Paddling To Temagami’s Maple Mountain

Previous Post: Canoeing The Steel River – Santoy Lake/Our Thoughts On The Steel As A Canoe Trip

sunset over Temagami's Maple Mountain ridge

sunset over Temagami’s Maple Mountain ridge

Choices! Choices!

The original plan had us paddling  from the confluence of the Steel/Little Steel up the series of lakes that make up the Little Steel River system.  Then we would head back south on the Steel River to our vehicle at the Santoy Lake parking lot.

In the end, we decided to cut out the Little Steel part of the trip and we were left with a few more days of food in our pack.  We needed an impromptu mini-trip whose paddle strokes would burn it all up.

We started with two options, both in the Temagami area:

1 –  a shortened version of a trip we had done in the Temagami area in the fall of 2014 –  (Early Autumn Canoeing In the Heart of Temagami). This time we’d spend a couple of nights at Chee Skon Lake and focus on the hiking trails of the old-growth forest.

2 – revisiting Maple Mountain, a side visit on our 2009  “hiking/canoeing combo” trip to Ishpatina Ridge. Ishpatina is Ontario’s highest spot at 692 meters; Maple Mountain reaches 641.

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In the end, a paddle to Tupper Lake and the beginning of the trail up Maple Mountain won out.  We’d also get to set up our tent at one of our favourite campsites, the one you see in the photo below on the east side of Hobart Lake.

Hobarth Lake campsite overview

Hobart Lake campsite overview

It has all the qualities of a classic Canadian Shield campsite –

  • the sloping rock outcrop that goes up to a flat and
  • sheltered area with room for more than one tent, and
  • a great elevated open view west towards Maple Mountain Ridge.
  • It also makes an excellent base camp for the  paddle over to Tupper Lake and the hike to the top of Maple Mountain.
Hobarth campsite view in the afternoon

Hobart campsite view in the afternoon – the view does not get old!

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How To Get To Tupper Lake and Maple Mountain:

As we drove back east we considered the various put-in points that we could start from.

three access point to Lady Evelyn Lake from Highway 11

1. Lake Temagami Access Road

Starting at the end of the Lake Temagami Access Road was crossed off the list right away. It is the furthest away from Maple Mountain and having paddled up Lake Temagami more than a few times already, we were keen on something else.

2. Mowat Landing Access

A closer access point to Maple Mountain is Mowat Landing.  Only one portage – the easy one around the Mattawapika Dam not far from where the Lady Evelyn River and the Montreal River meet. [See here for a view of the portage.] . And only one possible drawback – the long stretch of lake paddle to get to the west end of Lady Evelyn Lake.  Given the prevailing SW or NW winds, it can sometimes be a challenge to cross.

It is about 40 kilometers from Mowat Landing to Tupper Lake and the start of the 3 km. trail to the top of Maple Mountain.

3. The Sandy Inlet/Ferguson Bay Access

There is an alternative access route – the Red Squirrel Road to Sandy Inlet on Ferguson Bay on the NE corner of Lake Temagami.  We went with this choice. It took us about an hour from Temagami to get to the parking area at the end of a rough side road that runs from Red Squirrel Road towards the water.  Then it is a 300-meter portage from the car to the shore.  Camp Wanapitei is visible to the south as you walk onto the beach.

[See here for a detailed map of the area. it is from the Ottertooth website.]

Our choice of entry:

  • added three kilometers to the 40 km of the Mowat landing route
  • included five portages instead of the single easy portage around the Mattawapika dam across from Mowat Landing.
  • meant we didn’t have to drive another 60 km up to Mowat Landing.

We accepted the three extra kilometers and carries as the price of avoiding the potential drama of a bad day or two of wind on Lady Evelyn Lake.

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Day One: Sandy Inlet To Diamond Lake

  • distance: 14 Km
  • time: 1:30 p.m. start – 6:15 p.m. end
  • weather: overcast; strong N/NW wind (20 kph)
  • portages: two
    – 740-meters, the one we thought was the Napoleon Portage;
    – 220m the short portage from Sharp Rock Inlet into Diamond lake
  • Natural Resources Canada 1:50000 topos/click on map title to access: Obabika Lake 041 P 01; Lady Evelyn 041 P 08
  • Google Earth 3-D View: see here
  • campsite: island site; multiple 2-person sites; 4-person not so much, water access was ok but a long walk depending on where you set up your kitchen; fuel stove needed unless you paddle to the mainland to look for wood
Temagami. Day One. Sandy Inlet to Diamond Lake

Temagami. Day One. Sandy Inlet into Diamond Lake

Portage Trail Confusion!

The Napoleon Portage(s)We were on the water at 1:30 p.m.  We paddled across Ferguson Bay with a strong NW wind blowing. That, and the fact we were not 100% clear on the Napoleon Portage’s take-out spot, had us ending up too far south on the west side of the bay.  As the map to the left shows, we headed up along the shore to the Napoleon Portage take-out.

