Heading To Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro Region

Hank Snow, the “Singing Ranger” from Nova Scotia, hit it big in 1962 with a song that mentions all the places he had passed through in his rambles.  It is like Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” on amphetamine – a veritable tour de force of rhyme and memory.  The chorus goes like this:

I’ve been everywhere, man
I’ve been everywhere, man
‘Cross the deserts bare, man
I’ve breathed the mountain air, man
Of travel, I’ve had my share, man
I’ve been everywhere.

It comes to mind as I think about my next trip.  While I have been to the Nepalese Himalayas and to various parts of the Andes on more than a few mountain trips (see here), I’ve clearly not been everywhere, man!  Everywhere in Africa is mostly missing.   Trips to Morocco and Egypt have been the only two and they were almost twenty years ago when I was approaching fifty! I do remember them fondly:

  • a two-week cultural tour of Morocco’s highlights with Laila
  • a two-week trek in the Atlas Mountains (including a summit of Jebel Toubkal in the Atlas Mountain range, North Africa’s highest at 4,167 metres (13,671 ft.)
  • a two-week tour of the cultural highlights of Egypt’s Nile River valley from Aswan to Cairo with a primary focus on pyramids and temples.

This is about the change!  Coming up is a three-week visit to northern Tanzania in East Africa.  The main attraction is Kilimanjaro, the volcanic massif created by a colossal eruption about three-quarters of a million years ago on the edge of the East Africa Rift Valley.  The geology of the area is stunning. Highlights include –

  • the growing rupture in the African Plate which will see East Africa split off from the rest of the continent during the next 50 million years;
  • dead and dormant volcanoes – as well as active ones – most of which one can hike up;
  • vast craters like that of Ngorongoro which have become the sanctuary of countless animals, both predators and prey;
  • the fertile upland plateaus like the Serengeti, the #1 safari destination of wildlife watchers;
  • large and deep inland lakes like Victoria and Tanganyika

northern Tanzania – Arusha, Moshi, and Kilimanjaro

I had no idea that East Africa had so much to offer!  It never even entered my mind as a travel destination until the evening I watched a documentary by David Breashears, an American whose Everest climbs and excellent related film work I was familiar with.  The forty-minute film Kilimanjaro: To the Roof of Africa is from 2002 and was meant to be viewed in an IMAX theatre. The visuals wowed me on my 13″ Macbook!  Watch it and you may be booking a trip to Tanzania too!

The chance to walk through the various ecological zones over a seven-day period on my way up to the top of Kilimanjaro is what sold me!  From the savannah to the montane forest, and then up across the moorland to the alpine zone, topped off with a walk in the Arctic zone to Uhuru Peak, the highest point on the mountain. Wow!  While I have climbed volcanoes before, this sounds so much more interesting!

the top of Kilimanjaro

A decade ago I had stood on the top of two of Ecuador’s highest peaks, also volcanoes, and, to be honest, it had been a somewhat lacklustre experience. Those Ecuador summits involved leaving Quito in the morning, driving to a hut high on the side of the mountain by 2 or 3 p.m.; having supper and then a nap until about 1 a.m. and then walking in the dark until a sunrise arrival at the top.  By 2 the next afternoon we’d be back in Quito!  Yes, I’d done it – but the experience soured me on climbing any more volcanoes just to do it!

climbers at dawn on Cotopaxi summit in Ecuador

Kilimanjaro will be a different volcano experience!  It will also be my introduction to a corner of the globe I can see revisiting for all the attractions other than Kili it has to offer.

Making A Kilimanjaro Summit More Likely:

There is, however, a complication.  While you do not have to be an extremely fit athlete to do the walk – all but one route is less than 70 kilometers long – there is the problem of acclimatization.  Some guided groups going up will hit the summit at sunrise on Day 4; others on Day 5 or 6.  This is too rapid an ascent for many people to be able to acclimatize adequately and explains why about 50% of the forty to fifty thousand people who start off at the foot of the mountain each year do not make it to the top.  The fewer the number of days on the mountain, the less likely a hiker will succeed. Some that do make it, feel so bad they can’t really enjoy the experience.

The More Time, The Better!

see here for source – extract from Wikipedia article titled Kilimanjaro Routes

The body needs time to make the adjustments as it goes up in altitude since the falling air pressure means that a given volume of air contains less and less oxygen.  By the time you have reached Uhuru Peak at 5895 meters (19,341 feet), the effective amount of oxygen in the air is about half of what it is at sea level.

I booked one of the longest itineraries available, the eight-day trek via the Lemosho Route (see the charts above) with the acclimatization issue in mind. The 56-kilometer distance is almost what I walk with my dog Viggo in a week!  As with the other routes,  summit day starts around 1 a.m.  In the case of Lemosho, we’ll walk from the Barafu Camp at 4640 meters to Uhuru Peak (5895) and then back down to Mweka Camp (3100) over a 12-hour period.

northern Tanzania - Arusha to Moshi

northern Tanzania – Arusha to Moshi

A Pre-Kili Hike Up Mount Meru:

To improve my acclimatization, I have also arranged a walk to the top of Mount Meru in the week before the Kilimanjaro hike. Meru is Tanzania’s second highest mountain at 4562 meters (14,968 ft.).  It is the focal point of Arusha National Park and is about seventy kilometers west of Kili.

Meru Four-Day Trek

While I chose it as a warm-up, from all accounts It is an excellent hike in its own right and may surpass Kili in terms of wildlife sightings in the montane forest on the way up. Some who have done both say they prefer Meru for the lack of the commotion that the many more trekkers on Kili create thanks to its status as one of the Seven Summits.  Unlike the Lemosho Route trek on Kili, which is tent-based, the Meru hike takes you from hut to hut to summit and back to the Miriakamba huts at the end of Day 3.

When I am not on either mountain, I will be in Moshi, a prosperous city of some 200,000 just south of Kilimanjaro. To the south of Meru is the city of Arusha, population 400,000 – I plan to spend my last two days in Tanzania there.  The airport that I fly into and out of is in between the two towns.

I have about a week after my return from Kilimanjaro to spend on other things.  I could just relax and check out the coffee houses and restaurants of Moshi and Arusha.  Some other possibilities include

  • a hike to the top of Ol Doinyo Lengai, an active volcano just to the south of Lake Natron
  • a visit to a few of the pictograph sites near the village of Kolo in Kondoa District
  • a visit to the Leakey archaeological sites at Laotoli and Olduvai Gorge
  • a brief visit to the Serengeti area for wildlife viewing.

popote africa header

Popote Africa, The trekking/safari agency in Moshi that I booked my Meru and Kilimanjaro treks with,  will probably be able to make arrangements for any one of the above.  I may be able to join another small group on an outing. Time will tell!

Getting To Kilimanjaro Is A Piece of Cake!

I mentioned above that David Breashears’  Kilimanjaro: To the Roof of Africa planted the seeds of this trip in my mind.  However, it didn’t become a “Go!” until I googled my way to the KLM website and found a flight to Tanzania that worked out better than I thought possible.

Instead of flying into nearby Nairobi, Kenya or Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s capital, I fly into an airport I did not know existed – Kilimanjaro International!  Doing so eliminates the hassle of getting to the Kilimanjaro region from either of the two large urban centers – no eight-hour bus rides!  Even better, the flight from Toronto to Kilimanjaro involves only one transfer in Amsterdam.  The fewer the transfers, the more certain my checked baggage will arrive with me!

My flight there will take a bit under 19 hours, which includes a two hour and forty minutes wait at Schiphol Airport.  That is fantastic!  The flight back will take a bit longer thanks to a six-hour wait in Amsterdam but it still comes in at under 25 hours.

The price for the economy-class return ticket  – $1178. CDN.!

Other Considerations:

I still have a month before I leave.  In the meanwhile, there are the usual preparations to make.

  • To aid in the acclimatization process, I got my travel clinic doctor to write out a prescription for Diamox.  I have used it on several high altitude treks and it does help.
  • I also have a container full of malaria tablets – I am using doxycycline – since I will be spending time at an altitude where mosquitos are common.  Moshi has an altitude of 700 meters and Arusha 1200 and both Meru and Kilimanjaro have montane forests where they can be found.

Screen Shot 2018-12-11 at 12.07.42 PM

  • I have already made a $700. U.S. deposit on the $3200. package that the Popote Africa agency in Moshi put together for me.  I will complete the payment before I go so that I do not need to carry large sums of money with me or make use of bank machines while I am there.

My package includes the treks up Meru and Kilimanjaro, as well as accommodation in Moshi for seven nights.   It always feels like a leap of faith to surrender large sums of money to someone you have never met.  Popote Africa is one of three hundred agencies I could have gone with. It was founded by Sabino Kekwa, a Moshi local who began as a Kili guide before starting his own company ten years ago.  Its prices would be considered “budget” as opposed to ridiculously cheap or extravagant.  I’m good with that!  You can read Popote Africa’s Trip Advisor reviews here.

Learning Some Basic Kiswahili:

Screen Shot 2018-12-11 at 12.25.54 PM

Until then I have another month to work on my Pimsleur Swahili lessons (I’m on Lesson 17 of the thirty half-hour units I hope to cover).

I should have a vocabulary of about four hundred words to draw from.  Even if the people in Moshi in the tourism industry can speak English, it is always good to know a few words in Tanzania’s working language too.  I’ve already installed the Google Translate app on my iPhone for easy access to basic words and expressions.

I also have a digital copy of the Rough Guide Phrasebook: Swahili installed on my iPhone but I also got a paper copy of the Lonely Planet’s Swahili Phrasebook and Dictionary.  Both have mini English-Swahili/Swahili-English dictionaries as well as vocabulary organized by the various situations the words might come up. I find the Lonely Planet’s pronunciation guide for each word useful; the Rough Guide does a few things that the L.P. doesn’t.

Background Reading:

As well, I have been doing background reading on Kilimanjaro and surroundings,  as Kilimanjaro-guide-book-latest-editionwell as Tanzania in general. The fifth edition of Henry Stedman’s Kilimanjaro: The Trekking Guide to Africa’s Highest Mountain was an excellent buy from Amazon.  I’d put it in the essential category for anyone contemplating a trip to the Kili region and while its main focus is Kilimanjaro, it also covers Arusha And Moshi accommodation and restaurant options and a bunch of other useful topics having to do with culture and language.

Stedman also has a website with up-to-date info – see here.

Upping My Cardio Level:

Screen Shot 2018-12-11 at 7.56.45 PM

Finally, since mid-October, I’ve been following a six-day-a-week training program with a heavy emphasis on cardio and core work to up my fitness level.  It is the same Uphill Athlete 12-week trekking training plan I followed for my three-week high altitude trek in Nepal’s Upper Mustang in April of this year.  Which reminds me – it is time to head up to the Danforth for today’s seventy-five-minute stairclimber workout!

Check back on a couple of months to see how everything unfolded!

Here is a clip of Hank Snow in 1965 doing “I’ve Been Everywhere”! [It is his adaptation of a song released by Aussie Geoff Mack with Australian place names in 1958.]

This Youtube version by Johnny Cash has the lyrics!


Next Post: Mount Meru: A Walk To the Top of Tanzania’s Second Highest Mountain


Posted in Africa, hiking/trekking | 2 Comments

Canoeing Lake Nipigon From Windigo Bay To Echo Rock

Previous Post: Canoeing The Pikitigushi From The Bear Camp To Windigo Bay

Why go paddling on Lake Nipigon?

This post will focus on the time we spent island-hopping the northwest corner of Lake Nipigon.  The reason for doing this was so we could connect our two favourite Wabakimi-area spots – the pictograph sites on Cliff  Lake and the dramatic gorge section on the Kopka River. [ See A Paddler’s List Of Wabakimi’s Top Six for our other top spot choices!] In the end, we never did go up the Kopka, choosing instead to exit via Waweig Lake off Highway 527.  We did, however,  finally get to paddle alongside Echo Rock!

Wabakimi Provincial Park and Surrounding Area

While venturing out into Lake Nipigon in an open canoe is not something to be taken lightly, our route did make use of the string of islands that stretches from Meeting Point at the south end of Windigo Bay all the way down to Kelvin Island.  The two open stretches of about five km. each (from Hunt to Billings and from Kelvin to Undercliff) represented the biggest objective dangers; we spent the other 85% of the time paddling along the shore of one island after another.  Of all of the paddling options on Lake Nipigon, ours was one of the least exposed.

One of Phil Cotton’s last pieces of planning advice was for us set aside up to a few days just in case we ended up getting wind-bound on a lake that seems to create its own weather system –  with winds coming from all directions of the compass on any given day! Ironically, it would only be when we got to the west shore of the big lake at Echo Rock that we had to take a wind day!

At the end of the trip as we stood at the Mattice Lake Outfitters desk and settled our bill, I mentioned that our Lake Nipigon crossing had me wondering once or twice if we were nuts to be doing it.  Someone behind the counter said – “We wondered the same thing!”  So – unless you have made a special arrangement with the weather gods, are paddlers experienced enough to know when to go and when to settle in for a wind day – make sure you understand what you’re signing up for!

NW corner of Lake Nipigon - overview

Maps and Campsite Information:

In planning our route we found a couple of useful sources for campsite locations.  The first was Lake Nipigon Kayaking Trip Report (click on the title to access) posted by Bryan Hansel on the Paddling Light website.  [See below for more on this source.]

The other source was the north half of the Lake Nipigon Signature Site Map from 2016.  It is no longer in production but the map’s creator, Glenn Hart of Nipigon, has an updated  2019 version available for digital download.  Click here for information.

Hard copies of the map set are also available at Hart’s Bait Tackle and souvenir shop in Nipigon.  Also, the maps have been ported to GPS Enabled Smartphone maps (to go live in early 2019).

We made use of campsites mentioned in the trip report and indicated on the Lake Nipigon Basin Signature Site Map.  From the garbage found at two of the ones we stayed at, they are used very occasionally by fishermen in motorboats.  A useful extra bit of information on the map is the location of beaches which are indicated in yellow. In a pinch, emergency campsites can be made on or above most of those beaches.

The three 1:50,000 topographical maps issued by Natural Resources Canada which cover the lake from Windigo Bay to Kelvin Island are listed below.  Click on the title to access the map. They are in jpg format and are about 8 Mb in size

You can access the Government of Canada’s NRC server here if you want to download the maps in tif format. Just go to the 052 folder to get started.

