It mostly started as a passing comment in the University of Idaho River Reading and Whitewater Safety
class that I teach each fall… “When I retire, I will spend six weeks in September and October on a wilderness canoe camping trip… Solo”. In the back of my mind, the Woodland Caribou Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada was where I was going to travel to explore. As I talked about this potential experience, I started to carry the Park map and readily shared possible routes with students, colleagues, friends and family. I may have even retired a year earlier than planned because I wanted so much to make my “dream” a reality. Lots of planning and lots of transition.
Did I mention that preparing for this excursion took lots of planning, lots of transition and lots of support from those close to me in my life?
|The 1,600-mile drive to the location that I considered the “put-in”, at Wallace Lake in Manitoba, Canada is an ordeal in itself. I arrived at 3:30 p.m. on August 30th and decided to start immediately…a day early. The thought of reaching Siderock Lake, setting up a campsite and getting some needed rest was appealing. That decided, I was on the water by 4:00 p.m. I had received great advice from Jim Hegyi and Martin Kehoe on contacting Lem Pelley to park my car in his back yard for the duration of my trip.|
August of 2009 may have been the rainiest, wettest month in Woodland Caribou history, which resulted in high stream flows and very soggy, wet portages. September of 2009 set the record as the warmest and driest month in history in Woodland Caribou. Much of what this paddler experienced was directly related to these conditions.
Showing the location of Woodland Caribou Provincial Park. © Mike Kinziger
WEEK ONE (31 Lakes including Wallace, Siderock, Crystal, Broken Arrow, Haggart, Mather, Irregular, Beamish, Welkin, Adventure, Haven, Gulch, Jigsaw, and Wrist)
August 30th (Sunday) – Camp # 1
The Wallace Lake put-in is well used by motor boaters and fisherman, but sees little canoe access. With a slight tailwind, I paddled off across Wallace (about ¾ mile) to the mouth of the Wanipigow River. I had not been in my We-no-nah Wilderness canoe since April, perhaps waiting to savor the upcoming experience. I love paddling a canoe, even when it’s loaded with food and gear. The canoe is 15’4” long and weighs 31 pounds. Not a lot of room for what was needed to “survive” the multi-week trip.
Canoe with 2 paddles, yoke and attachments
Food pack (Breakfast – 13 lbs, Dinner – 23 lbs, Other – 2 lbs)
Cooking Gear (2 pots, fry pan, plate, 2 cups, cooking oil, grill)
Clothing and Camping Gear (Clothes, tent, thermarest, tarp, water shoes, etc.
Fishing Gear & Pelican case (2 poles, 2 reels, camera, GPS, SPOT, Kindle, etc)
Miscellaneous (chair, saw, rope, maps, water containers, etc.
The Wanipigow River was running high and had significant current. Of course, I had to paddle upstream, against the current. The river meandered constantly until it opened into Siderock Lake. It took more than two hours.
Prior to launch, I had met a boater named Greg who had openly welcomed me to stop at his campsite up the Wanipigow. When my canoe entered Siderock, I spotted Greg fishing in a bay and decided to paddle over to see him. We talked briefly and he generously gave me three walleye for my first dinner on the trip. There was not much time left in the day to find a campsite as well as to prepare fresh fish. Eagles and loons were observed as the canoe headed off toward an island and an isolated spot that became my first “home” of the trip. I slept well and enjoyed coffee and oatmeal for breakfast as well as that special “fish fry” from the evening before. I was on my way!
August 31st (Monday) – Camp # 2
Here’s a section of the Woodland Caribou Provincial Park map showing Mike’s first-week route. Camps 2-7 are marked in this section (Camp 1 is just outside the Park boundary). Click on the map to go to another page with a copy of the map that you can zoom on for more detail. After the map loads, your cursor will be your guide point to trace the route in the larger image. Start on the left-center edge.
