Rockcliff Lake to Coles via Misekow R.

Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Jon Laughton
Trip Date : 
Additional Route Information
50 km
14 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
5300 m
Longest Portage: 
924 m
Difficulty Ratings
Lake Travel: 
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

I flew from Toronto to T\'Bay for $375.The drive up to Armstrong was easy-good roads.The fly in/out is a bargain at $250 because Phil has negotited a great deal.I expect individuals would pay more.

Technical Guide: 

We flew in to Rockcliff from Mattice Lake near Armstrong in about 40 mins.
Paddled down the Misekow R. to a port. into Coles Lake.
On through a creek system into Coles Lake then across westward to Rockcliff

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

This trip was one of those orchestrated by Phil Cotton to take volunteers into the park for some portage clearing and campsite recreating.
Phil has spoken at the WCS and is himself worth the trouble to go.

I have to say this trip was everything I had hoped for and more or less exactly what I was expecting after the thorough way Phil had presented all the relevant details.

Perhaps a little less leisure time than anticipated.

This being a two week trip we had a LOT of gear to carry; two stoves, 8 fuel bottles, two full food barrells,and three duffle bags along with two woods packs with the heavy axes and saws and two full worm/tackle box kits-8 dozen worms!! Everyone had a fairly heavy personal pack but I put more of that stuff in my Bertha and just carry a smaller fanny pack.Far easier on portages.Except the Bertha got up to 85- 90 pounds.We carry great ( but very heavy ) tents- over 13 pounds for 2 .

Ok enough preamble, some details;
Phil and Kim met me in person and I got to do some last min. shopping in T'Bay.After dinner we have the first in a continuing series of lessons in " Phil's Method " of packing the gear.

Up at 6:30 and drove to Armstrong in about 2.5 hrs.
Planes delayed by fog- schedule is 2 hrs. behind.

I love the Beaver so flying in was a treat.The deforested lands are a sad sight.The park boundary delineates a virtual wasteland from the thriving Boreal forest.Suddenly our mission and the need to protect more of this area is clear-If allowed the logging companies would "harvest" the entire planet.

happier points;
we get to stay in a cabin first night! Getting to this point has been very easy.Too easy, I don't trust that.
We are on Rockcliff Lake- paddled a couple miles up to investigate a potential portage location-tough hiking through the underbrush portends what's to come.Often where you expect ground you are actually walking on moss that is barely clinging to rock so it slides off easily and sends your ankle over.
Sunday; we're packed up and paddling by the crack of 2:00 pm.I'm not a morning person so Phil's schedule suits me to a tee.After a few hours we explore some potential campsites at the northern end of Rockcliff then move on in what is now the Misekow River.Misa Cow.After a few riffles and shallows and some wading with the boats we found a fire ring on shore and Phil had us set up where I could not imagine two tents standing- but it turned out great once you packed down the moss! Easy shallow swimming.Didn't realize the cost of meals included all of the cooking! It's a real treat being cooked for every night !
I cannot believe noone else brought a chair kit.I had to do a bit of negotiating to keep mine ( that's very bulky they said ) but was envied and i was very comfortable with the therma rest deluxe :>)
I also brought a new water sterilizer since it fits inside my 1 liter Nalgene and adds only grams of weight.The Aqua Star worked well and gave me greater confidence about drinking the water what with my previous bad luck with Giardia and all the beaver dams we see here.
Weather wise we are hearing a lot of thunder but manage to avoid the rain.
We spend the next day on the Misekow and find another former campsite late in the day.Roger had the keen eye for the fire ring but missed a rod case that turned out to be the perfect fit for my new 4 pc. :>) I started axing through the bigger deadfalls and they sawed others to open up the rare flat spots on the ground.We even moved the firepit as it was on a level tentsite.It was worth all the effort as we're staying 2 nites.Never a shortage of firewood up here.

Next Morning I get the shock of the week when I see a motorboat with three fishermen just down river ! This is pretty remote dammit !
We ran the canoes empty (except for work gear and lunch ) through some bony rapids to where the portage work begins.We spend a day clearing a 924 meter trail into Coles Lake.This was just a warmup for things to come since the owner of the outpost cabin had a vested interest in this trail so he had people work on it half assedly.We did meet Mike Henry and the fisherman from the outpost cabin on Coles.- all true gentlemen.They caught over 120 walleye and released all of them.
We hacked at alders, labrador tea, deadfall, and small spruce trees all day, working up a serious sweat and burning off thousands of clories - it's like 6 aerobics classes in a row !
Here we did find abundant blueberries.Later on they were very scarce.Back to the base camp for dinner late and too tired to fish though we should have because it was one of the best areas for walleye.Our site is where the river has widened so it's like a shallow lake and very silty on the bottom yet the shoreline is very jagged lava rock with razor like edges.You really gotta watch out getting on and off the water.

