Watermark Words

a life in transition

Category: Canoe Tripping Stories

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

Continued from Temagami Part 1…

Fabulous Frank’s Falls!

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

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

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

Playing in Franks Falls

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

Day 9: Centre and Helen Falls, Lady Evelyn River

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

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

Waterslides at Centre Falls

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

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

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

Helen Falls

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

Upper Portion of Helen Falls

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

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

View from the top of our hike

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

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

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

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

wild rose at the end of a portage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is a particular peace here.

Day 12: Cabin Falls, Rest Day

Lady Evelyn River from our portage campsite

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

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

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

pink flowers

pink flowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

my favourite picture of the whole trip

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

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

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

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

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

the old cabin

the old cabin

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

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

the writing desk!

the writing desk!

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

goodbye Cabin Falls!

goodbye Cabin Falls!

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

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

One side of Bridal Veil Falls

One side of Bridal Veil Falls

Taking in the View!

Taking in the View!

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

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

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

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

Final cascade of Fat Man's Falls

Final cascade of Fat Man’s Falls

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

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

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

Day 14: Unnamed Lake (Wapho?)

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

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

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

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

Making dinner on Wahpo Lake

Making dinner on Wahpo Lake

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

Sean with Gilbert, our dragon fly pet

Sean with Gilbert, our dragon fly pet

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

Chee-Skon Lake, pronounced Shish-Kong

Chee-Skon Lake, pronounced Shish-Kong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Conjuring Rock

The Conjuring Rock

Day 16: Chee Skon Lake

Proper Chee-skon site

Proper Chee-skon site

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

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

“Just leave them Hamitch!”

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

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

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

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

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

Pan fried potatoes on Day 16!

Pan fried potatoes on Day 16!

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

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

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

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

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

the three sisters

the three sisters

Day 18: Obabika Lake

And so our trip completes its circle.

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

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

See Temagami Part 3 for the final leg…

 

Temagami Part 3: Culture Shock

The ancient forests of Obabkika Lake shrouded in misty rain.

The ancient forests of Obabkika Lake shrouded in misty rain.

We woke at 515am to the beginnings of rain. We slept until 6 and, with the rain persisting, I felt God say it was time to get up and so we did. We were on the water by 7, no morning dip, chased out of camp by the rain. We make good time down Obabika Lake, light rain and wind but nothing obtrusive. As I paddle I pause mid-stroke to look around me. The air is saturated with the scent of water and pine, the wild tops of the ancient forest in the foreground and the hills rising up through distant fog. This is real.

The car is growing ever closer and with it thoughts of home. IPhone, computer screens… So much of my life in Toronto is lived either in fantasy land or vicariously through computers—connections with friends, news, facebook news about friends (or aquaintances… or strangers for that matter), bragging about parts of my life, comparing myself to other peoples fake ‘for the camera’ lives, working towards some fantasy life that never seems to grow any closer.

But this, here, now, this is real. Paddling down Obabika, relying on the strength of my body, the gear in our packs and our mind’s wits to survive and propel us forward, pushing water with my paddle so we move quickly through the rain, content to be in this moment.

We arrive at the car soaked through and with squelchy shoes. I kept telling myself that once we got here we could change in the car into the dry clothes from the drybag. Once we do arrive it’s officially pouring and I realize that to get into the car we have to dig to the bottom of the drybag to retrieve the keys, pulling out the dry clothes in the process. We perform some gymnastics with the tarp and manage to keep the dry things dry.

Finally we are on our way back to Toronto, warm and dry with the seats pumping heat across our back and legs… But I was already warm… We kept commenting throughout the morning that if it had to rain at least it was warm! The car tells us it’s 14.5*C, not exactly balmy. I try to adjust to my surroundings. The trees and lakes flashing by at 60km/h is a bit of a shock to my 4km/h adjusted system. The world sounds different in an enclosed space. Smells different too for that matter! We sit in silence. The hour hand ticks by in what seems like minutes. I need to use the bathroom. No, I will not squat beside the highway. We’re in civilization now.

