Related Posts: Smoke Over Wabakimi – Canoeing In A Season Of Fires
If you really want to get away from the crowds, then Wabakimi Provincial Park in NW Ontario is an obvious choice. For every hundred paddlers churning up the waters of Algonquin or Killarney or Quetico, there are maybe one or two in Wabakimi. But for us, there is a price to pay- and that is the time needed to get there. I should add that we live in southern Ontario (London and Toronto) so Armstrong Station is a long way; if you live in Wisconsin or Minnesota or Thunder Bay the park is almost on your doorstep!
Take a look at the Google map below to see where Wabakimi Provincial Park is in the bigger picture.
Our 2010 visit to Wabakimi Provincial Park very definitely gave us every reason to go back for more and that is what we did the next year. (Check out our trip report “Discovering Wabakimi: Paddling to the Center of the Universe“ for more info.)
Our Wabakimi Itinerary:
- July 23 – we left Toronto Union Station at about 10 p.m. (Note: In 2019 the schedule was changed: the train now leaves at 9:30 a.m. twice a week. Due to the COVID epidemic, it is not running during the 2020 season.)
- July 24 – spent all day on the Via Canadian train and got to Flindt Landing around midnight
- Day 1 – 25 km – from Flint Landing cabin to campsite on a bay off Flet Lake
- Day 2 – 26 km – from Flet Lake to campsite on Flindt River by portage on NE end of Big Island
- Day 3 – 20 km – from lower Flindt River camp to Wabakimi Lake west end
- Day 4 – 23 km – to River Bay South shore after an encounter with a park ranger
- Day 5 – 24 km – to the start of Palisade R. after paddle up to turn-off to Slim Lake and back (9 km)
- Day 6 – 33 km – to a campsite on Grayson River before Whitewater Lake
- Day 7 – 9 km – small island at top of Whitewater just to the west of Porter island
- Day 8 – 22 km – to a sand fly-infested beach on the south end of Best Island on Whitewater Lake –
- Day 9 – 22 km – halfway down Lonebreast Bay to Bussey Island campsite (one with memorial)
- Day 10 – 11 km – to island at the north end of Smooth Rock Lake
- Day 11 – 25 km – to campsite down near the south end of the west arm of Smoothrock Lake
- Day 12 – 19 km – to Boiling Sand River campsite across from Mattice Outfitters Lodge
- Day 13 – 8 km – to Boiling Sand River after Gnome Lake
- Day 14 – 3 km – to Bath lake just before the portage over the railway tracks
- Day 15 – 5 km to Collins and board the east-bound VIA Canadian train 8:50 a.m. CT
- Aug 09 – the Via train pulled in to Toronto’s Union Station at about 10:00 a.m.
Maps And Related Resources:
Federal Government 1:50,000 Topographic Maps
The Federal Government 1:50000 topos will provide you with greater detail and more context of the route to go along with the Wabakimi Project maps. You can find the topos you need at the Federal Government’s Natural Resources Canada website and print them out yourself. Clicking here will take you to the 052 folder where you will find all of the following 1:50,000 topos in either the J or the I sub-folders. Each map folder contains three choices; I download the prt.tif file. Do note that a few of these maps are in black and white.
The maps below are the ones you’ll need –
- Seseganaga Lake 052 J 01
- Wilkie Lake 052 J 08
- Neverfreeze Lake 052 J 09
- Wabakimi Lake 052 I 12
- Burntrock Lake 052 I 13
- Grayson Lake 052 I 14
- Goldsborough Lake 052 I 11
- Onamakawash Lake 052 I 05
- Armstrong 052 I 06
The Natural Resources Canada mapping division has moved on from the above-archived maps, which have not been updated since at least the 1990s. Many go back to the 1970s. The source of the most up-to-date maps from NRC is the Toporama site. Click here to access. It provides a seamless view of the entire Canadian landmass; you can print off what you need. Not only are the maps more up-to-date, but they also are all in colour!
Google Earth – Satellite View:
The Google Earth satellite view provides revealing views of the route and it is worth spending a bit of time getting the satellite perspective. A web version can now be accessed within the Chrome browser. Click here for the KML file (163 kb) of the every-ten-minutes-while-it-was-on tracks recorded by our Spot Connect during our two-week trip. Import the file into Chrome’s web-based Google Earth app as a New Project and you should see all 730 tracks. All that is missing is the first three hours’ worth – we were still learning how to use the device!
