Woodland Caribou – 2019 Canoe Trip – Johnson Lake

Trip Dates: Saturday, July 13, 2018 to Saturday July 27, 2018
Total Trip Distance (km): 200
Difficulty Notes: Wilderness canoeing with limited options for bailing out. Good bushcraft and wilderness survival experience is necessary to travel through Woodland Caribou Provincial Park.
Lakes Traveled: Johnson, Stan, Douglas, Hatchet, Peterson, Page, Bell, Crystal, Indian House, North Prairie, Prairie, Joey, Lightning, Constellation, Royd, Kennedy, Donald, Hammerhead, Gammon, Rostoul, Haven, Hansen, Glenn, Optic, Telescope, Hjalmar, Onnie, Spider
Creeks / Rivers Traveled: Douglas Creek, Royd Creek, Gammon River, Haven Creek, Rostoul River
GPS Track: Download
Forest Fire Update (2021): Forest Fire Impacts in WCPP

As Kaycie and I laid in our tent on the first morning of our 15 day canoe trip in Woodland Caribou Provincial Park (WCPP) we both noticed something disturbing. There were distinct pockets of light shining through 10-12 holes / tears in the tent fly surrounding our netted inner section! Uh-oh. With forecasted thunderstorms and very hot temperatures we were expecting more than one deluge of H2O over the next few weeks and having open gashes on our tent didn’t seem like a great idea. Wilderness trips always throw curve balls and this one was no exception. The difference between having fun or hating life is how you deal with the unexpected. Read on to find out how we did on our little adventure.

In 2018 I did a two-part canoe trip into Woodland Caribou Provincial Park first spending 5 days with a group traveling from Adventure Lake to Onnie Lake. After this I spent another 5 days on my first solo trip doing an easy loop from Onnie up to Page and Crystal Lake and then back down through Upper Hatchet, Embryo and Telescope to Onnie. I knew immediately upon exiting the 2018 trip that I was going to be back sooner than later after ending the trip 5 days earlier than planned due to unexpected anxiety issues while traveling and camping solo in the northern Ontario bush. I didn’t realize I’d be back quite as soon as the following year until January 2019 found me planning a father / daughter trip. Funny how these things happen… 

Planning & Preamble

WCPP 2019 – Overall Route Map with campsites marked as the day number (e.g. “1”, “2”).

In 2018, I’d originally planned my solo trip to include a loop from Onnie up to Page and Indian House, heading west along Royd Creek to Royd and Gammon Lakes before dropping down to Rostoul, Glenn and Telescope back to Onnie. Due to forest fires the Gammon Lake and sections of Royd Creek were closed before my trip, so this area was my focus for 2019. I’ve done some nice father / daughter trips with my daughter Kaycie in the Rockies but we’ve never done a canoe trip together. This situation had to be rectified! Our regular group only does canoe trips every two to three years due to family and other commitments, so inviting Kaycie along was a no-brainer. I wasn’t ready for another stab at a longer solo outing just yet. A family reunion camping trip in Manitoba solidified our dates for the last half of July and all that was left was waiting for 6 months to finally start our trip!

Thankfully the WCPP area got a ton of snow over the 2018/2019 season. Despite a very dry Spring which saw some closures in the north part of the park a week or two before our departure date, we got lucky with a very rainy week the week previous. There were no bans in place as we prepared to leave Calgary, Alberta for the long drive to Red Lake, Ontario. Making this trip more interesting and slightly more challenging was the fact that just before (and even during) the trip, Hanneke (my wife) and I were in the process of selling our house and moving to a new one in Calgary. While we had possession of our new place just before KC and I left on our trip, we still hadn’t finalized the sale of the old house. This was a stressful situation since technically we were holding possession on two houses – not something that we wanted to do very long. The Calgary housing market wasn’t great either, so selling a house could take months.

Click here for a huge online album of our trip.

Normally I spend at least two to three weeks packing for a big trip like this one. I lay out my supplies in a large area of the house (which Hanneke loves, I assure you ) so that I can continually make adjustments and ensure that I don’t forget key bits of gear. Thanks to the moving chaos I only had a day or two to do the packing this time! I also didn’t help matters by going on an aggressive hiking trip the weekend before. Meh. What are you going to do? There’s so much to do and so little time. Sometimes you just have to go with chaos and see what happens. Thankfully I did plan the route far in advance already in January. We had two options for our itinerary, the 2nd one was more aggressive and was the one we chose to do (big surprise);

Our planning itinerary for the 2019 trip included 3 potential rest days but was still over 200 kilometers of travel in the Canadian wilderness over 16 days – not a trivial trip by any means.

The Adventure

We started out from Calgary on Thursday evening, July 11 2019 in a bid to drive at least 5 or 6 hours to Moosehead, Saskatchewan. The drive was better than expected even with so many bugs hitting our windshield that it sounded like rain. On Friday we drove many hours across Saskatchewan and Manitoba before finally crossing into Ontario. After a delicious meal at the Buster’s food truck in Vermillion Bay at the fort, we continued up the neverending highway 105 to Red Lake. A minor miracle happened just as we were driving into the town and back into cell phone range. I got a text from our realtor indicating that the sale of our house was finalized just hours before the contract ran out. HALLELUJAH! I was psyched at this great news and the stress and pressure on my shoulders lifted away to make more room for heavy packs and the canoe. Talk about perfect timing! We arrived at our hotel with plenty of time to visit Harlan at Red Lake Outfitters to sort our park permits and shoot the breeze for a while. I’ve known Harlan for years and always make sure to use him as needed for my WCPP canoe trips whether for fly-in arrangements or trip planning or whatever the needs might be. Harlan was impressed with Kaycie going on a 15 day trip for her very first canoe adventure. 

Back at the hotel it was nice to meet Mike Pebbles in the parking lot, who I’d seen online for many years. Mike and his brother were flying into the NE section of WCPP for a three week adventure. I met a number of other folks going into the park too, including a father / son. After eating the best pizza I’ve had in awhile (Antonio’s) and a last minute gear reorg session in the hotel parking lot, we tried our best to get some good sleep in the air conditioned room. The weather was hot and humid in Red Lake and as I enjoyed a cigar at the truck I could hear loons calling. It felt good to be back. Thankfully we noted almost no mosquitoes around town, but there were dire warnings from Harlan regarding black flies. There was another warning from him that concerned me a bit more. After perusing our planned route, Harlan mentioned that Royd Creek had burned the year previous. He did mention that several groups had gone through the area already in 2019 but the implication was clear – it was still a bit of a mess in there. I tried not to worry about it and settled into a restless sleep.

Saturday, July 13 2019 – Johnson Lake to Page Lake

Saturday dawned clear and warm as Kaycie and I somewhat nervously choked down our “free” breakfast at the hotel before a quick Timmies stop for coffee on the go. Today was Kaycie’s 20th birthday – a perfect way to start our trip. There was no wind as we drove through the one stop light in Red Lake and along highway 618 heading west out of town towards the hamlet of Madsen and the Suffel Lake road and the “official” start of our 2019 adventure. Kaycie was very excited as we drove the wide and relatively smooth first few kms of the Suffel Lake gravel road off the highway. She’s going to her 3rd year of university and was looking forward to the trip for months already. July 13 is Kaycie’s birthday and I promised she’d catch and release the first fish of her life today – not I was hoping WCPP would deliver on my promise!

We drove the wide gravel road until it suddenly narrowed dramatically about 5km before the Johnson Lake parking lot. The road not only narrows at this point but goes from an easy 50-80 km/h to a very rough 5-15 km/h proposition. I always wonder that I don’t pop a tire, break my canoe in half or damage my shocks on this section of the drive and KC was pretty surprised how dramatically worse the road became as we ventured closer to WCPP. This year seemed especially bad for some reason – perhaps all the rain the week before had done some extra wear and tear? I highly recommend either a shuttle service from Harlan (save your vehicle and avoid having it sit in the bush for two weeks) or a good high clearance (preferably 4×4) to get yourself down this road. I know there’s stories of folks driving a small car all the way to the Leano Lake parking lot but this isn’t something most people would be comfortable with – trust me.