The GPX track for the route of our ten-day trip from Cliff Lake to Waweig Lake can be accessed in my Dropbox folder – 2018_Pikitigushi_Nipigon_Wabinosh Tracks.

Day 6 – From Mud River VIA Stop to The Britannia Is.

  • distance: 17.6 km
  • time: 9:15 a.m to 12:40 p.m.
  • portages/rapids/liftover-line: 0/0/0
  • weather: partly cloudy, sunny periods, cool, windy (SW) on L. Nipigon
  • campsite: a Britannia island cove about 25m into the tree stand, 1 x 4 person; alternate 1 x 2 person in adjacent cove, possible other 1 x 2 person or multiple hammock sites

Our previous post –Canoeing The Pikitigushi From The Bear Camp To Windigo Bay – has some info on the stretch from the CN rail bridge at the VIA Mud River stop down to Windigo Bay.

the mouth of the Pikitigushi River - Windigo Bay coming up

the mouth of the Pikitigushi River – Windigo Bay coming up

We paddled down the east side of Windigo Bay past Meeting Point. The Bay is characterized by shallow water and sometimes we dipped in no more than half a paddle.  There was a bit of a breeze from the south which would pick up as we approached the Britannia Islands group. Given that we had already done 17 km, we felt okay in calling it a day shortly after noon.  The fact that the sun was out meant we could relax and dry things out once we set up camp.

Haystack Mountain and Windigo Bay from our Britannia campsite

Haystack Mountain and Windigo Bay from our Britannia campsite

We had a Britannia Islands campsite location marked down on our map, thanks to that Lake Nipigon Kayaking Trip Report (click on the title to access) posted by Bryan Hansel on the Paddling Light website.  The two kayakers – Hannah Fanney & Rodney Claiborne – did a clockwise trip around the lake from Sept. 12 – Oct. 2, 2017.  Given the weather they had – 15 rain days out of 20 –  their three-week adventure would deserve a Survivor: Lake Nipigon series!  Google for information on Lake Nipigon paddling and their report is about the best – and the only – thing that will appear.  We were happy to find something so recent and made use of it for our brief passage on the northwest section of their route.

Britannia Islands campsite - our sunny cove

Haystack Mountain to the Britannia IslandsWe did not end up using their Britannia Islands site!  Their site was marked on the south side of the easternmost of the islands that make up the Britannias.

While we landed on the same island, we ended up in a small bay on the island’s north side with ample room to spread things out to dry. We looked over Windigo Bay and towards Haystack Mountain on the mainland, about eleven km. from our island campsite.

The pyramid-shaped hill would have been a useful landmark for Ojibwe shamans or vision questers two or three hundred years ago leaving their summertime settlements on the west side of the lake and heading for the mouth of the Pikitigushi on their way to the lake we now know as Cliff Lake.

The Britannia Islands - Lake Nipigon

The Britannia Islands – Lake Nipigon

We found our campsite about twenty-five meters in from the rocky beach. After the tent went up, we hung the sleeping bags out for a bit of wind and sun therapy and also had our first real clean up of the trip.  Since it was mid-September the one thing we were not washing off was Muskol!

our tent spot on one of the Britannia Islands – 9 square meters of flat ground!

Later on, we walked along the shore of the island and did a bit of bushwhacking to get to the other campsite on the south side.  Above a cobblestone beach, we would find a clearing that would make a decent spot for a two-person tent.

the other campsite on our Britannia island

the other campsite on our Britannia island

Given that the wind was still blowing fairly strong from the south we were happy with the flat and sheltered spot where we had put up our four-person tent.

For the next few days, we would be making using of some of the following campsite locations as we paddled down the Lake to the south end of Kelvin Island before heading back to the mainland by Undercliff Island.

Lake Nipigon- NW Corner Campsites

Day 7 – Britannia Islands to Geikie Island

From the Britannia Islands To Geikie Island

  • distance: 34.5 km (includes 500m of campsite searching)
  • time: 7:50 a.m to 4:15 p.m.
  • portages/rapids/liftover-line: 0/0/0
  • weather: partly cloudy, sunny periods, cool, windy (SW)
  • campsite: a Geikie Island cove with a fairly flat grassy area – 1 x 4 person; also 1 x 2 person flattish area about 5 meters behind our site; (slim pickings L)

Once on the lake, we made twice-daily use of the weather forecast feature of our inReach Explorer +, the device we replaced our Spot Connect with last year.  We found the forecast info to be accurate and helpful as we planned our southward track from island to island.

On our first morning on the lake, we had a gentle SW wind to deal with and we had to work a bit in our three-hour 14-km. paddle to the SE tip of Hunt Island.

the Barn Islands on the horizon from the south end of Hunt Island

That is where we got our first our first view of the Barn Islands with their distinctive shape.  Over the next four days we’d be seeing them from all sorts of angles and finally, at the end of the Lake Nipigon segment of our trip, we’d be having lunch in a sandy beach cove on Inner Barn.

The 5.3 km. from Hunt Island over to the Billings Island beach you see in the photo below?  We did it in 45 minutes!  The angle of the wind seemed just perfect.

lunch stop on Billings Island

We had done 20 km.  before our lunch stop.  An hour or so later, fortified by more coffee and the usual lunch, we would mostly paddle along the west side of Billings and Geikie to a campsite indicated on the Lake Nipigon (North Section) map above.  Had the wind from the SW or W been more pronounced, we would have headed over to the east side of Geikie and come down that way.  One thing we did learn is that on Lake Nipigon the wind can come at you from four different directions on any given day! Our Garmin weather option usually had it right.

We did not have any luck locating the campsite indicated on that map above!  We paddled into the bay and scanned the shoreline but could see nothing resembling a possible campsite! We finally paddled out and into the bay to the north and, after checking out a spot on the north side, settled on the spot you see illustrated in the photos below.  The spot was totally exposed but was fairly flat and the tall grass provided a bit of cushion.

[Note: it may be that we were looking in the wrong bay all the while and that the spot we ended up at was the one indicated on the map! However, there was no sign of anyone having camped there.]

We didn’t know it at the time but this would be the last of the decent weather for a while.  Day-time temperatures would plummet and things would get a bit wet in the days to come!  But on this evening we enjoyed our front row seats as we sipped on whisky and snapped dozens of shots of the setting sun and its reflections on the water. In retrospect, the pix all look somewhat the same but it was a buzz while we were taking them!

campsite on Geikie Island

Geikie Island campsite – another view

one of a hundred shots we took of the setting sun on Geikie

Day 8 – Geikie Island to Kelvin Island

From Geikie Island to Kelvin Island

  • distance: 18.2 km
  • time: 9:35 a.m to 12:45 p.m.
  • portages/rapids/liftover-line: 0/0/0
  • weather: partly cloudy, cool, windy (E/SE?)
  • campsite: Kelvin Island cove with relatively flat sand/grassy area – 1 x 4 person

Moments after the tent was packed away it started to drizzle. Up went one of our tarps to cover the bags and the beginnings of our breakfast.  We enjoyed a second mug of coffee while the rain persisted.  A half-hour later we were looking at a blue sky and it was time to move on!  The image below captures our low-impact camping style!

the view from Geikie camp spot after the rain stopped

Our goal for the day was less ambitious than that of the day before when we had put in 34 km. over eight hours.  The Lake Nipigon Signature Site Map had a Kelvin Island campsite indicated in a small bay across from Undercliff island.  It would make a perfect point from which to set off for Echo Rock the next morning, wind and weather permitting thanks to the five km. of open water between the two.

The wind was coming from the east/southeast but we hardly felt it as we paddled down the west side of Geikie Island.  Going down the last two kilometers of Bell Island the wind and waves were pushing us into shore but soon we were paddling through the passage between Bell and Kelvin Island and heading south.

looking west towards the Barn Islands  and Wabinosh Bay from Geikie Island

As we rounded the northern tip of Kelvin Island and headed for the campsite we got our first glimpse of Echo Rock on the mainland. As the crow flies, it was only 12 km. from where we were when we took the photo below.

Echo Rock from the northern tip of Kelvin Island

The wind was no longer an issue and, as our track indicates, we felt comfortable enough with a  straight line path to our destination.

From Geikie to Kelvin to Echo Rock

We found a campsite above the stretch of beach shown in the image below.  Given that it faced north it got very little of the afternoon sun.  There are actually three or four spots where it looks like people have camped. One had the remains of a plywood top fish cleaning table that hadn’t been used in a few years.  The beer cans and broken glass and tin cans were the kind of garbage you associate with motorboat fishermen and campers – perhaps visitors from Thunder Bay or perhaps locals from one of the First Nation communities like that of Gull Bay, some thirty km. away.

Kelvin Island campsite

We left our shady campsite and went for a walk through the bush for a lakeside view of the next day’s paddle.  I focussed on Echo Rock, partially hidden by the east end of Undercliff Island. By mid-afternoon, the wind had picked up some. We enjoyed our half-day of rest, having pulled in before 1 p.m.

pointing my lens west at Echo Rock – one of the Barn Islands on the horizon to the north

Echo Rock is a part of the Undercliff Mountain massif.  “The Gibraltar of the North” someone had called it and we knew we had to see it!  A few years ago we had gone up to Bon Echo Provincial Park and spent a couple of days paddling alongside the awe-inspiring and pictograph-rich stretch of vertical rock known as Mazinaw Rock. [See  The Pictographs of Mazinaw Rock: Listening For Algonquian Echoes.]  Here we were at the other end (almost) of the Anishinaabe world with another dramatic Rock in our sights!

a view of Undercliff I., Echo Rock, and Dray I. from our Kelvin campsite

Day 9 – Kelvin Island to Echo Rock

Lake Nipigon – From Kelvin Island to Echo Rock

  • distance: 10 km
  • time: 10:40 a.m to 12:40 p.m.
  • portages/rapids/liftover-line: 0/0/0
  • weather: overcast; cloudy, rain w/ some heavy, cool, windy (E/SE/ESE)
  • campsite: cove/point about 180m from Echo Rock; 1 x 4 person barely plus possible 2 x 2 person sites; hammocks possible.

The previous day we had only paddled 18 km.  It had been about 12:30 when we decided to stop at the designated campsite instead of putting in the extra hour to get to Echo Rock.  Now, as we listened to the rain hitting the tarp we wondered if we had made the right call!  Coulda, shoulda! 

The night before we had put one of our two tarps over the tent. In the morning it did its job as Max took down the tent in the rain.  Meanwhile, I put up the other tarp in the clearing adjacent to ours and then moved the packed bags underneath as quickly as possible.  The Garmin inReach-provided weather forecast called for the rain to stop around ten and E/SE winds to be about 7 km/hr. until into the afternoon.  [There I am in the photo below checking out the weather details!]

For the second morning in a row, we waited out a rain shower. This time we waited almost two hours! Already the thought that we might be camping there a second night had crept into my mind. and then – around 10:30 the rain stopped!

We loaded up and set off. Once away from the island we felt a mild E/SE wind blowing.  It made our crossing that much easier and in less than an hour we paddled almost 6 km. to the eastern tip of Undercliff Island. The island provided a bit of shelter from the wind and the stretch of big open water paddling was done with.  We headed for the west end of Undercliff I. and the Echo Rock face across from it.

As we got close to Echo Rock another rain shower – this one lasted about a half-hour, just long enough to make any examination of the rock face for pictographs impossible. The channel between the island and the mainland also acted as a funnel for the SE wind.

approaching Echo Rock from the northeast

fiddling with my Fuji X20 in the rain

Echo Rock and the western tip of Undercliff Island in the mist

We got a peak of Echo Rock as we paddled toward where we thought the campsite was – i.e. on the inside of the small bay in the map image below.  We were not seeing anything and ended up paddling along the bay to the north end before returning to the south end. There was the campsite we had somehow missed!

the Echo Rock campsite

The east-facing site is perhaps 150 – 200 meters from Echo Rock and sits about 10′ (3 m) above the water. There is some room up top for a couple of two-person tents. Our space-gobbling 4-person MEC Wanderer requires more than we could find up top so we set it up in a clearing below.

looking east towards Kelvin I. from our Echo Rock campsite

our tent spot at Echo Rock on Lake Nipigon

The next morning we would get a closer look at Echo Rock.  This time the wind was coming from the north and we’d have a bit of drizzle to contend with.  Later we would learn that our time on the lake and up the west shore coincided with Hurricane Florence’s movement up the east coast. That might explain the unsettled weather and provide another reason for doing big lake tripping in July or August. Then again, in mid-September 2017 we spent a week in Georgian Bay’s French River delta enjoying weather that felt like mid-July!

looking back at Undercliff Island and the north side of Echo Rock from our camspite

looking back at the west end of Undercliff Island and the north side of Echo Rock from our campsite

Next Post: From Echo Rock to Waweig Lake and Highway 527

Posted in Wabakimi, wilderness canoe tripping | 1 Comment

From Lake Nipigon’s Echo Rock To Waweig Lake

Previous Post: Canoeing Lake Nipigon From Windigo Bay To Echo Rock

Day 10 – Echo Rock to the H B C Post (Nipigon House)

  • distance: 7 km (include backtracking) actually moved forward about 3.3 km
  • time: 9:15 a.m to 11:25 a.m.
  • portages/rapids/liftover-line: 0/0/0
  • weather: overcast; cloudy, w/some rain, cool, very windy (NW, N and NE)
  • campsite: old Hudson Bay Post site – flattish area in the grass near tree stand; made room for our 4-person tent; other sites possible for 2 / 4 person tents; hammocks possible in the tree stand north end of the site; relatively (to very) open; semi-sheltered from north winds thanks to the tree stand.
  • gpx track of entire route: 2018_Pikitigushi_Nipigon_Wabinosh Tracks

Checking Out The Echo Rock Pictographs:

It was a breezy morning with a bit of drizzle as we set off on our paddle north to what we hoped would be our campsite that night – a spot on Wabinosh Bay or maybe on even on Wabinosh Lake itself.

a view of Echo Rock from Underecliff I. the day before – not ideal weather!