We figured we were there when we saw the tree with four bright orange bands on it. We had only been on the Napoleon once – six years previously when we came at it from the west side on Whitefish Bay.  The initial steep part was there.  What wasn’t there was a portage trail that has existed for 100 years!  We explained it away with reasons like a string of blowdowns and ice storms since our last visit.

Given the presence of fresh blazes and marking tape we somehow got sucked into the “trail”.  And once we were in, the only thought was getting to the end of the thing.  Somehow it made sense and didn’t make sense at the same time!  We’d hit a stretch or two that seemed like a portage trail – and then we’d bushwhack through another section that had us shaking our heads in disbelief.

N.B. we only found out that it was not the Napoleon Portage four days later coming back.  On that day as we approached the take-out landing for the “mystery trail” we spotted what looked like a portage landing about 100 meters north of where we were heading.  Going up the shoreline to take a look, I hopped out of the canoe, walked a few meters into the bush from the landing area and came back to announce – “This is the Napoleon Portage!”  We are still confused about that “mystery trail’ we followed on Day One – see here for some possible explanations offered by fellow canoe trippers at the Canadian Canoe Routes forum.

Below is the picture we took four days later when we walked the actual Napoleon Portage to Ferguson Bay from the west. The Napoleon Portage comes out at the bottom right. Dangling on the branch is some tape I had just put there. Other than my fresh tape there was nothing at the Napoleon portage other than the very well-used trail itself!

The “mystery trail’ begins on the left-hand side on the edge of the image. Enlarge the pic and you should see the four bands of orange tape. Five days before when we approached it from the south,  we wrongly figured that we had arrived at the Napoleon Portage take-out.

From the Canadian Canoe Routes poster comment to my thread, we were not the only ones to make that mistake that week!

the-mystery-trail-and-the-napoleon-side-by-each

the Mystery Trail and the Napoleon – side by each on Ferguson Bay!

To make matters worse, we added to the confusion by putting up our own marking tape in certain “difficult” sections as we walked “the mystery trail”. Seeing that tape will unfortunately reassure some poor canoe tripper who makes the same initial mistake we did.

a rough stretch of the mystery trail

a rough stretch of the mystery trail – the blazes were reassuring!

more of the mystery trail

more of the mystery trail

the mystery trail south of the Napoleon Portage

the mystery trail S of the Napoleon

mystery trail - seemingly normal

seemingly normal and looking like a trail!

the west side of the mystery trail

the Whitefish Bay side of “the mystery trail”, which is pretty crooked for a prospector’s stake line

With the portage done, we got down to paddling, and by 5 p.m. we were at the far end of the Sharp Rock Inlet Portage.  We had already seen twelve canoes in the first three hours of our trip, mostly belonging to the various summer camps on Lake Temagami.  That was twice as many as all the canoes we had seen in five previous summers of Wabakimi and Woodland Caribou tripping!

Day One Island Camp at east end of Diamond Lake

Day One Island Camp at the east end of Diamond Lake

We paddled by the two small islands on the map above just after the portage.  We landed on the west side of the second one and walked up to the top of the sloped granite outcrop.  We found a reasonably flat area to put up our home for the night.  We had started the morning at the motel in Iron Bridge. Twelve hours later, we were at the east end of Diamond Lake in Temagami!

Our next target was Hobart Lake and one of our favourite campsites.

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Day Two: Diamond Lake To Hobart Lake

  • distance: 27.2 Km
  • time: 9:15 start – 4:15 p.m. end
  • weather: a mixture of cloudy and overcast, sunny and warm, N/NW wind (15+ kph)
  • portages: three
    – 40m Diamond L to Lady Evelyn Lake – the main portage is on the west side (left as you’re going down); we just ran it and scraped through. It can also be easily lined on the right.
    – 220m Lady E to small Lake (shorter due to beaver dam activity and higher water)
    – 510m  small Lake to Willow Island Lake (Lady Evelyn River (South Channel)
  • campsite: Hobart Lake – awesome!! multiple 2-or 4-person tents, “thunderbox”; easy access to water; great swimming opportunity; great view of Maple Mountain all day.

N.B. Follow the following three maps from the bottom map up to the top one.

Sucker Gut To Maple Mountain

lay-evelyn-south-arm-to-sucker-gut-lake

Diamond Lake to Lady Evelyn (South Arm)

We set off shortly after nine and after passing another group of summer camp teen trippers on the way up the north arm of Diamond Lake, we looked over to the pictograph site that we had visited the previous October.

A Return Visit To The Diamond Lake Pictograph Site

It looked surprisingly small and unimpressive from the other side of the arm.  We decided to leave a visit to our return a few days later.

Diamond Lake Picto site in passing

Diamond Lake Pictograph site in passing

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The Lady Evelyn Lift-Over –  A Bit of History

Instead, we headed right for the Lady Evelyn Lift-Over. The name “lift-over” has always puzzled us because while we have portaged it on the left, lined it on the right, and run it down the middle, we have never managed a literal lift-over. Seeing it in the image below, it is difficult to picture the Lady Evelyn Falls that was once there.

