Trip Date: Friday, July 1, 2016 to Saturday July 16, 2016
Total Trip Distance (km): 145
Difficulty Notes: Woodland Caribou is well off the grid. You should be prepared for remote travel and know how to survive in the wilderness on your own.
Lakes Traveled: Onnie, Hjalmar, Telescope, Optic, Glenn, Hansen, Rostoul, Haven, Jigsaw, Streak, Amber, Mexican Hat, Embryo, Caribou, Hatchet, Douglas, Spider
GPS Track: Download
Forest Fire Update (2021): Forest Fire Impacts in WCPP
As I sit here in Calgary, back in the concrete jungle, typing up this trip report, I still can’t believe it happened. There’s a number of reasons for this surprise, including the fact that two weeks before embarking with my 15 year old son on the longest canoe trip of my life, I came within a hair of fracturing a bone in my right foot. Between forest fires changing our route a few times and the painful foot injury, I have never had such a fluctuation of high and low moments while looking forward to a wilderness trip before.
Changes kept happening, including right up until the very morning of the day Niko and I left Calgary for the 1900km drive to Red Lake, Ontario. As I limped around the house on Wednesday morning, I realized that our original fly-in plan to Knox Lake was not going to work. This plan called for us to be dropped off 100+km from nowhere and I didn’t have any confidence that I could even do several portages, never mind the tens of difficult and remote carries on this route. I called Harlan from Red Lake Outfitters and he readily agreed that it was a good idea for me to change plans and simplify our route. Instead of canoeing down from Knox and Murdock Lakes to meet up with another group in Glenn Lake 12 days later, Niko and I decided to do two loops starting from the Onnie Lake WCPP entry point along the Suffel Lake / Iriam backcountry road. The first loop would contain Onnie, Telescope and then later, Hatchet and Douglas lakes with the group. The second loop involved Optic, Glenn, Hansen, Rostoul, Haven, Wrist and Mexican Hat lakes, which Niko and I would do with the two of us only if my injury allowed it. This would give me the chance to bail or cut back our distances on the first 12 days if my foot couldn’t handle the rigors of wilderness canoe tripping.
Please click the header below to launch the photo album of the trip.
Day 0, Wed June 29 and Thu June 30 – Calgary – Kenora
I’ve said it before and I’ll likely say it again. Canada is a BIG country! I remember on our drive from Calgary to Missinipe and the Churchill River we thought how big Canada is – and that was only driving one province east. The trip from Calgary to Red Lake and the access to Onnie Lake along the Suffel Lake road would involve almost 2000 km of driving one way! Other than the apprehension at the condition of my foot, we were super excited as we drove out of Calgary on a warm, sunny Wednesday afternoon on June 29, headed for Swift Current, Saskatchewan for the first night. After a good night sleep in Swift Current we started a long day drive to the beautiful city of Kenora, Ontario – honestly one of the nicest cities I’ve been to in Canada so far. We drove along the Trans Canada Highway, taking in the vastness of the prairies through both Saskatchewan and Manitoba (where I grew up on a small farm in the south) before slowly transitioning to the familiar boreal forests and rocky outcrops of the Canadian Shield in eastern Manitoba / northwestern Ontario.
As I limped horribly around our hotel room in Kenora, Niko said that I should try to “walk more normally”. After 2+ weeks of hobbling around, trying to avoid the pain in my heel, I’d developed a bad limp that was now injuring my ankle as I limped and hobbled around. I took his suggestion seriously and was happy to note that by consciously trying to walk as normal as possible, some of the pain was diminished. The bonus was that I no longer attracted quite as much attention either – Niko said people were staring at me like I’d been hit by a truck as I limped my way around the hotel! Feeling a bit better about my foot, I slept wonderfully in the last comfortable bed for the next 15 nights.
Day 1, Fri July 01 – Kenora – Red Lake – Onnie Lake
We checked out early on Friday morning and drove the remaining 3 hours to Red Lake. The morning was another bluebird, gorgeous summer day and we were pumped to finally be starting our trip after months and months of planning and looking forward to it. After picking up the obligatory Tim Horton’s coffee in Red Lake, Niko and I proceeded to Red Lake Outfitters to chat with Harlan, pick up our Satellite phone and finalize our trip plans with him. The mood was already more relaxed than previous trips as Harlan and I chatted about the trip and life in general. It was nice to experience the benefits of a longer trip already before even really starting it. The whole point of a 16 day trip was to allow us plenty of time to chillax and slow down from our busy lives in Calgary. Especially lately, I’ve started to feel that I haven’t been slowing down enough to suit my mental needs. Even climbing mountains can become work if you’re not careful. 😐
I can’t recommend Harlan and Red Lake Outfitters (RLO) enough for your WCPP canoeing and tripping needs. From planning to supplying, Harlan and RLO will take care of you. I’m always impressed with the chill attitude and willingness to be flexible for their clients. RLO also has a lodge on Olive Lake in WCPP – something I hope to try one day sooner than later. Once we paid for our wilderness passes and the sat phone (not cheap but certainly worth the security it provided), we started the final drive from Red Lake to the Onnie Lake put-in along the Suffel Lake / Iriam backcountry logging road. In a funny moment along highway 518 heading west out of Red Lake, I received my first text message on the sat phone from an unknown lady calling me “babe” and letting me know she was glad I was out of the bush. Obviously this message was for a previous user of the phone! I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was a hint of the biggest issue with the phone – delayed incoming messages would plague us for the rest of the trip. Niko was a bit nervous when Harlan and I showed him the red button that he should press to connect directly to a nearby Canadian Forces base in case of emergency but this was a very necessary precaution considering we’d be out there alone with only the two of us.
The sun was hot and the sky was “summer blue” as we drove the dusty, bumpy, rocky road that starts out as an easy 80 km/h drive and gradually slows to a 20 km/h crawl or even less on rougher sections past the first 18km off highway 518. We were in excellent moods as I parked the truck on the sandy parking area off the road at the Onnie Lake entry point. We were a bit surprised to see three vehicles parked there already, but on inspection we noticed they were all from Wisconsin and one of them was pulling a large canoe trailer so they were obviously all part of one large group. With feelings of anticipation and trepidation about how my injured foot would handle things, we prepared for the first portage of the trip – 350m right from the parking lot. Hundreds of “house” flies buzzed us and our gear – Harlan had warned us of this – but at least they aren’t biting bugs. We quickly unloaded the truck and double checked our gear one last time before hiding a key nearby and locking up.
Due to the length of the trip, we had very heavy packs compared to what I was used to from all my many other wilderness excursions. Back home in the Rockies, I generally carry very light packs even on multi-day trips but I couldn’t afford to go too light with a teenager along! I also had to double carry packs and also had to carry the heavy food barrel when we carried the canoe. To keep things safe, we usually completed three trips on each portage over 30m long. The first was the heavy packs, camera case and paddles / fishing rods if they weren’t strapped in the canoe. The second was the walk back with no gear, obviously. The third was the canoe with some gear strapped in it and day packs or the food barrel on our backs.
As we started the 350m portage, I could already see that Niko was going to struggle a bit with the double pack situation. His backpack was stuffed with much of our packaged food, including all the granola bars, instant meals, drink mixes and even 30 fruit cups (avery heavy item as they’re packed in water)! Adding another pack to the front was just too much. I also quickly noted that portaging with my injured foot was going to suck but it was also going to work far better than I’d hoped for. As long as I used a hiking pole in my right hand to balance and help take weight off the right foot, I would be able to limp through the pain. I wasn’t sure how it would feel the next day, but I knew almost right away that I’d be able to make Onnie Lake on Day 1. This was excellent news and we both felt like kids at Christmas as we walked back for the canoe along the excellent trail (complete with boardwalk) to the truck. As we put in and packed the canoe I noted that we certainly didn’t bring too much gear! The canoe was balanced very well and I had to double check to make sure we had everything we needed before we dipped our paddles and officially started our father / son 2016 canoeing adventure.
Sitting here, typing up the report, I can clearly remember the feeling of that first paddle dip in the first, small unnamed lake – it’s always the same on these trips. Time flies by so quickly, it’s a shame that we spend so much of our lives worrying and dealing with things that don’t make us happy. Instantly we were in another zone. For the next 15 days we would be disconnected from the distractions of city life. No email. No Facebook. No Instagram. No Twitter. No work. No distractions. The stresses of life slowly began to lift from my shoulders and with each stroke of my gorgeous new Badger paddle, I left more and more of them behind with each ripple of water.
We didn’t even bother unstrapping the rods from the canoe for the first set of small lakes before the 625m portage into Onnie Lake. The 30m portage was instantly Niko’s favorite of the entire trip (!!) and soon we found ourselves humping heavy packs on the longish 625m portage to Onnie Lake. I decided to take slightly more weight to help Niko, which made my carry harder but I didn’t want him to resent me too much at this early point in the trip. The trail was in excellent condition and easy to navigate other than a tricky balancing act across a stream on a shaky rock. A fallen tree provided a nice handrail to assist with that section. Before long we were dipping our paddles in Onnie Lake! We couldn’t believe our good fortunes regarding my foot and the gorgeous day we were experiencing. After passing a pretty nice campsite (that we’d stay on 15 days later), we choose to set up on a tiny island site for the evening – only about 3 hours after leaving the truck. Things were progressing incredibly well, considering I was using crutches only the day before in the hotel. My foot was sore and swollen but it had held up much better than I expected. We knew that the 1000+ meters (3+ kms of walking) of portaging on day one was the longest in the foreseeable future, so making this first set was an important and rewarding milestone. After setting up camp we managed to catch some pike and Walleye before setting up a nice warm fire for our first evening in the wild. It didn’t rain on us, but a double rainbow formed to the east of our camp giving us great sunset views.
Journal Entry – July 01 21:51 – Onnie Camp
Wow. I can’t believe we are actually here! A small fire is crackling at our feet while we observe a double rainbow off camp. I can hear a gazillion bugs above us in the forest but somehow other than non-biting flies we’ve managed to avoid the bugs today. Niko is watching cached YouTube videos on his phone while I journal with a delicious cup of decaf coffee. He managed to forget his brand new headphones so for the next 15 days I get to listen to loons and YouTube together. I feel so privileged.
As I sit here on this rock, I’m recalling the moment of almost complete mental breakdown I had on the very day Niko and I left for our trip. Wednesday morning I still couldn’t walk without the use of crutches and I became convinced that I should cancel the whole trip. It seemed ludicrous and unsafe to take my 15 y.o. son into the backcountry in my condition. After thinking about it and talking it over with Niko we obviously decided to go anyway – but changed our fly-in plan to the current one. Finally, by the time we drove into the RLO parking lot I allowed myself to start feeling pumped for the trip. The foot was feeling better than the previous few days. The first few portages hurt like hell, but I’m here and can’t get over how good it feels to be sitting on this warm rock at 10 pm enjoying the absolute stillness of Onnie Lake. Night birds are starting their chorus as they compete with Niko’s YouTube video and the bugs. I’m heading off to the tent to read for a bit as the mosquitoes are biting now that the sun has set.