As well, the Ontario Government’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests has its own online map service (see here) which often provides more up-to-date and detailed maps than the Federal Government’s maps listed above. It is worth looking at them too – and even printing out certain sections. If you go into Map Layers you can access their satellite imagery, which is often better than the one in Google Earth.
None of the above provides detailed information about rapids, portages, and campsites. For that, you will need to sources like the Friends of Wabakimi.
Wabakimi Project Maps:
To get a handle on possible routes, campsites, and portages we purchased Volume 3 of the Friends of Wabakimi (formerly Wabakimi Project) Canoe Route Maps series.
We already had Volume 1 from the previous summer’s Wabakimi trip and had found those maps quite useful. The $40. for the Wabakimi Project maps is an investment – and not a splurge! It will get you the campsite and portage information you need; it will also help this volunteer organization to pay for the cost of flying in people who give a week or two of their time in the summer to clear and mark the portages, create the campsites, and do the mapping work that makes the route maps possible.
Finally, we had a Garmin GPS unit (an Etrex) along for the ride as back-up and occasional solution to those head-scratching “where-the-heck-are-we?” moments! We also used it to record our daily track and features like potential campsites and outposts and rapids.
The Spot Connect:
If you want to see the SPOT Connect waypoints of our trip click here to download the 266k file. You’ can import the file into Google Chrome’s web version of Google Earth and see the GPS trail that the SPOT recorded.
The first few kilometers from Flindt Landing down through Heathcote Lake are missing. We were still learning how to use the thing! I am really glad we brought it along. It provided the folks at home real-time info on our location and the email messaging option came in handy for sending brief okay or more personalized notes back home at the end of each day (45 characters max). It does this by pairing up with your smartphone (I use my iPod Touch).
The Spot also provides excellent post-trip data, in particular the amount of time we spent in certain spots along the way. It records a track every ten minutes so if there is a one-kilometer distance between two successive tracks, you will know we were motoring. If you see progress in meters, it will mean some serious lining or portage is in progress!
Update: The Spot Connect was discontinued in 2017. We ended up getting a Garmin inReach Explorer+ in 2018 because of its two-way communication feature. You can receive emails as well as daily weather updates on the inReach, as well as do all the usual tracking and emergency contact stuff.
The Train Ride There: A Day On The Rails!
VIA runs Canada’s passenger train service on lines it rents its presence on from Canadian National Railways (CN for short). The train is a great way to get to Wabakimi from southern Ontario if you are okay with the following:
- the loss of flexibility with respect to the exact day when your trip ends
- the good chance that the train will be quite late on arrival and return thanks to the fact that CN’s freight service takes precedence over VIA’s passenger service!
VIA’s The Canadian runs from Toronto to Vancouver two or three times a week. It is a 4 day 4500-km. epic train ride; the section to Wabakimi is about one-quarter of that. We left Toronto’s Union Station at 10:30 p.m. on a Saturday; we got to Flindt Landing around midnight a bit more than a day later! Given the very poor on-time performance of VIA trains since the mid-2010s, we can actually be thankful to have arrived almost on time!
Catching The Train Back To Toronto:
At the other end of the trip, the logistics were also a bit different. Instead of ending the trip at Little Caribou Road about 6 km from Armstrong, we paddled to Collins at the north end of Collins Lake on the last morning and were at the railway tracks which pass through the non-reserve status Ojibwa settlement of perhaps 200 people by 8:30 a.m. waiting for the train’s 9:30 arrival.
We had arranged for the eastbound VIA train to pick us up on a Monday (August 8).
(There are three eastbound trains passing through the Wabakimi area each week- Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.) [See the new schedule below!] Everything worked out just the way it was supposed to! Within thirty minutes of boarding, we were in the dining car having a breakfast other than oatmeal for the first time in over two weeks. We were on our way home- and a day later we would be!
Flindt Landing – VIA Stop and Lodge
We got off the train at Flindt Landing around midnight. The lodge owner was up but was not expecting us. A confirmation call by me a day or two before would have been a good idea! Someone cleared the cabin on the island quickly and we had our home for the night.
At $80. – or was that $100.? – it was a bit steep for the ten hours we’d be there. However, the alternative – looking for a place to pitch our tent at midnight either near the lodge or on the other side of the lake – was worse, especially since we had no information on actual camp spots that we could use.
