Pishkanogami Route

CanadaOntarioJames Bay south
Submitter & Author Information
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Trip Date : 
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Additional Route Information
105 km
4 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
5835 m
Longest Portage: 
3000 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Not applicable
Lake Travel: 
Not applicable
Not applicable
Not applicable
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

Hwy 667 between Sultan and Hwy 129 to Kormak Road (10 min north of Kormak)
Also accessible by VIA Rail (Kormak townsite)
North on Kinogama River
P 500 m L across old logging road
North on Kinogama River
North through Tooms Lake
Liftover at road at north end of Tooms Lake
North on Kinogama River
North through Sawbill Lake
North on Kinogama River
P 100 m L around rapid
P 60 m R around shallow, rocky rapid
P 200 m R around two sets of rapids
P 340 m L around rapid
P 55 m L around rapid
P 70 m R around rapid
West through Halcrow Lake
P 65 m L around rapid
P 20 m L around rapid
North on Kinogama River
North through Vice Lake
P 10 m L around falls (steep!)
Northeast on Kinogama River
North then west through Raney Lake
West on Kinogama River
P 360 m L around shallow rapids (steep & winding!)
P 100 m R around rapid
P 70 m R around rapid
North on Ivanhoe River
P 360 m L around rapid
North on Ivanhoe River
P 400 m R around rapid
P 3000 m R around rapids (CBR last half / or line)
North through Ivanhoe Lake to Red Pine Lodge
Red Pine Lodge is just south of Folyet on Hwy 101

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

Trip Notes - Pishkanogami
By Keith Sinfield
The 3000 m portage at the end is a killer because of the terrain, length and lack of travel. The trail goes up and down some good size hills. As the trail is not used much, it is overgrown and hard to follow in a few spots. There are only afew spots to access the river to shorten the portage if water conditions permit running the bottom portion. All considered, it`s just a hard Try to plan this portage first thing in the day or your last one. There is a good campsite at each end so the portage can be split over the evening. Ivanhoe Lake has excellent fishing but as it is long and narrow, the wind could be a big factor in your time schedule. You may want to allow an extra day for this section of the trip. Campsites are few and far between. Until you reach Ivanhoe Lake there is not too much traffic and it is quite peaceful.
Keith Sinfield
Capreol, Ontario

Capsule reflections of the Pish.
By David G. Pile
While on balance (no pun intended) a positive experience, the route had drawbacks in addition to the one long portage. In early July, 1997, the water level was higher than normal and we made good progress and were able to paddle some sections which might need lining or walking were the trip done at a different time. Also, we missed some landmarks provided by our outfitter due to the water level. We were looking forward to the challenge of "Run and Duck", but realized at a lunch break that we missed it due to the water level and the force of the current which necessitated a portage.
The positives of this route, in addition to the group camaraderie and fairly typical reasons folks take such trips, would include the Chapleau area which is not as busy as other canoe destinations. Being away from major population centers makes the river systems less traveled, and the ish is certainly not well traveled.
The portages around unrunnable rapids or falls are, with the one notable exception, short. Certainly shorter than many other routes.
The trip can be undertaken by those with average wilderness and canoe skills. Your "average" may be different. Our party had members in a wide range of condition, including someone who had heart surgery in the past.
This route has a few places which enable playtime in the rapids and one set of rapids had a portage trail which provided good views of the canoes running the rapids, virtually from top to bottom.
Several of the campsites were quite nice and provided space for more tents than our group needed. The 6 of us pitched 3 2-person Sierra Designs dome tents..
While the route is not intruded upon by highway crossings or "fishing camps", there is some presence of fishing on several lakes and stretches of the Ivanhoe River. Cabins have been built at several spots and the likelihood of hearing and seeing float planes dropping off or picking up guests is high.
I feel a bit let down knowing that I have paddled for hours or days to reach the same spot which now I must share with someone who only recently stepped out of a Beaver or Cessna floatplane.
The last day of the trip, during the long paddle up Ivanhoe Lake toward the Provincial Park, noise from both the highway and rail line can be heard in the distance. Not significant, but it is noticeable and obviously the reason many of us take canoe trips is to get away from such reminders of the city.
With the route seldom traveled, little is done in the way of upkeep so blow downs may cause some problems along portage trails or in narrow sections of the river.
The condition of the campsite at the upstream end of the 3 km portage has been described as good by others, but I would stay at this site in an emergency only. Our group was planning on staying at this location, but having made better than expected time and arriving at mid-day, we only stopped long enough to put on bug repellent, eat a quick lunch and then push on for 2 hours and 45 minutes to the other end. Don`t count on enjoying a stay at the upstream end of the trail. The downstream end was missed as we took the left fork to shorten the route by approximately 1/3. As we paddled by the portage sign we noted that the trail ended near a gravel bar but the actual condition of the campsite is unknown to us.
There is some evidence of the hunters who have done some campsite "upgrading" with the typical post and beam or sapling and nail construction. This is especially true of the nice campsite at the confluence of the Pish and Ivanhoe Rivers. The large campsite has a framework over which plastic sheeting is erected during the hunting season. To be honest, this frame was used as a clothesline for one team of paddlers who had dumped up river earlier.
Would I paddle the route again? Probably not, but not because it was not enjoyable. There are so many other routes and locations which draw my attention and I want to enjoy new places. If there were no cabins, float planes and a few more rapids to play in, I`d repeat the trip, including the long portage.
After all, the highlight of any trip is the mind which takes it all in, whether one is absorbing wildlife, fellow paddlers, the scenery or, in the case of some of our group, absorbing moisture from one of those navigational errors in judgement.
David G. Pile
Cleveland, Ohio