After a very rough 5km we arrived at the Johnson Lake parking lot – the first along this road that grants access to Woodland Caribou and my first time leaving from this spot. I turned off the truck, parking next to the only other vehicle in the lot and we listened to the sounds of nothing but the cooling engine and some loud bugs in the hot sun. This is always one of my favorite moments on a big trip. In the parking lot with the sounds of civilization quickly fading and the realization that months (if not years) of planning have finally come to fruition. The excitement of it all is almost overwhelming at this point and the iminent adventure looms large like my birthday used to feel like as a kid. Life tends to beat us down a bit over the years with so many obligations and “priorities”. It’s remarkable to feel like there’s nothing ahead but pure adventure and unknown hardships and challenges without the everyday stresses of life slowly insidiously taking the life out of our lives.

Johnson Lake and Woodland Caribou await on a gorgeous Saturday morning after the 50m portage from the Johnson parking area.

So why did I choose Johnson Lake instead of Onnie as our starting point? Mostly due to the shorter drive. Since we were doing a circle route anyway, it didn’t really matter. The only difference in the end was traveling Douglas Creek mostly at the beginning or end of the trip and some minor portage distances. I figured I owed Johnson Lake a try and was wondering why we didn’t use it in 2018 when paying for a shuttle pickup after flying into the start of our trip. (I’m still wondering BTW.) After posing at the trailhead sign we portaged our gear down the short and steep 50m portage into Johnson Lake. Damn that gear felt heavy! No wonder when packing food and supplies for 15 days in the bush but still! I was still feeling the effects of a big hiking trip less than a week previous, not to mention all the stress our move was taking out on me both physical and mental. After getting used to solo carrying my gorgeous Souris River Quetico 16′ (carbon option) canoe in 2018, I decided to solo carry it on every trip I do from now on, including this one in 2019. There are a few reasons;

  • It’s much safer to solo carry a canoe than tandem carry it, mostly thanks to the uneven Canadian Shield surfaces in WCPP
  • It’s quicker to solo carry as walking is much more natural
  • The 2nd person can carry more gear on their 2nd trip when they aren’t tied up with the canoe – this means less gear per person on the 1st carry
  • It’s much easier with kids or mismatched heights / strides to solo carry – I really should have learned this lesson back in 2016 but I’m a slow learner

We loaded the gear into the canoe, making sure the heavier items were on Kaycie’s end to balance out the boat with me in the back and her in front. There was nothing more to do at this point but get in and start paddling! It was only around 10:30 in the morning as our paddles made their first songs of 2019. (Unfortunately there was one small thing I forgot to do in all the excitement. I left my key in the tailgate of the truck – OOPS. In a testament to getting lucky, nobody took advantage over the 15 days it was parked there.)

Johnson Lake was, as I suspected, not quite the gem-of-a-lake that most WCPP lakes are. Technically it isn’t even in WCPP as the park boundary is at the southern end of Douglas Lake. The water was a bit brownish green and disturbingly warm. We didn’t hang around long and were soon at the first real portage of the trip between Johnson and Stan lakes. It was a good start with lots of mud and a few bugs starting to mill around in the heat of the day and some distance at 525 meters long. The humid air soon had us sweating and it didn’t take long to zip off the pant legs and decide we were going to wear sandals and simply get wet feet and legs on the portages rather than try to avoid getting mud and water in our hiking shoes. Carrying the canoe over 500 meters without resting was a bit of a challenge so early in the trip but I managed it (barely). The flies started biting my elbows as I carried, confirming Harlan’s warning about their veracity this year.

Aside: The Benefits of not Avoiding Wet Feet

Over the years I’ve spent hiking, climbing and canoeing in the Canadian wilderness I’ve gained an important insight that has greatly improved my trips and could assist you in yours. It’s counterintuitive to a lot of advertising and marketing (and possibly even common sense) but with the right preparation allowing for wet feet on trips (hiking, climbing, biking, canoeing…) allows far more efficient travel. I would even argue that it’s more fun travel, since there’s no dancing around water trying to avoid wet / muddy feet. As you can imagine, WCPP is nothing but water and mud for much of the portages so not having to avoid it is a huge relief. Back home in the Rockies I’ll often hike days on end with damp or wet feet. Not having to avoid creeks and bog is a huge time and effort savings that really adds up over many kilometers of travel.

Obviously the huge caveat here is that you have footwear that allows having wet feet without getting blisters. I hike and walk many thousands of steps each day (6.3 million last year) so my feet are hardened a bit. BUT. Having sandals or lighter footwear such as approach shoes or runners rather than boots makes a huge difference as well. There are other options too. KC and I each had a pair of Kokatat Hydrus Tempest pants which allowed us to keep our feet dry even in knee deep muddy swamps. These pants were so hot, however, that we usually didn’t even bother with them.

Stan Lake was very shallow and weedy. It also had an obvious portage leading towards Douglas Creek and also provided lots of stinky muck to play in at the edges. Kaycie was quickly learning how to be efficient at portaging and was impressed with the forested trails. I told her not to expect such highways in the coming days as these first portages are much more traveled than those buried further in the heart of the park. The short 150m portage towards Douglas Creek ended in another mudfest and I was soon hurriedly scrapping leeches off my feet and legs! I absolutely HATE leeches! I had two large ones and about 30 or more tiny ones latched onto me by the time I noticed them. SO GROSS!!!!! After canoeing a short distance through a shallow / tight creek we joined with Douglas Creek and proceeded north with the current towards Douglas Lake.

Douglas Creek can be a real challenge after June. I’ve been down it several times and the only time it was decent was back in 2016 when we were actually paddling up it from Douglas Lake to Spider / Onnie lakes. The challenge isn’t beaver dams but rather rocks. As the creek levels drop there are at least 4 or 5 spots between Onnie and Douglas Lake that will test your canoe’s bottom and your tolerance for testing the bottom of your boat. My boat is manufactured as a very light carbon fibre lake boat and doesn’t take to hitting rocks very well. It’s strong as heck, but it’s also not that strong. KC very quickly learned to mistrust shallow water and look for potential bottom busters as we paddled. We both jumped out of the boat several times before finally arriving at the weedy outlet of Johnson Creek into the large and beautiful environs of Douglas Lake and the official boundary of Woodland Caribou Provincial Park.

Paddling Hatchet Lake after already negotiating Johnson, Stan, Douglas Creek and Douglas Lake.

I was familiar with the route from Douglas to Hatchet, having traveled it only a year previous on a solo venture. The weather was favourable for us with light winds from the southwest and soon we were at the steep, damp portage between Douglas and Hatchet lakes. This 150m portage requires some care thanks to slippery rocks and a steep incline but we had no issues and were soon paddling up Hatchet Lake – a lake that’s always been good to me and continued that trend for 2019 with a SW wind blowing us gently along under a hot summer sun. We finally took our first break at a nice campsite at the north end of Hatchet Lake before continuing to the 325m portage between Hatchet and Peterson lakes. It was hot in the sun – coming from a cool and wet Calgary summer, this was feeling pretty sweet. The portage was as nice as I remembered with little elevation change and no tricky terrain, a nice walk in pleasant forest. The end of the portage was a bit different than expected, however, with two women playing a lively game of paddle ball in the sandy bay at the south end of Peterson Lake! As we paddled up Paterson Lake we commented how one person’s wilderness is another’s back yard. (The women were obviously locals and used a motor boat from one of the lodges to access Peterson.)

The Page Lake campsite is perfect. KC enjoys the hammock which became a very coveted seat once the only camp chair broke in half…

The wind stayed calm as we walked the easy 200m portage between Peterson and Page lakes, wading into the sandy bay at the south end of Page was very pleasant compared to the muddy mess hours earlier in Stan Lake. We paddled north up Page and arrived at the lovely campsite that I’d cleaned up and used in 2018. It didn’t look like anyone had used the site since my visit a year previous and it was a bit more rustic than I remembered. I spent some time clearing the tent area so that the MEC Tarn 3 tent that we were using would fit properly. The weather was perfect as we set up our first camp of the trip, figuring out where stuff was and how to use it. We commented more than once how canoe trips are mostly about packing and unpacking packs trying to find gear! I will let my journal entries from the evening on Page Lake round out a very enjoyable start to the 2019 trip.

