Down The Pikitigushi River From Cliff Lake To Lake Nipigon – Days 2 & 3

Previous Post: Down The Pikitigushi River From Cliff Lake To Lake Nipigon – Logistics, Maps and Day 1 – Cliff Lake

Day 2 – From Cliff Lake to Ratte Lake

  • distance: 10.5 km
  • time: 9 a.m to 4 p.m.; checked out the pictograph sites
  • portages/rapids: 3/0; P 90m;  P 525m; and 265m
  • weather: overcast, some rain, strong southerly winds on Ratte Lake, cool
  • campsite: abandoned outfitter’s cabin; multiple 4-person tents possible; not all sheltered
  • GPS tracks – 2018 Pikitigushi/Nipigon/Wabinosh (3.2Mb Dropbox file)

Sept 9 – Cliff Lake To Ratte lake

The 14′ x 10′ tarp above our tent meant that we were able to take our tent down in the rain and then have it provide a dry spot while we had breakfast.  Luckily the rain was light and, after we had loaded the canoe and pushed off, it mostly stopped.  We would get an overcast day with occasional brief periods of drizzle and showers while we headed south on the lake.  Our initial goal was to revisit the other four pictograph sites and then set up camp closer to the south end of the lake by noon and call it an early and easy day.

breakfast under the tarp on Cliff Lake

Walking The Trail Above Dewdney’s Site #264

First, we headed back to the site labelled #264 by Dewdney and parked the canoe at the south (i.e. left) end of the stretch rock face you see in the image below.  There is a trail that runs along the top of the cliff for a couple of hundred meters and some fine views can be had.

stretch of vertical rock at the north end of Cliff Lake – Dewdney’s Site #264

One of the landmarks you will find up there is the erratic rock perched dramatically on the edge of the cliff near the south end.  Walk a bit further and you will come across a log bench fashioned by some keen visitor.  It is about fifty feet (15 meters) from the cliff edge down to the water.

the erratic rock on top of Site #264 – Cliff Lake

the bench on top of the west side cliffs on Cliff Lake

a view south to the point with the bench on it from further north on top of the Cliff Lake rock

max sitting on the log bench and looking over to our previous night’s campsite

We spent a half-hour rambling around up top of site #264 and then continued our paddle down to the south end of the lake, passing again site #263 and the potential campsite across from it.

the flat rock outcrop across from Dewdney’s Site #263 – potential campsite

looking over to Dewdney’s Site #263 on the west side of Cliff Lake

Then we paddled across to the east side of the lake so we could see again the pictograph site which Dewdney labelled #221.  From the east side, Max pointed his camera back at the third of the four west-side sites for an overview image you see above.

Dewdney’s site #221 

Cliff Lake – site #221

Dewdney recorded two sites on the east side of Cliff Lake.  The first one – numbered 219 – he considered the most significant of the lake’s six sites.  We were now approaching the other east side site – #221 – of which Dewdney writes – “Litle more than the lichen-obscured sauromorph and vague animal shown on this page appear on the other east shore site.”

Cliff Lake – Site #221 on the east side of the lake

The close-up below shows what we assume is

  • Dewdney’s “vague animal” (a badly drawn moose?) on the left,
  • an image in the middle (or are they two images put close together?) and
  • the zigzag line on the right, which brings to mind Mishiginebig, the two-headed snake of Anishinaabe myth if the two lines above the crack in the rock belong to the part below.

Cliff Lake Site #221 – a view from the west side of the lake

Dewdney’s Site #220

And then it was back over to the west side of the lake to check out #220.  See the image below for what looks like a promising stretch of vertical rock face. The reality is quite different. As Dewdney noted,

“On the opposite side of the lake the second site [that is, #220] counted from the south end, is also small, displaying only the figure illustrated and a few vague abstractions.”

