Redhead Lake to Armstrong

CanadaOntarioWabakimi
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Dave Ross
Trip Date : 
Aug 10, 2014 to Aug 19, 2014
Additional Route Information
Distance: 
135 km
Duration: 
8 days
Loop Trip: 
No
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
35
Total Portage Distance: 
5665 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Intermediate
Lake Travel: 
Intermediate
Portaging: 
Moderate
Remoteness: 
Advanced
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
High
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

 Westbound Via Rail from Armstrong to Redhead Lake at  44.3 west of Armstrong. Campsite on Redhead accessible by a faint trail about 10 m west of the 44.3 marker light/post. 

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

Day 1
North on Redhead Lake and were able to float down the creek connecting it to small pond and avoid the 192 m P on the west side of the creek. There was a boat stashed at the end likely from the camp owner on Redhead. At the end of the pond a 49 m P leads to Solution Lake where another boat was stashed. Two casts resulted in 2 plump walleye. A 312 m P took us into the Nemo River and then a 196 m P into Osprey Lake. Trails marked by old blazes and wound through the bush like they did many years ago. We camped on a small natural sand beach on the NW shore of Osprey. Very little sign of many people travelling or camping which made this a nice route to enter the park. Total travel 6 hrs.
Day 2
North out of Osprey through a 44 m P to a pond and across pond and a 214 m P to the  Nemo River and another of 251 m into a longer river section. Angled a few walleye using a hand tied marabou jig. Completed a 386 m P into Snake Lake. Too about 3 hours from Osprey to Snake where we lunched on a small rock island. Out of the south end of Snake Lake over a beaver dam and a 73 m P into Beaver Lake. Heading north out of Beaver Lake we couldn't see the 197 m P so just carried over the beaver dam and were able to paddle to the next 292 m and 473 m P into Eagle Lake. Portages were all pretty good shape with a few deadfalls here and there some of which we were able to clear. Completed a 293 m Pinto a pond and then a 255 m into Dagger Lake. We camped on the east end of the north island. A nice rocky and relatively flat site maybe used last 20 years ago. Took about 8 hrs from Osprey to Dagger. As with all these camp sites one doesn't have to go very far to collect enough dead wood for a fire. It was a cool evening so we elected just to angle off the campsite, and still managed to catch 3 nice walleye for dinner.
Day 3
North out of Dagger Lake via a 105 m P to Change Lake. Evidence of caribou having scraped away the moss on the portage and some droppings. Both Dagger and Change have large scenic expanses of barren rock unlike the lower spruce forests we had been travelling through. Continued north and a 50mP and 104mP into Jeep lake. While paddling north through the north narrow bay to exit Jeep, spotted a caribou swimming across the bay about 100m distance. It left the water and fed just within the tree line. We were able to float closer but it ambled off into the bush before we had any great clear photos. But it was truly amazing to see one of these Woodland Caribou as there are only about 300 of these mostly solitaire threatened species in the park area. Out of Jeep we carried around a shallow swift and a 50mP into a pond connecting into east end of Brennan Lake. Through Brennan we saw several boats of fishermen from the lodge. We took the north route down the Allanwater River  to get to Granite Lake. The first 2 portages we carried the 67m and 24m rather than take time to scout them and come back but they both looked quite runnable even wit out ultra light Kevlar which we are careful with. The last 168mP around rapids and swifts is a carry due to shallow areas. Camped at very nice site where the 2 rivers join up in a bay around the corner from Brennan Falls. Took about 6.5 hrs from Dagger to Granite Lake. Angled a 10lb and 15lb pike on 1st and 2nd cast from a rock near the campsite.
Day 4
Cool misty morning  to start out. A swift connects the west bay to the main lake where we headed north taking a 177m P to get to a pond to access McWade Lake. Trail appeared to have been cleared this year and had  a nice set of bear tracks. Another 66m P into McWade. A very vocal loon in the pond provided some amazing audio tracks. Paddled north on McWade which is a narrow rocky lake but not many suitable sites to camp except one site at the north shore of the north end. Site sits back in a clump of trees that looked like was cleared this year and a narrow rock strip at shore. Evidence exists at many of these sites of perhaps more use 20-30 years ago but very little now. This was a short 4 hour day. Was sunny and about 28 C so had nice swim and snoozed in the shade until it was cool enough to go out fishing. Kept 2 pike for dinner.
 