Note: With the revised VIA schedules you now arrive at Flindt Landing from the east in the morning (9:42) so the problem of accommodation is solved. You can paddle until you found a decent spot on Heathcote Lake. (See here for the new schedule.)
Day One: Flindt Landing To Flet Lake
distance: 25 km.
We started a bit late on our first day out, still tired from that 27-hour train ride! Nice sunny weather and no wind made for a nice introduction. Within three hours we were 16.5 km. down Heathcote Lake, one of the main wider sections of the Flindt River system. It stretches a kilometer or so to the south of the CN rail tracks and is the river’s headwaters. The Flindt eventually merges with the Ogoki River at Tew Lake, just before Wabakimi Lake.)
We would stop for a leisurely lunch on the far side of P01. Including the short carry, we spent an hour and a half here, enjoying the shade and very fact that we were finally in trip mode.
We portage when we have to, run or line & run when we can, always making sure to check things out beforehand. Sometimes the carry is actually more efficient than an attempt at lining the canoe down a difficult stretch of river.
P02 was one of those we lined and ran without difficulty. P03 was a quick carry and we were back to cruising speed.
P04 was a portage that took us about a half-hour; we lined and ran through P05 in about ten minutes. Then it was time to look for a campsite, given that it was already 6:20. (We had moved the hour hand back by one when we entered the Central Time zone somewhere near Collins on the train in.) We found our spot in the small bay on the west side of Flet Lake indicated above; we were done for the day.
Late-ish start and late-ish finish to Day 1 but it felt great to be back in Wabakimi!
Day Two: Flet Lake To NE Corner of Big Island on the Flindt River
distance: 26 km.
This morning we lined through P08 in ten minutes and did the same with the next set of rapids. When we came to the rapids indicated by P10 we did a carry. P11 we paddled right through.
(Note: P07 does not exist. It was only after all the maps were done that I realized that I jumped from 06 to 08! Gonna have to live with this imperfection!)
We did waste some time this day! When we got to the south end of Big Island, we took the left-hand turn and paddled up for about forty minutes. Not having a complete map view of the island, we thought we had paddled into a long narrow bay! Back we went to the bottom of what we only later realized was an island. Back home in Toronto my wife just happened to be monitoring our progress at this time and having a WTF moment as she tried to figure out what was going on!
We paddled down the right-hand side of Big Island to a decent campsite just above a set of rapids. It was 6 p.m.
Day Three: Flindt River to Wabakimi Lake
distance: 20 km.
This day was one of those when we decided to put in some kilometres on the water before having breakfast. We set off at 8:00, dealing immediately with the two sets of rapids just below the campsite. We ended up lining the canoe through both; the water was not quite high enough to be able to run. We stopped about 45 minutes later on a small island and took out the breakfast bag and spent an hour enjoying our coffee in the morning sun.
On the map below, our campsite is in the center of the page; the red pins show that there were a series of rapids to deal with before we got to Tew Lake and Wabakimi Lake.
After our island breakfast stop, we headed on to the first series – P14, 15, and 16. We ran and lined P14, lined P15 on the left side of the island, and then lined/ran P16. In all, we spent about an hour dealing with all three. There was more to come!
It would take us an hour and a quarter to deal with the next three sets of rapids. We portaged P17 – no fuss there! Then we lined & ran through P18 on river right. After taking a quick look, we also floated past P19. We were now in Tew Lake, a part of the Ogoki River System. Bye, bye, Flindt!. A
About a half-hour later we pulled ashore on river right. It was almost 2:00 and definitely time for lunch!
Lunch over, we headed for the east end of Tew Lake. Our maps showed one last bit of work for the day. The three red pins on the overview map below set the stage!
One thing that happens as you spend more time on the river is that all the basic routines become more and more efficient and everybody knows exactly what it is that they should be doing. Our portage routine was coming along nicely, thanks to the Flindt. We would knock off the next three carries – the first two were admittedly fairly short – in a bit more than an hour.
We were now in Wabakimi Lake, the lake at the center of Wabakimi Provincial Park. (See the map for Day 4 below.) It is 16 kilometers long from west to east but the west half is fairly narrow; it does widen out on the eastern half. We found a decent campsite on a point on the south shore not too far from where we had come into the lake. Up went the tent and the tarp; Day 3 was in the books!