Moving on to Coles lake the next day we had to line the rapids with canoes fully loaded and grunt through the long hilly portage.I cleared a lot of rock to open up the landing on Coles then we paddled down past the outpost cabin and found a great campsite just beyond it on the same side.Nicer rocky point with clearer water and some fishing! Roger had luck with walleye and I a pike.There was considerably less work involved making this a usable campsite. again we hear thunder in the evenings.The guys from the out post cabin invite us over FOR BEERS !!!.The next day they even gave us their leftovers.We had dinner late.
Spent an easier day finding and measuring a portage into a creek that joins a different section of the Misekow.It was a well worn open path - a hunter's trail.Found remnants of an old trappers cabin.
then spent a couple hours reworking the 924 m. portage.Phil wanted to fine tune it
When we left Coles Lake we were clearing portage as we went.First one was easy but then we were back to unused trails that needed tons of work.We were on a creek that had too little water to paddle so we couldn't get through in one day and had to spend a night in the forest away from a lake.Phil had only sketchy information on portages and we had to improvise when we couldn't find a blaze.Even the next day we still couldn't get all the way through to Wet lake.On the second day of hard going through creek/ floodplain / and blowndown forest I found the old blazes for the last portage into Wet Lake and flagged the portage.It was impenetrable with gear so we camped on a beaver pond and cleared it the next day.That was a tough night as the rain caught us with our tents down and we had no clear space to set up the tarps.But Phil's immense resourcefullness always got us through.We still had a hot meal and an aperatif :>)
When we moved in to Wet Lake we had a nice paddle to the very end before we found a campsite.Best place to be since this is start of our next portage to clear .Loads of beaver;Phil slapped his paddle and 3 beavers in succession slapped their tails.We tried to sneak up on two very majestic moose and saw two big raptors.Osprey I suspect though Kim said not.
after the usual night of thunder We're blessed with a full moon.We start work on clearing the portage next day and it's a grind but nowhere near as swampy as believed.We work a shorter day than usual to go fishing.This was the first time we'd gone out in the canoe just to fish and we were overjoyed to have fish on within a couple of minutes.Roger and I each caught two walleye and a pike so we had a very late ( 1:00 am ) fish fry that night.It was a true delight of the trip after years of futile fishing in Algonquin to be where there was a healthy fish population.When we paddled away to discard the fish guts we had a good show from the light side of the moon.She was full and clear .
A second day of hard work finished our 600 m. section of this portage when it linked with the 400 m a previous trip did. (A 4 ?) Phil was somewhat crestfallen when two young fellas came trucking through as if this was Algonquin.It ended his record of 57 days in the bush and not another canoeist seen.
More fishing and this time Kim brought a few in too with Phil's good guidance.It's nice having a litle extra time when we don't have to move camp-allows for a little more camaraderie and phil's stories are very entertaining.
We had an icy cold fresh spring for water and didn't even have to filter.It tasted wonderful.What a rare thing to get a cold drink in August. Perfect with my scotch.
Moved into Early and then Late Lakes.Pretty neat move when Phil broke apart a beaver dam to get water running in the creek.More moose and an Osprey nest- babies squawking.Then in to Colehouse Lake and at last we have a clear route to a clear campsite that happened to be the jewel of the trip.I paddled out on still water just in time to see the full moon rise through the treetops bearing an amber glow.It wa sthe quietest momentI ever remember.There are no commercial jets flying here but the one I see daily is the Strategic Air Command.That gone there wasn't a sound that night- not even a tree falling, until a loon sang.
The next day we had two portages back in to Rockcliff.The last one is down a cliff so we were working to the end.The two students we met yesterday are here having covered the route we have been clearing for two weeks in two days !! We made their lives easier than they could ever imagine-nice timing on their part.
So next day we get our flight out right on time despite cloud cover and Trish gets us back to T'Bay in record time.I expected to be more excited about being back in civilization but we really didn't do without many luxuries. However there's a lot to be said for the Baseball at The Keg.
Then I learn the world has been affected by another terrorist plot so I can't take a coffee onto the plane as I did two weeks ago :>(

Special Comments: 

We were volunteering to clear portages and campsites as we went so that's why the distance is so meager for the amount of time out.
Fantastic fishing.
You aren't likely to see any other canoes- just some fishermen at the outpost cabin on Coles Lake.