August 2nd – 18th, 2016
The Big One. 17 days and 16 nights through the heart of the Temagami wilderness. Our longest, most challenging, most spectacularly scenic route to date. This canoe trip took us on a journey of over 250km through some of the most rugged terrain in the region, with abundant wildlife, magical old-growth forests, sacred spiritual sites and ancient portage trails in use for over 5000 years, through areas of historical significance in relation to industry and environmental activism, and travel upon 5 rivers and 31 different lakes.
PART TWO: It’s All Downhill From Here
Alternate Title #1: The Lady Evelyn Was No Lady At All
Alternate Title #2: That’s Not A Portage, THIS Is A Portage!
August 8th – 12th, 2016
Day 7: Florence Lake Rest Day (0km – what a couple of slugs we are)
On the seventh day, they did fuck-all.
We briefly entertained the idea of packing up camp at Table Rock and heading north to the beach sites on Florence Lake, but we were too lazy and tired to do much of anything on our rest day. Andrew woke slightly earlier than me and paddled over to the mainland from our island to gather some firewood for breakfast while I crossed a rocky bridge to dig a cat-hole far away from the campsite. There were some large blueberry bushes growing there, and after thoroughly washing my hands I went back to pick some for our breakfast. Rest days mean pancakes and bacon in our world, and after a strong pot of French press we cooked up a hearty stack of blueberry pancakes, smothered in butter and maple syrup and eaten with a generous portion of bacon on the side.
I boiled up a large pot of water and washed my face and attended to my leg injuries. My legs were scratched, bitten, and bruised from the bushwhack-y portages we’d been trudging through for days, so I gave them a good wash and a liberal application of Polysporin so they wouldn’t get any worse. Andrew filled our solar shower and set it out on a dark rock in the sun to heat. We opted to do some laundry – our socks smelled like the bogs we’d tromped through – and I filled a dry bag with water and biodegradeable soap and cleaned first our shirts, then pants, and finally our underwear and socks. Our clothes were hung in the sun to dry, smelling much fresher, and our solar shower was heating up quite nicely. It was another hot one, but pretty breezy (still from the north – odd), when we saw a solo canoeist paddle past our site in a cedar strip, heading north. Andrew was wearing only a towel and I told him to hide his junk as I waved and complimented the paddler’s canoe. He said a quick hello and set off into the wind towards the beach.
We spent the afternoon swimming, snacking, showering, and sangria-ing. The wind completely died at one point and I was roasting, so I went for a good long swim around the perimeter of the island and attempted to join the group of eight loons that had been circling us all day. They didn’t accept me into their tribe so I went back ashore to be with my fellow two-legged animal, and we made pulled pork burritos for supper.
We’d given up on trying to hang our barrel by this point on the trip, instead hanging just the extra food bags, tying the barrel to a tree well away from our tent, and stacking our pots and pans on top of it à la Hap Wilson’s Early Warning System. It was a lovely (if a bit boring) day, and we stayed out to see the stars again at night. We didn’t sleep quite as well, either because of the lack of exercise or because by this point we had flattened the bushes underneath our tent and it was no longer as quite as comfortable as the night before.
Day 8: Florence Lake – Florence River – South Lady Evelyn River – Shortcut Lake – South Lady Evelyn River at 1st Waterfall (26.8km)
The wind changed direction overnight and was blowing from the south when we woke up. Bit cooler and breezy initially, which was a welcome relief from the heat of the previous week. Breakfast was rehydrated rice pudding (yum yum!) with lots of dried fruit. While packing up, Andrew asked me where my glasses were. Turned out they were under his foot. They weren’t broken, but they were bent in a stupid way and very crooked, and I was not at all pleased with him as we left Table Rock and paddled north to the beach liftover while the sun came out to fry us again.
At the beach, we met the solo canoeist who’d paddled past us on our rest day. He had a name (Chris) and was a very interesting man to chat with! We spent the better part of an hour talking with him. He told us he had parked at his friend Alex Mathias’ place on Obabika Lake and taken the whole Pinetorch link across from Wakimika. We told him a bit about ourselves and he told us about his research into indigenous dwellings. We learned he’s building a yurt out in Manitoba, that he has been coming back to trip down the South Lady Ev for many years, and that he has an open invitation from Hap Wilson to stop by the Cabin whenever he likes. Chris was a very spiritual dude and we really enjoyed our talk with him. He helped us to bring our crap across the sand isthmus to the other side of Florence Lake after letting us poke around in an old decaying cabin at his site, and as we said goodbye we had a feeling we’d see him again, and we were left thinking that we may have just met a wizard or some other equally magical being. He asked me not to post his photo, so, like us, you can decide if he was real or if he was the product of a joint hallucination between Andrew and I.
