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

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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

Day 12

Day 12. Wabakimi Lake to Lower Wabakimi Lake.  10.2 miles.

Clear again!  Today's obstacle would be the big water on Wabakimi Lake.  We needed to travel southwest for about five miles, and if the wind was blowing at all, that travel would be difficult. We got an early start, had to negotiate some rollers, but managed to stay dry. We camped early on Lower Wabakimi Lake and enjoyed the glorious sunshine.  Smoke from distant wildfires obscured the sunset, though.

Smoke from distant fires over Lower Wabakimi Lake

click for day 13

Day 11

Day 11. August 25. Kenoji Lake to Wabakimi Lake. 9.5 miles.

Finally a nice day! We paddled onto Kenoji Lake with improved spirits and a tail wind pushing us along. We passed the outpost camp, and from the piles of gear on the dock, guessed that the inhabitants were waiting for a plane out.

Our next obstacle was the river between Kenoji and Wabakimi Lake.  Our map indicated that upstream travel was not recommended between Kenoji and Whitewater Lake, but mentioned nothing about our chosen route, so we didn't know what to expect.  The first portage was not encouraging as it was extremely brushy.  Had anyone used it recently?  In reality, most of the portages were not difficult, but the approaches often involved paddling, lining, or poling up what we would call rapids where we are from!  The final insult occurred where we put in at Wabakimi Lake; we struggled for what seemed like 15 minutes to paddle up a swift.

Naturally, we saw two boats right after we entered the lake, which wasn't unexpected since Wabakimi has several outpost camps.  Strangely, the fisherman seemed to be in a different universe from us, generally ignoring our presence or giving us a gruff nod.  Perhaps they felt we were intruding on their solitude just as we felt them intruding on ours.  We paddled to a camp marked on our park map on the outlet bay.  An angry boreal owl woke us up at night.

Portage on the river between Kenoji and Wabakimi

click for day 12

Day 10

Day 10. August 24. Scrag Lake to Kenoji Lake. 8.5 miles.

Cold drizzle and a strong north wind greeted us this morning. We were reluctant to travel and get wet again, so we stayed put until one when a brighter sky encouraged us to make a break for it. Originally, we planned to go south on Scrag Lake into Little Scrag Lake.  Given the wind, however, we decided to avoid the openness of Scrag and head west to join the Palisade River. We were glad we did.  The portages were easy and not hard to find.  Most of this country had been burnt in recent years, so we got a good look at a second bear on a hillside just west of the Kenoji.

The portage to Kenoji Lake was marked by what else ... boats!  This time they appeared to be well-kept.  Of course, there is an outpost camp on Kenoji.  So, fisherman can walk the portage and take the boats out on the Palisade River.  Again, contrary to the outfitter's warning, we were not alone out there.

We found a campsite soon after we got to Kenoji Lake, just after paddling through a small rapids.

click for day 11

Day 9

Day 9. August 23. Arril Lake to Scrag Lake. 4.8 miles.

Once again, we woke to low gray clouds and a heavy mist. We broke camp somewhat late with the meager goal of reaching Scrag Lake, five portages away on a small river.  Rain started at the first portage, but fortunately, all five portages were mercifully easy.

We arrived at Scrag Lake in a very cold rain, but once again lucked out with a protected site.  We put up the tarp for yet another hunkered-down day and built a big fire.  Firewood was getting hard to come by.  As is typical of the boreal forest in this part of Wabakimi, there were plenty of dead trees, but most of them had rotted in a fairly short time.

Looking back, this was the halfway point as well as the low point of our trip.  It had rained for six days, and we were cold, wet, and dispirited.  We even considered bailing as, contrary to the outfitter's warning, Clem said he would pick us up from an alternate point if the need arose.  (We could contact him from our trusty InReach device.)  Short of calling for a float plane, however, even an early take-out would require many days of paddling.  Sticking to our original plan and praying for better weather seemed like the way to go.

The dog required drying by the fire just like any other piece of gear.