Pishkanogami Canoe Route
Kormak to Folyet - 105 Km
July 19th - 24th 1997
By : Don Haig

The Pishkanogami canoe route follows the Kinogama and Ivanhoe rivers for 105 kilometres from the once thriving, but now deserted, town of Kormak, to Ivanhoe Lake Provincial Park near Folyet on Highway 101. The area is accessible only by canoe or fly-in and features great fishing as well as a 9 meter waterfall. A 3 Km portage near the end pretty well ensures solitude (a local outfitter says that this route gets as few as 10 parties a year). This area is due to be logged over the next few years so now is the perfect time to visit this relatively untouched wilderness.

Sat July 19th

After waving Archie and my truck good bye I turned towards the Kinogama River where my canoe and gear were strewn about on the ground. The grass leading down to the river had been flattened as if another boat had recently been launched - perhaps I wouldn`t be alone after all. I loaded the gear into the boat and slid it down the bank and into the water.

It had been a hot dry summer so consequently water levels were really low and at first glance the Kinogama didn`t look like much of a river. After paddling about 50 meters it looked considerably less so. II was met by a seemingly impenetratable wall of cattails. It took about a half an hour to push, pull, pole, slide and wiggle through them - all to gain 300 meters of river. I was beginning to rethink my choice of route and wondering - "what am I going to do if the rest of the river is like this".

The river then opened up into a small lake that was also choked with weeds but at least there was a small channel through them. Swimming along beside me about 50 meters to my left was bear #1 of the trip. As soon as he spotted me he took off for the far shore. Soon I was in the river, which was marshy, full of small log jams and beaver dams requiring a lift over every 100 to 150 meters. The river was passable but not easy and I remember thinking "What am I going to do if the whole trip is like this? I`ll never be done in 5 days!"

I started looking for the first carry - a 500 meter portage on river left that goes up over a hill and into a small lake before rejoining the river. It would bypass the worst of the log jams and a marsh. I was beginning to really worry that I had missed it when I saw a bit of a landing and a broken off tree with a small blaze carved on it. This must be the place! There was fresh vegetation tramped down with tracks heading off in about 5 directions, no doubt made by the people I assumed were in front of me. I followed them all for 10 -15 feet and discovered what their makers had - there was no portage here. I had wasted a half hour and gotten my legs scratched, all for nothing. If I ever catch the Boy Scout who carved that blaze, I`ll....

Anyway, now that I knew where the portage wasn`t. There remained the task of finding where it was. I got back into the boat, paddled 10 meters, lifted over a small beaver dam and continued on for about another kilometer. I had to repeat this operation a few more times before I came to an impenetrable jumble of logs, trees and swamp that went on as far as I could see. There was no signage and little evidence of a path but this must be the take out. I hauled the boat out onto the soft muddy bank and sure enough, there was a faint trail with only some old moose tracks in it, heading into the forest. I picked up one of the bags and the water jug and headed inland.

I got about 20 meters when all semblance of a path disappeared. To say that he trail was overgrown was an understatement. What a jungle!! I stumbled around deadfalls and the jumble of undergrowth trying to keep the trail in sight. Many times I lost it, then found it again, all the while working my way steadily up the incline. After about 300 meters, I got to the top where there was a clearing, thick with mosquitoes and deer flies. Repellent works fine for the mosquitoes but the deer flies were treating it as an aphrodisiac. II could see why these things can drive people insane. I looked down and saw that my legs were covered with streaks of blood. I`d have to remember to put long pants on when I got back to the boat. The bigger problem was that the trail had disappeared. II searched for 20 minutes with no luck and was beginning to get very worried. What if this was not the portage and only some game trail? Where was the trail then? I had to fight back the feeling of panic that was starting to set in.

