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.
“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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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?
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.