Day Four: WabakimiLake (W end) To Ogoki River Bay
distance: 23 km.
Lake Wabakimi on a windy day can be a bit of struggle – and that is what we had a bit of on this day. We started off at 8:00, hoping to benefit from the calmer conditions one finds earlier in the morning. Easy paddling east down the narrow section of the lake with a light SE wind that picked up as the day progressed.
By 9:00 we were on the north side of the lake and heading for the string of islands off the northern shore, making use of them as windscreens as we made our way east. 11:15 found us at the east end of those islands and heading into some choppy water towards River Bay and the outpost.
We did paddle up to the outpost to get the shot you see below; there was nobody home. We had hoped to get some news on the wildfire situation that had started about ten days before. After some deliberation and the advice of the park superintendent and other paddlers, we had decided to go ahead with the trip. So far we had not smelled any smoke or even thought of the fire that much. That would be changing in the next day!
Shortly after we paddled back out into the bay, we spotted a Wabakimi Parks bush plane. It landed in front of us and we paddled over. The ranger was checking camping permits! As luck would have it, it was tucked deep inside our one super-waterproof bag – the one with our sleeping bags and other need-to-keep-100%-dry stuff. Digging it out of the bag while bobbing on the choppy water of River Bay was not going to happen. So – I gave the guy our names and addresses and told him to check with the park super since I had gotten and paid for the permits from him over the telephone.
We also asked him about the fire situation. He said the fire, labeled Thunder Bay 50, was currently around the Burntrock Lake area, about 20 kilometers from River Bay.)
He made two route suggestions:
- paddle down the Ogoki into Whitewater lake
- paddle back to Wabakimi Lake and go into Lower Wabakimi Lake
As our map for Day 4 shows, we kept on going to the east end of River Bay before stopping for the day and putting up our MEC Wanderer 4 tent. Still not decided was what to do the next day. The original plan had been to paddle into Burntrock Lake and spend a couple of nights there before turning back to Slim Lake and Grayson Lake. The developing fire had obviously changed things!
our humble campsite on the south side of River Bay- see the map above for exact locationWe were struck by the amount of deadwood and blowdown behind our tent site on the south side of River Bay. It had not yet occurred to us that the parks people might be happy with a burn in the area!
Day Five: River Bay To Mouth of the Palisade River
distance: 24 km.
We left our River Bay CS knowing that we’d be paddling right into some rapids and portages as Wabakimi Lake tumbles down into Kenoji Lake.
The drop from River Bay to Kenoji Lake happens in three stages, three sets of rapids over a 4.5 km. distance. The three steps take you down – according to our Garmin Topo Canada map set, 8 meters from Wabakimi lake’s 357m to Kenoji’s 349m. [The archived NRC topos have a more dramatic figure, going from 360+/- to 348+/-. That is a 12-meter drop!]
Having gone through this section of the river twice, we do not remember anything that significant. Here is a look at the tracking data from this morning – and my attempt at reconstructing what we did. Without notes or images, it is sometimes even difficult to picture the various campsites, let alone particular sets of rapids after you’ve done 43 of them! We were not taking notes on this trip and the pix are not always on point!
See here for the Topo Canada View.
Sitting on the rocks on the south side of Kenoji, we did smell any smoke. We decided that instead of redoing the Ogoki River section from Kenoji down to Whitewater Lake, we would stick with a least the main part of our route plan – that is, paddling up the Palisade River to the Slim Lake turn-off and going east to Grayson Lake before coming back down to Whitewater via the Grayson River.
As we paddled into the Palisade River, we met our first paddlers in five days; at the campsite where they had spent the night. The day before they had come down the Palisade and said the smoke was quite noticeable as you paddled ten or twelve kilometers further up. They were now headed for Lower Wabakimi and Smoothrock Lake.
Within twenty minutes they pushed off for the portages into Wabakimi Lake and we had ourselves a campsite! We had lunch – the classic peanut butter on Wasa bread with a cup full of Thai noodle soup – while we discussed our options, thanks to the new information we had received.
After lunch, we decided not to put up the tent just yet and decided to paddle a bit further up the Palisade to get a better handle on the situation. We also wanted to see what some trip reports described as the gorge-like section of the Palisade up near the turn-off to Slim Lake. Two years later we found out that there is a pictograph site on that bit of rock to behind my brother in the image below!
