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My wife/bowpaddler & I first discovered the Temagami area while driving thru on our way to run the Missinaibi R to James Bay in ‘98. This trip was our 4th to the area & surely won’t be our last.
Having never launched at the central Lake Temagami access or paddled on the area’s namesake lake other than to cross short portions of some of it’s numerous long bays, we chose to give this access a try. After a 6 hr drive from our home, 15 min S of St Lawrence R & a final washboarded 18 km drive from Rt 11 & the Temagami townsite, we reached the central access. Parking here is unlimited as is the activity. Numerous launchings & takeouts were in progress by both motorized & hand-propelled craft. We were told it would get much busier at 2PM when all the cottages & lodges “turn over” for the week. Not wanting any part of that we hustled to get on the water & put all that busy-ness behind us. As the wind was up & out of the N, our travel direction, we chose to head up the more sheltered Kokoko Bay rather than the exposed main body of Lake Temagami. Entering Kokoko we left all but one of the cottages & the wind driven waves behind. There are a number of enticing campsites on this bay. We continued into the very scenic, undeveloped Kokoko Lake. Inspected & rejected 2 beautiful campsites before settling on one on a small island in W bay of the lake. Considered pushing on to one of the recommended sites across the 735 portage back into Temagami near base of Devil Mt but there’d be plenty of time to push in the days ahead. Enjoyed this scenic, if a bit overused site & our 1st Northern sunset. These small island sites really need a thunderbox to sustain the traffic they receive.
Departed this beautiful site at the crack of 9AM next morning looking forward to our 1st full day on the water. Reached the takeout in 10 min, a well-trod path in the appropriate place according to my Ministry of Natural Resources sketch map. Questioned why it turned E when our course was to the W, but continued regardless, even when it became very wet. The cedars cut & thrown in the trail verified we were on a maintained portage trail. It was only after reaching & paddling around a small pond, later discovered to be Side Rock lake, that I confirmed I was off course. Retraced our steps, discovered the correct takeout a short distance to the W w/ a trail that led in proper direction & regained L Temagami after this 2 hr “side trip”. Climbed the short but steep trail to very panoramic Devil Mt lookout & then paddled into the North arm. Took the southern entrance through a very pretty narrows into Sharp Rock inlet & completed the short carry into Diamond Lake. Only one fishing camp here, grandfathered in before this magnificent lake was incorporated into the park’s protection, mars it’s otherwise pristine shores. Camp 2 was on an island at jct of it’s N extension w/ a great view in all directions. Numerous initials & pictographs chiseled into it’s ancient bedrock “beach” verified many had enjoyed this beautiful campsite previously.
Day 3 found us heading N, over the ledge drop into S end of Lady Evelyn L, then westerly past a group of young campers into Willow Island Lake. After a lunch stop in it’s narrows we continued into Sucker Gut Lake, a name which belies it’s beauty. Continued up the shallow outlet into Hobart lake, & claimed a campsite on it’s E shore w/ a view of Maple Mt & all the lowering western sun we could soak up for remainder of the afternoon. We’d been shut out on this popular lake in the past as it’s a well used staging ground for assaults on Maple Mt, the 2nd highest point in Ontario at a modest 2075 ft. We’ve also climbed Ishpatina Ridge, the Provincial hi pt at 2275, but much prefer Maple Mt Both have climbable towers to enhance the views, but Maple has a more extensive (40 km per Hap Wilson’s guidebook) 360 deg view & unlimited blueberries. A ladder on a steep section near the summit also adds to the fun. We completed this climb the next AM. In retrospect a mistake as the best view to E was into the sun. Better to climb Maple in the afternoon w/ the lowering western sun behind to enhance the scenery. After the climb we returned to camp, packed up, & paddled back through Sucker Gut to the mouth of the Lady Evelyn river’s North Channel at Frank Falls. Here began the real intent of this trip - to tour the falls & rapids of this river’s N&S channels. Frank Falls didn’t disappoint. After snapping some pix & a short paddle up river we took out below Center Falls. There was a party camped at the better site just below the falls but the upper site was free. We claimed it. Our neighbors all felt Center Falls was the scenic high point of the district. Much enjoyed the lengthy afternoon here, w/ magnificent pools to swim in & again, unlimited blueberries. Didn’t even mind having neighbors although we normally seek isolated campsites.