Day 2, Sat July 02 – Onnie – Hjalmar – Telescope
Our first full day and second day of the canoe trip dawned clear and calm. Four loons were calling to each other just off our tiny island, welcoming us to WCPP. We paddled out of Onnie around 08:00 in good spirits after a healthy breakfast of bacon and eggs – the luxuries of the first few days already dwindling. The four portages went fairly smoothly, other than forgetting my hiking pole after paddling to the third portage from the second one! We had to paddle all the way back to the 125m portage before picking up the critical piece of gear and paddling back to the 150m portage against the stiffening wind for a second time. Grrr. That was a waste of time and energy. Niko and I had a team meeting after that, noting that we should each take extra care after every portage that ALL the gear was accounted for before paddling away.
We also managed to get wet feet on the portages. It’s kind of a pain, but allowing yourself to get wet feet makes for much easier and safer exits and entries into the canoe, especially with rocks near the portage entries. I already wished I had brought my sandals along on day two – I left them behind because they didn’t have much support for my sore foot. Runners are great, but they stay wet much longer than sandals do. The pictograph in Hjalmar Lake was very faded and looked to represent a turtle. Maybe we missed some others but we looked pretty closely because we knew it was there.
We made our camp on Telescope Lake, passing two other campsites with large groups on each, probably the Wisconsin group from the Onnie parking lot. We found a nice small site, tucked out of sight of the other camps and out of earshot too, which made us feel alone on the lake despite at least 12 other people nearby. As I was filleting a fat Walleye I caught trolling near camp in the afternoon, another couple came by looking for a site. They were from Red Lake and had approached from Embryo Lake. They were very surprised with how busy Telescope was as they usually end up with the lake to themselves even on long weekends! They went off to the NE end of the island we were on to try to make camp.
It was great to get out for a paddle after supper, not just because it netted us a Walleye but also because we got to see a Bald Eagle and a beaver up close. Niko was just commenting how he’d never seen a wild beaver, or a beaver slap its tail when we found one that wasn’t as shy as I’m used to. We could hear it chewing and when we got too close, it obliged with at least 5 or 6 good tail slaps. The Bald Eagle was nesting near the river mouth leading to a small lake just off Telescope. We canoed down the river until it was blocked – I didn’t realize there is a short portage into George Lake nearby, but we were running out of time anyway and headed back to camp to enjoy the evening.
Journal Entry – July 02 22:30 – Telescope Lake Camp
It’s still way too warm for a fire, so I’m writing this in the tent while Niko lays next to me with his YouTube video blaring in my ears. Life is good. Just before turning in I spent some time sitting at camp watching over a calm lake. Birds are singing, bugs are droning and a loon is calling nearby. We had many good moments again today including a close-up beaver encounter, a wonderful photo opportunity of a majestic Bald Eagle and a sublime moment around 21:30 when I watched countless Mayflies doing their mating dance on the still waters of Telescope Lake in front of a setting sun, while enjoying a cigar and decaf cup of coffee. I’m getting up at 05:00 tomorrow, hopefully we can make it to Glenn Lake.
Day 3, Sun July 03 – Telescope – Optic – Upper Glenn
Our third day was one of the longest travel days of the trip. We found ourselves paddling against a stiff west breeze as the day progressed. The day started pretty good as we paddled on glass out of Telescope Lake and spent several moments watching a loon dance his way into the heart of his partner while morning mist rose into the cool, still air all around us.
The telephoto lens I purchased just before the trip had already paid off in the first 3 days. You can never have too much reach for wildlife photos when you’re on a canoe trip. I packed 3 cameras for this trip! I had two micro four-thirds cameras along, an Olympus Pen-F and a Panasonic GX8. The two cameras share lenses and I had the Pen as my go to camera with an Olympus 14-150mm (28-300mm) lens attached and in my waterproof day pack. The GX8 was pretty much permanently attached to the Panasonic 100-400mm (200-800mm) lens in a Pelican waterproof case so that I could grab it quickly when spotting wildlife rather than switching lenses in a hurry. I also had my iPhone 6s which I ended up using much more than expected, simply because it was always with me. I had the iPhone in a waterproof LifeProof case and was also using it to navigate so it was always in my pocket.
The heat really started to get to me on Sunday. I didn’t burn, thanks to wearing my cap and a liberal use of sunscreen, but the relentless hot sun beating down on us started to wear me a bit thin as the day progressed. I probably took my shirt off too early and kept it off, it felt so good I forgot that it can also be draining. We were sort of taking our time until we stopped for lunch on Optic Lake and got our daily weather update text on the satellite phone from Kaycie, my 17 y.o. daughter. The text indicated rapidly changing weather and we could see cloud banks to the west. The text combined with the stiffening west wind and likelihood of a storm considering the heat and humidity kept us paddling hard as we portaged the two 250m portages into Upper Glenn Lake. I managed to catch a giant pike on the way out of Optic but unfortunately we also didn’t fish the falls towards Glenn as much as I would have liked, due to the impending storm. I stuck a couple of Walleye on the stringer from the last falls despite being in a hurry – it’s never hard to catch dinner in WCPP if you know what you’re doing! As we paddled by the first camp on Glenn I wondered if we’d regret not stopping there. As it turns out, we’d end up there later in the trip on return.
We rounded the corner north of the first camp and had to dig the paddles deep to buck a very stiff west wind that was rapidly blowing a weather front towards us. Thankfully the ‘cold’ front had much less bite than it’s bark and we managed to find a delightful camp for the evening. A trend started on this evening which would last for much of the rest of our canoe trip – the wind didn’t die down much in the evening. This wasn’t a huge deal but made evening fishing excursions rare from this point forward. Journaling, reading and just relaxing at camp became the norm – certainly not a bad thing but much different than I’d planned.
Journal Entry – July 03 21:17 – Glenn Lake Camp
I’m sitting under a small blue tarp at our delightful camp on a rocky point on Upper Glenn Lake with light rain coming down and a cheerful fire burning at my feet. As I sit here in the wild with just my son, I am humbled by the wild beauty, solitude and remoteness of our situation. If I wasn’t so experienced in wilderness travel and canoe tripping in general I would think we were absolutely crazy to be all the way out here with just the two of us and me on a bum foot! When I think about it with a level head, on my own terms, it doesn’t seem so crazy though. I know what I’m doing. Over thinking these things would result in never leaving the house! The way I see it, Niko and I don’t always enjoy the same things in life. This is a special memory that we can share for the rest of our lives.
Thinking about our day today and lengthier canoe tripping in general, I’m realizing that any paddling distances over 12-14km with more than 2 or 3 medium length (over 250m) portages is almost too much when doing more than 6 or 7 days out here. The shorter canoe trips are all about maximizing the experience with full days of 20+ km of paddling and evening excursions from camp whenever possible. Longer canoe trips are all about relaxing, slowing down and absorbing the wilderness around us – detoxing from a busy life that seems a million miles away when you’re in a canoe or sitting on precambrian rock with waves lapping gently at your feet and not another distraction within 100 miles or more. The old me would have been so bored just sitting at camp for hours on end, but I’m quite enjoying it so far. Tomorrow could be an interesting day if the rain doesn’t stop or at least slow. The forecast from Kaycie says only 2-4mm but I’m not entirely convinced that t-storms aren’t in the picture.
Day 4, Mon July 04 – Upper Glenn – Hansen
Despite being a rather short paddling day, our fourth day in WCPP changed the course and mood of the rest of our trip. We packed up a very wet camp early on Monday morning and proceeded paddling west out of Glenn Lake bucking a surprisingly strong wind already early in the day. I was feeling a bit “off” already while paddling for some reason – probably just not eating quite enough and the fact that I didn’t trust the weather.
While paddling through the narrows on Glenn, between the Middle and Lower sections of the lake, we met another canoe. We briefly chatted with the two guys powering it, who were on their way to Optic Lake “on a supply run” while on an extended trip. There’s always folks who are so much more hardcore than me! They told us their main camp was at the ‘bear site’ on Lower Glenn and there were two more members of their party still there along with the majority of their gear. We wished them good luck as they didn’t seem to have tents or other overnight gear along – just two blue food barrels, presumably for the supplies they were picking up. Shortly after meeting them we really had to dig the paddles in thanks to a very stiff west wind along the NE end of Glenn Lake just before the portages into Hansen.
The portages into Hansen were much better than I remembered them from our 2014 trip through the area – we had no issues with any of them and were soon fishing the very productive bottom chute running into Hansen Lake itself. I’m going to let my journal pick up the story from here.
Journal Entry – July 04 15:51 – Hansen Lake Camp
I’m in the tent with Niko, listening to pouring rain and blasting thunder! We’re being absolutely hammered by scary tstorms this afternoon. We had rain most of the night last night and it was tough to pack up a wet camp but we managed to do it anyway. So far on this trip we’ve been having good luck getting up at either 05:00 or 06:00 and leaving camp by 07:00 or 08:00 and today was no different.
As we paddled through the narrows on Glenn’s NW end we met up with two guys in a canoe doing a “supply run” to Optic Lake! Given what we’ve experienced since then I can only hope they are sheltered in the Optic Lake Lodge right now. I told Niko we were getting him 20 fish today since he hasn’t been catching as many as I expected him to – partly because it’s been so bloody hot every day and raining last night so we couldn’t get out after supper. By the time we were ready to paddle north up Hansen Lake he was at 17 Walleye so we were doing very good. Alas, I think that’s going to be his total for today…
We paddled up a glass surface on Hansen – much calmer than earlier on Glenn when we were fighting a nasty west wind. Something about the building humidity and clouds made us both nervous as we dipped paddles into a quiet lake. Niko even commented that he couldn’t hear as many birds anymore and we both mentioned a “calm before the storm”. As we got to the north end of the lake we started scouting around for a good campsite. Of the three potential ones marked on my park map, of course only the last one seemed any good and we started off loading our gear there and setting up the tarp as the clouds were quickly building and getting more ominous by the minute. It still didn’t seem bad until a nearby crash of thunder scared the crap out of us.
The storm must have built up right on top of us since we didn’t hear or see any sign of lightening until “BOOM” – right over our site!! As I rushed to tie down the tarp I was temporarily frozen by a sound that you will only recognize if you’ve ever been stuck on a lake in a heavy tstorm. At first it sounds like a waterfall but then it starts getting louder and louder and you realize to your chagrin that it’s heavy rain / hail coming across a body of water straight at you! Lightning was now splitting the hot, humid air all around us as I desperately finished erecting the tarp and Niko started throwing the gear underneath it. We just managed to get our butts on top of the gear, in the center of the tarp when all HELL broke loose around us.
