Kayaking Georgian Bay – From Killarney To Parry Sound

Georgian Bay’s La Cloche Mountains in the distance from an island hilltop view

I pick up the rented Epsilon C200 at White Squall north of Parry Sound on Tuesday and then one of its drivers shuttles us up to the north end of Georgian Bay for the start of what will be a memorable paddle down the coast of “the sixth Great Lake”!

Boreal Design Epsilon C200 – 17′ long and about 2′ wide!

It has been a quite a while since my one and only major kayak trip!  Back in 1995 five of us from southern Ontario – we had three solo kayaks and one tandem –  paddled along the northeast shore of Lake Superior from Hattie Cove on the west side of Pukaskwa National Park back to Michipicoten. (That’s Puck a saw if you’re wondering!)

It was incredibly beautiful – and occasionally quite intimidating as I watched my fellow kayakers disappear as house-size waves rolled in.  A couple of days we just sat out as the strong wind blew and waves pounded the shore. Lake Superior is a big open lake – the largest freshwater lake in the world – and when that wind is blowing from the southwest there is nowhere to hide! As Lightfoot sings in The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald – “It’s the lake they call Gichi Gumi“!

Georgian Bay overview map

This time it will be the northeast shore of a somewhat more gentle Georgian Bay that will provide the  stunning seascape and island scenery.   Last summer’s four-day canoe trip with my brother Max around Philip Edward Island at the top end of the bay was my introduction to the area.

We came back raving about the beauty of the Bay and the pleasure of paddling past and down channels created by the countless islands (some bare rock and  looking like whalebacks and others partially treed and with great campsites).   We were also reassured by the way  those islands – supposedly 30,000 in all  – can provide a wind break and safe passage when the wind picks up.

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

This week Ken, Rick, and I will  put in on the banks of the Chikanishing River in Killarney Provincial Park.  The starting point is about ten kilometers east of the town of Killarney and eliminates some open and exposed paddling in favour of a more gentle start. Rick has done several trips on Lake Superior and Georgian Bay; Ken is a lifelong sailor with lots of Caribbean big water experience. And me with my summers canoeing on the interior lakes and rivers of the Canadian Shield? I figure I’m in pretty good hands!

The weather forecast for August 22- August 30 looks excellent – all except for some rain on the very first day/   Maybe it will be done by the time we set off!

During that time frame the plan is to paddle the 140 kilometers down to Snug Harbour at the entrance to Parry Sound.  On the way we’ll make our way east on the Bay side of Philip Edward Island and past the mouth of the French River, the very first river to make the list of Canadian Heritage Rivers thanks to its association with the voyageurs and the fur trade from the early 1600’s to the 1820’s.

Then we cruise by the mouth of the Key River and the entrance to Byng Inlet – lots more history, this time of the lumber industry and railroads.   Nearing Point Au Baril as the week-end approaches we may see some boat traffic, because of the increasing number of cottages the further south we head. At Snug Harbour the shuttle from White Squall will get us back to our vehicles and the ride back to T.O.

West Fox’s gravel beach on the W side of the island

It will be non-stop photo ops as we make our way through some incredible “eye candy”!  Most of the shots will undoubtedly be taken from land but I plan to have my Fuji x20 on board inside a waterproof Pelican case as we are paddling so I can get the occasional shot from the water.

Bell Cell Phone Coverage - Georgian Bay

Bell Cell Phone Coverage

We have set aside nine days to do the 140-kilometer journey from the Chikanishing put-in to the end point at Snug Harbour.  If we don’t need the two included wind days, then we’ll get it done in seven!

It is amazing that this beautiful slice of nature –  wild, even if not completely devoid of signs of “civilization” – is within a three-hour drive from Toronto and the G.T.A.,  North America’s fifth largest bit of urban sprawl! Except for the first day or two, we’ll be close enough to Highway 69 to be in cellphone coverage range for the entire trip!  Last year phone calls were even possible in the Philip Edward Island stretch at the top end of the route.

inReach Explorer+

iPhone & SPOT Connect

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mostly just to get to know how it works,  I am taking along our new Garmin inReach Explorer+ GPS tracker and two-way communication device. It replaces our previous GPS tracker and SOS transmitter,  the Spot Connect pictured on the right. We decided to make the switch to the Garmin inReach because it not only sends out messages but can also receive them. The Spot can only send brief 45-character messages; it also requires a smartphone to be functional while the inReach can function on its own.

We also made the switch because of an incident where the Spot initiated an SOS call without our input! It was a total energy-sapping fiasco which, like it or not, came to define the trip.  You can read all about it by scrolling to the tail end of this post dealing with Day Two of a recent canoe trip –

Canoeing The Little Missinaibi River: Day 2 – From Ramhill Lake To Below Rawhide Lake

Both devices provide real-time tracking information – the GPS location –  which is posted at the respective company-maintained  website.  For the inReach, the following website –

https://share.garmin.com/albinger

will give our current location on the Bay – either in the water or on one of the many islands for a lunch break or at a campsite at the end of the day.  Below is a screen shot of the page as it looks right now – i.e. empty!

Check in after 2:00 on Tuesday, August 22 –  by then our kayaks will be in the water! Until then – some last minute packing to do.  Cramming everything into the kayak’s two main hatches in little waterproof bags will be a novelty to this canoe tripper used to organizing everything in  two large-size Duluth packs and two duffle bags!

Stay tuned for should be some nice shots of Georgian Bay!

a protected channel near Hincks Island in Georgian Bay – a shot from last summer

Posted in Georgian Bay, wilderness canoe tripping | 8 Comments

The Little Missinaibi River From Top To Bottom – Intro, Maps, and Logistics

Introduction: 

Flowing 65 kilometers from its headwaters in Sunset Lake to its mouth at Whitefish Bay in Missinaibi Lake, the Little Missinaibi is not a long river. A little past its halfway point it widens out with shallow bays that reach in all directions. The result – Little Missinaibi Lake, a renowned fishing (northern pike and pickerel) destination served by a couple of fly-in outposts on islands at the north end of the lake and another on Cam Lake, one lake over.

The river – and the lake – are within the 7000 square kilometer Chapeau Crown Game Preserve,  which is the world’s single largest animal sanctuary since no hunting or trapping is allowed.  The potential for wildlife sightings – especially moose and bear  –  is said to be high.

The area is also the ancestral homeland of the Anishinaabe, indigenous peoples who speak one of the Algonkian languages. They are still more commonly referred to by names like Cree and Ojibwe. (Click here for a map showing the locations of  the area’s various First Nations communities, the total population of which is currently about three hundred.) An exception to the hunting ban within the Game Preserve is made for these Treaty members of the Indigenous communities in the Chapleau area, some of whose ancestors were removed from the Game Preserve on its establishment in 1925.

close up of main panel at Little Missinaibi Lake Picto Site #2

Other than fishing and wildlife viewing, another major attraction is a series of pictograph sites on both Little Missinaibi Lake and on Missinaibi Lake itself.   These ochre rock paintings are hundreds of years old and are expressions of traditional Anishinaabe culture. They are the work of shamans or vision questers at sites associated with the manitous who could grant favours or medicines to those who came to ask.  Many of these pictographs are badly faded and all but indecipherable; enough still remain to make the visit worthwhile. Paddling by these sites is an easy way to elevate an already-excellent wilderness canoe trip to an even higher level.

a view of Little Missinaibi Lake’s  “Pothole” pictograph site from the south

The very word Missinaibi has its roots in the  Anishinaabe language. This quote from Selwyn Dewdney, the person most responsible for initiating the study of the native pictographs of the Canadian Shield,  makes clear its probable origin –

Dewdney on Missanabie and Missinaibi

Mazinahbikaung – or Mazinawbikong – shares its roots with another Ontario lake famous for its pictographs, Mazinaw Lake in Bon Echo Provincial Park.

another view of the core of the Pothole site

another view of the core of the Pothole site

missinaibi WilsonThe last section of the river – the one from Little Lake Missinaibi on down to Whitefish Bay and Missinaibi Lake –  is well-documented.  Online trip reports and published material like Hap Wilson’s Missinaibi: Journey to the Northern Sky: From Lake Superior to James Bay by Canoe provide paddlers with useful information on rapids, portages, and campsites, as well as points of interest like scenic lookouts and the location of the pictograph sites.

What has been lacking is any information on the forty- five kilometer upper stretch of the river before it reaches Lookout Bay at the south end of Little Missinaibi Lake.

Overview - Missanabie to Chapleau

Overview – Missanabie to Chapleau

Approaches To Little Missinaibi Lake & Fairy Point on Missinaibi Lake:  

You don’t need to paddle down the upper stretch of the Little Missinaibi River to access Little Missinaibi Lake!  Any of the three following options will get you there while providing some great paddling, classic Canadian Shield campsites, and a chance to see the mentioned pictograph sites. And, to no surprise,  there are a few portages along the way!

 

The first two options approach Little Missinaibi Lake from the mouth of the Little Missinaibi River in Whitefish Bay and work their way up to Little Missinaibi Lake – i.e. through the back door!

Option #1 – From Barclay Bay

  • distance:  12.5 km. to Whitefish Bay + 11 km. to above Admiral Falls
  • time: one long day or two shorter ones
  • map: see overview map of the Chapleau Game Preserve for details

This is the shortest way to get to Fairy Point on Missinaibi Lake and to Little Missinaibi Lake.  After an eighty-eight kilometer gravel road drive from Chapleau to the Barclay Bay campground of Missinaibi Provincial Park (see the first map above), you paddle up Missinaibi Lake for 12.5 kilometers to Whitefish Bay. If there is a southwest wind blowing it can get interesting!

At Whitefish Bay is the beginning of a 1000-meter portage to access the Little Missinaibi River. It may take you a day going upriver – and you will use the Trump Lake by-pass (another 1000 meter portage) to avoid some of the rapids of the Little Missinaibi from  the Trump Lake portage take-out spot up to Admiral Falls.

From Trump Lake, it is a portage into and a paddle down Elbow Lake and Creek. You are now at the north end of Little Missinaibi Lake 1.5 kilometers south of Admiral Falls!

Option #2 – From Missanabie

  • distance:  40 km. to Whitefish Bay + 11 km. to above Admiral Falls
  • time: two long days or three shorter ones
  • map – route to Whitefish Bay marked in red on the map; Trump Lake by-pass in orange

Over twice the paddling distance of Option #1, it starts with 15 km. of lake paddle to the east end of Dog Lake. Up next is a 300-meter Height of Land Portage into Crooked Lake and another 15 kilometers down the lake to a 330-meter carry into Missinaibi Lake.  If the winds are agreeable, a visit to Fairy Point on the way to Whitefish Bay is a good idea. Otherwise, you can hope that it will be calmer on your return! From Fairy Point it is an hour’s paddle to Whitefish Bay where you begin the up-the-Lil -Miss section described in #1.