Day 5
 After we took down tent and were packing the canoe packs we saw a bear swimming towards the campsite from the shore about 100m away. We had been tucked into the trees where the tent site was so unknown if he didn't know we were there or maybe smelt those pancakes. We banged pots and paddles breaking my old spare paddle and he finally changed direction but only slightly and came to shore 50m away around a point out of site. So it was fight or flight time. He may have gone the other way but we decided just to finish packing our bags elsewhere and loaded the canoes with loose gear and put ashore down the lake to finish up. I have had several bear encounters over the years and have been successful in giving them a wide berth if possible. Completed a 197m P that joins onto a P from Roberts and another 250m P to a pond. These trails look cleared this year but still nice and narrow with little travel. A short 1 M, 10m then 76m and 143m down a creek to enter Lower Wabakimi Lake.  Saw a few boats of fisherman and extinguished a smoldering camp fire on the portage leading out of Lower Wabakimi which I am guessing was the shore lunch by the looks of the beer cans in the fire. We completed the 233m P into a widening in the river and a 470mP into another wider area followed by a 251mP around a set of rapids-bear and otter scat on this trail. Bad weather was moving in so we picked a decent site on the south side of the river. About 5 hrs from McWade to camp. A good thunderstorm rolled through which was the only rain we had the whole trip. We hunkered down under a tarp and drank out afternoon java. We had time to go out and catch more of those beautiful dark walleye fro dinner before it got dark.
Day 6
Continued down the river and did the 309mP around a nice falls into Smoothrock Lake. Smoothrock Camp had a picnic table and propane burner there for his guest’s shore lunches. Several campsites had tables at them. We had another hot day with little wind making for easy paddling down Smoothwater lake. Camped on “Grundy Island” after a short 3 hour day which is a smaller island on the south side of the 3 larger islands in the east basin. It had a picnic table and large reflector fire atop a 10 ft cliff and was a great site. Little hesitant to use it give the lodge and done the equipping but seemed to be many of these and only saw a couple of boats of anglers. Island has a memorial plaque to a Jim Winters who it says spent the last week of his life here and died on way out in the Caribou narrows in 1985. Also a touching plaque from 2000 from his mother. Spent another beautiful afternoon swimming and fished up some walleye for dinner in the narrows with the adjacent island. Large bull moose was on the big middle island taking advantage of browse that had grown since a burn. A group with several canoes camped to the east of us on small island-first other canoes we have seen.
Day 7
Crossed the east end of Smoothrock again with very little wave action and paddled down the Caribou Bay past beds of wild rice and continued until the narrows leading into Funger Lake where we camped at a nice flat rock site. Another short 3.5 hrs day. The narrows even though only 8 ft deep held walleye even during the sunny warm day which graced our dinner plate that night.
Day 8
Across Funger Lake and completed a 46m P, 115m P, 57 m P, 66m P, 140m P upstream on the Caribou River to Outlet Bay of Caribou Lake. All of these are well travelled and easy carries. Met a group of 2 canoes inbound. We crossed Caribou Lake travelling east through the gap in Beaver Island and came down from the north to get to Little Caribou Lake to avoid a light wind that crept up. An easy 254m P brought us into Little Caribou where we travelled south down and camped on the west shore on a large rock outcropping. About 7 hrs to here from Funger Lake. Blow downs afforded lots of wood for a nice fire as it was a little cooler.
Day 9
We enjoyed the cool morning for our last day of paddling to the bottom of Little Caribou where our car awaited-2 hrs. Not a lot of parking here but enough for 3/4 cars.  

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
Topo: 52-I/5, 52-I/6, 52-I/11, 52-I/12. These are all in 1:50,000 scale and I purchased them on line in laminated form from World of Maps in a laminated form. Although there are many sites where free maps can be created and downloaded I still prefer the originals and not being into a GPS yet, use them for most trips
Other Maps: 
Wabakimi Project Canoe Route Maps-Volume 3-This book of maps and the other volumes for the rest of the park are available from the Wabakimi Project and have been created by volunteers who also have over the years re-claimed canoe routes. They are very detailed with have blown up portions to identify portage locations and include campsite locations. Very well worth the money and with the purchase Phil Cotton will answer any questions to assist with your trip planning. Ontario Parks Wabakimi map was just released in 2014 and is a good overall trip planning map that is worth the purchase. Park staff were also very helpful for planning purposes and sold a park permit to me over the phone and emailed and mailed it to me. As Wabakimi is very large fitting it all onto one double side map was a challenge it seems resulting in a small scale of 1:150,000. I found it wasn't that suitable in smaller lakes for identifying portage locations and for the most part used the Wabakimi Project maps and Topo maps for navigation. Some of the choices of colour and font also made it difficult to read but perhaps future editions will rectify this. It was very useful for planning access points and includes satellite photos of the stops along the CN rail line with descriptions and mileage markers that were very nicely done.
Other
Special Comments: 

This was my first trip into Wabakimi and was a good sampler of the less travelled smaller lakes of the Nemo River and the larger lakes situated in the central areas of the park. Although we took 10 days and 9 nights it could have easily been done in 8 days/7 nights. We left time for weather,exploring, fishing and just relaxing. The southern areas of the Nemo River were typical low land boreal forest comprised of spruce and sphagnum moss and Labrador tea forest floor. Portages were marked by only older blazes but were relatively easy to locate. I appreciate the way they have been cleared only very narrowly consistent with historical aboriginal trails and not the large clear cut trails found in the more popular parks like Algonquin. It provides a very nice experience and minimizes environmental impacts. We saw no other canoes during these first days and by the lack of any footprints etc it seemed not to be travelled very frequently. As we moved north we entered larger granite Canadian shield lakes and encountered several small fishing boats from fly in camps however they didn't really distract much from the wilderness experience in my view. Throughout the park the fishing was amazing and pretty much at the bottom of any set of rapids one could jig up walleye for dinner or angle for pike in other lakes.  Wabakimi is comprised of a number of small watersheds making portages relatively short and mostly around swifts/rapids between lakes. In the whole trip we portaged just over 5,000 km in total, less that we often do in one day of other areas of the province.