Day 8

Day 8. August 22. Greyson Lake to Arril Lake. 4.2 miles.

The sky was darkened by threatening clouds in the morning, so we took our time packing up.  We easily found the portage into Arril, marked by a crumpled canoe.  We lost the trail for a bit in a pile of rocks, but after regaining it, the rest of the portage presented no problems. Rain began in earnest once we arrived at Arril Lake. We stopped to look at the outpost on the lake (didn't look like anyone had been around for some time) and then continued on to a decent campsite west of the cabin, right where the lake narrows.  The sun broke out in the evening, and we enjoyed a dinner of fresh walleye caught right off the campsite. There were four big bear scats nearby; apparently bears were using the narrows to get across the lake.

Arril Lake outpost cabin.  No one was home.

click for day 9

Day 7

Day 7. August 21. Whitewater Lake to Greyson Lake. 7.6 miles.

After a leisurely morning, we headed up the Greyson River enjoying warm temps and light winds. The first portage was easy, other than a tricky water crossing. The next portage was something else again.  It looked from the map like you could either stick to the river and take a number of short portages or elect one longer one straight into Greyson.  We opted for the longer one.  It took some hunting to find the end, but we persevered and located the trail (marked by the typical aging blazes).  It didn't look too bad, we thought, but we were wrong,  After crossing a low rock ridge, the trail descended into a bog complete with  long stretches of the proverbial boot-sucking mud.  The heat and humidity also were exhausting, and we wound up shuttling our gear forward in three stages.

On previous canoe trips to the BWCA and Quetico, a portage like that would guarantee solitude, but when we paddled onto Greyson Lake, we watched a float plane descend and taxi up to a lodge!  We never actually saw another person, but the effect was the same.

We headed for the other end of the lake where the river enters from Arril, and enjoyed a quiet evening on what appeared to be the only campsite on that end of the lake.

Greyson River

click for day 8

Day 6

Day 6. Friday August 20th. Berg River to Whitewater Lake. 11.4 miles.

Our high hopes were dashed when clouds rolled in just after dawn the next morning; the rain started as we broke camp.  By Minnesota flatwater standards, the initial portage landing was half in the rapids.  True, it was an easy Class I, but this was a common scenario we came to expect in Wabakimi.  

The rest of the Berg River was easy, with low-lying banks, no rapids, and no campsites.  We were lucky to see a wolf swimming the river ahead of us, a canoe trip first for us.
We found the last portage into Whitewater Lake with no problem, having spotted several boats in various states of disrepair at the end, another hallmark of a Wabakimi portage. The portage itself, a longish 889 meters, was very easy, although we would have been happier without the little board bridges someone had installed.  These were very slippery and in their own varying states of disrepair.

 The sky started to clear when we got to Whitewater Lake.  We saw our first signs of human activity since Smoothrock Lake, smoke ascending from a lodge chimney.  Later, a float plane landed.

We paddled north on Whitewater, heading for the Greyson River, with a gentle tail wind. There we found a lovely site just where the river enters the lake; perhaps the best of the entire trip. We stretched a clothes line, dried our things, and enjoyed the sunny evening.  We also made a nice dent in the food supply.

Lovely campsite on Whitewater Lake

click for day 7

Day 5

Day  5. Thursday August 19th. Outlet Bay to Berg River. 11.1 miles.

We were anxious to head out in the morning, in spite of a cold northwest wind.  Huddling under a tarp for much of the previous day probably had spurred us on.  We managed to find enough shelter on the bay by sticking to the western shore, and we located the portage into the Berg River without too much trouble.  But then it started raining.

We headed down the river anyway.  Our map showed five portages between Outlet Bay and Whitewater Lake; we found only three of them.  The other two rapids were apparently small enough that the portages had grown in.  We lined the first, and ran the second. The rain continued steadily, and it was cold.   Before long we were desperate to find a campsite.  On the last portage before joining the Ogoki River, we found our desperation site at the top of a noisy rapids.  Once again, we pitched the tarp and built a large fire. That evening, the sky cleared just as night fell, and we crawled in our sleeping bags with high hopes for the next day.