Day 5 we continued up the North channel. Helen Falls wasn’t quite as spectacular as Center, but outstanding nonetheless. The portages around these falls are rugged - over broken, sharp rocks & often steep. They’re especially challenging as I insist on single carrying each one. Doing otherwise means 3 trips over each trail, an unacceptable alternative as I like to cover as much ground as possible on each trip. Although we reached the Shangra La campsite in just over 3 hrs (including mistakenly taking a longer portage that didn’t access this beautiful campsite) we chose to drop our gear there. It was much too early to stop for the day, but were doubtful we’d find a nicer site than this much raved about one. After leaving our gear we took a day trip, first farther up the Lady Evelyn through the burned area around McPherson lake. On the portage just beyond we found the most lush stands of blueberries by far. Figured the ash from the burn plus increased daylight due to missing canopy resulted in the bumper crop. No need to pick these berries individually, just scrape them off the branches in handfulls! After feasting we turned back then paddled for 1 hr up the remote feeling Grays River to the start of the 2nd (385) portage. From the little we saw, think this may be site of our next trip to Temagami, hopefully combined w/ the country between Makobe & Florence lakes. Upon our return to Shangra La we were disappointed to find another couple had moved virtually into our campsite. Barely a few yds distant was a flat tent site I’d have thought was part of “our” campsite, rather than a separate site, however our neighbors insisted it was their right to stay there. Not my idea of wilderness camping, but, unwilling to move ourselves, tried as best as possible to ignore them by lounging in a downstream, more private pool. There were many along this stretch of river, each separated by small chutes & falls.
Day 6 we headed downstream back into Katherine Lake, unique in my experience w/ 2 sizable outlets, barely 50 yds apart in it’s SE end. This time we followed the southernmost, the South Channel. You must run or line the 1st rapid as there’s no portage trail. Very soon we came to Cabin Falls. After completing the rough carry on river left, we paddled across to a landing & hiked back up to add our name to the paddler’s register at Hap Wilson’s place. For those unfamiliar, Mr Wilson wrote the guidebook for Temagami 25 yrs ago. He’s also written numerous others, mapped for the Canadian gov’t.& is a respected artist & environmentalist. I own 3 of his guides & they’re detailed & accurate enough I have never needed supplementary topos. We were surprised & delighted to find Hap in residence along w/ his personable, attractive young wife & 2 shining faced children. They immediately offered us coffee, refused to allow us to graciously decline, & insisted on adding warm from the woodstove muffins to the offer. Refusing was out of the question. We spent a most informative 50 min w/ these very knowledgeable paddlers, enjoyed a tour of their magnificently sited cabin (the only structure on the Lady Evelyn River) & even got Hap to autograph my guidebook! An unforgettable experience. Thinking life couldn’t get any better we paddled off only to arrive at Bridal Veil falls in .33m. This is a beautiful twin cascade, the larger section of which stairsteps down a mist draped face into a canyon. The portage here, as at Fat Man’s Squeeze, downriver beyond the canyon & 3 mostly runnable rapids, is very treacherous. The guide recommends spotters aid those portaging canoes as the final descents to both landings are extremely steep & often slippery. (I initially missed a 120 deg turn & very steep drop here & ending up carrying the canoe to the canyon rim. A great view but shouts to locate my wife’s location just bounced back at me off the walls). BTW, there’s a perfect campsite on the portage around Bridal Veil. After 2 more runnable raps & some fast current the river widened & slowed.
Rather than make a long circuitious swing back thru Willow Island & Lady Evelyn lakes, we chose instead to use the “2 miler”. This is the longest portage in the district & can extend to over 4000 yds in low water conditions. The distance was manageable but the boggy section midway & the marshy section we opted to put into at the end to avoid the final 975 yds were tough. The bog sucked my sandals off & forced a change into sneakers but we completed this carry, single tripped of course, in 1:14. After a refreshing dip back on Diamond Lake we headed E. We ended this hard but very enjoyable day at a great E facing campsite on the S shore. The “Big View” site we called it. A thunderstorm blew in that evening, the first rain we’d seen. Got the tarp up quickly & easily for a change & enjoyed cooking snug & dry under it while it rained buckets around us. In less than an hour it was over, followed by a double rainbow. This was the third time we’d seen one on Diamond after early evening t-showers.
Day 7 Departed Diamond after foolishly paddling by w/o noticing the bright yellow “P” indicating the takeout This forced a fruitless search in wrong location until the mistake was discovered. Finally found & completed the portage into Bob L then across 2 more boggy trails & intervening pond into the revered Shiskong Lake. Not only is this one of the most scenic lakes in the district w/ steep cliffs plunging directly into the lake but it’s also a spiritual place for the native Teme -Augama Anishinabai people. There is also a series of trails thru the large old growth stands of White & Red Pines known as the Spirit Forest. There’s trouble in paradise, however. Known as Lot #30 to the timber companies who lust after these stands, political & popular disputes over it’s future are gaining in intensity. Protests, blockades, & arrests occurred in the past over logging these forests & are likely to resume as feelings run strong for those on both sides of the issue.
