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a life in transition

Category: Canoe Tripping Stories

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.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of ‘Magical Makobe’

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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