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Day One: As I said, day one begins with approximately a five-hour train ride to Sand Lake. Many people get lost on Sand Lake, including myself. Usually, after a few dead ends, everyone finds the right channel. Hint, proceed directly across from the put in and follow the channel all the way to the other side of the lake. This is not the correct channel, but if you do this, and turn left into the last channel, there is a small cut between islands that will lead you to the correct channel.
After finding your way off of Sand Lake, there is a nice campsite at the end of the 2nd portage. I have camped here once, however, I prefer to make a little distance, and move to the beginning of the 4th portage. The campsite is not as big, but the river is prettier, and this is the start of the first big portage (900m). If you desire, you can do half of it that evening, and finish the next morning.
Day Two: Start off your day right, a good breakfast will make the swamps easier. The 4th portage, although long, is not particularly difficult. Each time I have done this trip, I have run portage 5. It is not at all difficult, just current and cobble. Experienced canoeist, with ample water flow, can run Portage 6. It also is not a very difficult portage, but the river is technical and very easy to get stuck. You may have to wade and line your way out if it is too low. (I suggest the trail). Portage 7 can really put you in a pickle, it looks easy, but the second half of it has a narrow channel with a rock in the middle. Twice I have run half of it and wished that I had not. The take-out halfway is very difficult; again I suggest the trail from start to finish. The next stretch of the river is swift with very little problems. You are not out of the swamps yet, but you are getting closer. The end of day two has always been at the end of the 8th portage. It has be! en a long day to this point, and I have always been able to catch some fish for dinner here. Note: Although the swamps are long, (when you think you must surely be done, you are only about half way), I have seen more wildlife in this stretch, than anywhere else I have found. Be sure to watch for moose and there are some of the biggest owls and herons here that I have ever seen.
Day Three: Soon after putting on the river, you come to the 9th portage. Only 90m, and it gets you warmed up for the day. The 10th portage can be run if you keep a good eye and again have a little water to spare. The first half of the rapid can be run just about down the middle, but at the end there is a rock garden. I was paddling a solo We-no-nah Encounter, and was able to make the narrow chute at the extreme right, just inches off the right shore. My son and brother had to wade the last twenty feet and line the canoe, but it was much easier than the portage. Run the 2nd half of the rapid on the right side of the river. After running 10, we portaged 11 thur16. Note: At the end of the 14th portage, there is a clear, cold, spring coming out from under the bank right where you put in. Although we filtered the water, it was some of the coldest and most refreshing water we found on the trip. Fill your dromedary bags and water bottles here. We finished up the day by setting camp at the base of Calwin Falls. Here we bathed in the cold water below the falls and swam all afternoon. This is, in my opinion, the prettiest campsite on the Sand. I have also used this for a layover day location, but not this year.
Day Four: Finish up the portage around Calwin Falls and get moving. This is probably the toughest day on the river, as far as portaging goes. Begin by running portage 18, and then 19 thru 22 are all easy carries. The 23rd portage is the longest on the river. At 1100m, it will make for a long afternoon. We all took a short swim at the top of Lady Evelyn Falls to cool of before the portage, and if you have one, eat a Powerbar here. The put in at the end of the falls is not at the sandy beach as it appears. You must go another 200-300 meters down stream. If you do not continue, the next rapid is not runnable, and the only place to get out is very, very difficult. Believe me, I have made this mistake myself. Portage 24 and 25, and if you have the water and the ability, you can run portage 26. Be careful, the chute I usually run is just to the left side of the right hand chute, but this year a log blocked it. I had to move all of the way to the right, and the rocks at the bottom are very close. You can stop just above the end of the rapid and drag the canoe up the bank to the portage trail, very near the campsite. This is also a very nice campsite; we have always used it because of the short paddle out to the parking lot.
Day Five: From here to the take out is a short paddle of about two or two and one half hours, depending on water levels. It took us a little longer because of the low water. (The river dropped about four inches last night and probably eight in the last two days). You will find several little rocky rapids between here and the next portage, but it is also a very pretty part of the river. Do the trails on portages 27 and 28 and of course on 29. After you get your gear loaded at the parking lot at the end of portage 29, drive to the end of the dirt road and turn right. About a mile down the road you can see the Sand River empty into Lake Superior, and also see the beautiful falls below the take out.
Notes: The phone number for the Algoma Central Railway is 1-800 242-9287.
I used the Experience North Adventures to set my shuttle, and also bought a new Bluewater Explorer in expedition kevlar from Lou. I feel good about what I paid for both. Contact him at 1-888-463-5957 or 1 705-254 3899 or E-Mail email@example.com.
There is an Army Surplus Store at the West-end of Queen St., on the right side of the street. They seem to have about anything Lou doesn't have, and they also sell fishing license.
Check on your water levels at the Lake Superior Provincial Park Office at 1 705-856-2284.
One final note, the train does serve food and drink, however there are several places in the mall at the train station that will fix you a box lunch to take on the train with you. I highly recommend you take food and drink with you on the train. Also, the timetable for the train is never correct. There are too many whistle stops to keep any semblance of a schedule. You may be two hours late getting to Sand Lake.