A Canadian wilderness river, right in our backyard.

This September Kate and I paddled the Weikwabinonaw River, in Ontario.  The Weikwabinonaw has intrigued me for years, due mostly to its closeness, but I had never been able to find any good information about it.  Since we did not have time this spring for our usual Canadian river trip, we thought we would take the short drive to the Northern Light lake area and give the Weikwabinonaw a try.

The river wildly exceeded my expectations.  The river itself was very scenic, with beautiful rapids and rocks.  Portages were in good shape, rougher than most BWCA/Quetico Portages, but much better than many farther north portages we have done.

In the last few years I have come to believe that that the best way to enjoy a trip is to do enough planning to make sure the trip is safe and feasible, and not much more.  Why spend your time looking at someone else’s photos of the campsites and scenery of your route, when you can discover it for yourself?   To me a large part of the appeal of wilderness tripping is the sense of exploration and discovery.  When you reach a remote enough area, while you certainly aren’t the first person to travel that route,  you can see it through that first traveler’s eyes.  Knowing what is around every bend makes that feeling nearly impossible.

Although this trip was fairly short and through an area that is fairly easy to access, it served as an affirmation of the above ideas.  The river was totally different than I had imagined, and the landscape offered many surprises each day.  The route was easily doable in the four days we had.  We must thank Robert at Red Pine Outfitters for his advice, hospitality, and for facilitation our car shuttle.

Starting out on Weikwabinonaw. It was a classic shield country lake filled with rocky points.

Starting out on Weikwabinonaw Lake. It was a classic shield country lake, filled with rocky points.

Looking up river, towards Jacob Lake.

Looking up river, towards Jacob Lake.

Start of the Weikwabinonaw River

Start of the Weikwabinonaw River

Kate, preparing to portage in a heavenly glow

Kate, preparing to portage in a heavenly glow

Lunch stop on our first day.

Lunch stop on our first day.

Checking out the area around our camp on Koss Lake.

Checking out the area around our camp on Koss Lake.

Cooking fire at our Koss lake site

Cooking fire at our Koss lake site

Day 2 started in a heavy fog.

Day 2 started in a heavy fog.

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The Start of a long rapids. With spring or even early summer water levels it would have been a fun and straight forward run.

The start of a long rapids. With spring or even early summer water levels it would have been a fun and straight-forward run.

It rained on and off for our second morning.

It rained on and off for our second morning.

A rough road crossed the river at a large rapids. There was a nice established campsite on the portage.

A rough road crossed the river at a large rapids. There was a nice established campsite on the portage.

Looking at another larger set of rapids.

Looking at another larger set of rapids.

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Kate, waiting patiently for me to be done looking at the large set of rapids.

Kate, waiting patiently for me to be done looking at the large set of rapids.

We found a very scenic site on a small lake that the river passed through. after determining that we would stop for the day, Kate paddled the canoe around to a better landing spot.

We found a very scenic site on a small lake that the river passed through. After determining that we would stop for the day, Kate paddled the canoe around to a better landing spot.

Even at the

Even at the “better landing”, the site was still difficult to access from the water.

The evening view from our site

The evening view from our site

Saying goodbye to our site in the morning

Saying goodbye to our site in the morning

The last stretch of river was very scenic, with high rock faces and fast water,

The last stretch of river was very scenic, with high rock faces and fast water.

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popping out into Northern Light Lake. We fought a strong wind for the rest of the day.

Popping out into Northern Light Lake. We fought a strong wind for the rest of the day.

Lunch on Northern Light. We later found a serviceable campsite within a couple hour paddle of our take out point.

Lunch on Northern Light. We later found a serviceable campsite within a couple hour paddle of our take-out point.

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A First BWCA Solo Trip

This was a premeditated spontaneous trip, meaning I had been wanting to do this all summer but on Monday I made up my mind to do it and began planning in earnest. I left the Bearskin staff dock at 11:07 AM on September 2, 2015.  It was cool and a little overcast but it was predicted to be clear and warm by the afternoon, so I was optimistic.  I was full of nervous energy, excitement, and some trepidation.