It was the construction of a dam at Mattawapika Falls near the confluence of the Lady Evelyn River and the Montreal River across from Mowat Landing – a smaller one in 1915 and a higher one in 1925 – that raised the water level of Lady Evelyn Lake by some five meters.   It also caused the falls to all but disappear!  It has been reduced to a one-foot drop!

Lady Evelyn Lift-over

Lady Evelyn “Lift-over” – easy to line on the right side

Thanks to a reader of this post for the following detailed explanation of the dam’s history and purpose:

The dam was put in by mining companies operating in the area to supply water for power plants on the Montreal River. A canoe trip on the Montreal River below Latchford will have you pass over and around all of these ancient dams and compressor plants that used to be there to supply air to the mines of the area.

These days the dam holds back water to help operate the string of hydro plants on the Montreal. Many of these plants are peaking plants that operate only intermittently.  The water on Lady Evelyn Lake gets drawn down over the winter to supply hydro operations.

If you go to Lady Evelyn Lake in the early spring, as soon as the ice is gone, the lake level with be about 15 feet lower than in the summer months.  The water level has to be raised by May 15 or so to permit cottagers and others to enjoy the lake.

The Diamond Lake into Lady Evelyn Lake spot – i.e. Lady Evelyn Falls –  was not only massively impacted by the Mattawapika dam 30 kilometres to the northeast. Another dam – a six-foot timber dam – was built right across the stream at the point shown in the photo above.  It was constructed in 1942 by a lumber company to help move its logs from Diamond Lake into Lady Evelyn Lake and down to its mill in Latchford.  The dam remained there until 1973, when it was removed by a Ministry of Natural Resources work crew. Apparently, the water level on Diamond Lake went down by some 4.5 feet after its removal.

Forgotten in all this was the Ojibwe family whose hunting territory this was and who had lived in the area since 1800, if not longer. Among other landmarks, a few pictographs at the Diamond Lake pictograph site were partially submerged during the dam’s existence. Check out Brian Back’s Ottertooth article here for a well-researched summary of the two barriers and their impact.

the little drop - all that is left of Lady Evelyn Falls

the little drop – all that is left of Lady Evelyn Falls

Unclear (to me) is if the dam remained permanently closed for 30 years or if it was opened each spring to flush down the logs that had been cut in the winter into Lady Evelyn Lake. Send me a comment if you know how this setup worked!  By the 1970s, logging roads had become the preferred way to haul out the logs, and the dam was no longer necessary.

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Meanwhile…

There was some scraping as we slipped down the “rapids” into Lady Evelyn Lake.  Then it was a short paddle up to the first of the two portages, which take you from Lady Evelyn Lake into Willow Island Lake  (a part of the Lady Evelyn River system).

the two portages from Lady evelyn Lake (South Arm) to Willow Island Lake (Lady Evelyn River system)

the portages from Lady Evelyn Lake (South Arm) to Willow Island Lake

An initial fifteen-meter stretch on a creek bed made up of boulders made for some awkward walking. It soon led to a well-trodden trail that came out to the marshy area at the end of the high-water portage. We did a double-take since the area had changed some over the past decade.  Where we had once pitched our tent on a previous trip was now on the edge of a beaver dam that had created a wetland.

the start of the first portage from Lady Evelyn Lake over to Willow Island Lake

 

the end of the first portage to Willow Island Lake

the end of the first portage to Willow Island Lake

With the 220-meter carry done, we loaded the canoe and set off down the pic you see below to get to the small lake and the start of the next portage.  Running along on the north side is a trail that may be used during lower water periods. We were happy to paddle through.

looking west from the beaver dam

looking west from the beaver dam

The next portage was easy to find and do.  Near the end, there is a bit of a diversion to deal with some recent blowdown; the orange tape guides you through the slight change to the route.

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Down Willow Island Lake through the narrows into Sucker Gut Lake and a hard left, and we paddled into what you see in the pic below.  The first time we came through here, we didn’t know anything about the Mattawapika Dam near the mouth of the Lady Evelyn River, where it meets the Montreal River.  It raised the water level of the entire lake by four or five meters – all for the convenience of the mining companies.  We had learned since that as a preliminary step, fires would often be set in the area to be flooded. The charred trunks of the pines and spruces stand as silent witnesses to those times.

view of Maple Mountain ridge from Sucker Gut Lake

the view of Maple Mountain ridge from Sucker Gut Lake

As we paddled westward, we also saw the Maple Mountain ridge and the faint presence of the fire tower again.  We had been here in 2009 and hadn’t forgotten.

closer up view from Sucker Gut Lake

a view of Maple Mountain and the fire tower from Sucker Gut Lake

When we saw a canoe on Hobart Lake, I figured that the premier campsite we were hoping to get was already occupied.  We were busy formulating a Plan B as we paddled up to the site, one of our favourites,  and found – well, nobody was there!