We paddled back down the Palisade towards its mouth and camped that night at the spot vacated by the two paddlers from Toronto we had spoken to earlier. We were definitely in the presence of a bit of history!
But it was the smoke from Thunder Bay 50 that was most on our minds. What to do?
We had to pick one of these two choices:
- follow the ranger’s first suggestion and continue down the Ogoki River into Whitewater; we had done that stretch of the river the year before.
- paddle back up the Palisade River to the Slim Lake turn-off and the route across to Grayson Lake. We would obviously scrap the side trip to Burntrock Lake.
Day Six: The Epic Day – Palisade River to Grayson River near Whitewater Lake
distance: 33 km.
We were on the water early, figuring to put some distance between us and the smoke in the early morning before things warmed up. By 8:15 we had paddled up the Palisade and turned right into the narrow channel that took us into Slim Lake. So far, so good! As we left Slim Lake for Scag lake, we dealt easily with the following –
Once on Scag Lake, we headed over for the lake outlet – aka the start of the Grayson River. We found a very shallow and almost-not-there river! We did the carry on river left. the first of the portages – if that is what it was! – was not even visible. The second one felt more like a trail that someone had once used!
As we walked our gear on the top portage we looked over into the bush to the west and saw some smoke. A very small fire had broken out on the banks of the Grayson, perhaps sparks from Thunder Bay 50. The image below is what we saw.
We spent an hour and a half dealing with P28 and P29 and stopped for lunch on a point of the south side of the river within ten minutes of having finished them. It was about 3:00 when we pulled into a campsite on the river just before it widens out into Arril Lake.
We had just put up our tent on river right just before the river widens out into Arril Lake. Returning to the shore for the rest of our gear, we saw what you see in the images below. Yikes!
As we watched in amazement at the size and ferocity of the smoky spectacle in front of us, we were thinking only one thing – get out of there quick! This meant crossing Arril Lake and getting into Grayson Lake to the east. We figured we’d paddle until we got to Whitewater Lake and had put fifteen kilometers between us and the fire. It was now 3:25 p.m. Here is what motivated us for the next while-
Once we got to the east end of Arril lake we sat on the sand beach for a while and looked west. The fire was definitely being helped by a strong wind from the northwest as the movement of the smoke shows.
After maybe forty-five minutes of sitting on the beach and taking in the incredible scene, we left Arril Lake and headed towards the much bigger Grayson Lake. There is a portage that takes you from one lake to the other at the far east end of Arril.
The winds were still quite strong and were whipping up the fire but it was great to put some distance from it.
An hour and a half later and we were entering the main channel of Lake Grayson. Now, all we had to do was head down the southern channel and we’d feel a lot better. As we started our way down, we watched a helicopter land on the east shore. We pulled in and sat onshore and took in the happenings.
When the helicopter took off leaving one man still onshore – and waving his arm at us to come over to his side – we hopped back into the canoe and paddled across. It turned out that he was a Parks Canada official from Saskatchewan who had been assigned to work on this fire because of its size. He had come in with the helicopter crew who had come to set up a water perimeter system around the outpost property to protect it from the fire.
He also filled us in on what the Parks people thought about the fire. Naïve that we were, it was a bit of a shock to hear that they were just going to let the fire burn itself out. He told us that this corner of the park actually needed a good fire to get rid of all the deadwood that had been accumulating for years. And there we had been, looking into the sky for the water bombers!
While all this was going on, we were also treated to a perfectly timed weather event. For the next 35 minutes, there was one hell of a solid downpour that dumped a massive amount of water on the neighborhood. Okay, so there would be no water bombers but it was still such a relief to see that water come down and drenching the boreal forest that was being eaten up by Thunder Bay 50. We were soaked but relieved!
We gave the Parks Canada guy our personal info and were reassured to hear that we were headed in the right (i.e. south) direction. The sky was now filled with the smoke of the doused fires.
It was like a fog had settled down on the area but it did make for some dramatic photos.
Down we went to the south end of Grayson Lake and a few portages to put even more water and distance between us and TB50!
The epic day was almost done. We had started at about 6:45 from the bottom of the Palisade River and now we were leaving Grayson Lake for the last 7-km. stretch of the Grayson River before you hit Whitewater Lake.