This wasn’t my first solo trip.  I have car-camped plenty of times by myself, took a two-month bike and train trip last year, and have done a lot of hiking solo — but this was my first solo trip into the Boundary Waters.  I was still unsure of how to pack the solo canoe and portage solo, but like most of my adventures I figured I’d figure it out sooner or later.

I had planned on going to Crystal Lake, but being unsure of how long it would take to paddle and portage my backup plan was going to be Canoe Lake.  When I arrived at the first portage, from East Bearskin to Alder, I was quite the pathetic-looking site but I did manage to get all my gear and the canoe over in one go.

On the paddle across Alder I worked on how to better carry my gear without looking like a complete beginner.  The portage from Alder to Canoe went much more smoothly. I had an extra bungee cord so I attached the paddle across the braces and the seat, leaving my hands free. I actually looked like I knew what I was doing.

Canoe is pretty small with lots of beaver activity, but no sightings of the wily beasts.  The portage to Crystal was longer than the others and a little steeper, but all-in-all not bad.  I made it to the first campsite in Crystal by 4:30 and immediately set up camp before I went looking for some more wood. After a short scout for wood (someone had graciously left a nice little stack of pine), I headed back to camp.  I knew night would sneak up on me so I set about getting dinner ready and the fire started.  Good thing I started early, it took a while to get it into a full-fledged fire.  I did it and even cooked dinner over it.

(One of several beaver lodges on Canoe.)

As twilight approached the two loons that were close by in the lake made a different call than I had heard before and as it faded away, I looked up at the sound of wing beats.  I witnessed a young eagle fly above the treetops and at the spot where the loons were the eagle turned and flew over them, but they had spotted him/her and dove beneath the water.  Definitely gave me chill bumps. The night was warm and the stars were brilliant, so I stayed up for a little bit trying to pick out the constellations.  The call of the loons is an eerie and beautiful thing in the day, but it seems to take on a mystical quality at night.

The next morning was beautiful and warm.  I sat on the slick rock out by the lake where the sun had managed to touch the shore and made coffee, wrote in my journal, and read. I closed my eyes and could hear the squawk of the jays, the screech of the squirrels, and the slight hum of a few sparrows in the pines behind me.  After a second cup of coffee, I packed up camp and headed back to Canoe Lake where I was going to hike the portage to Johnson Falls.

The Falls were stunning. Not going to lie, I thought they’d just be some small little cascades of water but I was pleased to find some nice size falls.  Hung around for a bit and then headed back and home to East Bearskin.

(Crystal Lake as I drank my coffee in the AM.)

(The first set of falls at Johnson Falls.)

I would say it was certainly one of my most memorable trips thanks to the sunshine, easy paddling, and empowerment of learning a new skill.  I can’t wait to go again!

— Tammi

Ladies’ Trip

Tammi and I met this summer and quickly became close friends. Tammi has traveled and lived in many places and although she is a native Midwesterner, this summer is Tammi’s first time in the BWCA.

We decided it would be a fun adventure to take a BWCA trip together. It would be my first “only-female” trip and I was excited to see what it be like compared to the trips I have taken with mixed-gender groups. We only had two days off from work, so we decided on a short overnight paddle on Seagull Lake.

Seagull is a big, beautiful lake with a ton of cool islands and a few lakes to portage to. On the day of our trip we woke up to rain, mixed with fog and a chilly breeze. In fact it was rainy and cold for almost our entire trip. We knew we would have to be creative and stay positive to make this a fun experience.

Due to the rain and wind, Seagull’s waters were choppy and a bit unpredictable. We found a campsite on an island with great trees that created a wind barrier. After setting up camp we spent the day paddling and exploring different islands. We then portaged over to a small lake called Rog Lake with one campsite on it. Tammi was having a blast getting out of the canoe and exploring random places and I had a blast attempting to leave her behind.

Ladies trip 1Ladies Trip 2Ladies Trip 3

After being cold and wet for most the day, we headed back to camp, ready to spend the evening warm and dry. We decided to forgo attempting to build a fire due to Tammi’s brilliant idea to make a fort out of our tents and some tarps.

Ladies Trip 4

It was a fun process deciding how to set up this amazing fortress, and made us feel like kids again.  It allowed us to spend the evening warm and dry in our tents, hanging out and cooking.