The Florence River was wide and shallow, and when we reached the confluence of the Florence and Lady Evelyn Rivers we paused by a rock to leave an offering of tobacco and ask for safe passage for the next leg of our adventure. We were soon paddling through Duff Lake and by the Duff Ridge, which we chose to rename Da Fridge and then Da Beer Fridge, but there was no beer in sight so we stopped at the campsite for lunch.
Continuing on downstream, we paddled through Jack’s Lake and then neared the Fearsome (my adjective) White Rock Rapids, which were not actually scary at all due to low water levels. Our boat gamely scraped her way down (getting stuck once, but it was no big deal to hop out of the canoe and shove it through) and once the river widened a bit, we noticed many old-growth cedars along the shore.
We were just passing a collapsed bridge when we heard what sounded like a beaver munching on some alder bushes, when, surprise! A small bear flopped out upside-down into the open, took one look at us, rolled over, and scarpered. Since it was such a little bear, we loudly sang every verse of Barrett’s Privateers for several kilometers of winding river to warn Mama Bear to stay far away if she was lurking somewhere.
We spent some time searching for the route through “Shortcut Lake”, initially passing the off-shoot of the river that leads to the trail, but after pulling out our GPS we were able to locate the correct river bend and then found a handy-dandy portage marker to let us know we were in the right spot. Not a difficult carry, somewhere around 150m, and the next 55m portage to get back to the river was avoided entirely by dragging our canoe through a shallow creek and over a beaver dam/mud hole.
A short paddle later we heard the rumblings of the first waterfall marked on our map, and seeing the campsite unoccupied and running out of daylight, we stopped for the day and set up our tent. I also requested that the mesh room be attached to our tarp for the evening, as I was getting tired of itchy mosquito bites and I was carrying the damn thing around, anyway.
For dinner we made Shepherd’s Pie, Andrew’s all-time favourite, and began a new tradition called Night Socks. Night Socks only come out when portaging is done for the day and moccasins are appropriate footwear, and the daytime Bog Socks are no longer required. There’s even a Night Socks song, to the tune of Bob Seeger’s Night Moves. Real catchy. We hid inside the bug shelter to eat, and I read some more of Hap Wilson’s The Cabin to Andrew (I had been reading a bit each day from the book to excite him about our upcoming river travel), he stopped denying me chocolate bars, and we went to bed happy to have had such a successful first day on the South Lady Evelyn River.
Day 9: First Waterfall on the SLER – Rapids #3 through #12 – Shangri-La – Divide Lake (12.4km)
The morning sun quickly burnt off the bit of cloud cover, and Andrew dismantled the tarp and tent while I performed surgery on some tortillas he had decided to vacuum seal at home. Vacuum sealing tortillas is a bad idea, and I do not recommend it. We ended up with a 5-ply Bread Monster that required a lot of careful peeling before I could spread separate layers with peanut butter, jam, and dried fruit. Breakfast ordeal over, we portaged to the other side of our campsite and put in below the falls, choosing to line the following CII rapid instead of portaging around. This was reasonably successful, and we were pleased because previous attempts at lining have not always gone too smoothly. I manned the stern line, Andrew the bow; which was better for both of us as he is a nimble billy goat over slippery river rocks and I am more of a plodding cow. Rapids #4 and #5 were portaged around, the first 55m extended to about 100m over some large boulders, the second 125m passed through a nice campsite.
We were entering a large old burn, and the blueberries found on the portage around Rapid #6 were enormous and plentiful. We learned from Hap Wilson’s books that this forest fire had been set intentionally in 1993 by two Elk Lake local-yokels who were cheesed about the formation of the Lady Evelyn Smoothwater Provincial Park (and Hap’s Cabin within it) in the 1980’s, effectively shutting down logging and mining operations in the area. 25 sq km had been burnt, the fire hot enough to split rocks near Macpherson Chutes. 23 years later, the landscape is still a bit bleak. Excellent blueberries however, as I was saying.
