We got to the public dock and parking area at the end of Temagami’s Central Access Road (the old Mine Road) on an overcast Wednesday afternoon; it was October 1. Ahead of us was up to a week of paddling and camping in a part of Ontario we have grown to love over the past few years. The plan was to paddle up to the pictograph site on the north arm of Diamond Lake and then loop back through Wakimika Lake and River to Obabika Lake. The total distance: 100 kilometers. The biggest concern: the weather!
We were hoping that the two weeks of “Indian summer” in late September would continue for another week. Appreciated was the fact that a six-hour drive from southern Ontario put us on the edge of something approaching wilderness. Since it was autumn, it would mean that we wouldn’t see (m)any other paddlers on Temagami waters that can be quite busy during the prime summer months. And while Temagami fall colours are not as dramatic as those in Algonquin Park, we knew we were in for some nice splashes of red and yellow to go along with the evergreen.
We left Toronto at 7:00 a.m. for the 470-kilometer drive up Highway 11 to the Lake Temagami Access Road just south of the town of Temagami itself. (See here for a Google view of the ride.) When we got there at 1:00, there were a few other vehicles in the public parking lot. We had chosen this starting point instead of Sandy Inlet at the end of Red Squirrel Road because we were a bit concerned about a possible break-in of the car while we were out paddling.
In retrospect, we should have gone with the Red Squirrel Road/Sandy Inlet entry. Fellow paddlers have since assured me that the chances of our vehicle being broken into are quite low. Also, the 60 kilometers of mostly big lake paddle from our car to the north end of Obabika Lake and back would be eliminated. Given the wind and waves we faced on both Obabika and Temagami, a Sandy Inlet put-in certainly has its attractions.
- distance: 15 km
- weather: overcast, windy, drizzling
- portages: none
Two and half hours of paddling took us from the put-in up the northwest arm of Lake Temagami to an established campsite at Turtle Rock; nearby are a couple of pictograph sites but we had no luck finding them. As the map below indicates, there are also a couple of pictograph sites on Bear Island. Paddling along the north shore of Bear Island, we decided to keep them for the return in a few days. We hoped that the conditions would be more conducive for a search for faint ochre marks on rock.
A bit of rambling around our Turtle Rock campsite did turn up a thunder box, nicely tucked away in the bush and covered with leaves.
We spent a wet, drizzly evening under the kitchen tarp testing our new camp chairs. After twenty years of the venerable MEC Senate Seat, we have gone seriously upscale (and “upweight” at two pounds [900 gms] each). We splurged on the Helinox Chair One for the decadence of off-the-ground seating. The post-trip decision – we’re definitely making room for them on all our future portages!
- distance: 20 km
- weather: overcast/drizzle and rain, windy.
- portages: 900 m into Obabika from Obabika Inlet; 760 m into Chee-skon from Obabika
- campsite: point at the north end of Chee-skon Lake
Going up Obabika Inlet gave us some sheltered paddling and the portage itself, a wide and well-trodden trail, even if 900 meters, was no big deal. Just before the somewhat muddy take-out we did spot the shell of an old 1940’s truck that did duty on the trail back in the days of logging in the area.
Up the east shore of Obabika we went, getting out to stretch our legs at a sand spit named Ranger (or Fog) Point. The campsite here has room for several tents and even has a nice beach. We continued past the two Grandparent (Kokomis and Shomis) Rocks, which figure in the traditional mythology of the local Anishinaabe.
When we reached the top of the lake we looked around for the beginning of the portage that would take us into the day’s goal, Chee-skon Lake. It was another landmark of significance in the traditional Anishinaabe world, thanks to a striking rock face and a rock tower on the east side of the lake.
The portage marker told us we were at the right spot. As the photo shows, there is definitely room here for a tent or two if it is too late in the day to contemplate the 760-meter carry into Chee-skon.
We both set off with a Duluth pack (well, the modern nylon version by the now sadly defunct company Hooligan Gear) on our backs and a duffel on top and the paddles. Given that it was hunting season, before we set off we also made sure we had our orange vests draped around the packs and replaced our usual Tilley’s with orange caps.