The next morning it was still raining, but we were determined to start a fire. It took quite a while to cut the wood, make kindling and tinder, and peel lots of birch bark in order to get our fire started. We spent another hour or so babysitting the fire before we decided it was too much work to keep it going. We decided to pack up camp and make our way home through the moody waters of Seagull. We ended our trip with a warm sauna and reflecting on our adventure.

Overall, I realize there was a different energy about our experience than other trips I have been on. We communicated about every part of our adventure, made decisions together, explored, shared stories, laughed and kept each other in positive spaces. Tammi commented that she thought it would not have been as fun if it has been warm and sunny. Something about having to endure the rain and cold, being creative and depending on each other was a truly connecting and unforgettable experience.  I can’t wait for our next ladies’ trip.

— Lindsey

Ladies Trip 5

The Grandpa Roy Loop

The Grandpa Roy loop

The Grandpa Roy loop

Last week Kate and I paddled one of our favorite day trips, the Grandpa Roy loop.  The loop starts and ends at Trails’ End Campground, and takes you through Saganaga, Roy, Grandpa and Seagull Lakes.  It is a very scenic route, with two small remote lakes sandwiched between two huge island filled lakes.  The route sticks out to me because of how pleasant and beautiful the two portages from Roy to Grandpa and Grandpa the Seagull are. Walking them is one of the most enjoyable parts of the loop.

— Quinn

Entering the BWCA

Entering the BWCA

Roy lake from the portage

Roy lake from the portage

Strolling along the portage from Roy to Grandpa

Strolling along the portage from Roy to Grandpa

River Running (low water edition)

After a recent rain, Matthew, Jordan and I traveled to a top secret, highly classified stretch of river in search of some whitewater thrills.  While not spring paddling by any means, there was just enough water to bump and scrape our way down.

— Quinn

Heading down river

Heading down river

The Approach

The Approach

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DRAW MATTHEW, DRAW!!!!!!!!!!

Rose Falls and the Stairway Portage

There is one route that has been described as the “most popular day-trip” in the BWCAW, and for good reason.  That route often begins with entry on West Bearskin Lake, then a portage to Duncan, and then the climactic portage to Rose Lake. I had heard many rave reviews about this destination-driven paddling experience. With my sister up for her first visit, I knew it would be the perfect way to introduce her to the beauty of this place.

rosefalls

(see http://bearskinoutfitters.com/rose-falls-trip/ for more details)

I have to say, this trip met and exceeded our expectations.  This was evident in the way our plans changed as the day went on.  We intended to complete the stairway portage, followed by an afternoon paddle on Rose Lake.  With this in mind, I portaged the Quetico 18.5 three-person canoe.   Instead, we spent over two hours exploring the falls and taking in the view of Rose Lake while having a picnic lunch.  The quality time and peaceful setting were well worth the extra energy spent in the portage.

Stairway portageThis experience gets at one of my favorite parts of living and working up here.  There is such easy access to the most beautiful spaces, if you are just willing to do a little bit of work.  Being able to share this beauty with a first time visitor like my sister was a real treat.  We all shared in the work and thus shared in the reward.

IMG_3888   (Lindsey wandering into the Falls)

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(Quality Time with Sister)

I think this is why people come back here year after year: the beautiful spaces, the exploration of new places, and the slow pace that allows for quality human connection.

— Matthew

Reflections on June

This past June, Matthew and I decided to take our first BWCA trip together. Although Matthew has spent a great deal of time on the North Shore via the Superior Hiking Trail, this was his first time experiencing the beauty of an overnight paddle in the BWCA. And oh what a beautiful experience it was. lindsey portage

Our trip was abundant with wildlife encounters while exploring this area of the BWCA. We started from East Bearskin, paddled and portaged to Alder. On Alder we saw a loon family, two adults and a baby who was excitedly fluttering out and back from under its parent’s wing. We ended at Canoe Lake and camped at the first campsite on the western end of the lake. It is a big, secluded campsite, with good elevation that made for a lovely view and infrequent traffic from other paddlers. We set up camp and decided to explore the clear and beautiful Crystal Lake.