The second and third images of this post show the site and two happy campers sitting in their plush Helinox chairs, taking in a late afternoon view of Maple Mountain.  We’d spend more time as the hours rolled by, sipping on tea and Crown Royal and snapping pix of the sun setting over Maple Mountain.

A few of them follow –

dusk on Hobarth Lake

dusk on Hobart Lake

Maple Mtn Ridge at sunset

Maple Mountain Ridge at sunset

Hobarth sunset

Maple Mtn Tower from Hobarth campsite

Maple Mountain Tower from Hobart campsite

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Day 3: Hobart Lake – Maple Mtn – Lady Evelyn River

  • distances:
    9.5 km (Hobart L campsite to top of Maple Mount back to Tupper Lake
    12.6 km Tupper L to Lady Evelyn River (south channel) campsite
  • time: Maple Mtn 09:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.; Tupper L to campsite 1:30 p.m.-5:15 p.m.
  • weather: sunny and warm; S wind (20 kph) adding to the work,
  • portages: none
  • campsite: poor to fair; easy access to water but a long walk. room for multiple 2-person tents, nothing really ‘flat’; also hard to find one good 4-person site; thunderbox
Hobarth and Maple Mountain in the morning

Hobart and Maple Mountain in the morning

Unlike the overcast day we had six years previously, this one would be clear and sunny. After our usual oatmeal breakfast, we savoured both the mugs of coffee and the morning view of Maple Mountain. And then it was off – first paddling the 3.5 kilometres to the start of the Maple Mountain trail.  The map below shows the route – about 1.7 km to the “confluence” of Tupper Creek and Willow Island Creek and then up to the beaver dam and Tupper Lake itself.

Hobart Lake To Tupper Lake and Maple Mountain

Hobart Lake To Tupper Lake and Maple Mountain

Maple Mountain at 642 meters is not, contrary to what some may think, the highest point in Ontario. It actually ranks 13th. according to this well-researched list of the province’s high spots. (See here for the Ottertooth article.)  There is only a 51-meter gap between it and Ishpatina Ridge, the #1 point at 693 meters. Ishpatina is located just twenty-seven kilometers to the west.

Robert Bell of the Geological Survey of Canada gave it the name “Maple Mountain”  back in 1888. However,  the ridge with its dramatic rise in elevation has supposedly been on the mythological map of the local Anishinaabek (i.e.Ojibwe) for a while, known to them as Chi- bay-jing, “The Place Where Spirits Go.”

Maple Mountain ranks #1 in Ontario in terms of vertical rise.  It is 351 meters higher than Tupper Lake below, while Ishpatina, for example,  is 317 meters above Scarecrow Lake. For more reliable information on Maple Mountain, Brian Back’s in-depth look here is your best bet.

the last and steepest stretch up to the top of Maple Mtn

the last and steepest stretch up to the top of Maple Mountain, #1 in vertical rise (in Ontario)

As we approached the landing and the start of the trail, we spotted a canoe sitting there. We were obviously not the day’s first. Given that we had not seen anyone paddle by that morning, chances were good that they had camped on Tupper the previous night.

the take out spot for the Maple Mtn Trail

the take-out spot for the Maple Mtn Trail – a green canoe sits at the landing area

looking out from the Maple Mtn. trail start

looking out at Tupper Lake from the Maple Mtn. trail start

The ruins of the fire ranger’s cabin are at the start of the trail. Nearby is a spring where we filled up our water bottle. And then it was on to the trail.

the remains of the ranger's cabin at the start of the Maple Mountain trail

the remains of the ranger’s cabin at the start of the Maple Mountain trail

The first 500 meters of the trail are quite flat.  A long stretch of 10′  boards takes you over some mushy terrain.  I counted 35 pairs of them as we walked along; we came to seven more after a short gap. It made for easy walking.

the board walk at the start of the Maple Mountain Trail

the boardwalk at the start of the Maple Mountain Trail

However, some altitude needs to be gained, and it comes soon enough, beginning with a gradual ascent and the giving away of all the “up” you just gained as the trail heads downward for a bit!

The trail also gets somewhat less groomed.  We counted at least a couple dozen places where a chainsaw would help to re-establish the path. As it is,  deadfall across the trail has hikers walking around the obstructions.  We spent the first half-hour stopping often to clear smaller trees and branches from the path, but we realized that it would take forever to get to the top if we were also going to be doing trail work as we walked up.

Half Way Lake off the Maple Mountain Trail

Half Way Lake  – really? –  off the Maple Mountain Trail

It was somewhere near the lake that we met the two paddlers and their dog, an older Labrador who was having trouble with the blockages on the path. They had decided to turn back without getting to the top. Given what was coming up, the obstructions on the trail were more than the Lab would have been able to handle.

the-last-and-steepest-stretch-up-to-the-top-of-maple-mtn copy

A six-meter steel ladder takes you up an almost vertical section of the trail and leads to more scrambling before the summit.  In true mountaineering fashion, there are a couple of points where you think you are there, only to realize that wishful thinking alone does not make a summit!