When we got to what felt like half way, I put down my load and went back for the canoe while Max carried on to the end. I know we have done a good job estimating when I meet him again at the half way point and he is just picking up the pack and duffel. It wouldn’t be happening this time, however.
A “space cadet” moment would have me taking the canoe for a hike far away from the comforting yellow portage markers. Along with the portage trail the Chee-skon area has a number of hiking trails that take walkers through one of North America’s finest old growth pine forests. The map below will show you where I made a right turn and headed towards that creek flowing out of Chee Skon to Obabika!
You will note the orange hiking trail marker on the pics below –
I should have picked up on the difference as I walked along with the canoe over my head. If that wasn’t enough of a clue, then I should definitely have clued in that something was wrong when I crossed Chee-skon Creek in the photo below –
I now get the difference between the orange and yellow markers but that afternoon I just kept on truckin’ further than I should have as the trail got rougher and rougher. Finally, that “Duh” moment when it struck me that I had left the portage trail behind for an adventure I didn’t want. It sure was scenic though!
Putting down the canoe, I started making my way back until I bumped in my brother, who was wondering what was taking me so long. He offered to retrieve the canoe and carry it the rest of the way while I took a bit of a break but, given that it was my screw up, I went back for it and finished the carry. (Note: the canoe – a Swift Dumoine kevlar/carbon version -only weighs 19 kilos or 42 lbs.)
We got to the end of the portage and I finally got to see Chee-skon. At the put-in was an overturned canoe, probably left by locals to allow them to paddle to the Conjuring Rock at the other end of the lake without having to carry a canoe the 760 meters from Obabika. Across from the put-in was a small stretch of vertical rock with a nice reflection –
But it was the view down through the narrows to the north end of the lake that really caught our attention.
You can see the rock face and the pile of talus and scree in the distance. We would paddle down the lake through the narrows and set up camp on the small point across from the rock. We then paddled across to look at Conjuring Rock up close. In the photo below you can see our campsite on the far side of the lake – the green dot is our 10’x14′ MEC tarp.
Max went for a scramble over the broken rock to the vertical cliff face itself; it rises about fifty meters and has a powerful presence. It’s easy to see how it would be considered a special place in the context of the rest of the terrain in the neighbourhood.
Here is a shot of Conjuring Rock – the tower – and the lake from above and to the north of the tower. Looking down the lake you can see Obabika itself in the distance.
For another angle of the tower – a side shot taken from the north – click here for a Thor Conway photo of the Rock that looks to be about thirty years old. He also provides a clear explanation as to why this rock would be associated with conjuring. And down below is the entire cliff face with the rock tower – Conjuring Rock – in the middle.
An issue of terminology to explore here – shades of leaving the portage trail for another impromptu hike!
In Hap Wilson’s 2004 Canoeing, Kayaking and Hiking Temagami (and the 2011 edition retitled Temagami: A Wilderness Paradise) the rock tower is called “Conjuring Rock”. Wilson bases this name on a late nineteenth century map of the area sketched by the Anishinaabe elder Windaban for the Geological Survey of Canada’s Robert Bell. In a chapter about Chee-skon in his book Trails and Tribulations Wilson writes about the map:
One place of prominent importance was Chee-skon-abikong sakahegan, or, for those not fluent in Ojibwa, “conjuring rock place lake”….Anishnabe linguistic expert and historian Craig MacDonald says of Chee-skon, “The name is derived from the root word for ‘shaking tent’- the seven-poled open-topped used by medicine healers (shamans).”
So there you have the reason why it is called Conjuring Rock.
On the other hand, The Friends of Temagami map has gone with the name “Spirit Rock” as does Jeff’s Temagami Map.
Both names convey the significance of the rock as a sacred place to the Anishinaabe – but while the first name makes clear the exact nature of the activity, the second name – Spirit Rock – has a more vague and general feel to it. One explanation offered as to why to avoid the supposedly negative term “conjuring” is that it was used by the Christian missionaries, who also affixed terms like “devil” and “wizard” to other nearby locations.
We would spend the late afternoon paddling around the lake and taking in the views of a spot we were really glad to have finally gotten to. Here is a look south from the base of the cliff to where we had put our canoe back in the water after the portage –
We got back to our camp just as it started drizzling; our dining room tarp was already set up so we just deked in under it and stretched out on our plush new camp chairs. After supper – an Indian curry in a boil-a-pouch each as well as some pasta – we leaned back with our coffee mugs and liqueur and contemplated the rock face in front of us. For just a moment we let our thoughts wander to the pair of panties we had found next to the fire circle and wondered what that was all about.