Option #3 – From Bolkow Lake

  • distance: about 33 km. to the mouth of Elbow Creek at the north end of Little Missinaibi Lake
  • time: two long days
  • map – route to north end of Little Missinaibi Lake marked in purple on the map;

Rather than come at Little Missinaibi Lake from Whitefish Bay, this option is the side door route!  Hap Wilson’s Missinaibi guide-book (1995) has a brief description and map with the basic information. The info has certainly encouraged a few canoe trippers to make the journey.

A very useful and recent (2016) trip report of the Bolkow route was posted by Paul Hudson at the Canadian Canoe Routes website.

Paul Hudson. 2016 Trip Report – Shumka to Missanabie Via the Little Missinaibi River

He and his crew dropped off their canoes and bags at Bolkow Lake, drove their vehicles to Missanabie and left them at Ernie’s Campground and then caught that morning’s VIA train (9:00 a.m.)  from Missanabie back to Bolkow and their canoes. They then paddled back to Missanabie over a seven-day period. They spent two on the Bolkow Lake to Little Missinaibi Lake section.

All of the above options leave you at the north end of Little Missinaibi Lake at the mouth of Elbow Creek. It is 18 kilometers to the south end of the lake (13 as the crow flies), another day’s paddle during which you could visit the various pictograph sites on the lake. Then it would be another day to paddle back north for the return trip via the Tupper Lake exit or down the Little Missinaibi itself from Admiral Falls.

Option #4 – From Windermere Lake’s Healey Bay

  • distance: about 45 km. to Lookout Bay at the south end of Little Missinaibi Lake
  • time: three and half  days
  • map – route to south end of Little Missinaibi Lake marked in blue on the map.

There is something special about doing a river from its headwaters to the very end.  It was   the forty-five kilometer upper part of it that flows from its headwaters in Mackey Lake into Lookout Bay from the south that piqued our curiosity.  It would certainly simplify our trip.

Coming into Little Missinaibi Lake from the south would eliminate the need to travel its length from north to south to see the various rock painting sites  and then paddle all the way back north – as is the case with the first three options outlined.  With the VIA stop at Missanabie as our end point it would also mean we would not need to duplicate the return paddle of Options #1 and #2.

The only problem was there was no information out there on the upper section of the river from its headwaters to Lookout Bay.  Reading Wilson’s mention of the upper section of the river in his guide-book had me looking for the details.  It became clear that he what he had in mind was the section from Admiral Falls to the start of the Trump Lake Portage – i.e. the top part of  the lower third of the river.

Accessing the Headwaters From Healey Bay 

The VIA Sudbury to White River Train 

We chose Healey Bay as the put-in point for our trip down the Lil’ Miss. You get there from Chapleau on the 28 kilometer Esher-Healey Road. The Happy Day Lodge is located on the bay and we tented on their property after a ten-hour drive from southern Ontario. We left our car there while we paddled to the take out point at Missanabie on Dog Lake and on the White River- Sudbury rail line.  The return from Missanabie was a breeze thanks to the 1 1/4 hour VIA train ride back  to our car.

Healey Bay is a stop ‘on request’ between the stops at Musk and Esher. It can be accessed from anywhere on the VIA rail line from White River to Sudbury.  If you didn’t want to drive to Healey Bay you could leave your vehicle at the most convenient spot on the line (e.g. White River, Missanabie, Chapleau, Sudbury) and take the train to the put-in.  The VIA train service from Sudbury to White River and back to Sudbury which passes through Chapeau and then Healey Bay follows a regular time schedule.

From Windermere Lake’s Healey Bay it is a quick paddle from the lodge  to the CPR tracks and the bottom of Little island Lake.  (If you are not starting from the lodge,  you can request that the train let you off just before the bridge and walk the canoe down to Little Island Lake).

Here is the Federal Government 1:50000 topo view of the general area.

Fed Govt topo Healey Bay to Sunset Lake

Fed Govt topo Healey Bay to Sunset Lake

And so the journey begins. Here, in brief, is what we found about the upper section of the Little Missinaibi – some FAQs if you will.

‘Is it do-able?

The short answer to this would have to be a yes!, followed quickly by a  but…  Review the day by day blog posts about our recent trip to get a better sense of the ‘but’; this overview will help you decide if you want to do it.

Perhaps the overriding factor will be water level. We completed the trip during mid-to-late June with the assumption that levels would be higher than later in the season. It will also govern how difficult the first roughly 40 km of travel will be.

What are the obstacles?  How many portages are there?

The Healey Bay to Mackey Lake section will likely be least affected by lower water levels. Some additional marsh walking might be necessary. Beaver dams should help provide canoeable levels similar to what we experienced. Lower levels in Mackey Lake would make the short river section between the Austin Rd and the lake more challenging due to the significant dead fall. (We had to do a fair bit of branch trimming to allow us to ride/pull/push over the logs – our magic carpet helped too!). After that section the going should be easier.

The next obstacle is the portage into Sunset Lake. We had the good fortune of at least having a short “river” section with enough water to float/line the canoe. Lower water levels would certainly increase the carry distance.  We had some blockages and rough spots after the lining part but these would likely be ‘avoided’ by doing a longer ‘full’ portage – an extra 600m plus the 250m we did.

After a short 90m portage around a set of rapids at the north end of Sunset Lake the progress  is relatively easy to the end of Rawhide Lake.  We opted to camp at the south end of Ramhill Lake by an old road crossing and continued our journey to Rawhide Lake the next day.

The tail end of our second day and most of the third day presented us with the most work.  At the bottom of Rawhide Lake we opted to do a 1.7 km portage around a section of the river that seemed rather impenetrable. (See Day 2  for pics and map). The portage ending at Key Lake Creek was made easier because after a 120-meter slog through the bush it was 1.5 km of the Woods Lake gravel Road.

Now let the fun begin! The roughly 7 km from the bottom of Key Lake to about 2 km above Mukwa Falls was one long day of deciding whether to stay on the river and canoe haul or try to find portages around the obstructions.  Not necessarily difficult to do but  just time-consuming. A younger crew will have an easier time dealing with the obstacles!

In places we would empty the canoe for a short 2 m portage, reload and paddle a bit.  Then it would be a bit more tree trimming to make an easier portage or trimming log/sweeper branches before hauling over and in some cases under.

Perhaps the highlight of Day 3’s eight kilometers of progress was an unexpected waterfalls which we named “Animiki” Falls for its thunderous sound. ( A closer look at the Google Earth satellite image does show some ‘white’ water.)  See the Day 3 pics for a couple of shots. Of the river’s four sets of waterfalls it ranks as the second-most spectacular.  The portage is on river left and we left it well-marked! In hindsight we should have found a campsite nearby and spent some time at this falls.

Is it a viable alternative to the Bolkow route?

We figure that if the stretch of the river from its headwaters had been included in Hap Wilson’s book twenty-five years ago, it would be an easier paddle these days. Successive groups of canoe trippers would have done some work on the sweepers and  log jams;  the portages would be a known commodity.  We are hoping that this post – and the day-by-day trip report – will encourage future trippers to go down a forgotten but totally do-able river.

Whitefish Falls – the emphatic end point of the Little Missinaibi River

Maps: 

Links To Federal Government 1:50000 Topographic Maps –

Check out the following links to jeffstopos.com for the maps you would need for this route. You can download them and print the maps – or parts of them – yourself; you can get Jeff to professionally do copies for you on a plastic material.

nrc home page

Natural Resources Canada, a ministry of the Canadian Federal Government in Ottawa, provides free access to the above topographical maps, both 1:250,000 and the more useful 1:50,000. While some of them date back to the 1970’s, they are nevertheless a valuable resource for canoe trippers.  See here for the government website – much less elegant than Jeffstopos! Choose either the 50 k pdf or tif folders and then use the map numbers above to access the maps you need.

David Crawshay‘s free Topo Maps Canada app works on your iPhone or iPad to let you view the topos you have downloaded.  Since we both had our Garmin GPS units and the installed Canada Topo 4.0 mapset, the Crawshay app and the relevant maps came along just in case.  If you don’t have a GPS unit your smart phone with its GPS capability would do the job as an occasional check on location.  We still travel with a paper map set in a waterproof holder.

Other Useful On-Line Map Sources:

The Atlas Of Canada’s Toporama website

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s  “Make a Topographic Map” website

Google Earth is also worth a look. The satellite images are more recent than the topos and capture detail not shown on the government maps.

Links To Some Related Web pages:

Little Missinaibi Lake has a couple of fishing outposts, each located on an island at the north end of the lake. The  Outpost Camps Inc  website has a map of the lake with points of interest. See here. The other outpost is owned and run by Hawk Air Fly-In Vacations.

Bill Steer (aka Backroads Bill) has a nice write-up of the pictographs at Fairy Point on Missinaibi Lake and includes gps co-ordinates  and details on how to get there. Check it out at The Rock Fairies – Spiritual Pictograph Site

Day-By-Day Posts –

Windermere Lake’s Healey Bay to Missanabie

The following series of posts provide detail – maps and photos and discussion – of  the 120-kilometer trip from Healey Bay to Missanabie.  We had two main goals –

  1. to paddle the entire length of the Little Missinaibi River;
  2. to see the seven pictograph sites.

We got it done and had a great time doing it, even if Day Two’s “incident” weighed heavy on our minds.

Day 1 – From Healey Bay To Ramhill Lake

Day 2 – From Ramhill Lake To Below Sunset Lake/Key Lake

Day 3 – From Below Rawhide Lake To Mukwa Falls (Woods Lake Rd Crossing)

Day 4 – From Mukwa Falls To Little Missinaibi Lake

Day 5 – From Little Missinaibi Lake To Admiral Falls

The Pictographs of Little Missinaibi Lake

Day 6 – From Admiral Falls To Whitefish Falls on Missinaibi Lake

Day 7 – From Whitefish Falls on Missinaibi Lake To Red Granite Point

The Anishinaabe Pictograph Sites of Missinaibi Lake

Day 8 – From Red Granite Point To Crooked Lake Island Site

Day 9 & Day 10 – From Crooked Lake To Missanabie/ From Missanabie Via Train  To Healey Bay and On To Southern Ontario

 

 

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Canoeing The Little Missinaibi River: Days 9 & 10 – From Crooked Lake To Missanabie to Toronto Via Healey Bay

Previous Post: Day 8 – From Red Granite Point To Crooked Lake Island Site

Day 9 – Crooked Lake To Missanabie

  • distance: 18.5 km
  • time:   9:10 a.m.; finish 1:45 p.m.
  • portages/rapids:  1 
    • P18 – 240m Height of Land – Arctic watershed to Superior watershed
  •  weather: sunny /cloudy periods; strong SW wind; overcast by day’s end but no rain;
  • campsite: Ernie’s Campground uptown Missanabie

Our Crooked Lake campsite was a half-hour paddle from the Height of Land Portage. We set off just after nine and by two were in Missanabie. One thing we did not do is take any pix.