There was nothing to do but work my way back to the boat and see if I could find another way. Another fifteen minutes of pushing through the underbrush saw me back at the boat searching up and down the river bank for another path - all to no avail. The path I had been on had to be the one. I put on long pants, a long sleeved shirt, picked up the water jug and started back up the path. About half way to the clearing I noticed some old blue flagging tape on a tree, furthering my determination that this was the right trail. Once again I rerached the clearing, but this time I started a calmer, more methodical search and was rewarded by finding another piece of the flagging tape on a small fallen tree. This gave me a starting point for the search and within a few minutes I had found it again. The trail was difficult to follow and I lost it a couple of times but I finally emerged from the bush onto an old logging road. I knew that the trail crossed this road because nailed to a big tree on the other side was a big shiny yellow portage sign! (absolutely fabulous place for it, eh?).

The trail started down a steep hill and I could see water down there, so I knew that I had finally made it through. It occurred to me that people may be accessing this route from this road and if I ever do this route again I will definitely check this out. Now that I knew that I wasn`t lost, the work of getting the gear across could begin. I walked back, clearing the trail as best as I could. I usually make a carry in 2 trips, but in these conditions I knew this was out of the question. Two trips later, I had all the baggage across but I was getting tired and still had the boat to carry. I plodded back towards the boat, doing a little more housekeeping on the trail. Upon arriving back at the boat, I remember wishing that I had an apple in my pocket but since I didn`t, a 5 minute rest would have to do. I shouldered the boat and started up the path but didn`t get far before I had to put it down. There just wasn`t enough room above me in this jungle to carry it, so I ended up dragging it a lot of the way. Thank God for ABS. Finally, physically drained and emotionally exhausted, the boat was full of gear and had water under her. I couldn`t help thinking "what am I going to do if all the portages are like this?"

On another note ... not so much as a twig was broken on this portage and I keep wondering "What happened to the people in the phantom boat that I was following?" I never saw another trace of them! I had originally planned to paddle as far as the campsite on Tooms Lake but given my physical condition that was now out of the question. Thankfully there was a spot on the north end of this little lake about 1 kilometer away. Fifteen minutes of paddling saw me pulled up on a small sand beach unloading the boat and setting up camp on the large airy site. After supper, with sagging eyes, I watched the sun go down behind the trees, and by 9 pm. I was sound asleep in my tent.

Sun July 20th

By 8:00 am I was up and about getting the coffee brewed. It had been a chilly night and I realised that I had guessed wrong about which sleeping bag to bring. The light thinsulate bag just does not perform as the label says it will.

The river from this point to Tooms Lake was slow and meandering. It started out weed-choked with a small channel to navigate, but gradually opened up. There were some liftovers as well but a lot fewer than the previous day. It was sometimes quite a trick to stand on the rotting logs and work the boat over them without falling in.

The guide noted a bridge at the north end of Tooms Lake where the river narrows, but it looked like the bridge had been gone for a long time. It was a nice camping spot, though. The river sped up through here for 500 meters or so, then slowed back down. From that point to Sawbill lake the river widened so deadfalls were not a big problem. They were seldom long enough to block the entire width of the river. You were, however forced to take a very zig-zag route to get around them.

It was quite marshy there and there were many ducks. By the time I entered Sawbill Lake, the sky was looking ominous and the south wind was beginning to pick up. The strong wind at my back pushed the canoe enough that I didn`t have to paddle much, so I threw in the fishing line. It was a matter of minutes before I had a nice dinner-sized walleye. It had taken five hours to paddle to the campsite at the north end of the lake and because of the deteriorating weather (as well as all the portages) I decided to camp here. It was a good choice - a big sunny spot, lots of firewood and even a lawn chair. I got the rain fly up just as the rain started. It rained off and on all night. Not pouring ... more of a heavy fog, but everything was soaked the next morning just the same.

Monday, July 21

I waited til 10:30 am. to give the weather time to start clearing and then headed out. It wasn`t long before I got to the rapids at P-2 (100m). It was a small drop with some beaver workings at the start that required a liftover. I ran the chute below with ease. Following shortly was P-3 (60m). These rapids were shallow and rocky and I lined them without incident. A short paddle brought me to P-4 (200m). This carry bypassed 2 sets of rapids and fit into the "must-carry" category. The adventurous could run the first set fairly easily to a secondary take-out (unmarked) just above the second drop which is totally unrunable. The paddler will have to decide for himself if the risk is worth the bother to bypass just 100 meters of trail. Since I was travelling solo, I did not want to risk a swim and get swept into the second drop, so I carried the whole portage.

