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Arriving early in Cartier I purchased gas for the truck and a fishing license at a small restaurant/general store then sat down to a delicious and filling breakfast. I tried to get the waitress to say it included Canadian bacon but she insisted it was ham. Curiously, after breakfast the waitress/cook/bus girl pointed out a neighbor's pet Vietnamese potbelly pig wandering around outside the front of the store.
A small crowd gathered near the depot at about 9:30. Quads (we call them four-wheelers or atv's in the states), canoes, families, a dog and a lot of gear appeared by the tracks. A van with a canoe trailer from Spanish River Outfitters drove up to add to the queue. When the train arrived at 9:55 with one freight car and one passenger car I wondered how it would all be stowed aboard, but the agile conductor deftly orchestrated the puzzle and we were soon rolling north. I managed to nap a bit despite the clickety-clack and occasional clankity-clunk interspersed with mysterious hisses and whirs aboard the Bud Car. After four or five stops to unload various parties and their stuff we arrived in Biscotasing at about 12:30.
Six canoes, their paddlers and packs emerged from the Bud Car and stormed the lakeshore by the Bisco store. A competent couple in a blue canoe planned to paddle the 164 km to Agnew. Also launching was a group of eight voyagers from Toronto, traveling to The Elbow in four red S.R.O. canoes.
Biscotasi is shaped like an acute boomerang. To reach the flowing waters of the Spanish River boats on Biscotasi go north for several kilometers then around Wind Point to head south toward the dam. With a good breeze blowing I scrounged beaver poles from the shoreline and rigged my rain jacket across the spar to sail the reach to Grey Owl Bay. Rounding Wind Point I dropped my scarecrow spinnaker and rested in the lee before attacking the headwind.
The other travelers had disappeared before me amongst the islands, points and narrow channels of Biscotasi. I felt that my solitary wilderness excursion had begun, though later in the trip I saw many "bail-out" locations where the river paralleled the CPR track or flowed by occupied cabins and fish camps. Nevertheless, I referred frequently to the map and compass to always know my location.
Pushing forth while hugging the shoreline of Biscotasi I chased windbreaks behind points and small islands as I forced the canoe against the determined headwind. Attempts at trolling a Shad-Rap were frustrating since I lost hard-earned ground going back to retrieve occasional snags. My persistence paid off, though as I did enjoy grilled pike with a shake of lemon pepper to go with my Ramen noodles and Earl Grey tea for supper. I cooked the meal with about a kilometer to go before reaching the tent site. Generally I tried to cook along remote shorelines to keep food odors to a minimum around the campsites.
I pulled in around 8:00 to a marked campsite with abundant blueberries and a view of the dam, about 145 km from Agnew. I quickly set up my tent facing the breeze which was now my ally challenging the mosquitoes that attempted swarming my flesh. Several of the hungry ladies got a meal anyway as I slung the bear bag up before diving into the Eureka! Exo. Resting before arranging my sleeping pad I enjoyed the sounds of the breeze in the branches and waves lapping the rocks along the shore. The breeze died and as I went to sleep I could hear the faint sound of the water flowing over the dam two kilometers down the lake from my bed.
With a quick breakfast snack of English muffins and GatorAde I was on the water by 8:00 Friday morning. I portaged over the east end of the dam by 9:00. I had seen a stack of red canoes and tents on the west end of the dam. The Toronto group was stirring and bringing packs to the rocky shore below the dam across the river from my put-in as I floated in an eddy to fish the edge of the current boiling down from the dam. I landed and released a nice walleye that mistook my Mister Twister for his brunch. The Toronto group and I exchanged greetings as I drifted on downstream. I was now the one caught, the lure being the flowing water leading me around the next bend.
Shortly I reached Lillie Falls where the cordial couple in the blue canoe had camped. I scouted from a flat rock by the falls, climbed back in the Adirondack and waved to the fellow who rose from the blueberry bushes to wave back as I negotiated the first rapid on the Spanish.