We don’t want to be going home yet. Our silence is almost a kind of mourning. As we arrived at the car we commented on how most people are happy to go camping for awhile but are very happy to get back to convenience and comfort. Not us. We love living outdoors so much we could have turned right around and kept going for another 3 months easily.

4 or 5 hours of slow, silent watching later we arrive at a Tim Hortons in Bracebridge, ON. The music is too loud, the people too many, do I smell? I’m sure I do. I order food from two people paid to make it for me quickly and with as little inconvenience to me as possible. A poster raves about organic bacon or some other health-food nonsense. I hate advertising. I don’t know how anyone can work in that field with a clear conscience. Sure, it’s great money and pseudo-artistic but at what cost? You’re lying to people, preying on their insecurities, igniting desires for otherwise overlooked extravagances.

Throughout the next week I continuously realize that I crave food or things that I was perfectly happy living without in the woods. But here in the city there are so many options! Everyone and everything is selling something. The bus tells me that Mission Impossible is the “must see movie of the summer”, every time I leave the house my well fed stomach craves a treat from the many fast food restaurants that crowd the sidewalks, even the pedestrians in their fashionable clothes fan the flames of my covetousness. Yet I don’t need or even, really, want any of it! Our consumerist culture is very strange – something I’d never noticed before. Having a break from the bombardment was so good.

It takes me 2 or 3 weeks before it feels normal again.

Temagami Part One: Obabika, Wakamika, the Pine-Torch Corridor and back to Diamond Lake

…Continued from “Before the Plunge”…

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Day 1: June 19, Obabika Lake

3 weeks in Temagami, here we come!! We start early, this is a big day! This year we’ve decided to buy a canoe, which is actually cheeper than renting one for 3 weeks. We called Algonquin Outfitters a while back and bought the last used canoe they had for sale this year over the phone. Super easy. We take a little detour to pick it up from the store and continue our journey North!

We park in a little field off the 805 road at the beginning of the portage into Pond Lake. There’s a little RV camp here and you have to turn North (right) before the RV’s to find the portage. Gather the stuff, easy 355m portage and push off. The pre-trip jitters don’t begin to dissipate until we’re on the water – anything we forgot we’ll have to live without!

Being here is so nice. I feel strong! The 1250m portage into Obabika Lake is not bad at all. All those squats paid off! (Pre-trip strength and injury prevention workout coming soon!) Obabika Lake is beautiful. Tall old white pine poke their way up above the canopy of the forest, the water is calm, the air is fresh, we have arrived. We stop around 6:30pm at an island site with a beautiful rock beach in the South end of Obabika. Dinner is boiled sausages with scalloped potatoes and carrots and we eat it out in the canoe, away from the bugs and with a beautiful view of the sunset. I am SO HAPPY that we bought the more expensive bug shirts – such lifesavers at this time of year!

Day 2: Wakamika Lake, June 20

Leaving behind the vast expanse of Obabika Lake, we enter the mouth of Wakamika River. The trees we had been enjoying at a distance all morning rise up around us and the wind, which had been nudging us across the lake, becomes a whisper in their crowns. Details slide into focus: individual leaves, birdsong, the shocking green of spruce tips. None of the campsites we stop at have been visited yet this year. Grass growing in fire-pits and cobwebs on biffy’s found at the end of over-grown trails point to their desertion.

The trip up Obabika had been much quicker than anticipated – 3h instead of 5 or 6. I enjoyed the long paddle, pushed along by a lovely wind at our back, coaxed forward by the waves. The wide open views of pine trees all around the lake were stunning. It’s only now, as we transition to paddling the river, that I notice the quiet intimacy that was missing from the majestic wilderness of the lake. Here the beauty is in the details and Oh! what beautiful details they are!