Soon I got to P-5 (340m) on the left, which avoid what the guide describes as "rapids with a strong current". The start looked deceptively easy and with the low water levels I decided to run and line it. After the first 75 meters the river curves to the right and this is where the trouble started. The river narrows into a steep, narrow, rocky gorge with lots of logs across it for good measure. It took me an hour and a half to get through it - across slippery rocks, over and under logs and then wading a shallow gravel / boulder bar at the bottom. Never again - this should be listed as "must carry" as I can`t imagine running it at any water level. In high water, it would be a lot like a "slide ride", but without the smooth soft sides.

A short paddle brought me to P-6 (60m) This rapid was short and easy and I ran it without incident. Following closely on the right comes P-7 (70m). This run has been dubbed "run and duck" because of the low hanging cedars across the river. I think that time has lowered these trees, since I couldn`t imagine getting a canoe under some of them. Further complicating this run is the formation of a log jam about 20 meters upstream that is too unstable to stand on safely. Since you`re going to be on land anyway to get around this obstacle, I seriously recommend carrying the entire portage. It`s only 70 meters and avoids a potentially DANGEROUS situation.

The river then widened into Halcrow Lake. The outlet came shortly on the right and soon narrowed for a short distance before opening up again into a small lake. On the north shore half way down this lake, there was a nice large campsite situated on a small point of land. Continuing on for another kilometer or so, the river narrowed again and soon arrived at to P-8 (65m). The rapids here were short and steep. In high water they are likely a fun ride, but with the low water conditions on this trip, the decision to carry around them was easy. Along this section there was one small unmarked rapid as well as a low ledge. Both were easy to run and the only danger is being caught unawares by them.

After this, the river turned north and came to P-9 (20m) that all canoeists must use to circumvent a 3 - 4 foot ledge that spanned the entire river. It is just a short liftover in low water conditions. From here the river meandered slowly northward until it reached Vice Lake. It was in this section, where the river opens up into a marshy area that I came upon moose number 2 of the trip. Where the first one had been an ordinary - even ratty looking, small bull, this fellow was everything a moose should be. A magnificent bull in his prime that had the biggest rack of antlers I had ever seen. I imagine he will be very popular with the ladies this fall.

One of the highlights of the trip, a nine meter high falls is found at the north end of Vice Lake. As you approach the falls the granite walls start to rise upward and then close in, forming a gorge that squeezes the river down to about 20 feet wide at the lip of the falls. The 135 meter portage on the left starts up a steep rocky incline for 50 meters and then descends steeply down into the gorge below the falls. The guide shows 2 campsites here -one at the start of the carry and the other near the end. The first one is small - an emergency spot at best and the other was a little better with room for 2 - 3 tents if a little uneven. It was 5:30 pm so I set up camp quickly and had supper and was cleaned up by the time the sun was sinking below the trees.

The gorge looked like a great fishing spot so I got out the gear and looked over my tackle selection. I picked out a silver and pink flatfish that I had been carrying around for years - had never used it - never intended to use it! I didn`t even know where it came from, but I thought to myself "today`s the day!" With the lure attached to my line, I climbed down to the water and casted. It took ten minutes to land the biggest walleye I had ever seen! It was about 32 inches long and so big around that I could not hold him securely enough when trying to remove the hook. I took a nasty cut on the finger from the sharp edge of his gill when he started flopping around. Moments later, the hooks were out and he was revived and swimming away. I fished for another 20 minutes and never got another nibble - probably just beginners` luck for that lure.

Tuesday, July 22

The morning dawned crisp and sunny and I was packed up, fed and on the river by 8:00 am. The direction of the river here formed an almost complete box before heading north again. There was little relief here and the area was myriad of large and small lakes all joined by easily navigable channels - in short, a fisherman`s paradise. I heard a few float planes coming and going but they only momentarily disturbed the solitude.

Before long the river turned northward again and narrowed between rocky hills. P-11 (360m) soon appeared on the left and bypassed a fast shallow rapids. You have to be part mountain goat to do this carry - the trail went almost straight up for 50 feet or so before levelling out and then descending slowly to the finish. I carried half the gear over and had a good look at the rapids below - the view was fabulous. I didn`t like the idea of lugging the boat and the other pack up that hill, so I decided, with a lot of apprehension (it was a solo trip after all) to make the run. There were 2 drops near the top that required good braces to make it through and then an easy stretch before coming to the chute near the bottom. The main chute on the right had a freshly fallen sweeper in it, so I took the eddy on the left and waded the boat through on the left side. All in all a fun, if slightly scary ride. Immediately following this portage came P-12 (100m) and P-13 (70m), both on the right. They bypassed small easy rapids which were no problem to run.

