Wabakimi Canoe Trip: Days 11 to 15 – From Smoothrock Lake To Collins Via The Boiling Sand River

Previous Post: Days 9 and 10 – From The Mouth of the Grayson River, South To Smoothrock Lake Via Whitewater Lake and McKinley Bay

Day Eleven: Smoothrock Lake Central To S end of Smoothrock West Arm

distance: 25 km. 

We would hear some boat traffic around wake-up time on our little island at the hub of Smoothrock Lake.  There is a fishing lodge located on the east arm of the lake about 4.5 kilometers from where we were camping:

The fly-in fish camp is made up of twelve cabins and the main lodge building and,  if the half-dozen boats in the fishing armada that passed by were any indication, is doing okay in attracting guests. The Smoothrock Lake location is one of a number owned and operated by Thunderhook Fly-Ins a U.S-owned fishing lodge company with a real stake in fishing/hunting camps in northwestern Ontario, including

  • 13 different outposts,
  • a four-cabin operation on Whitewater lake, and
  • the twelve-cabin complex on Smoothwater Lake.

Later that morning when we headed towards the west arm of the lake, we would paddle by the stationary boats as the guys inside tried various lure combinations.  All were from south of the border with Michigan being the #1 state they were from.  They were having a great time fishing in Wabakimi Provincial Park.  Those fishing outposts all existed before the Park was established and have been allowed to continue and – truth be told – bring in more revenue to the park and locals involved in the tourist industry than the few canoe trippers who spend time (and very little money) in the area.

We arrive complete with all our food and gear, get dropped off on the side of the railway line at Flindt Landing, paddle around the park for two weeks, and then hop on the train at Collins and head back south to Toronto. Not a lot of money there for the local tourist economy – except for the camp park permits we paid for over the telephone while chatting with the park super.

we sit out an afternoon shower at our campsite on the west arm of Smoothrock Lake.

We got close to the bottom of the West Arm of the lake and, when we passed the twenty-kilometer mark,  started looking for a campsite.  We stopped when there was a sudden change in the weather and got the tent up just in time.  We’d get a thunderstorm and some rain for a couple of hours before things cleared up again and the sun came out.

looking east from our island campsite on the west arm of Smoothrock Lake

a post-supper cup of tea on the rocks- the afternoon storm has come and gone

sunset on the water

more end-of-day reflections

Day Twelve: Smoothrock West Arm to Boiling Sand R. (Tamarack L.)

distance: 19 km. 

We had three days before our train ride back to Toronto from the Collins VIA stop on the morning of the 4th day. Collins was only 30 kilometers away and,  if pressed, we could have knocked it off in one day. Instead, we had to stretch it out to fill three!

Day 12- CS to Boiling Sand River

Our day up the Boiling Sand River would be the last of the normal tripping days. We left our island campsite around 9:00 and by 11:00 had paddled the 10 kilometers to the mouth of the Boiling Sand River, the last three kilometers up Smoothrock Lake’s narrow southeast arm. Coming up were the last two longer potential portages.

There we would have to deal with our last major potential portage (P42); some trip reports indicate a 500+ meter carry here on river left.  (See here.)

Our Spot Connect track 646 shows us at the bottom at 11:10 and close to the top ten minutes later.  Not having kept notes and unable to recall exactly what we did here, I can only conclude that we tracked the canoe upriver.  Your experience may be different.  Drop me a line on how you dealt with it.

Once beyond the constriction at its mouth,  the river widens and takes an S-shaped curve up to the next portage (P43), the one into Tamarack Lake.  We would spend about thirty minutes on the river left (our right-hand side since we were coming up) portage. The trail showed signs of some use.

Portage into Tamarack Lake -Boiling Sand River – satellite image

After P43 we stopped for lunch on the side of the river.

lunch break on the Boiling Sand River- we had three days to do about twenty kilometers! Easy does it!

Then we paddled for a bit up Tamarack Lake  to what looked like a decent campsite.  It was only 2:00  but we decided to end the day here.  We were right across from an outpost (Mattice Lake Outfitters?). We were also 11 kilometers from Collins Via train stop.

fresh coffee being made at our Tamarack lake campsite

the evening view from our Boiling Sand River campsite just north of Tamarack Lake

Our tickets for that VIA train ride back to Toronto’ Unions Station had a fixed date.  We now had two days to kill at the top of the Boiling Sand River.  Not being fishing aficionados, we contented ourselves with taking photos, drinking coffee,  and picking blueberries, lots and lots of blueberries!

With blueberries all around and lots of time to kill, we start picking- and eating.

In our youth in the Abitibi, in the summer we’d go into the bush surrounding the mining town we grew up in and pick blueberries – and then knock on doors with our four-quart baskets hoping to make a sale that would get us Spiderman comics and creamsicles.  25¢ for a basket!!

However, on days 13 and 14, there were no potential takers – other than the bears we did not want to tempt to our campsite – for the ridiculous amount of blueberries we picked! Still, it was a soothing thing to do – Zen and The Art of Picking Berries! – and brought back memories!

Days 13 & 14: Tamarack Lake to Gnome Lake To Bath Lake

distance: 8 km. + 3 km. = 11 km.!

From Tamarack Lake to Collins Lake, there are four short portages.

  • P44 90 meters from Tamarack Lake into Gnome Lake
  • P45 175 meters from Gnome Lake upriver (still the Boiling Sand)
  • P46 105 meters into Bath Lake
  • P47 200 meters from Bath lake across the CN tracks into Collins Lake

teepee poles on the side of a portage trail

We’re suckers for shoreline reflections.

morning on the Boiling Sand River

a public service announcement on a rock face near the boundary of the park

our second-last campsite

the bit of food we had left was up in the tree and down in the bay were the eight quarts of blueberries. We wanted to keep them cool- we just managed to get them wet!

sunset on the second last night

same sunset a few minutes later!

failed attempt at drying out 15 liters of blueberries- we would later dump them all into Bath Lake! It was a painful experience!

our handiwork on display- all for naught

Day Fifteen: Bath Lake To Collins

distance: 5 km. 

We got up a little early this day just to make sure we’d be at the Collins VIA stop on time. I  really should have found out how to indicate where we wanted to be picked up at the side of the tracks on the portage from Bath Lake. However, the VIA rep in Montreal that I spoke to did not have a clue and, unfortunately, I did not pursue the matter.  Here is the information I should have had – the mileage marker for Bath lake –

Wabakimi VIA Mileage Markers for Canoe Insertion/Extraction[      See here for the source of the above information and more background.]

What I needed was the mileage marker for Bath lake – i.e. 19.3 – when I bought the tickets. Not having the mileage marker and not wanting to risk standing on the side of the tracks and having the train blow past as we flagged it down, we paddled into Collins Lake and up to the small settlement on the north side of the lake.

the rail line runs past Bath Lake from Collins- we would portage over it the next morning. We should have just arranged to meet the train at the portage point instead of paddling to Collins!

Collins [a community without official Band Status but with the name Namaygoosisagagun First Nation]  is a railside Anishinaabe community of perhaps forty people that would have shifted from being a summertime settlement to a permanent one after the railway line came through in the 1880s.   [See here for the Collins community’s web page. It does include the statement that “Namaygoosisagagun has been in existence since time immemorial “.]  Band Status would presumably give the community leaders access to government funds and powers that their current non-status does not.

Collins, Ontario – satellite view

The community is made of up families who are registered to one of the following Treaties – Treaty #3, the Robison-Superior Treaty, and Treaty #9.  Those families living on the north shore of Collins Lake itself at that time would have been included in the Robinson-Superior Treaty of 1850 since Collins Lake is a part of the Superior drainage basin. Its outlet at the south end of the lake – the Collins River – drains into the Kopka River system which ends up in Lake Nipigon.  Any Indigenous families living a few kilometers northeast on the Boiling Sand River or Smoothrock Lake would have been registered to Treaty No. 9 (signed in 1905) since they were in the James Bay drainage basin.

On the beach where we landed, were three unoccupied tourist/visitors’ cabins. A local came down the road on his ATV while we were carrying our gear from the beach up towards the VIA waiting room – perhaps the most dilapidated building in the entire community, it looked like local youth had taken it over and turned it into a clubhouse!  See the images below. It was also one of those closest to the tracks and most likely to be seen by those VIA passengers staring out of their windows.

the Collins signpost on the side of the tracks  – the waiting room behind

the waiting room at the Collins unofficial I.R. VIA rail stop

We waited for the eastbound VIA train for an hour or so and, once we got the canoe and the gear into the baggage car, hopped on board and headed for the dining car and our first non-oatmeal breakfast in two weeks!  A day later – just a couple of hours late – we would be rolling down the Don Valley and into Toronto’s Union Station.

the eastbound VIA- just a little bit late!

the breakfast table in the VIA dining car – plush!

Check out the other two parts of our account of our 2011 Wabakimi Paddle. There is one post that focuses on the fires we paddled into- and another post that looks at (mostly) the Beckwith Cabins on Best Island and the Ogoki Lodge just to the south of Grage Island on Whitewater Lake.

