Continued from Temagami Part 1…
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 backcountry 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!
The evening came 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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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, straightening up and showing 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.
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
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.
We lily dipped along, enjoying the sun and taking pictures of 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.
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.
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!
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.
We take some time in the afternoon to do laundry and bathe. My fingernails are clean for the first time in 12 days.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Day 15: 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.
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”.
Day 16: Chee Skon Lake
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.
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.
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.
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…