Well, Max took one! As we paddled away from the put-in on Dog Lake he turned around for a shot of the easternmost point of Dog Lake and the bush between it and Crooked Lake.

Crooked Lake feeds into Missinaibi Lake and the Missinaibi River system; its water ends up in James Bay after merging with the Moose River. Meanwhile, we were now in sprawling-in-all-directions Dog Lake. Its outlet, the Michipicoten River,  ends up in Lake Superior. We were paddling in the Atlantic watershed!

What deeper meaning lies in the outline of Dog Lake looking ….well,  like a dog sitting with his front legs forward and his head up!

After the almost complete absence of headwind for the entire trip,  a solid breeze from the southwest during our last two hours on the water would have us digging in extra hard on certain exposed stretches. The one from Km 110 to the narrows was one of them.

On passing the island at Km 112 we stopped for a bit of a breather at a dock on the sheltered NE side. We met there a couple almost at the end of their Dog Lake island vacation. He was curious about the rivers we had paddled and we, in turn, were impressed that not only had he done them too, but some of them like the Bloodvein he had done more than once! We were definitely talking to a kindred spirit!

From our island chat we paddled through the narrows between Fifty Seven Bay and Hay Bay. Then we headed north to Dog Lake Narrows, the channel over which highway 651 crosses. More into-the-wind paddling and we finally arrived within sight of Missanabie.

Ever since I  read Selwyn Dewdney’s account of how the hamlet got its name I have been pronouncing it “Miss Anabie” in my mind!  Dewdney writes –

Missanabie is not even spelled the same way as the Lake and river system – strange.

As to how to pronounce it, we have said Miss in ah bee with a soft “i”, a soft “a” and a stress on the third syllable for almost forty years. I asked Julie at the Missinaibi Park office in Chapleau how she pronounces it and she said – Miss in ay bee, with a hard “a” sound. When we got to Missanabie I would ask Ken Martel the same question. He pronounced it the way we have been all these years!  Now that we have this issue settled(!), there remained just one more to deal with – where to put up our tent for the night.

The last time we had been in Missanabie was in 1983 and – Duh! – things had changed! Thirty-four years ago there wasn’t much else there (that we could remember) other than the hotel. As we approached the docks and a beach area on the waterfront we were amazed by all the trailers and cottages.

Before we left I had seen a Northern Walleye Lodge indicated on the Google map of Missanabie. The plan had been to ask the lodge if we could camp on its grounds for the night – we figured $20. would do it –  and then be very near to the train stop the next morning. Well, the Lodge does exist but it is on Dog Lake about ten kilometers south of Missanabie. In Missanabie all they have is a parking lot where guests leave their vehicles; they are then taken to the lodge by motor boat.

Missanabie waterfront in front of Ken’s Bait Shop and Ernie’s Campground

another view of Missanabie landing in front of Ernie’s and Ken’s

However, in our chat with the island couple, we had learned of Ernie’s Cottages and Campground. It was the answer we were looking for!  We paddled up to the concrete boat launch pad just to the right of the fish cleaning shack. We walked up the dirt road to a couple of guys standing in front of a store – the sign read Ken’s One-Stop Bait Shop.When we said we were looking for Ernie one of them said we’d found him!  Introducing himself as Ken Martel, Ernie’s son, he assumed correctly that we were looking for a tent site and within a minute we were walking towards an area thirty meters away that he had pointed at. He told us to come back later and pay – it was $20. (tax included) for the night. We left thinking – “Man, that was easy!”

Ernie’s Campsite – and Ken’s One Stop Shop at Missanabie

As well as lots of tent space, Ernie’s has a number of cottages (cabins) available. They also rent space on the property to people who show up with trailers. Some park them for the entire season. The photo below from Ernie’s website has an aerial view of the property. It is a shot from 2009 so things look a bit different in 2017!

a shot of Ernie’s campground from 2009 – see here for image source

The tail end of the trailer you see in the photo below – right to the left of our tent space – belonged to someone who had yet to be up in Missanabie this year. On the upper right of the photo is the Gazebo, an enclosed cooking/eating area with running water and a fridge and stove. We were the only ones to use it during the time we were there. Another twenty meters to the right was a double washroom/ shower facility. It felt good to stand under a stream of hot water after a few days of haphazard cleanliness!

our camp spot at Ernie’s in Missanabie – right next to the Gazebo

In the panorama shot below our tent was up under that clump of trees you see on the left. The fish cleaning shack is on the extreme right of the image.

a panorama of the campgrounds and the docks and boat launch ramp

We had a few hours to kill so we decided to do an in-depth tour of Missanabie. We could also figure out where to haul our canoe and gear for the next morning’s train ride back to our starting point at Healey Bay. (Missanabie – population 40 or so – no  longer has a train station or waiting room.)

We walked to the entrance of Ernie’s Campground. At the entrance sits a building with all sorts of heavy equipment outside – dump trucks, tractors,…all the stuff you need for road building. It is Martel Contracting. It does road works, welding, tire repair, and more. We never did find out if this business – like Ken’s Bait Shop and Ernie’s Restaurant which we would soon visit – belongs to the same family.

the entrance to Ernie’s Campgrounds and Cottages – Missanabie

There is a dirt road named Curran Street that runs parallel to the CPR tracks. As we walked down Curran we came to the hotel. It was apparently purchased by Americans some time ago, renovated, and turned into a private residence or two. Next to it is another building – one in need of some attention before it collapses.

the old Missanabie Hotel – now an American-owned residence

dilapidated building in Missanabie

We crossed the rail tracks – there are two sets – and headed for the junction where Highway 651 comes to the tracks. This is where we ended up waiting for the train the next morning, flagging it as it approached from the northwest. (The conductor already knew he would have two passengers to pick up since we had purchased the tickets beforehand.) We walked down Highway 651 from the tracks – it is labeled as First Street on the above map. Now we were in downtown Missanabie. As we approached Ernie’s we stood under the awning of the establishment and looked back at the tracks – a CPR freight train was coming through.

CPR freight train moving through Missanabie

The next morning we would be reminded of the #1 rule of railway travel in Canada – when two trains want to use the same track at the same time, freight takes precedence over passengers every time!

Ernie’s Lounge/Restaurant/LCBO Outlet

If Missanabie has a community heart it would have to be Ernie’s.

  • It is a lounge with a large TV screen; the Blue Jays were on when we visited.
  • It is also a restaurant; it specializes in hamburgers and french fries.
  • Also attached to it is an LCBO outlet – i.e. a place you can buy bottled alcohol to take away.
  • There may also have been a small tuck shop there which sells sundries like cigarettes and pop and chips.
  • the community’s mailboxes are located at the front of the building.
  • If you are driving into town and need accommodation or a place to put your trailer, Ernie in the restaurant will have the answer!

the LCBO outlet on the side of Ernie’s Restaurant and Lounge

We spent some time in the restaurant/lounge munching on some French fries and chatting with Ernie and his helper. He had opened the restaurant in the mid-1970’s after moving up to Missanabie from Dalton where he was born and grew up. (Dalton is down the CPR tracks a few kilometers.) The closing of the nearby mine in the community of Renabie in 1991 must have been difficult for businesses like Ernie’s in Missanabie; so too the closing of the lumber yard in town. The restaurant and the thriving Campground and Cottages show that Ernie Martel and his son Ken are making a good go of it.

the front of Ernie’s on First Street Missanabie

Across the street from Ernie’s is the Fire Hall. The sign seems new enough to indicate it is still in operation. Set some distance behind and to the left of the Fire Hall is the  Missarenda Consolidated Public School run by the Algoma District School Board. We were left wondering how many children in what age range go to the school and whether those from the nearby First Nations reserve would be among them.

the Missanabie Fire Hall with the public school behind it

Fire Hall and Ernie’s on First Street, Missanabie – Dog Lake in the background

Missanabie’s public school – Missarenda Consolidated

Something we did not notice in the village of 40 to 60 inhabitants is an OPP post -.i.e. a police station.

We spent the afternoon wandering up and down the roads of town taking pix and checking stuff out. Back at the campground, we made use of the shower facilities and then headed to the Gazebo for supper. It was a soft end to our canoe trip, one that had begun with a couple of difficult days on the upper section of the Little Missinaibi River. Occasionally in the days since we still heard the sound of that SAR helicopter from CFB Trenton hovering over our Day Two campsite at 2 a.m. We knew we would be talking – and explaining – and apologizing – for days to come when we reached home.

Day 10 – From Missanabie To Healey Bay By Train

  • distance: 66.8 km
  • time:  8:00 a.m.; finish 10:45 a.m.
  • portages:  1     335m – Campground to the trackside train stop
  • weather: sunny
  • campsite:  we were back in Toronto at 8 p.m. after a long ride from Healey Bay with a quick stop at the Swift Georgian Bay outlet to drop off our canoe!

Healey Bay on the east end of Lake Windermere was our starting point;  it was the closest we could get to the headwaters of the Little Missinaibi. The Happy Day Lodge there was a convenient place to leave our vehicle while we did our nine-day paddle to Missanabie. And now that the trip was over it was also an easy place to return to.

Running through Missanabie – and past Healey Bay – is a VIA-run passenger service on the CPR tracks that run from Sudbury to White River. Three times a week it runs one way; the other three it makes the return trip. It was Friday morning in Missanabie and, after a breakfast and coffee in the gazebo, we did our last portage, a 335-meter carry up to the stop on the side of the tracks at the end of Highway 651.

The map below shows the 66-kilometer route from Missanabie to Healey Bay. While we would have our stuff by the tracks by 8:15, it was scheduled to arrive at 9.

Click here for a pdf file of the train schedule for the Sudbury-White River – Sudbury service.

one last look at our landing spot at Missanabie – off to catch the train

The train arrived on time!  On board after handing up our canoe and gear to someone in the baggage car, we found we were two of five passengers that morning. (The passenger capacity is 95!)  The fare for each of us was $20. which is why I was surprised to be told that the charge for the canoe would be $50. My understanding was that the canoe fee could not be higher than the passenger fee – i.e.$20 – so I did point that out – to no avail.

Missanabie train stop – with the old Missanabie Hotel across the tracks

Somewhere along the line, we stopped to pick up two Americans and their sons; they were on their way back to their vehicles in Chapleau after a week of fishing at an outpost not far from where they caught the train. Twice we waited for ten to twenty minutes on a sidetrack while freight trains moved through.

Healey Bay stop on the rail line

Healey Bay is between Musk and Esher; when I purchased the tickets I just paid for the fare to Esher, the next stop. The train will pick you up – and drop you off – wherever you request. All it takes is a bit of arm waving!