Smoke Over Wabakimi – Canoe Tripping In A Season of Fires

Wabakimi’s Ogoki Lodge and the Beckwith Cabins: “All Things Must Pass”

If you have any questions about the logistics of the trip, suggestions on how to make the post more useful or corrections we need to make, or general comments on what you’ve read,  please drop me a line at true_north @mac.com

 

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Wabakimi Canoe Trip: Days 9 and 10 – McKinley Bay to Smoothrock Lake

Previous Post: Days 7 and 8 – From The Grayson River To Best island Via Ogoki Lodge and the Beckwith Cabins

Day Nine: Best Island To Lonebreast Bay of Smoothrock lake – Bussey I. 

distance: 22 km. 

paddling south on McKinley Bay at 6:00 a.m., intent on leaving Thunder Bay 57 behind

We got up at 5:00 the next morning and were into McKinley Bay by 6 a.m., intent on paddling away from the new fire and way down into Lonebreast Bay to the south by 11:00.

Portages from Whitewater lake To McKinley Lake

After knocking off the first three portages of the way –  we finally made a one-hour breakfast stop on a flat elevated rock in the middle of the lake after P38. None are difficult although we always have fun trying to find P36! The bay is quite reedy so it can be a challenge to find the trailhead if you are the first party through in a while.

Below is our breakfast rock! We had left Best Island without bkft. thanks to those sandflies!

a late breakfast in the middle of  the nameless lake between McKinley and Laurent Lakes

We continued south after breakfast to the next portage.  Just as we got to the end of P 39, it started to rain – not the torrential downpour we had seen on Grayson Lake but still a nice long soak which was sure to cool down the bush around us. We had arrived at 11:15; we didn’t leave until 1:00 p.m.!

me getting instant feedback on a shot I’ve taken while sitting under the tarp at the end of the portage – this was the first canoe trip where we were happy every time it started raining!

We spent over an hour sitting under that tarp, sipping on coffee, taking too pix and celebrating the downpour. It washed away the tension of the previous day and a half and, except for a whiff that we got the next night at our Smoothrock Lake camp, that would be it for smoke and fire.

This is what I was looking at in the above shot! I wasn’t sure if the raindrops would be sharp enough.

With the portage from Laurent Lake into Lonebreast Bay, that would be it for portages and rapids for a couple of days. Other than the initial difficulty of finding the portage trail at the south end of McKinley Bay, the six carries from McKinley Bay to Lonebreast Bay are quick and easy.

We paddled down Lonebreast Bay for an hour and pulled ashore on Bussey Island.  There is an established campsite there – tucked away and nicely sheltered. Also on site was a plaque left by friends of a deceased paddler who had spent time on the island. One note about the campsite – not everyone found it as we did. Here is a Canadian Canoe Routes forum member’s account of what he found –

Bussey Island when I went to scout it was a trash heap.. The water full of dead fish skins.. The island trashed with tp and propane ( 10 lb ) bottles. I went on. There is another campsite on the south shore about 2 km west of Bussey. Best for soloist. mccr source

There is a fishing lodge down the main part of Smoothrock Lake which may explain the mess found.  Lodge guests and their guide may use the island for fish fry lunches.

our campsite on Bussey Island in Lonebreast Bay Smoothrock Lake Wabakimi

Day Ten: Lonebreast Bay To Smoothrock Lake Central

distance: 11 km. 

the breakfast table on the beach- notice the coffee filters for the real coffee we brought along for the first time. From now on, no more instant coffee!

After a leisurely two-cups-of-coffee start to the day, we headed south on Lonebreast Bay. Our objective for the day was to hit Smoothrock Lake Central and then find a campsite that would put us in a good position for the next day’s paddle down the west arm of the Lake.

Smoothrock Lake – Bays and Arms

a stretch of beautiful shoreline on Lonebreast Bay as we paddle south

We found our spot on a small island at the hub of Smoothrock Lake, an elevated spot with a flat top, some trees to provide shade and a windscreen and a nice breeze on the rock sloping down to the water.  We set up our tent and hung our sleeping bags on a line we set up to take advantage of the sun and wind.

All in all, it was an easy day after the 5 a.m. get-up the day before on Best Island’s South Beach.

a terrific campsite on a small island at the top of Smoothrock Lake

the same spot- a different angle!

Next Post: Days 11 to 15 – Killing Time on Smoothrock Lake’s West Arm and The Boiling Sand River

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Wabakimi Canoe Trip: Days 7 and 8 – The Grayson River and Whitewater Lake

Previous Post: Days 5 and 6 – Down The Ogoki, The Palisade, and the Grayson Rivers

Day Seven: Grayson River To Whitewater 

distance: 9 km. !

The next morning we got up later than usual and had a leisurely breakfast while all of our wet gear was spread out in the sun.  We were feeling better now that we had turned the corner on Thunder Bay 50 and with every stroke south and east, we would be getting further away! We were also entering water we had just paddled the summer before.

The goal for the day was a modest one – a campsite on one of the small islands just to the west of Porter Island.  A short carry over P34 and we were at the mouth of the Grayson River.  Once on Whitewater Lake, a look back north confirmed that the fire was still smoldering but we were heading in the right direction.

paddling into Whitewater Lake with the smoke of Fire Thunder Bay 50 about 10 km to the NW

We found a nice tucked-away-from-the-wind campsite on the east side of a small island on the west side of Porter Island.  We had moved nine kilometers – but we were fine with it!

a sheltered campsite on a small island on the west side of Porter Island

The sunset that evening was impacted by the ash particles in the air.

setting sun obscured by smoke from Thunder Bay 50

the end of day on our sheltered island campsite- time to look for Group of Seven photo ops!

dusk and we walk by a quiet little bay on our circuit of the island

Day Eight: Whitewater west end to Best Island (South Beach)

distance: 22 km. 

Wth breakfast done,  we paddled down the west side of Porter Island and over to the channel on the west side of Grange Island that leads right to the Ogoki Lodge.  We had visited the property the year before but dropped in for another look. You can read the entire story about the Lodge and how it came to be in this related post –

The Ogoki Lodge And The Beckwith Cabins: “All Things Must Pass”

the main Ogoki Lodge building and the dock

Then it was down into Secret Lake and back east into Whitewater Lake again.  There is one easy portage to get you into Secret Lake. Then it is a turn to the east and back to Whitewater Lake, dealing with some shallow water and probable canoe hauling in spots if the water is low. (It was both times we’ve gone through here.)

water is in short supply as we do that last stretch leading from Secret Lake back into Whitewater Lake

Once back into Whitewater Lake from the Secret Lake short-cut, it was time to head down to the Beckwith Cabins on Best island.  The year before we had somehow missed them on our way down the west shore of the island since we weren’t exactly sure where they were. We were better prepared this time.

the south end of Whitewater Lake in  Wabakimi P.P.

We would spend some time on the island checking out the various structures that an American recluse built in the 1970s and 80s.  We ended up putting together an entire post on our visit to the Cabins, as well as to the Ogoki Lodge Complex. Click on the title for more pix and info on two interesting Wabakimi stories:

The Ogoki Lodge And The Beckwith Cabins: “All Things Must Pass”

looking into one of the Wendell Beckwith cabins during our visit to Best Island…see the section titled Ogoki Lodge and the Beckwith Cabins for more photos.

A trail leads from this sandy beach to the Beckwith cabins. Apparently, Beckwith himself died on this beach in 1980.

Near the beach is a fairly large flat area where groups of paddlers have tented. We decided to camp at the south end of the island instead.

While there is a campsite on the beach near the cabins, we decided to push on. We had something new to factor in – something troubling that we had noticed in the bush about five kilometers west of  Best Island. It was another fire! More smoke!  (We would later learn that it was given the name Thunder Bay 57.)

a new fire to worry about- Thunder Bay 57 just to the west of  Best Island and the Cree cottages

Thunder Bay 57 to the west of the Ojibwa cottages

the cottages in the southwest corner of Whitewater Lake – property of Whitesand First Nation?

We headed to the south end of Best Island, across from the Mattice Lake Outfitter Lodge where we found a tent spot. Nearby is also a collection of a half-dozen cottages probably belonging to the Whitesand First Nation at Armstrong Station. We figured that it would be a safe place to be even in a fire situation given the amount of property nearby that would surely be protected!

The Caribbean-like sand beach goes on for a couple of kilometers on the south end of Best island. (Good luck with the sandflies if you decide to tent there!)  BTW it is a bit hazy because of a second fire – Thunder Bay 57 –  just west of our campsite.

Whitewater Lake Wabakimi – south end properties

MLO fishing/hunting lodge and cabins on Whitewater Lake

The sand flies, however, would make the half-day we spent here our #1 worst campsite in thirty years. It took over this ranking from the previous #1, our tent spot at the start of the portage trail going from the Missinaibi River to Brunswick Lake.  We wore our rain gear to protect most of our bodies; my cheeks were numb for the next day thanks to all the bites!

The air was thick with smoke and ash from the fire was falling onto our tent.  Seeing a helicopter land at the outfitters’  lodge across the water, we went over and chatted with the crew foreman about the situation.  They were there to set up the hoses to create a water sprinkler perimeter and get the water pump motors running.  He said we should have no problem paddling south into Lonebreast Bay the next morning.

Next Post: Days 9 and 10 – From Whitewater To Smoothrock Lake Via McKinley Bay

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Wabakimi Canoe Trip- From Flindt Landing To Collins: Days 5 & 6 – The Ogoki, Palisade, and Grayson Rivers

Previous Post: Days 3 and 4 – Down The Flindt and Across Wabakimi Lake

Day Five: River Bay To Mouth of the Palisade River 

distance: 24 km. 

We left our River Bay CS after breakfast knowing that we’d be paddling right into some rapids and portages as Wabakimi Lake tumbles down into Kenoji Lake.