Journal Entry | July 13, 2019 | Page Lake Campsite | 17:00

I’m sitting at camp with a slight breeze on my face. It’s warm with tons of biting black flies picking away at my lower legs. It’s a bit strange to be back here, but mostly in a good way especially with KC reading very content in the hammock behind me.

It’s good to be back in WCPP after a very busy and stressful last 2 months moving houses back in Calgary. I couldn’t believe it when our sale was finalized just as we drove into Red Lake. I can honestly say that it’s been some of the most stressful time of my life the past 8 weeks or so and now I can truly sit back and enjoy 3 weeks off including this 2 week canoeing adventure with my daughter. Talk about perfect timing!

Time for me to get off my duff and make some supper before going out on the lake to catch some fish. We paddled and portaged a long way today in light winds and perfect conditions. I’m a bit nervous about forecast storms over the next few days but I’m determined to roll with whatever we get this year rather than get all worked up over nothing. We will take each day as it comes.

Journal Entry | July 13, 2019 | Page Lake Campsite | 20:00

KC caught her first fish! Of her life. On her 20th birthday nonetheless! We fished for Pike for about 1.5 hours after supper on Page Lake. No heavy action by any means but we landed 4 good sized fish and saw at least another 4 that didn’t make it to the boat.

It’s very still and hot right now, it’s hard to believe the dismal forecast with storms and clouds predicted over the next few days. I hope we make Indian House Lake tomorrow which should be possible considering it’s less distance than what we covered today and we can start much earlier. Harlan cautioned that fires have burned in the Royd Creek corridor over the last few years but did mention that folks have portaged the 975 and 1900 meter portages from Indian House to Prairie Lake.

Journal Entry | July 13, 2019 | Page Lake Campsite | 22:30

A great ending to a great first day. Honestly, I wonder how many more perfect days like this one we’ll get over the next two weeks? It can’t get much better! The fishing could improve a bit if I’m fussy. I’ll admit that I was a bit apprehensive coming out here again so soon after my interesting solo experience in 2018, but it’s so different when you’re not solo. It was nice to start easy too. Bacon and eggs tomorrow morning to start getting rid of some weight in the food barrel! 

There’s a billion mossies (mosquitoes) outside our tent right now trying to get in and it’s bloody hot and humid in here. I’ll try to get some sleep…

Sunday, July 14 2019 – Page Lake to Indian House Lake

Sunday dawned muggy and hot. It was also the morning that Kaycie and I realized that our shelter for the next two weeks had more holes than the local golf course. The 18 hole variety. As we got up groggily from a restless first night KC spotted the holes first. It’s a long story but the short of it is that I was forced to use an old MEC Tarn 3 tent for the trip rather than my prefered Hyperlite Ultra Mid II due to forgetting the waterproof / bug insert in Canmore after my recent backpacking trip with Phil. I simply didn’t have time to drive the 2+ hours back and forth from Calgary to Phil’s house before leaving on the canoe trip and didn’t even set up the tent in the backyard before leaving. I’ve been accused of paranoia before, but this is exactly why you always set up your tent and test your critical bits of gear before big trips. I patched the holes with Gorilla tape and we decided to use the extra tarp I’d packed to cover the tent for the rest of the trip.

We paddled out of Page Lake on calm waters at around 06:30 – trying to beat forecast storms that were obviously already building all around us.

Journal Entry | July 14, 2019 | Bush Bail | 09:30

We’re tucked into a sheltered spot on shore between portages on our way from Page Lake to Indian House Lake. A light thunderstorm is overhead and a gentle rain is falling. We were up at 05:30 because we knew this was a possibility with the hot and humid weather. We ate a quick breakfast and were off towards Bell Lake. A great south wind mostly assisted our paddle across and down Bell Lake and then across Crystal Lake.

A fairly rustic portage after Crystal Lake towards Indian House got us where we are right now. I’m pretty excited for the next week or so since we’ll be traveling new WCPP terrain for me. I’m expecting the next few days to be fairly difficult with tougher and less traveled portages and some really long ones too (including a 1900m). I’m going to cook us some real breakfast since we’re stuck under the tarp for a bit until the weather calms down.

Journal Entry | July 14, 2019 | Indian House Lake Campsite | 15:30

Wouldn’t you know it? It’s now sunny and bloody HOT. We made it here about 1.5 hours ago, paddling along the south end of Indian House Lake with the wind. The first campsite we spotted on the lake was excellent but I worried that a north wind tomorrow morning would put a wrinkle in our plans to hit up the 975m portage towards North Prairie Lake. We checked out the next “site” and although it would work in a pinch it wasn’t inspiring.

KC is in good spirits despite the obviously muddy and wet portage trail we’re on! It helped that we used waders for rain pants ensuring our feet stayed relatively dry. The only issue was the heat that made us sweat in the waterproof clothing!
Paddling the weedy creek leading into Indian House Lake from Crystal Lake.

We continued canoeing all the way to the start of the 975m portage and noticed a nice sandy beach there. Why not set up camp right here? So that’s exactly what we’re doing. The songbirds are going off in the forest around our makeshift site, it sounds like a jungle! I took a quick dip already in the beautifully clear and cool waters of the large lake, the sandy bottom is very nice. We’re planning to go fishing soon.

Journal Entry | July 14, 2019 | Indian House Lake Campsite | 18:30

Fishing was really good on Indian House Lake, especially considering it was the heat of the day. KC caught another 3 or 4 and managed to take them off her line herself. Trolling seems to be working better than casting. 

Our camp at the start of the 975m portage towards North Prairie Lake from Indian House. Note the nice sandy beach we enjoyed here.

As I sit here on this quiet, remote sandy beach in the heart of the Canadian wilderness I’m struck, not for the first time, by how long the days out here are compared to the days back home. We’ve only been out here for 2 days and we’re already battle scarred and feeling like we’ve been out for a week. The black flies are very bad this year – much worse than mossies which are only coming out later at night. The worst part about the flies is that they love heat and humidity and they don’t mind deet as long as it’s around 15 minutes old. We are spraying our ankles and elbows almost constantly and despite this we are already covered in bites. It’s also bloody hot and humid and other than the water, there’s no relief from it.

It’s easy to forget how hard life in the real jungle can be when I’m sitting back home in the insulated confines of the concrete one. I warned KC before the trip that this would be a different experience for her. There are no breaks when you’re outside living in the wilderness for 15 days. You can’t go to your room and shut the door, or go into an air conditioned office. It’s obvious and we all know this, but it still hits you when you get out there and actually experience it.

So far we have a pretty decent carrying system going for portages. I don’t mind solo carrying the canoe although tomorrow could be interesting with a 975m and 1900m portage in the works.

Journal Entry | July 14, 2019 | Indian House Lake Campsite | 21:30

As I sit here by a small fire on a sandy beach along the shores of Indian House Lake I can hear the incessant chirping and calling of woodland songbirds behind me and the haunting call of the Loon echoing from billion year old granite. The fire is crackling cheerfully as I enjoy a cigar, and I’m reminded yet again what keeps drawing me back to this land despite all the hardships and expenses it entails. We are heading to bed soon as the mossies are discovering our fresh blood and we have a lot of portaging to do tomorrow.

Evening settles over Indian House Lake in this view from our private sandy beach camp.

Monday, July 15 2019 – Indian House Lake to Unnamed Lake

Monday was an interesting day in WCPP for Kaycie and I. Before the trip this was the day I was the most worried about, having a 975m and 1900m portage to look forward to and not knowing what kind of condition the trails were in or how KC would handle the distances. Remember, this was only the 3rd day of a 15 day excursion meaning we had lots of food weight to carry. I was also solo carrying the canoe while carrying the food barrel which was proving a bit tougher than expected. The food barrel is nice and low which means the canoe easily fits on top of me while carrying it, but it doesn’t carry very nicely and having my arms above my shoulders makes the weight harder to take. It works but it hurts. C’est la vie. At the end of the day we outperformed all expectations, I’ll let my journal do the talking.