There’s something to be said about the experience of huddling under an 8×10′ blue tarp with your 15 y.o. son while the fury of a tstorm breaks out right on top of you. WOW. The storm didn’t move quickly either. I realized about 5 minutes into it that we forgot to turn the canoe over and that a gust of wind or tons of rain could put it back in the lake. I ran out for 2 minutes to secure the boat and came back as wet as if I’d just jumped into the lake – it was pouring so hard!
Niko hates storms and managed to keep it together pretty good through the first one. His question to me was a good one – “What do we DO?!” My answer probably didn’t help his nerves any – “There is absolutely nothing we can do other than sit here under this flimsy tarp and rely on the statistical improbability of getting fried by lightning or hit by a falling tree…” As a second – and even more intense – storm slammed into our tiny rock outcrop of rock, Niko lost it a bit. I can’t blame him either. Hailstones were part of our second serving of storms, and some of them were getting alarmingly large at golf ball size! I was losing it too but just couldn’t show him. I’m super proud of my son. He worked through it and I believe came through a stronger person for it. The lake was still dead calm as the countless number of hailstones hit the surface and suspended their splashes in a wild dance to the tune of deep thunder and sizzling electricity. I started getting worried when the hail started getting large and bounced off both the canoe and our flimsy tarp violently. It got to the point where both Niko and I were burying our heads in our rain jacket hoods just to avoid seeing the intense lightening strikes coming down all around us! Thankfully the second storm moved on but we weren’t done yet.
Before the next storm could body slam us exposed under the tarp, I hastily set up the tent so that we could shelter properly and at least feel a bit safer. I just managed to get camp set up and secured and make a couple cups of soup for us before the third storm violently rolled in. As I’ve been writing this journal entry and sipping hot soup we’ve been hit by two strong storms with many more going off all around us in the distance. It’s sure nice to be cozily warm and dry in the tent compared to exposed outside! Pretty soon I’ll attempt to go make us some supper.
Journal Entry – July 04 20:15 – Hansen Lake Camp
I’m sitting by a dead-calm lake, listening to thunder roll in the distance somewhere. Bugs are strangely absent and some brave song birds are tentatively serenading me through the nervous evening air. Niko is laughing periodically at his ridiculous YouTube videos in the tent behind me. A solo loon is cruising past my rocky vantage point giving me the eye but not looking overly worried. I’m sure that we’ll get hammered all night be tstorms as it’s still humid and heavy out here. It’s so bloody quiet now!
As I sit here I am musing to myself that it takes 4-6 days for most city folks like myself to detox into backcountry mode from the busy, artificial and self-centered lives we normally lead. We’re so damned plugged in all the time – it’s a rude shock when you find yourself out in the wild with absolutely NOBODY around to help or distract you while nature lets you know rather emphatically that you’re nothing but a tiny, insignificant organism in an ocean of natural processes and probabilities that couldn’t care less how much you’re paid or what you imagine you’re worth back in the manufactured reality of the concrete jungle. I’ve had some sharp moments of strong doubt about this trip since starting out four days ago but I feel like getting through this stormy afternoon was a turning point for me and I’m finally settling into my new reality out here.
Tomorrow would normally by Thursday already – the 2nd last day of the trip on a regular 5.5 day excursion. I remember usually finally settling into trips by Thursday / Friday only to encounter the rude awakening of civilization crashing down around me already on Saturday. There is a reason I am very opposed to short canoe trips. I simply don’t find the amount of effort involved in planning and executing them to be worth it for me. The next 3-5 days should be significantly shorter than the first 4 have been. On hindsight maybe I was too aggressive for the start of the trip. Lesson learned for next time. A cool wind has picked up so I’m off to the tent – I’m not in the mood to find dry wood tonight!
Day 5, Tue July 05 – Hansen – Rostoul
By a stroke of good luck we made it through our 4th night with no tstorms after a wild afternoon and evening of them the day before. The next few days were to be unsettled and after our bad experience on Hansen Lake, Niko and I would be a bit too cautious regarding the possibility of tstorms for the rest of the trip. Another lesson learned is to relax a bit more about weather – sudden tstorms that happen out of nowhere are extremely rare and when they have happened on canoe trips in the past we’ve always managed to find shore and escape the worst of them. People always ask me how I sleep in the wild with all the bears and wolves and other wild creatures and I always reply that no matter where I am in the wild, weather is a much scarier phenomenon than anything that walks, flies or swims! Put it this way – giving a tstorm a shot of pepper spray or a 6″ blade to the jugular isn’t going to make a whit of difference on whether or not a bolt of lightening strikes me, or a large tree blows onto my tent!
Fearing more tstorms on another cloudy, humid day, we got up at 05:00 and started our short paddle to Rostoul Lake. While planning the trip, I was super excited about canoeing Rostoul Lake, which I’d never paddled before. It’s a big, beautiful lake and like Glenn and Hansen, it hasn’t burned recently and it’s shoreline is covered in old growth Black Spruce, Jack Pine and Birch trees with the distinctive pink and green Precambrian rock peeking through every once in a while. I was also very excited to fish the rapids running into the lake from Hansen, sure to be a Walleye hotspot! Alas, Niko and I were both too nervous about potential storms to properly enjoy fishing the falls after a delightful 275m portage around them. It took 5 casts to get 4 nice sized Walleye, 2 of which ended up on a stringer behind the canoe as we paddled across calm waters on the extreme south end of Rostoul. We found a delightful, protected camp site tucked off the main lake and sheltered against northerly winds where we set up a cozy camp for the day and by 10:00 in the morning we were settling in for a nice relaxing day of reading books, eating fresh Walleye and watching for more storms. It’s a tough life…
Thanks to the rapidly changing weather, I sent Kaycie an update on how we want the forecast texted to us. Rather than sending the afternoon of the current day, it makes more sense to get the evening of the current day along with the morning and afternoon of the following day. The format of the texts was straightforward but worked well. The information I wanted included, high temperature, wind strength, wind direction, sun / mix / tstorm, P.O.P., total mm precipitation. I was quickly becoming an expert at producing boneless, delicious Walleye fillets and we enjoyed the freshly caught Rostoul Walleye for lunch before heading out for a fishing excursion in the early afternoon. Tstorms were looming all over the place, so we didn’t stray far from camp! I’ll let some journal entries describe the rest of our day on Rostoul Lake.
Journal Entry – July 05 18:09 – Rostoul Lake Camp
After thinking we were in for several direct hits from nearby tstorms, we’ve managed to avoid every single one of them! Just goes to show that a direct hit is still not a common thing with localized thunder storms – yesterday was simply bad luck. As two large tstorms rumbled by to the north of us, I was surprised to look up and spot two groups leaning into their paddles crossing the lake just north of our hidden camp site! I’m not sure if they hit shore or kept going once the storms passed by. They were only visible for a few minutes – it’s weird to think that I would have completely missed them passing by if I didn’t happen to glance up. So far we’ve seen people every day of the trip other than the first day to Onnie. By no means does this mean a crowded WCPP though.
The weather forecast is calling for sun tomorrow for our trip into Haven Lake. We’ve already decided that if the weather looks really good on Thursday we may not rest on Haven for the scheduled day but rather push on a bit. What yesterday and today showed us was that traveling on good weather days makes much more sense than racing potential storms. Taking stormy days off is much smarter. I’ve already caught 3 good sized Pike off our campsite and we’re going fishing around 19:30 to try for some Walleye.
Journal Entry – July 05 21:09 – Rostoul Lake Camp
It’s a gorgeous evening on Rostoul Lake. Birds are singing all around our camp and bugs are at a minimum. I have a cheery fire crackling at my feet as the sun sets to the west over a calm lake. The humidity is way down from earlier today. We went fishing for an hour or so after supper and I managed a few Walleye while Niko caught a large Pike. Another sublime day on the waters of WCPP is coming to a close. It’s hard to believe that on a ‘normal’ length, 5.5 day trip, tomorrow would be the last full day already. I’m glad we have more time than that.
We both feel the stresses of the outside world falling off our shoulders more each day we’re out here. I mean, Niko is READING his book in the hammock as I sit here with my cigar!! When does that ever happen at home?!
Day 6, Wed July 06 – Rostoul – Haven
Our forecasted “sunny day” started out suspiciously cloudy as Niko and I paddled the short distance from our camp on Rostoul towards the Haven Creek outlet about 1km away. As we started up the creek I wondered what it would be like. I’ve learned the hard way that the word navigable on a portage map doesn’t mean the same thing as pleasurable. Once again, Haven Creek reminded us of this fact… Sure! It was certainly navigable but we were wet, muddy and covered in mosquito bites by the time we finally hauled the canoe up to the first 150m portage leading to Cyclops Lake. There are two portages around small rapids on Haven Creek before Cyclops and neither of them was very pretty. Thanks to the rain and humidity the trails were sloppy and the mosquitoes were out in full force for the first time on the trip. We saw another magnificent Bald Eagle sitting on a steep cliff in Cyclops Lake. He watched us impassively as we paddled underneath him. We felt like his subjects as we passed by.
We met two canoe teams coming out of Haven Lake just as we finished the 575m portage into it. They had flown into Haven a few days previous and were singing its praises as a Walleye factory. They’d also been into Adventure Lake to catch Lake Trout. Apparently the whole area was burnt but they obviously made it through. I’ll pick up the rest of the story from my journal entries for the day.
Journal Entry – July 06 12:06 – Haven Lake Camp
I’m sitting on one of the nicest sites I’ve seen so far in Woodland Caribou Park on the gorgeous and almost mythical Haven Lake. I’ve waited many long months since I first started planning this trip to sit in this very spot on this very moment. Soon Niko and I will test her reputation for Walleye. I can tell you this though – Haven Lake is not for the meek or the weak!! She didn’t come easily to us! We are obviously here early, but we fought a shallow, rocky and muddy Haven Creek to Cyclops Lake, followed by a very boggy 575m portage from Cyclops to Haven afterwards. After the first wet, muddy and mosquito infested 150m portage under a disappointingly cloudy and humid sky (we had a sunny day in our forecast…), Niko had another “oh crap” moment. His first was two days ago with lightning striking all around and ping-pong sized hail pounding our blue tarp! For a 15 year old city kid, I have to say he’s doing amazing out here. We’re going to have more tough moments and so far he’s 2 for 2. I’m incredibly proud of him – not every adult, much less 15 year old kid could do 15 nights in the true wilderness. Right now he’s in the tent laughing out loud at more of his silly YouTube videos.
I certainly never pictured myself sitting in Haven Lake listening to chirping birds, haunting loon calls and some dudes swearing on YouTube! Life is strange that way, isn’t it?