The drop from River Bay to Kenoji Lake happens in three stages, three sets of rapids over a 4.5 km. distance.  The three steps take you down – according to

  • our Garmin Topo Canada map set, 8 meters from Wabakimi lake’s 357m to Kenoji’s 349m.
  • The archived NRC topos have a more dramatic figure, a 12-meter drop going from 360+/- to 348+/-.

Having gone through this section of the river twice, we do not recall anything that significant!  Here is a look at the tracking data from this morning – and my attempt at reconstructing what we did. Without notes or images, it is sometimes even difficult to picture the various campsites, let alone particular sets of rapids after you’ve done 43 of them!  We were not taking notes on this trip and the photos are not always on point!

See here for the Topo Canada View.

break time on Kenoji Lake – a Clif Bar and some Gatorade while sitting on the south side of the lake after the last set of rapids.

The portages done, we sat on the rocks on the south side of Kenoji for a wee break. We still did not smell any smoke. We decided that instead of redoing the Ogoki River section from Kenoji down to Whitewater Lake, we would stick with a least the main part of our route plan – that is, paddling up the Palisade River to the Slim Lake turn-off.  Then we would go east to Grayson Lake before coming back down to Whitewater via the Grayson River.

As we paddled into the Palisade River, we met our first paddlers in five days at the campsite where they had spent the night.  The day before they had come down the Palisade and said the smoke would quite noticeable if we paddled ten or twelve kilometers further up.  They were now heading south for Lower Wabakimi and Smoothrock Lake.

lunchtime – peanut butter on Wasa bread to go along with the Thai noodle soup and a cup of tea – on the Palisade at the spot  where we would later camp for the night

Within twenty minutes they pushed off for the portages into Wabakimi Lake and we had ourselves a campsite!  We had lunch – the classic peanut butter on Wasa bread with a cup full of Thai noodle soup – while we discussed our options, thanks to the new information we had received.

paddling alongside the wall-like edge of the Palisade River up towards the source of the smoke near Burntrock Lake…definitely worth the effort to see them

After lunch, we decided not to put up the tent just yet and decided to paddle a bit further up the Palisade to get a better handle on the situation.  We also wanted to see what some trip reports described as the gorge-like section of the Palisade up near the turn-off to Slim Lake. Note: Two years later we found out that there is a pictograph site on that bit of rock behind my brother in the image below!

paddling past the stretch of vertical rock  on one side of the Palisade River

definitely smoke in the air near the turn-off from the Palisade River to Slim Lake

smoke is visible at this point on the Palisade- the next morning we would return to this point and turn east (right) into the channel in the middle of the picture

We paddled back down the Palisade towards its mouth and camped that night at the spot vacated by the two paddlers from Toronto we had spoken to earlier. We were definitely in the presence of a bit of history!

Crown Land marker from 1925 at our campsite on the Palisade River

But it was the smoke from Thunder Bay 50 that was most on our minds.  What to do?

early evening smoke while we got supper ready

8:45 p.m. and the smoke seemed to be gone- or helped make dramatic clouds

We had to pick one of these two choices:

  • follow the ranger’s first suggestion and continue down the Ogoki River into Whitewater; we had done that stretch of the river the year before.
  • paddle back up the Palisade River to the Slim Lake turn-off and the route across to Grayson Lake. We would obviously scrap the side trip to Burntrock Lake.

Day Six: The Epic Day – Palisade River to Grayson River near Whitewater Lake

distance: 33 km. 

We were on the water early, figuring to put some distance between us and the smoke in the early morning before things warmed up. By 8:15 we had paddled up the Palisade and turned right into the narrow channel that took us into Slim Lake. So far, so good!  As we left Slim Lake for Scag lake, we dealt easily with the following –

a portage into Scag Lake

Once on Scag Lake, the headwaters of the Grayson River system, we headed over for the lake outlet – aka the start of the Grayson River.  We found a very shallow and almost-not-there river!  We did the carry on river left. the first of the portages – if that is what it was! –  was not even visible. The second one felt more like a trail that someone had once used!

the top of the Grayson River…all it needed was some water!

From Scag Lake To Arril Lake – Grayson River headwaters

As we walked our gear on the top portage we looked over into the bush to the west and saw some smoke.  A very small fire had broken out on the banks of the Grayson, perhaps sparks from Thunder Bay 50. The image below is what we saw.

a small smouldering fire on the west side of the Grayson River as we passed by

We spent an hour and a half dealing with P28 and P29 and stopped for lunch on a point of the south side of the river within ten minutes of having finished them. It was about 3:00 when we pulled into a campsite on the river just before it widens out into Arril Lake.

We had just put up our tent on river right just before the river widens out into Arril Lake. Returning to the shore for the rest of our gear, we saw what you see in the images below.  Yikes!

smoke to the west of Kenoji- afternoon winds whipping up Thunder Bay 50

The first view of big smoke!

As we watched in amazement at the size and ferocity of the smoky spectacle in front of us, we were thinking only one thing – get out of there quick!   This meant crossing Arril Lake and getting into Grayson Lake to the east.  We figured we’d paddle until we got to Whitewater Lake and had put fifteen kilometers between us and the fire.  It was now 3:25 p.m. Here is what motivated us for the next while-

looking back at the fire and smoke from the NE end of Arril Lake

Once we got to the east end of Arril lake we sat on the sand beach for a while and looked west.  The fire was definitely being helped by a strong wind from the northwest as the movement of the smoke shows.

looking back west into the heart of the fire and the visible flames

the scene at the NE end of Arril Lake at 4:00 p.m.

the awe-full beauty of the fire- it was amazing to be there and watch

After maybe forty-five minutes of sitting on the beach and taking in the incredible scene, we left Arril Lake and headed towards the much bigger Grayson Lake.  There is a portage that takes you from one lake to the other at the far east end of Arril.

Arril Lake To Grayson Lake Portage – P30

The winds were still quite strong and were whipping up the fire but it was great to put some distance from it.

looking north towards Arril Lake

An hour and a half later and we were entering the main channel of Lake Grayson. Now, all we had to do was head down the southern channel and we’d feel a lot better. As we started our way down, we watched a helicopter land on the east shore. We pulled in and sat onshore and took in the happenings.

Grayson lake – Rendezvous Point!

looking across Wabakimi's Grayson lake as a helicopter lands

looking across Wabakimi’s Grayson lake as a helicopter lands

 

helicopter monitoring the fire and putting on perimeter water spraying for a nearby outpost

When the helicopter took off leaving one man still onshore – and waving his arm at us to come over to his side – we hopped back into the canoe and paddled across.  It turned out that he was a Parks Canada official from Saskatchewan who had been assigned to work on this fire because of its size.  He had come in with the helicopter crew who had come to set up a water perimeter system around the outpost property to protect it from the fire.

He also filled us in on what the Parks people thought about the fire. Naïve that we were, it was a bit of a shock to hear that they were just going to let the fire burn itself out.  He told us that this corner of the park actually needed a good fire to get rid of all the deadwood that had been accumulating for years.  And there we had been, looking into the sky for the water bombers!

While all this was going on, we were also treated to a perfectly timed weather event. For the next 35 minutes, there was one hell of a solid downpour that dumped a massive amount of water on the neighbourhood.  Okay, so there would be no water bombers but it was still such a relief to see that water come down and drenching the boreal forest that was being eaten up by Thunder Bay 50. We were soaked but relieved!

We gave the Parks Canada guy our personal info and were reassured to hear that we were headed in the right (i.e. south) direction. The sky was now filled with the smoke of the doused fires.

Lake Grayson after the 30-minute downpour put a damper on the fire!

It was like a fog had settled down on the area but it did make for some dramatic photos.

Down we went to the south end of Grayson Lake and a few portages to put even more water and distance between us and TB50!

The epic day was almost done.  We had started at about 6:45 from the bottom of the Palisade River and now we were leaving Grayson Lake for the last 7-km. stretch of the Grayson River before you hit Whitewater Lake.

Last Grayson River Portages before Whitewater Lake

We hit the portage trail and walked through this: it felt like we were in a scene from the Lord of the Rings movies – there was something eerie about being there.  It was also getting late and we had been on the move for almost fourteen hours.

smoke hung in the air as we walked this portage trail

There had probably been a lightning strike within the past couple of hours.

signs of a recently doused fire were all around us

One more impossible-to-find portage trail – that would be P32 on the map above! In the end, we just bushwhacked our way to the other side. Thankfully, it was not very far – and then we headed for the tent site indicated on the Wabakimi Project map.

We were so beat that we didn’t even bother with supper that night.

Max paddling into a bay where I think there is a portage trail- I may have been wrong! We bushwhacked.

Next Post: Days 7 and 8 – Down Whitewater Lake to The Ogoki Lodge, the Beckwith Cabins, and Best Island’s South Beach

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Wabakimi Canoe Trip- From Flindt Landing: Days 3 and 4 – The Flindt and Ogoki Rivers

Previous Post: Days 1 and 2 – From Flindt Landing Down the Flindt River

Day Three: Flindt River to Wabakimi Lake

distance: 20 km. 

This day was one of those when we decided to put in some kilometers on the water before having breakfast.  We set off at 8:00, dealing immediately with the two sets of rapids just below the campsite.  We ended up lining the canoe through both; the water was not quite high enough to be able to run.  We stopped about 45 minutes later on a small island and took out the breakfast bag and spent an hour enjoying our coffee in the morning sun.