I was excited to leave the Siderock Lake campsite, to be able to move up river and to enter the Woodland Caribou Park where I believed that solitude and an appreciation for the outdoor environment would be enhanced. The Wanipigow River was more beautiful and challenging then I imagined. It must have taken five hours to navigate and portage six waterfalls while moving against the current. But finally… Crystal Lake… officially in the wilderness. As welcome a site as Crystal Lake might have been, there were still two more portages and a number of miles that needed to be completed to get to Broken Arrow Lake, my destination for the day.
Camp on Broken Arrow Lake. What a view. © Mike Kinziger |I will need to work on the packs and learn how to balance the canoe to make the portages easier and more tolerable. They were difficult that first day. I have been able to double pack which helps save time. It should get easier as the packs lighten and my technique improves. I did lose a bungee on one of the portages, must be more careful! What a welcome campsite that I found on an island near the northern end of Broken Arrow. There was still plenty of time to leisurely put up my tent and to head out fishing… which produced another evening fish dinner.|
The last leg of the trip up to Broken Arrow involved a long, narrow passage upstream through grass-lined, meandering pathways. The canoe doesn’t maneuver as well as it will later in the trip when the load is reduced. However, I love to paddle and being on the water is what I enjoy most on these trips. Too much time of my life has been spent on solid ground. A couple pike, potatoes and gravy for dinner. A wonderful day! I will move tomorrow to take advantage of the weather and to spend more time in the canoe.
September 1st (Tuesday) – Camp # 3
Happy birthday, Mom! A continuous breeze from the west. No bugs. Warm. Great coffee and granola with a cup of blueberries. Breaking camp will be easy. I plan to paddle through Haggard Lake… six total portages.
|It turned out to be quite the day. Broken Arrow Lake is a “dream come true” paddle on the north end. Numerous rock formations mold the shoreline into breathtaking scenery. I fished along the way and by noon had caught and filleted dinner. Then the real paddling began. There was a southwest wind all day long and I happened to be paddling southwest. Still, the sun was shining, it was warm and I got to do what I enjoy most… paddle and route find and be out in the wilderness for hours on end. I have been using the topographic maps extensively for navigation. I’ve got a fairly good sense of where I am and seem to anticipate a general direction to move. However, I did make two minor errors today that caused me to reassess my location and to make adjustments. |
Wild Blueberries topping the morning granola. That’s living! © Mike Kinziger
Finding portage trails can be timely and difficult. My portage routine is already consistent. The food bag, Pelican case, fish pole, PFD and NRS bag first. Return! The canoe, paddles and camping/clothing bag second. All of the gear has its special place in the canoe and in turn in the waterproof bags. Being organized is helpful and may prevent me from losing or breaking something. It was difficult locating a camping site on Mather Lake. I must have paddled to one side of the lake and then the other side three times and then, the fire pit that I had read about in an article forwarded to me from Jim Hegyi…Howard’s Solo. It must have been his work. I had to hurry to pitch camp, gather firewood and cook the stroganoff with the side dish of fish. I had a difficult time eating the entire meal. I’ve already picked a half cup of blueberries for my morning oatmeal. I’m tired and sore. Sleep will be a friend. As I finish this entry, the nearly full moon has risen and is twinkling a trail across Mather Lake that seems to be pointing to my campsite. I sit here in the dark wearing shorts and a short sleeve shirt. Very wonderful weather!
All the major gear, minus the canoe, waiting to be portaged. © Mike Kinziger
Each portage finds the traveler in a different lake or above/below what seems an impassible landform (rapids, rocks, hills, etc.). Most of the lakes are un-named. All have a sense of beauty and ruggedness, an isolation from all other bodies of water. I slowly paddle through these lakes looking from shoreline to shoreline, observing, listening. Not sure what it is that I’m looking for but a sense of “visual overload” takes place. During the last five miles, I have entered jack pine territory. The evidence of a past fire is everywhere with jack pine quick to rejuvenate the islands and shoreline. Little survives the fires. The view from the Mather campsite looks south for at least a mile of open water with shorelines not detecting any elevation. Still, I sit for an entire evening and a long restful morning and there is no sign of anything human.
