We spent a couple of nights at our Florence Lake campsite. Max had come down with some ailment the previous day, the day with the portages on the stretch of the south branch of the Lady Evelyn above the Florence River confluence. The 24-hour flu (if that is what it was) had left him weakened and chilled. He ate little and slept a lot as he stayed warm inside the tent and his sleeping bag.
Meanwhile, I rambled around the almost-island taking macro pix of mushrooms and other fungi, hoping to fill my viewfinder with that blue mushroom- the lactarius indigo – my wife had asked me to look for.
The thought did enter my mind that the mushroom was a Photoshop creation and that my wife, figuring I needed something other than pictographs to obsess about, had come up with the idea of sending me on a quest for a not-yet-revealed-to-mere-mortals blue mushroom!
On our second afternoon on the lake, we followed the shore for one kilometer south of our campsite on the point, looking for signs to the start of a possible bushwhack trail that would take us to a scenic lookout above the lake. We figured we might see a strip of prospector’s tape or other sign of human presence to indicate a route up. However, we were not expecting to see this –
A blue trail marker told us we were in the right place! We pulled the canoe ashore and up into the bush and looked up to what was clearly a trail – somewhat rough but still much more than a bushwhack!
Whoever made the path did not attempt to create a switchback trail – after all, this is not a local Peruvian or Nepalese pathway used by yaks and donkeys to move food and supplies over difficult terrain. This rough path goes straight up!
One great thing about a signed path is that it keeps the impact of people tromping up and down the hillside to a narrow corridor instead of having everyone ad-libbing their own way.
The reward for a bit of huffing and puffing? The view! Mind you, at about 440 m a.s.l. you’re not at the very top and if you were the view might well be zero given the dense pine forest you’d be standing in!
The viewpoint is about 100 meters lower than the actual top and 80 meters above the lake itself. This is what we saw on an overcast day punctuated with the occasional bit of drizzle. Adobe Lightroom’s “photomerge” feature stitched together three images I snapped to create a panorama of the south end of Florence Lake as we looked east from our vantage point –
We looked around for yet another blue trail indicator leading further up but did not see anything. We assumed that we had reached the viewpoint – and indeed it was a nice spot to be. Had the weather been better and the sloped rock and the lichen not been wet and very slippery and unstable, we may have stayed up a bit longer. We scampered across a short stretch of the sloped rock outcrop and then headed back to where we thought we had come up out of the trees.
Forty-five minutes later we were back down at the canoe, having gotten lost on the initial stretch on the way down.
- put a visible marker on the last tree you come to on the bottom edge of the rock face so that you can easily find it – and the trail! – on your way down!
- Max skinned three fingertips while we scampered across the wet sloped rock face. It bothered him for days afterwards. A pair of gloves would have been nice! No need for climbing rope!
As we paddled back to our campsite, we looked back for a view of the rock face viewpoint. This is what we saw –
The arrow points at the trailhead on the shore; if the sign should for some reason be gone, there is still that flat rock sitting there to serve as a sign! Almost straight above is the rockface that serves as the open lookout point.
We took it easy for the rest of the day; Max was starting to feel better and we had supper under the tarp. In the early evening, something amazing happened – the sun came out! We were seeing the lake in a new light and it looked incredible. Blue everywhere!
Okay, so it wasn’t the blue mushroom I was looking for – but what a sight! We hoped for more clear skies and sunshine the next day!
In early September it is all but dark by 8:00 p.m. so we made sure we walked our food bags a fair distance away (50 m or so) from our tent before dark came. Nighttime temperatures were usually below 10ºC during our week and a half out; this meant we were often in the tent shortly after 8! With overcast skies most days there was usually nothing to look up to.
Possible Confusion About the Florence Lake Lookout Trail – There is more than one!
Older sources of information provide paddlers with a few ways of getting to a Florence lake viewpoint. None of them is the signed trail that we did in September of 2020.
The Hap Wilson Temagami guidebook – my 2011 copy is a reprint of the 2004 edition – shows a trail to the north of the campsite on the point. It is headed in the direction of a hilltop at about 540 in altitude.
The Chrismar Temagami 4 map (I have the 2011 edition) indicates a trail just south of the creek that comes into the lake to the southwest of the campsite on the point. A note on the map says “trail not maintained”. It seems to end up in the same spot – i.e. the exposed rockface – that the signed trail took us to.