Journal Entry | July 15, 2019 | Portage Campsite | 16:00

Phew! That was one heckuva slog today, I can assure you! We slept in until around 07:30 and I made us a large breakfast of bacon and eggs to power us up and over the 975m portage from camp. The day was once again super hot and very muggy already early. We slogged the 975 meters towards North Prairie Lake and found it to be in pretty decent shape for the most part.

Thunder was peeling off in the distance already as we paddled across North Prairie towards the 1900m portage to Prairie Lake. It took a few moments to locate the start of the route but soon we were unpacked and ready to give the longest single stretch portage of my life a go.

We got lost temporarily on this section of the 1900m portage into Prairie Lake from North Prairie. There are ribbons but they easily fall off and the trail is all but nonexistent here.

I don’t remember the 1900m as being too bad. It was freaking long, but that was expected. We lost the trail briefly on the last 1/3 of the route thanks to an old burn area that isn’t marked well (tape doesn’t last long out here). Once I realized we were off route I forced us to slow down and we found the trail pretty quickly. The key out here is having a cool head with stuff like that or you could very quickly be in over your head. Near the outlet to Prairie Lake the trail became quite overgrown and hard to follow next to a creek but we persevered. It was much better than I was expecting, especially the first carry.

The second carry of the 1900m was tougher for me than the first. Solo carrying the canoe is fine, but with a heavy food barrel on my back at the same time it’s not pleasant over long distances (anything over 500m). I took 4 breaks along the 1900m which isn’t that bad. It was very very hot and humid which didn’t help the energy levels and thunder was going off in the distance but thankfully all the storms missed us. At this point we were done for the day according to our plans but it was only around noon and we didn’t feel like paddling to our Prairie Lake campsite against the wind. I checked with my route planning notes and told KC that if we did the next 1000m portage (!!) we could stop at a site in a small lake towards Joey Lake and be way ahead for the next day. She agreed with the plan so we headed across the north end of Prairie Lake to the next portage.

The 1000 meters is really 1100 and trust me – we felt every damn one of those extra 100 meters! It was very hot and humid and the trail wasn’t only hard to find but much less traveled than the other two we’d already done. This was a taste of what we’re in for until Constellation Lakes, since this route (known as the “Minjim”) really only became an official one a few years ago when long time WCPP canoeist and writer Martin Kehoe started advertising it and opening it up. The 1100m was admittedly a bit much on the tail end of 3000m of total portaging on a hot, humid day but we made it in the end!

Now I’m waiting for my soup to cool after going for a refreshing swim in our little corner of paradise. The campsite on this little unnamed lake is gorgeous! We are chilling and shoring up our reserves for another fairly tough day tomorrow albeit a lot less tough than it would have been with the 1100 monster completed…

A very nice campsite in the small lake west of Prairie Lake. This goes to show that pretty much anywhere in WCPP is a good place to set up your camp!

Journal Entry | July 15, 2019 | Portage Campsite | 21:00

I’m sitting by a small fire enjoying another perfect evening in Woodland Caribou. We were planning to head out fishing but the sky started looking a bit ominous and we chose to stick at camp for this evening. I caught 5 pike on my first 5 casts from camp, so suffice it to say that there’s a boat load of hammer handle fish in this small lake! The sky is clearing off now and the brutal humidity is finally giving up some of its oppression too. 

I feel like we got super lucky today with conditions and energy levels. Two thunderstorms missed us by mere kilometers and in the end we didn’t get more than 2 or 3 drops of rain all day. We showed that traveling with a small group of 2 through this challenging terrain can be very efficient. We slept in and still managed to get extra work done today and made our camp by 14:00. Traveling with more than one boat is much slower but we usually fish a lot more on route with a bigger group. The weather and heat have made us keep our heads down for the traveling portion of our day – sitting in a boat cast lures in 35+ degree heat just isn’t that pleasant. 

Tuesday, July 16 2019 – Unnamed Lake to Unnamed Lake

We had another big day on Tuesday, after a gruelling day of long portages on Monday. Kaycie was doing great both on the water and off, proving that she’s definitely a natural canoeist and wilderness enthusiast. I wasn’t surprised since I’ve taken her on pretty aggressive trips before.

Journal Entry | July 16 2019 | Unnamed Lake Campsite | 18:30

Wow. Another long day today! Thank goodness we’ve had perfect weather so far this trip as we’ve been pushing the portage-heavy portion of it pretty hard. It was another scorcher today with hot sun and more humid air. I forgot how draining the heat can be. Back in the Alberta Rockies we rarely have to contend with heat and almost never with humidity. We also don’t deal with bugs the way we’ve had to out here. The flies are quickly becoming the one big downer for the trip. They are absolutely relentless and I’m worried we might run out of bug spray!

The first 800m portage was pretty decent with only a swampy mid section to contend with. The next two 475m and 450m portages were much tougher and took a lot out of us. When we finally got into Joey Lake we were ready for some fishing and boy did we get it! KC quickly nabbed a 7-10lb pike while trolling and soon after releasing it I hooked a truly massive fish – likely 15-20lbs. It snapped my line leader as I tried to grab some GoPro video of it next to the boat. I wish I’d had more time to research the route or I’d have realized that Joey Lake is one of the few lakes we were on in the first 6 days that is loaded with Walleye. KC caught one trolling out of the lake. If I’m ever back there I’ll set up a camp – it’s a very nice spot.

Paddling Lightning Lake. Note only some islands are unburned here.

From Joey Lake onward the wilderness was all burnt and travel through it was difficult – especially the portages. Following Royd Creek with the sun baking down on us was character building to say the least. When we exited the boats at what looked like the 400m portage along a swampy section of the creek, we had to deal with muck and forest fire detritus and no real trail at all. It was brutal in the relentless heat with the flies and the mosquitoes fighting the bush and the fire-hardened branches for pieces of our flesh. I’m not convinced this portage is always necessary. I know when Martin opened it up (they call this section of creek, “The Nile”), the section was too swampy to paddle but looking down on it from the “portage” it looked fine for paddling to me. Next time.

(Since returning from our trip I’ve found out that a WCPP maintenance team was right behind us clearing up the trails! Even more reason we should have stayed in Joey Lake… In another hilarious twist, Claire messaged me that the team found my zip-off pants bottoms that fell out of my canoe while portaging it, and she mailed them to me in Calgary! Gotta love it. Thanks again Claire!)

The breeze is finally funnelling some cooler air over our camp which is located in an unnamed lake south of Poodle Lake. Time for me to enjoy the hammock for a bit after making pancakes for supper.

Journal Entry | July 16 2019 | Unnamed Lake Campsite | 21:30

It’s a windless, beautiful evening and I’m sitting out in the middle of nowhere along Royd Creek in the heart of Woodland Caribou Park with my daughter. This is pretty darn special IMHO. She’s a trooper to be out here on a trip like this but she trusts her dad and it’s always different for a kid with their parent. I don’t think she fully grasps how “out there” we are now. It’s just us! We haven’t seen a soul since the two ladies and their paddle ball game in Peterson Lake days ago. 

Evening settles in over the unnamed lake south of Poodle. Another gorgeous unnamed lake but this one’s a bit gloomy with all the burn.

As special as this trip is quickly shaping up to be and as much as I love it out here, I have to acknowledge how incredibly difficult these trips are too. I love suffering but when you’re up to your knees in smelly swamp mud with a fucking canoe on your head, out here all alone with your only daughter you do notice how tough these trips are! There is some questioning of my own sanity that I do this for vacation as I’m sweating profusely in the tent at night and trying to sleep while hurting pretty much everywhere. KC is very helpful but  traveling with your own kids is not the same as wilderness tripping with your buddies. She’s still a wilderness rookie and relies 100% on me for decision making and getting us home at the end of the day.