On the map below, our campsite is in the center of the page; the red pins show that there were a few sets of rapids to deal with before we got to Tew Lake and Wabakimi Lake.

 

After our island breakfast stop, we headed on to the next series – P13,P14, and P15. We ran and lined P13, lined P14 on the left side of the island, and then lined/ran P15. In all, we spent about an hour dealing with all three.  There was more to come!

It would take us an hour and a quarter to deal with the next three sets of rapids.  We portaged P16 – no fuss there!  Then we lined & ran through P17 on river right.  After taking a quick look, we also floated past P18.  We were now in Tew Lake, a part of the Ogoki River System. Bye, bye, Flindt!. About a half-hour later we pulled ashore on river right. It was almost 2:00 and definitely time for lunch!

Max reading the ripples while the canoe sits in a cove behind him

Lunch over, we headed for the east end of Tew Lake.  Our maps showed one last bit of work for the day.  The three red pins on the overview map below set the stage!

Day 3 P19 to D3 CS – West end of Wabakimi Lake

 

One thing that happens as you spend more time on the river is that all the basic routines become more and more efficient and everybody knows exactly what it is that they should be doing. Our portage routine was coming along nicely, thanks to the Flindt.  We would knock off the next three carries – the first two were admittedly fairly short – in a bit more than an hour.

Flindt – P20, 21, 22 Satellite View

We were now in Wabakimi Lake, the lake at the center of Wabakimi Provincial Park. (See the map for Day 4 below.) It is 16 kilometers long from west to east but the west half is fairly narrow; it does widen out on the eastern half. We found a decent campsite on a point on the south shore not too far from where we had come into the lake. Up went the tent and the tarp; Day 3 was in the books!

our canoe with Wabakimi Lake and the northern shore in the background

our Day Three campsite on the south side of Wabakimi Lake – see map above for exact location!

dusk view of a small bay from our campsite

Day Four: WabakimiLake (W end) To Ogoki River Bay

distance: 23 km. 

Lake Wabakimi on a windy day can be a bit of struggle – and that is what we had a bit of on this day.  We started off at 8:00, hoping to benefit from the calmer conditions one finds earlier in the morning. Easy paddling east down the narrow section of the lake with a light SE wind that picked up as the day progressed.

By 9:00 we were on the north side of the lake and heading for the string of islands off the northern shore, making use of them as windscreens as we made our way east. 11:15 found us at the east end of those islands and heading into some choppy water towards River Bay and the outpost.

break time on the north shore of Wabakimi lake as we paddled through the maze of islands, using them as windscreens!

Max getting a handle on the best route through the tangle of islands on the north side of Wabakimi Lake as we deal with the impact of strong winds

a very scenic stretch of Wabakimi Lake on the north shore

We did paddle up to the outpost to get the shot you see below; there was nobody home.  We had hoped to get some news on the wildfire situation that had started about ten days before. After some deliberation and the advice of the park superintendent and other paddlers, we had decided to go ahead with the trip.  So far we had not smelled any smoke or even thought of the fire that much. That would be changing in the next day!

a fishing lodge at the east end of Wabakimi Lake just as you enter Ogoki River Bay- nobody home!

Shortly after we paddled back out into the bay, we spotted a Wabakimi Parks bush plane. It landed in front of us and we paddled over.  The ranger was checking fishing permits!  He asked us for our camping permit.  As luck would have it, it was tucked deep inside our one super-waterproof bag – the one with our sleeping bags and other need-to-keep-100%-dry stuff.  Digging it out of the bag while bobbing on the choppy water of River Bay was not going to happen. So – I gave the guy our names and addresses and told him to check with the park super since I had gotten and paid for the permits from him over the telephone.

We also asked him about the fire situation.  He said the fire, labelled Thunder Bay 50,  was currently  around the Burntrock Lake area, about 20 kilometers from River Bay.)

He made two route suggestions:

  1. paddle down the Ogoki River into Whitewater lake
  2. paddle/portage back to Wabakimi Lake and go into Lower Wabakimi Lake

As our map for Day 4 shows, we kept on going to the east end of River Bay before stopping for the day and putting up our MEC Wanderer 4 tent.  Still not decided was what to do the next day.  The original plan had been to paddle into Burntrock Lake and spend a couple of nights there before turning back to Slim Lake and Grayson Lake.  The developing fire had obviously changed things!

our humble campsite on the south side of River Bay- see the map above for exact location

We were struck by the amount of deadwood and blowdown behind our tent site on the south side of River Bay.  It had not yet occurred to us that the parks people might be happy with a burn in the area!

the bush behind our tent – lots of deadwood ripe for burning

It is almost 9 p.m. as we gaze westward towards the soon-to-be setting sun.

Next Post: Days 5 and 6 – Up The Palisade River and Down The Grayson

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Wabakimi Canoe Trip- From Flindt Landing To Collins Via The Flindt,: Days 1 & 2 – Flindt River

Previous Post:  Wabakimi Canoe Trip – From Flindt landing To Collins – Intro, Logistics, Maps

Day One: Flindt Landing To Flet Lake

distance: 25 km. 

We started a bit late on our first day out, still tired from that 27-hour train ride! Nice sunny weather and no wind made for a nice introduction.  Within three hours we were 16.5 km. down Heathcote Lake, one of the main wider sections of the Flindt River system. It stretches a kilometer or so to the south of the CN rail tracks and is the river’s headwaters. The Flindt eventually merges with the Ogoki River at Tew Lake, just before Wabakimi Lake.)

We would stop for a leisurely lunch on the far side of P01. Including the short carry, we spent an hour and a half here, enjoying the shade and very fact that we were finally in trip mode.

Flindt P01, P02, P03

We portage when we have to, run or line & run when we can, always making sure to check things out beforehand.  Sometimes the carry is actually more efficient than an attempt at lining the canoe down a difficult stretch of river.

P02 was one of those we lined and ran without difficulty.  P03 was a quick carry and we were back to cruising speed.

our canoe waits while we scout some rapids on the first day out.

my brother Max double-bagging it on the portage trail

Flindt – P04, 05, and Day 1 CS

P04 was a portage that took us about a half-hour; we lined and ran through P05 in about ten minutes.  Then it was time to look for a campsite, given that it was already 6:20. (We had moved the hour hand back by one when we entered the Central Time zone somewhere near Collins on the train in.)  We found our spot in the small bay on the west side of Flet Lake indicated above; we were done for the day.

Late-ish start and late-ish finish to Day 1 but it felt great to be back in Wabakimi!

rockin’ reflections in the mid-afternoon

the east side of Flet Lake at 8:00 p.m. from our campsite

Day Two: Flet Lake To NE Corner of Big Island on the Flindt River

distance: 26 km. 

we got to share our portage trail with this local.

P06 RR 110m – a 35-minute hauling job

We did a bit of this during the trip- here is Step one! The new L.L. Beans boots passed the test as we lined our canoe.

It is great when there is somewhere to walk on the side of the river!

Almost through – although I need to pay more attention to my rope!

This morning we lined through P07 in ten minutes and did the same with the next set of rapids. When we came to the rapids indicated by P09 we did a carry.  P1o we paddled right through.

 

a portage trail that had that Lord of the Rings look about it

We did waste some time this day! When we got to the south end of Big Island, we took the left-hand turn and paddled up for about forty minutes. Not having a complete map view of the island,  we thought we had paddled into a long narrow bay! Back we went to the bottom of what we only later realized was an island.  Back home in Toronto my wife just happened to be monitoring our progress at this time and having a WTF moment as she tried to figure out what was going on!

our Wanderer 4 tent in the background and our Woods Pack replacement, the Hooligan, in the foreground

We paddled down the right-hand side of Big Island to a decent campsite just above a set of rapids. It was 6 p.m.

our front yard at the end of Day Two on the Flindt River

Next Post: Days 3 and 4 – Down The Flindt and Ogoki Rivers Into Wabakimi Lake

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Wabakimi Canoe Trip- From Flindt Landing To Collins Via The Flindt, Ogoki, Palisade, Grayson, and Boiling Sand Rivers – Intro, Logistics, Maps

Related Posts: Smoke Over Wabakimi – Canoeing In A Season Of Fires

The Ogoki Lodge And The Beckwith Cabins: “All Thing Must Pass”

If you really want to get away from the crowds, then Wabakimi Provincial Park in NW Ontario is an obvious choice.  For every hundred paddlers churning up the waters of Algonquin or Killarney or Quetico, there are maybe one or two in Wabakimi. But for us, there is a price to pay- and that is the time needed to get there.  I should add that we live in southern Ontario (London and Toronto)  so Armstrong Station is a long way; if you live in Wisconsin or Minnesota or Thunder Bay the park is almost on your doorstep!

Take a look at the Google map below to see where Wabakimi Provincial Park is in the bigger picture.

Our 2010 visit to Wabakimi Provincial Park very definitely gave us every reason to go back for more and that is what we did the next year.  (Check out our trip report “Discovering Wabakimi: Paddling to the Center of the Universe for more info.)