We stopped for a short break along the Macpherson Chutes portage and climbed up the ridge to get a good looksee at our surroundings, startling some forest chickens in the process. As we paddled down Macpherson Lake, I noticed something very big and brown on a marshy island before the lake narrowed. Wide-eyed and open-mouthed, I pointed wildly and Andrew saw what I was so excited about. MOOSE! My first, real, wild, non-highway 60 in Algonquin-type MOOSE! Afraid he would either run away or charge us, we sssslllloooowwwwlllyyy paddled out away from his hiding place and turned the canoe around to get a better look. He was a big, healthy-looking bull, soft brown velvet still covering his antlers, and he quietly regarded us for a few moments before stepping out of the bushes and into the shallows to munch on some reeds. He didn’t seem to be bothered by us one bit. We hadn’t even really snuck up on him; we were talking and singing and carrying on like normal. After watching him from afar for several minutes, we left him to his chewing and paddled through the narrows to stop at a campsite for a lunch break, both of us extremely pumped to have seen the elusive Swamp Donkey in its natural habitat.
Rapid #7, a CII, was run, bouncing off only one rock. Rapids #8 and #9, both CI-techs, were also run but with less success, getting stuck due to low water and having to step out into the current to push our canoe off a few rocks. No serious damage, though, so better than portaging! This put us into Stonehenge Lake, and from there we took the scenic route through Shangri-La rather than the long direct carry to Divide Lake. [Note: Divide Lake is now marked as Katherine Lake on topographical maps. I prefer the older name as it more accurately describes the geography. This is where the Lady Evelyn River splits off into the north and south channels.]
The portage to Shangri-La began over a huge pile of boulders but soon turned into a proper trail with many offshoots leading to Murphy’s Cave and the waterfalls. We took every path. Unfortunate amount of toilet paper littered across the campsites, but a gorgeous place to spend time nonetheless. On our final carry down past the falls, I managed to slip on a dusty rock and came crashing down onto my left shin, the barrel knocking me over like some big blue turtle shell. Andrew said he was waiting to hear the crack of bone, but other than being quite painful and blossoming into a large lump immediately, I wasn’t seriously injured. Even dry, Temagami rocks are slippery!
We scraped through Rapids #11 and #12 and popped out on Divide Lake. We decided against the site facing west because we had been in the sun long enough for one day, and checked out the campsite opposite. It was rather slanted and there was a canoe stashed in the bushes there, so we floated down to the next site on the western shore and found it to be pretty excellent, but we were spoiled for choice and wanted to see the last site at the far southern end of Divide.
Curses! Humans! We hadn’t seen anyone all day and thought we might finally be away from the crowds. I suppose three campers aren’t a crowd, but we still weren’t alone. Backtracked to the site we had just left, which really was rather nice and very spacious. Walked ‘upstairs’ to our ‘bedroom’ to set up the tent, and then I was feeling pretty tired so I sat down in my comfy chair by the shore and had a glass of wine while Andrew ran around busying himself.
Andrew suggested climbing the ridge behind our site to see if we could catch a bit of the sunset, so I reluctantly pulled myself out of my chair and plodded uphill. Andrew was walking behind me and we were chatting about trees and mosses and which pine is which, when I noticed a small, etched-glass box sitting on a rock. “What is that? Is that a compass?” I asked, thinking I had found some cool treasure left behind by another camper, and moved in for a closer look.
Suddenly I knew, and I cried out “OH! ANDREW!” as tears and snot started pouring down my face. In the little box was a diamond ring and two gold nuggets, wrapped in a blueberry leaf. I turned around to see Andrew balanced on one knee, grinning like a madman. He said “It’s just the stunt ring, it’s my mom’s old engagement ring, but I’m having another one made for you and I couldn’t wait any longer and I love you so much and want to spend the rest of my life with you and will you marry me?!” or something like that. Blubbering, I yelled “OF COURSE!” and “Aren’t you supposed to put this on my finger or something?” and then I had a good cry and he pretended there was dirt in his eye and we walked back down to our site with goofy smiles on our faces and tears on our cheeks. He then produced another surprise: A beer! Andrew is the king of secret beers. He once stashed one in his pack for a full week in Killarney. This one remained hidden for 9 days. While I was sitting around picking bugs out of my wineglass, he had gone to hide the ring and chill the beer in the lake. What a celebration! I screamed at the top of my lungs “WE’RE GETTING MARRIED!”, probably annoying the campers at the bottom of the lake to no end, and we made Three Sisters Soup with jalapeño-cheddar biscuits for dinner and talked about mushy-lovey-dovey things while a toad invaded our mosquito shelter. What a guy. Andrew, that is, not the toad.