Another 2 days and we’re in Donald Lake if all goes well. We should be ready for a rest day around then. I like that we’ve pushed fairly hard the first few days, getting through the toughest and roughest terrain in 4 days. We are prepared for long days now, and I have a good sense of how hard I can push KC if necessary. So far this trip has been probably one of the most physically demanding I’ve ever done and is part of the reason I’m not pushing too hard to go fishing at night after we have camp set up, despite having the conditions and time to do it. Our bodies need time to recover and our minds need a break from the rigors of canoeing.

I don’t miss Social Media at all. This is such a disconnected place once you portage out of the parking lot, it’s difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t done something similar. This isn’t some trek with a hut and hot meal waiting. This isn’t some bike ride with Wi-Fi and drinks in the evenings. This isn’t a mountain climb with cell reception at the summit and a cold Coke on the drive home. This place is wilderness – of the truest kind. Don’t underestimate it or it could bite you hard. Many people indicate to me that they’re envious of these trips and would do them “if only they could find someone to do it with”. No offense, but for the vast majority this isn’t the case. The physical hardships would eliminate half and the absolute disconnect and associated psychological effects would eliminate most of the remainder.

Evening scene in WCPP.

Considering I was planning to do part of this loop solo last year makes me laugh at myself. I seriously doubt that I could at this point in my life. I have too much good stuff going on back home to desire such a long, difficult and lonely break and my mental game isn’t honed enough to do this sort of wilderness tripping solo. Maybe someday with changed circumstances – who knows? 

Wednesday, July 17 2019 – Unnamed Lake to Kennedy Lake

Wednesday dawned as another hot day but this time we also had wind to contend with. For some reason I was really looking forward to seeing Constellation Lake but when we finally arrived there we quickly realized it is all burned now. I could tell that the lake used to be gorgeous, with islands sprinkled along it liberally and thick forest carpeting the hard rock below. No more. It’s now a bit of a desolate wasteland. We continued on to Royd where the wind blew us past a great campsite where we stopped for lunch.

After lunch we continued to blow up Royd, heading for the 3 or 4 portages into Kennedy Lake. It was very hot doing those portages! In a stroke of good luck and good sign for our continuance to Donald Lake from Kennedy, the last two (recently burnt) portages were clearly marked with fresh blue ribbons and signs of maintenance. We also managed to get the one campsite on Kennedy Lake that didn’t burn. Rain settled in early and we turned in already at 19:00 – we were both feeling pretty tired anyway.

Journal Entry | July 17 2019 | Royd Lake Campsite | 12:00

A hot windy day today. We left the unnamed lake and made our way towards Constellation Lake via some small channels and lakes along Royd Creek. This creek hasn’t been easy for us, especially with the 2018 burns and no obvious signs of trail maintenance (there were trail crews right behind us as we found out later). Even the short portages have been tough today. We were very happy to see unburned shores on Royd but as soon as we turned north with a gusty / hot wind we realized we were heading right back towards the burn again! Oh well.

We haven’t had much luck fishing today, casting and trolling for Pike as we drifted up Constellation Lake which is all burnt too. I’m not sure what Kennedy Lake is going to be like but considering how manky Royd Creek has been so far I’m not holding my breath!

Journal Entry | July 17 2019 | Kennedy Lake Campsite | 17:00

We’re huddled under a tarp with a very light rain falling around us on Kennedy Lake. After leaving our lunch spot on Royd I felt very tired and lethargic for some reason. I think I’ve simply had enough sun recently and probably aren’t eating quite enough to deal with the tough portages the last few days along Royd Creek. I do find my appetite vanishes as the temperature goes up so that’s not helping matters.

Constellation Lake is completely burned which is a shame because it’s a lovely lake with many little islands and landscape nooks.

I was pretty nervous about the portages along Royd Creek between Royd Lake and Kennedy Lake and also apprehensive about what we’d find for a campsite. This whole area burned recently and so far that hasn’t helped our cause. We managed the first two portages easily enough. The third one seemed fairly destroyed at first but I shrugged and bashed through the forest to where I thought the old trail must have been. Low and behold – there was a freshly cut trail complete with bright blue ribbons guiding the way through the burn! The last portage into Kennedy Lake was also newly maintained and we’re hoping this trend continues to Donald Lake from here.

Portaging from Royd Lake to Kennedy Lake along Royd Creek. These portages involved some effort with the elevation gain / loss.

Journal Entry | July 17 2019 | Kennedy Lake Campsite | 19:00

We’re in the tent already and it’s still raining. It’s been coming down for a few hours already and doesn’t seem to be in any sort of hurry to end. We decided that sitting under the tarp was getting uncomfortable and bailed to the tent with some snacks and our e-readers. Thank goodness the tent is now mostly waterproof with the repairs and the extra tarp! The rain isn’t unwelcome. It should lower the fire danger and keep the creeks at reasonable water levels. Out here you have to take what you’re given and work with it – there is no option to avoid it.

In the tent on Kennedy Lake thanks to evening rain. It’s only around 06:00 but we stayed in the tent until the following day!

Thursday, July 18 2019 – Kennedy Lake to Donald Lake

We arose early on Thursday after spending 12 hours in the tent thanks to steady rain. Despite being a bit unsettled the day was warm and dry. We had no issues traveling between Kennedy and Donald Lake and I discovered I still love this big, beautiful body of water as much as when I was last here 15 years ago in 2004 on a trip from the Manitoba side of WCPP via Wallace Lake. Donald Lake is also when we started seeing lodges and folks fishing from small motorized boats. The core area of WCPP is still highly commercialized and there’s a large network of lodges from Donald to Gammon, Hammerhead, Optic, Telescope, Embryo and Douglas.

Journal Entry | July 18 2019 | Donald Lake Campsite | 14:00

Another beautiful WCPP day today. After a ton of rain yesterday afternoon and evening, today is still unsettled but warm and dry. We got up around 06:00 after spending 12 hours in the tent and getting some much needed rest. After working pretty darn hard to get here ahead of schedule we are now chilling with our first Walleye meal of the trip digesting in our bellies. I caught a fat 3lb Walleye trolling to camp on Donald Lake. We saw our first humans in 5 days fishing the outlet of Royd Creek into Donald Lake – they were from the fishing lodge. The creek and portages between Kennedy and Donald lakes were pretty decent, but I would not want to navigate many parts of Royd Creek in low water conditions. The trails were all recently maintained and marked with blue ribbons. We have exited most of the burn now, the lodge on this lake probably has something to do with where it stopped along its shorelines.

Canoeing along Royd Creek between Kennedy and Donald lakes.

We had thunderstorms roll over us last night and I wouldn’t be surprised if we get more today. I’ve always said that day 5 or 6 is when you really start living outside on these types of wilderness trips. You slowly develop a new sense of “normal”. I’m feeling that today. Everything slows down and I am into the daily routines of survival and camping. The world of jobs, selling houses, Facebook and Donald Trump are foreign to me now. My new world reality is blue, grey and green. It’s wind whistling through pine trees behind me and birds chirping in the woods. It’s warm sunshine on my neck and aching muscles in every part of my body.

Portaging along Royd Creek between Kennedy and Donald lakes.
Paddling Donald Lake.

Journal Entry | July 18 2019 | Donald Lake Campsite | 19:00

We just had our 2nd Walleye meal of the day and 2nd already on Donald Lake – man I love this lake! We went fishing around 16:30 for an hour and as we were rather unsuccessfully trolling KC caught a large Pike while I nabbed a nice chunky Walleye on a 5 of diamonds Len Thompson. I started casting jigs and caught two more Walleye. The weather is clearing off now and might just go out for another hour at 20:00 just for fun.

Our delightful campsite on Donald Lake.

Scratch that. We’re sticking around camp tonight. It’s a gorgeous evening but we’re pretty beat and tomorrow is a short travel day with lots of fishing opportunities anyway. KC is pretty tired today and my back is giving me some complaints so I don’t mind some hours out of the boat.