Our Wabakimi Itinerary:

Flindt Landing – Flindt river – Wabakimi Lake – Kenoji Lake – Palisade River – Grayson Lake – Whitewater Lake – Smoothwater Lake – Boiling Sand River – Collins

  • July 23 – we left Toronto Union Station at about 10 p.m. (Note: In 2019 the schedule was changed: the train now leaves at 9:30 a.m. twice a week. Due to the COVID epidemic, it is not running during the 2020 season.)
  • July 24 – spent all day on the Via Canadian train and got to Flindt Landing around midnight

heading for the portage trail at dusk on the Grayson River

  • Day 1 – 25 km – from Flint Landing cabin to campsite on a bay off Flet  Lake
  • Day 2 – 26 km – from Flet Lake to campsite on Flindt River by portage on NE end of Big Island
  • Day 3 – 20 km – from lower Flindt River camp to Wabakimi Lake west end
  • Day 4 – 23 km – to River Bay South shore after an encounter with a park ranger
  • Day 5 – 24 km – to the start of Palisade R. after paddle up to turn-off to Slim Lake and back (9 km)
  • Day 6 – 33 km – to a campsite on Grayson River before Whitewater Lake
  • Day 7 – 9 km – small island at top of Whitewater just to the west of Porter island
  • Day 8 – 22 km – to a sand fly-infested beach on the south end of Best Island on Whitewater Lake –
  • Day 9 – 22 km – halfway down Lonebreast Bay to Bussey Island campsite (one with memorial)
  • Day 10 – 11 km – to island at the north end of Smooth Rock Lake
  • Day 11 – 25 km – to campsite down near the south end of the west arm of Smoothrock Lake
  • Day 12 – 19 km – to Boiling Sand River campsite across from Mattice Outfitters Lodge
  • Day 13 – 8 km – to Boiling Sand River  after Gnome Lake
  • Day 14 – 3 km – to Bath lake just before the portage over the railway tracks
  • Day 15 – 5 km to Collins and board the east-bound VIA Canadian train  8:50 a.m. CT
  • Aug 09 – the Via train pulled in to Toronto’s Union Station at about 10:00 a.m.

Maps And Related Resources:

Federal Government 1:50,000 Topographic Maps

Natural Resources Canada

The Federal Government 1:50000 topos will provide you with greater detail and more context of the route to go along with the Wabakimi Project maps.  You can find the topos you need at the Federal Government’s Natural Resources Canada website and print them out yourself.  Clicking here will take you to the 052  folder where you will find all of the following 1:50,000 topos in either the J or the I sub-folders.  Each map folder contains three choices; I download the prt.tif file. Do note that a few of these maps are in black and white.

The maps below are the ones you’ll need –

  1. Seseganaga Lake 052 J 01
  2. Wilkie Lake  052 J 08
  3. Neverfreeze Lake 052 J 09
  4. Wabakimi Lake 052 I 12
  5. Burntrock Lake 052 I 13
  6. Grayson Lake 052 I 14
  7. Goldsborough Lake 052 I 11
  8. Onamakawash Lake 052 I 05
  9. Armstrong 052 I 06

Toporama Canada:

The Natural Resources Canada mapping division has moved on from the above-archived maps, which have not been updated since at least the 1990s. Many go back to the 1970s.  The source of the most up-to-date maps from NRC is the Toporama site. Click here to access. It provides a seamless view of the entire Canadian landmass; you can print off what you need.  Not only are the maps more up-to-date, but they also are all in colour!

Google Earth – Satellite View:

The Google Earth satellite view provides revealing views of the route and it is worth spending a bit of time getting the satellite perspective.  A web version can now be accessed within the Chrome browser.  Click here for the KML file (163 kb) of the every-ten-minutes-while-it-was-on tracks recorded by our Spot Connect during our two-week trip. Import the file into Chrome’s web-based Google Earth app as a New Project and you should see all 730 tracks. All that is missing is the first three hours’ worth – we were still learning how to use the device!

Ontario MNR map website

As well, the Ontario Government’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests has its own online map service (see here) which often provides more up-to-date and detailed maps than the Federal Government’s maps listed above.  It is worth looking at them too – and even printing out certain sections. If you go into Map Layers you can access their satellite imagery, which is often better than the one in Google Earth.

None of the above provides detailed information about rapids, portages, and campsites. For that, you will need to sources like the Friends of Wabakimi.

Wabakimi Project Maps:

volume-three_v1To get a handle on possible routes, campsites, and portages we purchased Volume 3 of the Friends of Wabakimi (formerly Wabakimi Project)  Canoe Route Maps series.

We already had Volume 1 from the previous summer’s Wabakimi trip and had found those maps quite useful.  The $40. for the Wabakimi Project maps is an investment – and not a splurge!  It will get you the campsite and portage information you need;  it will also help this volunteer organization to pay for the cost of flying in people who give a week or two of their time in the summer to clear and mark the portages, create the campsites, and do the mapping work that makes the route maps possible.

Garmin Etrex:

Finally, we had a Garmin GPS unit (an Etrex) along for the ride as back-up and occasional solution to those head-scratching “where-the-heck-are-we?” moments!  We also used it to record our daily track and features like potential campsites and outposts and rapids.

The Spot Connect:

If you want to see the SPOT Connect waypoints of our trip click here to download the 266k file.   You’ can import the file into Google Chrome’s web version of Google Earth and see the GPS trail that the SPOT recorded.

iPhone and SPOT Connect

The first few kilometers from Flindt Landing down through Heathcote Lake are missing.  We were still learning how to use the thing!  I am really glad we brought it along.  It provided the folks at home real-time info on our location and the email messaging option came in handy for sending brief okay or more personalized notes back home at the end of each day (45 characters max).  It does this by pairing up with your smartphone (I use my iPod Touch).

The Spot also provides excellent post-trip data, in particular the amount of time we spent in certain spots along the way. It records a track every ten minutes so if there is a one-kilometer distance between two successive tracks, you will know we were motoring. If you see progress in meters, it will mean some serious lining or portage is in progress!

Update: The Spot Connect was discontinued in 2017.  We ended up getting a Garmin inReach Explorer+ in 2018 because of its two-way communication feature. You can receive emails as well as daily weather updates on the inReach,  as well as do all the usual tracking and emergency contact stuff.

The Train Ride There:  A Day On The Rails!

Hornepayne, Ontario VIA stop

VIA runs Canada’s passenger train service on lines it rents its presence on from Canadian National Railways (CN for short).  The train is a great way to get to Wabakimi from southern Ontario if you are okay with the following:

  • the loss of flexibility with respect to the exact day when your trip ends
  • the good chance that the train will be quite late on arrival and return thanks to the fact that CN’s freight service takes precedence over VIA’s passenger service!

VIA’s The Canadian runs from Toronto to Vancouver two or three times a week. It is a 4 day 4500-km. epic train ride; the section to Wabakimi is about one-quarter of that. We left Toronto’s Union Station at 10:30 p.m. on a Saturday; we got to Flindt Landing around midnight a bit more than a day later! Given the very poor on-time performance of VIA trains since the mid-2010s, we can actually be thankful to have arrived almost on time!

the view from the outside of the train at Hornepayne

the dome car- a great place to take in the passing Canadian Shield scenery

Stuff being unloaded from the baggage car at Armstrong Station- about two hours east of our exit at Flindt Landing.

Catching The Train Back To Toronto:

At the other end of the trip, the logistics were also a bit different.  Instead of ending the trip at Little Caribou Road about 6 km from Armstrong, we paddled to Collins at the north end of Collins Lake on the last morning and were at the railway tracks which pass through the non-reserve status Ojibwa settlement of perhaps 200 people by 8:30 a.m. waiting for the train’s 9:30 arrival.

the VIA stop at Collins

the eastbound VIA- just a little bit late!

We had arranged for the eastbound VIA train to pick us up on a Monday (August 8).  (There are three eastbound trains passing through the Wabakimi area each week- Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.) [See the new schedule below!]  Everything worked out just the way it was supposed to!  Within thirty minutes of boarding, we were in the dining car having a breakfast other than oatmeal for the first time in over two weeks. We were on our way home- and a day later we would be!

Flindt Landing – VIA Stop and Lodge

We got off the train at Flindt Landing around midnight. The lodge owner was up but was not expecting us.   A confirmation call by me a day or two before would have been a good idea!  Someone cleared the cabin on the island quickly and we had our home for the night.

At $80. – or was that $100.? – it was a bit steep for the ten hours we’d be there.  However, the alternative – looking for a place to pitch our tent at midnight either near the lodge or on the other side of the lake – was worse, especially since we had no information on actual camp spots that we could use.

Note: With the revised VIA schedules you now arrive at Flindt Landing from the east in the morning (9:42) so the problem of accommodation is solved. You can paddle until you find a decent spot on Heathcote Lake. (See here for the new schedule.)

flindt-landingvia-railcn-tracks

a satellite view of Flindt landing and the Lodge on the north side of the tracks. The guest cabins are on the small island and are accessed by a wooden bridge.

