Wabakimi Part II

When we got back from our trip I had grand plans for posting trip reports in short order. But life has a way of changing quickly, and that fell apart when I ended up teaching full time for a month and a half (surprise!). So, this will be a primarily visual recap of our trip. Because my writing efforts are going towards progress reports.

Our planned route was shortened due to impassable portages. We were concerned for awhile that nearby forest fires would necessitate further changes, but we were able to sneak by.

One of the twisty river sections

The water was so low here that we had to portage through the creek to get to the portage.

Misty morning

Jack didn’t have his best trip. He was stung by a hornet early on, so while he was happy on the trail the instant he heard a buzzing fly in camp he’d have a meltdown and go hide in the woods.

He was an expert finder-of-beds from the get-go

Snoozing in a Labrador Tea bed

He looks peaceful here, but was actually hiding from the (very minimal) flies and it was hard to get him off the point.

As usual, portaging played a prominent role.

Because the original plan got shortened, we were able to do some shorter days and had lots of time to relax in camp.

Frittata!

Trip soundtrack

Northwestern Ontario is known for sudden, violent storms blowing in (we’ve experienced some interesting ones). Fortunately, we were mostly spared this trip, although we had a few afternoon thunderstorms roll in.

This one came in as we rushed to set up camp.

Angry clouds

Post storm colours

Only once did we have to sprint off the water and throw up the tarp.

Near the end of the trip we spent a layover day on a beautiful lake with amazing pictographs.

Aptly named Cliff Lake

And a few more scenic shots to round things off.

My favourite carnivorous plants.

Always a portage highlight.

 

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Why the focus on active transportation?

Those of you who follow my Instagram and (new!) Twitter account may have noticed a sudden slant towards the promotion of active transportation (primarily biking and walking, but hey, if you want to ride a horse, that’s cool too). I thought I’d do a quick post to explain why you’ll be seeing a lot of this topic for the next few weeks.

The simple answer is that I’m taking an online course through Duke University, and developing an environmentally-related social media campaign is an integral part of this course. Weekly assignments revolve around your ongoing campaign.

I decided to take the course because I’m interested in the topic and am looking to develop more skills for online work. However, since I’m not currently working in a directly related job, I was free to choose whatever environmental topic my little heart desired for the social media campaign. I opted for active transportation because I’m interested in both health and fitness and the environment, and I like pondering how we can design our cities and lives to maximize both. In fact, my favourite university course was urban geography, and my favourite paper within that course was how city design impacts human health. I liked the course so much that I actually read the textbook (almost unheard of), and still have that paper somewhere. It was fascinating, and I seriously considered a Masters degree in urban planning.

So there you go. An explanation of the sudden subject shift in my online presence for the next few weeks. Enjoy. Or don’t enjoy. Whatever. But if you do enjoy, please share, so that my final report looks more impressive 😉

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I blame the hornets on the bears

We finished off the summer with a few weeks canoeing in Wabakimi. It was a good trip, worthy of its own post eventually. But today it’s time to share one specific incident that occurred – my very first hornet sting. It’s kind of embarrassing but also, in hindsight, kind of hilarious. I try to teach my students that they should be able to chuckle at themselves, so why not share this story with the internet?

We have to back up a couple of days though because, frankly, I blame the hornet incident on the bears. You see, two days prior we had been stymied by a non-existent portage so had turned around and pitched camp early in the afternoon. Our afternoon reading session was interrupted by some crashing on the shore a few hundred metres away.

This was bear number 1. Jack deep-growled and woofed, we waved our arms and hollered, and the bear did as it should and bolted back into the woods. Given that it had acted appropriately, that it was nearing dinner time, and that we were all set up we decided there was no reason to move camp. All was fine until just shy of midnight when we woke to Jack on high alert in the tent, doing the same woofing and growling. Crap. Conor got out and blew a whistle… nothing. Jack continues in guard dog mode. Conor gets out again, this time to shoot off a bear banger. These are LOUD and BRIGHT. Still nothing. This is probably really good – most likely the bear wandered by but is long gone. However, there’s a tiny chance that it’s very, very bad if the banger didn’t scare the bear away. Jack is totally freaked at this point, and there’s no way we’re going to roll over and go back to sleep, so we decide to load ourselves and our food packs into the canoe, and spend an hour floating around in front of the campsite. It was actually quite neat – it was a beautiful, calm, clear night, with shooting stars and beavers swimming all around us. After an hour we hadn’t heard anything so came ashore again and went to sleep.