Journal Entry – July 06 15:44 – Haven Lake Camp
We just finished a fine afternoon snack of Haven Lake Walleye on wraps with cheese. No bones for the 2nd time in a row! There does seem to be Walleye everywhere on this lake – just like its reputation implied. We have caught them pretty much everywhere we cast on anything we cast including spoons, jigs and Rapalas. There are obviously some giant Pike in here too – I caught and released a nice 8lb specimen earlier in the day. Haven is a gorgeous lake with little islands and tons of shoreline and water structure. It’s so unique it almost seems fake – like it’s manmade or something. The sky is still heavy with some ominous clouds but so far no storms again today. I think the nervousness from Hansen Lake is finally fading for both Niko and I.
Journal Entry – July 06 20:58 – Haven Lake Camp
Finally some sunshine! The forecast was calling for a sunny day with 0% POP and we awoke to solid clouds which didn’t part until around an hour ago – just before the sun started setting. The weather continues to look a bit unsettled so instead of resting tomorrow, we’re going to push to Jigsaw. Friday could be rest day there, or possibly Saturday on Wrist Lake. I had some moments of doubt this afternoon. My digestive system is acting up a bit and it made me nervous for some reason. Sometimes I wonder what the HECK I’m doing out here on my own with a 15 year old city kid!! It’s crazy, but it’s also not crazy. I planned this trip to be reasonable and so far, despite a bum foot (that continues to hold up somehow) and non-optimal weather, we’re still bang on the planned schedule. If tomorrow works out we’ll actually be a day ahead of schedule already!
I’m also starting to realize just how long 15 nights in the wild actually is. Considering I’ve never gone more than 10 nights before (in 2011, also in WCPP on a canoe trip), I really ramped it up this time – increasing the number of nights by a third. My thinking was that when you only do these trips every few years, it makes sense to maximize the time spent on them. We rush so many experiences in our lives, I want to start slowing them down and taking longer to do them than I did when I was younger. I’ve climbed over 500 Rockies peaks too and spent far to little time on many of them. Life goes quick enough. Why go quicker than absolutely necessary on the parts that are supposed to be the most fun? Niko is having fun for the most part, but I highly doubt he’ll do another trip like this one any time soon. He’s a great kid but this level of solitude isn’t really is forte. I don’t mind either way. We are creating a special lifetime memory that we’ll both have for the rest of our lives and that’s all that matters to me. The family is growing up fast and it won’t be long before I’m either doing these longer trips solo or probably not at all. I think these trips are a bit too “bush” for Hanneke.
Day 7, Thu July 07 – Haven – Jigsaw – Wrist
As you can see by the title, our 7th day in WCPP went a bit differently than originally planned out. Originally the planhad called for a rest day on day 7 at Haven Lake – we were supposed to be fishing for Walleye the entire day! Thanks to an iffy forecast and the weather not being too conducive to fishing anyway (too windy to keep the boat still and a new moon affecting the fishing negatively) we decided to head to Jigsaw Lake on Day 7 to set up a camp there. Obviously that didn’t work out but I’ll let my journal do the talking once again.
Journal Entry – July 07 15:00 – Wrist Lake Camp
Yes. You read that title correctly. We are camped on Wrist Lake at the deluxe camp site, two full days ahead of schedule now! How the heck did that happen? Well, we were initially supposed to spend toady fishing around Haven Lake. Due to some extenuating factors including Niko not being quite as into fishing as I expected and yesterday’s disappointing weather, we decided that if the weather was decent today (i.e. not raining), we would go to Jigsaw Lake to camp instead of hanging out at Haven. Both lakes are supposed to be loaded with fish so it seemed like a good idea to get 875m of portaging out of the way if the weather was good.
After doing both the well maintained 300m portage into the lovely Gulch Lake and then the well marked 575m (more like 600) into Jigsaw, we could clearly see right away that camping anywhere around these lakes was only an option for the truly desperate paddler. Forest fires have gutted all of the shorelines and islands on Gulch and Jigsaw and it will be many, many years before anyone willingly sets up camp at either of those two lovely and unique lakes. After witnessing this devastation we were forced into a conversation about going on towards Wrist Lake. This would involve another 825m of portaging and I seriously doubted Niko would be impressed. When I mentioned we’d get a rest day in Wrist Lake for SURE, he was all in! We have now gained another rest day, which we’ll likely use on Mexican Hat Lake. It will be lovely to sleep in tomorrow since I’ve been waking up at 05:00 every day of the trip so far.
The 825m portage was long after already doing 875m of portaging but my injured foot held up amazingly well. Traveling through the burn was interesting. The portages today were actually very nice, especially considering the burns they pass through – FAR better than the manky mess from Rostoul to Cyclops to Haven! Niko hooked a Lake Trout on his 20′ Rapala on the way across Wrist’s northern end but it got off. In a surprising twist, despite almost all of Wrist being burnt since 2015 – including islands – the deluxe island camp site has been unaffected by fire.
Most of the trees there are dying anyway, thanks to a beetle of some sort. Nobody was camped here, thank goodness, and we have the whole lake to ourselves for 2 days. This solitude is what makes WCPP so special. With all the recent burns in the area, I think Wrist Lake will be much less traveled than it was a few years ago. The only access points in and out of it are now burnt, including the popular Mexican Hat / Nutria / Amber corridor. It sure looked different only 2 years ago when we came through here.
Journal Entry – July 07 20:28 – Wrist Lake Camp
I’m sitting by a warm fire, which is actually needed tonight thanks to a stiff, cool, Northerly breeze blowing directly into our kitchen area at camp. Niko’s wrapped up in the hammock behind me, watching more YouTube videos. One thing I forgot about when planning this trip is that time is different out here in the wilderness than back home in the city. In the concrete jungle our lives are always on the move, which makes time go much quicker. Out here I’m ‘stuck’ on a rock in a lake with absolutely nothing to make time go by quicker – which is a good thing of course! There’s no schedule that must be followed. We’ve only been out here for 7 days now but honestly it feels a LOT longer than that. I’m remembering our 11 day trip in 2011 – how we didn’t know how to handle the down time that is inevitable on longer trips. I didn’t realize at the time that knowing how to handle boredom and how to appreciate it and slow down is an essential skill of lengthier wilderness trips.
Time is such a personal resource that we all only have limited control over, I’m always surprised that folks seem to waste so damn much of it on pursuits they don’t even seem to enjoy that much. I feel that I’ve only just begun to understand that rather than running from “thing” to “thing” trying desperately to “enjoy it ALL” – there is much more peace and deep contentment in enjoying where I am right NOW. Having more time to enjoy things tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us. When I was younger I chased things and various goals because I thought they had some grand purpose that was bigger than me but made me somehow special. I no longer believe in any “grand purpose” behind my life, and I know that I’m not special, which makes time a much more precious resource for me now than ever before. I must continue to learn how to use it wisely. What I’ve discovered for myself is that what gives my life meaning isn’t some thing or some goal or even some grand experience. It’s very simply sharing time with those I love and maximizing the time I spend doing things that make myself and others happy. Small experiences are just as valuable as large ones. Enjoying a coffee or a walk on a sunny day with Hanneke is just as valuable as spending 16 days in WCPP with my son.
Day 8, Fri July 08 – Wrist Lake Rest Day
After pushing ahead of schedule by two days, thanks to the burnt shorelines on Jigsaw Lake, we almost had to take a day off on Wrist Lake at risk of having way too much time on our hands before meeting up with the other group in Glenn Lake on day 11. With only Mexican Hat being the major lake between Wrist and Glenn, we were left with plenty of time to do relatively little paddling over the next 3 or 4 days. Once again we had to deal with stiff winds on Wrist, slightly demotivating any major fishing excursions. We did go out for a short paddle around noon. Niko was fairly unmotivated to fish for some reason – partly because his casting rod sucked for cranking spoons. In the afternoon we had a much nicer paddle and caught some good sized Pike while fishing along shore.
Journal Entry – July 08 09:08 – Wrist Lake Camp
Wow. That felt good. Sleeping in until 09:00! I’ve been getting up at 05:00 for the past week so this was a much needed break for me. Niko is still sleeping. It’s another cloudy, cool morning. I have a nice little fire crackling near my feet and loons are going off in the distance. It’s a quintessential canoe trip sort of day in WCPP. Some years ago I would have been slightly disappointed by all the cool, cloudy days we’ve been having but honestly now I’m rather appreciating them for the most part. Canoeing is hard work without too much heat and humidity. The first 2-3 days were under oppressive heat and even sleeping was tough, never mind humping gear through the bush and mud! We are also enjoying the almost complete lack of any biting bugs thanks to the cool nights and the billions of non-biting flies have also dropped in numbers with the drop in temperatures.
When you’re living outside 24 hours a day you gain an appreciation for what folks in this great country of ours used to do full time. It brings us back to the humble roots of our ancestors when all of us lived under the sky. Minus the carbon fiber canoe and satellite phone of course. I woke up this morning thinking about my injured foot. It’s such a wonder that we’re out here at all. Nobody else has a clue how close I came to either calling off the entire trip or changing it dramatically from what it has become! Last week Wednesday I came within a hair’s width of canceling the entire plan – I could barely hobble on flat ground with no weight on my back. I was at a very, very low place back then. Yesterday’s 1700 meters of portaging proved to me that I should be able to finish this trip with no serious foot issues beyond some manageable pain.
Journal Entry – July 08 18:14 – Wrist Lake Camp
We’re just done eating supper. We had a nice warm afternoon with a mix of sun and cloud and a gusty, cool NE wind to blow the bugs out of our camp kitchen. Niko started the day feeling pretty low, which surprised me considering he got to sleep in until 10:00! He is missing his mother and the dogs – it’s been a long time away from them for him. I think this trip is proving much longer than it sounded back in February when he agreed to do it! He’s being a trooper though and I’m proud of him for sticking it out with a pretty good attitude so far.
We went out fishing for a couple of hours this afternoon and Niko’s mood improved dramatically when we started catching quite a few large Northern Pike along the NE shores of Wrist. It is amazing how long the days are out here – they’re easily twice as long as days seem back home. I took a food inventory earlier today and figured out that while we’ll make it on supplies, they are a bit lower than I’d like. Some of the flat bread is molding but the wraps are OK and we are back in Walleye country tomorrow. I texted Harold and asked if he could bring snacks for us which he readily agreed to do.
Journal Entry – July 08 21:24 – Wrist Lake Camp
I’m sitting on a warm rock having my evening cigar and decaf cup of coffee, watching the sun set in the west, reflecting off my gorgeous black Souris River Quetico 16. It doesn’t get much better than this! The wind has almost completely died down and the bugs haven’t realized that fact yet. I’m wearing my fleece jacket due to the cool weather – we should sleep great tonight. It’s going to be a 05:00 wake up tomorrow to try to beat the forecasted SE winds out of Wrist (we’ll be against them).