But first, we headed back to Undercliff Mountain and Echo Rock to check out the pictograph site.  We had given the rock face a cursory scan the afternoon before but the strong wind from the south and the rain had prevented a more thorough look.  Now the wind was blowing just as strong from the north but the rain wasn’t pelting down the way it had the previous day, as the pic to the left illustrates.


approaching Echo Rock from the north

We noted two things about the Echo Rock face:

  • it is heavily covered with lichen
  • it has more graffiti in the vicinity than almost any other pictograph site we have been to.

The one thing we did not note was a pictograph!

We had a rough idea of what we were looking for thanks to a brief passage in Selwyn Dewdney’s book. While he states that there are a number of pictographs to be seen, most sound like they have all but faded away. Even the one image he chose to sketch back in 1959 when he visited (60 years ago!) was already on its way to disappearing!








The stretch of rock face in the photo above – and especially the one captured in the image below – are our best guess as to where to pictographs were/are.  Blowing up the jpg below 100% revealed what looks like ochre smudges above the water line.  That is as close as we got to pictographs!

Echo Rock with possible smudges of ochre covered by calcite run-off

We were, however, awed by the vertical majesty of Undercliff Mountain. Another day and better weather and we would have spent more time there, perhaps climbing up to the top and getting some shots from other perspectives.  We would also have spent more time looking for those elusive rock paintings!

Max heads up to the Undercliff face

looking up Undercliff Mountain to the north of and above Echo Rock

getting close to Echo Rock Lake Nipigon

approaching Echo Rock from the south

a view of Echo Rock from the south

You can see why Anishinaabe shamans of old – or young vision questers looking for a place to leave a physical sign of their connection with the manitous – would be attracted to this place. It has the same dramatic sense of special place – of sacred space – that, for example, Mazinaw Rock in eastern Ontario does.  There too Algonkian peoples had left their marks on the rock.

Having said that, it is sad to see that the teens who left the graffiti – probably from nearby Gull Bay First Nation – are so disconnected from their traditional culture that they would deface a site like Echo Rock.  Since the hundreds of pictograph sites scattered across the Canadian Shield, many difficult to get to but some like Echo Rock easily reached by motorboat, cannot all be guarded, another approach is necessary.

In the end, there is only one thing can protect these sites and that is education.  The Echo Rock graffiti represent a “teachable moment’ for the elders nearby who are entrusted with the preservation of key aspects of their traditional culture, even as their young people try to figure out their place in a very different world.

graffiti at Echo Rock on Lake Nipigon

more Echo Rock graffiti

more Echo Rock face spoiled by graffiti

Heading For Wabinosh Bay:

Our visit to Echo Rock done, we paddled north past our campsite into a noticeable north wind.  Paddling to Wabinosh Bay was promising to be a solid day of tough paddling!

Just north of the campsite is a bay rimmed with a nice sand beach. We paddled in to take a look, wondering about the availability of campsites above the sand.  We found a couple of potential spots but had to agree that we had made the right choice with the previous night’s campsite with its nice flat spot 4 meters above the water and better views.

potential camping area just to the north of the Echo Rock campsite

checking out a camping possibility

The HBC Post Known As Nipigon House (1838-1937)

We continued north towards Jackfish Island, curious about the reported site of a Hudson Bay Co. trading post that had existed just south of the island on the mainland across from Dog Island.  We figure it was located in the clearing indicated on the map below.  As we paddled by there was nothing to see other than tall grass and low-level bush.

a panorama of what was probably the location of the Hudson Bay Co. post

Lake Nipigon Trading Posts – the source of the map here

Nipigon House trading post was established around 1838 in English Bay and then moved ten miles to a new location across from and south of Jackfish Island in 1850, where it was operational until 1937. A report by K.C. Dawson from 1970 provides this summary of the post’s history:

Dawson. Nipigon House HBC Post.

See here for Dawson’s full report – both the primary and supplementary ones

Dawson, a Lakehead U. archaeologist,  had spent the summers of 1967-1969 visiting the various Lake Nipigon sites.  At this one, he notes evidence of buildings as well as burial grounds.  We paddled by the site but did not go ashore to see if there would be any visible remains fifty years after Dawson.  We did not know it at the time but we would be back very soon!  That white arrow you see on the north end of the clearing is where we put up our tent about an hour later!

one last shot of the HBC Nipigon post

One look back at the site as we paddled north – past the beaver lodge and towards the narrow channel between the mainland and Jackfish Island.  The wind was blowing hard, the waves were rolling, and forward progress was difficult. And then the decision to call it a day!  Our first thought was to go back to that sandy beach and the decent campsite we had noted there but on our way there we decided, instead to head back to the HBC post site.

looking south as we passed the HBC post location

our tent site on the edge of what is probably the site of the old HBC post

Looking across from our campsite we could see the clearing on Jackfish Island with one building on it. In our pre-trip planning,  a visit to the island and a possible walk up to the top of Mount Royal was on our “to do” list.  The weather had other plans!  The next morning we were keen to cover some distance while the wind was still mild so our visit to Jackfish and a walk up to the fire tower was scrapped – until the next time!

looking over to the clearing on the west end of Jackfish Island

We spent the afternoon at our tent site, somewhat sheltered from the strong wind and while we sat under the tarp, drank tea, and listened to the rain fall.  A brief ramble around the site failed to turn up any signs of foundation posts or left-behind metal or glass objects at the clearing we assume was the HBC post site.  (See here [Lake Nipigon Archaeology: A Further Study by Patricia Filteau (1978) p.117-118] for a comprehensive list of artifacts removed from the site in the ten years following Dawson’s visit.)

The next day’s weather forecast provided by our Garmin inReach Explorer+ looked promising.

Day 11 – HBC Post Site To Wabinosh Lake

Jackfish island to Wabinosh Lakel

  • distance: 25 km
  • time: 8:15 a.m to 3:30 p.m.
  • portages/rapids/liftover-line: 1/0/1 P 290m RL
  • weather: overcast and cloudy in a.m., cool windy (NE ENE?); sunny periods in p.m.
  • campsite: 50m into bush 1 x 4 person (trail cleared for ease of access; possible 2-3 x 2 person sites; lakeshore has lots of flattish rock areas good for 2 person tents but would be exposed; Wabakimi Project lists other sites on SW and SE side of the lake.

From HBC Post To Inner Barn Lunch Spot

We were up a bit early and keen to get going again.  It was ironic that after all our apprehension about the wind and big waves out on Lake Nipigon, we would have to take a wind day once we got back to the mainland shore!

We were off by 8:15 and the fact that we only took two photos between that time and our early lunch on Inner Barn Island tells you something about our focus – and of the photo ops!

our makeshift tent site in the morning

On the way, we did paddle past the northern point of English Bay where a campsite is indicated but we did not stop to check it out. Instead, we headed for Inner Barn Island, one of the more dramatic landmarks in the north section of the lake.

See here for a jpg file  of the entire north section of Lake Nipigon

Inner Barn beach and campsite

We pulled our canoe ashore for an unusually early lunch – 10:45! – on the beach in a small bay on the south side of Inner Barn. A second mug of coffee to celebrate the last of the big water behind us and to prepare us for the portages up ahead!  Thanks to a brief shower timed perfectly to coincide with our brief pause on the island, we put up the tarp.

In a pinch, you could camp at this spot but given how close the mouth of the Wabinosh River is, most paddlers would probably push on. We got the coordinates of this site from an excellent trip report of a three-week round – Lake Nipigon kayak trip last September by Hannah Fanney & Rodney Claiborne.  [See here for the report. It is the best thing out there on paddling Lake Nipigon – and maybe the only!]

Inner Barn Island in Wabinosh Bay – a look at the campsite

It is a bit over 6 kilometers from our Inner Barn lunch spot to the top of Wabinosh Bay and the beginning of the 290-meter carry on river left of the Wabinosh as we made our way to Wabinosh Lake. We did take one last admiring look back at Inner Barn Island as we approached the top of the bay.

a view of Inner Barn Island from inside Wabinosh Bay

We paddled past a weather monitoring station and wondered if this is was the location of another trading post back in the 1800s. The flattish clearing looked like it could accommodate a few tents. However, next to the monitoring station was a “No trespassing” sign!  We moved on; it was still early and we figured we’d be on Wabinosh Lake by mid-afternoon.

And then – one of those special moments that make a canoe trip unforgettable.[No – not a gruelling 3-kilometer portage!]  Until this point we had seen very little wildlife other than a few otters and the occasional eagle. No moose, no bear, no beaver, not even any field mice in the abandoned cabin we had stayed in!  What we saw at the mouth of the Wabinosh made up for all the no’s”!

deep into Wabinosh Bay – weather monitoring station

The White Pelicans In Wabinosh Bay:

our first view of the mouth of the Wabinosh River – a flock of seagulls?

pelican convention on a Lake Nipigon Bay – a bit closer up

pelicans at the mouth of the Wabinosh river on Lake Nipigon

pelicans in flight off Lake Nipigon

For a certain perspective – a fisherman’s, let’s say – the pelican is nothing more than a vacuum cleaner, sucking up the fish contents of a lake at a frightening rate!  The 150 or so gathered at the mouth of the Wabinosh River at bottom of the last set of rapids must have found a certified gold fishing spot.  They were first sited on Lake Nipigon in the early 1990s.  From afar we thought they were seagulls! And then we saw the first hint of beak flashing in the sun.  We spent about ten minutes taking in the scene – and later wondered why we didn’t stay longer and shoot some video of a magical moment.

pelicans on the move as paddlers get close

pelicans at the foot of the rapids in Wabinosh Bay

From Wabinosh Bay To Wabinosh Lake:

Getting into Wabinosh Lake from the take-out spot took less than an hour –  about forty minutes on the portage and then maybe five minutes dealing with a set of swifts that we tracked up on river left without getting our feet wet.  There is a three-meter drop from the lake to the bay; the map below provides the visuals.

Once on Wabinosh Lake, we paddled to the west side towards a campsite area indicated on our Wabakimi Project map.  We did not find our camp spot right away. We walked along the shore and looked for a flat section of rock that would accommodate our four-person tent but we were not seeing anything suitable.

It was only when Max followed a rough trail into the bush and about thirty-five meters that we found what we were looking for! It was flat, it was sheltered, and there was earth to push the tent pegs into.  The only thing missing was a view!  We set up our kitchen on the shore and had a fine view of Wabinosh Lake and enjoyed a rare stretch of the afternoon sun.

Wabinosh campsite – 30 meters inside the bush

We also spent a bit of time clearing the trail from our rock patio by the shore to the interior tent spot and put up some orange tape that may save the next passers-by a few minutes as they look for their perfect spot!  Given the subjective nature of all this, they may well pass up on our tucked-away spot for something on one of those somewhat flat rock surfaces that we dismissed as not quite good enough!

WWII POW Camps in the Armstrong Station Area – The Real Story!

Later that afternoon we went looking for any signs of a prisoner-of-war camp from WWII that apparently stood on the west shore of the lake.  I had emailed Don Elliot of Mattice Lake Outfitters for the location and he had responded that it had been on the west side of the lake near the outlet of the Wabinosh River.  With visions of  Hogan’s Heroes in my head, I was looking for barbed wire and evidence of enough buildings to house 100 or 200 prisoners.  In retrospect, pretty silly!   All that we found was a length of steel cable probably used by some lumber operation.  Little did we know that we had found something significant related to our search!

Day 12 – Wabinosh Lake to Waweig Lake 

from Wabinosh Lake To Waweig L. and Highway 527

  • distance: 15 km (1.2 km/30 min side trip to look for remains of POW camp)
  • time: 9:40 a.m to 6:00 p.m.
  • portages/rapids/liftover-Line: 5/0/1
  1. P1 – 1200m RL (2 hrs.) – rough in spots; be mindful of the tape!
  2. P2 –  225 m RR (20 min)
  3. P3 –  345m RL (35 min)
  4. P4 – 118m RL (20 min)  N.B.  Wabakimi Project P1-P4 distances slightly different
  5. P5 – 292m RR (40 min)

L  120m  (20 min) tried lining up Wabinosh River; decided to cut the trip short!

  • weather: sun and clouds in a.m., overcast, cool windy in early p.m.; then showers
  • campsite: north end of the lake on ‘provincial’ campground; multiple sites for many tents; about 300m to Hwy 527; gravel road access; ~12.5 km to Mattice Lake Outfitters (our starting point)

A beautiful morning on Wabinosh Lake… Max remarked; “What an incredible spot for a POW camp!” After breakfast, we spent a bit more time looking around for evidence that would fit in with our idea of a POW camp.  It looked possible but we just were not seeing anything. No pictographs, no HBC trading post, and now – no POW camp!

the Wabinosh shoreline in front of our tent spot

Wabinosh Lake on a beautiful morning

Mulling over Don Elliot’s email, we thought that he may have meant to the left of the river outlet and not the right side that we had camped on.  That would also fit better with a comment that someone in Armstrong had made when he heard that we would be passing through Wabinosh Lake. He mentioned that there was a POW camp from WWII we should check out. He said it was on one of the small islands on the lake – “not the big one”, he specified. Our map indicated a small island at the north end of the lake. Off we went!

Checking Out the NW Corner of Wabinosh Lake:

Wabinosh Lake map with POW camp locations

We landed at the north end of the sandy beach you see in the image below and walked around for a half-hour, looking for that POW camp.  There was nothing there but it was possible to imagine that once upon a time there had been.

the possible POW lumber campsite on Wabinosh lake

possible site of Wabinosh Lake POW lumber camp

As we looked north to the top of Wabinosh Lake we could see a small – very small! – island.  We considered the possibility of it hosting a POW camp and thought it was pretty pointless, given the size of the island and the fact that you could walk from the island to the shore without getting your navel wet.  So much for the Alcatraz of the North that I had created in my mind!

the small island at the north end of Wabinosh Lake

We left Wabinosh lake not having found anything except that length of steel cable at our campsite on the westside point.  When we got home a few days later, I pursued the question of that POW camp on Wabinosh Lake and ended up with an answer not at all like the one I had imagined. Click on the post title below to see what I found!

WWII POW Camps in the Armstrong Station Area – The Real Story!

A Morning of Portage Slogging:

  • Wabinosh Lake has an elevation of 261 meters a.s.l.
  • Waweig Lake sits at 312 meters.

We knew we were in for a bit more work than the previous day’s easy entry into Wabinosh Lake from the bay.  Five separate portages, the first one 1200 meters, and none showing signs of very much traffic. Luckily for us, someone – a Wabakimi Project crew? – had taken the time in the past year or two to mark the various trails, as well as doing some cutting and clearing of deadfall and bush.