Back at Healey Bay Max went to get his car while I sat with the gear on the side of the tracks. It was about 10:45. By 11:00 we would have the four bags, paddles, and life jackets inside and the canoe strapped down. It was now time for Le Grand Portage, the ten-hour drive back to Toronto! We weren’t even sure if we would make the entire distance in one day,  thinking that we might camp somewhere south of Sudbury and then finish the drive on Saturday morning.

However, Max was relentless behind the wheel. First, we knocked off the ride from Healey Bay south to Iron Bridge. That took over three hours. We stopped for some gas and some junk food and kept on going.

The next target was Sudbury, another two hours and 200 kilometers to the east. It was about 4 p.m. as we skirted south of the town on the by-pass and started heading south. We knew that another four hours and we’d be home – so we pushed on.

Rather than drive into Parry Sound to our usual gas station we saved another ten or fifteen minutes by pulling in to a roadside Shell station just north of the Sound. And a bonus – it was a full-serve station so while the tank was being filled we were emptying ours! And it was time for more junk food!

We also had another reason for our haste – we wanted to get to Swift Canoe‘s Georgian Bay outlet at Waubaushene before they closed at 8 p.m. Before the trip I had enquired about dropping off our canoe for a repair/paint job on the bottom of the canoe. Not only had we added more scratches and scrapes to the bottom on this trip;  in our numerous log and beaver dam haul-overs, we had also stressed the bottom enough to cause a long crack line. Truth be told, our 40-lb. composite Kevlar/carbon fiber canoe, an excellent tripping canoe, was not meant to take the kind of abuse it was subjected to on the Little Missinaibi!

Still, we were happy to have done the trip with our Swift Dumoine and know that hauling a 70-lb. Royalex or Tuff Stuff canoe over those same obstacles would have been an even bigger challenge. We need to reward our refurbished Dumoine with a nice, easy trip when we pick it up!

We dropped the canoe off shortly after 7.  By 8:15 we were on the Danforth in my Toronto neighbourhood picking up a few bottles of wine and by 8:45 we were sitting at the kitchen table with my wife and a visiting friend. To no surprise, they wanted to hear the helicopter story – the story of the SAR team rappelling down to our tent site at 2:00 a.m. in response to the SOS message we never sent!

I guess that is how the trip down the Little Missinaibi is fated to be remembered – though our posts have hopefully made it clear that it was about so much more too!

Related Post:  The Little Missinaibi From Top To Bottom – Intro, Maps, & Logistics

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Canoeing The Little Missinaibi River: Day 8 – From Red Granite Point To Crooked Lake Island Site

Previous Post – Day 7: From Whitefish Falls on Missinaibi Lake To Red Granite Point

Day 8 – From Red Granite Point to Crooked Lake Island Campsite

  • distance: 15 km
  • time:  11:30 a.m.; finish 4:00 p.m..
  • portages/rapids:  1
    • P17 – 350m into Crooked Lake
  • weather: sunny/cloudy periods;
  • campsite: island – room for multiple tents.

Days 5, 6, and 7 had seen more than their share of rain; we took advantage of a sunny morning on Red Granite Point to dry everything before setting off, knowing full well that by the end of the day some of it would likely be wet again. Tarp, fly, the inner tent itself, bags, socks … all on the rocks sucking up the rays. We lounged in our camp chairs and sipped on second cups of coffee and occasionally flipped stuff over. Across the bay the Fairy Point rock face was looking pretty dark in the shade.

drying time on Red Granite Point

a last look over to Fairy Point

a section of Fairy Point’s extended rock face in the morning shade

Just to the north of the camp area we rounded the point and were reminded yet again why it has the name Red Granite Point! There is a stretch of horizontal rock face with a reddish colour to it. We wondered if the indigenous inhabitants of the area had ascribed any special meaning to the spot.

the Red Granite that gives the point its name

Then it was around the corner into the bay on image left below – we were paddling up to our only portage of the day, the 350-meter carry into (not so) Crooked Lake. Would the register stand with the sign-in book would still be there?  We remembered signing in on our early 1980’s trips. (There was another canoe trippers’ book in Mattice; writing your name in it was a part of the “end of” or “half-way down” ritual in those days. Let me know if you remember the name of the Mattice restaurant that was the keeper of the Book!)

approaching the portage to Crooked Lake

And there it was!  The stand with the name register in the box. We lifted up the lid and found – garbage! Candy wrappers and other litter. However, on the placard below the box various tripping parties have recently written their particulars.

the sign-in box at the Missinaibi end of the trail from Crooked Lake

only the canoe to go on our 350-meter carry into Crooked Lake from Missinaibi Lake

The well-used trail led us to the Crooked Lake side and a bit of a wade out to the put-in.

the mushy put-in on Crooked Lake – the day’s one portage done

We headed up Crooked Lake and after a couple of hours of paddling decided that we had earned a lunch break. Shade was at a premium but when we saw the open field in the photo below we figured we could make it work. There I am sitting in the shade of the tall pine on the left, partially hidden by the tall grass.

lunch spot – a bit of shade in a field of tall grass

The clearing had us wondering what had been there before and why it remained so free of tree growth. Some research when we got home revealed an interesting story about a  now-defunct gold mining community of Renabie which shut down in 1991 after forty-some years of operation. We were sitting at the start of a road from Crooked Lake that went up to the community!

Renabie and the road from our lunch spot on Crooked Lake

We kept going until about 4 p.m. when we passed an island with a campsite clearing. As well as a fish-cleaning table and a fire pit with a grill (not always positives given the mess that fishing parties can leave behind), there was ample room for our tent in a well-sheltered area to the side and yet more space overlooking the lake for our bug shelter.

our tent up on our small island campsite

our tent tucked away on Crooked Lake island site

our most successful setting up of our bug/tarp shelter

A second easy day in a row!  The challenges we dealt with on the first four days down the Little Missinaibi seemed like another canoe trip! One more moderate day on the water and the trip would be over.

Days 9 & 10 – From Crooked Lake To Missanabie To Southern Ontario Via Healey Bay

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Canoeing The Little Missinaibi River: Day 7 – From Whitefish Falls on Missinaibi Lake To Red Granite Point

Previous Post – Day 6: From Admiral Falls To Whitefish Falls

  • distance: 11.7 km
  • time: start – 11:30 a.m.; finish – 2:00 p.m.
  • portages/rapids: 0 !!
  • weather: overcast and cloudy most of the day, some rain; sun in the late evening
  • campsite: Red Granite Point (#18) – room for multiple tents

It had been a cool evening and more rain fell overnight. In the morning a mist hung over the bay and the falls area. After we packed away all the gear – wet from the past day and a half of bad weather – we put the bags underneath the overturned canoe. Then we took to the trail leading up to the falls. We followed it as far as it went and then bushwhacked a bit further to get up to the very first of the several drops in the Falls. We stood there and watched the river that we had followed from its very headwaters. Now one last emphatic rush as it merged with Missinaibi Lake and the Missinaibi River system –

Whitefish Falls and Lake Missinaibi

the Little Missinaibi River as it tumbles into Missinaibi Lake

looking up at the lake above Whitefish Falls

Whitefish Falls exploration scene – up at the top

the top of Whitefish Falls on the Little Missinaibi River

Max watching the Little Missinaibi River tumble into the big lake

the Little Missinaibi at Whitefish Falls – working on a shot

Our goodbyes to the Little Missinaibi done, it was time to move on. It would be a day devoted to the pictograph sites at the west end of Missinaibi Lake. In the early 1980’s we had paddled by them a few times in a hurry to get to the east end of the lake. That is where one of North America’s great wilderness river adventures starts, the one that takes paddlers all the way to James Bay with the guarantee of lots of thrills – and a few spills – along the way. But there was no hurry this day since our planned campsite was maybe twelve kilometers away.

the empty Whitefish Bay campsite

The map below shows our route for the day – from our Day 6 campsite to three pictograph sites –

  1. Whitefish Bay
  2. Reva Point
  3. Fairy Point

We would have our tent up on Red Granite Point by mid-afternoon.

Whitefish Falls – a shot from the Bay

Whitefish Falls – the Little Missinaibi River empties into Missinaibi Lake

archaeological zone across the Bay from the Falls and the campsite

After a brief look at the “Sensitive Area” on the west side of the bay, we paddled back across to the first of the three pictograph sites we would visit on Missinaibi Lake. Since all face west, the ideal time to visit them – at least in terms of light if it is a sunny day – is later in the afternoon. We were just happy there wasn’t a significant wind blowing from the NW or SW and that it was hardly raining.

The Ontario Parks map has all three pictograph sites indicated with brown circles. Unfortunately, two of the three locations are incorrect!

It places the Whitefish Bay site where the “Sensitive Area” sign that we were paddling away from is; the site is actually on the other – i.e. east – side of the bay. The Reva Point site is also incorrectly located. It is just across from the northern tip of the island and not, as shown in the map above, to the south of the island!

Once on the other side of Whitefish Bay we paddled past the two rock faces you see in the image above. We were headed to the more vertical rock face almost at the end of the bay. In the image above it is not yet visible; the two pix below do show us getting closer.

the east side of Whitefish Bay

Missinaibi Lake’s Whitefish Bay pictograph rock face

The Whitefish Bay site is the most humble of the three we would visit; some of what look to be pictographs are actually bits of red granite vein.

some of the Whitefish Bay pictographs – or natural red veins in the rock?

Whitefish Bay – animal figure and faded canoe image

If you are interested in seeing more images and discussion of what we looked at this day, check out a post dedicated entirely to the three sites –

The Anishinaabe Pictographs of Missinaibi Lake

As we paddled out of the bay and headed west we met the only other paddlers we would see during our nine-day trip.  The canoe party was a group of six boys from a Minnesota summer camp  at the start of their epic adventure down the river to Mattice. Given the less than ideal conditions over the past two or three days, their positive attitude was impressive. Though some of the boys looked no more than twelve, some already had tripping experience and the two older guys leading the group looked to be excellent role models. We are always heartened when we see a younger generation doing what we love to do!

the paddlers from Camp Kooch-i-ching in Minnesota

Paddling along the south shore of the lake we appreciated the lack of wind. The following pix show an almost ripple-free water surface. Next up – Reva Point, a seven kilometer or so paddle from the Whitefish Bay site. The rock images there – six or seven of them – were easier to “read” than the ones at the first site. We spent a few minutes checking them out and then headed to the north end of Reva Island.

the Reva Point pictograph site as seen from the north end of Reva Island

the Reva Point Pictograph Site on Lake Missinaibi

We had planned to spend some time with the 350-year-old white pines on the island. We may have had in mind something like the trails through Temagami’s old growth forest between Obabika Lake and Chee-Skon; we would learn that Reva island has not been groomed like this. The “No Access” sign to the left of the white pine that Max is sitting under was another reason for our decision to move on to Fairy Point.

the white pine at the north end of Reva Island

Mishipeshu and the snakes – Agawa Rock

Sitting at the north end of Reva island we marveled the incredible quality of the light as we looked back to the Reva Point pictograph site and over to Fairy Point. It had stopped raining. The short paddle across to Fairy Point can be a bumpy ride when the wind is blowing, especially down the open stretch of water from the south-west. The waves have all of South Bay to roll down before they crash into Fairy Point. No wonder the Ojibwe had stories of underwater monsters like Mishipeshu, the lynx-like creature who lets his displeasure known by overturning the canoes of those who have somehow angered him.