Update:  A recent thread at the Canadian Canoe Routes forum dealt with the state of the trail up to the top and the safety of the metal ladder pictured below. My assertion that the ladder was bolted to the rock was corrected by a couple of subsequent posters! Also dealt with in the thread was the location of the spring up top. The advice was not to count on it as your water source if you plan on camping up there for the night.  See the thread here –  Temagami – Maple Mountain – Questions

The ladder is secure and safe to use, and we scampered up and down without a worry.

twenty foot ladder section on Maple Mountain top

twenty-foot ladder section near Maple Mountain top

up the ladder to Maple Mountain top

up the ladder to Maple Mountain top

getting close to the top of Maple Mountain

getting close to the top of Maple Mountain – staring up a jet’s vapour trail

a scrambly section near the top

a  section requiring for some scrambling near the top

Half Way Lake as seen from the top of the ridge

Half Way Lake, as seen from the top of the ridge, and Sucker Gut Lake at the top of the image

Seeing the 30-meter high Fire Tower means that you are almost there! On our 2009 visit, it was overcast, and the bugs were so bad I climbed halfway up to the cupola to escape while I snapped some photos. This morning, we would have no such problems –  no clouds, no bugs.

getting close to the top and the tower

getting close to the top and the tower

Maple Mountain Fire Tower

Maple Mountain Fire Tower – unnecessary since 1970

There was another change since our last visit. The first seven meters of the ladder have been removed, making access to the rest somewhat awkward.  I am sure some will still be up to the challenge!  There is one complication.  Even if you do get up to the ladder and join the elite crew who have climbed up over the decades, you will end up at the bottom of the cupola with no way to get in.  It has been locked! The sign at the foot of the tower explains all this to discourage you from even bothering to do the climb.

Update: More recent visitors have noted that the lock on the cupola floor door has been removed!  Getting up to the top is obviously (for some people) an essential part of the Maple Mountain experience!

Maple Mtn. Fire Tower Notice

“Fire tower closed to public access. Lower ladder section removed and cupola access door locked. Climbing tower is prohibited.”

As we read the sign, we wondered why the Ontario Parks folks didn’t just take the thing down. We figured that the expense probably encouraged someone in an office in Toronto to come up with partial ladder removal as a cost-saving alternative.

Well, we were wrong about that.  Check out this Ottertooth news brief “Adios To Fire Towers” from August 6, 2015. You’ll read –

With the exception of Caribou Mountain*, a municipally-operated tourist site, above the town of Temagami, the rest of Ontario’s towers are on the chopping block. That includes two in Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Wilderness Park: Ishpatina and Maple Mountain, both popular backcountry destinations.

See here for the full article. If seeing that fire tower is a major reason for your visit to Maple Mountain, better get there sooner than later!

Maple Mountain fire tower - the cupola

Maple Mountain fire tower – the cupola

looking up the Maple Mountain tower

memorial on paddle at fire tower base

Memorial plaque on a paddle at Maple Mountain fire tower base

As iconic as the fire tower, there is something else much more majestic up on Maple Mountain. The images below – minus the feel of the wind and the sun as you sit there and take it all in – give you an idea of what you’ll see after spending one and half hours on your canoe trippers’  pilgrimage. It is a “wow” moment for sure.

Cliff Lake Thunderbird

The experience of walking up to the top and taking in the view trumps all the statistics and the tower.  We watched two eagles in the skies above the mountaintop as we approached the top. Eagles are often associated in the Anishinaabe world with the manitou Animiki, the Thunderbird. Next to Gitchi Manitou, he is the most powerful of spirits. They were swooping back and forth, riding the winds and surveying their domain and we were under their watchful gaze!

You just know you’re in the right place when you see eagles.

panorama - looking east from Maple Mountain top

panorama – looking east from the top of Maple Mountain

Looking east from Maple Mountain

Looking east from Maple Mountain

looking SE from Maple Mtn - Sucker Gut, Willow Island, and Chris Willis Lakes

looking SE from Maple Mtn – Sucker Gut, Willow Island, and Chris Willis Lakes

We spent forty-five minutes taking in the views, chillin’ and refuelling for the walk back to the canoe.  If it takes 1 1/2 hours to get to the top, it takes maybe an hour to get back to the canoe. Instead of an extended bit of aerobic exercise, now your knees and leg muscles get to be stressed.  A pair of trekking poles – not part of a typical paddler’s kit – would help.

on the way back down from Maple Mountain top

on the way back down from Maple Mountain top

Before paddling back to Hobart Lake, we stopped at Tupper’s east side campsite. It has a beautiful view of the mountain and the fire tower.  While the site is not in the same class as Hobart’s, it would serve as a good alternative if the other one was already taken. We had lunch there and then retraced the route that got us there.

looking from the Tupper Lake campsite to the Mountain

looking from the Tupper Lake campsite to the Mountain

Tupper Lake campsite

Tupper Lake campsite

That afternoon we paddled as far as the narrows between Sucker Gut Lake and Willow Island Lake.  After having wind from the north-west for the two previous days, now that we had started paddling south, the wind had changed too; it was coming from the south-west.