Not far downstream I pulled off on a rock ledge to carry my packs on the portage trail around the Lillie Rapids. Scouting as I returned to the canoe, I felt it was runable today though without spotters or rescue canoes downstream or even consultants to discuss the possible routes I was beginning to think I would be portaging the canoe. Just then I encountered two of the good fellows from the Toronto group along the portage trail. My confidence restored with other people nearby, I took the scouting more seriously. The four men from Toronto and I were crashing through bush to get to the river at various points along the 540 meter trail. Listening to them and seeing the rapids for myself I visualized the route I could maneuver to run Lillie Rapids. With my pfd zipped on I braced my knees against the kneeling pads, pushed off facing upstream and drew into the current. I ran the first drop on river right. I had not seen the two AlumaCraft canoes submerged just before the first 1-meter drop when I scouted. As I swept around the stem of the first canoe I read "BSA" stenciled on the deck. I sped like an arrow through a crossbow over the second canoe which was broached forming a 4" pillow over which I skimmed in direct line with the drop I had planned to shoot. My bow plunged into the boil below the drop and I took on a couple gallons of river before eddying out to bail the bilge.
Backferrying to line up for the second drop I chose to run down the center but clunked a boulder I had not seen from shore. "Ouch!", I said to the anxious spectators on shore. Momentarily halted, I leaned back, the bow rose and I skirted the boulder with a bow sweep to continue the run. I bailed water out again and took another look at the third section.
Four-foot standing waves spanned the next constricted channel. This was a fun, straight-forward run which dumped a few gallons of Spanish into the canoe. I eddied out to river left, bailed the water out and ferried across to my packs and the Toronto guys at the end of the portage trail on river right.
After briefly discussing the run with four of the men (the two ladies and two of the gentlemen opted out of this one), off they went to run Lillie Rapids. The first Toronto canoe took an S-route around the BSA boats and enjoyed the thrill of the drop skillfully, though with two men in the boat the heavier bow scooped deeper into the water below the drop than mine had. After bailing some river water from their NovaCraft, they chose to run the second section on river left over a long, shallow slope that created cross-currents where it met the flow I had run. I had wanted to avoid the cross-currents but the Toronto boys confidently braced and swiveled hips to control the canoe then paddled out to the pool above the third section. They rode the roller-coaster standing waves with some gunwale-wash and pulled ashore.
The river current decided to push the second Toronto bowstem to river left on the first drop. The water below the drop was a bit more frothy and foamy there, creating a short, shallow sousehole. The aerated water lacked the buoyancy of river right. The bow submerged and the canoe swamped. Canoe and men continued downstream immersed and slid over the slope of the second section going down RL. Facing downstream with feet first the men rode what seemed to be just a slippery ride though their legs were a bit scraped and scratched. One swimmer managed to get to shore RR. The other held onto the canoe until it entered the standing waves of the third section. He released just before the canoe tumbled through the rapid and he followed floating free, upstream of the canoe. A swimmer getting downstream between a canoe and a rock can be crushed by the force of the river. On a lake it may be a good idea to stay with a capsized boat. In a river rapid a surprise swimmer wearing a pfd should let the canoe go and get out of the current.
The first Toronto boat was waiting in the pool below the last waves. The second boat and swimmer were towed ashore. Some jovial debriefing about the runs was shared. Gear was loaded and I was fishing again. This time I kept a walleye for supper.
A few km downstream I portaged gear around Bazett Rapids. Scouting as I returned I decided to run Bazett as it was a bit technical but had no drops or souseholes.
Paddling on into a cold drizzle which became intermittent showers my hunger grew. I stopped on a tiny island RL on which someone had erected a simple lean-to (and painted "Jamaica" on the rock). I took advantage of the vinyl to cheat the rain while I poached the fish in lemon pepper broth and boiled some cheddar and broccoli rice on the MSR stove. As I warmed my insides with this early supper I saw the blue canoe pass by near the RR shore. With heads down the paddlers kept good speed against the rain. I would not see them again but I often found blue scratches on the rocks around portage trails.
As I replaced the stove and cookpot into my pack the red canoes cruised downriver. We exchanged waves, or maybe swatted mosquitoes and they paddled on to the small rapids under an old logging bridge at about km 128. I could see the bridge from Jamaica Island and I observed the foursome deciding tee-off order while I approached. Tandem paddlers have the advantage of greater speed on slack current but when a group bunches up above a run through rapids (as they should to avoid ramming each other if backferrying is needed) one canoe at a time then passes through a rapids. It can take longer for a group to proceed. I passed the rented canoes as the Toronto folks studied Eslpie Rapid. I did not see them again on Friday.