The river from here meandered a couple of kilometers, west then north until its junction with the Ivanhoe River. There was a huge campsite here and one a bit smaller downriver about 1 kilometer. The second one was a fair climb from the river and of the two campsites, the first is by far the best.

Further downstream, the slow moving Ivanhoe opened up into a long narrow lake with another campsite marked in the guide as being directly across from the outlet. I had planned to camp here but I never did find it. What I did find in (or near) its place was a five star fly-in lodge, so I decided to continue on to the next spot - 5 km further on at the end of the next portage.

Bear number two was sighted 750 m from the start of the carry but one look at me and he ran into the bush. P-14(360m) iwa on the left and was a level, easy path that circumvented a rapid that dropped in two stages. The first drop was not too difficult. The guide mentions a secondary take out before the second (and more difficult) drop, but I saw little sign of it as it was heavily grown over. The second drop was an S-bend complete with rocks that have not been placed properly. If you decide to run this rapid, scout it well first. It was 4:30 and I was very tired , so I decided to take the portage trail - I would carry the gear over first, set up camp, eat and then go back at my leisure and get the boat. After just a few feet into the carry, there was evidence that the bear had recently been on this side of the river - a freshly dug up bees nest. The bees were still buzzing around, no doubt wondering what had happened to destroy their world and I didn`t hang around long enough to get blamed.

The campsite at the end of the carry had room for only a couple of tents but was one of those idyllic spots that you don`t come across often enough. It had a huge flat slab of granite that juts out into the river making a perfect spot for the fire ring. I could sit and watch the fire and as a backdrop, look upstream and watch the fire`s reflection in the water as it tumbled over the rocks in the deepening twilight.

Four days into the trip and I was filthy and would have had trouble talking a wet dog into sitting next to me. I needed a bath! Down to the river with water jugs, pots and boat bailer to get wet and then collect water for the rinse cycle. Up by the campsite - there I was -stark naked and covered in suds (an unusual sight at best, I assure you) and I looked across the river to see that I was being scrutinized by bear number three (or perhaps number two again - it`s tough to tell without name tags). I pointed to where I wanted him to go and yelled at him and off he went. The poor bear is still probably still haunted to this day wondering just what that pink sudsy thing was.

I keep my food in an air tight portage barrel and am very careful with food scraps and garbage and have never had any problem with bears, even sows with cubs. I don`t know why, but bears in the wild seem scared shitless of humans.

Wednesday, July 23

Today was going to be the big day - the reason you eat all the heavy stuff first. It was portage day. An hours paddle down river was P-15 (400m) followed closely by the biggie - P-16 (3 km). On the way to the first rapid I kept thinking to myself how nice it would be if I could run or at least line it so as to preserve some much needed energy for the long one.

When I got to the portage take out I saw that it was one of those shitty ones full of jagged rocks. I paddled over to the top of the rapid and had a look down it. It was steep and fast! About 100 meters down, just after some cube van sized rocks, it disappeared around a bend to the right. It was anybody`s guess what was lurking beyond that. I thought maybe I could run it carefully down to the corner, get out and line it from there but I wasn`t liking this idea much better than the rocky take out. I paddled back over to the portage, got out and paced around glaring at the rocky shore. I decided to give it a try. I got back into the boat and headed for the start of the run. It was a decision I would soon regret.

Minutes later I was over the lip and heading downhill. It always amazes me, that at times like this, time seems to speed up and things happen a lot faster than they should. It seemed like only seconds before I was nearing the bend. I saw that there were no eddies so I started paddling furiously backward hoping to back into some slacker water near shore. That`s when I hit the rock with the left side of the boat which sent it corkscrewing into the air and it was almost upside down as it hit the water, bouncing me unceremoniously into the drink. The barrel and the dry bag bounced out as well and started their run to freedom but everything else was fastened to the boat and stayed put. After bouncing for a few feet into slower water, I stood up, grabbed the boat and waded to shore. I carefully lifted the boat up and out of the water and then flipped it right side up back onto the water. I threw my paddle into it and then looked downstream for my gear. The dry bag had snagged on a rock a few meters down but the barrel was still bouncing merrily towards the end of the rapid. Retrieving it would be no problem. The rapid flows into a large pool and the wind was blowing in the right direction so it would drift into a large bay on the right.

So far, things were going almost according to plan. I was, after all at the bend in the river and ready to line the boat the rest of the way down. The fifteen pounds of water that my clothes had absorbed would have to be described as adventure. Looking back to the river, I saw that lining this was going to be difficult but not impossible. The main channel roared down the right side of the river, dividing a few times into two or three secondary channels. The trick was going to be finding a way through the many little channels through the rocks on the left side. I worked my way slowly down river, collected my dry bag and dragged the boat over some rocks to get around the left side of those cube van sized boulders. It was slow work but I was steadily making progress. After fifteen minutes there remained only one more difficult spot and the worst would be over.