Day 10: Divide Lake – Fat Man’s Falls (6.1km)
Slept in a bit and took our sweet time getting organized in the morning. Andrew made a small fire while I assembled a bannock for the first time this trip, and I had just taken it out of the reflector oven when who should paddle by but our new pal Chris! I invited him up for bannock and another pot of coffee, and he produced a bag of blueberries to share with us that he had collected around Macpherson Lake (after accusing us of eating them all). He had stayed at Shangri-La the night before, and we talked about damage we had all seen to one of the old pines next to the waterfall. Chris posited an interesting theory about why people feel the need to hack into things with axes: Perhaps the beauty is too much for some people to take. He then noticed and commented on my ring, and I said “Yep… that’s new!” and we told him the story of how after a 10-year trial run Andrew had finally decided to make an honest woman out of me. It was very special to be able to share our good news with someone.
Chris then asked us if we’d like to travel with him for a bit down the Lady Ev and visit Hap Wilson’s cabin at Cabin Falls, and we accepted the offer, hastily packed away the rest of our camp and set off downstream behind him. Rapid #13 was waded down while a group of teenage boys waded up it, and on the next 220m portage Chris offered to double back and collect the barrel for me, which was a nice gesture but I felt weird and lonely waiting at the bottom of the portage for him and Andrew to return, so I started singing Willie Nelson’s On The Road Again with altered lyrics (in the boat again/I just can’t wait to get in the boat again/down the Lady Ev and meeting a new friend/I can’t wait to get in the boat again).
Just before Cabin Falls we saw the group of three that had occupied the southernmost site on Divide. One (the adult daughter of the couple, I presume) was in a sea kayak (!!1!!!1!) and they had a ludicrous amount of fishing tackle and bags and club-size cashew jars strewn about the portage trail on river left. Chris showed us the way to the dock at the Cabin, and we followed him up the trail to get a peek. He went looking for Hap and Andrea – who, incidentally, had promised us a beer if we passed by while they were home after meeting them in February – but they weren’t around (we later learned they were on the Dumoine river) and so I wrote a note in their Tripper’s Journal. The Cabin is a little slice of heaven, and it was nice to have Chris show us around as we wouldn’t have felt comfortable going up there without him.
The kayaker had followed us across the river, and Chris gently informed her that this was private property after asking if she knew Hap (she didn’t), and then let us know he needed to make some repairs to his yoke before continuing on. We decided to keep going, so we thanked him for showing us around and said goodbye before crossing the river and scrambling over the 150m portage around Cabin Falls. The family of three was now on the far side of the portage. Dad complained loudly to us that this wasn’t a canoe trip, it was a hiking trip; there are no fish, these trails are worse than the Rockies, moan moan moan. We found the portages incredibly tough too, but we knew what we were in for when planning this trip. It’s pretty hard not to when you see names like “Golden Staircase” and “Fat Man’s Squeeze” on the map. Their situation probably wasn’t helped by the use of a kayak and a canoe, multiple small bags and boxes instead of large portage packs, the worst-behaved Labrador Retriever on planet earth, and a tackle box the size of a wannigan. We tried to lighten the mood by smiling and exuding positive vibes but I don’t think it worked.
I started feeling a bit strange between Cabin and Bridal Veil Falls, due to the second pot of coffee that morning, the heat, dehydration, or some combination of all three. We stopped at the takeout for the Bridal Veil Falls portage and had a bite to eat, and after chugging a litre of cherry Kool-Aid I felt a bit better.
This portage was more difficult than the one around Cabin Falls. I couldn’t bring myself to walk the last bit of the trail with my pack as it was straight down a cliff, so Billy Goat Andrew collected it from me and made it down to the base of the waterfall. On our walk back we went to go see the falls, and they were only slightly terrifying and mostly stunning, even with low water. It was a powerful place, but without the icky vibes the Sturgeon River gave us last year. When it came time to bring the canoe down, we had to resort to using a rope wrapped around a tree to slowly lower it off the cliff. Andrew held the rope at the top while I caught the nose from the bottom. It was not at all graceful, but it worked.
Below the falls we entered a canyon of sorts, the bottom laced with tumbling scree and stunted trees. The weather was very hot and humid, and it began to cloud over. We attempted to line a portion of Rapid #15 – Temptation Alley – but ran out of water a third of the way down and bushwhacked up from the river to take a portion of the 900m portage that skirts this section of whitewater. We marked the location we had taken out at with our map case so we could find the rest of our gear on the return walk, and by the time we got back to it Chris had reappeared, single-carrying his canoe and pack. We walked together and stopped for another break at the end of the fairly easy trail. All three of us were feeling awfully drained because of the oppressive heat and humidity, and we could feel a storm brewing. We told Chris we’d be staying at Fat Man’s Falls for the night because we didn’t want to complete that notorious portage in the rain, and he said he wouldn’t be going much further than us. We parted ways for the final time with Chris going on ahead. I really should have asked his surname. I’d like to invite him to our wedding. Andrew and I truly enjoyed his company, and I hope our paths cross again sometime.