After Elspie the Spanish divides some of its flowage into the Snake River which flows to the East Branch well above the confluence of the two branches. The Spanish widens here and slows to lake status. I paddled through Cavana Lake to the south end where a small campsite sits on a granite outcrop three meters above the water. The channel is narrow here though it must be deep. The current is swift but it is silent, smooth and dark. I quickly set up my tent, completed campsite chores, fished a bit and crawled into home when the drizzle returned. In the tent I read a good portion of the captivating text on the Adventure Map. Lying in the midst of the Spanish River Provincial Park the facts come alive. Looking ahead at the river route I was anxious for the next morning to come so I would be on my way down to C3 Rapids and then The Inch Worm. I was 122 km from Agnew. I turned out the light and rolled into the sleeping bag. Soft rain fell off and on through the night.
Mosquitoes were fierce Saturday morning. I felt rushed as I packed up gear and loaded the canoe. I picked up the tent by the poles which were still arched and attached in the corner grommets. I wanted to shake off some raindrops before packing it away but I snapped a pole section near the apex with my vigorous shaking. The poles are integral in erecting the tent so I knew I would have to make a field repair. I stashed the poles and tent and pushed off onto the water to escape some bugs and give myself time to contrive a splint for the snapped pole section. I soon was distracted by the sound of whitewater as I approached the first of Sinker, Line and Hook Rapids.
The mapmakers may have inadvertently left some clues which I had begun to recognize in anticipating the level of challenge of approaching rapids. If there is no portage trail then the rapids can be scouted from near shorelines above the run, or I might just stand in my WeNoNah and take a look if the upstream approach pool is calm enough for me to gain that perspective. Thus I skimmed through Sinker Rapids and paddled on toward Line Rapids. Just before leaving Sinker Lake I heard a motorboat which evidently came down Sinker Creek from the direction of the railroad track some two km to the west. The boaters went directly to two small cabins on the northwest shore of Sinker Lake.
Since my bow was now entering Line Rapids, I decided not to scout the run. No trail was shown on the map. I could see clearly that it was a straight run and the shoreline below the rapids was not much lower that where I sat on the water above. I saw no mist indicating a waterfall or ledge. It was a clean run and I began to look for the portage sign for Hook Rapids.
Hook had mist. Hook had a noticeable drop in shoreline elevation. The river was much narrower as it flowed through Hook in more of a chute than a rapid. The drop was significant with lots of turbulence and foam. The hydraulics of the chute and the short 100m portage trail meant it was time for a walk with the canoe. I snatched handfuls of blueberries as I went back along the trail for the canoe.
The next half-kilometer was a fun run through some class I rapids known as Tourville. The current slowed after that and I cruised through Lebell Lake, hugging the shoreline as a powerful thunderstorm washed over the region. When the rain let up I stopped at a campsite on the east shore where I had some lunch as I lashed a splint onto the broken tent pole. I discovered that a pine squirrel with whom I shared the campsite the previous night had nibbled through the stuff sack, through a 2-mil Hefty Bag, through a grocery sack and through two Zip-Lock freezer bags to help himself to some peanut butter. That is the only spot where he chewed. Evidently food odors do emit through plastic.
Rain came again and I paddled on to the portage where I took my gear around Lebell Rapids and scouted as I returned to the canoe. With no other paddlers in the vicinity and the hydraulics giving me some concern, I portaged the canoe around this one, too. I would not have to carry the canoe again until I reached the take-out at Agnew, though I did not completely run all the remaining drops further downstream.
I caught a feisty bass in the pool above Breadner Rapid, hauled the gear down the trail, ran through in the canoe and picked up the gear to go have a look at C3 Rapids.