By now, I was almost in the middle of the river, sometimes jumping, sometimes wading between the rocks and would now have to go through one of the secondary chutes that was splitting from the main flow. Just as the boat was entering this chute, I slipped on an algae covered rock and lost control of the line. In a split second, the front of the boat hit a rock, stopping its forward motion. The force of the water pulled the upstream gunwale down into the water, swamping it instantly. Now sideways and full of water, the current pinned it against rocks at both the bow and stern. It took some moments for my brain to fully comprehend the impact of the scene in front of me and I could only stare in disbelief. My brain was cycling through many emotions finally ending with ... "What am I going to do now?" It took a few minutes to wade my way down to the boat and after reaching out and pulling up on the bow, my arms told me what my eyes already knew - this boat wasn`t going anywhere soon.

I had to fight the urge to try and do everything at once - I had to approach this with a plan and carry it out one step at a time. The first step would be to gather all my gear and be ready to set up camp at the end of the portage to await rescue if the boat should prove unrecoverable. When the boat swamped, the dry bag and my paddle were set adrift again. Everything else - day pack, camera case, spare paddle, portage yoke and bailer were still attached to the boat, but the way they were thrashing around it the current, it was anybody`s guess how long they would stay that way. All I could do was hope for the best. Getting the boat back minus the paddles or yoke wasn`t going to do me much good. I swam and waded through the pool below the boat to where the bag had pinned on the rocks and using it for stability, waded the remaining 200 meters to the bottom of the rapid. To get to the portage I had to wade across the main flow in water 2 to 3 feet deep, terrified of getting one of my feet trapped between the rocks and falling over. It was a good thing that the river fanned out a bit at the bottom, but even then I`m not sure I would have made it if I hadn`t had the bag for stability.

Now I at least had the tent , bedding and dry clothes safe and I focused my mind on what to do next. I checked on the barrel and saw that it was still over on the far side of the pool and going nowhere. I had been in the water for about three quarters of an hour now and was getting sick of it so I started walking up the portage trail. When I thought I was even with the boat, I bushwacked over to the river to see if there was any chance of rescuing it from this side. Most of the current here went along the right bank and I saw that there was no way I would be able to wade across this raging water with a rope. If the boat was to be recovered, it would have to be from the other side.

Back at the trails end, I was getting ready to go after the barrel when I looked up towards the boat and saw my "pelican" camera case bouncing down the rapid. Its trajectory was going to bring it very close to me, so I only had to wade out a few feet to scoop it up as it went by. It had had a rough ride down the river, so I was a little apprehensive as I opened it up. The equipment inside was undamaged and bone dry. I really like it when gear justifies its cost by performing the way it was designed to.

I started to walk around the pool towards the barrel. It had to be next on the recovery list as it contained, in addition to the food, the equipment I would need to rescue the canoe. I didn`t get far before the ground turned into a black oozy boot sucking muck that I would have to wade through. I thoroughly hate this disgusting shit. God knows what slithery, wormy , blood-sucking life forms are evolving in it. I gave serious consideration to eating bark and leaves until I was rescued. God, I hate this shit! You try to find sticks and old logs to walk on to keep from sinking so deep, but you then risk slipping and falling in, making a bad situation far worse. Who wants to land on their face in this ooze? It took a three quarters of an hour to make it over to the barrel and the same amount of time to walk back, sometimes sinking to mid thigh. I almost lost a boot a few times.

Finally back at the end of the portage, and after washing the goo off, I ate some lunch and thought of ways to get the boat back. The usual way this is done is to attach a rope to the boat and using carabiners to fashion a pulley, haul the boat off against the current. This method works best with lots of muscle helping to haul on the rope - muscle I didn`t have. I couldn`t get a rope across the river in any case because of the strong current. I decided that the best chance I would have, would be to try and pry the boat off with a long pole. The part I dreaded most was crossing over the main channel to get to the other side of the river. I was starting to get scared of this river.

I got the saw and some rope out of the barrel, wrapped the rope around me, cut a long staff and started across. I used the staff as a third leg to help me through the fast water and like a cane to keep me from falling over the slippery rocks as I waded resolutely upstream. At this point, I really didn`t have a lot of faith that this was going to work but since my dance card was empty anyway... As I neared the boat I came across a pole, about eight feet long and five inches in diameter - just the perfect size. To wade out to the boat, I had to cross two small chutes and wiggle between a couple of big boulders at the top of the pool that was just below the boat. Once out there, I was in a calm spot with water boiling past me on both sides and now could survey the best course of action. Luck was with me in that there was a submerged rock under the boat and just in front of the rock that the bow was pinned against. I got the pole into position using this rock as a fulcrum and placed my weight on it and pushed down - the pole snapped in half like a piece of balsa wood.