We spent almost five hours on the 5.7 kilometers up the Wabinosh River into Waweig Lake.  The image below is the only one we took during all that time!  It was taken from the side of the first portage trail, the bottom half of which was arguably in the best shape of any of the “trails” we walked that morning/early afternoon.  For the record, here is what a canoe tripper faces in the move up to Waweig from Wabinosh.

  1. P1 – 1200m RL (2 hrs) – rough in spots; be mindful of the tape!
  2. P2 –  225 m RR (20 min)
  3. P3 –  345m RL (35 min)
  4. P4 – 118m RL (20 min)  N.B.  Wabakimi Project P1-P4 distances slightly different
  5. P5 – 292m RR (40 min)

the falls on the Wabinosh River on the way to Waweig Lake

We were pretty beat when we got to Waweig.  The plan was to go up the Wabinosh River into Nameiben Lake and then work our way back the next day to Mattice Lake.   We liked the completeness of paddling up to the dock that we had taken off from in that De Havilland Beaver twelve days previously…

It was raining gently as we paddled to the continuation of the Wabinosh River which would take us up into Nameiben Lake.  We had already agreed that we would be doing no more portages that day.  So we didn’t even bother looking for a possible portage trail on either side of the Wabinosh.

from Waweig Lake to Mattice Lake

But lining – somehow that was different!

We started our way up the rock-strewn and shallow section of the river. The steepish banks on either side meant we would be walking the canoe up in the middle of the river.  Once or twice we lost our footing on the wet rocks as the rain came down.  Perhaps at the start of another day with the sun shining overhead, we would have persisted.  Long story short – one of us finally said – “Enough already! Let’s pull the plug on this adventure!” or words to that effect.

And so we retreated back down to Waweig Lake and paddled along the west shore to the north end.  There is a public camping area and boat launch there.  (The area is no longer maintained if the demolished outhouse is any indication.) We found a sheltered spot and made ourselves at home for the night.

The next morning when I mentioned to Don Elliot that we were disappointed not to have finished off the trip by paddling right up to lodge dock, he assured us that it would not have been our favourite part of the trip!

Waweig campgrounds and boat launch area

After our tent went up, we also sent an email to Don to arrange for a shuttle back to Mattice Lake the next morning.  Given how close it is – about ten kilometers – one of us could have hitched a ride to the outfitters and picked up the vehicle that very night.  In neither case would we have started the grand portage back to southern Ontario that night.

From Wabinosh Lake To Armstrong

Le Grand Portage:

The next morning we spent an hour at the Mattice Lake headquarters. Waiting for us was the bill for the de Havilland drop off and shuttle from Waweig Lake. Also sitting on the counter were two copies of this year’s edition of the highly sought after Mattice Lake Outfitters cap to add to our collection. We made use of the shower to freshen up for the 1800-kilometer ride back to southern Ontario and sipped on house coffee while we ran through a few of the highlights – and lowlights – of this year’s visit to the Wabakimi area.

And then we hit the road for Le Grand Portage. We left Mattice Lake around 11:00 and by 7:00 p.m. we were in Wawa. The next day was the one when a turbulent weather system from the west blew its way across Ontario. [It was the one which created the tornadoes in the Ottawa area.]   We raced it all the way to Toronto, being just an hour or two ahead of it and keeping our fingers crossed when we were travelling in a southward direction, since that was the worst angle for the wind to be hitting the canoe.

By 9:00 that night Max was back in London in SW Ontario, having dropped off me and the canoe and most of the gear in downtown Toronto!

Now it’s time to plant the seeds of another memorable canoe adventure.  Where to next?

Posted in Anishinaabek World, Pictographs of the Canadian Shield, Wabakimi, wilderness canoe tripping | 5 Comments

WWII POW Camps in the Armstrong Station Area – The Real Story!

Previous Post: From Lake Nipigon’s Echo Rock To Waweig Lake

At the start of this year’s only canoe trip, before turning in to the Mattice Lake Outfitters lodge off Highway 527,  we kept on driving to Armstrong Station to gas up so we’d have a full tank waiting for us at the end of our trip. [See here for a summary of the trip, a map and lots of pix.]

While at the gas station we chatted with a local about our route.  When he heard that we’d be passing through Wabinosh Lake, he mentioned that there was a POW camp from WWII we should check out. He said it was on one of the small islands on the lake – “not the big one”, he clarified.   I had visions of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay!  Since I had never heard mention of any POW camps for German soldiers in the Armstrong area, I knew we would have to check it out when we got to Wabinosh Lake.

Some Background on WWII POW Camps in Canada:

During WWII (1939-1945) an estimated 35,000 German soldiers were kept at various Prisoner of War camps scattered across Canada.  Since the Allies never did establish a foothold in western Europe until June 1944, the majority – 25,000 or so – of those POWs sent to Canada had been captured in North Africa at battles like those at El Alamein.

With Montgomery’s final victory over Rommel’s Afrika Korps in 1943, the Allies had close to a million German and Italian prisoners on their hands.  Some 400,000 were shipped to the U.S.A.; Canada’s share of the POWs was in keeping with the relative size our population compared to the U.S. at that time.  [There were about twelve million Canadians in 1945; we had about 250,000 soldiers in the field, mostly on the Western Front and in Italy during the last two years of the war.]

Some of the 97 German prisoners captured by the British forces in Egypt in a raid on Tel El Eisa, Egypt, on September 1, 1942.

Where were the Canadian POW Camps?

There were twenty-five POW camps in Canada during WWII. [There were an additional fifteen camps holding Japanese Canadians and others whose loyalty was considered suspect – those of German, Italian,  or Jewish background, as well as conscientious objectors.]  Of the camps holding actual prisoners of war,  the two largest in North America were in Alberta –  in Lethbridge and Medicine Hat – and housed a total of 25,000 over the few years they were operational.

A list of those Canadian WWII POW camps can be accessed here.

NFB Documentary. The Enemy Within. 2003

The National Fim Board of Canada documentary The Enemy Within (2003) gives an excellent introduction to an aspect of Canada’s history that most know little about. Here is a brief promo about the film –

This feature-length documentary looks at German POWs from the WWII who were housed in 25 camps across Canada. Filmmaker Eva Colmers follows her father’s story – Theo Melzer – who spent three and a half years in a POW camp in Lethbridge, Alberta. Growing up in Germany, she had always been puzzled by her father’s fond memories of his POW life, so when she moved to Canada, she set out to rediscover this story. What she found surprised her. Watch as Theo Melzer, along with other POWs, recount how their lives were changed by the unexpected respect and dignity they received at the hands of their Canadian captors

Click on the image to access the 52-minute documentary.

As I watched the documentary I wondered about my father Stanislav and his experience in German POW camps from 1939 to 1945. He was in what was left of the Polish Army in late September of 1939 when he was captured in the streets of Warsaw and hauled back to a camp in northwestern Germany.  Only once did he open up and speak about those years.

Ontario POW Camp Locations: 

POW Camps In Northwestern Ontario:

POW camps in northwest Ontario – along with their years of operation – were the following:

Red Rock POW camp 1940-1941

Camp R – Red Rock, Ontario

  1. Red Rock  (1940-1941)
  2. Angler  (1941-1946)
  3. Neys (1943-1946)

Nothing in the Armstrong area on the list!  More research would reveal the reason why!

Red Rock POW Camp WWII

When I heard that there was a POW camp on Wabinosh Lake, I’ll admit that I pictured something like the one at Red Rock in the image above. Of Camp R, a page in the “Community History” section of the Red Rock Township website states this –

In 1940, the campsite abandoned by Lake Sulphite, was bought by the Canadian government and turned into a prisoner of war (POW) camp.  The camp, which encompassed area from Trout Creek in the north, to the railway tracks in the west and the Lake to the east, was surrounded by barbed wire fencing.  The 48 abandoned bunkhouses that had previously housed construction workers at Lake Sulphite Pulp and Paper Company became home to 1145 German prisoners for eighteen months.  Camp “R”, as it was called, came into being in July 1940 when prisoners were escorted from Quebec by the soldiers of the Fort Garry Horse Regiment.  [See here for source of quote]

So where is the POW Camp on Wabinosh Lake?

Ten days after our fill-up in Armstrong as we paddled into Wabinsoh Bay, I sent Don Elliot of Mattice Lake Outfitters an email, asking where the German POW camp was located.  He replied that it was on the west shore of Wabinosh Lake by the river flowing in from Waweig.  The west shore is where that small island is.  We had some confirmation of the camp’s location! We weren’t sure if he meant to the right or left of the river outlet.

Wabinosh Lake map with POW camp locations

Once we were in Wabinosh Lake we headed for the west shore and set up camp on the point shown on the map above. Then we went looking for any evidence of human presence along the shoreline and in the bush behind it.  While the area looked like it could accommodate a few buildings, the only thing we found was a 4-meter length of steel cable running down towards the shore.  It may be something left behind from some logging operation.

the Wabinosh shoreline in front of our tent spot

The next morning as we headed for the Wabinosh River and the five-portage ascent up into Waweig Lake, we made a diversion to the shore on the north side of the river outlet.   At the north end of a long beach area where we landed is an area that could easily have been the site of a camp of some sort – but we did not find any evidence.

the Wabinosh Lake beach to the left of the river outlet

the possible POW lumber campsite on Wabinosh lake

possible site of Wabinosh Lake POW lumber camp

As we looked north to the top of Wabinosh Lake we could see the small – very small! – island.  We considered the possibility of it hosting a POW camp and thought it was pretty pointless, given the size of the island and the fact that you could walk from the island to the shore without getting your navel wet.  So much for the Alcatraz of the North!  As we would later find out, it was also based on a mistaken idea of how those German POWs were housed.

the small island at the north end of Wabinosh Lake

We left Wabinosh lake not having found anything except that length of steel cable at our campsite on the westside point.

A couple of weeks after our canoe trip,  I happened to be rereading a bit of Kevin Callan’s Dazed But Not Confused: Tales of A Wilderness Wanderer when this brief passage jumped out at me! callan-on-wabinosh-pow-camp

Looking at the map (see below), I could see a creek that fit with Callan’s description.  I thought that maybe we hadn’t found anything because we had been looking in the wrong place!  However,  given how remote any place on the west shore of Lake Nipigon was between 1939 and 1945, I did wonder why a location two kilometers up this particular creek was felt to be necessary for this POW camp!

Since there was no Highway 527 (or its logging road original) until the 1950’s, the only way to bring in the POWs to Wabinosh Bay or Wabinosh Lake would be from the CN tracks which pass through Armstrong or by boat from the south end of Lake Nipigon.

Callan's POW camp location off Wabinosh Bay

This information from a 2001 Ontario Parks document helped make sense of Callan’s location.

Callan’s location agrees with the Ministry document if you change his “northeast corner of Wabinosh Bay” to “northeast corner of Wabinosh Lake“. It seems more likely that Callan and his paddle partner went up Castle Creek to the site mentioned in the Ontario Government Ministry document.  Castle Creek certainly meanders in a way that the creek above Wabinosh Bay does not.  There would be no confusion if he had just mentioned the name of the creek in his account!

Castle Creek - NE corner of Wabinosh Lake

Had we known about the Castle Creek location of the POW camp we might have checked it out to see what was there. Maybe next time! In the meanwhile, if you’ve been there, feel free to drop a line in the comment section below and describe what you saw!

So What Exactly Was At The POW Camp Location?

When you think of a POW camp, the image of a heavily guarded compound with elevated guard towers at each corner comes to mind.  The compound sits in the middle of a cleared area and there is barbed wire everywhere. Callan’s POW camp has elements of such a picture. We read –

The area once housed a small city of canvas and wood huts stacked tightly a few meters back from the creek and surrounded by triple-layered barbed wire.

Given that they only found bits of metal and the remains of three log cabins at the site,  it is likely that he has imagined something more than what was actually there.

A collection of reminiscences by American and Canadian servicemen stationed at Armstrong after WWII when it was a part of the Pinetree Line of defence helped answer the question of what was at the Wabinosh Lake location.  (See below for the link.)

a likely explanation of why nothiing is found

So – the German prisoners of war sent to the Armstrong area were essentially used by the logging industry at a time when workers were scarce, thanks to Canada’s war effort. Canadian authorities separated their German prisoners into three different categories – black, grey, and white.  The blacks were the hardcore Nazis; the whites were non-Nazis who had joined the Wehrmacht for other reasons; the greys were somewhere in between.  The POWs in the Armstrong area would likely have not been in the black category.  And there would be no “small city of canvas and wood huts stacked tightly a few meters back from the creek and surrounded by triple-layered barbed wire.” Instead, there would be lumber gangs of twenty or thirty German POWs putting in a day’s work in the bush and living a life their brothers in Russian POW camps could only dream about. [About 40% of the one million German POWs in Russia died in captivity. In Canada it was 137 of almost 35,000, most of natural causes.]

What Callan saw at the site – the remains of three cabins – may be the sum total of the buildings that made up the camp.  Perhaps they were supplemented by one or two of the buildings on skids mentioned in the Pierre Parent comment above.   In the end, what was there was almost certainly a temporary logging camp and the POWs had relative freedom to move about.

The two spots on Wabinosh Lake that we visited – the one we camped at and the one we paddled to the next morning – are probably the two sites referred to in the Ontario Parks document, though we did not see the remains of any cabin foundations.  All we saw was that length of steel cable up from the shore of the point near our campsite.  Either site could have hosted a temporary logging camp where German prisoners provided the labour.

The Castle Creek site mentioned in that same Ontario Parks study – and probably by Callan in his Dazed But Not Confused: Tales of A Wilderness Wanderer –  is a third site that may have been used.  From one year to the next,  logging operations may have been shifted from one side of the lake to the other with those buildings on skids hauled over the ice to the cabins whose foundations mentioned by both Callan and other sources.

My initial sense of amazement that there had been POW camps in the Armstrong area has been tempered by the reality that they were no more than temporary lumber camps where the German POWs provided the labour and enjoyed a certain amount of freedom.

In a sense, we spent our time looking for something that was never there!  It made for an interesting tangent to what was a multi-faceted canoe trip involving pictographs, logjams, and paddling the big water of Lake Nipigon.  We’ll be back for more!

