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Day Five: River Bay To Mouth of the Palisade River
distance: 24 km.
We left our River Bay CS after breakfast 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, a 12-meter drop going from 360+/- to 348+/-.
Having gone through this section of the river twice, we do not recall 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 photos are not always on point!
See here for the Topo Canada View.
The portages done, we sat on the rocks on the south side of Kenoji for a wee break. We still did not 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. Then we would go 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 would quite noticeable if we paddled ten or twelve kilometers further up. They were now heading south 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. Note: Two years later we found out that there is a pictograph site on that bit of rock 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, the headwaters of the Grayson River system, 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 neighbourhood. 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.