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Canoeing The French River From Top To Bottom: Days 10 & 11 – From Georgian Bay To Hartley Bay Marina

Previous Post: Days 8 & 9 – Across The French River Delta From East To West

Day 10 – Up To Robinson’s Bay From the West Side of French River Prov. Park

  • distance: 20.6 km
  • time: 8:20 a.m. to 3:20 p.m.
  • portages/rapids/lining: 1/0/1: 
    • 75m – very fast water; lined on high ridge river right; tree dancing (passing the painter around obstructions and trying not to slip down the slope).  The 25ft line was ‘just’ enough
    • 75m – across island river right of Mill’s Falls
  • weather: a mix of cloud and sun all day
  • campsite: CS707 w/TB – on Robinson’s Bay (across from the only cottage on the bay!); 1 x 4 person plus room for 1 or 2 2-person tents; nice elevated veranda view to, yes, the cottage; aged bear scat visible on the trail to the box toilet
  • GPS tracks – 2019 French River (3.2Mb Dropbox file)
  • Day 10 – From Georgian Bay To Robinson’s Bay (CS 707)

It was Day 10 of our 11-day French River Descent and Delta Ramble and we were on our way back to Hartley Bay and our vehicle.  Another time and a few more days and we might have considered the following alternative:

Along The Georgian Bay Coast Or Along Collins Inlet To Chikanishing Creek

From our CS822 at the western end of French River Provincial Park, it is only a 5-kilometer paddle to Grondine Point. Another 5 km. and there you are at the east end of the collection of islands called The Chickens with a couple of possibilities –

  1. If Georgian Bay is calm, you can paddle along the south coast of Philip Edward Island all the way to South Point.  Campsites are plentiful and the “eye candy” scenery level is dialled up to 11.
  2. if the wind is an issue, you can paddle up Beaverstone Bay and then head west along the sheltered Collins Inlet on the north side of the island. You’ll be doing something the voyageurs themselves did in their canots du maitre laden with trade goods if the Bay water was too rough.  Campsites are more scarce and it is a quieter and not quite so scenic experience compared to the one on the south side of P.E.I.,  but it does have its own charms. There is also a pictograph site you can check out as you head west from Mill Lake.
  3. The take-out spot is at the Chikanishing Creek parking lot. It is a one-kilometer paddle up the creek from the bay. An arrangement would have to be made for your vehicle to be waiting for you there.

See the following post for more map and campsite info, as well as pix –

Kayaking the Georgian Bay Coast: Logistics and Days  1 and 2- Chikanishing Creek To Solomon Island to Grondine Point

The Georgian Bay Coast from the west end of FRPP to Chikanishing Creek

  1. [You can download the Natural Resources Canada topo map sheet 041 H 14 Collins Inlet here.]

For more info on the Philip Edward Island area, our two posts below will help you get your own trip started –

Paddling Around Philip Edward Island – Part One

Paddling Around Georgian Bay’s Philip Edward Island – Part Two


Up Batt Bay To Black Bay:

CS822 French River Provincial Park – room for many tents

Mulling over our return route via the Voyageur Channel to Hartley Bay the night before when I should have been sleeping, I factored in the high water level and the faster than usual current we had faced coming up the Lily Chutes channel.  I worried about what the Voyageur Channel would be like, given the narrowness of the sections where the rapids were.  We would find out soon enough!

CS 822 – looking south towards the open Georgian Bay

We set off for Black Bay, paddling up the west side of Batt Bay. Just north of 822, there is evidence of a recent small fire that has burned trees along a 100-meter strip of the coast.

recent fire damage on the west side of Batt Bay between CS 821 and 820

a Group of Seven moment as we paddle up Batt Bay to Black Bay

Group of Seven moment …same, same – but different

At the top of Batt Bay and the west end of the Voyageur Channel is a site identified by Toni Harting as a favourite stopping place of the fur trade brigades after their descent of the French River from Lake Nipissing.  They usually did the French River in one or two days and then met at this spot – called  La Prairie – before continuing on to Georgian Bay and the journey along the Lake Huron coast to Sault Ste. Marie and beyond.

La Prairie at the top of Batt Bay in the French River Delta

We’ve paddled by La Prairie a few times in the past without knowing anything about its significance.  This is but one example of how the information in Toni Harting’s essential book on the French adds an extra dimension to any French River canoe trip.

La Prairie – a voyageur fur brigade resting stop at the bottom of the French River

We spent fifteen minutes at the site, taking in the views and snapping a few photos. Max would eventually get to the patch of devil’s paintbrush you see in the panorama of the site below.

a view of La Prairie from the north

As we paddled up the tail end of the Voyageur Channel we passed by a building that may not have been there in 2017, at least not in its present form. We were somewhat surprised to see new construction going on in a provincial park but undoubtedly there is some loophole that makes it okay.  In this case, the smaller cottage to the right may have been there already, though it looks like it is also in the same stage of construction as the palace. It could be the boat house!

a new cottage at the top of Batt Bay in the French River delta

close up of new cottage on Batt Bay French River

A Morning of Mis-Takes!

On we went to Black Bay.  First, we were going to get some pix of the so-called Fort on the NE tip of the island we had paddled by the afternoon before (the green track). [See the previous post for details about the “Fort”.]  Well, astoundingly we missed it!

Max’s eTrex 20 has such a tiny screen that it does not always provide the context necessary. This can be a problem in the maze of channels and islands that is the Georgian Bay coast! He may not have been paying full attention either and was not exactly sure where The Fort was.  How else to explain the 90º turn to the south at the west end of Fort Island?  Yikes! And the guy in the bow watching the shoreline zip by? Also clueless! In retrospect, we should have “waypointed” the spot before we set off from 822!

Fort Island – Voyageur Channel French River

And that is how we missed getting some shots of the jumble of rocks named The Fort!  I kept scanning the terrain to my right thinking we’d pass it soon. In the meanwhile, when we passed it, it was on the left! See here for the only possible reaction!

The Voyageur Channel:

On maps, the Voyageur Channel looks tempting as a possible canoe route as it is shorter than the others. However, this channel is very hard to access at low water levels, especially using large canoes. It seems, therefore, somewhat out of place to call this the Voyageur Channel since it is unlikely that fur-trade freight canoes would have used this channel on a regular basis given the great difficluties that would have been encountered. [Toni Harting, 32]

Off to the questionable call of the morning!  We paddled up to the top of Black Bay and what we remembered as one easy lining job at the Washer Woman and one messy portage at the top of the Voyageur Channel.  We had gone up the channel in September of 2017; here is the topo that shows what we dealt with on that occasion –

Sept 2017 Going up the French River’s Voyageur Channel

What we found this year did not fit at all what we remembered!  Clearly, the higher water levels had created something very different.  A comment in Toni Harting’s book on the French River makes this point –

At high river water level the Washer Woman shows a considerable hydraulic step that can be difficult to negotiate when travelling upstream. If the Georgian Bay level is very high its water can go up into Heron Bay and fill the Voyageur Channel, making this channel navigatable even if the river water level is very low.[Harting, 32]

Unlike 2017, this June we were facing the first situation – high river water levels.  Forget the notion of tracking our canoe up – it would require a portage on channel left to get above the Washer Woman. After we paddled into the bay, Max waited while I looked around for a portage trail.  There were no markers to indicate one and I bushwhacked my way to the top of the rapids. That is where I met the party of three canoes just pulling into to the top of the portage. They noted that it would be a real challenge to get further up given the strong current.  My thoughts of the previous evening about the problems with high water levels coming down the narrow channel at the top seemed to be confirmed.

As I walked back to Max sitting in the log-jammed bay, the thought of doing the Washer Woman portage just to return after being unable to get to a take-out for the messy portage at the top of the Channel had me decide to just turn back and go up by another of the many channels in the Western Outlet. We’ll never know what it really would have been like…

Instead, we paddled back down Black Bay and rounded the corner and entered the west cross-channel that goes all the way to Devil’s Door Rapids.  We had done the short portage around Devil’s Door a couple of days before; we would not be going that far on this day.

As the map below shows, we passed by the south end of the Old Voyageur Channel and then headed up another channel- Toni Harting has its name as Mills Channel –  that connects with the Old Voyageur Channel at the north end.

When we got to the top of Shannon Bay, we entered the channel. It is quite narrow at first and when the paddling against the current became too much, we tracked the canoe about 75 meters.

Scampering on channel right on the top of the rock ridge that lines the channel, we had a few awkward moments thanks to our barely-long-enough-for-this-job 25′ (7.6 m) lining ropes and badly-placed tree growth on the rock face!  This was one of those occasions when 50′ (15 m) would have been nice!  In ten minutes we were at the top of the swifts and paddling north to the next challenge.

old Voyageur Channel and Mills Channel immediately  to the east

Down below is a more detailed satellite view of the area from Boston Falls down to the unnamed falls (let’s call it Mills Falls after the channel the water dumps into!) that we paddled by.

We entered a small bay to the north of Mills Falls and I took a walk up towards  Boston Falls. While there may be an actual portage trail, I did not see it.  We could have bushwhacked it but it would have been ugly.  Toni Harting’s comment in his book on the French explains why!  He writes- “Boston Falls narrow and difficult portage on the west shore.” We were on the east side of Boston Falls!

rapids/falls  coming into Mills Channel  from the left; Boston Falls up to the right

It turned out to be a good thing that we were!  A couple of minutes of looking around led us to a much shorter and easier carry to the top side of the Mills Falls.  The satellite image below shows roughly what we ended up doing.

Satellite view of Boston Falls and Unnamed Falls

Here is a view from the north side of Mills Falls looking south down Mills Channel.

looking down Mills Channel from above Mills rapids/falls

After a lunch break at the end of our 50-meter portage, we continued north.  Swifts at the top end of the Old Voyageur Channel meant a couple of two-minute sessions of vigorous paddling – and then it was an easy paddle up the Western Channel.  On some maps, this stretch is labelled Robinson Bay.