We hit the portage trail and walked through this: it felt like we were in a scene from the Lord of the Rings movies – there was something eerie about being there. It was also getting late and we had been on the move for almost fourteen hours.
There had probably been a lightning strike within the past couple of hours.
One more impossible-to-find portage trail – that would be P32 on the map above! In the end, we just bushwhacked our way to the other side. Thankfully, it was not very far – and then we headed for the tent site indicated on the Wabakimi Project map.
We were so beat that we didn’t even bother with supper that night.
Day Seven: Grayson River To Whitewater
distance: 9 km. !
The next morning we got up later than usual and had a leisurely breakfast while all of our wet gear was spread out in the sun. We were feeling better now that we had turned the corner on Thunder Bay 50 and with every stroke south and east, we would be getting further away! We were also entering water we had just paddled the summer before.
The goal for the day was a modest one – a campsite on one of the small islands just to the west of Porter Island. A short carry over P34 and we were at the mouth of the Grayson River. Once on Whitewater Lake, a look back north confirmed that the fire was still smoldering but we were heading in the right direction.
We found a nice tucked-away-from-the-wind campsite on the east side of a small island on the west side of Porter Island. We had moved nine kilometers – but we were fine with it!
Day Eight: Whitewater west end to Best Island (South Beach)
distance: 22 km.
Breakfast done, we paddled down the west side of Porter Island and over to the channel on the west side of Grange Island that leads right to the Ogoki Lodge. We had visited the property the year before but dropped in for another look. You can read the entire story about the Lodge and how it came to be in this related post –
Then it was down into Secret Lake and back east into Whitewater Lake again. There is one easy portage to get you into Secret Lake. Then it is a turn to the east and back to Whitewater Lake, dealing with some shallow water and probable canoe hauling in spots if the water is low. (It was both times we’ve gone through here.)
Once back into Whitewater Lake from the Secret Lake short-cut, it was time to head down to the Beckwith Cabins on Best island. The year before we had somehow missed them on our way down the west shore of the island since we weren’t exactly sure where they were. We were better prepared this time.
We would spend some time on the island checking out the various structures that an American recluse built in the 1970s and 80s. We ended up putting together an entire post on our visit to the Cabins, as well as to the Ogoki Lodge Complex. Click on the title for more pix and info on two interesting Wabakimi stories:
While there is a campsite on the beach near the cabins, we decided to push on. We had something new to factor in – something troubling that we had noticed in the bush about five kilometers west of Best Island. It was another fire! More smoke! (We would later learn that it was given the name Thunder Bay 57.)
We headed to the south end of Best Island, across from the Mattice Lake Outfitter Lodge where we found a tent spot. Nearby is also a collection of a half-dozen cottages belonging to an Ojibwe group. We figured that it would be safe place to be even in a fire situation given the amount of property nearby that would surely be protected!
The sand flies, however, would make the half-day we spent here our #1 worst campsite in thirty years. It took over this ranking from the previous #1, our tent spot at the start of the portage trail going from the Missinaibi River to Brunswick Lake. We wore our rain gear to protect most of our bodies; my cheeks were numb for the next day thanks to all the bites!
The air was thick with smoke and ash from the fire was falling onto our tent. Seeing a helicopter land at the outfitters’ lodge across the water, we went over and chatted with the crew foreman about the situation. They were there to set up the hoses to create a water sprinkler perimeter and get the water pump motors running. He said we should have no problem paddling south into Lonebreast Bay the next morning.
Day Nine: Best Island To Lonebreast Bay of Smoothrock lake – Bussey I.
distance: 22 km.
We got up at 5:00 the next morning and were into McKinley Bay by 6 a.m., intent on paddling away from the new fire and way down into Lonebreast Bay to the south by 11:00.
After knocking off the first three portages of the way – we finally made a one-hour breakfast stop on a flat elevated rock in the middle of the lake after P38. None are difficult although we always have fun trying to find P36! The bay is quite reedy so it can be a challenge to find the trailhead if you are the first party through in a while.
Below is our breakfast rock! We had left Best Island without bkft. thanks to those sandflies!
We continued south after breakfast to the next portage. Just as we got to the end of P 39, it started to rain – not the torrential downpour we had seen on Grayson Lake but still a nice long soak which was sure to cool down the bush around us. We had arrived at 11:15; we didn’t leave until 1:00 p.m.!