Sitting here now, in the still quiet of a WCPP evening, all alone in Wrist Lake, it’s hard not to think, “this is the life”. But I can assure you that when I was huddled under an 8×10′ flimsy blue tarp four days ago during a lightning storm I was thinking that I was an idiot for being out here! In a lot of ways this trip has been schizophrenic like that. Moments of fear, doubt and insecurity are followed by moments of absolute peace, happiness and contentment. I guess that’s the whole point isn’t it? When there’s nothing to distract from the keen sense of survival, the senses and mood swings are very in tune and focused on each moment. I’m learning that life is all about finding inner peace when it’s available and riding out the storms of life when it isn’t. I keenly miss Hann and Kaycie at this point. I think they would both love this evening and this camp site. The mosquitoes have apparently just realized that the wind is gone and it’s time for me to hit the sack and escape them.
Day 9, Sat July 09 – Wrist – Streak – Amber- Nutria – Mexican Hat
On our 9th day in Woodland Caribou we woke up early to try to beat the persistent winds that were forecast to once again be against us, this time from the east. We paddled out of Wrist Lake against a slight SE breeze at 07:30 in the morning, heading for the 100 meter portage into Streak Lake. After nailing a few pike near the portage, we completed the short carry through the fairly recent burn that didn’t affect the portage. As we put in on Streak Lake I noticed that the entire area seemed to be burnt – I didn’t remember this from our 2014 trip and think this must have been part of the June 2015 lightening fire that started around Wrist. Paddling through the burn was interesting and so was the 70m portage into Amber Lake from Streak. The fire had burnt through the portage but thankfully it was still functional. As we struggled along the always-manky 525m portage into Nutria from Amber we noticed that the portage itself was unaffected by the fires due to its muddy, damp nature but everything around the portage trail was burnt!
Niko was very nervous about the “seasonably shallow” section between Nutria and Mexican Hat. He really didn’t like our experience on Haven Creek in similarly marked terrain and I’d warned him about knee to thigh deep muck and beaver dams through this section. Of course, due to our apprehension, we breezed through it with no troubles whatsoever! The beaver dam was very well established and involved a 3 foot drop that we unloaded the canoe for, but other than that there was good water flow and zero mud. Excellent.
As we paddled against a stiff east wind to the Walleye factory campsite at the east end of the lake, we both crossed our fingers that it wouldn’t be populated. It wasn’t. For the 4th day in a row we had a lake completely to ourselves. I guess one of the reasons I’m willing to drive 1900 km to Woodland Caribou Park is that having a backcountry lake to yourself is commonplace there – even in peak summer season. Since our 2nd day in Telescope we’d only met a few other paddlers and never camped with anyone else nearby.
Journal Entry – July 09 15:39 – Mexican Hat Camp
I have found the most delightful spot on a small rock ledge at the Mexican Hat camp that allows me to soak my injured foot in the cool water while I enjoy a cigar and a full view of the lovely falls across the small bay. It feels great to be back in one of the most popular and familiar spots in WCPP – the so-called Walleye Factory Site which accommodates catching fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner right from camp! We had no issues getting here today and were in camp by noon. The portage from Amber to Nutria was as wet and mucky as ever but the mudfest from Nutria to Mexican Hat was nonexistent. We’ve been paddling against the wind for most of the trip and today was no different. Thankfully it was only moderate though. The forecast has been calling for rough weather early next week so Niko and I are trying to plan where we should rest while waiting for the other group. Monday and Tuesday are both looking grim at this point and have been for a while already. Niko woke up in a great mood today. He wasn’t amused recently when we set up the hammock only to have a bird crap on it within 5 seconds! He says it “smells”. He’s also nervous about all the spiders we’ve encountered. Sometimes he’ll stop paddling for a few seconds before stabbing something near his feet – it’s always a tiny spider of some sort!
We are slowly running low on some food. Harold is bringing us some snacks as we’ve run out of them for a few days already. Teenagers eat a lot more than I expected. I was just chatting with Niko how today feels like one of our best days so far – even though it’s now well over a week since we put in to Onnie Lake. We agreed that most folks need a week or more to detox from their normal lives and settle into wilderness life. Weekend and week long trips are still awesome, but they simply don’t do for the human soul what a good long 10+ days out here can do. It’s hard to explain to folks who have never done a trip like this what it does at a “soul level”. Many people are scared silly by the thought of being out here all alone in the wilderness but they don’t realize that once you get over that fear you become part of it yourself! That experience cannot be shortcut – it needs time and experience to soak in and permeate you. It is earned through huddling under a tarp through tstorms, sleeping on numerous rocky campsites, struggling through muddy bogs, millions of mosquitoes and flies and thousands of paddle strokes. It is earned by catching and cleaning your own food and setting up new camps, day after day.
I believe that many people do want to feel the deep sense of peace and satisfaction that I’m experiencing as I write this but very few are willing to put in the necessary time and effort to earn it. Even Niko isn’t fully aware of what this trip is doing for me, but some day he’ll realize it too. I’ve seen him go from extreme homesickness to giddy happiness within hours so he’s learning the value of getting off the grid. At the very least he’s learning that if you stick with it, you can achieve amazing things that are difficult to attain. The forest just north, east and south of our campsite is blackened from the recent 2016 fire that swept through much of southern WCPP this year. There are patches of green where the fire avoided healthy Birch trees but the bug-infested pines have all been turned to ash. I’m not sure how our site avoided the burn – probably thanks to the falls nearby. Most of this site is dead anyway – thanks to the pine beetle.
Journal Entry – July 09 20:12 – Mexican Hat Camp
Niko has finally reached 60 fish! The weather has also done another ‘switcheroo‘ on us and like always on this trip – it’s not for the better. The forecast changed within hours from a sun and cloud mix to an 80% chance of tstorms starting at noon tomorrow. I have texted with Harold and we have agreed to meet on Tuesday at the campsite closest to the Optic to Glenn portages on Glenn. Niko and I have a lot less distance to travel than the other group so we won’t complain too loudly about the grim forecasts for early next week! Initially we were going to sleep in tomorrow and leisurely make our way to Glenn Lake later on but now I think we’ll be up early again to beat the weather coming in at noon.
Day 10, Sun July 10 – Mexican Hat – Middle Glenn
After planning to move camp on our 10th day in WCPP, I changed my mind just after writing the last journal entry the night before. I realized that with only 15km left to travel before getting to the east camp on Upper Glenn and 3 days to travel there, we were getting too worked up over the potential for tstorms and should chillax a bit more before starting over there. We woke up to clear skies and a gorgeous morning and I thoroughly enjoyed relaxing around camp with coffee and cigars while fishing for Walleye and reading my books. I’ll let my journal do the talking from here.
Journal Entry – July 10 09:57 – Mexican Hat Camp
Yep! You read the title correctly! We’re still at MH camp. Last night I started thinking that we were getting all worked up about tstorms today and traveling when we only have 15kms left to the camp site on Glenn Lake and essentially 3 days to do that distance. We could easily do the whole distance today but what’s the point? Then we sit there for 2 more days waiting for the other group! Of course, I assumed we’d wake up to clouds today but instead it’s a perfectly blue sky and sun even though our last forecast said cloud and 90% POP with tstorms. Hmmm. This could be a reverse repeat of the Haven Lake travel day when we had 100% opposite of the forecast with clouds instead of sun! I still don’t trust the weather despite the sun – the pressure has been dropping steadily over the past 24 hours or so. Niko woke up and told me that we only have 4.5 more “work days” left on our trip. He’s right! 1 more day to Glenn and then 3.5 days with the group and WCPP 2016 will be over. Amazing how quickly these trips fly by despite their length.
Journal Entry – July 10 17:43 – Glenn Lake Island Camp
WTF?! Yep again. You read that title correctly! We are on a lovely island site in Glenn Lake right now. So what happened to waiting in MH? Well – as usual, the weather happened. Or in our case this time – it didn’t happen! Niko is currently competing with a local loon, singing to himself in the hammock but a few hours ago he wasn’t quite so content and happy. Yesterday afternoon we got a weather text telling us that today would be a perfect travel day – sunny and warm and clear. A few hours later, another text for the longer term forecast seemed to indicate that there was a 90% chance of precipitation with tstorms for today. The changing wx made it very hard to plan what to do so we decided that if it was cloudy at 05:00 we would rest at Mexican Hat on Sunday and proceed to Glenn on Monday. Well, at 05:00 the sky was cloudy so that was that. When I later woke up at 07:00, the sky was completely cleared out but I decided to wait and let Niko sleep in a bit. Niko got up at 08:00 and we puttered around camp, both of us commenting often on how unlikely tstorms and precipitation seemed in the perfect weather.
Finally at noon, an updated wx went back to assuring us that we were ‘wasting’ a perfectly good travel day. CRAP. Here we were with a HELPING WIND sitting on our butts when the forecast for Mon / Tues was pretty grim and we had some distance to go! We made a hasty decision to pack up camp and get the heck outta Dodge! It wasn’t easy to pack up and start paddling in the heat of the day at noon, but soon we were bending the paddles with a nice helping SE wind blowing us to the portages from Mexican Hat to Glenn under a blazing summer sky. We got through the last portage into Glenn around 14:00 and caught some much-needed Walleye for supper – we are low enough on food that we are relying on fish to keep us full now! (No pressure like hunger to catch fish!)
I managed to put 4 smallish fish on the stringer and we paddled off for the delightful “Bear Camp”, so-called thanks to our 2014 experience where a stubborn black bear hung around our camp the whole time we were there. While we blew towards camp, I decided to check other options on Glenn, considering that the SE winds could help blow us all the way to the northern end of the lake – why stop only half way down? I found a potentially excellent island camp and we immediately decided to go for it. The extra 4km went fairly easily and obviously now we have a pretty short distance to our final camp before meeting the group on Tuesday. We can either stay on the island tomorrow and travel Tuesday, or more likely make the 6.5km dash to the east camp tomorrow and take a day off on Tuesday. I’m pretty sure this is the only island camp on the large and gorgeous Glenn Lake. It’s nice to be back in mature pine forests again after being in burnt or partially burnt areas since Haven Lake.
Journal Entry – July 10 20:31 – Glenn Lake Island Camp
We are many days now since seeing another human being. It feels wonderful. A cheery, warm fire is being stoked by the ever present SE winds that are finally dying down a bit but still stronger than normal for evenings in the park. On hindsight, we’ve lost a lot of evening fishing and scenery paddles thanks to stiff evening winds on this trip. Not a huge deal, but I do like going out for evening paddles which usually reward with wildlife, fish and nice lighting. Rather than being humid, like earlier today, it’s rather chilly now. I did some reviewing of maps today and realized that the group trip is quite short this year at only around 75km! Considering a normal trip length for the 5.5 day option is over 100km, it’s no wonder Harold initially wanted to paddle further west on Glenn.