The next day we decided to camp on an island. Yes, I know, bears can swim, but if there are no bears when you land they’re less likely to come wandering through. We landed on the low end of the island, unloaded the canoe, wandered around, and then started heading uphill to the campsite. I was grabbing a pack so was a bit behind when all chaos breaks lose with Conor hollering and Jack barking and a bear clambering up a tree. Oooookay guess we’re not staying on this island after all! Quickly load up the canoe while making sure a very agitated Jack stays close and we’re back on the water. As we launch we hear our pal come down from the tree and figure he’s about to make a hasty retreat back to the mainland. We start to paddle around to get a look at him swimming, but then he turns around and comes back to where he was…and he is NOT interested in giving up this island. He’s a big boy, staring at us, huffing, stomping his feet… no worries bud, you can keep this island!

DSCF1602

Off we go again. This time we’re looking for not only an island, but an island that’s small enough for us to paddle around and confirm it as ursine-free before we land. A few km later we find a small island that is mostly bedrock with a sparse covering of trees. It had been burned a few years ago, so the trees were young and there was quite a bit of dead wood. We circle-toured it in the canoe, hollering the whole time, and confirmed a lack of large mammals. Also not much shade, but beggars can’t be choosers. Landed, had an uneventful evening, and a solid night’s sleep.

The next morning I trotted off to take care of business…. managed to find a nice patch of soil with some luscious moss alongside. Got myself a sturdy stick and started digging a hole. As I dug I yelled out to Conor that the soil was very interesting because it was full of woody debris. We hypothesized that it was because of all the burned trees, and this was one of the first stages in soil development. Logical, right?

Dropped the drawers, popped a squat…and then SUDDEN UNFATHOMABLE PAIN IN THE WORST POSSIBLE PLACE.

It was not an interesting stage in soil development. It was a freakin’ ground hornet nest. My saving grace was that it was a cool morning so they were still dopey, which is why they didn’t come out immediately, and only one actually stung me. But trust me, that one knew where to hit for maximum effect.

Needless to say I shall never forget my first hornet sting. And you see, I blame the bears because without them we wouldn’t have been on that rock to begin with.

Two days later another one got me on the ankle on a portage. It was swollen for about 3 days.

A day or two after that it was Conor’s turn when he was rinsing dishes in the lake and a pike torpedoed out of the depths and chomped his finger. Not deep wounds but 3 slices and he was bleeding like a stuck pig. I can’t make this stuff up.

Then the wildlife decided to back off and we felt much less targeted for the second half of the trip.

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Return to the Lake Part 2: Michipicoten Island – Terrace Bay

After crossing back to the mainland from Michipicoten Island, we carried on westwards, travelling though Pukaskwa National Park, into Neys Provincial Park, and finally finishing near Terrace Bay. On our second last day we crossed paths with Dianne Whelan, a filmmaker who is currently travelling the entire Trans Canada Trail, and spent our last night with her at a friend’s camp. A fun way to end the trip.

And now for the rest of the pics.

Lunch at the Wheatbin.Camping at Pukaskwa River.
We played hopscotch with the voyageur canoe along the Pukaskwa Coast.
Cultural site.
Foggy caribou campsite.

Cascade Falls
Swallow River – great swimming upriver from the cold lake!
A favourite spot.
Lunch at Fish Harbour.
Foster Island
We paddled around Pic Island and darted out to Alouez Island, a little island alongside Pic. It has a neat inner harbour of sorts where we took a break.
A cliff-y lunch spot.
Cool rock camping.
Encrusted saxifrage.
Overall another great trip. The only thing I would change is to go a bit later in the season so the water is warmer – it would be nice to do more than run in and run out of the lake!

 

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Return to the Lake Part 1: Wawa to Michipicoten Island

For the past 5 years our summers have been focused on increasingly lengthy and challenging canoe trips. While I have no regrets about our summer choices, such trips essentially mean abandoning two things for the summer – Jack the Dog and our sea kayaks. Thus, this summer we decided to hit pause on our northern canoe trips and mix it up a little bit, with a sea kayak trip in July (sans dog) and a canoe trip in August (with dog), and a week in between to transition from one to the other (and to relish sleeping in a real bed for a few nights).

The clear choice for sea kayaking was right in our backyard, Lake Superior. I have been itching to get out to Michipicoten Island, we love the Pukaskwa coast, and Conor could leave his car in Terrace Bay after a trip immediately prior to ours, so combining those factors we decided to paddle from Wawa to Terrace Bay, with a jaunt out to the island en route.

We started in Wawa on a windy Saturday and paddled roughly 25km, stopping on a cobble beach just shy of the Dog River.

The next day we had great weather and pushed a longer day, past the imposing cliffs of Isacor, lunch at Ghost River, and 40ish km later pulling in at Pipe River to set up camp.

