Monday, September 7, 2015

Day 19

Day 19.  Wigwasan Lake to Bukemiga Lake.  4.9 miles.

After 18 days on the water, we were excited to get to our car, so we packed up early and headed across the portage to Bukemiga Lake, our final destination.  We made one last stop at a surprisingly nice campsite on the point just before the "trailer park" comes into view.  We ate our last meal on the trail, then headed to the takeout.  Clem had our car waiting for us, and in short order we were zipping down the road heading for home.  

Morning fog on Wigwasan Lake

Day 18

Day 18.  Kopka River to Wigwasan Lake.  8.1 miles.

The day again dawned clear; perfect weather for descending the nicest section of the Kopka, including the famed "mountain goat" portage!  Although we negotiated three other portages to get there, two of which would have been notorious in their own rights if the mountain goat portage hadn't usurped that distinction, we were relieved to find climbing ropes in good condition when we got to the mountain goat.

One thing we hadn't thought through, however, was how to deal with the dog.  Clearly she wasn't going to climb down that portage all by herself!  We began our descent by lowering the canoe down the first (and worst) section of the mountain goat, after which Brian climbed down to the first landing and Jean passed him the dog.  (Schmoopie was firmly attached to the climbing rope by a carabiner clipped to her life jacket at this point.)  After detaching dog from rope, Brian took her down to the bottom of the portage, and for lack of another option, tied her there with the canoe painter.  This was all fine and good until we attempted to slide the canoe down the next drop without said rope attached.  It seemed to be secure, but the canoe slipped off the ledge and careened down the hill, barely missing the dog, after which it plopped in the water and floated away!  Fortunately, it drifted into shore, so no one had to swim after it.  Other than a big gouge in the front skid plate, all appeared to be well.  A little too much excitement though!

We spent the rest of the day paddling down the Kopka, over another portage (easy but with lots of downed trees), and across Wigwasan Lake to the campsite on the Bukemiga portage.  This was no five-star site, but it had a flat spot to pitch a tent, a relative rarity on this trip.

Ready to head down the Mountain Goat portage

click for last day

Day 17

Day 17.  Boulder Lake to the Kopka River.  12.2 Miles.

Today we made it to the Kopka River.  There were supposed to be three portages between Boulder Lake and the Kopka, but the outlet to Boulder was blocked by an active beaver dam (the first we saw on the trip) which raised the water level enough for us to paddle through the first one to the unnamed pond.

When we arrived at the Kopka River, we were pleasantly surprised to see its modest size.  After hearing it described as the "Nahanni of Ontario" and experiencing the larger Ogapi first, we were a little put-off by the prospect of negotiating it.  But, we needn't have worried.  It looked manageable, at least in late summer.

We had lunch on the end of the last portage, then headed down Lake Kenackskaniss, a widening through which the Kopka River flows.  We checked out several campsites and probably should have stopped at the second one, but paddled down to the outlet of the lake instead.  There we realized that we would have to take the first of the Seven Sisters portages, something we had meant to leave off until the next day.  This portage is not one of the scenic ones, just a long slog with a lot of boulder hopping and a very challenging landing at the end.

We camped that night on the second of the Seven Sisters portages, on a huge rock outcropping next to a spectacular rapids.  It was very scenic, but there were several crabby moments before we arrived.

After the rainy summer, mushrooms grew everywhere
click for day 18

Day 16

Day 16. Onamakawash Lake to Boulder Lake. August 30. 12.2 miles.

It was a warm morning as we paddled against a little wind down Onamakawash Lake. When we arrived at Schultz's trail, an enclave of half a dozen cabins, our first challenge presented itself:  how to cross the railroad tracks with no portage in sight and paddling that ended in rapids.

We were about to walk to the tracks above us to locate the trail when we heard some activity at one of the cabins. There we talked to a woman who told us to take the right fork of the rapids and go through the now infamous "tunnel".  She mentioned that we could go over the tracks instead, but noted with horror that "we would have to carry all of our stuff up there" if we did.  Funny the perspective of non-canoeists.  Little did she know that we had portaged countless times already with all of that stuff.

The tunnel turned out to be an adventure.  Actually, it was easy once we were inside the tunnel, but entering and exiting were another story.  These required lining the canoe with nowhere to walk amid waist-deep moving water.  We managed, however, with nothing worse than wet legs, after which we had lunch and headed down Shawanabis Lake against a daunting southeast wind.  Try as we might, we couldn't find a campsite on Shawanabis, so we took the easy portage into Boulder Lake.  We were gratified to see plenty of footprints on the portage, indicating that our route should be passable.

Tunnel under the railroad tracks

click for day 17

Day 15

Day 15. Lookout River to Onamakawash Lake.  9.7 miles.

Our first portage was a long one, 1087 meters.  But, no need to worry.  It was one of the easiest portages we had ever been on, just a sandy path through semi-open jackpine forests.  After that, there were several more short portages to negotiate, nearly all of which hopped around a scenic rapids.

We foolishly passed up a campsite after the last of these and ended up paddling for another two hours to Onamakawash Lake. There we encountered a First Nation woman fishing in the narrows where the river exits the lake. She told us about a camp "across from the big island with lots of big blueberries" (she was right) and also warned us about the tunnel under the railroad tracks, which we would cross the next day.  First thing we'd heard about any such tunnel!  The campsite turned out to be a dandy one where we enjoyed another smoky sunset.

Another smoky sunset on Onamakawash Lake

Day 14

Day 14. Smoothrock to Lookout River. August 28. 13.2 miles.

We are clearly getting soft, since we have always enjoyed portages to break up the day, but today we looked forward to a day with no portages. Woke to very heavy fog, and without a GPS, we were not sure we would have even set off. Got off early to beat the wind--we had to paddle 13 miles to the south-- but needn't have worried as it was practically calm the whole day.

The day was uneventful, though pleasant.  We saw a large Otter float plane land at the outpost camp on the southern tip of Smoothrock.  Unfortunately, camping opportunities were few and far between, and we wound up at a less than ideal site on an unmarked portage around the first swift on the Lookout river.

Foggy campsite on Smoothrock Lake

click for day 15

Day 13

Day 13. Lower Wabakimi Lake to Smoothrock Lake8.8 miles.

We woke up to clouds again, although rain never materialized. Today we planned to paddle down the river between Lower Wabakimi Lake and Smoothrock Lake.  We guessed this would be fairly well-travelled because it's on a main route.  Of course nothing is ever easy.

We couldn't find the first portage, so we bushwhacked along the middle rapids instead. This turned out to be just fine, although it was time consuming.  The second portage was long with lots of downed trees and many ups and downs.  And, it landed in fast water.

While we were eating lunch, we saw a canoe being carried down to the water in the distance.  Two paddlers got in and rounded a point, seemingly heading back downstream in the direction from which they had come. We were somewhat puzzled and looked forward to meeting them.  When we got to where we'd seen them, however, not only did we not find the paddlers, but we didn't find a portage either!  The rapids were easily negotiated, and we found the next portage without incident.  We never met the phantom paddlers, though.

At Smoothrock Lake, we paddled several miles down the west arm to the first campsite we saw.

Rapids before Smoothrock Lake

click for day 14