Doing some meditating today, I am realizing that as I get older I have less and less desire to get away from most of my “regular” life for such long stretches of time. Last year I ended up leaving about 5 days early from my solo venture and I needed to come back out here ASAP (i.e. 2019) to show myself that I could indeed, do a full 2 week trip out here. Now that we’re closing in on a week I’m realizing that as awesome as these trip obviously are, they do not hold the same mystical value as they used to back when I hated most of my regular life. As wonderful as these trips still are, they are also freaking hard. I’m loving it out here right now with my daughter on a very special trip but that doesn’t mean I’ll need another long canoe trip already in 2020.

Friday, July 19 2019 – Donald Lake to Hammerhead Lake

Instead of taking a rest day on Donald Lake, Kaycie and I decided to continue on to Hammerhead Lake on Friday. There were several reasons for this, not the least was the fact that we had a lodge pretty much right across from our campsite. The goal at this point was to take a rest day on Gammon Lake instead and take advantage of the short distance to Hammerhead Lake, giving us a 1/2 day of rest there anyway.

Journal Entry | July 19 2019 | Hammerhead Campsite | 13:30

We’re eating lunch at our Hammerhead Lake deluxe campsite. We fished our way up the Gammon River from Donald Lake, catching and releasing a bunch of Walleye along the way. I caught a huge Northern Pike on our way out of Donald Lake. I love Donald. It’s a big lake with lots of steeply wooded shorelines. The fishing is remarkable. Now that we’re in Hammerhead Lake I’m really digging it too. There’s a ton of campsites here, we passed on a whole bunch to get further down the lake to our current spot.

Paddling Hammerhead Lake on a perfect day in WCPP.

It was our best morning yet with clear skies and a warm sun after yet another night of storms and some really heavy rains. Today seems much more stable but even now there are clouds building. Hammerhead is mostly unburned and has some lovely green, mixed tree types that are quintessential Canadian Shield in my mind.

Journal Entry | July 19 2019 | Hammerhead Campsite | 18:00

We just finished another Walleye meal courtesy of a beautiful waterfall on the river from Rostoul Lake pouring down into Hammerhead. As I suspected the weather acted up a bit again this afternoon getting very windy. Storms have bypassed our corner of WCPP so far today. Originally we were planning to fish where the Gammon River comes into Hammerhead from Gammon Lake but as we paddled around yet another fishing lodge I looked behind us and saw a large falls in the distance and decided we should fish it instead. Good choice. We hammered Walleye for about 1.5 hours before paddling back to camp in large waves.

One nice side effect of all the wind and waves is that it dulls the sounds of hundreds of screaming Gulls and Terns that this particular campsite shares a spot on the lake with. I’ve never seen so many of these birds congregating in WCPP before.

Journal Entry | July 19 2019 | Hammerhead Campsite (in tent) |21:00

I’ve said it before, it’s always around day 6 or 7 on long trips that I get a bit antsy about the whole affair. This is when it finally sinks in how long 15 days is when there’s no other distractions. I’m doing much better this trip than a few previous ones, we’ve had great weather and conditions which surely helps. Today I still had the inevitable, “Oh Fuck” moment of realizing we’re about half way done our trip. I find it so strange that back home the days and weeks just fade into each other week after week, month after month. Out here it’s hour after hour for days on end and it really does seem like the days last much longer than back home.

Evening on Hammerhead Lake.

Saturday, July 20 2019 – Hammerhead Lake to Gammon Lake

After a relatively short day on Hammerhead the day previous, we decided to continue on to Gammon Lake via the Gammon River and a bunch of portages that we knew were likely burnt. I didn’t realize this small stream was the Gammon River until coming home and researching it – it’s quite small at this point in its journey and the portages were a bit choked compared to what I thought they’d be. The biggest thing that was different than I’d imagined, however, was the lack of fishing opportunities at the many falls along the route – the river was simply too small and shallow to fish much. We did get some excellent photos and Gammon Lake was beautiful, as expected.

The Gammon River pours into Hammerhead Lake. It’s much smaller than I expected.

Journal Entry | July 20 2019 | Gammon Lake Campsite | 13:00

I’m sitting on a windy point on Gammon Lake. We awoke to mixed skies but thankfully a dry morning. I’ve been looking forward to seeing the falls along a creek (Gammon River) between Hammerhead and Gammon lakes for a few years already. The reality of the route was much different than the dream however! It was much mankier and smaller than I’d imagined. The creek was very narrow with some interesting canyons and waterfalls along the way. The portages were more rustic than I expected with last year’s burn wreaking some havoc.

The Gammon River and a very dead forest. I’m surprised this section hasn’t burned yet.
Some portages are easier and more maintained than others…
Lovely falls at the start of the Gammon River from Gammon Lake towards Hammerhead Lake.

Gammon Lake was also different than I expected. First it was very scenic at the inlet to the Gammon River with tons of islands (no wonder there’s so many campsites on this end of the lake). After exiting onto the main lake we discovered one of the biggest issues with large lakes – wind. To this end we are likely going to be confined to this campsite for a while and possibly the rest of today due to strong winds and waves. We are rethinking our planned rest day tomorrow – thinking that Haven might be a better lake to spend an extra day as wind will not affect us as much there.

Paddling the lovely green and old growth Gammon Lake.

Journal Entry | July 20 2019 | Gammon Lake Campsite | 19:30

We’re still windbound on Gammon Lake! We’re not really “windbound” in the sense that we couldn’t canoe if we had to but more in the “if we don’t have to canoe, why bother” sense of the word. We’ve been wearing pants, socks and sweaters all day which is definitely a first for the trip! To be honest it feels great too! Flies can’t bite through pants and sweaters… I managed to land a nice fat Walleye in the waves off camp so that provided us with a yummy supper with the last of our wraps and cheese. It surprises me how long the cheese lasted considering how bloody hot it’s been. We didn’t get sick, so it must have been ok right?

This is shaping up to be one of the best canoe trips I’ve done, given conditions, weather and everything else. I feel like we’ve traveled through a lot of the park and a lot of areas I haven’t seen before. Tomorrow we start getting into much more familiar territory (for me) but this isn’t a horrible thing. Doing this length of a trip with all the stress of a move going on back home was not the best planning I’ve ever done and more than a little nuts. While I’m feeling great now that I know our house is sold, I’m still feeling a bit “antsy” that I haven’t spent any time at the new house yet!

Our nice little site on Gammon Lake.
Sunset on Gammon Lake from our campsite.

Sunday, July 21 2019 – Gammon Lake to Haven Lake

Kaycie and I realized pretty quickly that although we really loved Gammon Lake with its green shorelines and varied terrain, we had an issue in the form of wind that was going to dampen our enthusiasm to paddle long distances on it on our day off. Instead of taking a planned rest day we decided to do the bonus side trip that I’d planned but didn’t expect to do, into Haven Lake. When planning the trip I wondered if we’d have time for this but now that we were well ahead of schedule thanks to great weather and conditions we went for it.

We decided to take a rest day in Haven on Monday no matter what, since we were getting quite ahead of schedule and didn’t want to exit the park early. There are worse places to “have” to take a rest day than Haven Lake… I’d been to Haven both in 2016 and again in 2018 and knew there’s tons of campsites there and lots of protected areas from wind and weather to fish. Our day started with finally exiting the recent burns along the Middle Lakes portages from Gammon into Rostoul Lake. From there we enjoyed a very relaxing drift ‘n paddle down the entire length of Rostoul before tackling the infamous Haven Creek.

Journal Entry | July 21 2019 | Haven Lake Campsite | 16:00

We made it to Haven Lake from Gammon Lake in only 6 hours thanks to perfect conditions on Rostoul Lake! We drifted with the wind all the way down the lake before having to deal with the piece of shit creek, otherwise known as “Haven”. Haven Creek wasn’t quite as bad as I remembered from 2016 but it was very shallow and rocky and still required a lot of wading and cursing to navigate. The 575 meter portage into Haven from Cyclops Lake was still swampy, as I remembered, but honestly wasn’t that bad. I am now solo carrying the canoe over 500 meters quite naturally, including two carries from Gammon to Rostoul Lake earlier this morning. I don’t know why we don’t do solo carries on our group trips but I’m going to be doing it from now on.