Under darkening clouds we hiked to the Fat Man’s Falls campsite, awfully disappointed to find heaps of garbage, broken glass, and decaying underpants (A-ha! The Temagami Gitch Ditcher strikes again!). We were a bit flustered while we set up our tent in a more protected area. I noticed a widowmaker leaning directly over our tent, so Andrew performed some lumberjack acrobatics and pushed the tree over and out of the way. We set the tarp up on the top of the hill just as the rain came. We hadn’t travelled far, but we were thoroughly worn out from the difficult portages and the excitement of the past 24 hours. For only the second time on our trip we cooked dinner on our camp stove instead of over the fire (rehydrated ratatouille and couscous), allowed ourselves an extra ration of bourbon for medicinal purposes, and then went to the tent to rejoice in dry Night Socks.
Day 11: Fat Man’s Falls – Willow Island Lake (9.1km)
It rained all night but let up by morning and was cloudy and cool as we dismantled the tent, tarp, and made breakfast. We spent some time cleaning up the campsite before scouting the Fat Man’s Squeeze, and chose the longer route around instead of the narrow chasm of rock, which still led to a difficult scramble down boulders at the end. We took some photos in the Squeeze and then lined our canoe over a 1m ledge which left me in a very compromising position perched on a rock in the middle of a swift current.
Andrew leapt back to rescue me and we lined the canoe through the next section of whitewater (Rapid #16) with some tense moments when a wave caught our boat broadside and threatened to upend her. We barely scraped through Rapid #17, and Rapid #18 (“Technical C1 Sucker Gut”) was a very sorry state of affairs. A horrible crunching noise caused me to freeze up completely. Andrew was yelling for me to do something, I don’t know what, and when we finally extricated ourselves I began screaming that we had punctured our boat, I had wanted to scout first, I was scared and miserable and blah blah blah. We hadn’t broken our canoe after all, and Andrew was understandably frustrated with me for being such a whiny baby. So, in a glum mood and under dark skies we paddled through shallow swifts and suddenly found ourselves in a large lake. The Lady Evelyn River had ended.
We followed a family of ducklings out into the lake and said hello to a couple of fishermen in a small motorboat. Our lunch break was taken atop a high rocky mound that featured a campsite fallen into disuse. There were many interesting mosses and lichens here and we poked around for a bit before sadly saying goodbye to the Lady Ev. The river portion of our trip had been a totally surreal experience: The bear, the moose, the old burn, the unbelievably rugged portages, the waterfalls and rapids; our engagement, meeting Chris again, and the change in weather made us feel like we had fallen down the rabbit hole and after so many magical and mystical experiences we were abruptly thrust back into the Real World like a couple of sleepy Alices waking from a dream.
It was cool and breezy as we paddled through Willow Island Lake, avoiding the dreaded “Two Miler” portage to Diamond Lake entirely by curving north past a couple of exposed campsites. Andrew was feeling a bit off and because we were still a day ahead of schedule, we opted to search out a campsite on Willow Island Lake and take the afternoon off. We first paddled south into a small bay, but finding the campsite to be nothing more than a heap of scrap metal in a pile of weeds, we continued north and fought strong headwinds and waves towards the next campsite on the eastern shore. It was okay, but we weren’t in love with it, so we crossed the lake and found an island we much preferred. There was a small amount of toilet paper in a few bushes but we didn’t see any actual piles of poo so we made it our home for the night. The firepit desperately needed rearranging – full of foil and a giant, circular rock pile as opposed to the classic Temagami Three-Wall design – so I assigned myself this duty while Andrew hung a line and set up our tarp. It was still early in the afternoon so I washed our Bog Socks again. Andrew made a halfhearted attempt at fishing. We built a small fire to deal with some of the garbage (removing the foil) and had Fancy Ramen for dinner even though it wasn’t raining anymore. We were plum tuckered, and the noodles were comforting. The sky cleared as the moon came out, and we walked to a high point on the north end of the island before bed, lay down on the rocks, and watched the Perseid meteor shower shoot blazes of comet debris across the northern sky.
We ran out of scotch.