The campsite we found there was average at best but did the job.  The tent was nicely tucked away in the woods, and there was an open area where we set up our cook gear. The canoe on its side provided a nice windscreen, and we soon had the two butane stoves going. Since it was past 5 p.m., other paddlers had also probably stopped for the day since we didn’t see anyone come through the narrows after setting up camp.

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Day Four: Back To Sharp Rock Inlet

  • distance: 21.4 km
  • time: 07:40 a.m. to 2:40 p.m.
  • weather: sunny, cloudy, and overcast, then rain – SSE wind (15 kph)
  • portages: four – we lined the one from Lady Evelyn to Diamond Lake (same as previous days)
  • campsite: island site in the inlet, nice site for multiple 2-person tents or a couple of 4-person tents; other campsites on the island; thunderbox; easy access to water; some firewood maybe; a nice view down the inlet
the second portage going into Lady Evelyn Lake from the lady Evelyn River (Willow Island Lake)

the second portage going into Lady Evelyn Lake from the Lady Evelyn River (Willow Island Lake)

After an early breakfast, we were on the water before 8; we hoped to get some calm water before the south wind kicked in again. By eleven, we were past the two portages and into Lady Evelyn Lake.  That is when it started raining – spitting at first and then getting more serious as we moved into the afternoon.

We would stop for a cup of coffee under the tarp before moving on to the Lift-Over.

lunch spot under the tarp on Lady Evelyn Lake

a coffee break under the tarp on Lady Evelyn Lake

approaching the Lady Evelyn Lift-Over

approaching the Lady Evelyn Lift-Over

When we got to the Lift-Over, we paddled to the south side and decided to track the canoe up the current. It took a couple of tries to get the nose in just right.  However,  the effort required was much less than the hassle of emptying the canoe,  hauling it and the gear 40 meters, and then putting everything back in again.  We spent some time hopping around and taking photos of this historic spot. (See Brian Back’s Ottertooth article here for the story.)

the little drop - all that is left of Lady Evelyn Falls

the little drop – all that is left of Lady Evelyn Falls

our canoe after being tracked up the %22rapids%22

our canoe after being tracked up the “rapids”

looking up into Diamond Lake from the top of the drop

looking up into Diamond Lake from the top of the drop

looking south at the pictograph site from near the Lady Evelyn Liftover

As we entered Diamond Lake, I looked down the shore and spotted the pictograph site on the west shore.  As humble as it had looked from across the water as we paddled by on our way up, now it looked even less imposing.

one last look at the Diamond Lake Pictograph site

We did paddle by just to be sure that it was the site. You can see it in the image above – the sandy brown bit about two-thirds of the way along the water line running across the middle of the picture. See A Return Visit To Temagami’s Diamond Lake Pictograph Site for more close-up pix and detailed analysis of the pictographs.

coffee time at the east end of Diamond

coffee time at the east end of Diamond

As we approached the Sharp Rock Portage, the rain came down heavier, and we pulled in at a designated campsite and put up the tarp. We figured we would sit out the worst of it and then get moving again. Meanwhile, we fired up the stove and got the lunch and coffee fixings out.

under the tarp as the ranin comes down

under the tarp as the rain comes down

our Swift Dumoine sitting in the rain

our Swift Dumoine sitting in the rain at the east end of Diamond Lake

While we sat there, we noticed five specks on the misty horizon – a Temagami camp group was approaching!  We would lose sight of them after a while as it seemed that they had paddled up a bay to the north. However, as we took down the tarp and got ready to move on, there they were again! They were looking for a campsite and wanted to know if “ours” was available.

The thing that most impressed us was the toughness and resilience shown by these canoe trippers in their mid-teens. It was still raining, and they were carrying on with their business.  We wished the girls good luck with the weather and pushed off, wondering how far we would get. It was good that we had started the day as early as we did.

a canoe party approaches

a canoe party approaches

close up of the Temagami summer camp canoe group

a close-up shot of the Temagami summer camp canoe group

the Sharp Rock Inlet side of the portage

the Sharp Rock Inlet side of the portage

We didn’t get too far!   After the Sharp Rock Portage, we paddled for a bit, but the combination of rain and wind and choppy water convinced at least me that we should just call it a day.  Talk about toughness and resilience!  Max wanted to keep paddling to make the next day – the one back to the car – that much shorter.

With the classic argument – “Why stress ourselves now when tomorrow morning it will take half the energy to cover the same distance?”  –  I convinced my brother to pull in at the south end of the island seen on the map below. It was 2:35, and we had covered maybe 3.5 km. since our mugs of coffee.  Tent and tarps went up, and the canoe was set up as a windscreen, and we hoped for better weather the following day.