The Ottertooth Florence Lake map (2017) also indicates a trail to a viewpoint. Its starting point is about the same as the signed one we found; however, it is much more angled to the south than the signed trail we followed. The line on the Ottertooth map ends at 530m which I assume is the very top of the hill.
This satellite image of the area reveals the two sloped rock outcrops that the Chrismar map “trail”, our signed trail, and the Ottertooth map “trail” aim for. Of the three, the Ottertooth bushwhack is the longest and the signed trail route is the shortest and easiest.
If you’ve been up the “trail” sketched in the Wilson book, the Chrismar map, or the Ottertooth map, I’d be interested in your observations. Feel free to comment below – fellow canoe trippers will benefit from your viewpoint -and your approach to it! – and perhaps be spared some grief. Also, if you have any information about who put in the signed trail – and when – please let me know. It would be nice to give them some acknowledgment!
Florence Lake and F.G. Speck’s Hunting Grounds Map:
According to the map [see here] drawn by F.G. Speck in 1913 at Bear Island In Lake Temagami with the input of community members living around the Hudson Bay Co. post there, the Florence River and Florence Lake were the western borders of Misabi’s hunting grounds in the mid-to-late 1800s. Only when we paddled north on Willow Island Lake a few days later would we leave his hunting grounds.
[Click on the cover above or the following title to access Speck’s 1915 report.
As I mentioned in the introductory post, in 1913 Misabi was still alive and almost 100 years old when Speck visited. He had come up to Temagami from Georgian Bay – one source says from the Shawanaga area of Georgian Bay – as a young man and, after marrying one of Ke’kek’s daughters, was given 27a as his hunting ground. A generation before this- i.e. around 1800- 1820 – hunting grounds 27a, 27, and 24 were all one hunting ground and belonged to the father of Ke’Kek and Wendaban.
While Ke’kek inherited the lands encompassed by 27 and 27a, Wendaban got the Lady Evelyn Lake area 24. From their relative sizes, it may be that Wendaban was the younger son. Apparently, Wendaban married a Nipissing woman and spent many winters (the hunting time) on Lake Nipissing instead of in the Lady Evelyn Lake area. The couple did not have any children. Speck did not speak with or record the presence of anyone from Wendaban’s hunting ground #24 during his stay. As for Misabi, he had a cabin at the outlet of Obabika Lake at the top of the Obabika River. Speck recorded five people as living in Misabi’s territory in 1913.
In his Temagami guidebook, Hap Wilson notes that Florence Lake
“is surrounded by beautiful hills and towering pine – no wonder the Tema Augama preferred this lake as a sanctuary.”
While he is certainly right about the natural beauty of the lake and its surroundings, left unstated is any evidence for the claim that the lake served as a sanctuary. What may have started as Wilson’s easily understandable personal view of the lake thanks to its relative isolation and the effort to get there has perhaps been projected backward in time to become someone else’s special place. Also left to the reader’s imagination is exactly what kind of “place of refuge or safety” it was? A hiding place from Iroquois invaders? A spiritual retreat center for shamans and vision questers?
Madeline Katt Theriault was born in Temagami in 1908 and grew up learning to live off the land in an almost-traditional pre-European-contact way. Her memoir Moose To Mocassins mentions Florence Lake five times but only in the context of a hunting/fishing spot where she notes her husband shot dead a bear and where they easily caught a massive amount of lake trout. If the lake held some special significance as anything else, she does not mention it.
As for the designation “Teme Augama” sometimes with “Anishinabay” (or some other variation in spelling) added, it is not a name that existed in Misabi’s time, having been created in the 1970s during a time of rising Indigenous nationalism. It refers to non-status as well as status people, Ojibwe or Algonquin, as well as Metis who currently live in the area. How Misabi would have felt about this broadly-inclusive group making use of Florence Lake – and living off his food sources while there – is an open question.
In the end, it is unlikely that anyone other than Misabi or his immediate relatives would be coming up here. There would be other places to be in the summer months – and it is not as if the journey to the lake from Obabika Lake or Bear Island on Lake Temagami in September at the start of the hunting season was an easy one.
Perhaps it was proof that Max was back to normal or that the upper stretch of the south branch was about as bad as it was going to get? Whatever the case, the next day we did over thirty kilometers of easy and enjoyable paddling with very little drama as we got to the Forks and started heading down the combined South and North channels of the Lady Evelyn River to Katherine Lake.