We improvised a rain coat for the dog (dark lump in middle).

click for day 6

Day 4

Day 4.  Wednesday August 18th.  Outlet Bay.  1.8 miles.

We woke up to rain and a brisk north wind.  The beach was fun when the weather was nice, but no place to get trapped, so we packed up and left. We hoped to reach the north end of Outlet Bay where our park map indicated campsites, but we didn't paddle far before we realized that wasn't going to happen without major discomfort.  We weren't even to the open water at the north end of the bay yet and going was tough.  Luckily, we found a camp with a protected spot for a fire and a flat spot for the tent.  We put up the tarp, built a big fire, and whiled away the afternoon/evening waiting for conditions to improve.

Big, juicy blueberries were everywhere.
click for day 5

Day 3

Day 3.  Tuesday August 17th.  Caribou Bay to Outlet Bay.  12.5 miles.

No portages were planned for this day, which was good because we needed to eat some food and lighten our food pack.

A light north wind was blowing and Caribou Bay went on and on with low, spruce-covered shores.  We met our first of only two canoe parties on the entire trip just as we were turning the corner to the north.  As this is a main route to exit the park, we weren't too surprised.  After reaching Smoothrock Lake, we stopped to eat at a deluxe shore lunch spot complete with tables, a gas grill, and the ubiquitous propane fish cookers.  It seemed a bit like trespassing to camp there, plus it was too busy; we saw about four boats in the short time we were crossing it.  So, we headed up Outlet Bay and bushwhacked a camp on a lovely sand beach with a flat spot for the tent and plenty of dry driftwood for a cooking fire.  We were excited to see caribou tracks in the sand.  It was a beautiful evening, though a distinct ring around the sun portended bad weather to come.

Caribou tracks in the sand.  Caribou have rounded hooves; moose have pointed hooves.

click for day 4

Day 2.

Day 2.  Monday August 16th.  Caribou to Smoothrock 14.1 Miles.

 We awoke during the night listening to the howling wind and wondering if we would be able to cross Caribou at all, but the wind had died by morning and we were able to cross the lake with a light breeze from the north.  We saw several fishing boats in the distance, not surprising since you can drive to this lake.

We continued down the Caribou River, taking the five easy portages before eating a late lunch on the last portage landing on Funger Lake.  Again we saw a boat in the distance, no doubt residents of the outpost on Funger's northern arm.  We broke out the rain gear as a very light shower went by. The first campsite on the swift between Funger and Caribou Bay seemed overused, so we continued on.

A bit further down the lake, we spotted our first of two bears on the trip. It was standing in a burn on the north shore of Caribou Bay, probably feeding on the abundant blueberries there.  (Blueberries and bear sign were everywhere for much of the trip.)

We were glad we passed over the first campsite, because just beyond the burn we found a lovely site on a small point, with a propane fish fryer (which we didn't use of course) and luxury of luxuries, a picnic table  (which we did).  We worried a bit about bears, having just seen one and a large scat nearby, but we told ourselves that a bear gorging on berries would have little interest in our camp.

Luxury on a canoe trip!  The ubiquitous propane fish fryers are in the background.

click for day 3


For planning the trip, my primary map was the official Wabakimi Provincial Park map produced by Ontario Parks.  Although I had my doubts, it turned out to be quite accurate though not at a scale that was usable in the field.

For the maps I used in the field, I relied on 1:50,000 topo maps which I downloaded, printed, and laminated myself from  To these I transfered portage and campsite locations from the official park map and trip reports posted on the internet.  (the Canadian Canoe Routes website was most helpful). I also printed the pertinent set of 1:50,000 topo maps from Ken Kokanee's website which were helpful, especially on the Kopka River.  

Below are screenshots of the actual tracks from my GPS.