I think, given the weather this year, they will be happy to have a closer camp on Tuesday. The big unknown is mother nature who is looking grim at this point to be honest. We’ll see. In the end it’s all about playing the cards you’re dealt which is exactly why we’re in a completely different camp than planned tonight! There’s a poor Osprey screaming constantly at us every time we move in our site. Thankfully it calms down when we don’t move or sleep could be an issue. Time for one last cigar before bed.
Day 11, Mon July 11 – Glenn Island Camp – Upper Glenn – East Camp
Journal Entry – July 11 08:06 – Glenn Lake East Camp
Even though it’s only 8 in the morning, we’ve already arrived at the east camp site in Glenn! We are completely set up and hunkered down for whatever is getting thrown our way today. I already texted Hanneke a “Happy Anniversary” message, which she replied to in surprise! She totally forgot about it but pretended she remembered. Boy – we didn’t feel like paddling this morning but I woke up at 05:00 and saw that the wind was blowing against us again, but thankfully still relatively calm. The skies were reasonable so we made the decision to grab a couple of granola bars and book it the 5-6km eastward to the east camp site before anything could blow in. Ironically, the day after moving camp the latest we will on this trip (noon), we have now moved the earliest. In a clear demonstration of my healing foot, we once AGAIN forgot my darn hiking pole when we left camp this morning! This time, instead of turning around for it we left it there for someone else to find. We just didn’t have the energy or will power to paddle that kilometer twice. 😐
I wasn’t sure we made the right decision but now the clouds have gone solid gray and have lowered considerably and the wind has increased dramatically again from the SE. We’re looking like genius’ now! Niko is relaxing in the tent and I have some dry wood sitting under a well-tied down tarp. When we first spotted camp our hearts fell when we saw gear sitting on a point nearby – indicating someone was already there. Thankfully the gear was a boat motor and some cached fuel – presumably from Optic Lodge. That’s probably why this camp is so deluxe too. We have two days here now, so we’re going to read and journal and fish as much as possible. Another few hours and this is officially the longest canoe trip of my life! In 2011 we did an 11 day trip that ended in the Leano parking lot at around 10:00.
Journal Entry – July 11 16:05 – Glenn Lake East Camp
After a delightful snooze in the tent and some early supper, I’m feeling pretty darn good about life. I’m sitting here on a rock near camp watching the potential storm clouds soar overhead. Somehow it hasn’t rained or stormed yet today – I’m super happy for the group coming in that it’s turned out so well for them considering the grim forecast. Despite always trying to be positive, it really sucks to start a 5.5 day trip with rain and storms! It’s bloody humid though – it’s like looking at smoke when I gaze into the distance. I’m now officially on the longest backcountry trip of my life. So how do I feel about it? Well, surviving on packed goods and off the land for over a week is a helluva lot longer and harder than it seems when you’re planning the trip from the comfort of home! Time slows down significantly out here when you’re outside 24×7 and up from dawn to dusk with no major distractions. Take today for example. We are ‘stuck’ at camp for 12+ hours. Nothing to do but read, sleep, fish and journal. This is fantastic, of course, but it makes for a very long day. How many folks could do this at home? In the hustle and bustle of a large city like Calgary, 45 minutes goes by in one boring meeting. Another hour to and another hour back home from work each day. Another hour making supper and then another working out to burn it off. The hours just melt away when you’re constantly on the move.
The pace of this trip has been MUCH slower than what I’ve ever done in the past, on any trip whether canoe or mountain. Overall I’m really enjoying it. The slow pace has forced me to relax, meditate, journal and read – all things that de-stress and re-motivate. As I continue to age (!!) I will almost certainly keep slowing down in pursuit of enjoyment. To be honest, I don’t even remember why I used to go so hard and fast in my climbing pursuits. I mean, they’re almost all exactly the same, so what was the damnable hurry to see the next peak or lake or fish? I think there’s a simple and a more complicated answer as to why younger people rush from objective to objective in life. The simple answer is that they are looking for validation in quantity rather than quality. The deeper answer is that they are running from themselves and from the things in their lives that are stressing them out without an easy way to resolve that situation. When I was younger I had to impress more people, make more money and figure out why I existed. Now I don’t care what others think, I no longer need as much money and I no longer care much why I exist, only that I continue to exist!
One obvious result of me slowing down my approach and pace on this trip compared to others, is the significantly reduced amount of fishing I’m doing. I’ve still caught way over 100 fish so far but I find myself choosing a cigar and my book over going out to catch yet another Walleye or Pike most evenings. Over the past year or so I’ve come to accept the fact that I’m not a hardcore adventurer or climber like so many others on social media seem to be. I’m more into endurance and scenic adventure than risk and great selfies I guess. Oh well. This trip has given me a good vibe for solo paddling in the future (in some ways paddling with a 15 y.o. son is harder than going solo). I’m also starting to realize that while loved ones around me are happy and healthy I should take advantage of that rather than only going solo. Ironically, being in a prescribed life previously made me want to run away from it all much more than nowadays with my new found freedom. There’s nothing for me to run from anymore!
Day 12, Tue July 12 – Upper Glenn Lake – East Camp Rest Day
Tuesday, July 12 was also the 12th and final day of Niko and my father / son trip in WCPP. We were both extremely satisfied with the trip so far, but were also looking forward to meeting up with Harold, Bill, Jon and Dylan for the final four days of our adventure. For Niko it meant hanging out with more than one other person – he’s a team player. For me it meant sharing the everyday stresses of wilderness travel including food, setting up camp, dealing with potential injuries or illnesses and decisions about routes and weather. Things we take for granted in the civilized world, like medical care and shelter simply aren’t available in a world of rock, water and trees.
The weather on Monday was far more lenient than the forecast suggested in our area! Later we learned that Kenora got hammered by storms, as did other parts of central and northern Ontario, so we got very lucky. Tuesday was kind of the reverse of that good fortune. The wx called for a mix of sun and cloud but starting about mid day rain squalls started blowing through every hour or so. The good thing was a lack of tstorms and the sporadic nature of the rain, the bad thing was the strong SE winds that the group would fight down Optic Lake. It was bad enough at some points during the day that I questioned if they’d make Glenn Lake – but then I remembered their experience and figured they’d have no trouble.
Journal Entry – July 12 14:18 – Glenn Lake East Camp
The weather is sure a mixed bag lately – and today is no different. We awoke at 06:30 to rain on the tent. WTH? It’s supposed to be a mix of sun and cloud today with little chance of precipitation! Two hours later I was sitting under the tarp with warm sunshine hitting my face… It was starting to look like a nicer day again and we even hoped to get out fishing when the winds increased again from the SW and the clouds came back. An updated text warned of more rain this evening and tomorrow with SW to NW winds. Oh well. Whatever comes, we’ll deal with it as always. It’s been 6 full days since we last saw another human being – way back on entry to Haven Lake. I love this park for that very reason!
As the father / son portion of our trip wraps up and we enter the last 4 days, nostalgia is already setting in for us. Niko and I were chatting about how awful my foot was at the start of the trip when I could barely hobble around on it. This morning I noticed I could almost walk normally on it now – the rest days certainly helped that situation. It’s hard to fully appreciate how amazing it is that not only did we make it out here, but we also managed to do the full loop that I’d planned as an absolute best case scenario! I still don’t know if it was wise or foolish to embark with such an injury, but nonetheless, here we sit. This trip has reinforced that no matter what else, you have to be willing to push through mental and physical challenges in order to accomplish special things – even when it seems foolish and impossible. I clearly remember how depressed and overwhelmed I felt the morning of the day we left Calgary – dealing with the injury and doubts that it was giving me. Now I’m swaying gently in a hammock on Glenn Lake with about 2 dozen flies, song birds, loons and some guys on YouTube keeping me company, feeling more relaxed than I have in at least 2 years. Some days life is good.
Finally, around supper time I spotted two tiny dots at the far south end of Glenn Lake! I pulled out my 800mm lens and confirmed that it was indeed our group, bending their paddles as they finally got a strong wind at their backs. It was pretty darn cool to meet up with them all the way out there on a tiny rock point in Glenn Lake. What was even cooler was the 4 or 5 nice sized Walleye they brought along for supper! After greeting each other and confirming that they were having a blast on the trip so far – including severe wind and waves on Optic – they proceeded to set up their tents and I started cleaning and preparing the fish for supper. Camp was much noisier and busier than we were used to, but in a good way as the team settled under our tiny blue tarp (we hardly fit) and dug into the fresh Walleye that I was cooking up for everyone. We swapped stories about their first 2 days and our previous 12.
One thing I immediately noted when the other groups arrived was the casualness they displayed with their boats and gear compared to Niko and I over the previous two weeks. We were used to being very, very cautious with our only means of travel and our precious gear! Every time we weren’t physically connected to the canoe it was either pulled way up on shore or tied off to a tree – usually both. Traveling solo puts much more pressure on consequences like a canoe blowing off it’s mooring or spilling a bottle of cooking gas! The other guys casually pulled their boats onto the rocky point and simply left them there despite a pretty stiff wind blowing against them, not something we’d even consider when it was only the two of us.
Journal Entry – July 12 22:30 – Glenn Lake East Camp
Well, they made it! Niko and I were sitting under our tarp peering into the distance when sure enough – there they were! The first people in 6 days were a sight for sore eyes, especially when they came bearing snacks and even freshly caught Walleye! I cleaned and cooked the fish while the others set up their camps. Now we’re sitting under a smoky, but cheerful fire with light rain spitting on the tarp above us. It has re-energized Niko and I to meet up with the group. We are prepared for another rainy day tomorrow but at least it’s warm and the rain has been sporadic so far. Wrapping up the trip on Thu / Fri / Sat with good weather would sure be ideal… We’ll see I guess. It’s strange that the trip is rapidly coming to an end, but it’s the best way to end it, namely with a group of friends.
Day 13, Wed July 13 – Upper Glenn – Optic – Telescope
Finally, after almost 48 hours ‘stuck’ at the Glenn Lake East Camp, Niko and I joined the group on Day 13 for the start of the last half of a loop we’d started almost two weeks previous when we first put in to Onnie Lake. There were two loops on our 140km route. The first was only half completed when we started and completed the second. The first loop involved Onnie, Telescope, Optic, Glenn, back to Telescope, Hatchet, Douglas, Spider and Onnie. The second loop included Glenn, Hansen, Rostoul, Haven, Jigsaw, Wrist, Amber, Mexican Hat and back to Glenn again.