- distance: 10 km.
- weather: overcast in the morning with one 15-minute slash of sunshine; wind and rain the rest of the day.
- portages: 840 m from Chee-skon to Mud; 265 m from Mud to Bob; 1175 m from Bob to Diamond.
The day of the portages! We hoped to get to the Diamond Lake pictograph site on the north arm of Diamond Lake by early afternoon and then head back down to find a campsite on the west end of Diamond – but the combination of wind and rain starting around 1 meant we set up camp earlier than planned. The morning part – the portages – actually went smoothly, though Mud Lake did live up to its name at both ends of the portage!
The portage trail to Diamond Lake from Bob Lake is in good shape and pretty flat most of the way. Near the end it crosses an old gravel logging road, as the map below illustrates. We sat at the end of the portage and had lunch and enjoyed our first real sunshine of the trip. It was not to last.
As we paddled out of the shelter of the bay into the open lake itself we met a fierce east wind and the waves it was pushing our way. Once we committed ourselves to crossing, we were relieved to get to a small island. It was quite exposed but we did find a spot which was somewhat sheltered from the wind and quickly put up our tent and supplemented it with a tarp for extra protection. Propping up the canoe between the wind and the tent also made a difference. It would rain most of the afternoon and evening; we focussed on staying dry and warm.
The visit to the pictograph site up the north arm of the lake – about 2.5 kilometers from where we were tented – would have to wait until the next day.
- distance: 26 km.
- weather: overcast but calm in the morning; wind and occasional drizzle in the afternoon; rain throughout the night.
- portages: from Diamond to Lain 450 m; from Lain to Wakimika 435 m; a couple of 20 m or less carries and liftovers on the lower Wakimika River.
- Campsite: an established site on the north point across from Misabi and the start of the Obabika River
We got up to an overcast day but at least it had stopped raining and there was no wind. Here is what the north arm of Diamond looked like as I gazed up the lake towards the pictograph site.
Breakfast done and the canoe loaded with the gear, we paddled the three kilometers north to revisit a rock face that we had passed by in 2006 and 2009. This time we planned to do a better job getting a visual record. Here is a shot taken a half-hour later when we got to the north end of the site; we’d spend a half hour there checking things out.
If you want to see more close-up pics of the pictographs, I’ve set up another post that looks at the site in detail.
The site represented the turn-around point of the trip; we’d spend the rest of the morning paddling back down to the main body of Diamond and then to the west end of the Lake. Luckily the wind had yet to become an issue so the kilometres slipped by nice and easy.
The pic above is a shot of the west end of Diamond Lake; we rounded the point on the left and headed down to a couple of portages that would take us into Wakimika Lake. Here is a shot of the very scenic bay you paddle into to get to the take-out for the 450-meter portage trail over to Lain Lake –
A part of the route we always enjoy is the stretch on the Wakimiika River. After crossing the lake with a noticeable head wind to deal with, it was nice to slip into the narrow confines of the river/creek as it meanders its way to the marshes at the north end of Obabika Lake. Paddling around or slipping under fallen trees is part of the fun –
By 3:30 we were at the top of Obabika and facing a strong wind. We decided to make it to the point on the north side of where the Obabika River starts; we had camped there back in 2006 on another wet and soggy Temagami fall trip! I did, however, take a closer look at the camp site just north of it to see how it compared. We moved on.
That evening brought more rain and cooler temperatures but the two silnylon tarps – one as insurance over our tent and the other over our cook area – made things easier to deal with.
- distance: 32 kilometers
- weather: intermittent rain and strong winds
- portages: just one – from Obabika into Lake Temagami – 900 m.
The plan had been to be out for six or seven days but here we were at the start of Day Five having decided to paddle out this very day if possible. It would mean we would not be paddling over to Alex Mathias’ place to say “hello”; the visit to the three pictograph sites on the south end end of the lake would also be scrapped for another time. So too would spending some time hiking the Old Growth Trails around Chee-skon.