Matthew Tent As we came to the end of the portage, I was in awe after seeing a large and majestic loon nesting within 10 feet of us. She and her partner had chosen the end of the portage to build their nest and wait for their young to hatch. A place we humans would not think a good choice, yet she and her eggs were somewhat hidden and protected in a bed of blue irises.

loonAs we explored, we had the enjoyment of sitting in our canoe and silently giggling as we watched a plump beaver swim, hunt for the perfect stick, and struggle onto a rock to have a snack. As we were paddling back across Crystal, Matthew spotted something in the woods. At first he thought it was a bear but as the size of the creature registered, he realized it was a moose. All day we observed animals in their habitat and now it was our turn to be observed, for the moose was standing in the woods watching us paddle along! I could not believe Matthew spotted her, for she blended into the woods oh so well.

We spent the rest of the evening cooking dinner, sitting by the firing and sharing stories from our past. The next day was lovely and sunny and we spent the day sunning ourselves on warm rocks by the lake and reading until it was time to paddle home. As we made our way back to Bearskin, I realized how privileged I am to have the opportunity to experience the BWCA and how thankful and lucky I am to now live in this majestic place.

— Lindsey

matthew Portage

From East Bearskin to the Vegetable chain ( a different type of canoe shuttle)

This week Kate and I paddled a route from East Bearskin to the Vegetable Chain, at the same time running a shuttle for long-time guests Mark and Carol Morgen.

The Vegetable chain is a series of lakes that connect the east end of Crocodile Lake to the Shoe Lake Road.  The Vegetables are unique in that they are outside the BWCA, but still non-motorized.  They are also the only other access to Crocodile besides East Bearskin.  The Vegetables to E. Bearskin is a great day trip, but involves a very long and impractical car shuttle  To get around this problem, it was decided that Kate and I would paddle from East Bearskin and end at the Shoe Lake Road (the uphill but downwind direction) and Mark and Carol would come the opposite way.  When Kate and I finished, Mark’s truck would be waiting for us.

— Quinn

croc

South Bean Lake to East Bearskin

 

Lilly pads on Crocodile

Lily pads on Crocodile

Meeting the Morgans at a portage

Meeting the Morgens at a portage

East end of Crocodile

East end of Crocodile

Parsnip Lake on the Vegetable Chain

Parsnip Lake on the Vegetable Chain

Lake St. Joe, the Cat River, and Dobie River

This year Kate and I returned to the Pickle Lake area for our June canoe trip. After last year’s trip, I assumed that there was never a rainy day around Pickle lake. Our weather was worse this year, as were the bugs. We drove to Pickle lake the day before, and stayed at the Lakeview Manor B&B, as we had the year before. Lynn from Lakeview took care of our vehicle shuttle.

We set off early on our first day, hoping to get ahead of the wind. We were not so lucky and made our way down the lake in a light rain and a heavy wind.  We had 50 miles of Lake St.Joe to paddle, and it seemed unlikely we would be able to avoid getting wind-bound. The wind was better once the lake jogged west, but still required our full attention. The lake itself was scenic and full of rock outcroppings.
At 11:30 we came to a large section of lake that we could not safely cross in the wind. Luckily there was a nice place to camp. We warmed ourselves in our tent and killed time until dinner. No photos were taken the first day.

Day two we woke up at 4 AM. The wind was already strong. We were able to make our first crossing and head down the lake. The waves were very large, but the spacing between them was large and predictable. Around 11 we again came to another crossing that we were not comfortable with considering the wind. We decided to make our way into the bay and see if we could portage across the beginning of a large peninsula. The topo map had it marked as a wooded bog, so it seemed possible. Portaging wasn’t too bad, and it was nice to stretch our legs anyways. After our trip was over, I was amused to see a possible portage marked there in the Canoe Atlas of the Little North.
After portaging, the wind seemed to die down, and the sun came out. We ate a nice long lunch on a sand beach. We continued down the lake, still in large waves, but in better spirits due to the sun. We made camp on a large rock outcropping right before the lake jogs south.