Taking the gear down the trail first means that if I must portage the run anyway I will have efficiently completed the first trip down the trail in the event I bypass the rapids altogether. As I returned from the gear haul, I liked the run more with each crash through the brush to have a look. C3 is a long, steady rapids of some technical challenge but no deep ledges or souseholes. I began RR and avoided some tall standing waves to work over to RL. I did not want to take on water over the gunwales this early in the run because the liquid ballast makes the canoe sluggish and unresponsive. The river was roaring with many couch-size boulders strewn about the course and it was music to my ears. After sweeping around a Volkswagon-size pillow, I backferried a bit to line up for a center run then drew port side to get back to RL. The sun was playing on the waves here so I worked over to RR to dance over a splashy submerged rock garden in the shade. I "rock-and-rolled" down to the standing waves at the end of the run and began to paddle parallel with them to gradually cross the current and get back to my gear. I had to paddle hard upstream to retrieve my gear by the eddy at the end of the portage trail. The extra effort was worth it, though. That C3 Rapids run was a blast!
The map shows only one area of swift water from C3 down to Athlone Rapids, some 14 km downstream. The current is steady through The Inch Worm but the river, shrunken by the Snake, I presume, is more of a stream through the level marsh area. It twists and turns and oxbows as it flows 5 km through the even topography at a good pace.
I noticed a couple of moose stands in trees near the riverbank. Around one bend I heard a large animal pushing through the tall grasses and alder bushes to leave my presence before I could get a glimpse.
A campsite was occupied at The Forks on an island at the confluence of the East and West Branches of the Spanish just below The Inch Worm. I had considered stopping there for the night but as the site came into view I saw the bear bag strung up and then tents and damp items drying on a line. I floated past and threw out a jointed Rapala which landed a nice walleye. Since I already had a little smallmouth on the stringer, I released the hefty walleye.
I reached Upper Athlone Rapids at about 7:30 p.m. Being exhausted and damp I began to make a small fire to grill the bass when red canoes appeared around the bend upstream. The Toronto group, who thought they were approaching The Forks, would be sharing the camp area. They needed the larger campsite further down the trail and I was glad to go no further than the take-out trailhead that evening. I had only looked a few meters down the trail before I got busy with supper but I saw a small tent site and decided I was home, 99 km from Agnew.
The Toronto guys had run half the Upper Athlone Rapids to a small beach in an eddy below their campsite on Saturday night. After carrying my gear down the trail Sunday morning to that beach and scouting ahead to the second half of this run I returned and paddled to the beach to retrieve my stuff and bobbed on through the swift water and CI runs of Lower Athlone.
The Spanish now began a series of swifts, minor rapids and fast current which would help me travel 40 km in this one day! With no portages along this stretch I had time to cast and troll, catching nearly a dozen good fish by early afternoon. I lingered at the mouth of the cascading stream from Pogamasing Lake for a good while to catch and photograph pike. The background for one self-portrait was arranged to include the cascading tributary as it ran under the CPR bridge alongside the Spanish.
With the steady current I was able to observe more of the riparian surroundings. I paddled past many small cabins and established camps with stored fishing boats and quad trails leading to the shore. I observed kingfishers around their nest holes in eroded earthen banks.
Cliff Rapids was a beautiful spot to sit in an eddy pool to do some casting. As I sat fishing, the red Toronto canoes passed by with paddlers focusing on the route they would take through the run. A few noticed me and we waved. As I approached Spanish Lake in early evening a motorboat came from upstream, stopping occasionally to fish then buzzing closer to me. I crossed a shoal just ahead of the lake and the motorboat came no closer.
Spanish Lake has three campsites marked on the map. The first two I passed were occupied so I paddled on to the third which was spacious and breezy with good access to the water. I feasted on walleye and instant mashed potatoes, cleaned up and still had time for a few more casts before I crawled into the tent. Loons on Spanish Lake filled the dusk with tremolos and a hyperactive pine squirrel scurried over branches above my tent shaking needles down upon the fabric. I read more of the Adventure Map and rechecked the distance traveled today. I was 59 km from Agnew.
Monday morning I was more leisurely about breaking camp and getting onto the river. I cooked rice with raisins and brewed tea as I packed and loaded the canoe. Mosquitoes were not as prevalent as before and the sun was up. It was a glorious day. I fished as I floated and paddled, picking up a 3-pound smallmouth above swifts just past Zig Zag Rapids. The course through the rapids was easy to read and the canoe followed the current with a minimum of bow sweeps and stern rudders. I estimated I would reach The Elbow by noon
Spanish River Outfitters are located on Fox Lake where Wayne and Mary Anne Dolman operate a picturesque wilderness lake resort. Fox Lake Lodge is about 6 km from the Spanish River. It can be accessed by forest roads or quad trails. The Elbow is the take-out point for many SRO rented canoes. With the fast current I paddled the 9 km from Spanish Lake through Tofflemire Rapids and the sharp bends in the river known as The Knuckle, The Wrist and The Elbow. I was at the take-out point for SRO by 10:00.