Site #220 on the west side of Cliff Lake – shot taken from the north end of Site #219

As we paddled down the rock face from the north end, we would see nothing but smudges and impossible-to-determine shapes.  The one below may be the one that appears on the Dewdney drawing which follows – or maybe not!

smudges at Cliff Lake Site #220

Dewdney Site #220 Cliff lake west side

ochre lines at Cliff Lake Site #220

We got excited when we saw what we had called The Hand pictograph again.  The three – or was it four? –  fingers should have been a clue that back in 2013 we had mistaken streaks of red granite for a pictograph.  This time it seemed pretty obvious that we had misread it!  It would also explain why Dewdney made no mention of it in his brief write-up of this site!

Cliff lake Site #220 – “The Hand – Not!”

Dewdney’s Site #219

Cliff Lake’s top (i.e., northernmost) four sites present very little in the way of pictographs for a visitor to “read”.  We now paddled over the east side and Site #219 to see the single-most striking panel of ochre paint at Cliff Lake – the one featuring The Moose!

Dewdney’s Cliff Lake Pictograph sites

the northernmost of Cliff Lake’s Site #219 pictographs – Dewdney’s Face I?

Cliff Lake – Site #219 – Dewdney’s Face II? – a smudge and a few lines

Cliff Lake Site #219 – Face III Moose panel

Cliff Lake Site #219 Moose Panel closer up

The image below conveys the actual size of the Moose pictograph. It is perhaps 25 cm. long and 10 cm. high. What is noteworthy is the amount of ochre dedicated to creating a very vibrant and solid rendition of the animal.  Most rock paintings are a finger or two wide and maybe 10 cm. long.  Images like The Moose definitely stand out from the norm.  To the left of the Moose image is a canoe with a number of paddlers in it; above both images is a series of circles and above those some vertical lines.  From further away it mostly looks like a badly faded collection of smudges.

checking out the Moose pictograph on Cliff Lake

Cliff Lake Pictographs – Dewdney’s Site #219 Face IV

Cliff Lake Site #219 Dewdney drawing – stick figure

Dewdney’s Site #219 Face IV

Cliff lake – moose and canoe pictographs from Site #219

Dewdney Drawing – Site #219 – animal figure and upside down V

Cliff Lake Site 219 animal figure and upside-down V

Cliff Lake Pictographs – Site #219 Face IV

One of the last pictographs at Site #219 is the one in the image below, that of a cross.  Interpretations range from the obvious “It is the Christian cross” to “It represents the highest degree of attainment in the Midewiwin” – i.e. the closed society of shamanistic practitioners in traditional Ojibwe society. The cross image found at the Collins Inlet pictograph site on Georgian Bay prompts the same discussion as to its meaning.

Related PostThe Ojibwe Rock Paintings of Killarney’s Collins Inlet

Cliff Lake – Site #219 – cross image south of Moose panel

Campsites on Cliff Lake

We moved on from Site #219 and headed for the last of the rock painting galleries on the lake.  While the plan had been to find a good camping spot somewhere in the vicinity so far nothing had really fit the bill.  A half-hour later we had to conclude that there really were not many great tent sites on the lake and that our site at the north end of the lake was the best of a very limited selection.  So much for an entire post on The Top Five Campsite Choices On the Pikitigushi’s Cliff Lake!

Dewdney’s Site # 262

We paddled around the point on the west side of the lake as pictured in the image above and approached Site #262, which surpasses #219 in the number of strong and clear – even if puzzling – images.  The Thunderbird image was the first we paddled by as we approached the core of the site, which is different than the others in that much is accessible on foot.