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Day three we again woke at 4 AM and paddled a large crossing. Once we begin heading west, we were treated to a light wind at our backs. We stopped after a few hours and ate breakfast on an island. The day was pleasant by the time we reached Johnston Bay. It took us a second to locate the entrance of the Cat River, but we were happy to be able to paddle right up the small swift at the mouth. We were greeted by the “Whale Rocks” referred to in the canoe atlas. By Blackstone lake there was on and off again light rain. The lake was very scenic, possibly my favorite of the trip. We met a party of motor boats from the fly-in camp on the lake, and shortly after set up camp on a very small site.

Lake St.Joe at 4am

Day four saw us get off Blackstone and do our first planned portage of the trip. We were encouraged to find the portage in good shape. The rapids we carried the canoe around were full of water.

At the next portage it got a little tricky. The portage was marked on an island, but we were unable to find it. The island was very narrow, and there just weren’t too many places the trail could have been hiding. The portage was around a series of rapids (we were heading upstream) and we were able to crash through the woods to the top of one set and paddle to the bottom of the other.

Another trip through the woods saw us at the top of the next set looking to the third, which was around a separate small island. Some hard paddling put us on the small island, and we lined up the rapids and ate lunch. On our way to Roadhouse lake, and then Bamaji, we encountered a few more rapids, which may or may not have had portages around them, I can’t remember. The important part is that we got up them.
By the time we were to Bamaji the wind had really picked up out of the east. We headed N.W. across Bamaji sheltered by islands, until the time came to make a wide open crossing straight west. We made a poor choice and had a wild ride, but safely made it to the opposite shore. We paddled by a large fly in camp to a sheltered bay and made camp on a high rock. Soon after it started to rain heavily.

Rapids on the Cat River

Cat River

The morning of day five it was still raining. We made breakfast under the tarp and headed out. The wind was strong out of the west, and made our crossing of N. Bamaji difficult. I found the south shore of N. Bamaji very scenic. As we paddled across the lake, a float plane headed to the Slate Falls community landed right over us.
We were happy to find the first portage out of N. Bamaji. Once again, it was around a very full set of rapids. The next set of rapids was marked SLW, but we had to portage. Luckily there was an alright path. The last marked portage before Wesleyan lake may have existed, but the rapids seemed to be washed out, and some hard paddling got us to the top.
Wesleyan was again a very scenic lake, with high rocks and islands. The going was slow against a strong wind. On the north shore we could see the run out of what must have been a very large rapids, but we just didn’t have it in us to fight the wind and go look at it.
We arrived at the portage between Wesleyan and Kezik, known as the “Cat River Portage” and shown on my topo map. The portage had a lattice of logs constructed on it for dragging boats. It made walking much more difficult.
On Kezik Lake we had a favorable wind. We ate lunch and than headed east for the first time. Kezik was a sprawling lake full of islands and narrow channels. We paddled in a light mist.
We came to the east end of Kezik a bit early to make camp. Our next section consisted of a very small creek, and I was unsure if we would be able to find a nice place to camp. We considered stopping early, but Kate leaned towards pushing on, so we did. The creek turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the trip. While I had though it might be swampy, it was generally it was high sided with small rock outcroppings. Paddling was easy, and a nice change of pace from the large lakes we’d been on. After around an hour we came to a great camp site on a small lake, next to a ledge filled rapids. A moose swam across the lake in front of us as we inspected the side. As the evening went on, we were treated to our fist patch of blue sky since our second day.

The

Lunch on Kezik

The Small Creek after Kezik Lake

Campsite on the creek. A really nice site.

Rapids next to the site

Day six was our last day of going up-stream. We broke camp and made our way up the creek, which was becoming narrower. The 350 m portage into the last lake on the creek was easy to find and in good shape, which was an encouraging sign for the long portages to come.
It took us a couple of passes to find to first of three long portages crossing the height of land into the Dobie river. Once on it, the 700m portage was flagged with a good trail, until we hit a swamp where it disappeared. After much dragging, cursing, and despair, we made it out to a small channel with took us to the next lake. The next portage, 800m, was high and dry and marked with old blazes. The last portage, marked 500m, was not apparent.