A click on the image below will reveal the locations of the two rock image sites; Fairy Point is about one kilometer across the open stretch of water. Note the absence of waves or rain drops!

the view from the north end of Reva Island looking east – a gray day on Lake Missinaibi

Max heading my way on the east side of Reva Island

Approaching Fairy Point from the south was a different experience.  On previous occasions we were coming at it from Crooked Lake at the beginning of a Missinaibi River trip, one that either finished at Mattice or further down at Moose River Crossing or Moosonee. Uncooperative weather meant we often just zipped by the Point after giving a panel or two a quick glance. We would make amends with this visit!

The pictograph site faces west. We started at the southern end of the point and slowly made our way north along the shore. We spent about a half-hour in pictograph-quest mode though it felt like we had paddled into some timeless dimension. Perhaps it is the act of framing a string of photos that creates this Zen-like state; you are so focussed on this one thing that all else fades away!

The image below is of the first pictographs we saw – a humble start. You can see a couple of ochre slash marks, the one on the right with two short arms at the top and the bottom. To the right is an almost-gone hematite smudge, some of which is undoubtedly behind the lichen.

We continued along, amazed at how many pictographs there are at the site. Soon we got to the one panel we were familiar with from our other pass-bys. Along with the Mishipeshu and canoe panel at Agawa Rock, it may be the most well-known and most photographed pictograph panel in north-eastern/north-central Ontario. It doesn’t hurt that it comes right at the beginning of a very popular canoe tripping river!

Sony A77 shot of Mishipeshu and Caribou Panel

See our post – The Anishinaabe Pictographs of Missinaibi Lake – for much more detail and many more photos of the various panels of the site. I’ve incorporated Dewdney’s “Faces” and Conway’s “Panels” in my account of the site’s rock paintings;  their analysis provides some substance and moves the experience beyond merely seeing but not understanding what it is we’re seeing.

Fairy Point - Moose and Stars Panel

Fairy Point – Moose and Stars Panel

We spent about a half-hour at the site before turning our thoughts to a campsite for the night. There were a few options and at first we headed for one of the island sites to the north of Red Granite Point but, on looking over, decided that Red Granite Point with its extensive flat rock patio along the shore looked pretty inviting.

nice stretch of rock in front of Red Granite Point campsite

The Red Granite site is an excellent one with room for a few tents, the already-mentioned rock face along the shore, and a “thunderbox”. We got the tent up and put the tarp on top of it on the chance that there would be yet more rain overnight; we also put up our bug shelter.

looking up Baltic Bay at a couple of other campsite possibilities

the moss-covered forest floor behind our tent site at Red Granite Point

our Red Granite Point campsite

Max starting a stick fire at Red Granite Point campsite

stuff inside the bug shelter

As afternoon turned into early evening the skies cleared and the sun shone freely.  Yet another “plus” for the Red Granite Point campsite presented itself!  We looked over to Fairy Point and were struck by the golden glow of the rock face.

We considered paddling over to take advantage of the special light but were not sure it would still be there when we got there. It was about 9 p.m. and the light was fading quickly; it would take a good 20 minutes to get there so instead we contented ourselves with the view from our campsite.

looking over to Fairy Point from the Red Granite Point campsite

a panorama shot of Fairy Point with my Fuji X20

a close up of one section of Fairy Point’s vertical rock face. with Max’s Canon SX280

The next day would be a Wednesday. We were nearing the end of our short trip with two days of lake paddle coming up.

Next Post – Day 8: From Red Granite Point to Crooked Lake Island Site

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Canoeing The Little Missinaibi River: Day 6 – From Admiral Falls To Whitefish Falls on Missinaibi Lake

Previous Post – Day 5: From Little Missinaibi Lake Island To Admiral Falls

  • distance: 9.4 km
  • time: start – 1:30 p.m.; finish 6:00 p.m.
  • portages/rapids:  9 – a mix of line, run and portage
    • P8RR – 200m – Admiral Falls – camp spot on right side about ½ way
    • P9 – 90m – R Line/Run
    • P10 – 90m – C1 center run
    • P11 – 365m – C2T – lined L top; ran bottom
    • P12 – 500m – C2 – lined L then ran bottom ~365m
    • P13RR – 330m – good portage
    • P14RL – 200m C2 – portage not ‘noticed’ lined then run ~100m each
    • P15RL – 140m C1(T) ran center left, water volume high, took on water
    • P16RL – 995m – Whitefish Bay. In low water it may be possible to walk to campsite to the right. We had to re-load and paddle
  • weather: overcast and cloudy all day; rain in the afternoon and some overnight
  • campsite: Admiral Falls – off portage right, room for multiple 2-person tents; 4-person a bit more difficult.

At noon we were still undecided about whether to move on or not. It was still raining though not as hard as it had the afternoon and evening before – and overnight! And then – twenty minutes later – the decision to move! The rain has stopped! But first we walked down the side trail towards the falls to get a few photos and a bit of video as a souvenir of our stay at Admiral Falls!

Admiral Falls campsite at 1:20 p.m. – we are moving on!

Of the three falls we had seen up to this point, Admiral ranks third in terms of drop, with the two falls we had portaged around on the upper section of Little Missinaibi River – Animiki (“Thunder”) Falls and Mukwa (“Bear”) Falls – both more impressive. Still, to stand by any set of falls and inhale the energized air is never a bad thing! We spent a few minutes scampering around and trying to capture some of the buzz! We really should have done the same at the two falls further upriver!

a panorama of the Little Missinaibi’s Admiral Falls

the top of the Little Missinaibi’s Admiral Falls

the bottom stretch of Admiral Falls

a last look at Admiral Falls as we head down river

And that is it for our pics for the day. It was shortly after 1 p.m. We switched into way-too-serious “git ‘er dun” mode and headed down river. How far we were not sure?  Maybe the campsite at the Trump Lake Portage, maybe a bit further, maybe all the way to the campsite on Whitefish Bay on Missinaibi Lake?

For the first 3 1/2 days on the Little Missinaibi River our only information was what we could glean from the 1:50,000 topo maps and Google satellite images. There were no trip reports from other paddlers; there was certainly no official guide! It reminded us of our first trip down the entire length of the Missinaibi River in the early 1980’s when info was scarce and sketchy!

Now as we headed downriver from Admiral Falls we were paddling again with oodles of information about upcoming rapids and portages. Most useful was a recent trip report from the Canadian Canoe Routes forum posted by Paul Hudson. His crew had done the trip in late July of 2016.

Paul Hudson. 2016 Trip Report – Shumka to Missanabie Via the Little Missinaibi River

While the water level they faced was somewhat lower that what we were looking at in mid-June 2017, we found his comments and observations spot on. The  Hap Wilson guidebook from 1994 also has an annotated map (p.47) of the river from the Little Missinaibi Lake outlet down to Whitefish Falls; a photocopy of the page was in our map case.

We left Admiral Falls at 1:30; by 4:45 we were at the take-out spot for the final one-kilometer portage to Whitefish Bay. Amazing! By 6:00 we were at the campsite to the right of the end of the carry.  Hudson’s report mentions a walk along the beach to the campsite from the end of the portage trail; there was no beach at all when we got there and we paddled the 80 meters along the shore to the site.

the empty Whitefish Bay campsite

There was enough room at the site for both our 4-person Wanderer tent and the bug shelter so both went up. The picnic table served as a handy place to put stuff so that it wouldn’t get sand and dirt on it. To the side of the site is a trail that takes you up to the falls. We would wait until the next morning to check it out. Behind the tenting area there is also a “thunderbox”, always a convenience! It did not look like it had been used at all yet this year.

In the meanwhile, we celebrated having gotten to Whitefish Bay, given that at noon we were still at Admiral Falls trying to decide whether to make a “rain day” of it or not. We toasted our good fortune with a double shot each of Maple Whiskey and hoped for some sun the next day so we could dry stuff out.

The ongoing challenge of canoe tripping – staying dry while moving forward!

Next Post – Day 7: From Whitefish Bay To Red Granite Point 

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Canoeing The Little Missinaibi River: Day 5 – From Little Missinaibi Lake To Admiral Falls

Previous Post – Day 4: From Mukwa Falls (Woods Lake Road Crossing) To Little Missinaibi Lake Island

  • distance: 9.6 km
  • time: start – 10:15 a.m.; finish – 2:00 p.m. (1 hr stop at outpost)
  • portages/rapids: 1
    • PR8 RR – 170m – Admiral Falls – ½ on one day; ½ the next
  • weather: overcast till about 1 pm then some gentle rain; then it poured
  • campsite: off the portage trail; 1 x 4 person; possibly a couple more – not a “great site” managed to get camp up before too heavy a rain. Enjoyed an early afternoon coffee under the bug tarp.

We got up to an overcast sky. There was a bit of a breeze and there were no bugs to worry about. Our dry bag – a Watershed Colorado –  got filled with the sleeping bags, Thermarests, and all the other stuff that needs to be kept dry. Then we packed away the tent and bug shelter. While that was going on we had the water on the Primus stove to boil so we could make our oatmeal and essential mugs of filtered coffee. We had breakfast under the tarp you see below.

our island campsite in the morning after the tent came down

Helinox camp chairs and Primus stove ready for breakfast

Our agenda for the day was very light and involved less than ten kilometers of paddling!  We had three objectives:

  1. visit Picto Site #1 – known as “the Pothole”
  2. drop in at the Air Dale outpost on the island north of the pictograph site to see if anyone was there and if we could use their satellite phone.
  3. set up camp at Admiral Falls

First up, the rock paintings. The photo below captures the semi-circular little cove where they are located. We spent a half-hour at the site, getting shots of the main panel and other images to the side. Max and the canoe sit there to provide an indication of scale while I scampered onto the rock and framed some more shots.

Little Missinaibi Lake Picto Site #1 – the Pothole

The site – if you are interested – has the following coordinates:  48°14’11” N 83°35’29” W

the main panel at the Pothole Site on Little Missinaibi Lake

If you’re interested in more info and pics on the Pothole site – and on the other pictograph sites on Little Lake Missinaibi, click the title below to access a post dedicated to them.