Additional Information:

On reading my post, fellow WordPress blogger Michael O’Hagan provided some concrete detail to clarify matters. He wrote:

To add a bit of context, the POW bush camps you are referring to belonged to the Nipigon Lake Timber Co. Long story short, in May 1943, the Canadian government approved the employment of POWs by civilian employers in agriculture and bush work. By the end of the war, there were almost 300 labour projects, most of which were remote and lacked the traditional security measures of internment camps. Of these, over 100 were bush camps in Northern Ontario employing POWs.

According to my records, Nipigon Lake Timber Co. had three camps in the Wabinosh Lake/Armstrong area employing a total of 200 POWs from 1945 to 1946. The POWs worked 8-hour days, six days a week for $0.50 a day, doing the same work as civilian woodcutters. The camps would have be no different than those employing civilians and often included separate bunkhouses for POWs, guards, and civilian staff, an office/canteen, a kitchen and mess hall, barn, and blacksmith shop.

Click on the header above or on the following link to see more of his research on POWs in Canada or ot get in touch with him.

Michael O’Hagan’s blog:  POWs In Canada

An article at the TV Ontario website – Daring escapes and Canadian hospitality: Inside Ontario’s WWII prisoner-of-war camps –  provides a readable introduction to the topic.  It is also where I found the map of the 10 Ontario POW camp locations and the photo of the Red Rock Camp.

The reminiscences by those in the Canadian and U.S. who served in Armstrong as a part of the Pinetree Line of defence after WWII can be found here:

Screen Shot 2018-10-26 at 9.59.21 AM

Click on the header to access the webpage.

There are references to a number of camps in the Armstrong area.  A careful reading of the material would probably turn up more leads to other site locations.  I just skimmed through looking for anything that seemed to connect with Wabinosh Lake.

The Wartime Memories Project website (click on the header to access) has a list of both Axis and Allied POW camps across the globe.

Included in the list is Armstrong POW Camp Ontario, Canada. Unfortunately, there is little there except for this summary –

Any information or photos that would clarify or correct any points made in this post would certainly be appreciated. Just make use of the comment section below – or send an email to true_north@mac.com

See the following posts for other bits of our canoe trip:

Canoeing FromThe Pikitigushi’s Cliff Lake to Echo Rock on Lake Nipigon

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

Down The Pikitigushi River From Cliff Lake To Lake Nipigon:  Days 2 & 3 – From Cliff Lake to The Bear Camp

Down The Pikitigushi River  From  Cliff Lake  To Lake Nipigon:  Days 3, 4, &5 – From The Bear Camp To Windigo Bay

Island Hopping Lake Nipigon  By Canoe From Windigo Bay To Echo Rock

Canoeing From Lake Nipigon’s Echo Rock To Waweig Lake

Posted in Wabakimi, wilderness canoe tripping | 7 Comments

Down The Pikitigushi River From Cliff Lake To Lake Nipigon: From The Bear Camp To Windigo Bay

Previous Post: Days 2 & 3 – From Cliff Lake To Ratte Lake To The Bear Camp

For an overview map and some pix that highlight the entire 150 km. route., check out  Canoeing From The Pikitigushi’s Cliff Lake to Echo Rock on Lake Nipigon  

Day 4 – From The Bear Camp to Below Log Jam #3

Day 4 – the Pikitigushi River south of the road

N.B. images and maps enlarge with a click or two!

• distance: 14.4 km
• time: 9:40 a.m to 5:05 p.m.
• portages/rapids/liftover-line: 3/0/1; P 280m – (Bear camp to river right); LO LJ1 – 20m (higher water may be navigable); P LJ2 – 70m (25 min); LJ3 – 70m ( +2 hours – cut portage along embankment)
• weather: sunny in the morning then partly cloudy w/sunny periods, warm
• campsite: grassy river embankment area (to avoid sand), 1 x 4 person (possibly more 2 person areas; plus more on sand)

We spent the first three days of this summer’s canoe trip revisiting Cliff Lake and redoing the stretch of the Pikitigushi from Cliff down to the Bear Camp a few kilometers south of Pikitigushi Lake.  No surprises there!

location of the four logjams on the Pikitigushi, as well as the historical Big Bend portage. Also indicated is my brilliant idea to deal with three of the four logjams – that is,  a 5.2-km. portage. Max made clear we would be doing no such crazy thing. Of course, he was right!

Now we were heading down the last fifty kilometers of the river to its mouth on Windigo Bay on Lake Nipigon.  We had little information except for some satellite scans courtesy of Google Earth and Bing and the Ontario Government’s map site.

The earliest reference I found to the bottom stretch of the Pikitigushi was by Robert Bell of the Geological Survey of Canada. He had come up the west side of  Lake Nipigon in 1869 and written a report on his findings.  Now in a report he contributed to the Geological Survey of Canada Report of Progress For 1871-1872,  he summarized the work of his colleague, a Mr. Lount, who had gone up the river as far as Pikitigushi Lake (named Round Lake in the report):

We set off from the Bear Camp knowing this –

  • It is 16 km. as the crow flies from the Bear Camp to the mouth of the Pikitigushi on Windigo Bay.  the measured on-the-river distance was 50 km.  There was some meandering coming up!
  • Once below the Bear Camp rapids, recent satellite images showed that there were four logjams and one more set of rapids to deal with.
  • Topographical maps still show the portage to which Bell refers. Using it would eliminate fifteen kilometers of paddling around the Big Bend. We doubted that it still existed.
  • From the Bear Camp guys, we learned that water levels were at an almost historic low.

The Pikitigushi Bear Camp – a view from the road

Barry’s Bear Camp dog Sophie

the Pikitigushi Bear Camp and the road over the  culvert

Before we packed up our gear and did the 300-meter portage to the put-in below the rapids, we walked down to the culvert for another look. The first image is a view of the river above the culvert. As I snapped the shot,  I recalled a Canadian Canoe Routes forum trip report (“Wabakimi 2017- 7 sisters- to whitewater – to Pikitigushi“)  by ipaddle from 2017 in which he mentioned some confusion about exactly where the take-out was. (See the entry for July 19!) In short – if you can see the culvert, you have gone too far!

looking north up the Pikitigushi from the logging road over the culvert

The early morning view downriver included a bit of mist rising off the water and the sun coming up on river left. The portage trail eliminates all the potential drama of bumping and grinding your way down. Neither image makes clear that there is a 50′ (15 meters) drop from the top of the rapids to the bottom.

looking south down the Pikitigushi from the culvert crossing by the Bear Camp

We had spent a half-hour the evening before walking to the put-in and doing some trail work at the same time. It is a fairly well-used trail with Bear Camp guests walking it to access the fishing spots below the rapids.  We’d meet the couple from Texas staying at the camp a few minutes after we had loaded up the canoe and were ready to start.

Seeing the photo below of me staring at the iPhone in my hands is yet another reminder of how canoe tripping has changed since our first trips in the late 1970’s!  Back then it was a half-dozen paper topos at $2.50 a sheet and maybe a paperback for rainy days. Our manual-focus Nikon SLRs rarely came out during the day.  We’d bring five or six rolls of 36 100 a.s.a. slide film along.   Now we take cell phones, a Garmin GPS device or two, an inReach Explorer for off-the-grid emergency communication, and two or three digital cameras – point & shoots and DSLRs –  and jars of batteries and power packs.  Sometimes we get nostalgic for the good ol’ days!

But there are benefits too!   At the put-in, I fired up the iPhone and took another look at the saved image of the first of the four logjams we’d be facing. It comes up within the first half-hour.  See below for what I was staring at!

the put-in at the Pikitigushi logging road portage

Logjam #1:

Logjam #1

And so we set off, hoping for the best. Given that the satellite images were not totally current, it was possible that things had moved or cleared – or made even more blocked up in the year or two since the images were taken.

The good news?  Logjam #1, as the GPS data above shows, took us about ten minutes to deal with and we slipped into a bit of fast water afterwards. We paddled through on river right with things looking pretty much the way they do in the image above.

One down and three to go!

below Logjam #1 looking  downriver

There is the occasional collection of deadwood, as in the image below, that we dealt with but nothing more complicated than paddling around or hauling over.  We liked the feel of the river, its narrowness and the high sand banks that gave it a closed in feeling. [And its English name Mud River, which is apparently a translation of the Ojibwe Pikitigushi.]  For the next two days, we would be reminded of the Steel River in its thirty kilometers of meandering in the section below Rainbow Falls.

a logjam in the making on the Pikitigushi –

high sand banks on the Pikitigushi

Next up – Logjam #2.

This logjam would require a bit more work.  We spent a few minutes doing some cutting so we could move the gear and canoe through the thirty meters of bush on river right. Our GPS track indicates that we spent about 30 minutes on Logjam #2 before we were back to our 6-km./hr. cruising speed.  We did take out the prospectors’ tape and mark the trail – we are just not sure for whom!  So far, the water level had not been an issue and the logjams were easy to deal with.

Pikitigushi – Logjam #2

We paddled around the collection of deadfall in the image below on the left – no big deal. Next up – Logjam #3.  We would finally be faced with some serious work!

some deadfall below logjam #2

lunch spot on the Pikitigushi before Logjam #3

Logjam #3:

The mess of a logjam you see below is the one which took us the longest to deal with. We pulled up to it around 2:15 and only paddled away at about 4:30. The trail clearing at the top end gobbled up some time, as did the scampering over the logjam itself near the end.  Both Max and I took tumbles as we hopped from log to log. The light pack that he was carrying actually provided a bit of a cushion for his fall.

We were on our way back to do a two-person carry of the canoe over the logs when I slipped and fell awkwardly, landing on my upper right arm and shoulder. For the rest of the trip, my right arm was operating at 70% as I adjusted my stroke and canoe hoisting technique, and even the way I slept,  so as not to aggravate the shoulder.  Three extra-strength ibuprofen daily were also a part of the answer.

As I write two months later,  the pain is still there.  I kept thinking – “Give it time! You’re not 25 anymore – it takes longer!” However, after a visit to the doctor and an ultrasound and x-ray later,  it looks like a partially torn tendon in my rotator cuff and a 5 mm. bone fragment that may need something more than time.  I’ve got an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon in late November for an MRI that should give a clearer picture before we consider the next step.  And now I finally understand what the phrase “rotator cuff” means!

Pikitigushi Logjam #3 – click on the image to see the route we took

the top side of logjam #3

Not long after leaving LJ#3 we starting scanning the shoreline for a possible campsite. A spot on river left on one of the many bends of the river is what we settled on.  While we don’t like tenting on sand because of the mess involved, we found a grassy and fairly flat spot just above the beach.

We had only covered 14 kilometers of the river but it felt good to know that we only had to deal with one logjam and a set of rapids the next day.  We also had to decide whether to make use of that Big Bend portage indicated on all the topographic maps.

our MEC Wanderer 4 on a bed of grass above the sandbanks of the Pikitigushi

tent site on the lower Pikitigushi below logjam #3

Day 5 – Below Log Jam 3 to Mud River

  • distance: 27.7 km
  • time: 9:15 a.m to 6:15 p.m.
  • portages/rapids/liftover-line: 1/0/0; P 210m; including portage cutting and log dance (1h 45min)
  • weather: partly cloudy, sunny periods, warm
  • campsite: Mud River outfitter camp ‘lawn’, river left,  north of tracks – uphill ~40m portage!!), multiple 1 x 4 person (with permission?)
  • 1:50,000 Natural Resources Canada Maps: 052 I 07_Pikitigushi Lake

Pikitigushi River above Mud River VIA Rail Stop

“The Big Bend” On The Pikitigushi:

Not far from our campsite was the top end of the historical shortcut portage which had been used 100 years ago to eliminate the paddle around the Big Bend.  I had found reports from 1909 and 1939 which mentioned this portage and the more recent NRC topos still drew it as if it still existed.

An Ontario Department of Mines report from 1909 makes these observations about the Big Bend Portage –

The object of this long portage seems to be the escaping of a trip of ten miles, around a great bend in the river. Careful estimation showed a change of only 15 feet in the level of the river, between the upper and lower ends of the portage.

Around 9:30 we slowly paddled by the shoreline where a creek supposedly comes in from the little pond indicated on the map. We did not see the creek.  We also did not notice anything along the shore that would indicate a  boat landing or human traffic. We were not surprised since we had seen no signs of anyone having been on the river  – no campsites, no fire pits, no abandoned fishing boats, no marking tape for portages around the logjams … nada!

We decided to stick with the river and paddle around the Big Bend instead of taking on a 1.5-kilometer portage across the Big Bend through an area ripped apart by clear-cutting. It was the right choice!

We were at the other end of the once-portage trail just before noon – it had taken us about two and a half hours to travel the thirteen kilometres around the Big Bend.  There were no noteworthy obstructions and occasionally some fast water to speed up the proceedings for a minute or two.  The satellite image above did have us wondering why a section of the river has the sandy white colour you associate with a dry river bed.

We didn’t know it at the time but at the easternmost point of the Big Bend, we were no more than 2.5 km. from the gravel road that connects Armstrong and the Bear Camp to Ferland. one stop east of Mud River on the CN rail line. [See here for a map which has the road on it.]

All in all, there are far worse ways to spend a morning than to paddle down a river with both banks a few meters away. However, coming up was the last of the logjams.  Less than 2 km. below the bottom end of the used-to-be Big Bend Portage, we came to Logjam #4.

Logjam #4:

Click on the image to see our easy way around the logjam! The bottom was clear and we paddled out with no problem.

We had lunch at the top of the logjam.  I opened up my iPhone and the satellite images I had of the various logjams. We looked at the image above and saw that after getting around the initial blockage at the top, we might be able to paddle out without any more fussing around. Lunch done,  we spent a half-hour clearing a walkable path, making use of the collapsed edge of the river bank on river right.

the other end of Logjam #4

Max waiting as I video the “path” we had used to get our gear around the top of the logjam

the view from the canoe to the deadfall I just passed under  – looking pretty bad!

And then it was on to a set of rapids/falls about 6 kms. downriver.  Interestingly, that 1909 Department of Mines Report I referred to above made no mention of any of the four logjams we had dealt with.  If they existed back then, someone coming upriver from the railway stop at Mud River would have to deal with three of them.

The Report does mention the set of rapids/falls that we were approaching. Since it was written from the perspective of someone going upriver from the rail tracks at Mud River, it refers to the way around them as “the first portage”.