Break along the way

Pipe River

Dinner’s on at Pipe River

From Pipe River we were staging our crossing over to Michipicoten Island. From Pipe to the Island it’s about 16km, the closest one can get. We had a good forecast, so made a thermos of tea and packed up the cooking gear in the evening. Up at 5:30 for a quick breakfast of thermos tea (we love our thermos) and granola, and on the water well before 7am. While we didn’t have any wind or waves to contend with…we did have fog. Thick, expansive fog. Initially it looked to be hovering offshore a bit, but pretty quickly we were engulfed. And thus it became a game of staring at your compass and paddling into oblivion for almost 2.5 hours. About 300m out we could see the tips of the trees, and the shoreline finally came into view when we were about 100m away. But props to compass navigation – we were bang on where we wanted to be!

We pulled off on a cobble beach to chill out for a while. Made some hot beverages, pulled out the books and musical instruments, and hung out enjoying the lifting weather and view of the mainland.

From whence we came

After an early lunch we hit the water again, and right on cue the fog came back in. This time however we could creep along the shoreline, so a different experience than the crossing. Our next step was the east end lighthouse, and just like the island, about 100m away it loomed out of the fog.

The fog has lifted quite a bit in this picture…

We wandered around for a few minutes, and then paddled around the point to the south side of the island and set up camp in Cozens Cove. Eventually the fog lifted and I was able to see what a beautiful spot it is!

We were granted a calm day again the following day. While I don’t mind some wind and waves, I was happy for flat water to explore the island. Anyone who has spent time on Lake Superior knows how clear the water is, and it’s just that much clearer out at Michipicoten Island, kilometres away from any inflowing rivers. The geology on the shore and lake bottom was really neat – I spent a lot of time looking down at the world below me as I cruised along the surface!

The main harbour on Michipicoten Island is Quebec Harbour. This sheltered harbour is a popular anchorage for cruisers and also contains the bulk of the camps (aka cabins or cottages, if you’re not familiar with northern Ontario terminology!). Most interestingly for us, a few old shipwrecks were dragged into the harbour which can be explored via paddle power.

The weather started looking a bit dodgy after lunch, so we set a steady pace for our next destination, the tombolo on the west end of the island. Paddled around the point at the end of island was a really wild feeling, with the whole of Lake Superior stretching out before us.

Paddling past the west end marker

Conor with a fishing pole sticking out of his head and Lake Superior extending behind him

Our third day on the island was a 0km day. A vicious headwind combined with rain and cool temperatures kept us ensconced in our tent all day, emerging occasionally for food and to move around a bit.

The following day wasn’t particularly pleasant, but it was an improvement and we wanted to get in a good position for the crossing. We bucked into a headwind all day until pulling ashore to camp on Bonner Head, from where we would start our crossing.

However, there were two really cool things along the way to distract us from the headwind. First, we stopped to check out a cave in the mining district (factoid: the copper used on the parliament buildings came from Michipicoten Island). My understanding is that this was initially a natural cave, but it was enlarged through blasting to serve as storage for the mining industry.

Second, not far beyond the caves, we saw four wolves on a beach! I don’t have any pictures of them, but trust me when I say it was a fantastic sighting. There was one big fella on the beach, along with two smaller ones. We assume they were fairly young, based on their size and the goofy way in which they were gallivanting around the beach. The fourth was shy and didn’t come right out, but would peek out from the bushes. We got quite close in our kayaks and got to watch them for a good 5 minutes. Amazing. Also controversial – there is a population of caribou (which are endangered) on the island, and these wolves are a recent addition. They came over a few years ago when the lake froze over and they could walk across the ice. Now it appears they’re having a feastdown on unsuspecting caribou and beaver. Should humans interfere and move the wolves elsewhere? Not an easy answer, and certainly not an answer I will pretend to have.

Beach peas on Bonner Head

Sitting on the island, looking across to the mainland

The next morning was another alpine start to start the crossing early. Once again we had a perfectly calm morning, and this time visibility was good. We figured this would be an interesting experiment – is it better to cross in the fog, or in clear weather? Interestingly, although if I had to choose I would opt for a day where I could see my destination, the crossing actually felt much faster in the fog! On the way back we had nothing to focus on except our destination, which we stared at for over 2 hours while it ever so slooooooooooowly got closer. On our foggy day we had something else to focus on (maintaining a compass course), and when the shoreline came into view we were basically there!

That said, slow as is felt we did eventually get back to the mainland (right on target once again), and pulled into a shallow cove and sandy beach for a break and a swim. It ended up being quite the social event too, as a voyageur canoe group was packing up and getting ready to hit the water.

And so concludes part 1! From there we carried on towards Pukaskwa and Terrace Bay, but that’s plenty for now.