The Pictographs Of Little Missinaibi Lake

a view of the Pothole site from above

After our time at the Pothole site, we continued north, stopping at the Air Dale island outpost on our way to the outlet of Little Missinaibi Lake. It was a Sunday and a new crew had just flown in earlier that morning. We chatted with a couple of fishermen – they were from southern Ontario – about their luck so far. They had a couple of pike for their first efforts but they were just starting.

A week later after they had returned home I found out from one of them that during their six days there the four of them had caught 606 fish. It sounds impressive though I’ll admit that as a non-fisherman,  I don’t get the point of “catch and release”. It may be that they, in turn, don’t get the point of a canoe stroke being repeated 8,000 times day after day for two weeks!

We also asked them if they had a satellite phone. Since our Spot Connect had stopped working,  we were hoping to get a message to our families that everything was fine. They did have a sat phone;  however, it apparently just connected to the outpost owners in Wawa. When they relayed our message, the connection was (I was told later) bad enough that it did not get through. On returning home we learned that our families had never been contacted.

paddling to Admiral Falls on the Little Missinaibi

We passed a few campsites as we made our way north from the outpost. In the photo above I am scanning the left shoreline for a campsite indicated on the Chrismar Missinaibi 1 map. On the right another Park campsite marker is visible. We, however,  are headed to Admiral Falls. We figured we may as well include at least some of the portage in this day’s very light workload; setting up camp near the falls will hopefully also give us more photo ops.

our only moose sighting of the trip

Not in the calculations was the weather; something wet and sustained was definitely coming in. At Admiral Falls we found the campsite about half-way down the portage trail; it was just a few meters off the trail away from the falls. There was no official campsite marker there but it looked serviceable. (While Hap Wilson’s guide-book (1994) mentions the camp site, the Chrismar Missinaibi 1 map from 2008 does not.)

We had just got the über-tarp up with the tent underneath when it started raining. Soon after we put up the NoBugZone a bit closer to the main trail; it was our third time putting it up and we were getting better at it! It was about 2 p.m. and we were done for the day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the rest of the day, we would listen to the pitter-patter of rain on nylon. Occasionally it reached the torrential level!  We were dry and cosy but left wondering how long the deluge would last. Add some thunder and lightning to the rain and we were very glad to have set up camp when we did. Morning would come and with it still more rain. We would sit and wait!

Not that there was any rush – it was Sunday and we still had four days to deal with the fifty kilometers to Missanabie and the train ride back to the starting point at Healey Bay. As for the falls, they were ‘nice’ but did not match either of the ones on Day 3 as canoeist eye-candy!

working on a two-sie inside our NoBugZone shelter at Admiral Falls

Next Post – Day 6: From Admiral Falls To Whitefish Falls on Missinaibi Lake

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Canoeing The Little Missinaibi River: Day 4 – From Mukwa Falls To Little Missinaibi Lake

Previous Post – Day 3: From Just Below Rawhide Lake To Mukwa Falls (Below Woods Lake Road Crossing)

  • distance: 21 km
  • time:  start – 9:20 a.m. ; finish – 5:25 p.m.
  • portages/rapids: -1
    • PR7 RR – 200m – actually only a 1/3 since we did the other part the previous day!
    • Line – 75m section that we ran/lined – was easy so not numbered
    • LO  – 75m – Long jam just inside park boundary; some fussing over a section; see pics below; about 30 minutes – magic carpet to the rescue!!
  • weather: Some rain early morning before we got up; overcast with some morning rain off and on; sunny over lunch (50k) & then sunny with cloudy periods for rest of the day
  • campsite: designated island site near 55k; room for 2-3 x 2/4 person tents.

It would be a fairly easy-going morning; it took us two and half hours to get to Lookout Bay. However, we were left a bit confused since the river we experienced did not correspond to the one the Garmin Topo map on our GPS devices indicated! With an elevation of 381 m at the small pool at the bottom of Mukwa Falls and an elevation of 361 m in Little Missinaibi Lake at Lookout Bay, there should have been much more drama. Not that we minded. We were fine with “easy-going” after the previous day!

We did spend about ten minutes lining and running our way down a set of rapids about two kilometers from our put-in at the bottom of the falls. After that, we got back to our usual  6 or 7 km/hr. cruising speed all the way to the Missinaibi Provincial Park boundary.

LM04a

It was raining lightly and in the photo below we’ve stopped under some cedars to take a ten-minute break. Just before the stop we had floated through a set of swifts/Class 1 rapids.

a short break under the cedars on the Little Missinaibi

A comment from a reader of my Little Missinaibi Lake pictograph post did come to mind as we approached the Missinaibi Park boundary! He had written –

Good luck canoeing the Little Missinaibi River with gear to where it enters Little Missinaibi Lake. I would hazard it would be a real physical adventure with a number of pullovers.

Unless he was talking about the entire upper Little Miss, we figured we were at the spot he had in mind when we saw the logjam just inside the park boundary. The two haul-overs we had to do were separated by a pool of water just not quite wide enough for us to manoeuver our canoe from one to the other. It took a half-hour of branch trimming and “magic carpet” sliding to get our groaning canoe over the logs. All the while I had visions in my head of a McGarrigle sisters tune called “Log Driver Waltz” as I worried about the precarious footing.

the last of the upper Little Missinaibi’s blockages

 

 

And then into Little Missinaibi Lake…It was shortly before noon (11:40) and we were done with the upper Little Missinaibi!  Of the rest of the trip – about 75 kilometers – only 10 would be on the river; the rest was lake paddle.

And that groan of relief? That was actually the sound of our canoe as we pulled it over the last set of logs blocking our way into Lookout Bay!  Thanks to repeated hauling over logs and beaver dams, it had developed a crack in its belly.  It had been subjected to more abuse than it was meant to take.  (On our way home a few days later we dropped it off at a Swift Canoe outlet so that it could be repaired. The fix? A belly patch for $500.)

The original plan had been to make camp at a site in Lookout Bay and scramble up to the viewpoint Wilson describes. Given the weather – and the fact we were a bit behind schedule – we decided to keep moving. An island campsite down the lake a bit was the day’s new goal – and on the way we would check out various pictograph sites indicated in Wilson’s guide-book.

LM04c

We were now paddling in well-documented water and the “What is around the corner?” mystery of the first three and a half days was done!  Lookout Bay was Km 45 of our route; for the remaining 75 to Missanabie and the train stop we would be doing mostly lake paddle. Only the 12 kilometers or so of the lower Little Missinaibi from Admiral Falls will provide a bit of adrenaline-pumping action.

We did have something new to focus on. Little Missinaibi Lake has a number of recorded pictograph sites. We were keen to check them out and get some photos of the rock paintings at each one. As well, I had received an email from a reader of our pictograph posts telling me of an unreported site. Since we would be paddling right by, already knowing that there was something there would make it that much more likely that we would see it.

Our first site is numbered #4 in the map above because that is its place in the sequence in which the published reports of Selwyn Dewdney and Hap Wilson place it. Their order goes from north to south; we were entering the lake at the south end.

So – it was around noon as we headed to the Grave Bay site reported by Hap Wilson. The bay is a narrow one that slants to the south-west. The location given is at the entrance of the bay on the west side. We paddled down the west side of the bay for about 400 meters and past three separate rock faces – see the image below – but could not find anything.

looking out of Grave Bay on Little Missinaibi Lake at the supposed pictograph site location

There was a significant amount of lichen covering the three rock faces. It effectively hid whatever images drawn with hematite were underneath. So – no luck.

lichen covered vertical rock face at Grave Bay entrance

As we paddled north-east back out the bay into the lake we did stop at a small island for lunch. The sun had also come out after a morning of rain and drizzle and we used the ample horizontal rock face to spread out our wet clothes and gear.

lunch stop – and drying out session – on Grave Bay island with convenient rock spread

Buzzing around our lunch spot were dragonflies feasting on bugs who had hoped to feast on us. We couldn’t help but think of SAR helicopters as we saw them go about their work – hovering and darting about.

a visitor drops in – I have a vision of SAR helicopters

Lunch done it was on to Picto Site #3 on the SW tip of an island which the Chrismar map Missinaibi 1  identifies as Eagle Island. We made sure to paddle along the west side of the lake as it goes north toward the island. The image below shows what we eventually paddled by – a panel of seven or eight images, a couple of which were hidden under the branches of the cedar. A moose, a couple of canoes, maybe a human figure with outstretched arms, and a few other difficult-to-interpret ochre marks –  after our 45 minutes spent looking in vain for the Grave Bay pictographs, this was a lot more gratifying!

an unreported pictograph site on Little Missinaibi Lake

close-up of pictographs on unreported Little Lake Missinaibi site

close-up of Little Miss pictographs just south of Picto Site #3

And then it was on down the lake and around the corner to Picto Site #3 on the map above. We found a number of images there. Some were almost faded into non-existence; others were still “readable”.

Little Missinaibi Lake – Picto Site #3 – one of the many panels

Picto Site #3 has a number of panels separated by a bit of distance; we paddled close to the vertical rock lining the island and were thankful for the relatively calm water and the sunshine as we framed our photos with our cameras.

Max had his Canon SX280 at work; I had both a Fuji X20 compact and the camera we refer to as “the big honker”, the Sony A77 DSLR. Given the 10 lb./4.2 kg weight of the Sony with its various lenses in a Pelican 1400 case, I had seriously considered leaving it at home and just using the Fuji X20 with its more-than-decent 12 mp raw images. But then – what do I have the A77 for if not to take along?

paddling across Little Missinaibi Lake to get to Picto Site #2

North of Picto Site #3 we would easily find #2. In the above photo the vertical rock face is visible on the other side of the lake.

Little Missinaibi Picto Site #2 – the most well-known panel

Picto Site #2 would be the most impressive of the ones we checked out this day. There are a number of panels to see over a forty-meter distance. We would leave Site #1, the most well-known and discussed of the sites, until the next morning.

one last look from the north end of Little Missinaibi Lake’s Picto Site #2

We’ve created a separate post with many more photos of what we found at the various sites on Little Missinaibi Lake. If you are interested in more info – and more pix and discussion and GPS co-ordinates  – click on the post title below. 

The Pictographs of Little Missinaibi Lake

Our day would end with a short paddle west to our island campsite. As we got near we saw our first reminder that we were now in a managed park as opposed to the Crown Land of the Game Preserve. Nailed to a tree was the iconic campsite marker, something we had definitely not seen in our first three days of travel on the Little Missinaibi River from Healy Bay on Lake Windermere.