At the first portage there is a combined fall and rapid, making a total change of elevation in the river of nearly 18 feet….The portage is well beaten and only 215 yards long.  At 300 yards above this portage, there is a second one only 75 feet in length. This portage is necessary to pass an old log jam, which has blocked the channel.

When we got closer,  the first thing we noted is that the logjam the report mentions is no longer there.  It was all clear right to the takeout spot for the 210-meter carry around the rapids/falls.

That “well beaten”  trail was still faintly there but overgrown and not used for a long time.  It may be that guests in the fishing lodges at Mud River come up to the rapids to do some fishing but they were not hauling boats from bottom to top.  We would spend a couple of hours carving out and marking the trail to get around this last Pikitigushi obstacle.

Then it was an easy 4-km. paddle south to the CN tracks at the Mud River VIA rail stop.

Pikitigushi rapids above Mud River VIA train stop

our put-in spot below the last of the Pikitigushi rapids

Pikitigushi rapids panorama

We were not sure what we’d find at the Mud River VIA stop.  We did have the satellite image below as an indication.  As we approached the tracks we saw a path on river right running up the steep banks but we kept going. Nearer to the tracks we noticed another path on river left going up to the clearing you see in the satellite image at the top right.  Beaching our canoe at the boat landing, we made the climb up to the freshly cut lawn fronting three fairly dilapidated cabins, a woodshed, and an outhouse.  Sitting there out in the open – as if they were going to be used again very soon – were two lawnmowers.

We shouted out “Hello” expecting to hear a reply.  We were going to ask if whoever answered would mind if we camped on the edge of the lawn for the night.  However – nobody home!

We hauled our gear up the banks set up camp in a sheltered corner of the property.  You can see our tent spot on the extreme left of the panorama. Later that afternoon we walked to the railway tracks from the property on a maintained path and wondered who stayed there and when.

our Mud River tent spot - north of the tracks on the east side of the river

Max standing at our Mud River tent spot – north of the tracks on the east side of the river

Also at Mud River is a Wilderness North lodge, though we did not walk across the bridge on the tracks to the west side to see what was there.

Mud River buildings on NE corner

If you have any information about the property – is it still a lodge? –  and who owns it, do write in a comment below.  We’re curious!

Day 6 – Mud River to The Britannia Islands

  • distance: 17.6 km (11 km. to Windigo Bay; 6.6 to the Britannia Islands campsite)
  • time: 9:15 a.m to 12:40 p.m.
  • portages/rapids/liftover-line: 0/0/0
  • weather: partly cloudy, sunny periods, cool, windy (SW) on L. Nipigon
  • campsite: a Britannia island cove about 30m into the tree stand, 1 x 4 person; alternate 1 x 2 person in adjacent cove, possible other 1 x 2 person or multiple hammock sites

On our first day and a half on this stretch of the Pikitgushi from the Bear Camp, the silt and sandbanks were prominent; now we were seeing more clay – as in the image below. The large cabin is just south of the CN tracks on river right; we went up for a look and found it locked and the ground around it uneven and overgrown.  We had made the right choice in campsites the evening before!

cabin and dock foundation south of the CN tracks at Mud River

A couple of kilometers further down the river, we would see the dock that had probably floated down from its place in front of the cabin at Mud River in the image above. [In the satellite image above you can see the dock in its right place!]

And then the final stretch of the Pikitigushi as we approached its mouth

the mouth of the Pikitigushi River – Windigo Bay coming up

Among other things, our trip down the river all the way from Cliff Lake to its mouth gave us a deeper appreciation of the effort that many generations of  Anishinaabe shamans and vision quest-ers may have made to get to the special place known to us as Cliff Lake. We are assuming, of course, that they had left their people and their summertime settlements on Lake Nipigon and travelled upriver to get there.  When we saw Haystack Mountain from out on the lake we thought – What a visible landmark to guide them on their journey! See below for a photo.

the last cabin before you come to Windigo Bay


The Canadian Encyclopedia describes Windigo this way –

…a supernatural being belonging to the spiritual traditions of Algonquian-speaking First Nations in North America. Windigos are described as powerful monsters that have a desire to kill and eat their victims.

While we had not seen much wildlife on our way down the Pikitigushi, on three or four occasions we had looked up and spotted an eagle riding the wind currents above us. On our canoe trips, we take this as a sign of good luck.  To have the Thunderbird looking over and after us is not a bad thing!

But as we left the narrow confines of the Pikitigushi – aka Muddy – River and entered Windigo Bay, we knew that we were entering a new phase of our canoe trip.  Now we were looking at a vast and open expanse of water on a Lake known for its temperamental nature and sudden changes in mood.  We hoped that Windigo would not take offence at our passage and that Thunderbird would keep looking down!

a view of Haystack Mountain from our Britannia Islands campsite

Meeting Point:

We got to the Britannia Islands in the early afternoon after paddling the shallow waters along the shore of Windigo Bay right past Meeting Point.  I had wondered about the origin of the name “Meeting Point”.  One evening in reading through Robert Bell’s 1870 Report On The Geology of the Northwest Side of Lake Superior, and of the Nipigon District I think I stumbled upon the answer! [Bell is famous for his work with the Geological Survey of Canada and is credited with naming over 3000 Canadian geographical features.]  His report (a copy is available here) includes the following –

Having arrived at Lake Nipigon, I divided our party, and gave Mr. McKellar charge of one of the sections. Beginning on the south side of the lake…Mr. McKellar proceeded to the right, or east side, while I took the west. At the end of about eight weeks, the two parties met at the northern extremity of the lake, having completed a survey of its shores, excepting the deepest parts of some of its bays.

The Britannia Islands: 

South of the point where Bell and McKellar had their meeting back in the late 1860’s,  we headed towards a campsite mentioned in the only post we found online on paddling Lake Nipigon!   Hannah Fanney & Rodney Claiborne’s Lake Nipigon Kayaking Trip Report (click on the title to access)  describes a three-week circumnavigation they did in September 2017 and has loads of useful information for anyone considering a similar trip or something less ambitious – i.e. like our bit of island hopping from Meeting Point to Echo Rock in the northwest part of the lake. Their list of campsites included this one –

  • Britannia Islands N50° 12.159′ W88° 33.730′ Large Cobble Beach [facing south]

While that was our target, we ended up setting up our campsite one bay over on the same island. It faced north towards Windigo Bay and gave us a nice view of Haystack Mountain you see in the image above.

Haystack Mountain and the mouth of the Pikitigushi River from Mud River VIA Stop to Windigo Bay

The next morning we’d start our planned three-day paddle down the lake.  Check out the next post to see how it went!

Next Post: Canoeing Lake Nipigon From Windigo Bay To Echo Rock

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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 all 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

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.

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

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 which 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!  That might also explain why Dewdney made no mention of it in his brief write-up of this site!

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

Cliff Lake’s top (i.e., northernmost) four sites present very little in the way of pictographs for a visitor to ooh and aah over.  It is not until you get to Site #219 that you see anything that elicits a sense of wonder and real appreciation.  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

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!

Around the point on the west side of the lake as pictured in the image above and we approaching 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 it 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 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

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 Ratty with a hard e sound.)  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 that 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

A bit of googling turned up this map from the Stockport Exploration website.  It shows the road from Armstrong going to their property in the Seymour Lake area just north of Ferland Station where it connects with another road system probably meant to service the Little Jackfish River hydro dam and the Ogoki River diversion. It gets you to thinking about all the changes the area has seen since the year 1900.

  • The now-CN railway (originally the National Transcontinental in the early 1900’s)
  • the Ogoki River diversion,
  • hydro installations on the Little Jackfish River
  • major logging activity,
  • mining exploration.

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

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

Posted in Anishinaabek World, Pictographs of the Canadian Shield, wilderness canoe tripping | Leave a comment

Down The Pikitigushi From Cliff Lake To Lake Nipigon: Logistics. Maps and Day 1 – Cliff Lake

Related Posts: Canoeing From The Pikitigushi’s Cliff Lake to Echo Rock on Lake Nipigon … a summary of our trip with lots of pix

It was back in 2013 that my brother Max and I first paddled into Cliff Lake.  It was near the end of a memorable three-week 350-kilometer trip that had started on the west side of Wabakimi Provincial Park at Rockcliff Lake, close to the headwaters of the Misehkow River system. In Max’s mind, it is the best trip we’ve ever done!

Paddling the Perimeter of Wabakimi Provincial Park – Overview Map and Links To Detailed Posts

Cliff Lake site #219 up closer

a small section of Dewdney’s Site #219 on Cliff Lake

Among the many highlights of that trip,  Cliff Lake and the stretches of dramatic vertical rock face lining its shores left an unforgettable impression.  This September we returned for another look at one of the boreal canoe country’s largest collections of Anishinaabek pictographs painted on six different stretches of rock on the lake.

Along with the pictographs, this September’s short trip had a couple of other goals –

  • going down the Pikitgushi River right to its mouth on Windigo Bay
  • island hopping our way down Lake Nipigon to Echo Rock and then back up the lake’s west side to Wabinosh Bay and Waweig Lake
Lake Nipigon - West Bay - Echo Rock

Echo Rock – aerial view from the south

What we Did For Maps:

While we appreciate our GPS devices, we like to have a paper copy of the day’s route in our map case.  We print the relevant sections of the 1:50,000 topographical maps published by the Federal Government’s Natural Resources Canada department.

Click on the titles of the various map sheets to access jpg copies.

052 I 10 Linklater Lake

052 I 07_Pikitigushi Lake

052 I 02_Castle Lake

052 I 01_Ombabika Bay

052 H 15_Kelvin Island 

052 I 03_Wigwasan Lake

You can also download the maps –  larger file size in a tif format – from the Govt of Canada server.  Start with this webpage – toporama/50k_geo_tif/ – and go to the 052 folder.

Also used were paper copies of a couple of pages of the Wabakimi Project‘s Volume 5 map set – Lake Nipigon Northern Tributaries (Wabinosh River to Little Jackfish River).  Just published last year, it has the info we needed for the last two days of the trip – i.e., the stretch from Wabinosh Bay up to Wabinosh and Waweig Lakes.

Our Garmin GPS devices – my brother’s Etrex 20 and my Oregon – both have the Garmin Topo Canada map set installed.  Once or twice a trip, they help us figure out exactly where we are! They also record an exact day-by-day track of our route with distance and other variables calculated. It is not everyone’s thing, but we love the stats!

A Toast To (Uncle) Phil Cotton (1940-2018)

We also returned to Cliff Lake with the bittersweet knowledge that, of all the lakes in the Wabakimi area, it was the favourite spot of the legendary Phil Cotton. Phil was born in Hamilton but his family moved to Thunder Bay when he was fifteen; he would stay in the area, working as a music teacher for forty years at various schools including Port Arthur Collegiate Institute.  Summers were for his other passion – canoe trips on the region’s many lakes and rivers, often as a YMCA guide and leader.

On retirement, Phil spent his remaining years advocating for the Wabakimi area.  See the map above for the mammoth task he took on through his Wabakimi Project.

  • It promoted wilderness canoe tripping in the area,
  • by re-establishing historical canoe routes with portage clearing done by volunteer work crews each summer
  • and providing canoe trippers with the necessary up-to-date maps which covered the Park and the surrounding area.

We first got to know Phil by his Canadian Canoe Routes handle of  Voyageur.  Back in 2010, he had made our entry into Wabakimi canoe tripping very easy with his ready advice and still unpublished copies of the first volume of the five map sets that his Wabakimi Project has since put out.  We had never even heard of Wabakimi and now we were driving 1600 kilometers to Armstrong Station and the slice of paddlers’ heaven that Phil had made his retirement project!

Phil Cotton

Three more Wabakimi trips in the summers that followed – and three more occasions where we got to benefit from the maps created by Project mapmaker Barry Simon and the portage clearing done by Phil and dozens of Wabakimi Project volunteer work crews.  We joked that all we had to do was find out where Uncle Phil and his work gangs had been the summer before and make that our route!

With this trip we followed after him once more – this time to Cliff Lake with an offering of a shot or two of Canadian whisky that we poured into the lake he loved most of all.  We miss his keen and precise vision and direct no b.s. manner.  He was an original.

Googling his name will turn up some background info on his life and legacy.  In this piece – My Turn: Phil Cotton – in On Nature magazine, Phil explains the motivation behind The Wabakimi Project back in 2004 and the Friends of Wabakimi that it has morphed into.

Getting To The Put-In:

It is a sixteen-hour drive (and 1600 km.) from southern Ontario to Armstrong Station, Ontario and one we have done three times to access our favourite slice of northern Ontario canoe country. This time we got to Marathon on top of Lake Superior around 7:00 p.m. on Friday, twelve hours after having left Toronto.   After overnighting at the Airport Motel on the Trans-Canada, we finished off the trip with a 500 km. ride along some of the most scenic road in Canada – i.e., the section from Marathon to Nipigon.  As we crossed the bridge over the Steel River east of Terrace Bay, we reminisced about our Steel River trip a couple of summers ago.

Approaching the eastern outskirts of Thunder Bay, we took Highway 527 north up to Armstrong Station. [It is always a good idea to tank up before you leave the Trans-Canada since there are no gas stations once you get on 527.]  There is, of course,  a gas station at the end of the paved road at Armstrong Station.

Before turning in at Mattice Lake,  we continued up to Armstrong for a fill-up so that we’d have a full tank ready for our ride back south a couple of weeks later.  We also had lunch at  E & J Restaurant on Queen Street before redoing the 10 km.  back down Highway 527 to Mattice Lake Outfitters.

We had arranged a fly-in to Cliff Lake for that afternoon and they were waiting for us! While there are certainly cheaper options to get to Cliff Lake,  there are other costs associated with them that made the ride in a De Havilland Beaver easier to rationalize! At the end of the trip, we had also arranged for a shuttle back to our vehicle at Mattice Lake.  Don Eliot and his staff provide as much service as a canoe party might need, right up to renting out canoes. [Click on the header below to access their web page.]