We were on the water by 7:00 and by 9:00 we were having breakfast at the start of the 900-meter portage into Lake Temagami. By 1 p.m. we were back at the campsite that we had stayed at on Day One. By now the wind was blowing and the water was rolling from the south. We stopped there for some lunch and then knocked off the rest of the distance by 4.
Along the way we would meet our first person since the start of the trip, a cottager who was shutting down things for the winter. He shouted over to us – “You guys are pretty brave to be out here today”. We thanked him for his choice of words and said we could think of some other less positive ones. As the map above shows, we made use of the series of islands in the middle of the lake to break the wind and waves as we made our way back to the north side of Bear and Temagami Islands to our car.
While the weather had not been the best and it sometimes felt like we were in a episode of Survivor: Temagami, the pics hopefully illustrate that we got to paddle for a few days through a beautiful small stretch of the woodlands of the Canadian Shield. The next morning, sitting at the kitchen table in Toronto, we considered the thought – “Maybe we were a bit hasty with our decision to pull out a day early?” If nothing else, we have lots of reasons for getting back up there some day soon.
Some Useful Links:
If you are planning to visit the general area that this post describes, there are a few resources that will help you get a handle of routes, campsites, and the like.
Temagami: A Wilderness Paradise (2011) by Hap Wilson is the obvious starting point for any Temagami canoe trip. Drawing on his decade-plus experience as a park ranger in the Temagami area, Wilson provides detailed maps and descriptions of twenty-seven routes, complete with portages, campsites and other points of interest. We made use of “Route #6: Diamond, Wakimika and Obabika Lake Loop” for our trip planning. See here for more info on the book. If you have a Toronto Library System card, you can access one of the 13 copies it has – click here.
You can read the entire chapter about Chee-skon from Wilson’s book Trails and Tribulations online. It is available at Google Books. Click here and scroll back to the beginning of the chapter. Oddly enough, the chapter is titled “Place of the Huge Rock Lake”. No hint of conjuring there!
If you are looking for 1:50,000 topo maps of the area there are a couple that you need.
The ones we used were – Lake Temagami 41-I 16 and Obabika Lake 41-P 1
You can, if you want, access the map files at a Federal Government website here. You will be faced with a number of folders; go for the 50k pdf or tif. Then you face a list of yet more folders; choose the 041 folder and ….well, you get the idea. See above for the letter and the number of the 041 maps we used for our trip.
Luckily, there is an easier way to access the topo maps. Check out Jeff McMurtrie’s Jeff’s Topos website for his easy-to-use version of the topographic map library. He has gotten rid of all the folders! The digital maps are downloadable and you can either print what you need for your route yourself or McMurtie has the equipment to run off copies for you in paper or some sort of waterproof material.
McMurtie also had a series of maps specifically on the Temagami area. Unlike the topos, they are heavily annotated with useful information on campsites, portages, points of interest, and distances between various points. See here for a look at Jeff’s Temagami maps. We made use of the Central Map, printing the relevant bits ourselves on 8.4″ x 14″ paper and putting them into our map case.
Ontario Parks has a recently-published (2016) map of the Obabika area which indicates all the Old Growth Forest Trails, as well as the portage trail from Obabika to Chee Skon and the one from Chee Skon to Mud Lake. See here for a downloadable pdf copy.
The Canadian Canoe Routes web site is another internet resource you should check out. This General Information page of Temagami-related links organized by Allan Jacobs is a great place to start. The Ontario Trip Reports folder has dozens of Temagami-related contributions by forum members; if you are just getting into wilderness tripping, the site is a great one to visit regularly and pick up useful stuff on everything from gear to food to canoe routes and a whole lot more.
Friends of Temagami is a volunteer organization dedicated, as their web site says, to “preserving and promoting the Temagami experience since 1995”. You can support their efforts in a variety of ways – buying an annual membership; purchasing their Temagami Planning Map (which for some reason does not show up on the new web site); or becoming an active member. It’s all good!
If you have just discovered Temagami as a paddling destination, the Ottertooth website has enough material to keep you busy for days – a forum area with threads on a wide range of topics, annotated maps, and mini-essays on a variety of useful topics. We took along a printed copy of “Wakimika Triangle” and some related material.