I had arranged for my truck to be shuttled to Agnew Lake on Thursday. Being ahead of schedule I wanted to talk with Wayne about spotting my truck at the public launch ramp at the east end of Agnew to extend my trip another 12 km. I set off to walk to Fox Lake Lodge to make this request. Crossing a small field and following the forest road I attracted a few flies and mosquitoes. Walking briskly kept them at bay but when I thought I had eluded the bugs I noticed my shadow on the road. Behind my head were many tinier shadows orbiting in my draft. I could not break stride for 45 minutes until I reached the Lodge. As it turned out, Wayne and Kevin had driven two customer vehicles, mine and the blue canoe couple's to Angew Lake Lodge the day before. My truck was already there. I chose to walk the quad trail back to the river to stay in the shade more. This was a bit quicker taking only about 40 minutes. People were now in the field by the take-out point, spreading gear and snacking. Wayne said he expected 17 canoes to arrive there that afternoon. I had not seen anyone else on the river all morning.
By 12:30 I was floating again. Wayne had told me what he knew about the upcoming Graveyard Rapids so I expected to portage the packs and possibly the canoe. The Adventure Map calls it "mandatory portages". I soon heard the approaching roar and saw the portage trail and campsite signs on the RR shore. Trusting the map and scouting from rocks I ran the first set above Little Graveyard then beached the canoe at a worn trailhead and carried gear around the second set. A long ledge with turbulent hydraulics discouraged a complete run but I could see a possibility for running the rapids up to the ledge then lining the canoe over, which is what I did. I sneaked along the RR shore, glanced off a few sloping shoreline rocks and paddled into a shallow pool just before the ledge. The lining route was actually a narrow chute on RR off the end of the ledge which worked perfectly. Gear loaded I continued to Big Graveyard which I ran, after scouting, without gear. I scooped out some river water, picked up the packs and looked ahead to The Cascades.
Upon scouting I identified 5 escape eddies I could use if I aborted the run to the ledge. I portaged gear around Cascades and began the run RR. The current quickly accelerated toward the wide, deep ledge. I felt the river pulling me forward as I passed the first four eddies and entered the fifth without mishap. The boat was easily lined over a sneak route RR down the 5' drop to swing it around by the packs. The red, blue and green dots on the rocks showed evidence of other canoes having passed through the same route.
Agnes Rapids were just a kilometer down stream and with the fast current I soon pulled up to the trailhead and plopped down in the shade for lunch and a rest break. Feeling recharged I lugged the gear to the lower end of the rapids and took a look at the route possibilities. It was a technical run with the afternoon sun bound to be in my face and glinting off the waves. The river could be difficult to read while on the water so I visualized the run, returned to the canoe and bounced through the small standing waves at the beginning. As I drew toward RR to avoid a large pillow I slipped a bit sideways and dropped in behind what was more of a low ledge that I had misread. Dropping over I could feel the boat hesitate as if to be going back upstream to be swamped and tumbled by the flow. Paddling and drawing hard and thinking, "Spit me out! Spit me out" my bow caught enough current to swing on downstream. I kept parallel to the current with Agnes slapping my bow with little waves as I finished the run.
Only Cedar Rapids remained as the last whitewater run on the Spanish. I was about 40+ km out from the Agnew Lodge and it was late afternoon. I was facing a stubborn headwind on the 4 km stretch between Agnes and Cedar so I hoped to reach the campsite below Cedar and call it quits for this day. The wind was dead-on and gusting to a fresh breeze of 19-24 mph on the Beaufort Scale. I trimmed my canoe bow-heavy, haunched down low on my knees, leaned over and lowered my head like Lance Armstrong on a time trial to become more aerodynamic. Feathering the paddle between each stroke I dug in to inch forward toward the bend in the river where Cedar Rapids begins. I was spent when I reached the lee of that RL shore. Cedar Rapids was a welcome joyride; 500 meters of CI fun which I ran with the canoe loaded.