I was just beginning to think that this might just work - but what now? I needed a stronger pole and looking around me, I saw a stand of birch trees about 20 meters up river. One of them would do nicely. I waded back to the shore, picked up the saw and started to push my way through the nearly impenetrable bush along the shore. Once at the clump of trees, I assembled the saw and started to work and ten minutes later, I had a solid pole eight feet long and five inches thick. Back at the boat, with renewed confidence that this was going to work, I positioned the pole and threw all my weight down on it. The bow slid up and off the rock and the whole boat started slowly corkscrewing and turning in the current and started to float downstream. It didn`t get far before it stopped - no apparent reason - it just stopped and hung there wallowing from side to side in the current. The front painter must have worked loose and was now wedged in between some rocks, keeping the boat from floating free of the chute.

Cutting the rope would quickly solve the problem (that is, if I had a knife, which I didn`t) so I waded out through the chest high water and snagged the boat on one of its trips to my side of the chute. Working it into slower water allowed me to pull it upstream slightly to ease the strain on the rope and with my other hand, I worked to untie the rope. The knot in the wet rope had really tightened so it was quite a job to undo it with one hand - but finally it was free and I had my boat back!

I backed over into the pool pulling the boat behind me until I had some better footing under me and the took stock of what I had. The spare paddle was hanging by a thread - it would not have been long before it would have been lost, but the portage yoke and bailer were still secure. The day bag however was gone - it`s a gym bag that I carry all the things that I want handy such as rain wear, binoculars etc. The contents were quite valuable and I hoped that I would find it wedged on a rock downstream and that it wasn`t gone for good. I still, of course had the problem of getting a ton of water out of the boat and back into the river where it belonged.

I was perched precariously on two rocks in chest deep water - combine that with a gimpy right arm, and I was not even going to try emptying it by lifting it up and out of the water. That left bailing - not as easy as it sounds. An ABS boat floats, but just barely, so the trick is to get it floating evenly with the gunwales just out of the water and then bailing like mad before a small wave comes along that rolls over the gunwales and refills the boat with water, forcing you to start over. This happened twice but eventually I started making headway. I had no idea that a canoe held this much water, and removing it, half a javex bottle at a time, is sure hard on the arm. Finally the boat was empty enough to start downstream, so I pushed off across the pool and towards shore intending to collect my saw and rope and be on my way. I was half way across when the current grabbed the boat and tried to twist it from my grasp, which wrenched my sore shoulder causing it to scream out in agony - but by now, nothing could cause me to let go of this boat.

Once on shore, I had to sit and wait fifteen minutes for the pain to subside enough for me to pick up my gear and continue. The 200 meters to the bottom was easy - I even found my day bag half way down - it was in bad need of drying out but the only thing damaged was my tape recorder that was in a zip-lock bag that had leaked. I had been working for over three hours in deep fast flowing water, fearful that one slip could have caused death from entrapment or some broken bones from an unscheduled swim and I felt a great sense of relief that this ordeal was over.

I was soon loaded up and after a scan for the missing paddle (never did find it), and one last look upstream, I was on the way to the next portage. Along the way, I had lots to think about. I had made many mistakes, but I realised that the root cause of this particular bit of adventure was that I had lost all perspective about why I was here in the first place. I had allowed myself to become so worried about the next rapid, that I didn`t pay the proper attention to this one. I had become fixated on the destination and not the journey. I vowed that this was one mistake I will never make again.

A fifteen minute paddle brought me to the next, last and biggest portage. I had originally thought that it could be avoided by wading, lining and careful running, but now I was thinking "perhaps next time" Who am I kidding - the decision not to run it was made about two hours ago.

The portage was 3 km long, but only the first 1.5 km is considered a "must carry". There is a put in at the half way point for those who want to run the last half of the rapid, which is what I planned to do. The guide showed a campsite at the start of the carry, but it was so small that it should be classified as an emergency spot at best. The trail left the river and starts off level, but after 100 meters, began to climb. Over the next 300 meters, I climbed three very steep hills, gaining more elevation on each one. The trail then levelled off for 200 meters, before returning to the river. It then turned to the right along the brow of a steep hill which gave a fabulous view of the river, over a hundred feet below. From up there anyway, it didn`t look like such a tough run. For the last 800 meters, the trail followed the side of this winding esker and worked its way slowly downhill until I was walking on the flat river bank. Overall the trail is in good condition, with a well defined easy to follow treadway and only a few deadfalls to detour around. The turn off at the halfway point was easy to find as this path gets far more traffic than the one that continued on to the end of the portage.