We spent over an hour sitting under that tarp, sipping on coffee, taking too pix and celebrating the downpour. It washed away the tension of the previous day and a half and, except for a whiff that we got the next night at our Smoothrock Lake camp, that would be it for smoke and fire.
With the portage from Laurent Lake into Lonebreast Bay, that would be it for portages and rapids for a couple of days. Other than the initial difficulty of finding the portage trail at the south end of McKinley Bay, the six carries from McKinley Bay to Lonebreast Bay are quick and easy.
We paddled down Lonebreast Bay for an hour and pulled ashore on Bussey Island. There is an established campsite there – tucked away and nicely sheltered. Also on site was a plaque left by friends of a deceased paddler who had spent time on the island. One note about the campsite – not everyone found it as we did. Here is a Canadian Canoe Routes forum member’s account of what he found –
Bussey Island when I went to scout it was a trash heap.. The water full of dead fish skins.. The island trashed with tp and propane ( 10 lb ) bottles. I went on. There is another campsite on the south shore about 2 km west of Bussey. Best for soloist. mccr source
There is a fishing lodge down the main part of Smoothrock Lake which may explain the mess found. Lodge guests and their guide may use the island for fish fry lunches.
Day Ten: Lonebreast Bay To Smoothrock Lake Central
distance: 11 km.
After a leisurely two-cups-of-coffee start to the day, we headed south on Lonebreast Bay. Our objective for the day was to hit Smoothrock Lake Central and then find a campsite that would put us in a good position for the next day’s paddle down the west arm of the Lake.
We found our spot on a small island at the hub of Smoothrock Lake, an elevated spot with a flat top, some trees to provide shade and a windscreen and a nice breeze on the rock sloping down to the water. We set up our tent and hung our sleeping bags on a line we set up to take advantage of the sun and wind.
All in all, it was an easy day after the 5 a.m. get-up the day before on Best Island’s South Beach.
We would hear some boat traffic around wake-up time on our little island at the hub of Smoothrock Lake. There is a fishing lodge located on the east arm of the lake about 4.5 kilometers from where we were camping:
The fly-in fish camp is made up of twelve cabins and the main lodge building and, if the half-dozen boats in the fishing armada that passed by were any indication, is doing okay in attracting guests. The Smoothrock Lake location is one of a number owned and operated by Thunderhook Fly-Ins, a U.S-owned fishing lodge company with a real stake in fishing/hunting camps in northwestern Ontario, including
- 13 different outposts,
- a four-cabin operation on Whitewater lake, and
- the twelve-cabin complex on Smoothwater Lake.
Later that morning when we headed towards the west arm of the lake, we would paddle by the stationary boats as the guys inside tried various lure combinations. All were from south of the border with Michigan being the #1 state they were from. They were having a great time fishing in Wabakimi Provincial Park. Those fishing outposts all existed before the Park was established and have been allowed to continue and – truth be told – bring in more revenue to the park and locals involved in the tourist industry than the few canoe trippers who spend time (and very little money) in the area.
We arrive complete with all our food and gear, get dropped off on the side of the railway line at Flindt Landing, paddle around the park for two weeks, and then hop on the train at Collins and head back south to Toronto. Not a lot of money there for the local tourist economy – except for the camp park permits we paid for over the telephone while chatting with the park super.
We got close to the bottom of the West Arm of the lake and, when we passed the twenty-kilometer mark, started looking for a campsite. We stopped when there was a sudden change in the weather and got the tent up just in time. We’d get a thunderstorm and some rain for a couple of hours before things cleared up again and sun came out.
Day Twelve: Smoothrock West Arm to Boiling Sand R. (Tamarack L.)
distance: 19 km.
Days 13 & 14: Tamarack Lake to Gnome Lake To Bath Lake
distance: 8 km. + 3 km. = 11 km.!
Day Fifteen: Bath Lake To Collins
distance: 5 km.
Check out the other two parts of our account of our 2011 Wabakimi Paddle. There is one post that focuses on the fires we paddled into- and another post that looks at (mostly) the Beckwith Cabins on Best Island and the Ogoki Lodge just to the south of Grage Island on Whitewater Lake.
If you have any questions about the logistics of the trip, suggestions on corrections we need to make, or general comments on what you’ve read, please drop me a line at true_north @mac.com