With a little scouting we were able to carry through a section of spruce forest and emerge at Dorothy Lake. On Dorothy we saw flagging at a likely spot to have replaced the missing 500m port, and wondered if maybe our information was out of date (we were not using the route to the Dobie shown in the canoe atlas, but instead a route apparently used by Camp Wabun).
We crossed Dorothy lake and finally were on the Dobie. The Dobie is small at this point, but with steady current. We ran some small riffles and had to lift over a log. Shortly after passing the Winter Rd we came to a large drop that we lined. We portaged river left around a long rapids well on its way to becoming a log jam. We made camp just above a small lake at a nice but unspectacular site.

What's that in the distance?

A Moose!

1st Camp on the Dobie

On day seven we woke up to blue skies. It would be our first full day of good weather. We paddled across the small unnamed lake and then made our way down a long shallow set of rapids, often wading. On the next lake we paddled east into a strong wind. We took a 750m portage into Dobie lake. The port was in great shape, probably maintained by the fly in camp on the lake. We paddled Dobie, and ate lunch half-way down on an island. We ran two sets of rapids, one large that required some eddy scouting, and one straight forward set. We paddled a small lake, and then Hergott Lake.

After Hergott we found a small area we could camp at. We decided to paddle another little ways and see if there was better camping at the next portage. I had the portage on the left, but we eventually found it on the right. The rapids were impressive, but there was no good place to camp. We returned to the first site and made camp.

Camp after Hergott

Pumping water on the Dobie

Day eight started with a short paddle and the portage we had found the day before. We padded until another large rapids, which we ran left. We took on some water at a small ledge. As we paddled across Lecky lake, the wind shifted to behind us. We ran a few easy riffles and ended up in Nanos lake, where the wind was no longer favorable. We ate lunch at Nanos. After Nanos we ran a couple SLWs and took a 600m portage around a powerful set of rapids. We ran a few  bigger rapids, eddy scouting on the way down. We came to a rapids that Lynn had told us to be cautious of, where the Dobie makes a hairpin turn during a steep drop. We ran the top, working from eddy to eddy. After awhile we found a portage trail in an eddy. Below us we noticed a slopping rock campsite, with small eddy above it. We elected to portage to it, since missing the eddy would have had a high consequence. The site needed a little work, but sat at the edge of a massive section of the rapids. The water was deafening.

Rapids on the Dobie

Campsite on Dobie

Day nine started with a long portage around the remaining rapids.  It had rained all night, and the bugs were very bad.  The remaining rapids on the Dobie were mostly easy straight shots. We entered the Otoskwin below Froats lake.  Since we had paddled this stretch last year, it was interesting to compare water levels. The rapids this year seemed pushier and more confused.  It rained most of the day.  We were happy to take the long portage around the rapids above Bow lake, just to stretch our legs.  Last year we had run and lined them, and I’m glad we did as there was no good view of the rapids or the campsite at their bottom from the portage.
We paddled Bow lake and them made camp on the portage around a big set of rapids.  Last year we had arrived at this site mid-day and thought how nice it would be to camp there, so it was nice that it worked out this trip.  It rained on and off through out the evening, and the bugs keep us inside our bug shelter.

Paddling the Otoskwin in the rain

Camp on a Portage

Day ten was a beautiful sunny day. We ran the bottom of the rapids we were camped on, and continued towards Mud lake. The current was strong, and we made good time. We arrived at our last campsite from last year around 11:30. We knew that it would take nearly a half day to make it to our take-out, so we decided to camp and have a short day our last day. The bugs were bad, but a breeze kept them in check.

Rapids in the Morning, leaving Camp.

Otoskwin River

Reading at our last Camp

On day eleven it was overcast, but not raining. We paddled the last of the Otoskwin to Mud lake and made it to the take-out. We drove about halfway home, and stopped in Upsala for the night.

This trip presented many challenges, from Lake St Joe to missing portages to unbelievable bugs and hard rapids, but on day eleven I would have happily just kept going down the Otoskwin. We paddled a little bit of everything, giant lakes to tiny creeks, and saw a pronounced difference in the landscape after crossing the height of land. The total trip ended up at 11 days and about 210 miles, plus around 16 hours driving.

— Quinn