Diamond Lake:Sharp Rock Inlet

Sharp Rock Inlet campsite

Sharp Rock Inlet campsite – a wet and cool evening in Temagami

both tarps up at the Sharp Rock Island campsite

both tarps up at the Sharp Rock Island campsite

looking down the arm to the rest of Sharp Rock Inlet

looking down the arm to the rest of Sharp Rock Inlet

panorama of Sharp Rock Inlet area

panorama of Sharp Rock Inlet area at dusk – the wind had died down

______________________________

Day Five: From Sharp Rock Inlet To Ferguson Bay (Sandy Inlet)

  • distance: 9 km
  • time: 07:30 to 09:45
  • weather: overcast but no rain
  • portages: two
    – 770m – the real Napoleon Portage
    – 370m or 900m Ferguson Bay landing to car park areas  (depends on where you can park your vehicle)
  • campsite: home sweet home!!, easy access to water; plenty of flat spots; thunder boxes throughout, etc.!
morning view of sharp rock inlet arm

morning view of sharp rock inlet arm

The previous evening’s major deliberation had centered around which portage to take into Ferguson Bay.  About an hour’s paddle down from what we still thought was the Napoleon Portage, another shorter 400-meter one goes into Pickerel Bay. (See the map below for the location.)  Then we’d then have to paddle an hour north to get back to the top of the bay.  Also, we had no idea about this shorter portage’s shape. It could be in the same shape as the trail we had done on our way in for all we knew.

portage-choices-to-get-to-ferguson-bay

Of the “Mystery Portage” that we thought was the Napoleon, we knew it was a hell of a trail.  It would take us about an hour to do, and it would save us two hours of paddling down to the other portage and then back up.  And that is how we decided to walk a trail a second time we swore we would never set foot on again!

Except – as our Day One trip notes already made clear – we luckily ended up at the start of the actual Napoleon Portage trail and were thus spared both the additional paddling to the Pickerel Bay trail  and bushwhacking of the “mystery trail.”

We unloaded our canoe at 8:15 on the west side of the Napoleon Portage trail, and at 9:00  we were already paddling across Ferguson Bay to the beach on Sandy Inlet just up from Camp Wanapitei.  We had pulled one big rabbit out of that hat!

the Ferguson Bay side and the two Napoleon portage trails

the Ferguson Bay side  of the two Napoleon portage trail

______________________________

Useful Information:

Wilson Temagami 2011

The best introduction to Temagami remains Hap Wilson’s book of the same name. It has seen a few editions, and the sub-titles have changed with the times. Still, it guides you through some choice Temagami canoe routes, giving you not only the information you need to deal with the lakes and rivers  – portages, rapids, campsites – but also filling you in on the long and rich history of the area. There are also tips on gear and camping and canoeing skills for those in need of a primer.   The first edition, I think, came out in the late 1970s and these days is considered a worthwhile investment as a collectible!   The copy of the edition I’ve got is titled Temagami: A Wilderness Paradise – Canoeing – Kayaking – Hiking and was published in 2011, a reprint of the 2004 edition.

Route #14 in the book is “Maple Mountain Loop,” a more ambitious trip than ours. It starts at Mowat Landing and, after the visit to Maple Mountain, heads north to the Montreal River, which it then follows downstream back to Mowat Landing.  Of this route, Wilson writes –

A long-time favourite, this route tantalizes the adventure spirit with a congenial medley of lakes, creeks and river paddle. This route can be taken in either direction; however, caution should be employed while travelling the open stretches of Lady Evelyn Lake, as the wind can toss up metre-high waves in minutes. (Temagami, 99)

______________________________

Maps:

Natural Resources Canada 1:50,000 Topos:

The topographical maps maintained by the Canadian Federal Government’s map department still provide the most accurate map information for canoe trippers.  They are available online for a free download if you want to print them yourself – or the parts of them that are relevant to your trip.  For this trip, there are two 1:50,000 topos that cover the entire route.  Click on the map titles to access them in jpg format –

The government’s own website, with its no-frills folder-based collection of topographical maps, is the source of the maps. Both the 1:50000 and the 1:250,000  are available in TIF and pdf format.    Go to the 041 Folder for the maps above and use the appropriate letters and numbers to get the specific maps.  Get started here.

______________________________

The Now Defunct Jeff’s Map – v.1.0

JeffsTemagamiMap

Jeff’s Maps also had an annotated Temagami map set available – a series of five maps covering the entire Temagami area. They provided the portage and campsite information you need and points of historical interest that you will paddle by. The website has been dead for a few of years and Jeff has moved on to Unlostify. Hard copies of the Central Map may still be available at outfitters in the Temagami area. The 1.0 version of the  map does have a few errors that never got corrected in the planned update.

Here is a link to the 169 Mb kml file of the five-map set that can be downloaded and imported into Google Earth. It is useful for route planning though we rely more on the detailed NRC topo maps for in-canoe use.

______________________________

Friends of Temagami Map:

FOT Map

When we dropped in at the Temagami Outfitters store to buy a copy at the start of our trip, we were told that copies of Jeff’s maps were available – except for the sold-out Central map!  Luckily we had downloaded digital copies the night before on our way to Temagami from the end of our Steel River trip.