It felt good to be paddling again as we bid adieu to Glenn and started up the two 250m portages into Optic Lake. The weather was humid and wet but we avoided most of the lingering rain showers for the morning at least. Another benefit of meeting the group was sleeping in until 07:00 every day and not paddling until at least 09:00. Niko really liked that part. Optic Lake was a bit choppy and of course we were partially against the wind, but we managed to paddle across it fairly quickly. As I trolled a 20′ Rapala out of the narrows, just SW of the lodge, I hooked a large fish. It was the biggest Walleye I’ve ever caught. We also caught Pike by trolling, but alas, no Lake Trout. We watched a couple of float planes take off – carrying clients out of the wilderness with them. The lodge looked deserted as we paddled closely past it and entered the Rostoul River towards Telescope Lake.
The day was still fairly young as we paddled from the 60m towards the final 100m portage from Optic to Telescope. We had a stringer of Walleye and wanted to stop for lunch, so that’s exactly what we did! We found a convenient ‘bush site’ cut into the trees just past the 60m portage and happily set up a large tarp and started filleting the fish for a shore lunch. At first the tarp seemed a bit superfluous but within 30 minutes we were being hammered by a pretty violent rainstorm and were very happy to have it! This was just the start of a somewhat chaotic weather system. After our casual lunch we completed the 100m portage and dipped the paddles into the now-familiar Telescope Lake. Niko and I took one glance behind us and leaned into our paddles HARD! The sky to the NW looked very ominous and dark clouds were building and racing towards us.
We didn’t want to take undue chances and despite not hearing thunder we really dug into the water and heaved the canoe towards the 3km distant island that we planned to camp on. The other guys weren’t ready for our aggression and we quickly left them in the dust. They weren’t as gun shy as we were about storms I guess. We managed to make the island site before any rain and even got our tent and tarp set up before the other two canoes even touched rock! Sure enough! Within ten minutes the skies were opened up and sheets of rain and wind were slamming our camp from the NW. Talk about good timing. We even heard one peel of thunder but thankfully that was it for tstorm action. The rest of the day was characterized by rain and a strong north wind which rapidly cooled into the evening.
Journal Entry – July 13 17:22 – Telescope Island Camp
Phew! We just out ran THAT storm! Niko and I started out from our last portage into Telescope Lake when we made the mistake of looking at the clouds building up behind us. Dang. Black, ominous clouds were building quickly and moving our way. I guestimated we had 3km to camp and should bend the paddles and outrace whatever was going to obviously slam into us sooner than later. After our lunch time experience with an intense downpour, we knew what was likely coming and we both suspected there could easily by a tstorm embedded in the next rain event. We probably crested 8km/h across the lake! We even managed to get our tent set up before the storm blasted through. The group huddled under the large tarps the other guys brought through several rain storms with some thunder peeling overhead – but not much, thankfully. Now it seems to be settling a bit. Today’s weather was much better than we were expecting for the most part. I’m going to cook up some supper.
Journal Entry – July 13 22:00 – Telescope Island Camp
The barometric pressure is rising steadily but the clouds are still low and grey and despite finding a great place for an evening fire out of the stiff / cool north winds, the rain has chased Niko and I to our tent. It’s nice and cozy in here with the sound of wind in the trees above and waves crashing into the shore below. The other guys are still up – Niko and I are so used to waking up early that I’m the first one up each morning even without setting an alarm. We’re really hoping for stable weather the last two full days in WCPP.
Day 14, Thu July 14 – Telescope – Lac Lammont – Embryo – Upper Hatchet (Caribou)
The two week mark of our trip proved to be an excellent day in WCPP. The evening of the 13th and morning of the 14th were so cold most of us were in toques and fleece. This trip was quickly becoming the story of wild weather swings. Monday night was so hot nobody could sleep, and now Wednesday night was so cold we needed layers to sleep! I’ve certainly never worn a toque on a canoe trip as much as I did on this one, I’ll make sure I continue to bring warm clothes even on summer trips. A stiff north wind was still blowing on Thursday morning, but the sky was clearing to the north and the cloud cover slowly dissipated until it was completely blue sky around noon.
Journal Entry – July 14 08:44 – Telescope Camp
I’m sitting on top of a rock cliff about 20 feet above Telescope Lake on the south side of our island camp, ducking the stiff and cool north wind that’s still blowing at us. It was so cool last night that the bugs aren’t even out and Niko still has his toque on! The past 5 or 6 days have been extremely unsettled. It’s worked out OK for us but it would be nice to get some sunshine and pleasant breezes before our trip concludes. I am experiencing mixed feelings about the trip ending. It now seems to have gone by so quickly when only 4 or 5 days ago it seemed like it would never end.
Originally I had very high hopes for the fishing in Embryo Lake. On day two, while Niko and I were camped in Telescope, a couple in a canoe had assured us of excellent Walleye fishing there and had the evidence on a stringer in their boat. Possibly due to the cold front that was clearly moving through, or the stiff wind we were canoeing against, or maybe just some bad luck, we didn’t do that well fishing on Embryo. We caught some pike, but even trolling Rapala’s across the lake didn’t result in (m)any fish. The SW portion of the paddle was through some pretty sublime canoe territory though, including a short, but gorgeous river section between Lac Lammont and Embryo Lake. We drifted slowly through this section, enjoying the warm sunshine and lack of waves. The west end of Embryo was surprisingly shallow for a long way – apparently there are floating islands on that end too.
The paddle up the main section of Embryo was (of course) against the wind, but the waves weren’t as big as I was expecting, thanks to our route up the west shoreline. We spotted some of the lodge’s buildings as we paddled across the middle of the lake towards Embryo. This would be the start of a very “lodged” section of WCPP – far more than I was expecting, but not a huge deal. Upon arriving home I did some more research and realized that all the lodges and boat caches we spotted from Onnie to Telescope, Embryo, Upper Hatchet (Caribou), Hatchet and Douglas were from the Viking Island Lodge on Douglas Lake.
The boat caches made finding the portages ridiculously easy. All we had to do was look for shiny aluminum boats and we knew where the trails were! Of course, the trails were all in excellent condition too – being kept open and regularly maintained for guests of Viking Island Lodge. Despite there being no camp sites marked on our map on Upper Hatchet, aka, Caribou Lake, we managed to find one almost right away! Originally we were going to look on the large island at the center of the lake, but thanks to the persistent wind, when we found a perfectly good camp on a rocky point just past the 450m portage from Embryo, we thought we might as well stay there. We met a couple of guests from Viking Island Lodge just as we were wrapping up the 450m portage. They’d come all the way from Douglas Lake, using boat caches and portage trails the whole way. They mentioned catching 63 Walleye out of a fishing hole on Douglas that morning and were now off to Embryo to try their luck there. Obviously they had a few maps from the lodge, showing them where the good fishing was! They came cruising back later in the day, telling us of another 18 Walleye caught on Embryo and suggesting we go back there to check it out. Obviously they didn’t realize that there’s a difference between human and motor powered travel… Nobody in our group felt like humping an extra 1km (450m each way) with a boat on our heads just for a few more Walleye.
Despite the wind, we decided to check out Robertson Lake after getting camp set up early and with excellent weather conditions. Robertson is a shallow lake located just off Upper Hatchet and is accessed via a short 100m portage. As Dylan and Harold soon found out though – the map didn’t indicate that this portage is rarely traveled and contains a nasty little surprise part way along it in the form of a hornet’s nest! After paying for the entry with pain, we hoped the fishing would be good and it was – but only for small to medium sized Pike. After a short, but enjoyable stay in this small lake, we delicately tip-toed back past the hornets and bucked some large waves back to camp for supper. Thanks to the strong evening winds, we didn’t venture out that evening (a common theme for the trip overall) but enjoyed a great fire, lack of bugs and some excellent conversation. Late that night we even spotted some northern lights! I was planning to capture the Milky Way over the lake but the moon and lack of a completely set sun even at midnight ruined those plans. So far, our hopes for an excellent final couple of days in WCPP were coming true.
Journal Entry – July 14 15:40 – Upper Hatchet Camp
The wind is still quite stiff from the north as we prepare camp, set up tents and get ready for an afternoon fishing expedition to Robertson Lake. I have now settled into a pattern where I don’t miss showers, burgers or social media one bit. I miss Hann and KC but that’s about it. The rest of the group seems to be starting their “detox phase” where they are noticing the lack of greasy food and beer – proving my point that it takes 4-6 days for city folks to get used to the wilderness after being away from it for a while. I’m not sure I will be satisfied with a shorter canoe trip again! I think there’s a huge difference between surviving 5 or 6 days in the wild and coming back to civilization tired and sore and living under the sky for 2+ weeks and finishing relaxed, refreshed and rejuvenated.
Day 15, Fri July 15 – Upper Hatchet (Caribou) – Hatchet – Douglas – Spider – Onnie
Our 15th and final full day in WCPP proved to be one of our longest as well. Thankfully we spent it under a gorgeous sky and perfect canoeing conditions. As we trolled our Rapala’s out of Upper Hatchet Lake I finally managed to catch an elusive Lake Trout! The crappy part about catching it was that we wanted it for lunch, so I had to lug it around for a half a day!
Journal Entry – July 15 07:15 – Upper Hatchet Camp
I’m ‘enjoying’ a hot cup of instant oatmeal (!!) while listening to a million chirping birds, an early rising fly and a distant loon. Float planes are cruising the southern sky, presumably flying guests in and out of Douglas Lake. This is definitely the nicest morning we’ve had in over a week. The sun is shining, there is a gentle breeze and there are no clouds in the sky. I was reflecting earlier to Harold and Bill that an earlier version of me probably would have been a bit disappointed in the weather we’ve experienced over this entire trip. Right now I find myself not caring though. The only negative thing the weather produced was a lack of evening excursions due to stiff winds, which I’m not sure Niko would have felt like doing anyway.
So how does it feel to be on our last full day in WCPP for possibly a few years? I have mixed feelings right now. I’m happy to be going back to Hanneke of course, but I’m not ready to return to the rat race yet either. I can honestly say without hesitation that being completely off the grid for over 2 weeks now has been by far the best part of this trip. The goal of this trip was to lose both physical and mental weight. I’m worried that re-entering the concrete jungle is going to start adding to both almost immediately. I will certainly do more of these longer trips. I’m not sure yet if I’m ready to do long solo trips. I might have to work my way up to it by doing shorter ones first.
As we finished the excellent 450m portage into Hatchet Lake we agreed that we should go slowly and fish our way south to the next portage to Douglas. We wanted to take advantage of the perfect wind and weather and didn’t want to get into Spider Lake too early. Harlan had assured us there was camping available on Spider Lake and that was our destination for the day.