Mattice Lake Outfitters header

Day 1 – From Mattice Lake to Cliff Lake by Air

  • distance: flight: 63 km / revisit the north end picto sites: 5 km.)
  • time: 26 min / 2 hours
  • portages/rapids: 0/0
  • weather: sunny and seasonably warm; some wind
  • campsite: north end, east side of the lake; 1 x 4 person; 2 x 2 person sites

With our canoe strapped on to one of the de Havilland’s pontoons and our gear piled in the back of the plane, we made the less than 30-minute flight from Mattice Lake to Cliff Lake.  We had originally planned just to get shuttled to the Bear Camp off the logging road that crosses the Pikitigushi some 40 kilometers south of Cliff Lake and paddle up to the lake over a couple of days.

We decided to splurge and, instead of paddling both up to and then back down from Cliff Lake, we had two days to spend on other water.  Subtracting the cost of the road shuttle from Mattice Lake to the Bear Camp somehow made the $850. cost of the flight seem a bit less extravagant!

the pilot Yves strapping our canoe to the Beaver’s left pontoon

our canoe strapped to the de Havilland Beaver and ready for take-off

a view of the inside of the four-seater Beaver

de Havilland Beaver control panel

de Havilland Beaver control panel – cutting edge technology from the 1950’s!

a view of the Mattice Lake Outfitters

Mattice Lake from the air – Mattice Lake Outfitters on the left

a view of Armstrong Station from the air – looking east

Yves checking the map

Yves trying to make sense of that carpet of green and blue we are flying over

Cliff Lake – an aerial view from the north

We asked Yves to land at the north end of the long and narrow lake. We had set up camp on a point on the east side of the lake five summers ago which we remembered as an excellent spot.

Cliff Lake Campsite across from Dewdney’s Pictograph Site #264

Perhaps it was the string of okay but not truly great campsites on our 2013 trip that resulted in our very positive rating for this Cliff Lake tent site?  The view of the stretch of vertical rock on the other side of the lake was a plus!   We found our tent spot – it is on the left side of the panorama image above – about thirty meters in from the shore.  Just to the right of the canoe but not in the image is a rocky spit with a fire pit that makes for a nice place to set up the eating area and to sit and contemplate the lake and rock as dusk moves in.

In retrospect, perhaps not the greatest campsite ever –  but it was certainly nice to be back!

the north end of Dewdney’s Site #264 on Cliff Lake

The main reason for our return was to see the Ojibwe rock paintings that had ignited our interest back in 2013 and continue to influence where we choose to paddle, intent as we have become on seeing more of the sites which have been documented and occasionally finding some that haven’t been.

Selwyn Dewdney is the person most responsible for initiating the systematic recording and analysis of Anishinaabe rock paintings (i.e., petroglyphs or pictographs) of the Canadian Shield. His book Indian Rock Paintings of The Great Lakes (First Edition) has provided us with a list of sites to visit and an introduction to the meaning of the various paintings.

Dewdney puts  Cliff Lake as a pictograph lake into context this way:

[It has] a concentration of petroglyphs that is only exceeded by the Hickson-Maribelli sites north of the Saskatchewan River in Saskatchewan, and by the Bon Echo sites on Lake Mazinaw in southern Ontario….The overriding impression of the Cliff Lake setting is one of an age-hallowed place, where paintings were made at intervals over long periods of time.  More than half of them are indecipherable and many more nearly so….[137, 140]

Download (here) the pages of Dewdney’s Indian Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes where the six Cliff Lake pictograph sites are described.

N.B. In 1967 a second edition of the book was published. The Cliff Lake material appears in it but not in the first edition, a link to which is provided here.

Also, note that Dewdney refers to the river of which Cliff Lake is a part as the Mud and not the Pikitigushi.  Given a comment by Robert Bell of the Geological Survey of Canada in his 1870 Report on the Geology of the Nipigon District,  it would seem that Mud is just the English translation of the Ojibwe –

During the spring freshets, the waters of the Pickitigouching are said to be quite milky from the clay which they hold in suspension, and hence the Indian name of this stream, which signifies the Muddy River.

The clay banks of the river beginning south of Pikitigushi Lake give the river its early season muddiness.  South of the logging road the river has meandered its way through thirty kilometers of a massive glacial sand deposit which reminded us of the lower Steel River to the south of Rainbow Falls.


Cliff Lake map with Selwyn Dewdney’s numbered sites indicated – pages numbers refer to his book Indian Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes

After we got the tent up we figured we’d revisit the two pictograph sites at the north end of the lake – Dewdney’s sites #264 and 263 – as well as check out the potential campsite on the east side of the lake across from site #263.  In my mind, I was already writing a post that would highlight the four or five best campsites on Cliff Lake!

the lakefront patio at our Cliff Lake campsite

Sept 8 paddling Cliff Lake

On our way over to #264, we checked out the point across from our campsite which looked like another possible site.  Ten minutes of tromping around later, we had to conclude that there was nothing there that would get us to stay and put up a tent!  Off we went to see the pictographs.

Dewdney Site #264 – human figure and caribou and various smudges

Dewdney had the following to say about his Pictograph Site #264.  In his scheme of things, it is the fourth and northernmost of the sites on the west side of the lake  –

caribou figure and human figure – Cliff Lake Site #264

Dewdney’s drawing of Site #264 – Face I in 1965

Dewdney Site #264 – Face I

My shot of Face I is a good example of the A+ blur you can achieve when your camera is set at 1/30th sec. and you are sitting in a canoe bobbing up and down!

We continued on down the lake to the next site – listed as #263 by Dewdney. Here is a view of the rock face of #263 which we took a half-hour later from the east side of the lake –

Cliff lake Site #263

And here are some close-ups of a few of the images and smudges you will find there.

Cliff Lake Site #263 pictographs

Dewdney’s drawing of Cliff Lake Site #263 pictographs

Cliff lake Site #263

Our visit to the two pictograph sites at the north end of the lake done, we paddled to the other side of the lake to the potential campsite we had visited back in 2013.  It sits on that fairly flat piece of rock outcrop about four meters above the water and is accessible from the north end.  It is no more than a bit awkward to unload the canoe and move your gear the four meters up to the plateau if you choose to put your tent up there.  You can see the campsite in the image below taken from Dewdney’s Site #263.

campsite on the east side of Cliff Lake – north end across from Dewdney’s Site #263

What we found were a number of fair-weather two-person tent site possibilities with little shelter from the wind. Our four-person MEC Wanderer with its 2.5 m x 3 m space requirement would have had a home if we dealt with the deadfall that covered the one suitable area. However, given that it was more exposed to the elements than we like, we decided that – after all our talk about what a great site it was! – we would not be tenting there the next night!

a view of the Cliff Lake campsite area across from Dewdney’s Site #263

Instead, we figured that the next morning we would pack up and paddle down the lake and see if we could find another – read “better” – site where we could spend a second night on the lake.  [Spoiler alert: the next night we were sleeping in an abandoned cabin on Ratte Lake!]

Sept 9 – Cliff Lake To Ratte lake

Next Post: Day 2 and 3  – Cliff Lake To Ratte Lake To The Boucher Bear Camp












Posted in Anishinaabek World, Pictographs of the Canadian Shield, wilderness canoe tripping | 5 Comments

Canoeing From The Pikitigushi’s Cliff Lake to Echo Rock on Lake Nipigon

Here are a few of the images we paddled into on our twelve-day exploration of the Pikitigushi River system from Cliff Lake down to Windigo Bay in Lake Nipigon,  followed by our island-hopping route down to Echo Rock, and our paddle up the west shore of the Lake past Jackfish Island and into Wabinosh Bay and up the Wabinosh River to Waweig Lake. It was a route that had a bit of everything and lots of history to mull over.

The GPX file is in my Dropbox folder. Download it here – 2018 Nipigon Tracks. GPX

Mattive Outfitters Beaver at the dock

The weather was not the greatest and the wind made for extra work and worry – but looking at the pix, I think we were lucky to have made the journey!  More details and maps  – and images – to come in the following weeks.

de Havilland Beaver control panel

Cliff Lake – an aerial view from the north

Cliff Lake Campsite across from Dewdney’s Pictograph Site #264

a newly-constructed (since our last visit in 2013) bench on top of Pictograph Site #264

Dewdney’s site 119 – the moose image and smudges

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

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

pictographs at the south end of Cliff Lake (site #262)

See the two posts below if you want to know more about the Cliff Lake pictographs. Few people know that the lake has one of the Canadian Shield’s most significant collections of Anishinaabe rock paintings.

The Pictographs of Wabakimi’s Cliff Lake -Part One:  Selwyn Dewdney Takes Us on A Tour

The Pictographs of Wabakimi’s Cliff Lake – Part Two

abandoned cabin on Ratte Lake – our home for a night

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

After the Bear Camp and our visit with the Boucher Bros., we would not see anyone for the next ten days as we paddled down the river and on Lake Nipigon.  We also did not see any moose or woodland caribou or black bears; we did come across some paw prints on the various beaches we landed on.  You will have to scroll down to the end of the post to see the one incredible display of nature we paddled into – a gathering of perhaps 150 pelicans at the bottom of a set of rapids.

deadfall on the lower Pikitigushi

lunch stop on the meandering Pikitigushi

We dealt with four major logjams on the lower Pikitigushi. None had a portage trail around them so we had to come up with solutions of our own!

“Houston, we have a problem!” – a logjam in need of a bypass

sandbar campsite on the lower Pikitigushi

checking out the last set of waterfalls on the Pikitigushi – above Mud River rail stop

Windigo Bay Lake Nipigon coming up – a cabin at the mouth of the Pikitigushi

Our tent spot on one of the Britannia Islands – 9 square meters of flat ground!

lunch stop on Billings Island

campsite on Geikie Island

Geikie Island campsite – another view

one of a hundred shots we took of the setting sun on Geikie

our campsite on the west side of Kelvin Island

approaching Echo Rock on a wet and cold – and windy – morning

getting close to Echo Rock Lake Nipigon

looking up to the top of Echo Rock

graffiti on Echo Rock

pelicans on Lake Nipigon

early morning on Wabinosh Lake

We spent some time on the shores of Wabinosh Lake looking for remains of a WWII German POW (Prisoner of War) camp.  It was apparently on the west side of the Wabinosh River as it comes in from Waweig Lake.  We would later learn that we were expecting to find something – the remains of an actual POW camp with barbed wire and everything else –  that never actually existed!

WWII POW Camps in the Armstrong Station Area – The Real Story!

the Wabinosh River above the Highway 527 culvert


The following posts cover the various sections of our canoe trip down the Pikitigushi and on Lake Nipigon:

From Cliff Lake To Lake Nipigon:  Logistics. Maps, and Day 1 – Cliff Lake

From Cliff Lake To Lake Nipigon:  Days 2 & 3 – From Cliff Lake to The Bear Camp

From  Cliff Lake  To Lake Nipigon:  Days 3, 4, &5 – From The Bear Camp To Windigo Bay

Island Hopping Lake Nipigon  By Canoe From Windigo Bay To Echo Rock

Canoeing From Lake Nipigon’s Echo Rock To Waweig Lake

Posted in Pictographs of the Canadian Shield, Wabakimi, wilderness canoe tripping | 2 Comments

Pashupatinath: Shiva’s Kathmandu Valley Temple

Related Posts: The Kathmandu Valley And Its UNESCO Cultural Heritage Sites

Temples & Street Shrines of Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley – “God Is Alive; Magic Is Afoot”

From the tourist ghetto in the Thamel district, four of the Kathmandu Valley’s major UNESCO World heritage sites are within easy access.  Back in 1996 Laila and I walked to all of them on our first visit to Kathmandu. Swayambhunath is 3 kilometers west, Patan about four kilometers south. On subsequent visits, I’ve gone by tuk-tuk or taxi, thanks to the air pollution which puts  Kathmandu among the ten worst cities in the world. Many locals wear air filter masks as they walk about.

Pashupatinath is a 4.5-kilometer ride from Thamel east towards the airport. As one of the Hindu world’s major pilgrimage sites, it is an eye-popping experience for first-time visitors to Nepal from Europe or North America who are unfamiliar with Hindu worship and ritual.  It can also be quite mystifying since the required context to understand what is going on is often missing.

[See the end of the post for some recommendations on what to read and watch before your visit.}

The site is made up of the main temple – the Pashupati Mandir – and several other shrines, temples, ghats, and sleep space for visiting pilgrims along the banks of the Bagmati River.  On the satellite image above, the red arrow shows the location of the main temple. The river here plays the same religious role that the Ganges River does in northern India, especially Varanasi.  As with the equally polluted Ganges,  believers still bathe in its karma-erasing waters.

The one lasting memory visitors will have is of the cremations taking place in public view on the banks of the river.  I took the photo below back in 1996; it shows mostly tourists sitting on one side of the river and watching a cremation ceremony on the other.  Noteworthy is the fact that no one is pointing their camera lens in that direction.  In 2018 more people, including locals, were using their smartphones to take snapshots of the goings-on.  A decade of always-available devices has led to a change in attitude towards the quick taking of images by foreign visitors and by Nepalis themselves.

Pashupatinath- tourists watching cremation ghats

Another memorable aspect of a Pashupatinath visit are the sadhus who frequent the site, seemingly posing for tourists in choice locations with all the appropriate props. The “sadhu” – a wandering ascetic who has renounced the things of this world –  in the image below looked like Krishna blowing into his flute as I took the photo. No sooner had I done so that he was approaching me for a “donation” for the image!

The steps which lead up to Gorakhnath on the east side of the river is one popular spot. Be ready to hand over 50 rupees! You have to wonder if this is just a day job for locals dressed as mendicants!

Pashupatinath sadhu

Most of the site is accessible to all, including non-Hindus.  Only the main temple complex and the stretch of the river below it is off-limits.  The temple itself was built in the mid-1600s by the ruler of Bhaktapur, Bhupatindra Malla.  He is the same king who commissioned the building of The Palace of the Fifty-Five Windows and the column with his statue on top which sits in front of the Golden Gate on Durbar Square.

There is evidence of earlier temple structures standing on the same sport going back to about 400 C.E. (that is, about 1600 years ago).  After that, myth takes over and sometimes there is more than one story to explain the same thing in a totally different way!  It does not seem to rattle the devout pilgrims.  As the early Christian philosopher Augustine put it – “I believe so that I may understand.”