After another kilometer of headwind I passed through some swifts which emptied into a pool by the campsite. It was only 5:00 but I was beat. I plodded around the campsite, set up the tent and cooked the bass I had caught earlier in the day. Lipton's Chicken Noodle Dinner was a nice compliment to the lemon-peppered roast filets. Later, I was elated to find the thunderbox behind the campsite and I once again thanked the breeze which I had so recently scorned.
Camp chores done I paddled around the pool for catch and release fishing. Pike and bass were active. As soon as I left the campsite some chipmunks explored everything I had left out. Chip and Dale did not chew through anything but later they scolded me for putting it all up when I came in for the night. A gull cleaned up the entrails and carcass of the bass.
I had not seen anyone or any development along the river since noon this day when I pushed off from The Elbow. This was the most solitude I would find along the Spanish. Browsing the map in the tent I found no railroads, cabins, forest roads, quad tracks or even hiking trails along the river from the Fox Lake takeout to The Big Bend of Agnew Lake. I listened to distant thunder from a cumulonimbus some 12-15 km north of my tent. I had watched the clouds roll to the east as I fished the pool. Skies to my west were red-streaked forecasting a good, hot day tomorrow. I was 38 km from Agnew Lodge.
Having slept well on a cushion of pine needles I awoke to the busy clatter of a kingfisher Tuesday morning and broke camp. I would be paddling the Royal Ride, a fast-moving, shallow section of the Spanish covering 20 km to the Wakonassin River mouth. On the river I played tag with Merganser and Goldeneye Duck families and I watched a hawk drift overhead. Mostly I watched the meandering current as it veered and bent back and forth across the wide shoals of this lower river stretch. I enjoyed reading the water and puzzling out the deepest channels in order to take advantage of the flow and to avoid running aground on the riffles. I would occasionally bump and slide over mischevious mid-stream roundstones but with only 3" of draft I had little trouble going with the flow.
I passed the Wakonassin River delta before noon. Appreciating the uncommon following breeze which assisted my 7 km/hour pace, I had been watching the map to see the distance to Agnew Lodge dwindle to near single digits. Fishing was very slow and the sun was intense. Remembering the stories I had been told about the fierce headwinds I would face on Agnew Lake and realizing that by some meteorological anomaly I would actually have a tailwind today, I decided to paddle out before the wind would shift back to normal.
The current subsided at McBean Bend and I was on the slack water of the lake. I wondered if I could sail the canoe 7 km across the open waters of Agnew so I pilfered a mast and a yard arm from a beaver lodge and hoped the wind would hold. I could see Eagle Rock which marked the southern extent of the Spanish River Provincial Park. I paddled on with the wind becoming more westerly but my course was southerly. My scarecrow caravel would not handle such a tack so I sought the lee of the western shore where occasional shade could be found.
Two motorboats then a third marked the end of my wilderness solitude. High-tension towers and power lines came into view as I casually cruised the shoreline. Between Picnic Point and Target Rock I heard a trickle of water under a cedar tree to my right. I was hot and thirsty so I pulled in to discover someone's pvc rigging which directed cool springwater into a small catchbasin among the rocks on shore. I filled my bottle, drank deeply and sat in the shade munching on lunch snacks and tart wild cherries from overhanging branches.
I paddled along massive granite cliffs of the northwest shore by Winding Hill Bay rather than navigating a direct route across the lake, reluctant to end this journey. This longer route may have added a couple of kilometers of flat-water paddling but I don't regret a paddle stroke. Besides, I found a nicely sculptured piece of driftwood that now adorns my yard.
Once again I passed cabins and roads. The cabins and homes of the southwest shore of Agnew Lake are meticulously maintained. Two seaplanes were docked in quiet bays as were many fishing boats. I could hear children's voices as I rounded the last point and saw Agnew Lodge. People were busy with their campground and cabin activities as I passed by. I docked my Adirondack and wandered up to the office where I retrieved my keys and loaded the truck. I was at 0 km.
Biscotasing can be reached by road if you do not want to take the CPR Bud Car. It is about 70 kilometers (unpaved)from highway 144.
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