…Continued from “Before the Plunge“…
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!
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!)
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.
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
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?
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: ****
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.
Day 6: Diamond Lake
We sleep in and leave camp around 10:30am. 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.
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.
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.
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 the beauty of 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.
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!