We bought a copy of the map put out by the Friends of Temagami – a double-sided map with the Obabika Loop on one side and the Maple Mountain area on the other – which did the job nicely. Portage and campsite locations and additional information are there.

Like most maps these days, it is made of waterproof and tear-resistant material.  It is meant to go along with – and not replace – the 1:50000 topos mentioned above. See here for the map details at the Friends of Temagami online store.

______________________________

For more Temagami canoe tripping, check out the two following posts for possibilities:

Temagami Canoe Country: Paddling From Ishpatina To Maple Mtn. To Bear Island

Temagami: Paddling From Peak to Peak (Ishpatina Ridge to Maple Mtn.)

Early Autumn Canoeing In The Heart Of Temagami

Temagami’s Lady Evelyn River From Top To Bottom: Route Options, Maps, Shuttles, Permits, And More

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10 Responses to Paddling To Temagami’s Maple Mountain

  1. Anonymous says:

    Really enjoyed your trip and photos.

    how long did the mystery portage take? I remember being on a well-marked portage that just disappeared as I went along. I ended up bushwacking along for about an hour until I noticed I was standing right in the middle of the trail. On the return trip the trail was so obvious I felt pretty foolish.

    Thanks for the great report
    George

    • true_north says:

      George, according to the gps track it took us a bit over an hour to do the 750-meter or so portage. It would have been a bit faster had we not bothered to put up some marking tape and trim some of the alders and young fir trees on what we thought was the “trail”! Herein lies the danger of having prospectors’ tape with you!

      We had just spent a week on the Steel River system, the upper part of which has portage trails which have not been groomed in eight to ten years. This may partly explain why we just got sucked in to this “mystery trail”. It didn’t seem any worse.

      On our way back after our happy stumbling upon the actual Napoleon portage trail, we got it done in less than 45 minutes!

  2. Ron Kendall says:

    Great read! This has been on my bucket list for some time and after reading your trip report I want to do it more than ever..

    • true_north says:

      Ron, a good choice any time! Some excellent campsites, varied scenery and water to paddle. We’ve done it three times. Next, we want to get back to Chee-skon and spend some quality time there – maybe a couple of days hiking the trails and just being there.

      We’re lucky to live so close to great places to go canoe tripping.

      Here’s to you checking it off that list at least once- and soon!

  3. David Towlun says:

    Hello. I am taking my first canoe trip in Ontario this August and am spending two weeks in the Temagami region. I’m planning on putting in and taking out at Sandy Inlet off of Red Squirrel Rd., but I’m a little wary of the logging roads. I’ve spent lots of time (and a few spare tires over the years) shuffling around the logging roads in northern Maine. Saying they’re rough is an understatement. They are often not marked and one can get lost quickly if you don’t know where you’re going. How would you describe the roads to Sandy Inlet? Is there signage along the road? Would you leave your truck there for two weeks? I’ve got a truck with 4×4, but that won’t help if I blow all my tires!

    Thanks for your help.

    David

    • true_north says:

      David, the Red Squirrel Road is in pretty good shape and if you take it a bit slowly you will be fine. It is about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the highway on Red Squirrel Road to the turn-off for Sandy Inlet. The Sandy Inlet side road is the one that is in worse shape but given your vehicle it should not be an issue.

      Re: parking: No guarantees but paddlers leave their vehicles there all the time. If you are really concerned, you might send an email to Camp Wanapetei and ask if you could park your vehicle on their property – $5. a day might do it. You could then put in on the camp shore.

      http://www.wanapitei.net/connect/contact-us/

      Enjoy your visit to Temagami. It is a great paddling destination.

  4. Ted says:

    Just read your temagami (maple ridge) writeup. Very informative, a trip I hope to do this fall Thank you for documenting and making it available

    Cheers
    Ted Johnson

    • true_north says:

      Ted, autumn will be a great time to be out there…weather being the biggest variable! No bugs, few if any other paddlers, some fall colours (though not as dramatic as those in Algonquin Park thanks to the greater % of spruce and pine). Here is a link to a recent trip report from the Canadian Canoe Routes website. Their Maple Mountain visit started at Mowat Landing instead of our put-in on Ferguson Bay off Red Squirrel Road.

      https://www.myccr.com/phpbbforum/viewtopic.php?f=108&t=47906

      Now all you have to do is wait six months! Maybe by then, we will be on the other side of the coronavirus reconfiguration of our economy and society!

  5. John M says:

    This site is amazing! Thanks so much for all the information provided. I was a Wanapetei camper for four years during my teens and the stress of adult life in Toronto has led me to look into picking up the paddle again! Hoping that fire tower is still up when I get to the top in early august!

    • true_north says:

      John, I am happy to hear you find my posts useful – and motivating! Temagami is a beautiful slice of almost-wilderness. Enjoy your walk up to that fire tower! Incredible views!

      On Labour Day weekend my brother and I are going to paddle down the Lady Evelyn River after a shuttle from Mowat Landing and a put-in on Smoothwater Lake. We plan to walk up to the fire town on Maple Mountain too!

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