You can see the Thunderbird on the left side of the image below – strong, clear lines create a simple but effective image of the being known as Animikii. Scroll down a few images to see a close-up!

passing by the Thunderbird at Site #262 at the south end of Cliff Lake

And there was the core of the site!  We beached the canoe and stepped ashore and then spent some time getting a fresh collection of photos of the rock paintings to add to those we had taken on our 2013 visit.

approaching the core of Site #262 – Cliff lake

This may have been the 262nd rock painting site recorded by Selwyn Dewdney but he was anything but blasé as he took in the images.  His excitement was still palpable months later when he wrote this –

The next half-dozen images show the various rock paintings that Dewdney is referring to in the above quote. This time I made sure to get a good shot of what he refers to as the dark brown “lone Indian” image.  However, we still have no idea how both of us missed seeing the panel with the three open circles and the broken canoe at the bottom.  I’ve included a photo we took on our previous visit!

[See here for a pdf download of the section of Dewdney’s Indian Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes dealing with Cliff Lake sites.]

The colour variation from image to image is noticeable in the panel below!

the core of Site #262 – Cliff lake

“the ‘lone Indian’ in a dull ochre so impure…”

Animikii – The Thunderbird












By now our plan to spend a second night on the lake was down to one possibility – a campsite at the start of the portages that lead to Ratte Lake. Not seeing anything suitable, we decided to push on.

The Portages Into Bad Medicine Lake

The map below shows the series of three carries that take you from Cliff Lake to Ratte. A short 90-meter portage to a puddle that we paddled across and then the 525-meter haul into Bad Medicine Lake.  Five years ago we did the portage after 300 km. of tripping – we were in shape and our food pack was almost down to zero.  This time we were doing the carry on Day 2 and had sixty pounds (28 kg.) of food.  We definitely felt the difference!

portages from Cliff Lake To Ratte Lake

portaging into Bad Medicine Lake

Bad Medicine Lake  – the very name makes me wonder if there is a connection between it and Cliff Lake as a major destination for Anishinaabe shamans and vision questers.

At the end of the carry into Bad Medicine, we got to the put-in at the foot that the three-meter drop to the shore pictured in the image below. And, as we had the last time, we stopped for lunch on top of the drop, setting up the tarp thanks to a thirty-minute shower that coincided with our arrival.

looking back at the put-in at the end of the portage trail into Bad Medicine Lake

Into Ratte Lake

With lunch done, we loaded the canoe and paddled down to the portage at the east end of the lake, the one which would take us into Ratte Lake. (I’d been saying Ra tay for years; the locals pronounce it Ra tea.)  The wind had picked up; it was blowing strongly from the south and we would feel its full force as soon as we entered Ratte Lake from the relative shelter of the narrow river stretch above it. The wind and the waves that were rolling up the lake were bad enough that we soon decided to pull into a somewhat sheltered bay.

Ratte Lake cabin at the north end of the lake

Switching into “campsite search” mode,  we beached the canoe and walked along the shore, noting a couple of decent spots that would do.  Continuing our walk along the bay’s sandy shore, we rounded the corner to see what that boat shell was doing there.  That is when we saw the cabin, the door open. We had found our camping spot for the night!

Helinox chairs out at the north end of Ratte Lake – the abandoned cabin

The cabin apparently belongs to Wilderness North. (See here for a brochure from 2014 which mentions the Ratte Lake cabin, along with the one on Butland Lake,  as possible shelters on Day 5 of the itinerary.)

It has an abandoned look and while it is still in decent shape, the roof needs some maintenance, as does the door, which does not close properly.  The various tallies of fish catches left by fishermen who had stayed in the cabin seemed to end around 2008.   We spent a bit of time tidying up the interior and were happy not to find any mouse droppings.  When we left the next morning, we pried a 2’x4′ against the door handle to jam the door shut.  It had probably been damaged by an earlier passer-by in his attempt to gain access.

It rained some more overnight and the temperature had noticeably dropped. We were regretting the decision to leave our Primaloft jackets behind – all to save 1 kilogram of weight.  It would get even colder in the evenings to come!