View West towards the Pinetorch hills from Wakamika Lake

View West towards the Pinetorch hills from Wakamika Lake

Day 3: Dorothy Lake, Pinetorch Corridor, June 21

Today was the day from hell. On the first portage of many I sprained my ankle. Bad. Ankle rolling completely sideway, bones grinding, writhing in pain bad. I lay there in a swarm of bugs hoping and praying that I would still be able to walk. The exact details following the fall are a blur. There was some lacing up of boots, tender testing it out, a short trial carry of gear before or after another rest all the while being absolutely baptized in bugs. Sean was a champ! Carrying most of the gear, being patient with me, and loading the canoe on his own. We paddled out to the centre of the small lake and spent 10 frenzied minute killing the bugs who had followed us so that we could take our bug jacket hoods off for a second. Ah! Fresh air, drink of water, advil, bite to eat… lace up those boots again and onward Christian soldier (which is indeed what we felt like today!)

Having a break from the bugs on Sylvester Lake, Temagami

Having a break from the bugs on Sylvester Lake, Temagami

Portage, lake, rest from bugs, repeat. I was excruciatingly slow. My balance in that ankle was of course completely shot so every uneven step (which was most of them) twinged with pain. But I could walk! We didn’t have to push the SOS and go home! One foot in front of the other. Focus. Look down at the ground and watch your step, try to ignore the constant hum of mosquitoes. While looking at the ground I noticed that most of the plants had new growth on them. It’s late spring still and everything is a fresh, bright shade of green; the flowers are plenty and pretty. Hap Wilson says the Pinetorch Cooridor is character building and I felt God speaking to me about building new growth into us. The day was hard but as I continued to walk the pain grew less and near the end when I was my tiredest I was singing a worship song and literally felt God physically filling me with strength. It felt like electricity flooding my limbs. God is good and He takes care of us. No matter the circumstance my heart will stay steadfast.

Bunchberries! Growing me some character :)

Bunchberries! Growing me some character 🙂

7h and some 9k later we arrived at camp! Exhausted, sticky and buggy we jumped in the lake (with a PFD, I was that tired) for a lovely refreshing swim before bed.

Day 4: Dorothy Lake, rest day June 22

Dorothy Lake - some nice cliffs across from the campsite

Dorothy Lake – some nice cliffs across from the campsite

Beautiful, warm day today. Spent the whole day drifting around in the boat, stopping at the campsite only to exchange food and gear. The bugs were what kept us away from the shore – blackflies and mosquitos – but it was nice just to drift, suntanning, soaking my ankle in the cold water, swimming, eating. Dorothy Lake has a nice sand beach on the south shore which was great to swim from and we saw some moose tracks (no, not the ice cream, haha). Sean had also pointed out some wolf droppings on one of the portages yesterday. At one point we heard a woodpecker banging on a tree so loud that it sounded like an axe! But there are certainly no other people anywhere near here. This is the most secluded area we have ever been and it’s quite a magical feeling. It was windy this evening which blew away the bugs! Freeze dried dinner with the last of the cucumber and multiple s’mores to finish.

Day 5: Sylvester Lake 🙁 June 23

1st portage, no problem. The rest day yesterday and God’s exquisite goodness have put my ankle to the back of my mind. Not perfect but also not bothering me. We head up Nasmith Creek: “Where are we going?” asks Sean. “Up river, where else?!” I retort, annoyed. He never trusts my map reading abilities enough. “It forks twice and we go left both times and then the portage is on the left.” How hard could it be?

Very hard.

3-4h of pushing and pulling the canoe upstream over shallow boulder gardens in our bare feet (read: OW!, also read: bring water shoes next time!) we came to a road with a culvert ceasing our advance. Where could we be? There had been a couple forks – nothing that looked like its own river though and no portage sign. We left the canoe pulled up on a gravel bar in the river and bush whacked our way onto the road. According to my (very wet) compass we were heading west on the river and NE on the road… nowhere on our map was that connection made. We were so lost. We turned back to our canoe… and didn’t see it! All our food, all our gear and even our emergency SOS GPS was in that canoe floating off downstream somewhere! How could we be so stupid as to leave the canoe in the river without tying it off??? We had a map and a compass and there was no chance of seeing another human being for weeks or months (a thought we had relished just hours earlier)…. it’s a long walk home with no food. It must have been 2pm and we hadn’t had lunch yet. We were both soaking wet, mosquito bitten, exhausted and now scared. It’s one thing too be in the backcountry when you know where you are on the map, how you’re getting to your next spot and how you’ll get home. Once you’re lost, possibly without any belongings and with a big, black storm cloud blowing your way you realize how small you are and how dangerous what you’re doing really is.