Haven Lake started out pretty darn swell. I threw my trusted 5 of diamonds Len Thompson spoon into the lake to troll towards camp and within about 1 minute I had a nice size Walleye dancing on the end of my line already! The fishing has been quite slow the rest of the afternoon but it is now really hot and windy so maybe this evening will be better.

Journal Entry | July 21 2019 | Haven Lake Campsite | 16:00

We’re sitting by a nice warm fire watching the sun set over one of my favorite WCPP lakes. I’m feeling beat up today for some reason. My hands are a mess from some long portages and Haven Creek, fishing and general camp chores have done their number as well. I suppose we came a long way today and it was HOT. I’m really looking forward to a day off tomorrow with no travel required.

Once we start heading towards Rostoul again we are starting our slow exit. This trip is quickly becoming a top 2 for me in WCPP. There are a few reasons it’s going so well. One is being out here with KC. It’s special how great we are getting along. We go for hours at camp without even talking, me puttering around doing stuff and her reading for hours on end. She’s the perfect canoe partner for me – she simply laughs at my moods and smiles when I lose my temper at silly things like rocks, trees and bogs. Another reason this is a top trip is the weather and conditions. It’s been perfect summer tripping. Sure! It’s hot and humid as heck but it is summertime in northern Ontario – what do you expect? All the worst storms have missed us and the 3 day forecast I got from Hann is looking pretty stable.

Journal Entry | July 22 2019 | Haven Lake Campsite | 14:00

I’m sitting on a rock shelf baking in the sun listening to peels of thunder coming closer and closer to our little corner of paradise on Haven Lake in WCPP. We timed things pretty much perfectly once again, having just come back from a nice fishing excursion on the lake and eating the fruits of our labor (Walleye and pancakes) for lunch.

Fish on! Walleye fishing on Haven Lake.
Exploring Haven Lake on our day off. Believe it or not about 3 hours later tstorms were overhead and pounding our camp! Conditions change quickly up here.

Check that. Now I’m under the tarp and it’s raining. And thundering. Directly overhead now. Bizarrely, we just had the least humid and clearest morning of the trip so far! As we were paddling back to camp I noticed a few clouds building. By the time we caught a few last Walleye for lunch there was quite a buildup to the north already but it didn’t look threatening. 30 minutes later it was thundering. It always surprises me how quickly storms can build right on top of you out here! I hope the team that we saw getting flown into Adventure Lake spent their first hour setting up camp rather than fishing for its infamous Lake Trout… 

Haven once again proved itself as a veritable Walleye factory, producing most fish while trolling spoons between its many little islands and channels on our northern end of the lake. Jigging has been difficult but I think that’s because it’s summertime and the fish have moved from the traditional spots. As good as the Walleye fishing is on Haven, I have noticed more and more signs of heavy usage and even fishing pressure since I first came in 2016. I know that flying into Adventure Lake and fishing through Haven, Wrist and Mexican Hat lakes is becoming a very popular guided option in WCPP and I hate to say it but I think it’s impacting the quality of fishing along the route. Popularity rarely increases the value of wilderness, I suppose.

Journal Entry | July 22 2019 | Haven Lake Campsite | 21:15

Cooler air is finally settling in over a calm lake. There’s a cheery fire blazing and two crows beaking off at each other behind me. As suddenly as the storms built on top of us, the evaporated and left utter calm in their wake. We went fishing again after supper with some success. The forecast is looking decent but we’re probably going to be dodging tstorms over the next few days – no matter as we have tons of time to exit now. Tomorrow we’ll either be on Hansen or Glenn Lake depending on weather and wind.

A gorgeous sunset over Haven Lake.

Tuesday, July 23 2019 – Haven Lake to Glenn Lake

On Tuesday Kaycie and I woke up in the mood to cover some distance. We’d spent the previous day relaxing in Haven Lake and were ready to canoe again. This is also when I started referring to the first half of our trip as “a canoe trip” and the second half as, “a camping trip”. This wasn’t a bad thing, it was just a different focus since we had more time at camp thanks to afternoon and evening winds. The weather was extremely hot again on Tuesday.

The sun rises over Haven Lake. This promises to be a scorcher of a day!

Journal Entry | July 23 2019 | Glenn Lake Island Campsite | 15:00

Phew! That was bloody HOT! We traveled 21 km from Haven Lake to Glenn Lake in 6.5 hours, leaving Haven around 06:30 this morning. It’s been a smoking hot day with humidity literally hanging in the air looking like smoke. The currently forming storm clouds are at least providing some relief from the blazing sun. The fishing has been very slow today, we caught nothing in both Rostoul Falls and the Hansen chutes – I wouldn’t believe it even possible not to catch Walleye in either of those spots before today! They’ve never let me down before and it was quite disappointing to be honest as I’ve been looking forward to fishing those spots for months now.

We met the first other canoe party of the trip today on the Hansen Lake chute portages towards Glenn Lake. They were a group of three girls with their leader traveling the Gammon River. Today was yet another perfect conditions day, blowing with the wind along Rostoul and then down Hansen and right across to the Glenn Lake island campsite. Too bad the fishing wasn’t ideal…

I still can’t believe we caught NOTHING at Rostoul Falls! It boggles the mind that we didn’t catch at least a dozen Walleye here. Very abnormal for WCPP.

Journal Entry | July 23 2019 | Glenn Lake Island Campsite in Tent | 22:30

Damn is it ever HOT in this tent! A billion mosquitoes are serenading us outside the tent. I was very happy with our decision to go fishing once the storms blew off this evening (nothing hit us today again). We caught a couple of Walleye which we promptly fried up as a late night snack. I caught a nice size Northern Pike too. I was getting antsy just sitting around so I’m glad we got out of camp to go fishing today. I have to reiterate that the bugs are quite bad this year. Biting black flies and wasps are out during the day and the mosquitoes are fierce once the sun sets and the heat dies down at night.

An evening fire at the island site on Glenn Lake.

Wednesday, July 24 2019 – Glenn Lake to Telescope Lake

Wednesday dawned hot and clear once again. Once again, we were pushed by a friendly wind for 80% of our day, blowing across the long northern arm of Glenn Lake from our island site first and then blowing most of the way on Optic. We battled some decent waves on the northern half of Opic – that always seems to happen there! We were happy we decided to camp on Telescope this day since the only site on Optic was occupied by a couple of canoeists we spotted fishing a few hundred meters off camp. On our way into Telescope we met a group of 4 canoeists – a husband, wife, kid and grandparent on their way to fish Optic for the day. We knew the prime site on the island in Telescope would be taken and it was. We ended up with the slightly smaller but shadier site on the north side of the same island. No fuss, no muss – we actually liked this site a bit better thanks to the shade.

Journal Entry | July 24 2019 | Telescope Lake Island Campsite | 16:15

We had another great day so far today. The wind was pushing us most of the day and the weather is clear and bloody hot again. The humidity is way down and so are the black flies. Today we started running into more and more canoeists. First were two folks fishing off the Optic campsite. Then we ran into a group of four out on a day trip from Telescope to Optic to catch Walleye. It’s a blessing in disguise that they set up on the deluxe site in Telescope because we’re on the other island site just to the north and it’s a bit more protected from both sun and wind – it’s the perfect 2-day site.

I saw the butt end of a large marmot-like creature near our food pack earlier. I’m sure it’s a woodchuck and we’ll have to ensure it doesn’t get too brave. It’s strange to be one day from the truck with 4 more days of trip left but we’ll try to relax and enjoy the camping phase of the trip. The falls along the Rostoul River were normal at least – yielding a decent number of Walleye. The group of 4 were really impressed that we were out for 15 days – especially the grandpa who made Kaycie’s day when he told her she was far tougher than him! He was sitting on a fly swatter which isn’t actually a bad idea out here.