Cottages on Robinson’s Bay

It was a late- afternoon when we pulled into the bay where CS707 is located.  We found a nice spot amidst a stand of oak trees for our four-person tent.  Last fall’s leaves covered the ground and it looked like we were the first campers of the year to have stopped there.

our tent at CS707 in the middle of a stand of oak trees

Across Robinson’s Bay from the campsite is a cottage.  Had it been a Thursday we would not have expected the arrival of what looked like a father/son combo at about 7:30. Their weekend at the cottage was about to begin.  We had somehow picked the campsite on Robinson’s Bay closest to a cottage. The fact that it was a Friday made it that much more likely that the owers would be motoring in for a weekend stay.

It did not take too long for them to get that water generator going and the sound of the motor filled the neighbourhood. Thankfully they put the thing off some time after 9 p.m. and things quietened down again!

CS707 on Robinson’s Bay above the Old Voyageur Channel

Day 11 –  Undecided: East to the Pickerel To See the Fire Damage Or Head To Hartley Bay and our Vehicle?

  • distance: 19.5 km
  • time: 8:45 a.m. to 12:25 p.m.
  • portages/rapids/lining: 0/0/0: 
  • weather: cloudy; light rain; rain; cloudy
  • campsite: home, sweet home!
  • GPS tracks – 2019 French River (3.2Mb Dropbox file)

Day 11 route – back to Hartley Bay

Luckily the rain did not start until we had packed away the tent and put all of our essential gear into the dry bag.  We set up one of our 2.5m x 3.5m silnylon tarps so that it covered our breakfast table and our seating area.

watching the rainfall at CS 707

We still were undecided about what we would be paddling this day. We had two options –

  • head east to our favourite French River Park campsite at 633, put up the tent, and then go over to the Pickerel River to check out the fire damage
  • end the trip this day with an indirect route to our vehicle at Hartley Bay

The weather would help us decide!  The morning would prove to be wet with intermittent drizzle and coolish temperatures.  The weather forecast I accessed on my Garmin inReach called for more rain overnight.  Spending it in our tent on the scenic but exposed campsite on Pickerel Bay did not make much sense.

departure time from campsite 707 – Robinson’s Bay

We paddled up the top end of Robinson’s Bay, stopping to take a quick look at campsite 706 on Crombie Point. We agreed that had we known what it looked like we would have kept on paddling for a few more minutes the day before! See below for a shot looking towards the sheltered site.

a view of the campsite 706 at Crombie Bay Point on the French River’s Western Channel

As for paddling east to 633 – it was a “no”!  Instead, as we came up to the east end of Pig Island and the collection of cottages there, we decided to turn north towards Thompson Bay and the mouth of the Wanapitei River. As if to tempt us to reconsider our choice of route, the rain stopped right around then and we got to paddle up the Wanapitei on water that looks as calm as it does at the river mouth in the photo below!

paddling north up the mouth of the Wanapitei River

It turned out to a beautiful way to end a French river/Georgian Bay canoe trip. For the next eight kilometers we had the feeling we were paddling in a deciduous southern Ontario forest and not past the rock formations of the previous few days. As a bonus –  still no rain!

Thompson Bay to Hartley Bay – 12.5 km.

Along the way, we passed a couple of canoe parties, the second in two days but other than that the only ones we had seen since Lake Nipissing some eleven days before.  The almost-emptiness of French River Provincial Park before Canada Day and after Labour Day is one reason we keep coming back in mid-June or mid-September!

And then it was the home stretch, the 4.5 kilometers from Kentucky Club Island to Hartley Bay Marina.  Somehow we had knocked off 19 kilometres in a morning. We had left Campsite 707 at 8:30; it was now 12:30 and we were cruising towards the marina dock.

unloading the canoe at Hartley Bay Marina dock

Over the 45 minutes or so we got the following things done:

  • One of the Marina staffers drove our vehicle to the loading area from the parking lot at the marina where it had been sitting for the past 11 days. Valet parking – priceless!
  • We hauled all the gear and the canoe up from the dock to our vehicle and loaded everything in or on the car.
  • We went to the Marina office and paid the bill.  Included were the following: the shuttle from Hartley Bay to Sucker Creek Landing on Lake Nipissing’s West Bay ($140.); parking our vehicle at the marina for 11 days @ $10. a day= $110.  We had already paid the overnight camping fee on Day 1 when we first arrived at the reception desk.  We camped at FRPP sites on 10 of the 11 nights we were out.  Total bill for the two of us (both seniors) = $8.14 x 20 =  $162.80.   See below for the fee schedule …

  • we changed into the non-tripping clothes that we had left in the vehicle – nothing like slipping into clean stuff after a week and a half of living in the same clothes and haphazard washing up!

Once we got to Highway 69 and turned right for the 3 1/2 hour ride back to Toronto, we had one more stop to make.  the last time we had been up at French River we had gone to the Visitors’ Center, only to find it closed. [It was a Wednesday in mid-September.] We would have better luck this time!

We spent about forty-five minutes checking out the exhibit, which focusses on the river from various perspectives; Indigenous Peoples,  European missionaries and explorers, fur traders and voyageurs, geologists, artists  … it is definitely worth stopping and you come away having added context and history to your experience of the river, no matter how it was that you spent time with it.

entrance to French River Interpretive Center’ display area

birchbark canoe on display at the French River Center

Group of Seven-like painting of French River scene

Find the animal – interactive painting at French River Interpretive Center

Our French River from top to bottom was done.  We headed south figuring that our timing was pretty bad – we would be hitting the 401 at the top of Toronto around 4 p.m.on a Friday!  Somehow it turned out to be not so bad and by 5 p.m. we were sitting in my Riverdale kitchen.  Living in southern Ontario,  both my brother and I love a canoe trip that only requires about four hours of driving to the put-in and yet has a wilderness feel about it.  We may have been to the French a few times – but we’ll be back again for more!

If you are interested in getting to know the French River, check out the following series of reports we’ve put together over the last five years –

The French From Top to Bottom:

The French River Delta and the Bustards:

Philip Edward island:

Philip Edward Island canoe trip route

From Killarney’s Chikanishing Creek to Snug Harbour 

Kayaking Georgian Bay  – From Killarney To Snug Harbour – Intro & Logistics

Days 1 & 2  Chikanishing Creek To Solomons Island to NE of Point Grondine

Days 3 & 4  Point Grondine To The Bustards’ Tanvat Island To S of Byng Inlet

Days 5 & 6  S of Byng Inlet To Hangdog I. Channel To Garland Island (Minks)

Days 7 & 8  Garland Island to Franklin Island To Snug Harbour

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Bhutan’s Snowman Trek: Day 23 – Rerethang To Upper Sephu

Previous Post: Day 22 – Tampoe Tsho To Rerethang Via Thampe La

  • calendar date: Sunday, October 20 (The trek began on September 28!)
  • time: 4 hours including lunch and a stop at the Snowman Trek store above Rerethang
  • distance: 13 km.
  • start point altitude: Rerethang  3670 m
  • endpoint altitude: Upper Sephu   2876m

For the past few evenings, dinner time conversation had centered increasingly on our plans after we finished the trek.  Plane connections, work commitments, future trips … all signs that the end was near! Over the past three weeks, we had walked a bit over 300 kilometers through some pretty crappy weather (the first ten days) and over some fairly rough terrain, challenging even to yaks and horses, never mind trekkers! We had also walked into some stunning vistas and in the last half of the trek, the peaks would often be in full view and not be shrouded in cloud cover.

And amazingly almost all of us had made it, though we had lost one in Laya with a severe respiratory issue and another on Day 21 with a stomach problem.

We had one last section to do – the 13 kilometers from Rerethang to the endpoint at Upper Sephu.  We had left the alpine behind; the morning would start on the west side trail down along the Nikka Chhu across fairly flat and open terrain. The satellite image below shows that stretch from Rerethang to Maurothang – easy walking.

After Maurathang, we crossed over to the east side and the trail mostly went across the forested slopes.  On occasion, we were 50 or 100 meters above the river as we made our way south.  Along the way, we also crossed a number of streams that tumble down to the Nikka Chhu -either rock hopping our way across or making use of the wooden bridges.

The red line on the satellite image below is a rough approximation of our route down the Nikka Chhu from Maurothang to Upper Sephu. It took about 3 1/2 hours at a  brisk pace to get done. In the process, we dropped another 800 meters in elevation. We had not been below 3000 meters in three weeks!

 

looking up the Nikka Chhu from the trail to Upper Sephu

the Nikka Chhu as it flows down towards Sephu

Somewhere along the way, I had my first hard fall of the trip!  22 days without incident and an hour before the end I placed my right boot on a sloped wet rock only to have it slip down.  I lost my balance and somehow the right side of my rib cage bumped hard into a rock.  The trekking poles I always have in my hands helped cushion the blow somewhat but it still hurt. It was mild enough that I could keep on walking but every once in a while there would be a stab of pain if I moved in the wrong way.

[It took about three weeks for the pain to go away. Back in Toronto, I had trouble lifting my right leg over the top tube of my bicycle. And then one day – no pain! Don’t you just love how time itself is often the answer, at least in the short run!]

yaks lounging on the trail from Maurothang to Upper Sephu

Upper Sephu is at the end of a dirt road that winds its way up the east side of the Nikka Chhu from the Bumthang-Ura highway and Sephu proper.  I guess a few years ago this road did not exist and trekkers walked right to the highway and the Nikka Chhu bridge, another six or seven kilometers away.

We were greeted there by the Yangphel support team. They had arranged lunch for us, complete with bottles of wine and beer and a celebratory cake.  There we are sitting at our table!

