Woodland Caribou – 2004 Canoe Trip – Wallace Lake

Trip Dates: Monday, June 7, 2004 to Saturday, June 12, 2004
Total Trip Distance (km): 126
Difficulty Notes: This is a remote trip, completely off the grid. You are on your own as soon as you paddle out of Siderock Lake.
Lakes Traveled: Wallace, Siderock, Crystal, Donald, Hammerhead, Bulging, Haggart
GPS Track: Gaia
Forest Fire Update (2021): Forest Fire Impacts in WCPP

Monday, June 07 2004 | The Drive

The day started out predictably with Dad’s attraction to bizarre adventures. Just as we were pulling onto the road destined for Wallace Lake we noticed a strange noise from the left rear of the truck. We chose to ignore it for a while but when the smell of rubber started competing with the weird noise we knew that the fun was over. Sure enough, when we stepped outside the truck we noticed instantly that we weren’t going to be driving any further on the rubber that used to be the left rear tire. Of course 6 guys should be able to change a tire in no time.

Yeah well. If you consider the fact that the old ford is, like old than you will quickly realize that the spare tire would be so completely rusted to it’s holding bracket on the bottom of the truck that it would be near impossible to remove. Near impossible translated to about 20 minutes with Steve and a chunk of iron and within the hour we were carefully bouncing our way into the Wallace Lake campground.

Things always operate on a different level of reality up around the Bissett / Wallace Lake area and today was no different. It turns out that guy who runs the campground actually has a thriving – are you ready for this – little business in all things related to tires and tire maintenance. This seems like the quite the little coincidence and we start to wonder if that rock that conveniently happened to wreck our tire was really placed there 500 million years ago as part of Lake Agassiz or if it gets placed there every morning at 05:00 by a guy named Bob who runs the only tire repair place within 200 kilometers. But neither here nor there we left the truck in Bob’s very capable and experienced hands while we started preparing for our departure across Wallace Lake.

An overview of our route with camps added roughly (i.e. “1” is Monday night).

What follows are my journal entries which I recorded on the trip, along with photos corresponding to the entries.

Monday June 07 2004

Our first and last days route from Wallace to Crystal (lower right). There are two routes from Wallace to Siderock, one follows the meandering Wanipigow River and can be painful in low water. The other route is a portage that is simple enough – but almost 1.5km long!

Monday June 07 2004 | 22:17 | Crystal Lake Camp

We are at Crystal Lake. The sound of the falls is setting a nice background lullaby. The frogs are out in full force and Night Hawks are swooping low over the water, eating just some of the countless insects that are trying their best to give us a rough time.

We canoed a long way today. On the way down we were once again inundated with rain and just before Wallace Lake I though I heard a strange noise from the back of the truck. Ryan barreled on down the rough road but soon the noise was very obvious and we found ourselves glumly staring at a flat tire. Funny how adventure always seems to start early with us! We finally managed to wrestle the spare out from under the truck only to find that it was also quite flat.

Monday June 07 2004 | 23:45 | Crystal Lake Camp

We are now sitting by a warm fire. Harold is like a squirrel, eating his pistachios. I’m falling asleep so I’ll continue writing in bed…

Monday June 07 2004 | 23:56 | Crystal Lake Camp

That didn’t take long! The wind is catching our lofty dome pretty good but at least it’s a nice cool night. Hopefully there won’t be too much more rain. We came over 18 kilometers today – still amazed that we came that far on the first day! We were starting to get a bit discouraged but finally realized that we’d made it when we saw the Woodland Caribou sign. Ron and Dad are already sleeping soundly but the rest of us stayed up for a while enjoying the still night atmosphere. Tomorrow should be pretty relaxing. I caught the first fish today, trolling out of Wallace Lake. I totaled about 7 pike and 1 walleye. Walleye don’t seem to be biting very aggressively.

Tuesday June 08 2004

Tuesday we paddled out of Crystal (lower right) and up towards the Haggart River which we then followed north.
On Tuesday we went north up the Haggart and camped somewhere along it.

Tuesday June 08 2004 | 13:36 | Lunch spot on the Haggart River

If rain, wind and the occasional burst of sunlight is considered a nice day than we are experiencing a beauty! We woke up at 0530 to the sound of a heavy wind and the sight of the roof of our monstrous tent caving in. I find our predicament kind of funny because there was “no bloody way” Jon was going to get up early today. We immediately broke camp and started paddling to get warmed up. We stopped about 2 hours later for breakfast on a small island out of the wind. We negotiated a very long, twisting river and finally came out on a small lake. We caught lots of small pike already today but no Walleye.

Jon is wondering why he’s having a hard time catching quantities of fish but as far as I can tell if he would try for a few less tree bass he would increase his odds of success. We have two more portages yet today before we set camp for the night. So far the trails have been excellent with easily found pullouts and decent trails. Some trails are slightly over-grown but is only every few years that they get cleaned up so this is not a huge surprise. I’ll take the solitude and the remoteness over the cleaned up trails any day.