We had reserved by telephone four nights of tenting in the Park from Julie Gervais at the Park office in Chapleau. Our permit arrived shortly later by email! (Our four nights would also include Admiral Falls, Whitefish Falls, and Red Granite Point campsites.) For the second year in a row, I got to pay the “senior” rate!  Max will have to wait until 2019 to join the club.

the scene on our Little Missinaibi Lake island campsite an hour later

The excellent campsite includes a picnic table and room for multiple tents. We used the extra space to put up our Eureka NoBugZone for the second time. I had bought the bug shelter after reading one too many horror story about black flies in mid-June. We actually found them not to be an issue!

our most successful setting up of our bug/tarp shelter

Still, we were lugging the 5.5 lb. shelter (about 9′ x 9′ of space) so we figured it may as well go up. The integrated tarp also turns it into a handy rain shelter as well as a refuge from the bugs if they do get really bad. It is a well-thought-out design with no-see-um meshing and a white nylon tarp. By the end of the trip we had finally figured out the most effective way to set it up!

It was about 700 meters from our island campsite over to Picto Site #2. After supper, we wandered over to the south-east side of the island and took one last look at the pictograph site. The A77 and the telephoto zoomed to 300 mm. (35 mm equivalent) brought the site into view nicely.

Little Missinaibi Lake Picto Site #2 from our island campsite to the west

Day 4 had begun on at our tent site on the rocky right shoulder of Mukwa Falls. We were now on an island about two-thirds of the way down Little Missinaibi Lake. Compared to the work involved on days 2 and 3, it had been an easy one, made all the more enjoyable by the shift from dealing with various complications on the river to sitting in front of pictograph sites and snapping photos.

Our next day promised more of the same since we only intended to paddle to Admiral Falls at the north end of the lake. We just hoped that the decent weather would hold.

Next Post: Day 5 – From Island Campsite Across From Picto Site #2 To Admiral Falls

 

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Canoeing The Little Missinaibi River: Day 3 – From Below Rawhide Lake To Mukwa Falls below Woods Lake Road Crossing

Previous Post – Day 2: From Ramhill Lake To Just Below Rawhide Lake

  • distance: 7.7  km
  • time: start – 09:15 a.m.; finish –  5:45 p.m.
  • portages/rapids: 2+
    • LO – quite a few with dragging and mini portages
    • P6 RL – 120m (1.5 hrs – we cut/marked a portage – likely an existing one)
    • P7 RR – 200m (camped on rock about 2/3 way down on RR)
  • weather: mostly sunny. some overcast
  • campsite: on RR, while not the best (slight slope, all rock beside falls/rapids) still welcomed after a day of struggling!

“Did all that really happen just five hours ago?” we wondered as we got up for what we figured would be a challenging Day 3.  Blocking the river within view from the campsite was the next set of deadfall and sweepers.  We concentrated on our bowls of oatmeal and savoured the filtered coffee in our large mugs while we talked through the events of the past day – the swamped canoe, the dead Spot, the gunshots at dusk, the SAR helicopter buzzing over our tent, the two members of the SAR team rappelling down …wow!

Before the trip began we had agreed that the word “Trump” or anything remotely connected with it would not be uttered or discussed.  And except for mentioning Trump Lake as we passed it by a few days later, we had a ten-day break from the circus.  However, we did return often to our Spot Connect and the SOS fiasco. As already mentioned it had become – like it or not –  a dead weight that we carried along for the rest of the canoe trip .

an empty Day 2 campsite before we set off on Day 3

With the tent down, we took one last look at our tent site before we set off. It had been a lucky find within an hour of our canoe swamping episode.  I turned one more time to the upturned base and roots of a fallen tree and imagined a face staring back at me!

The Old Man of The Forest looks my way

The day’s map shows that when the river constricted to a narrow channel our progress slowed to a crawl as we dealt with impassable rapids made complicated by the rocks, sweepers, and deadfall. Portaging around the obstacles was rarely the better choice so we made our way down on the river itself.  Mostly it was no more than crotch deep and my waterproof Kokotat pants with integrated waterproof socks were perfect for the job.  No need to be dainty about it – just get in the water and walk that canoe down!

walking the canoe downriver

Every once in a while we’d get to the bottom of a difficult stretch to find a widening of the river and some easy paddling. Nice!  For example, that puddle just south of our campsite – well, that was the reward for spending forty-five minutes on a 150-meter stretch of river that we approached within a couple of minutes of starting the day. Repeat often and you can understand why the total distance covered over the next eight hours was 7.7 kilometers!

a wider section of the Little Missinaibi on Day 3 morning – 11:20

looking back at a section just lined – 1:06

At 2:00 or so we stopped for lunch on a shadeless but flat rock just before the next bit of deadfall and sweepers that we would deal with.  Off came the boots and socks and pants – we laid them out on the rock while we fired up the stove for some hot water.  Our Helinox camp chairs were put together and the bread and peanut butter were out when the bear popped up about fifty meters up the river.

A few minutes before I had seen a solid bit of black crossing the river about fifty meters down from where we were and had wondered what it was.  Now he appeared above us!  He looked at us for a while; we got up and starting waving our arms and making noise. I even got out a bear banger and had the tube cocked and ready to fire. By the time Max got the camera out the bear had decided to keep moving up river and we got the bear butt photo you see below!

bear butt on the Little Missinaibi

lunch spot on the Little Miss – no bear in view!

After lunch we were cheered by the fact that things were moving along at a somewhat faster clip!  By 3:45 we were paddling towards a noticeable drop on the horizon. We still did not know what was coming but did beach our canoe on river right just above the drop. It was way more than a set of rapids!  We had paddled up to an impressive waterfall!

After we had paddled the entire Little Missinaibi River, we could say that next to Whitefish Falls at the very end, this one was the most impressive.  Not having a name for it, we figured Animiki (“Thunderer” in Ojibwe) fit nicely.  Animiki Falls – one of the “wows” of our canoe trip – was an unexpected bonus.  The main channel tumbles down over a couple of drops while a side stream on river right does a dramatic drop off a cliff!  Very scenic.  Just being there and taking it all in seemed to recharge our batteries after a day of slogging.  A later look at the GPS data showed a 13-meter drop to the pool at the bottom.

the-little-missinaibi-river-up-to-animiki-falls-woods-lake-road-to-the-east

our first look at Animiki Falls – an unexpected WOW

the first of the drops at Animiki Falls on the Little Missinaibi River

We were, however, left with a problem!  How do we get around this?  The terrain on river right was not the answer.  Max looked over to river left and noticed the sun streaming through the trees.  The bush seemed less dense than it was on the side we were on.

Max does reconnaissance – Animiki Falls

a side stream tumbles over rock at Animiki Falls on the Little Missinaibi

Max scouting for a possible portage on river right at Animiki Falls

We walked back up to the canoe and made our way over to the left side of the river to check out a possible portage trail. After a short first steep section we found ourselves on a fairly flat ledge running along the river.  Some easy trail clearing and tape marking later we were standing at the bottom of the rapids.

In the image below the clear area and the rock face on river left (i.e. the right side of the image) is where we came out. In hindsight it is likely that we ‘found’ an existing portage that has been unused for more than a few seasons – it just seemed too easy! Except for one section where a tree made passage with the canoe pretty awkward,  it was an easy carry.  The answer would be to cut down the tree; we turned the canoe sideways and squeezed it through. Maybe the next tripping crew through will upgrade the trail with more trimming and cutting!

looking back at the bottom of Animiki Falls on the Little Missinaibi

At the bottom of the falls we regretted not spending more time working with different perspectives with our cameras.  No little video to capture the movement and the sound of the falls, no pix of the portage trail we had cut!  We did take some time at the bottom to frame a few shots.  I got out of the canoe and was able to get a few of Max as he paddled in the pool below Animiki Falls.

Max paddling up to the bottom chute of Animiki Falls

Max below Animiki Falls on the Little Missinaibi River

Not far from the falls we passed the rock face pictured below.  It was the most impressive stretch of rock we had so far seen on the river. The indented section almost looked like a doorway into the rock, a perfect entrance for the maymaygweshiwuk of traditional Ojibwe myth. We figured that it may have met the requirements of an Ojibwe on a vision quest or medicine-seeking mission. We paddled over to see if there were any pictographs. No luck this time!

impressive rock face on the Little Missinaibi below Animiki Falls

a possible pictograph location? This time the answer was “no”.

Within a half-hour of leaving Animiki Falls, we were approaching the Woods Lake Road as it crosses the river. The river had changed from rock-strewn to a more sandy bottom.  We took that as a positive sign, though there were still a few sweepers to deal with.  The culverts under the Woods Lake Crossing were blocked with some logs but we picked the left culvert and were able to squeeze our way under, into and then through.

the two culverts under the Woods Lake Road

Not too far from the culverts – you can see them from where we landed the canoe on river right in the image below – we beached the canoe again.  It was time for another “wow” experience.

We were at the top of another waterfall! We counted eight separate drops in the river before it reached the pool area at the bottom.  While not as dramatic as Animiki Falls just upriver a bit,  this one still ranks third of all the falls on the Little Missinaibi River system. Here are the official wow meter results –

  1. Whitefish Falls
  2. Animiki falls
  3. Mukwa Falls
  4. Admiral Falls

We walked down almost to the bottom on the rock ledge that lines the side of the river.   It would clearly be an easy ready-made portage!  And – given the time of day (5:30) – it would also be our campsite for the night.

the other side of Woods Lake Road – looking back at the culverts

Max scouting the set of rapids below the Woods Lake Road culverts

Another surprise waterfall in need of a name!  None of the maps we had even indicated these two falls, let alone had names for them.  We also gave this one an Ojibwe name –  Mukwa  after the bear we had seen earlier that afternoon.

looking back up Mukwa (Bear) Falls

Max walking back up to the beached canoe and gear at the top of the falls – portage time!

About two-thirds of the way down to the next day’s put-in we found a fairly flat rock surface for our tent.  The inflated Thermarests that we would be sleeping on help make a good sleep spot out of almost any situation.  The sound of the falls would be another issue! Max would be getting out the ear plugs this night to dull the sound a few decibels.

looking down to the bottom of Mukwa Falls

We had been busy enough during the day that our minds did not have time to wander back to the events of the previous day very often.  Now that the tent was up and supper done, we got to sit by the river with our double shots of maple whisky and go over it all again. Not that there was anything we could do about it – except for the aftershocks, it was over and done.

And – on another note – so almost was our trip down the upper and uncharted section of the Little Missinaibi River!  We knew that we were within six or seven kilometers of the Lake and had the sense that the very character of the river had changed from gnarly to gentle with our two rocky waterfalls being the exceptions.

our tent up on the right side of Mukwa Falls

The next morning we would find out if our hunch about the river was correct!