September 2nd (Wednesday) – Camp # 4
Quite a day! Understatement! I must have spent three or more hours totally lost. The GPS didn’t even seem to help. I will need to spend more time with this device! The southern end of Mather Lake is a mass of islands and peninsulas. The lake is massive…miles long and wide. I got off track and couldn’t backtrack or remember how I got to where I was. I found a small island with an old campfire ring and laid out all of the maps. It just so happens that my location was somewhere on the “divide” between two maps and they didn’t seem to coincide. I paddled and paddled and paddled…first west and then around a large island to the east. Surprise, surprise, I began paddling southeast although I didn’t quite know where I was on my maps. It’s difficult to describe the feeling one has out on these lakes when where you think you are isn’t where you are! The big lakes, especially in the burn areas don’t seem to change from one place to another. Once I was on track again, the paddle was more enjoyable, much less frustrating.
The weather has been fantastic… warm with a slight breeze but not enough wind to cause breakers on the water. I’ve been paddling a lot of miles in a relatively short period of time. It seems as if I am taking advantage of the conditions, or is it my “youthful” high energy? In the back of my mind, I project that there may be large lakes later in the trip that may require layovers. “Make hay while the weather is warm”. Tomorrow I will travel to Beamish Lake. This requires an 825-meter portage. The following day will find me on Welkin which is where I wanted to be on Sunday, already a full two - three days ahead of my tentative schedule.
I had a “heck” of a time finding a campsite on Irregular Lake. I ended up exploring and scouting and fishing a major portion of the lake. I finally pulled the canoe out of the water on a west facing peninsula on the tip of an island in the northern portion of the lake, a nice but small site. No one has camped here before. Great dinner of Minestrone soup, pike and broth. I did see eight otters today and actually watched four of them slide down a steep embankment into the lake. I also had a beaver “tail slap” near the canoe. I’m sitting in my chair with my feet nearly dangling in the lake. I’m facing south and observing the billowy, cumulous clouds in the sky. Favorable weather is predicted tomorrow.
September 3rd (Thursday) – Camp # 5
It’s morning! It’s been difficult to stay in the tent eight-nine hours per day. Sleep has been welcome. There is no hurry now-a-days. A small wood fire produces the awaited a.m. cup of coffee, one of my luxury items for the trip. I sit in my Sling-Light chair and take in the sunrise. Sometimes the only sound is the wood burning. Sometimes this is interrupted by a fish surfacing or loons calling (the way that only loons can sing). Or… geese starting their migrations, hundreds of them passing in formation overhead. There is peace and tranquility in the early morning hours. As I get older, I find myself tiring earlier and falling asleep at a time that young people might think too early. But the truth is that I am always excited and look forward to the next morning. I enjoy being awake, alive and active during the daylight hours. And this is one of those mornings.
If there was a day to take a “rookie” wilderness canoe camping, today may have been it (minus the portages, but I digress). I exited Irregular Lake around 8:30 a.m. I am now camped in Welkin and it’s only 3:00 p.m. The lakes that I paddled through today were “glass”… no ripples, no waves… just glass. Mile after mile of a mirror-like surface of water. I didn’t want to get out of the canoe until I realized what a toll the sun and heat are having on my body. It may seem strange to be dehydrated while paddling on so much pristine and pure water. I drink as often as possible by dipping my water bottle directly into the middle of lakes. No filtering.
Let me describe this day. I was camped immediately across from the 825-meter portage. It was the nastiest portage to date. It was easy to locate and the trail is well defined. It starts off with a small amount of “mud walking” and then climbs to a beautiful ridge. I stopped there with my heavy first load and returned for the canoe and clothes/gear pack. An 825-meter portage is the equivalent of walking 25 football fields when a paddler double packs. The last 150 meters was wet, sloppy, “shoe grabbing up to the thigh mud”. There is nothing one can do to avoid it, especially when carrying the canoe. And on this day, there was nothing I could do but walk right down the middle of that energy sapping, frustrating muddy path.