It seems to be getting even more cloudy right now, with a light, misty rain every once in a while. Hopefully it will clear up a bit yet today.

Tuesday June 08 2004 | 20:55 | Camp on the Haggart River

We are now on the Haggart River and settled into camp for the evening. It didn’t really clear up but it certainly did calm down a bit. The bad news is the fish are not biting tonight. Jon and I tried to fish for a while but aside from a tiny pike there was no action. This is really not surprising on hindsight. We were obviously experiencing some rapidly changing weather patterns and this never helps the fishing. Tomorrow we have to go about 25 kilometers with 9 portages so we are planning to get under way on time. We hope that the weather will improve and that we can get onto some walleye action.

Highlights of the day would be hammering fish by a small falls and a nice wipe out by me on a portage trail while trying to leap like a Gazelle past Jon and Harold. I also caught a decent size pike around 24 inches that put up a good fight. The fish that we caught were aggressive and swallowed the jigs deeply. Right now there is a chill in the air but there is a cheery fire crackling and laughter is echoing softly off the rocks across the water. Some Night Hawks are back at the bugs again tonight.

Tuesday June 08 2004 | 22:22 | Camp on the Haggart River

We turned in a bit early tonight due to a long day gone behind us and another one staring at us for tomorrow. The birds and frogs will be putting me to sleep. We’ll see what’s in store for tomorrow.

Wednesday June 09 2004

On Wednesday we started heading south towards Donald Lake and ended up camping at it’s extreme southern end.

Wednesday June 09 2004 | 23:18 | Camp on Donald Lake

A long time ago we left from our cozy camp on the Haggart River. Since then we’ve done 9 portages, gotten lost, backtracked, got lost again and then forward-tracked all the way back to where we originally thought we were lost! We then had lunch and figured out that next year we’ll bring a GPS and consulted the map to find out where we should be going. In all we paddled about 28 km today under a gorgeous clear blue sky with a cool south breeze blowing gently in our faces. Fishing was decent but we can still only attract the slew sharks or ‘snook’ as Harold calls them.

Finally after supper around 22:00 Jon broke the walleye curse. Jon and I had gone out in our canoe around 21:00 and were immediately spotted by every mosquito on the lake! They were so bad that after about 30 minutes we headed all the way back to camp just to anoint ourselves with copious amounts of bug spray. When Harold saw how much fun we were having not catching fish he decided he wanted to give it a try. Since he didn’t have a paddling partner Jon and I tied his canoe to ours and proceeded to try to tip him over by going as hard as we could at a 90 degree angle with a slack rope. Sadly we didn’t accomplish our goals and had to try fishing again.

After another fruitless 30 minutes we were paddling back to camp. Jon decided to take one more cast into a small bay when he nailed the one. For the next hour Harold, Jon and I caught and released some 40 walleye from that small area! It was great fun as we would all 3 have a fish on at the same time, which made for some interesting fishing line tangles. This was definitely a highlight moment of the trip.

Highlights of the day were catching 4 whitefish by one waterfall on the Haggart River and one massive Walleye about 22 inches long where the Haggart dumps into the Gammon River. The cry of the loon is breaking the still night air just off our campsite. It’s quite chilly which is keeping the hordes of bugs at bay.

It was an action-packed day and the muscles will be feeling it tomorrow!

Thursday June 10 2004

On Thursday we paddled down Adventure Creek from Donald Lake and through Bulging, camping somewhere on Haggart Lake.

Thursday June 10 2004 | 13:50 | Lunch along Adventure Creek

We are having lunch on a small island about 20 meters long and 15 meters wide. We’ve done about half the portages today and navigated Adventure Creek. It wasn’t as bad as the name suggested and an eagle flew so close above us that we could hear the wind going through his wings as he soared over. We’ve caught a number of fish today including several pike, some walleye and I even managed to land a decent lake trout just past the last portage out of Adventure Creek.

The weather is definitely great again today with a strong southeast wind and a sky filled with wispy cloud and sun. The cool wind blowing into our faces off the water is so refreshing that I’m forgetting to keep hydrated. It’s really nice to not have to worry about heat stroke or hypothermia on a canoe trip for once! We have a number of portages left today, about 850 meters total.

Thursday June 10 2004 | 22:07 | Camp on Haggart Lake

Wow. That was a LOT of paddling! We went 4km further than where we had planned to stop so that tomorrow we don’t have to go quite as far. I had another couple of great fishing experiences today, which is rather funny because we are paddling so much that we aren’t even fishing as much as usual. We were drifting into Bulging Lake, a deep cold lake about 4km long and 3km wide. Jon and I spotted some dead fall from an old forest fire lining one of the shores so we quickly navigated the canoe over to investigate.