The image below is of the core of the site.  It shows a walled off area with a square Pashupati Mandirstructure on the east side of an open space. The red dot in the image indicates where I took the photo below.  Walk past the “Entrance for the Hindus only” sign to the other side of the gat and you are inside the complex and looking at a large statue of Nandi, Shiva’s bull. Then come the temple and the steps leading down to the river and the cremation ghats. I have not found any video footage or photos taken inside the main temple area. It may be that cameras are not allowed.

pashupatinath Nandi figure

West entrance to Pashupatinath Mandir – Nandi bronze statue visible – see here for the source of the image taken by Peter Akkermans in May 2007

And what is inside the temple itself that warrants such exclusive access?  One story vaguely recalled is that there is a one-meter tall Shiva lingam inside engraved with a face on each of its four sides and with a fifth “invisible” face on the top.  The stone lingam is Shiva’s penis and supposedly fell to this spot from the home of the gods up there in the sky.  I’m not sure what prompted it to fall off or what it says about the composition of the rest of his body.

Pashupatinath – “entrance for the Hindus only”

The name of the temple comes from two source words – pashu (“animals”) and pati (lord or master). So – the Master of the Animals.  Locals pronounce it as pash patti, omitting the “u” sound.  Here is one of a dozen different accounts of how the site came to be –

At the present place where the temple of Pashupati rests, there used to be a mound. A cow frequented this mound and offered her milk there. A cowherd noticed this strange occurrence and out of curiosity, dug at this spot. As he began digging a great light poured out. The light had come out from a linga with faces of Shiva carved on four sides. The people built a shrine to shelter this linga. This shrine came to be known as Pashupatinath, dedicated to Lord Shiva in his incarnation as Pashupatinath, the protector of animals. [online source here]

The next few images were all taken from the east bank of the Bagmati looking over to the Pashupatinath Mandir and surrounding buildings. The copper base but gold-covered roofs of the temple set the scene, as does the cremation area – Arya Ghat – at the bottom of the steps leading from the elevated temple area.

The first image I took in 2006; the beige/yellow walls have received a white paint job more recently!

a view of the main Pashupatinath temple from the Bagmati Khola east bank

The middle of the three shrines at the bottom of the temple steps above Arya Ghat seems to garner the most attention from Hindu visitors.  I am not sure what is inside.  I have not been able to confirm my hunch that a stone Shiva figure – named Virupaksha –  is inside. It is an ancient sculpture said to have Mongoloid features which apparently predates the arrival of the Shiva cult some 1500 years ago.

the Shrine at the bottom of the steps from Pashupati Mandir

On the steps of the ghat, onlookers watched a woman perform prescribed death rituals for the deceased – her husband or father? – wrapped up in the golden cloth and stretched out on the board sloping down to the river.  In the Hindu world, it is the eldest male who plays the main role in the cremation rites of the deceased.

At the top of the board is a Shiva lingam that is the focus of her devotion.  At the bottom of the board, some white cloth covers the feet of the corpse. Dipping the feet three times into the waters of the sacred river, a tributary of the Ganges River,  is another essential element in the ritual.

onlookers at the Arya Ghat watch a woman perform cremation rituals

See the end of this post for a link to an informative YouTube video which explains the cremation ritual as it is practised at Pashupatinath.

Pashupatinath Temple -Arya Ghat

The Bagmati is not a river fed by glacial streams so in April when I was there this year its level was quite low.  Thanks to the monsoon season (June to August), the water level rises considerably and the river appears to be cleaner during the autumn. I was surprised to see garbage floating down a river held to be sacred. The litter along its banks and in the forested slopes on the east side were also depressing to see.

a view from the north of the two footbridges over the Bagmati at Pashupatinath

There are two footbridges that take you from one side of the river to the other. We had come into the site from an entrance at the southeast corner after our guide parked his vehicle nearby.

Next to the southernmost bridge on the temple side of the river is a minor temple,  the Vatsala Mandir. Its central object is a stone bowl representing a female version of Shiva; it attracts many devotees and petitioners.

the Vatsala Mandir and the spire of the Pashupati Mandir to the right

Vatsala mandir - strutwork on the lower roof

Vatsala Mandir – strutwork on the lower roof

Vatsala Durga Temple ruins - work in progress May 2018

Vatsala Durga Temple ruins 

On the wall of the Vatsala Mandir, a dancing corpse looks down at the pilgrims and tourists with his erection. Dead but still very much alive!

On Durbar Square in Bhaktapur is another temple dedicated to Vatsala; it was one of those destroyed in the 2015 Earthquakes.


dancing male corspe figure on the wall of the Vatsala Mandir

dancing male corpse figure on the upper wall of the Vatsala Mandir

tourists and believers at the Vatsala mandir in Pashupatinath

Pashupatinath – tilak being applied to a boy’s forehead

mother and daughter pose for a photo by the Vatsala Mandir in Pashupatinath

Pashupatinath – October 2006 view of the Vatsala Mandir from the other side of the river

Directly across the river from the Pashupati Temple is the row of identical shrines you see in the image below. There are eleven in all and inside each is a stubby cylinder.  It represents Shiva’s penis and is the focal point of worship. The stone vessel in the Vatsala Temple probably represents the yoni, the female equivalent of the lingam.

the Bagmati River at the core of the Pashupatinath site – temple on the left and chaityas on the right

looking through the row of Chaityas with Shiva linga at Pashupatinath – east bank of the Bagmati

Pashupatinath – the row of Shiva lingam October 2006

Back on the temple side and to the north, the rocky rise above the Surya Ghat is called Kailash Hill. Above the river bank are caves where sadhus stay during their time at Pashupatinath.  The ultimate time to visit the site both for devout Hindus – sadhus or not – and photographers keen on capturing an incredible expression of world culture would be during Maha Shivaratri.  (In 2018 it was in February.)  Check out YouTube for some fascinating footage. About a million people show up!

Surya Ghat at North end of Pashupatinath site

a view from the north end of the Pashupatinath site

Pashupatinath Temple Complex from the north side

Pashupatinath Temple monkeys

Pashupatinath – view of the chaityas from the Temple side of the river

Pashupatinath – Bagmati River and Arya Ghat view from the east side

Pashupatinath – a view from the steps leading to Gorakhnath Mandir

There is much more to see at the site and the one hour that I spent there was just not enough.  See below for the explanation – and my suggestion on how to do the site justice.

Useful Links:











A guidebook – even if you are Hindu but especially if you are not – is essential to provide some context and explanation to what it is you are looking at.   My digital copies of Lonely Planet Nepal and The Rough Guide To Nepal were on my iPad and I would consult them before setting off for my visit.  They both include brief sections on Pashupatinath and useful maps of the site to help you plan your trajectory.

I had one other source on my iPad and it proved to be the best of all – the 2017 pdf copy of David Ways’ Kathmandu Valley Guidebook.

I turned to the book often during my week visiting the various sites around the Kathmandu Valley and benefitted from the research he has done but was also directed to interesting places and features that I would otherwise have missed.

Unfortunately, my visit to Pashupatinath was with a guide and a small group.  It only lasted about an hour, and I did not get a chance to explore the site the way I wanted to. I should have stayed behind when they moved on to Boudhnath or gone back on my own a few days later and spent the three or four hours there that Pashupatinath deserves.

My advice to you, especially if you are into photography – take a taxi to the site and visit it on your own, preferably in the late afternoon and towards dusk and ramble around looking for neat perspectives and angles to shoot from and stopping every once in a while to read your guidebook and figure out where you are.

Pashupatinath Cremation Ritual on YouTube:

Click on the image below to access a YouTube video explaining the basics of a Hindu Cremation ritual at Pashupatinath:

My Other Kathmandu Valley Posts:

Temple and Street Shrines of Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley – “God Is Alive; Magic Is Afoot”

The Kathmandu Valley And Its UNESCO Cultural Heritage Sites

Kathmandu’s Durbar Square After the 2015 Quakes – Worth the $10. Ticket?

 Swayambhunath: Buddha Eyes Over The Kathmandu Valley

Pashupatinath: Shiva’s Kathmandu Valley Temple 

The Boudhanath Stupa – The Heart Of Nepal’s Tibetan Community

Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley: The Temples of Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur Three years After The 2015 Quakes – Part 1: Durbar Square

Bhaktapur Three Years After the 2015 Quakes v- Part 2: Taumadhi, Potters’, Tachapol Tols

Posted in Cultural Focus, Easy Travelling, Nepal | Leave a comment

The Kathmandu Valley’s Patan May 2018: Part 2 – The Golden Temple and Vicinity

Previous Post:  The Kathmandu Valley’s Patan April 2018: Part 1 – Durbar Square

After a brief coffee break at the north end of Durbar Square, I headed north to visit a couple of worship sites – one Buddhist and the other Hindu – that make clear that traditional religious practices still matter to the inhabitants of the town and those pilgrims who come from away to make offerings and petitions.

Hiranyavarna Mahavihara (“The Golden Temple”)

The so-called Golden Temple was the first stop on my brief side trip from Durbar Square.  Its official name is Hiranyavarna Mahavihara and its Sanskrit roots mean this –

  • Hiranya – golden
  • varna – colour
  • Maha – great
  • vihara – monastery.

The complex, dating back to about 1400,  functions as a Newar Buddhist monastery, though it only hosts daytime visitors since there are no longer any resident monks staying there.  I am not sure if that also applies to the on-duty pre-pubescent priest (if that is his actual title) whom I saw while I was there.

Patan – entrance of the Golden Temple

The street facade of the monastery features guardian figures and a nicely done stone entrance. When you step inside and past the two elephants with riders on the other side your view is captured by the image below.  A Thunderbolt (dorje) sits in front of a small shrine which fills the middle of the courtyard. It brings to mind the dorje at the top of the steps in front of the Swayambhu stupa. Behind the courtyard shrine is the main temple, whose top two of the three roofs are visible.

Patan’s Golden Temple – courtyard shrine

prayer card delivery system at the Sule Paya

Also visible in the image above and the next two below are metallic streamers.  Known as pataka, they are apparently there for the convenience of the gods so that they can descend easily in response to the petitions of the pilgrims who have come! At the Sule Pagoda in Yangon, I have seen something similar. There I saw a wooden boat on a pulley system into which believers put their petition cards.  The boat is then pulled up into the sky so that the gods can more easily access the petitions!  Such is the enduring appeal of belief in the gods!  We are a long way from the historical Buddha’s advice:

33. “Therefore, Ananda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge. ( Digha Nikaya, Sutta 16. Mahaparinibbana Sutta. see here for the source of the quote)

another view of the courtyard of the Golden Temple complex in Patan.

On the perimeter of the courtyard is one eye-catching shrine after another, each with evidence of being active and visited.  This monastery courtyard with its many exquisite metal sculptures and mini-shines is a living museum and may be the most atmospheric religious shrine I have visited in Nepal.  In making my rounds,  I also realized that I have little chance of understanding the complexities of the living Newar Buddhist tradition.  Who are all these gods and why do they command such reverence?


shrine on the perimeter wall of Patan’s Golden Temple

the prayer wheels on the courtyard perimeter Golden Temple Patan

Patan Golden Temple guardians at the corners

fierce dragon head at Patan’s Golden Temple

the Great Bell in the Golden Temple courtyard – Patan

Patan Golden Temple – Vishnu figure?

Patan Golden Temple shrine figure

Behind the small courtyard shrine – to the right of the Taleju Bell pictured above – is the central shrine built into the ground floor of the three-roofed pagoda.  I need to go back one more time to get a decent shot of the entire temple!  What you see below behind the metal fence are the base of the temple and the shrine in a space framed by more amazing stonework, the torana above the doorway lintel especially so.

dorje with Sri Sakya Muni Shrine behind closed gate

devotees arranging offerings at one of the main Golden Temple shrines in Patan

The heavily draped figure is apparently of the historical Buddha in the “Touching The Earth Pose”.  Given the name of the complex – Hiranyavarna Mahavihara –  I wondered if the Hiranya (golden) Varna (colour) refers to the Buddha statue’s skin colour. Varna is also the term used to describe Hinduism’s four hereditary social classes and would seem to have originally been based on skin colour.  The darker-skinned Dravidian inhabitants got the bottom slot and the conquering Aryan invaders,  the top three.

Patan. Golden Temple. Sri Sakya Muni statue close up

While I was there I got a quick look at that month’s temple priest (if that is his title). Like another religious role in the Kathmandu Valley – that of Kumari – he is a prepubescent youth.  Unlike the Kumari who keeps her position for five or six years, the boy here serves for a thirty-day period and then is replaced by another under-twelve-years-old boy.

Patan Golden Temple boy priest at the Sakya Muni shrine

I could have spent another two hours at the Golden Temple. I could also have wandered into the rooms of the courtyard and even checked out the second floor but I decided to leave the locals gathered there undisturbed by yet another nosy tourist with his camera.

I stepped back out onto the street and headed a bit further north to the Kumbeshwar Temple and the Baglamukhi Temple to its side.  I was moving from Buddhist complex with its Newar spin to a Hindu temple complex with a Newar spin! The five-storey main temple is dedicated to Shiva; the smaller but very popular Baglamukhi Mandir to the goddess of that name.  She is, I think, a manifestation of the goddess Durga. I happened to be there on a Thursday, a day supposedly special to the goddess.    Also part of the complex are two hiti, water tanks with water believed to come from Gosain Kunda, some forty kilometers away and a major attraction to pilgrims.

Walking up to the Hindu temples there was yet more evidence of the damage caused by the Gorkha Earthquakes of 2015. It will take a generation for the people of the valley to recuperate from them.

residential buildings north of Patan’s Golden Temple

flower vendor in front of the Baglamukhi Temple

Along with the Nyatapola Mandir in Taumadhi Tol in Bhaktapur, the Kumbheshwar Temple is a five-storey structure. In May of 2018, it still had scaffolding around it as workers repair the damage from 2015. The lineup to the left of the Mandir snakes all the way to the Baglamukhi Temple. (Both Google Map and Apple Map spell it Banglamukhi; another less common spelling is Bagalamukhi!)

a line up to the shrine at Baglamukhi Mandir

the front of Baglamukhi Temple in Patan – a full moon puja in progress

Baglamukhi Temple – full moon puja

tree shrine at the east side of the Banglamukti Temple compound

I eventually exited the temple complex on the other side and headed back to Durbar Square. Along the way, I passed yet more temples and residential buildings with evidence of earthquake damage.

temple in Lalitpur (Patan) north of Durbar Square – May 2018

metal sculpture inside streetside shrine Patan May 2018