Day 1.  Little Caribou to Caribou

Day 2.  Caribou to Smoothrock

Day 3.  Smoothrock

Day 4.  Smoothrock

Day 5.  Smoothrock to Berg River

Day 6.  Berg River to Whitewater

Day 7.  Whitewater to Greyson

Day 8.  Greyson to Arril

Day 9.  Arril to Scrag

Day 10.  Scrag to Kenoji

Day 11.  Kenoji to Wabakimi

Day 12.  Wabakimi to Lower Wabakimi

Day 13.  Lower Wabakimi to Smoothrock

Day 14.  Smoothrock to Lookout River

Day 15.   Lookout River to Onamakawash

Day 16.  Onamakawash to Boulder

Day 17.  Boulder to Kopka River4

Day 18.  Kopka River to Wigwasan

Day 19.  Wigwasan to takeout on Bukemiga


My wife and I have had Wabakimi Provincial Park on our bucket list for some time.  We've done countless trips to the BWCA and Quetico, and three trips to Woodland Caribou Provincial Park, but somehow Wabakimi never worked out.

There are several hurdles to negotiate to go to Wabakimi.  For a long time, it was difficult to obtain a planning map for the park.  Last December, however, we located a newly published official Wabakimi Provincial Park planning map (obtained from, but now available from other outlets).  So, that hurdle is no more.

The next one is logistics, though.  It seems like most Wabakimi trips start with a train ride to Shultz's Trail, Allenwater Bridge, or the Flindt River, or with an expensive float plane flight.  We were not inclined to take the train since it seemed like all too often you disembark in the middle of the night.  Also, we would have had to crate our pampered dog in the baggage car.  A float plane flight, on the other hand, would cost more than we wanted to spend.  Given that we had three weeks, we elected to paddle into the park from Little Caribou Lake instead.  This would be a fairly daunting way to enter the park on a shorter trip, given that you have to travel about 27 miles to the north and west before reaching the first fork in the path on Smoothrock Lake, but it worked well for us.

We also wanted to include the Kopka River in our itinerary, both for the scenery (spectacular!) and for the river experience.  Initially, we considered doing a large loop including the Brightsand River, but in the end cut most of the Kopka off.  Still, we were glad we saw the Seven Sisters portion of the river.  It made a great ending to our trip.

click here to go to Day 1

click here for maps of the trip

Calm evening on Smoothrock Lake

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Day 1

Day 1. Sunday Aug. 16.  Little Caribou to Caribou Lake.  8.2 miles.

We were scheduled to meet Clem Quenville, a local guide who would provide shuttle service for us, in Armstrong at noon. On the way, we stopped at an outfitter's to arrange our park permit, which turned out to be an unsettling experience. First, we were told that our trip was overly ambitious, which could have been avoided had we allowed them to plan it for us. Then, we were warned to be careful because it would be "just the two of you out there."  (Fortunately, we never told them about the dog who was coming with us.) And, finally, we were chastised for choosing a shuttle service who "won't come looking for you like we would."  Needless to say, we were a little shaken by the time we met Clem.  Fortunately, he was a great guy with some impressive canoeing experience who settled our fears, so that we willingly followed him to our put-in on Little Caribou Lake. There we handed him our keys (he would store our car at his house and "spot" it on Bukemiga Lake at the end of our trip) and took off on our adventure:  three weeks in Wabakimi Provincial Park and on the Kopka River.

After a quick lunch on a small island, we paddled north up Little Caribou, a surprisingly scenic lake with a number of campsites visible from the water.  It was hot and humid, and a strong wind was blowing out of the west. The map we were using for this section showed a campsite on the portage into Caribou, but alas no campsite was in sight.  So, we decided to take the portage and camp at a campsite we had marked on our map and which we had spoken to Clem about.  Hopefully the campsite worked out, since there was a very strong west wind blowing, and crossing Caribou wasn't going to be an option.

Our food pack was way too heavy, but we managed the portage, and fought our way across to the island.  The campsite wasn't exactly five-star, but it served our needs for the first night.

Lovely morning in Wabakimi

Click for day 2