our spirits were as damp as our boots because the daylight had brought with it a couple of major issues. The first was the crack in the bottom of our boat. A whole section of the floor was popping up, separated from the outer coating of the canoe. So far the canoe was still water tight but we didn’t want to push our luck grinding along down another creek. Our planned route included a creek and we had no way of knowing what it held in store for us. We pulled out the canoe repair kit only to discover that the little bottle of fiberglass hardener was empty. Can’t make fiberglass without that chemical reaction.

The other issue was the car. We had a flat tire. We’d probably popped a little hole in it during our drive down the rough logging road to the put in and it had slowly lost air over the ensuing two weeks. No problem, we’ll just put the donut on. Only the donut was severely low on air as well. Also, we had no cell service to call a tow truck so the only way of getting out of here if the donut failed was by pushing the SPOT. Who knows how much it costs to get extracted by helicopter! The SPOT was only for life or death situations. So we were left with a tough decision. Do we gamble on Gamble Lake with a nearly-flat tire and an almost-broken canoe and push on for those last 5 days in the bush or do we make the mature decision to come out early?

We almost Gambled… but in the end we played it as safe as these adventurers could. We would head into New Liskeard, pump up the tires and hope they held for the next few days while we headed back into the bush with our broken boat. This time we into Blueberry Lake along a route that was all lake paddling and easy on the canoe. It was also only a stones throw from town—safe enough right?

Sunset at Blueberry Lake

Had an incredible sunrise paddle on Blueberry Lake.

Find more photos of Blueberry Lake on my Instagram!

We stayed at Blueberry Lake for two nights before turning the trip into a road trip and heading over to the town of Killarney on the shores of Georgian Bay. We spent a night there over-indulging on fish and chips, candy, fresh veggies and wine before ending our trip paddling out into Georgian bay, along the far coast of Philip Edward Island and out to a group of islands called the “Foxes” to spend one last, perfect night.

I won’t write about our stay on Blueberry Lake or the Fox islands just yet. However, given the restful nature of our stay at these places I have some incredible photos from my time there! I will be posting these photos on my Instagram page so I encourage you to continue following this story as it unfolds there @HeatherLMills or just take a peep over to the Right-hand side of your screen to find my Instagram feed here on the blog.

The incredible Fox Islands!

Find more photos like this on my Instagram!

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.

Continue the journey with Part 3!

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.

The story continues in Magical Makobe Part 2!

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:


I’m gonna punch your face,

I’m gonna punch your face,

I’m gonna punch you right in the


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


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

Read on at Smoothwater Loop 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


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