For some reason our plan to slowly drift and cast down the lovely Hatchet Lake didn’t quite pan out but Hatchet Lake is a place I will certainly revisit in the future. It’s a deep, cold, clear lake that must have some big fish on it! I caught a couple of nice sized Pike while casting and trolling deep diving Rapalas. As we completed the excellent portage into Douglas Lake we met an older gentleman and young boy who were cleaning up a gasoline spill at the boat cache on Hatchet. Apparently a bear had been into the gasoline supply there! This confirmed Harlan’s caution to me about gas – apparently black bears really like it. We also ran into two canoes launching into Hatchet, coming from Douglas and Onnie Lakes. They assured us there was good Walleye fishing in both Spider and Onnie and one lady even told us to look for some “rocks out in the lake” in Spider which apparently housed hungry Walleye! Things were looking good for a camp in Spider. We enjoyed the Lake Trout I caught in Upper Hatchet on a deluxe campsite just after the portage into Douglas Lake. It was a very warm day already at this point.
We canoed across the south end of the large (and thankfully very calm) Douglas Lake, evening spotting the Viking Island Lodge in the far distance. I used my telephoto lens to get a picture of it. We noted a few nice campsites as we paddled towards the outlet of Douglas Creek which drains from Spider and Onnie Lakes and was our exit route from WCPP. Douglas Creek is a gorgeous, typical WCPP stream with some fairly shallow and rocky sections that sport lots of canoe paint! We managed to paddle against the moderate current through some narrow and shallow sections, but didn’t quite make it to Spider Lake without getting wet feet. A highlight moment was spotting a cow moose feeding underwater and then wading upstream away from us.
Good thing it was warm out anyway. As we finally entered Spider Lake around 15:00 I was ready to set up camp and relax for a bit. Alas, the probability of finding a decent camp site looked grim. The shoreline was too swampy and bushy and I started to have serious doubts about camping there. We decided to canoe ~1km to the far SE side of the lake after rounding a corner and spotting what looked to be the only possible camp site. My 800mm lens couldn’t pick out an obvious fire ring but I reluctantly followed the others.
A closer inspection of the lake proved my gut feeling correct. If we were truly desperate the site could work, but it looked bushy and wouldn’t easily fit 3 tents. 1 or 2 tents could probably fit but with Onnie only 5km or so away it wasn’t work bush camping for our last night. We turned the boats back to Douglas Creek. On our way out of Spider I spotted the only rocks that weren’t attached to land and yelled to the guys that we should try for some Walleye. Sure enough! Niko caught a nice sized one on his very first cast to the shallow structure! We spent the next 30 minutes catching our supper before heading back up Douglas Creek towards Onnie. I was tired and hot at this point, but we dug the paddles in and enjoyed the lovely scenery to Onnie Lake. By the time we finally rolled up to a deluxe island site on Onnie at around 17:00 we were more than ready to set up camp and enjoy the Walleye from Spider for supper. Ironically the last full day in WCPP was also the longest at almost 20km.
Journal Entry – July 15 21:05 – Onnie Lake Camp
Well, 15 days later and we are back in Onnie Lake! We were originally planning to camp in Spider Lake but the only reasonable camp site wasn’t very reasonable so here we sit, on a deluxe site in Onnie. I didn’t drink enough today and as a consequence I have a bit of a headache now. It was a gorgeous last day in the park though, so I’m definitely not complaining. We had blue skies, great winds, big fish and lots of paddling through old growth and up Douglas Creek which was very nice. We are sitting by a nice campfire with a cool evening breeze blowing through. You know it’s a successful trip when it’s a perfectly calm, great night to go out fishing and exploring and we’re all sitting here together around a fire, eating and sharing any remaining snacks and simply enjoying the evening atmosphere. I’ve commented several times in this journal already, that this is the first canoe trip where I didn’t feel the need to fish all the time but rather felt like taking more time to simply be in the moment and enjoy relaxing for a bit. I guesstimate that I still must have caught around 200 fish this trip, which isn’t too shabby anyway! I certainly cooked and ate more Walleye than on any previous trip.
It’s strange, but I also don’t feel nearly as exhausted as I usually do after a 5.5 day trip. Niko and I have been out here long enough now that it doesn’t register that there’s another life waiting for us at the truck – which is only around 3km away from us right now. It might as well be a million the way I’m feeling right now. A very large part of me certainly doesn’t want to go back tomorrow. The concrete wilderness that awaits me can’t touch this rocky, watery, treed one in terms of mental solitude and relaxed focus. It’s hard to get across to folks who have never done a trip like this, away from the ‘comforts’ of modern city life, how the focus of survival and living under the sky 24×7 forces you into a state of happy repetition where life is simple and the days are wonderfully long.
Day 16 – Onnie Egress
After paddling all the way to Onnie the day before, we awoke to perfect conditions again on Saturday, July 16 and reluctantly packed up camp for the final time. Sure! Niko and I were happy to see Hann, Kaycie and the dogs again, but I also sensed that even Niko was also sad to be leaving our now-familiar wilderness home. My favorite part of this trip was obviously spending precious, focused time with my son in the beauty of the Canadian wilds, but a close second was seeing how he went from a city kid to a confident canoeist, catching and releasing his own fish, eating food he wouldn’t normally touch and growing into someone I don’t think he realized he could be. There’s not much more to say except a last journal entry and a statement of simple fact. I’ll be back.
Journal Entry – July 16 07:57 – Onnie Lake Deluxe Camp
These trips always end the same way. In this case, it didn’t seem like our trip would end for the 15 days we were out here and now, way too soon, it’s coming to a close. At the end of the longest self-supported wilderness canoe trip I’ve done, the sun is shining and reflecting off the waves of Onnie Lake, seemingly beckoning me to forget the portage trail to the road and re-enter Woodland Caribou Park for another two weeks! Honestly, I could do it at this point. If it was feasible, I’d go another two weeks. And maybe two beyond that even!
Niko is sitting next to me and we’re chatting about the trip. It’s amazing how he’s changed from the first few days we were out here. He’s gone from tentative and worried to confident and strong. I’d paddle with him any time, any where. I don’t have any illusions that this trip has changed his entire course of life or anything but I think we bonded very well on this little adventure and I’m sure that we’ll talk and think about it many times over our lives. I only hope that in some small way he learned the incredible value of disconnecting from society and using the peaceful tranquility of the wilderness to reconnect back with himself. Even if he never does another canoe trip! I certainly feel re-energized from this experience. Another week of ‘glamping’ in Whiteshell Provincial Park with family will get me a long way to feeling ready and able to work another year and support the people that I love more than anything else. Until next time, Woodland Caribou Park, I bid you a fond adieu.
I thought I should include a lessons learned at the end of this trip report since it’s not long enough as it is! Actually, I’ve had a number of folks ask about the fact that I took my teenage son along and I know people are often interested in gear too.
- Tripping alone with a fairly inexperienced teenager. This was probably the biggest risk I took. Other than a trip when Niko was 13 (which we ended a day early because he wanted to go home), my son had no previous experience with a wilderness trip like this one. On hindsight, I think tripping with another teen and adult would have been perfect. I tried to get others to join, but many people can’t (or won’t) get two weeks off for a trip like this. In order to keep him interested and engaged I made some adjustments on this trip over others I’ve done;
- Less fishing and exploring after getting to camp to conserve energy and enthusiasm.
- Letting him bring electronics and supplying charge devices for them and putting up with them (!! – YouTube cached on his phone and no headphones).
- I did most of the camp set up and all of the cooking etc., so that he wouldn’t have to stress about it – different kids will have different attitudes towards this as some will want to do more around camp and some will want to do less.
- Much shorter days than usual – we were at camp by noon most days.
- More junk food – he’s a teenager!!
- Very secure camps and daily updates via a satellite phone to allow for better planning and less nasty storm ‘surprises’.
- Talk to him for months before the trip, include him in the planning, get him excited about tripping.
- By him his own gear as much as feasible. This made him invested in the trip and he took care of his own stuff like knives, fishing equipment and camping gear.
- More comfortable camps including a hammock and a good tent.
- Be willing to assist him with tasks that might get annoying after a while like taking ALL of his Northern Pike off his lures!
- Be very supportive and loving even when he wants to quit and when he gets grumpy – as every teenager will do at some point.
- Remember he’s 15 and not 25. There’s a difference. Respect him as a fully equal canoe partner but don’t put the stress of an adult on his shoulders, as that’s not fair.
- Waterproof packs / gear. A very positive lesson learned was that packing everything in waterproof bags / cases / packaging is a brilliant idea on canoe trips. It sounds obvious, but most people don’t have waterproof backpacks as they’re very expensive and sort of rare. Not having to put any packs under tarps and being able to simply place them anywhere on portages – even on wet surfaces – made tripping much easier and more stress-free.
- Fuel. I used two 950ml and one 625ml of white gas with my brand new Dragonfly MSR stove over the two weeks. I thought this would be plenty of fuel but it was just enough. Phew! Cooking lots of pancakes, fish, eggs and grilled cheese sandwiches used quite a bit of fuel while simmering.
- Food. More snack food would have been welcome. More time in camp means more eating. Also, I brought some flatbread which is only good for the first week. Dry bread / crackers would be better for week two. Wraps seemed to last two weeks but not sure how they would have been if it was hotter. Cheese lasted full two weeks in the food barrel but again, it wasn’t hot most days. Peanut butter, Nutella and cheese were all great food to have along. Fruit cups were bloody heavy but gave us 100% vitamin C every day and tasted very good. Dried meals were good, as was instant oatmeal.
- Drink. As usual, having hot and cool drink mix was essential. We had the right amount.
- Footwear. Sandals and either light hiking boots or runners are best for canoe trips. Big, heavy, waterproof hiking boots aren’t really worth it since they still get wet and take forever to dry off, even with a fire. Unless it’s brutally cold, good closed-toe sandals are good for 95% of the trip (including most portages) with dry runners at camp for comfort (and for long portages). YMMV on this one.
- Clothing. Don’t take too much! Being surrounded by water means you never go thirsty and you can always do laundry! We took very few cloths and I didn’t even use some of them – we could have taken less. Gore-tex jacket / pants are essential. A fleece jacket and toque – even in summer, are life saving and then all you need is a few socks (4 pair) and undies (2), a pair of zip-off pants and a couple of shirts and that’s it.
- Satellite Phone. I was very happy to have a satellite phone but I will change the way we use it on the next trip. For emergencies and the occasional phone call, I would say it was 100% worth it. As a weather forecast tool it really sucked. I realize now, after the trip, that we spent way too much time and energy trying to change plans based on crappy weather forecasts than we would have without any forecasts at all. At most, I would arrange texting only for weather warnings – and even that should be done sparingly. It’s much better to simply use your eyes and “wilderness smarts” to make decisions, rather than wait for the weather man to tell you something different than you already know.
- Cameras. If you use more than one camera, make sure they’re all time synced. My iPhone switched time zones on me and was 1 hour ahead of my other cameras. This was a major pain when putting together this trip report!