Journal Entry | July 24 2019 | Telescope Lake Island Campsite | 21:00

It’s still stiflingly hot outside as I sit here listening to the gentle sound of the water lapping against the rock shelf near our camp on Telescope Lake. I’ve started a small fire but it’s way too hot to sit near it yet. We’re tucked in very nicely at this site so as long as the local woodchuck doesn’t get too brave we should be OK for the forecast wild weather tomorrow. There’s lots of unsettled weather and strong storms in the short-term forecast so we’re preparing for a few interesting days ahead. We’re pretty close to the truck right now so we can work with a lot of different scenarios at this point. That’s the advantage of being a few days ahead of schedule I guess!

Thursday, July 25 2019 – Telescope Lake Rest Day

Thursday was originally forecast to be a stormy one in WCPP. Kaycie and I took advantage of being several days ahead of schedule and decided to hunker down at our nice campsite on the big island in Telescope Lake, rather than deal with potentially dangerous storms. Wouldn’t you know it? Other than a constant wind and some threatening clouds, we didn’t get very much in the way of storms at all! Other than a few rain squalls, we enjoyed a relaxing day in the hammock and reading our books. Towards the end of the day I was feeling quite cooped up but that’s just me. KC enjoyed reading for many more hours.

Exploring Telescope Lake.

Journal Entry | July 25 2019 | Telescope Lake Island Campsite | 13:30

We’re waiting for the weather to come at our cozy site on Telescope Lake. We slept in until 09:30 today which felt great! We made a half-hearted attempt at fishing and caught a few small pike but we weren’t really into it to be honest. It was windy already this morning and there’s some nervous energy about the potential strong storms that are forecast for today and are now showing up on the horizon. It’s a good day to just hunker down with our books and a coffee and see what comes. I moved the tarp over the fire area and cut a whole bunch of wood just in case the rain settles in for a longer period of time. The flies are absolutely relentless in the heat and humidity today after being almost nonexistent yesterday. This fits my theory that the flies get worse with humidity, especially with storms brewing. 

Journal Entry | July 25 2019 | Telescope Lake Island Campsite | 17:00

The doom ‘n gloom sky is quickly moving off to the east now and I’m sitting in warm sunshine again. I’m not sure how that happened but we avoided all nasty weather today. This shows yet again that getting weather forecasts is a blessing and a curse. We were planning to stay here anyway today, so it didn’t really hurt us. Rather than listen to forecasts which are almost always wrong, it’s best just to make your plans and execute them until the weather literally forces you to change. As I’m fond of saying to KC every day (multiple times), “Don’t overthink it”!  Play with the cards you’ve already been dealt rather than worrying about the next hand.

I was thinking earlier about all the stress we just went through with our house sale. Did stressing out over most of it help at all in the end? Nope. We just had to wait for the right buyers to come along and the house sold instantly. Canoe trips are the same. Some days you simply have to wait for the good things to happen and be thankful when they show up.

Enjoying sunset and a cozy fire at the Telescope Lake campsite.

The black flies are HORRIBLE again today. Just awful. It’s not quite ruining the trip but I do wonder how many folks are shocked at the reality of this place vs. the dream that’s sold in the adverts? This country is beautiful but it’s sure harsh too. This is something I always have to remember when I start romanticizing in February back in the Calgary office tower where there’s no black flies or mosquitoes.

Journal Entry | July 25 2019 | Telescope Lake Island Campsite | 20:00

The sky is still clearing – it’s pretty much completely cleared off now and the humidity has cleared off with it. Only about an hour ago I could see a humid haze hanging over the lake and now there is none. The strange thing is that the forecast that Hanneke sent is predicting a high of only 21 tomorrow with an 80% chance of rain. Seeing this evening’s clear skies I would not believe that forecast! I guess we’ll see what happens overnight.

Another beautiful sunset over Telescope Lake.

We’re not going fishing anymore as the wind’s still pretty strong. These last few days are passing by quickly despite being stuck at camp for most of them. I think the realization that civilization is just around the corner again is slowly setting in and we’re not sure we’re ready for that just yet. There are a few “civilized” things I’m looking forward to though! I’ve had enough of tepid water with ice tea flavoring for another year or so. I will NOT miss the black flies either! We have been bathing in Deet the past few days and it’s not even effective anymore against these relentless pests. Put it this way – there are things I could do to these flies that normal people would consider questionable behavior…

Friday, July 26 2019 – Telescope Lake to Onnie Lake

We woke up early on Friday morning after a few days on Telescope Lake to try to beat forecast rain to Onnie Lake. Onnie is pretty close to Telescope, the only challenge of the day was going to be the long paddle out of Telescope, which is a rather large body of water. We got pretty lucky with the wind but it was a bit gustier than I would have preferred. As usual the Hjalmar Lakes were an easy and pleasant paddle and before we knew it we were out of Woodland Caribou. We spent some time fishing in Onnie but weren’t fantastically successful. Fishing and black flies were becoming the negative theme for 2019 but everything else was pretty darn special so it is hard to complain too much.

Sunrise on Telescope Lake as we prepare to leave camp.

Journal Entry | July 26 2019 | Onnie Lake Campsite | 10:00

I woke up at around 05:45 this morning after yet another restless night and decided since it wasn’t raining to too windy we should make a run for Onnie Lake today. Despite being humid again, we made the trip in 2.5 hours and still haven’t received a drop of rain. We’re planning to go fishing soon to nab some Walleye for lunch. 

Checking out the Petroglyphs in Hjalmar Lakes.

I’m ready to go home now. I’m sick of the flies and the bad sleeping I’ve had for much of the trip thanks to the heat and a not-so-optimal sleeping matt situation. If I’m completely honest about it I miss my comfortable, regular life too! I think this is a good thing – it shows that the trip was a perfect length and difficulty when I am looking forward to getting back to regular life again. It sucks when I finish trips and feel like I barely started them. The whole point of these expeditions is to make regular life seem “not so bad”. #missionaccomplished

Journal Entry | July 26 2019 | Onnie Lake Campsite | 16:30

The decision has been made. We’re heading out of the bush tomorrow instead of waiting around ’til Sunday. We’ve been sitting at camp for many hours the past few days, thanks to a dogged wind and honestly it gets a bit old after a while. We’re bittersweet about it though. As nice as a cold drink and air conditioned room in Red Lake will certainly be, we both know that a special trip is coming to an end. I’ve warned KC a number of times on this trip that when it’s over, it’s over. These trips are difficult and they’re not always “fun” in the classic sense of the word, but they stick around in our memories and tease us with their tranquility and wild natures. It won’t take long back in the concrete jungle to intensely desire to be back out here in the real one again.

Saturday, July 27 2019 -Onnie Lake to Johnson Lake and Exit

Having made the decision to exit a day “early”, we slept in a bit on Saturday before packing up our last WCPP 2019 camp on Onnie Lake and setting off towards Douglas Creek. As expected with the summer water levels, the creek was a bit challenging. We hit a number of shallow rocks and even got out of the boat a few times. I caught the last Walleye of the trip trolling out of Spider Lake. Trolling was the way to go this year for catching anything. The portages to Stan and Johnson Lake were so easy compared to the ones we’d navigated along Royd Creek!

It was strange remembering how we’d come through the area only two week previous with no idea what adventures awaited us. Now we were lean and tanned and beat up from 15 days in the wild. Our souls were full and our minds were saturated with memories that will last a lifetime. I will always remember the 2019 trip as a very special father / daughter experience and am grateful to Kaycie for making it such a memorable adventure!

Until next time!

4 thoughts on Woodland Caribou – 2019 Canoe Trip – Johnson Lake

  1. I very much appreciate sharing your adventure in such detail. I’ve undertaken a number of solo trips over the years in Ontario and certainly can relate to your experiences. Sep 2019 I spent 14 days in Quetico. Rained almost every day. And long portages, one was over 3 kilometers. Rough! Didn’t see one person the entire time. 😉 I’m planning a trip to Caribou end May / June. Hopefully the park will be open. UGH! I enjoyed your report and will help me greatly with planning my own trip. Thanks!! Ps. You are a fantastic father!! Lucky daughter.

  2. Thanks for posting a really awesome trip report. I was planning the exact same route that you and your daughter completed and happened to stumble upon your blog. Thanks for taking the time to put it all together. Beautiful pictures and again….really awesome work!

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