Previous Post – Day 2: From Ramhill Lake To Just Below Rawhide Lake
- distance: 7.7 km
- time: start – 09:15 a.m.; finish – 5:45 p.m.
- portages/rapids: 2+
- LO – quite a few with dragging and mini portages
- P6 RL – 120m (1.5 hrs – we cut/marked a portage – likely an existing one)
- P7 RR – 200m (camped on rock about 2/3 way down on RR)
- weather: mostly sunny. some overcast
- campsite: on RR, while not the best (slight slope, all rock beside falls/rapids) still welcomed after a day of struggling!
“Did all that really happen just five hours ago?” we wondered as we got up for what we figured would be a challenging Day 3. Blocking the river within view from the campsite was the next set of deadfall and sweepers. We concentrated on our bowls of oatmeal and savoured the filtered coffee in our large mugs while we talked through the events of the past day – the swamped canoe, the dead Spot, the gunshots at dusk, the SAR helicopter buzzing over our tent, the two members of the SAR team rappelling down …wow!
Before the trip began we had agreed that the word “Trump” or anything remotely connected with it would not be uttered or discussed. And except for mentioning Trump Lake as we passed it by a few days later, we had a ten-day break from the circus. However, we did return often to our Spot Connect and the SOS fiasco. As already mentioned it had become – like it or not – a dead weight that we carried along for the rest of the canoe trip .
With the tent down, we took one last look at our tent site before we set off. It had been a lucky find within an hour of our canoe swamping episode. I turned one more time to the upturned base and roots of a fallen tree and imagined a face staring back at me!
The day’s map shows that when the river constricted to a narrow channel our progress slowed to a crawl as we dealt with impassable rapids made complicated by the rocks, sweepers, and deadfall. Portaging around the obstacles was rarely the better choice so we made our way down on the river itself. Mostly it was no more than crotch deep and my waterproof Kokotat pants with integrated waterproof socks were perfect for the job. No need to be dainty about it – just get in the water and walk that canoe down!
Every once in a while we’d get to the bottom of a difficult stretch to find a widening of the river and some easy paddling. Nice! For example, that puddle just south of our campsite – well, that was the reward for spending forty-five minutes on a 150-meter stretch of river that we approached within a couple of minutes of starting the day. Repeat often and you can understand why the total distance covered over the next eight hours was 7.7 kilometers!
At 2:00 or so we stopped for lunch on a shadeless but flat rock just before the next bit of deadfall and sweepers that we would deal with. Off came the boots and socks and pants – we laid them out on the rock while we fired up the stove for some hot water. Our Helinox camp chairs were put together and the bread and peanut butter were out when the bear popped up about fifty meters up the river.
A few minutes before I had seen a flash of black smudge on the riverbank about fifty meters down from where we were and had wondered vaguely what it was. Now that black smudge appeared above us! He looked at us for a while; we got up and starting waving our arms and making noise. I even got out a bear banger and had the tube cocked and ready to fire. By the time Max got the camera out the bear had decided to keep moving up river and we got the bear butt photo you see below!
After lunch we were cheered by the fact that things were moving along at a somewhat faster clip! By 3:45 we were paddling towards a noticeable drop on the horizon. We still did not know what was coming but did beach our canoe on river right just above the drop. It was way more than a set of rapids! We had paddled up to an impressive waterfall!
After we had paddled the entire Little Missinaibi River, we could say that next to Whitefish Falls at the very end, this one was the most impressive. Not having a name for it, we figured Animiki (“Thunderer” in Ojibwe) fit nicely. Animiki Falls – one of the “wows” of our canoe trip – was an unexpected bonus. The main channel tumbles down over a couple of drops while a side stream on river right does a dramatic drop off a cliff! Very scenic. Just being there and taking it all in seemed to recharge our batteries after a day of slogging. A later look at the GPS data showed a 13-meter drop to the pool at the bottom.
We were, however, left with a problem! How do we get around this? The terrain on river right was not the answer. Max looked over to river left and noticed the sun streaming through the trees. The bush seemed less dense than it was on the side we were on.
We walked back up to the canoe and made our way over to the left side of the river to check out a possible portage trail. After a short first steep section we found ourselves on a fairly flat ledge running along the river. Some easy trail clearing and tape marking later we were standing at the bottom of the rapids.
In the image below the clear area and the rock face on river left (i.e. the right side of the image) is where we came out. In hindsight it is likely that we ‘found’ an existing portage that has been unused for more than a few seasons – it just seemed too easy! Except for one section where a tree made passage with the canoe pretty awkward, it was an easy carry. The answer would be to cut down the tree; we turned the canoe sideways and squeezed it through. Maybe the next tripping crew through will upgrade the trail with more trimming and cutting!
At the bottom of the falls we regretted not spending more time working with different perspectives with our cameras. No little video to capture the movement and the sound of the falls, no pix of the portage trail we had cut! We did take some time at the bottom to frame a few shots. I got out of the canoe and was able to get a few of Max as he paddled in the pool below Animiki Falls.
Not far from the falls we passed the rock face pictured below. It was the most impressive stretch of rock we had so far seen on the river. The indented section almost looked like a doorway into the rock, a perfect entrance for the maymaygweshiwuk of traditional Ojibwe myth. (The image to the right is a Norval Morrisseau rendition of the mythical rock dweller from 1974.) We figured that it may have met the requirements of an Ojibwe on a vision quest or medicine-seeking mission. We paddled over to see if there were any pictographs. No luck this time!
Within a half-hour of leaving Animiki Falls, we were approaching the Woods Lake Road as it crosses the river. The river had changed from rock-strewn to a more sandy bottom. We took that as a positive sign, though there were still a few sweepers to deal with. The culverts under the Woods Lake Crossing were blocked with some logs but we picked the left culvert and were able to squeeze our way under, into and then through.
Not too far from the culverts – you can see them from where we landed the canoe on river right in the image below – we beached the canoe again. It was time for another “wow” experience.
We were at the top of another waterfall! We counted eight separate drops in the river before it reached the pool area at the bottom. While not as dramatic as Animiki Falls just upriver a bit, this one still ranks third of all the falls on the Little Missinaibi River system.
We walked down almost to the bottom on the rock ledge that lines the side of the river. It would clearly be an easy ready-made portage! And – given the time of day (5:30) – it would also be our campsite for the night.
Another surprise waterfall in need of a name! None of the maps we had even indicated these two falls, let alone had names for them. We also gave this one an Ojibwe name – Mukwa – after the bear we had seen earlier that afternoon.
About two-thirds of the way down to the next day’s put-in we found a fairly flat rock surface for our tent. The inflated Thermarests that we would be sleeping on help make a good sleep spot out of almost any situation. The sound of the falls would be another issue! Max would be getting out the ear plugs this night to dull the sound a few decibels.
We had been busy enough during the day that our minds did not have time to wander back to the events of the previous day very often. Now that the tent was up and supper done, we got to sit by the river with our double shots of maple whisky and go over it all again. Not that there was anything we could do about it – except for the aftershocks, it was over and done.
And – on another note – so almost was our trip down the upper and uncharted section of the Little Missinaibi River! We knew that we were within six or seven kilometers of the Lake and had the sense that the very character of the river had changed from gnarly to gentle with our two rocky waterfalls being the exceptions.
The next morning we would find out if our hunch about the river was correct!