We stumble back to the river and there’s our canoe, waiting right where we’d left it. We must have missed it when we looked because of the angle of our view from the road. Canoe found but still lost we jump in the boat and hightail it downstream, adrenaline pumping. We’re stressed out, wet, cold and that storm cloud is menacing.

It’s much easier and more fun paddling downstream. We float and run a few swifts, stopping at every beaver run: no portage. At least we know we can get back to where we started and, at this point (still freaking out and still without lunch) that’s really all we care about.

We get back to where we started and are so relieved that we run back across the portage without a second thought to try looking again, try sitting down for lunch, try praying, taking a breath and starting again. Nope! We are out of here! Somewhere in the portaging frenzy we start wondering if we should have tried to find the portage one last time… we’ve covered too much ground to go back now though… right? It’s getting late. We can’t wait to get out of the buggy, suffering inducing Pine-shit hiking Corridor (we literally hiked through it for 3 days with a canoe on… Sean’s head ;), but we should stop for the night.

****Note: For anyone hoping to do this route through the Pinetorch Corridor – don’t be discouraged!! Our experience was rather difficult but hopefully this post helps you iron out the details for your own trip! This area is very beautiful, very quiet and secluded. If you’re looking to get away from crowds, look no further. Our trip was in the end of June and the Nasmith was certainly not full of water but it was passable. Shallow, lots of lining around and shoving over rocks. I think the 90m portage noted on Jeff’s map is the road/ culvert that stopped our advance. The culvert acts as a dam and so on the other side of it the river is much deeper. It would have been an easy 10-20min paddle to the portage into Chapin Lake. I’ve inserted a screenshot of the google map satellite image of the area, which really clears things up: ****

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Screenshot of google maps satellite image of the Nasmith Creek (just after it’s turned West) intersecting the road/culvert/dam that confused us.

It’s 6 or 7 when we make camp at Sylvester Lake utterly downtrodden. We’d had our heart set on this route for months – Pinetorch to Aimes Creek (the Grand Canyon of the North), then Florence lake (beauty beyond description, we’ve heard) and down the Lady Evelyn River, past the most perfect campsite ever described in writing and on to the “most beautiful place on earth” (according to our hero, Hap Wilson). And here we are arriving at what looks to be the buggiest site yet – buried in the woods away from the bug control of the breeze coming off the lake.

Miracle! No bugs. It’s impossible but true. Peace comes and we have a lovely, bug free dinner and fall into bed.

View from our lovely, hilltop, bug-free campsite :)

View from our lovely, hilltop, bug-free campsite 🙂

North end of Sylvester Lake. Really nice forest, super secluded, campsites hadn't been used yet this year.

North end of Sylvester Lake. Really nice forest, super secluded, campsites hadn’t been used yet this year.

Day 6: Diamond Lake

We sleep in and leave camp around 1030am. 3 long, hard portages later and we are back to Wakimika Lake, relieved to be out of the “Shit-torch” but still second guessing our decision to turn back. (In hindsight we should have sat down and had lunch or spent the night somewhere and tried the Nasmith again the next day. However, feeling lost in the woods was quite the experience for us and we weren’t interested in taking any more chances at that point.)

On the last portage before Wakimika all I could think was, “I will finally be able to take off my wet boots!” I had developed quite a hammer toe by that point and my boots had been wet for a couple of days. Boots off, socks rung out and laid to dry, bug jacket off, shirt off, pants rolled up, paddling in the sun. THIS is a canoe trip! The beach on the NE shore of Wakimika is hot clean sand and beautiful.