After reaching Obabika L at one of it’s many magnificent beaches we headed S. The wind was up & out of the N so we got quite a ride. The waves increased in size & it seemed prudent to get off the water. An attractive gravel spit w/ 2 campsites indicated on MNR map made a great landing. What a place to be windbound. Great views, a protected cove out of the now howling wind, & a course sand beach containing a number of circular springs bubbling over w/ water cold enough to hurt your teeth. We settled in. Two young guys in the adjacent site said they hosted 20+ windbound folks the previous day. It was only us 4 this evening & we enjoyed their company.
Next AM, Day 8, we left early but the wind was already up. More tailwinds had us on far side of Obabika Inlet in less than 1 hr. There were big rollers on Temagami’s Northwest Arm. We wove thru some islands for the protection they offered & arrived back at the central access by Noon, less than a week after launching, 130 miles ago.
Threw some dirty clothes in our vehicle, grabbed some clean ones, reprovisioned from some food supplies we had stashed in a blue barrel, found & drank a beer & were back on the water in no time. This time we headed S w/ plans to do Rte #5 from Hap Wilson’s guidebook & again loop back to the central access. By 5 pm we’d found a great campsite just before entering Cross Lake. The 2nd consecutive big mileage day left us spent. Although12 canoes pulled in to a campsite a short distance across the narrow bay just before dark, we didn’t hear a thing.
Sunday Aug 24th, Day 9 began by paddling S across the southern half of magnificent Cross L. Although the houseboats which are becoming popular on Lake Temagami can access Cross L, we saw no other boats of any sort & no development. Carried the Cross L dam into the Temagami R. For the next 2 hrs we ran many C-1+ rapids but carried anything more technical than that. Stopped for lunch after final rapid & then arrived in Red Cedar Lake. Compared to the beautiful pristine lakes we’d seen Red Cedar was disappointing. Numerous fishing camps dotted it’s shores. This explained the motorboats. Also, the huge pines were missing from the surrounding, mostly new-growth Poplar dominated forest. The few campsites were all heavily littered w/ stuff that could only be brought in, but not always carried out, by motorboats. We took the northernmost site, it’s beauty marred by the heavy use it obviously received & view of 3 fish camps. As this had turned into another long day & the wind had come up, mixed w/ intermittent rain; we skipped a campfire. The beach was littered w/ an unlimited supply of driftwood but we again turned in early, joking that it was unusual to see 9 PM.
Day 10 we completed the final mile of Red Cedar & portaged into Hangstone L A large beaver dam on it’s inlet had flooded the adjacent land & made finding the takeout difficult. It, along w/ the next two lakes, Norris & Mann, had some development. Twinsister L & it’s inlet were interesting & undeveloped. The long portage into Jumping Caribou was confusing. The lake itself was scenic but again, held some development. We stopped there for lunch after paddling & carrying for over 5 hrs & stopped again for the day less than 2 hrs later on Waha L. We were unwilling to push on to the next indicated site & although it had an under construction cottage in view, this site was virtually unused.
Day 11 we paddled into Brophy & carried into Greenlaw lakes. Here the guidebook description was perhaps outdated as we used an obvious takeout & followed a well used but very boggy trail rather than the creek rte w/ liftovers as described. After this struggle we reached Wasaksina Lake. This lake was definitely worth the effort to get there - huge trees, many islands & no development other than on a small central island where we spotted a structure no bigger than an ice shanty & then the all but hidden roofline of a small bldg. No matter, the lake was huge & it was easy to put them out of sight. After settling on a site w/ just the right view & exposure, we decided to do a day trip. It was still early enough & a 1350 portage could have us back on Cross Lake which we had hurried through a few days previous. Not being that ambitious, we instead chose to paddle into Driftwood L via a narrow, scenic, cedar-lined creek then returned to our campsite for what would be our final night out.
Day 11 we awoke to find the wind up & out of NW, our travel direction. Dug in & paddled across this gorgeous lake & carried thru interesting Dennedus & Olier lakes into Shiningwood Bay, one of the numerous long arms of Lake Temagami. Here we used the shore to block the wind but it was a final tough pull from Shiningwood’s mouth N a short distance to complete this second loop back at the central access. It was barely Noon on Wed. Our vacation ran thru Monday, Labor Day. My wife & I had discussed a 3rd loop in this beautiful country but I’d developed some tendonitis in my hand & wrist. Could paddle all day w/o problems but pain would wake me at night & it was getting harder to control w/ ibuprophen. We’d covered approx. 200m of partly familiar but mostly new to us country. Temagami still had lots of places to be explored & we knew we’d return, but we now, we headed for home.
Highly recommend those enjoying canoe camping take a trip in this area.
Hap Wilson's "Temagami Canoe Routes" is the bible.
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