Next Post: Day 4 – From Mukwa Falls  to Little Missinaibi Lake Island Camp

 

 

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Canoeing The Little Missinaibi River: Day 2 – From Ramhill Lake To Below Rawhide Lake / Key Lake

Previous Post – Day 1: From Windermere Lake’s Healey Bay To Ramhill Lake

  • distance: 16.5 km
  • time: start – 09:00 a.m.; finish –  5:45 p.m.
  • portages/rapids: 1++
    • LO  – see pics for typical lift-overs, drag-overs ( Magic Carpet time!) and mini-portages from 2 to 5m
    • P5 RR – 1.5 km including 120m of bushwhacking to the road
    • River south of Key Lake – may require wading, LO’s and dragging
  • weather: overcast and then sunny
  • campsite: on RL,  the only flat spot we could find for a 4-person tent!! Suggest camping near Key Lake and road. Day 3 will be tough! Did not see anything the next day close to where we stopped.

It rained on and off overnight with at least four separate downpours, a couple of them fairly heavy.  Given how the tarp amplifies the noise it may not have been that bad.  Still – if the day’s 60% chance of rain  is going to happen, what better time than while we are sleeping, especially if it means a day of dry paddling!

the “bridge” across the Little Missinaibi at Ramhill Lake

We set off at about 9:00, looking back at the “road” and the beaver dam in the above image.  The first hour featured  deadfall and more beaver dams across the river and the grey sky had a smidgen of blue. The terrain would continue to be of the marsh/wetlands sort until we got to Rawhide Lake. We did line down or portage around a couple of small sets of rapids.  The following pix show the river in the morning stretch we did.

the 1st of many beaver dams on the Little Missinaibi below Ramhill Lake – note red magic carpet!

typical Day 2 obstacle on the Little Missinaibi above Rawhide Lake

more deadfall on the Little Missinaibi

the Little Missinaibi below Ramhill Lake

break time on the Little Missinaibi above Rawhide Lake

short portage around Little Missinaibi blockages

When we got to Rawhide Lake we paddled down to the north end where it reverts back to narrow river channel. After contemplating the severe logjam blocking further progress and looking for some possible way around it, we decided a lunch break was in order. It was about 1 p.m. – definitely time to refuel before we dealt with the clogged river ahead.

the bottom (north end) of Rawhide Lake – totally blocked

Lunch done we paddled over to the logjam again. As far as we could see it was a jumble of weathered trees blocking the river. We did bushwhack our way on river right back to the river about 100 meters below the blockage to get a look at the situation. It was difficult going and we knew that we would not be carrying our gear and canoe this way. Below the rapids was more deadfall and sweepers making an easy descent unlikely.

the forest floor north of Rawhide Lake - a jumble of deadfall

the forest floor north of Rawhide Lake – a jumble of deadfall

the bottom of the rapids at the north end of Rawhide Lake

However, there was a solution! After a 120-meter portage from Rawhide Lake up to the maintained gravel road, we could walk the canoe and gear along the road until we found a spot where we could get back down to the river.  The Garmin topo maps we were working from had us thinking that a 400 meter or so walk along the road would do the trick. However, as the GPS track shows, the road really does not get close to the river until it crosses the creek out of Key Lake.  So – over the next two hours we ended up with a portage of 1.5  kilometers before we had our canoe back in the water!

The first part – the stretch from Rawhide Lake to the road – was the most difficult. We first walked it with our handsaw and some marking tape to outline a useable “trail” for our carry. When we came out to the road we were surprised to find some prospectors’ tape already festooning the branches.  There was even another tree branch with tape left lying across the road. Clearly we were not the first.  On our return for the first load of our gear we would find more tape left by the folks who had flagged the road spot.  We were left wondering – “Were they fishermen – or are we not the only crazy canoe trippers to be doing this?”

And then – a photographic blank from 2:30 to 5:45 as we took no pix from the time we got to the road to  the time we had set up our campsite further down on the Little Missinaibi. We had clearly switched into our full-out “gittin’ ‘er dun” mode and were too preoccupied to stop for photo-ops!

Once on the river again at Key Lake Creek it was back to small sets of rapids, occasional clear and open stretches of easy paddling, and then more short blockages and sweepers as made our way. We did have one mishap as we were lining the loaded canoe down an awkward stretch with some badly placed boulders and logs.  The river here was no more than three feet deep.

Thanks to a sweeper reaching almost right across the river, the nose of the canoe got caught  and leaned ever so slightly back into the strong current. That was enough to fill it with water in about a second!  It was also the beginning of a mad fifteen-minute session of bailing most of the water out,  Max using the bailer and I my Tilley hat.  We needed to lighten the canoe so we could maneuver further downstream and to the shore to bail out the rest of the water we had taken on.

a Google satellite view of our Little Missinaibi campsite

We then paddled down and picked up a few things at the bottom of the rapids that had floated down when the water swamped the canoe – a spare paddle, my floating camera bag, and a life jacket.  The other stuff was in the canoe but wet, including the small duffel bag with our Spot Connect attached to it.  As we got everything back together we did notice that the Spot had gone dead – no lights at all.

We would take a closer look at it when we found our campsite. It was amazingly the only decent space we would see between the road at Key Lake Creek  and one a few kilometers down river that we saw the next day.

panorama – Little Missinaibi Day Two campsite

Up went the tent and then I opened up the dead Spot, noticing some moisture on the inside as I did so.  That would explain why it was no longer working. It had been clipped to the top of that duffel bag and subjected to a powerful initial gush of water and then more minutes of under water exposure as we dealt with our canoe full of water.  I checked the Spot manual later and saw that it had a IPX7 water rating (Waterproof: Up to a depth of 1 meter for up to 30 minutes).


Note: The Spot Connect is a GPS tracker and emergency SOS device which, when paired with a smartphone via bluetooth also allows messaging to pre-set email addresses.  Once every ten minutes when it is on a location signal is transmitted via satellite to an internet server whose website is accessible to any who have been given the url.  That way the folks at home can follow along in real time.  As well as the device itself, an annual renewal of the satellite service (about $200.) is required.  During the day it tracks our progress;  we also use it to send an email message (45-character maximum!) at the end of the day.  In a real emergency the SOS button is there. It requires a removal of a lid covering the inner button to ensure that it is not pushed accidentally.  One weakness of the device is that it only allows one-way communication. However, it represents a major improvement over the way it used to be on our canoe trips when we would be out of touch for two or three weeks at a time. We have used our Spot since 2011 on all our canoe trips.  We’ve appreciated it for what it does – i.e. add an extra element of safety and contact.


We dried the Spot Connect and tried new batteries but still no green On light.  I would then use the battery-powered blower I use for my Thermarest to blow air at it in hopes of getting rid of any residual moisture but we were having no luck.   Later  it came into the sleeping bag with me in hopes that whatever heat I was generating might help.

Supper done we sat on the banks of the river on a flat stretch of rock and looked down to what looked like more of the same the first thing the next morning – another logjam blocking the river. We realized that our plan to be on Little Missinaibi Lake by the end of Day 3 may have been be overly optimistic given the state of the river.

looking down the Little Missinaibi from our campsite – more work ahead!

The photo below was taken at 9 p.m. and it would lead to a glorious golden glow of the setting sun.  However, as we looked west at the opposite bank and towards the logging road which was about 400 meters further in, we heard three gun shots.  As well, someone shouted what we assumed was someone’s name.

And the gunshots?  I figured (wrongly I would soon learn) that it could be guys from one of the First Nations reserves near Chapleau.  They were probably driving along the logging road at dusk and had picked off a moose as he walked along the road.  We did not respond.  On our return we would learn that three guns shots (or blows of a whistle or flashes of light) in rapid succession is the international signal for distress and requires a response.  We had not made the connection!

looking west towards the Woods Lake Road

We went to sleep thinking about a couple of things:

  • How were the folks back home dealing with the lack of tracks or email since our Spot device went dead around 4:30 or 5 p.m.  We hoped they weren’t worrying.
  • How bad would the upcoming stretch of river before Lookout Bay on Little Missinaibi Lake be?

We did fire up our iPhones to see if service was possible but we were definitely off the grid! The map below shows Bell’s cell phone coverage area; while Chapleau was close it was not close enough!

At about 2:30 a.m. we heard the sound of a helicopter. It came and went – and then came back again. It seemed to be circling over the area where we were. We eventually clued in to the notion that the helicopter was looking for someone – and that someone was us! We still had no idea why.

Somehow our Spot Connect device initiated an SOS call. We had not pressed the SOS button!  All we knew was that our Spot Connect had gotten wet and seemed to be dead.

At about 5 p.m. an SOS signal from our device was received by GEOS, a Houston, Texas-based company that operates a worldwide emergency response center. It then relayed the GPS coordinates attached to that SOS call to the Ontario Provincial Police and soon the Chapleau detachment had a mission on their hands – get close to the spot where the SOS signal had come from and find the people who had prompted it. This would explain the gun shots a few hours later. Unfortunately, we did not know that we were in trouble – and that the quick three-gun shots were meant as a distress/help signal.

And that would also explain the SAR helicopter.

It was 650 kilometers as the helicopter flies from CFB Trenton to our Day Two tent site on the Little Missinaibi River.  After the OPP searchers came up empty they contacted the SAR Center at CFB Trenton and by midnight there was a Hercules transport plane on its way to Chapleau with a helicopter inside. At 2 a.m. or 2:30 I was standing barefoot outside our tent in my undershorts and a t-shirt, waving my headlamp around to show our location. It would take a few minutes before one – and then soon after – a second SAR Tech rappelled down to a location near our tent.  It did not seem real. The sound of the helicopter above had me thinking I was in a scene from the movie Apocalypse Now.

  • “Are you alright?” the tech asked.
  • “We’re fine! What is this all about?”
  • “Do you have an SOS device? It sent an SOS call this afternoon.”

We talked for a minute or two until his partner emerged after a torturous walk through the jungle-like bush behind the tent. We were shocked, apologetic, worried, puzzled … and I also wanted to say, not responsible for this!  And yet – our device, our SOS signal …

  • “Who pays for this?”
  • “You do! [Pause…] You’re a taxpayer, right?”

And soon they were gone and we were left with all sorts of emotions pulling us in different directions.  We could just imagine the emotional ride our wives were on once GEOS had informed them nine hours before.  And then their contact with the OPP and the news that no one could be found at the SOS site and that an SAR team would be sent from Trenton. Yikes!  The incident would cast a cloud over the rest of our canoe trip.

CH-146 Griffon helicopter possibly like the one over our tent spot at 2:30 a.m.

On the plus side we knew that at least now the folks at home would know that we were okay.  Three days later on passing the Air Dale fishing outpost on the north end of Little Missinaibi Lake we did ask the fishing party there to relay a message on their satellite phone to our wives, leaving $10. to pay for the call. Apparently their sat phone could only communicate with headquarters in Wawa.  However, when they phoned Wawa and gave them our message to relay it seems that the sat connection was so poor that the message did not get through.  So – no message back home from the fishing outpost!

Next Post – Day 3: From Below Rawhide Lake To Mukwa Falls Below The Woods Lake Road Crossing

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