I did gather together some of the left-over bits of meat and gave a local dog watching the proceedings a surprise treat. But then, maybe it wasn’t a surprise!  He may have learned that gatherings such as ours often result in some freebies!

a local dog watching the proceedings at Upper Sephu

Not keen on dealing with the impact of even a bit of alcohol on my head while we spent the next four hours rocking back and forth on the bus, I decided to postpone my reintroduction to beer until that evening. On the table was a bottle of Bhutan’s finest red wine.  Later that evening I stuck to a can of tonic water! Fun guy!

the lunch table at Nikka Chhu – trek dun!

Tipping is always a big deal at the end of these treks.  Over the past three evenings, the World Expeditions guide had collected some U.S.$300. to $400. from each of the 16 trekkers and come up with a formula to calculate each support staff member’s share based on their role. The tip – and the concern about it shown by the guides from Day 1 –   was just another reminder of economic reality trumping the ultimate B.S. of the Gross National Happiness concept concocted by Thimphu’s political elite on behalf of the vast majority of Bhutan’s citizens.  The  Speeches made, thanks given, a few group photos of the support crew and their trekker guests, final handshakes and hugs …

the team which made our Snowman Trek happen

As noted elsewhere, World Expeditions was the non-Bhutanese company that organized the trip, brought together the 16 trekkers, made sure that visa and other issues were dealt with, and worked with the local adventure travel agency, Yangphel, to make sure that certain standards were met. I was told that WE has been using Yangphel to handle its Snowman trip for the past two years.

World Expeditions also sent one of their own guides along.  His two decades’ worth of experience with high altitude trekking and Himalayan climbing was a bonus; the local guide assigned by Yangphel was also very experienced and knowledgeable thanks to twenty years of handling all sorts of tours from birding to various trekking routes to a dozen times on the Snowman. Both were just nice guys and made the trip more enjoyable.

The trek cost me US $ 7800.   Since the Bhutanese charge their “high value, low impact” (that is, non-Indian) tourists US $250. a day to be in Bhutan, that means $6750. (27 days x $250.) went to the local trekking agency and to the Bhutanese government.

  • The Bhutanese government take is $65 a day or $1755  for the entire 27-day stay! 
  • The trekking agency gets $5000. 
  • The remainder, about US$1000. per trekker, is the World Expeditions charge for making the trip happen and to pay for the salary of their own assigned guide. 

The tip is expected by all and added another $375. to the final cost of the trip.

While you could just arrange the trek yourself through a Bhutanese agency,  the problem is one of numbers.  You would need to find at least one and preferably two or three other trekkers who would be willing to commit to the trip at the same time as you.  Thanks to its attractive website, World Expeditions and other companies like it, do the finding of trekking mates for you.  That is worth at least a couple of hundred dollars.

I will admit that a group size of 16 trekkers is not ideal. Consider the three previous organized treks I have done –

  • Kilimanjaro eight-day Lemosho route   5 clients
  • Cordillera Real Traverse – 15 days          7 clients
  • Upper MUstang-Phu Valley Traverse    5 clients

There were almost as many trekkers on this Snowman trek as on my previous three combined! With 43 horses and a dozen support staff, we were a small village on the move!

final group shot of the crew – trekkers and support staff

By 1:30 we trekkers would hop into the bus pictured in the image below.  Destination – Punakha and what would turn out to be an excellent hotel/resort on the slopes on the west side of the Mo River.  Showers, wifi, email, food choices and flavours other than the trek food I had seen enough of …

Yangphel staff at Upper Sephu with our bus to Punakha

our Punakha camp spot – definitely an upgrade

Punakha and the confluence of the Mo and Pho Rivers

Next Post: Day: Punakha, Thimphu and Paro – Random Images

the Punakha Dzong – the view from the Zhingkham Resort

The Complete Day-By-Day Snowman Trip Report! 

Laya To Upper Sephu high passes and campsites graph

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Bhutan’s Snowman Trek: Day 22 – Tampoe Tsho To Rerethang Via Tempe La

Previous Post: Day 21 – Tsho Tsho Thampa to Tampoe Tsho

  • calendar date: October 19, 2019.
  • time: 6 hours including lunch and a stop at the Snowman Trek store above Rerethang
  • distance: 11 km.
  • start point altitude: Tampoe Tsho  4323m
  • endpoint campsite: Rerethang 3670m
  • high pass crossing: Tempe La  4665m
  • Maps: Bart Jordans’ Trekking In Bhutan has some useful overview maps of the many possible variations of the Snowman, as well as of other treks.
  • See here for a Google Earth view of the day’s walk. It helps to use the Google Chrome browser! The location marker is for Rinchen Zoe La.
  • I used a Sony RX100 III to frame most of the images you’ll see below; a fellow trekker’s Huawei P30 captured the others. (Thanks again, O, for letting me use them!)

Thampe Tsho campsite – morning shot

Our last full day of trekking – and a scenic one at that!  On tap was our last pass of the trek (it was #11) and then a walk along the shores of two lakes, one 100 meters below the more famous one known as Om Tsho. Then a steep descent to the headwaters of the Nikka Chhu, which we would follow all the way down for the next day.

the trail to Tempe La from Tempe (Thampoe) Tsho – from the bottom right to top left

It started with a walk into the middle of the terrain pictured above and then curled left up to the pass. In an hour we had ascended about 300 meters on a walkable trail.  I stayed up there for a few minutes but, given the chilling effect of the blowing wind, decided to generate some heat by heading down the other side.

Tampoe Tsho to Tempe La

a view from Tempe La back to Thampoe Tsho

Tempe La – looking down to Tempe Tsho

cairn and prayer flags on Tempe La above Thampoe Tsho

looking south from Tempe La – the trail to Sephu

I’d end up lounging about a half-hour down at the bottom of the hill, enjoying the wind-free spot and the sunshine.  The two images below show the actual trail from the pass; it heads diagonally to the left and stays above the rock-strewn valley floor where I was waiting. I’d eventually join the rest of the crew a kilometer further down.

the start of the trail down from Tempe La

satellite view of Tempe La – Om Tsho area

One last look back at Tempa La and then it was time to move forward!

panorama for the trail between Thampe La and Om Tsho

It would not take us long to come to one of those WOW moments, one of those memorable views. In this case, it was of Om Tsho (4322m).

The lake is famous for supposedly yielding Buddhist “treasures” to Pema Lingpa (1450-1521).  He was a Bhutanese-born follower of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism.  They had apparently been put there by the Himalayan Buddha, Guru Rinpoche, some six hundred years previously! These treasures are known to  Himalayan Buddhists as terma; the one who finds them, thanks to guidance from Guru Rinpoche, is called a terton.  An hour spent reading through The Life and Revelations of Pema Lingpa turned up no mention of Om Tsho and what he found there; nor did another half-hour of internet surfing of other sources! It is quite likely that what Lingpa is said to have hauled out of the lake included a text..It is believed that the terma texts were written in a Dakini script that only the terton could translate!

All of this brings to mind Joseph Smith, who claimed to have found a similar “treasure” [the Golden Plates] in upper New York State.   The plates would provide the foundation of a religious movement known as the Church of Latter-Day Saints (Mormonism), an offshoot of Christianity. Smith was able to translate them from a language that he did not know thanks to angelic help.  Coincidently, the number of believers is approximately the same – 15 million Mormons and 20 million Himalayan or Vajrayana Buddhists, an offshoot of the Buddhism of Siddhartha Gautama.

Om Tsho is the lake pictured below.  I took the photo from the spot indicated by the red circle in the satellite image above.

Om Tsho – a view from the north

the horses of our lunch team pass by the top of Om Tsho

a Snowman Trail view of Om Tsho from the south end

From Om Tsho the trail dips down to cross its outlet stream and then climbs up again to a ridge overlooking a second smaller lake 100 meters below.  In the image below I am looking down at that outlet stream and some of our horses and crew as they cross it and continue upward.

our horses as they cross the outlet stream from Om Tsho

The first of two steep downhills are up next:

  • 150 meters down to the lower lake from Om Tsho
  • 230 meters down to the broad valley floor and the headwaters of the Nikka Chhu

satellite view – Tempe La to Zezey Thang

the smaller lake below Om Tsho – with inflow from the upper lake

The trekkers in the two images are starting or are in their descent from Om Tsho to the lower lake.

Snowman trekkers on the ridge below Om Tsho

the trail from Om Tsho to the lake below

When I reached the lower lake I sat on a rock at the top end of it and looked down at another nice view.  On the left of the image below, you can see the trail and one of my fellow trekkers, who is pushing on to the other end. When I myself got there I found a single string of prayer flags draped across the outlet stream of the lake. It was one of those rare occasions when I did not feel compelled enough to take a photo!

the top end of the small lake below Om Tsho

And then the second steeper and longer drop in elevation. Here is the Lonely Planet Guide To Bhutan description:

From the second lake to the headwaters of the Nikka Chhu is a descent so steep that even yaks are reluctant to come down this stretch.  LP Guide To Bhutan

a few of our horses coming down a steep section to Zezey Thang

waterfall from the lake just above ZeZey Thang

from the Snowman Shop to the Rerethang Campsite

the yak herder’s place south of Zezey Thang

the headwaters of the Nikka Chhu

yak herder’s drying sheets by Rerethang

two young women tending the Snowman Shop

the Nikka Chhu as it approaches our campsite on its floodplain

approaching our Rerethang campsite after a brief stop at the Snowman Shop for beverages

Next Post: Day 23 – Rerethang To Upper Sephu

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