Day 3 – From Ratte Lake to Bear Camp

  • distance: 22.7 km
  • time: 9:10 a.m to 5:10 p.m.
  • portages/rapids: 1.5/0; P 1300m (1 hr. 45 min); Bear Camp river landing up to road ~ 180m
  • weather: overcast, some rain, cool, a few rays of sun late afternoon  and early evening
  • campsite: The Bear Camp – multiple 4-person sites (w/friendly hosts – i.e. Barry and Duane Boucher – aka the Boucher Bros. –   in season)

Note: This day was done in total “git ‘er dun” mode.  We took all of three photos and made no notes on the portages and lining we did.  The fact that we had done this stretch of river before may have something to do with it; the crappy weather did not help!

See this post from 2013 for a more detailed description of the river from Cliff Lake to the Bear Camp –  Down Wabakimi’s Pikitigushi River From Cliff Lake

We had a simple goal for the day – get to the Bear Camp situated on the north side of the logging road which crosses the Pikitigushi River. The wind had died down somewhat but it was still drizzling a bit as we left our plush Ratte Lake cabin stop around 9:15.  By 10:45 we were approaching the set of rapids between Gort Lake and Wash Lake and spent about ten minutes lining our way down and into Wash Lake. A half-hour later we were at the south end of Wash Lake getting another look at the airplane shell before dealing with our second set of rapids of the day.

looking back up the rapids between Wash Lake and Derraugh lake

A 150-meter carry took us about 30 minutes and we were into Derraugh Lake.  By 12:45 we were at the take-out point for the 1300-meter portage into Pikitigushi Lake. We would fortify ourselves with lunch and a mug of coffee before taking on the carry!

Thanks to the Wabakimi Project trail crew, the portage had been worked on in 2014 and was in better shape than the trail we remembered from the year before that.  This time we spent two hours on the 1300-meter (one mile) portage, moving gear along in three or four hundred meter segments until we finally got to the shore of Pikitigushi Lake. From there it was an easy paddle down to the Boucher Bear Camp and by  5:30 our tent was up and we were enjoying the hospitality of the Boucher Brothers.

From mid-August to late September the Boucher Brothers – Barry and Duane – run a hunting camp on the shores of the Pikitigushi just off the logging road.  Barry drove his truck down to the river where we loaded our four bags for the easy ride back to our tent spot for the night. A great way to end the day – and definitely appreciated!

The Bear Camp on the Pikitigushi – our tent on the right

Running past the camp is a gravel road that comes from Armstrong Station and crosses the river just south of the camp.  Duane mentioned that the road now goes all the way to Ferland, a VIA stop on the CN tracks just east of Mud River.

walking to the bridge over the Pikitigushi River

Logging roads are plentiful north of Lake Nipigon in the stretch from Armstrong Station east to the Little Jackfish River and beyond. Servicing the Ogoki Reservoir dams and planned construction of hydroelectric facilities on the Little Jackfish also provide additional road usage.

After the gravel road from Armstrong Station passes by the Boucher Camp on the west banks of the Pikitigushi, it continues northeast for 12 km. before heading SE to the Little Jackfish. While the map above does not show a road right to Ferland on the VIA tracks, some satellite images do.

This is not the Lake Nipigon Forest of 125 years ago!

The north-of-Nipigon area has clearly seen a massive development since the year 1900.

  • The construction of the now-CN railway (originally the National Transcontinental) in the early 1900s – map here
  • the diversion of Ogoki River water to the Great Lakes system with the construction of the Waboose and South Summit Dams in the early 1940s – see here for more info
  • major logging activity as indicated by the logging roads on the map above
  • mining exploration.
  • a planned hydro-electric  installation on the Little Jackfish River south of Zigzag Lake (see here for a Youtube video  and here for a 2011 study of the proposed project, currently on hold because its 75 MW are not needed.)


Next Post: Down The Pikitigushi From Cliff Lake To Lake Nipigon – Days 4, 5, & 6.

This entry was posted in Anishinaabek World, Pictographs of the Canadian Shield, wilderness canoe tripping. Bookmark the permalink.

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