Paddling on a glassy mirror, otherwise known as Beamish Lake. © Mike Kinziger |After the canoe was reloaded, I quickly headed to the nearest rock outlet. I secured the canoe and then walked into the lake until I was totally submerged. Whew! The paddle up the southeast end of Beamish Lake is at times spectacular…huge rock formations. I stopped to climb one such rock and was almost brave enough to jump the 35 feet to the lake, but common sense prevailed. As the rock formations diminished, the jack pine shoreline took over. But still, paddling on a smooth glassy lake is indescribable. Mile after mile. The only sounds are an occasional loon or geese in migration. |
In one of the bays, I observed hundreds of geese. They were apprehensive with my presence. As I neared them, I caught my second pike of the day which startled them and caused them to fly off immediately over my head. I may have been able to stand up and touch one but instead I landed the canoe on their piece of rock to fillet the pike for dinner. More glass paddling and soon I had portaged into Welkin Lake. The western side of the lake is narrow and supports old growth. At the junction that I will take to head north, the view is that of the remnants of the fire that passed through this area three years ago. I paddled a couple of miles east into Welkin and was breathless. There is green poking through the dead trees which still stand and what looks like the start of a new jack pine forest.
I returned to the junction and paddled a mile north looking for a campsite only to return to the south end of the lake to the first camp area that I had observed. I required a site with shade. I needed to get out of the sun. The cumulous clouds offer occasional cover but it is trees with foliage that works best. I set up camp and decided to wash clothes and swim. I didn’t bring along any extra shorts or t-shirts but it really didn’t matter as I sit here writing in my journal while keeping an eye on my clothes drying. Navy bean soup, fish and blueberries for dinner tonight. This campsite supports a nice little berry patch that will also add to my morning granola.
September 4th (Friday) – Camp # 6
Red sky this morning. I repeat…a very red sky this morning. A forewarning? And the winds were a factor on the big lakes with breaking waves and small troughs to paddle through. Leaving Welkin Lake with an a.m. tailwind was fine. I was much more preoccupied with: 1) a weather change, 2) the 825-meter portage and 3) what I was really concerned about is that the camera battery went dead. I spent more than five hours with the solar charger hooked up to the camera, on the water and at camp. It does not appear to be able to recharge. So…maybe no pictures! My secondary concern is the Kindle (the electronic book reader). It is losing battery capabilities quickly. Time will tell. I very well may be without two of my major electronic devices. I realize that this trip is much more than those items.
The 825-meter portage was re-routed. It is a beautiful walk through the forest. Lots of ripe blueberries and a couple of very recent bear scat piles. The bears seem to also be enjoying the abundance of berries. A short paddle through a beautiful un-named lake and the “dreaded” 350-meter portage that is indicated on the map as “wet”. By now, I have a good idea what “wet” implies. But again I find a re-route. Another picturesque trail with ups and downs and more berries. The distance was further than indicated but high and dry beats the mud every time. A couple more miles and a very special 250 meter portage to Adventure Lake. The moss undergrowth in the woods was like walking on a soft, green carpet.
I entered upper Adventure Lake but first “ran” a short Class I rapid. The south end of Adventure Lake is beautiful. I even observed a great campsite on the west shore but kept paddling because I was concerned with the high winds and the possible change in weather. Adventure Lake is a couple of miles long and nearly a mile wide. I let the tailwind carry me to the north end of the lake and I portaged into a long, skinny no-name lake where I had decided to set up camp. At this time of the day, I was tired but equally disappointed with this small lake. The shoreline was 99% burned. There was nowhere to camp. I ended up paddling the entire length of the lake (about three miles) and did find perhaps the only growth where I set up camp. On the way to this site, I did catch two nice walleye. I practiced erecting the tarp (in case of a storm), cooked chicken noodle and vegetable soup as well as fried fish. I was very tired that evening. I have been hoping for a layover day, but it has to be on a lake with living old growth trees. These burned over lakes offer little excitement. Maybe tomorrow the terrain will change?