I was almost instantly rewarded with a large swirl following my lure followed by a tremendous pull on the end of my line. The pulling stopped along with my heartbeat. I quickly pulled my mauled hook out of the water and cast into another small area near the debris. I was again rewarded with a swirl and was not denied a steady pull this time. It’s hard to explain the rush of adrenaline that courses through your body when you spot a dark shadow lunging through the deep, cold water of some northern lake and realizing it’s on the end of your line. The fight was over quickly and we released the fish before doing it more damage.

According to Harold we went about 28 km today with 11 portages. Good thing we had cooperative weather again today. On Bulging Lake 1 foot swells carried us 4 km down the lake. The sun was hot on our skin and the breeze coming off the water was cool. This trip is rapidly becoming another one to remember but aren’t they all? I can hear the loons calling again tonight and the south wind is sending waves onto the rocks just off our campsite. I’m going to bed now, another 25 km and some portaging tomorrow.

Friday June 11 2004

On Friday we paddled from Haggart up to Crystal, near where the route splits at the top left along the Wanipigow River.

Friday June 11 2004 | 21:33 | Camp on Crystal Lake

We are camping back at Crystal Lake. We had a very interesting day today First we paddled 10 or 12 km with a very strong south wind. We are very fortunate to have good weather most of this trip and today was no exception. We crossed some big water today but had the wind at our backs. Some of the waves were over a foot high and Jon got good a soaked a few times.

We were drifting with the wind down some windswept shore on Haggart Lake when Dad’s lure stopped dead in the water and his rod bent quickly and smoothly downward with a hard thrust. The line started screaming off his reel and the other canoes gathered around to see what sort of monster dad had roused this time. After a few blazing runs back and forth under the canoe and back to the safety of the dead fall against the shore Dad was holding a 15+ lb northern and our lunch. Just when we were coming out of the last portage into Crystal Lake it started to rain. Lucky for me my Gore-Tex jacket decided to wet out and so there I was huddled in the cold rain and generally feeling very miserable. As the others sat miserably in the drizzle, Jon and I scouted for a different camp with better shelter options than the exposed island that we stayed on the first night.

Panorama of Crystal Lake from above our camp.

We actually managed to find a much better campsite just around the corner from our first one where we could set up tarps and take some shelter. The fish were really on tonight and Harry caught 10 fish on 10 casts. The rain finally stopped and the frogs are back at it full throttle.

Saturday June 12 2004

Our first and last days route from Wallace to Crystal (lower right). There are two routes from Wallace to Siderock, one follows the meandering Wanipigow River and can be painful in low water. The other route is a portage that is simple enough – but almost 1.5km long!

Saturday June 12 2004 | 15:35 | Wallace Lake

Well, we’re done. Today was the obligatory rainy, misty dreary sort day that we always experience at least one of on our trips. It wasn’t too bad actually, especially since it’s the last day. When it rains on the first few days of the trip you have to be really careful that your gear doesn’t get dirty or wet but on the last day you don’t have to worry so much which is nice because you can keep moving at a good clip. Also, when the weather sucks on the last day it prepares you for getting back to civilization and a warm home-cooked meal. Just because it was the last day doesn’t mean we didn’t have any excitement though. Just as we were paddling up to a portage through past a shoreline choked with vegetation Jon and I spotted a black shape moving quickly off of the bank further onto shore. Sure enough, it was a mother black bear. The reason I know it was a mother was that while she stood on shore and made disquieting hissing noises at us, her two cubs were busy climbing to the very top of some nearby trees. It was pretty cool till we realized that our portage was only about 300 meters further but the bears wanted nothing to do with us and thankfully left us alone once we did the same to them.

Our adventures didn’t stop there. Once we maneuvered the boats out of the Wanipigow River into Siderock Lake we found ourselves bucking a major head wind. Good thing for me that Jon ate lots of breakfast because we needed some major caloric burn to make it up the lake. It’s always a bit intimidating to push into some good-size whitecaps on some lake in the middle of nowhere. If you’re just playing around at the beach it’s something but out there you really don’t want to flip into the freezing water along with all your gear. The thought that you can’t tip no matter what sharpens the nerves a bit but it was quite fun to really strain the muscles for a while. Eventually we go to what I refer as ‘the polluted island’, an island on Siderock Lake that has seen far too many humans.

We stopped for a stretch and to re-fuel ourselves for what we knew would be a good paddle on Wallace Lake. We were not disappointed. Wallace Lake was a boiling pot of wave action and even though we tried our best to navigate around small islands and shoreline breaks we were pounded incessantly by whitecaps all the way across the lake. After what seemed like hours we finally pulled into a quiet bay on the opposite shore and breathed a huge sigh of relief – that was hard work!!

It was good to know that Atikaki / WCPP hadn’t wimped out on us and it was even better to realize that we hadn’t wimped out on her. All-in-all it was a great way to end the trip and after inverting Ron’s car door in the parking lot we were all more than ready to eat something greasy and go home to the comfort of our families. Of course an hour later we had our next trip planned already but that’s a story for next June

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