Beautiful beach on Wakamika's North shore

Beautiful beach on Wakamika’s North shore

I have the most luxurious trip to the biffy (first one we had seen since Obabika and the last one we would see all trip). We paddle through the most magnificent forrest we have ever seen, towering wind-tossed ancient pine are everywhere, and arrive at the SW end of Diamond lake, a georgian-bay-esque dreamscape replete with white rock cliffs and red rock islands. We arrive at our site – a perfect sculpted-smooth rock island affectionately dubbed “Blueberry Island” – and sit relaxing and eating trail mix for the first time this trip. It’s a lovely, much needed, evening swim and chill time. We cut bruised toenails, pick out slivers, put on band-aids and heave a sigh of relief. Dinner is eaten out on the lake in the canoe. The water is glass, the sky made of jewels, and the land has a deafening silence on it.

Blueberry Island

Blueberry Island – perfectly sculpted rock slide into the water!

Day 7: Sucker Gut Lake

We booked it today! As though we felt that the longer and farther we paddled the faster we could salvage the trip we had run away from. We travelled something like 30k in one day when our previous record was around 15k! We had hightailed it right back to a nearby access point and were basically starting our trip all over again – 7 days in and only one day out and we could feel it. We heard motor boats as I took my morning dip… but what a morning dip it was! I slid into the lake along smooth, sloping, moss-covered rock and played there in the calm morning water as I watched the light hit the islands just right.

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Morning refelctions on Diamond Lake.

Then we were off on a beautiful sunny day of paddling. Sean sulked his way across Diamond lake, marvelling at the old growth to the south but cursing the men who logged the north shore within the past 50 years, and the 2 motor boats we passed with their fat, lazy fishermen passengers. Lady Evelyn Lake was a disappointment. Kevin Callan’s report had praised this section of the lake but it’s a flooded area, which means lots of dead trunks poking up along the strangely drowned-looking shoreline, and very popular for motor boats. This is not what day 7 of a trip should be! The pine were short and fluffy and the islands were many and beautiful but the presence of the motors, when we were working so hard to achieve the prize of solitude and silence, irked us.

South Lady Evelyn Lake. Some tall pine but mostly a younger forest – still beautiful!

So we pushed on to the portage, had a lunch of thick-cut pepperoni and gruyere cheese on bagels, and continued on to Willow Island Lake promising ourselves that we would stop at the next site we saw… well the next nice site… well maybe we’ll just keep going to the beginning of the Lady Evelyn River, which we did. We arrived at an island site at the end of Sucker Gut lake late, hot and exhausted and immediately set up the tent and had a freeze-dried dinner.

Story continues in Temagami Part 2: The Lady Evelyn River, Chee-skon Lake and Obabika!

Before the Plunge

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June 17

Man! Before one of these trips I always get so nervous. The first year I remember waking up in the middle of the night and sitting up for awhile praying for safety on our trip. Once you do a few backcountry canoe trips you become less afraid (still cautious but not afraid) of bears and breaking your leg etc. Last year I remember thinking how much I would miss sitting on my balcony. We have a very nice patio with an unbroken west facing view to the horizon. I have a lot of flowers out there which makes it really pretty. Sitting out there in the evening watching the sunset is a lovely experience… As long as you block out the ever present rush and roar of the traffic below! How could our patio even compare to the beauty of a pristine backcountry campsite?

But as always those pre-camping jitters are back. This year I’m rather concerned about missing my creature comforts. I won’t be able to shower, my hair is going to be so greasy and my feet so dirty all the time. The comfort of a soft bed, the ease of running water, warm showers, shaved legs, multiple shoe options… Do I even like camping that much? Everyone I meet in Toronto looks at me like I’m insane when I tell them what we do for fun. I can’t even explain what “portaging” is in such a way that the bewildered look eases from their faces even a little, and believe me, I’ve tried!

Maybe they’re right? Why do I even do this? It so much work to prepare. Wouldn’t I rather just go to some five star resort somewhere? Bring along my 5 suitcases and go shopping all week?

 

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