September 5th (Saturday) – Camp # 7
Some of my most reflective thoughts occur before sunrise as I sit by a small wood fire with my warm morning drink. Much contemplation. A time to sit and listen…listen to the sounds of the outdoors and to the thoughts racing through my mind. It seems at this point that it is easy to get caught up with “on water time”, the time spent with paddle in hand, the maps hanging on the thwart in front of me and the binoculars readily available to observe more closely that which I find myself drawn to. I have covered a lot of territory in six days. It hasn’t been easy. I prepared for this trip more mentally than physically. At 62 years old (in two weeks), I am in very good health. Lots of time spent at my “retreat“ home on Mica Mountain in Idaho.
“Could haves” before the trip began: Could have practiced carrying the canoe and adjusting balance…could have worked more with the camera and solar charger…could have eliminated a few more pounds. I received great advice from Martin and Jim, including detailed articles of their past experiences that they had encountered in their travel through the Woodland Caribou. This also included GPS information. Most of this material served as inspiration. I left that “stuff” home and decided to make this my trip. That is the Mike Kinziger way!
|Today was another “marathon” day. I had wanted to paddle through Haven Lake and then over to Gulch Lake. Simple… two portages, two lakes. I could then sit back and breathe. But it wasn’t that easy. It took two additional portages to get to this campsite… and they weren’t easy. One portage was 525-meters and the other was a muddy and very difficult 850-meter traverse into Wrist Lake. Why am I putting on so many miles so quickly? The answer is simple. I want to get to a lake with trees, real old growth trees. |We-no-nah Wilderness canoe resting at a portage point. © Mike Kinziger
The view from the portage on Haven was devastating. A large white rock standing out there with nothing on it. This rock is the size of many small towns. It is evident that the Woodland personnel have worked on re-routing and “signing” portages with cairns and blaze marks through the burn areas. However, that being said, the portage to Wrist starts off as if it’s a joke. The landing is a bog that is floating and sinks as I set foot on it, sinks very deep into the lake. The first 150-meters are pure mud…up to your knees and attempting to pull your shoes off… mud. I stopped along the way to scout a ridge thinking that perhaps I was on an old trail but quickly returned and found the rest of the trail better but still wet and long. Great blueberries, however! Handfuls of them. It was sad to paddle through Jigsaw Lake with all of the burn. I had decided to move from Gulch to Jigsaw Lake in my pursuit of trees… surely on one of the multitude of islands?
Wrong! A very fun maze to maneuver through, at least on an average day. Today was not average. Constant southwest winds gusting with whitecaps in open areas of the lake. I am still not comfortable in the turbulence but there were times that there was little choice but to make the crossings. I crossed over into Wrist Lake and there were TREES! Yea! I paddled up a section of Wrist willing to take the first available campsite. Finding none, I paddle to the northwest corner and found my “home” for the evening. Plenty of room, flat area for sleeping, firewood, good fishing, trees and shade. I am happy to be here. I will consider spending another day here. I have a layover day coming. “Darn good” chili for dinner. Life is good.
The wind did not abate until long after I was sleeping. The sound of the waves splashing against the rock walls near my camp area lulled me right to sleep.
The mornings have been the best part of the days. The view from this site is awesome. A couple of islands off to the southeast, a huge expanse of mirror-like water in the south and a glorious red sun rising in the east. I have decided to move again today… just one lake away and a 100-meter portage. I will begin by paddling the perimeter of Wrist Lake hoping to take advantage of the light schedule with some quality fishing. Tonight, I want to set up camp early and wash: me and my clothing. The soot and ash from the burned out areas that I wandered through is everywhere. It’s caked on my arms and legs. Walking through the burned out areas will leave a lasting impression on me of the impact that fire has on this type of environment. I can’t imagine getting caught is such a fire. There is nowhere to go. I can’t imagine how hot it was or how much smoke filled the air. Even more difficult to imagine is why it didn’t burn more, why some lakes are totally unaffected?
Mica Mountain, Idaho
To Be Continued…