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10 Days in Temagami in May

The beauty of supply teaching lies not in the paycheque (trust me), but in the freedom and flexibility it brings with it. Instead of requesting time off, I simple call the school board and say “Don’t call me for the next 10 days.” And boom, canoe trip in May.

We opted to forego a river trip in favour of a dog friendly trip, so that we could bring this character with us:

Jack the Dog will be joining us for nearly a month in August, so we figured this would be a good warm up for him. He’s not a good river dog, but he’s a good companion on trips that are predominantly lake-based.

Our route started on the Montreal River, ultimately taking us through a series of lakes starting and ending with Smoothwater Lake.

Put-in on Montreal River

The weather was a bit iffy, and quite chilly at the start. We started on a Saturday afternoon, and spent Sunday sitting still hoping for better weather. And eating food to lighten our packs for the upcoming portages…

Tarpology

The next day we faced a mega-portage. We had a variety of info sources, each giving a different length for this portage, ranging from 3ish km to nearly 4km. Sadly the longer measurement seemed to be most accurate…so given the two loads we had to do so this particular portage worked out to just shy of 12km. Not to mention the other portages that day.

Mid-portage creek crossing

But let’s not forget the scenic views and nice weather windows.

And cute freeloaders too

A few days in our route took us to Florence Lake, a really beautiful spot. We had a great island campsite.

Not only was Jack doing a lot of running on portages, he was also missing out on the hours he usually spends sleeping at home. He gets very snoozy in camp after a few days of travel.

We were lucky that although the length and terrain of the portages were sometimes challenging, they were generally well maintained. Well, all but one, which required a whole lotta ax work.

Clearing a path. I was providing awesome moral support.

We stopped for lunch in the middle. Because it was epic.

Most of the on-water sections were obstacle free as well, although we did travel through a few beaver infested creek sections.

Our second weather-bound day happened at a rock campsite that would have been awesome on a sunny day.

However, shortly after arriving the sun disappeared. In fact, it looked so threatening that we ravaged an area behind the rock to make a new tent  site in case we had to beat a hasty retreat to a safer zone if we were hit by a thunderstorm.

While the thunderstorms stayed away, it rained so hard and so long the next day that we expected to see Noah and his ark floating by at any minute.

Jack hates rocks and rain. He had a really good day.

We did get the chance to make a traditional bannock at this site. Slower than our usual dutch oven method, but a good approach with a smaller pan.

Conor remains highly dedicated to the harmonica.

The trilliums were in full bloom.

So was the pollen.

Over the course of a 10 day trip we did 45 portages. Including 2 weather bound days and 1 portage free day at the…so 45 spread over 7 days. Mmm hmm. Jack was donezo by the end.

One of Jack the Dog’s favourite places.

We finished the trip with a beautiful site and a beautiful evening on Smoothwater Lake.

BLAST FROM THE PAST:

The first time we tried to start a trip on Smoothwater Lake it looked like this. We sat at a campsite for three days and then skidded our way back out. Photos by Aaron Peterson.

Hardwater Lake?

I’m so glad I’m taking unpaid vacation for this.

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Winter Camping – Final Installment

Part of the reason for a February trip was because we figured with these warming, rainier winters that the weather was likely to be iffy in March. Instead, we ended up with a rain-fest in February and picture perfect conditions in March. Cold nights, sunny days, and no snowfall made for great travelling conditions.

This time we headed north, into Lake Superior Park. Started on an old road, which we will never do again – waaaaay too overgrown and shnarby. Ugh. We were hoping to make it all the way to Old Woman Lake the first day but opted to camp midway as the frustration with fighting face-and-ankle-level branches grew to near explosive levels.

We camped here on the way in and the way out. So this was actually our last night. For the record.

The next day was a shorter day to Old Woman Lake, one of our favourite places.

From whence we came

Our portable abode

Water access – one of many camp set-up jobs

Jack’s sole purpose upon arrival at camp is to get in the way while waiting for the tent to be set up so he can head inside and snooze.

Seriously Jack?

The following day we carried on to Mijin Lake. From here we had some scouting to do, as we wanted to follow a creek system rather than the official canoe route. We spent two nights at the same site, and used the layover day to scout the route. It was a smart move, as we got turned around a few times and would have turned around had we been dragging toboggans. Instead, we got far enough along to be confident in the route, and tackled it with toboggans the next day.

The route was successful, and we were back en route to Old Woman Lake. Travelling conditions remained superb.

Jack’s not much of a working dog but at least he carried some of his own food.

Seven nights later we were once again fighting the schnarb on the road out to the car. It was perfect timing – the weather was just starting to warm up again. Another March Break in the books!

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