Now came one of the highlights of the trip - 1.5 km of C-1 rapids. The only catch was that because of the low water, I had to wade the loaded boat out into the main channel to begin the run. This, after all the walking on the portage trail had finally dried my boots out and I had dry feet at last (well, for five minutes anyway!) This was a fun ride that wound its way along the esker until the river finally ran out into Ivanhoe Lake. The guide also showed a campsite at the end of the portage but I didn`t see it. What I did see as I whizzed by was a boulder beach with what looked like a big clearing farther back, up on the river bank.

Shortly after this on the left, there was a long flat bank about 5 feet above river level that could be used as a campsite if needed. I was getting really tired, but wanted to make the next nice large campsite, which was 5 km further down the lake. The lake was perfectly calm and it was an enjoyable one and a half hour paddle in spite of my fatigue. Once there, I had plenty to do, setting things out to dry in addition to the regular camp duties. It was a pretty tired camper who turned in just as darkness was descending. In spite of all the memories of the days events racing through my mind, sleep overtook me almost instantly.

Thursday, July 23

Ivanhoe lake is 36 kilometers long and because there are no developed campsites, has to be paddled in one day. The lake is aligned in a southwest - northeast direction which lines it up well with the summer prevailing wind - a wind I hoped would be in my favour. Travelling solo into a strong wind is difficult at best, so I had decided that I would not attempt the long paddle today, unless the wind was in my favour. I was up at dawn, watching the morning mist rising off the water to see if it would give me an idea as to which way the wind would blow today. The mist would start to drift downstream a little causing my spirits to soar, then soon begin swirling upstream, causing me to fret. This pattern continued for about an hour and then, slowly at first, the mist decided on a single direction... downstream. I was packed and on my way within half an hour.

For the next 3 hours a gentle breeze helped my paddle propel me down the lake but the breeze was starting to pick up and was soon blowing quite briskly. This lake, while generally long and thin opens up into wide spots then narrows into small channels that soon lead to wider sections again - a pattern that continues for about 30 kilometers, after which, it then opens up into a large round body of water, 4 kilometers across. To get an image in your mind, picture a giant tadpole with a 4 kilometer diameter head and a 36 kilometer tail.

The wind was starting to cause problems on the wide sections, kicking up waves as large as a third of a meter . It was nothing really dangerous, but the situation required constant attention. I was meeting people now and then - the odd fishermen and some tourists at the few outpost cabins that were scattered along the shoreline. When I reached the island campsite near the outlet into the big part of the lake, I had been paddling non stop for 7 hours, and my legs, arms and back were screaming for a rest and a chance to stretch. My bladder was also getting very insistent, so landing at the campsite for a walkabout seemed like a great idea.

It wasa nice big spot and not a bad place to spend my last night on the river, especially if the wind would make the lake crossing too dangerous. Fifteen minutes later, revived and refreshed, I was back in the boat and heading towards the last leg of the trip - the main lake crossing. I was entering the lake on the lee side, so the water was calm on this side, but out in the centre, I could see whitecaps - a place to definitely avoid. To make the crossing, I headed along the south shore towards a long promontory that extends out from the south shore for about one and a half kilometers - It took half an hour to reach it and the waves were starting to get real big this far out. In these deepening swells, I let the wind supply most of the forward power and I concentrated more on keeping the boat at ninety degrees to the waves. Some of these waves were now approaching two thirds of a meter in height and I did not want to broach and get swamped. Once past the spit, I slipped in behind it and finished the crossing in its wind shadow. As I neared the beaches on the other side, the waves were again getting rather large but this concerned me far less than the fact that the wind had forced me to take a course that brought me ashore 1 kilometer south of Red Pine Lodge where my truck was parked (I hoped). Twenty minutes later after a sideways roller coaster ride through the waves, I was on the beach in front of the lodge - I was home!!

My truck was there, complete with a flat tire. After getting the tire filled and everything packed up and loaded, I drove down the road to Ivanhoe Lake Provincial Park to camp for the night, before the long drive home in the morning. As dusk was approaching, I took a walk down to the lake for one last look. The water now was as calm as a sheet of glass and reflected in it was a magnificent magenta sunset - it was a perfect ending.

Don Haig

Maps Required
Other Maps: 
41 O/NE Ridout 42 B/SE Folyet (Provincial Series Maps)
Special Comments: 

"Pishkanogami" is the native name for the river ... it means "farther still"