Spanish River - Duke Lake to Agnew Lake

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Additional Route Information
142 km
6 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
3385 m
Longest Portage: 
1600 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

Hwy 144 between Sudbury and Timmins - access road to Duke Lake
South through Duke Lake
South through Tenth Lake
South through Ninth Lake
South through Eighth Lake
South through Seventh Lake
South through Sixth Lake
South through Fifth Lake
South through Fourth Lake
South through Third Lake
South through Second Lake
P 50 m L or run swift
South through First Lake
P 1600 m around Scenic Rapids (or negotiate with combination of running/lining)
(Note : first 1200 m is supposedly ok to run, remainder should be lined)
South through Expanse Lake
South on Spanish River
P 220 m R around rapids
P 200 m R around rapids or CBR
Take chute on right at train bridge (Shehan)
Past Pogamasing
South on Spanish River
South through Spanish Lake
P 230 m R around Zig-Zag Rapids (or CBR)
South on Spanish River past the Elbow (intermediate road access from Hwy 144)
Northwest for 2 km
The Graveyard Rapids, including...
P 500 m R around rapids (or CBR first and P 150 m L second)
P 150 m L around falls
P 100 m R or liftover at ledge
P 350 m L bouldery rapid at Agnes River (or CBR / line left)
West on Spanish River
Shart right turn brings you directly into Cedar Rapids
Line left or CBR (rock at bottom of first set / large standing waves!)
South on Spanish River
South through Agnew Lake to finish at Agnew Lake Lodge
Hwy 17 west of Sudbury to town of Massey, then north to lodge

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

I ran the Spanish River with my husband, Kelly, and friends Wendy and Bill Bishop beginning August 18, 1996. We ran from Duke Lake to Agnew Lake from mid-afternoon on Sunday to lunch time on Friday, five days later. Water levels were up about a foot over normal levels for that time of year and I imagine that if we had tried to do this trip at the same time this summer, we would have had a very miserable time indeed. So, time of year and relative water levels are everything on this trip!

As for our basic experience level and comfort going in... All of us are reasonably comfortable in most Class II rapids and some Class IIIs, although we each prefer different types of CIIIs, which makes running them as a group kind of difficult. Kelly and I have been to Madawaska Kanu Centre, taking tandem whitewater canoe and Kelly, solo whitewater canoe while I did solo kayak. Kelly and I have run the Petawawa River, Wanapitei River, Magnetewan River, White River, the Saugeen, Beaver, Sauble and Grand. This year, we added the English River to our list of victories. Wendy and Bill have tackled some of these, as well as the Dumoine River, in Quebec. So, we are pretty comfortable moving in fast water, can recognize what we can run, and can get out and walk around what we can`t. With that as my introduction, here goes...
Day 1
We were living in Wiarton at the time, so took the first ferry over and had arranged to pick up a shuttle driver in Webbwood. Hit the water by mid-afternoon on a hot, sunny day and just paddled the first 10 km to the most northerly of the two campsites shown at the narrows between Ninth and Eighth Lakes. We took this site because the one just down river was already taken. The northernmost site of these two is okay, offering just enough room for two tents, not a great view and no place to spread out. The southernmost one was a large, open site which looked quite nice. As a rule of thumb, there are nice little swifts at the narrows that separate each of the lakes the next one and break up the monotony of lake paddling.

In addition to working with the 1:50,000 scale topo maps, I have a rather neat accordion folded map and canoe route description called the Spanish River Canoe Route, put out by the MNR in 1990 and numbered MNR #4403. I made a point of looking for all of the campsites noted on this map to validate whether they were there or not, checking some out along the way to see whether they were nice sites or yucky ones. In addition to the two that I have mentioned already, the sites marked along the west side of Duke Lake, the east side at the narrows between Duke and Tenth and the one midway down the west shore of Ninth are all there. The one on Ninth Lake on the western shore was not a nice site.
Day 2
This day put us on the water by 10:00 and off by 4:00, paddling 22 km into headwinds on long lakes.
There is a campsite at the south end of Sixth Lake on the western shore that is not on the MNR map. The ones shown on the east and west shore at the top of Fifth Lake are both there. In addition, we noted a site on the peninsula on the east shore of Third Lake. A Bailey bridge now crosses the river just south of Third Lake. The 35 metre portage mentioned for the section of river between Second and First was not noted and the river run easily. The campsite reported on the peninsula at the southwest end of First Lake was seen; however, the portage around the 1.6
km of rapids and swifts that divides First and Expanse Lakes was not. This section of the river offered Class I and minor Class II stuff, with very little maneuvering required. The two campsites marked on the MNR map on the east shore at the top end leading into Expanse Lake were found.

We camped at the first of two sites noted by the MNR on the east shore at the mid-point of Expanse Lake. (If you have the topo map in front of you, you should mark it in at the "S" in Spanish, or at grid reference 370168, just after the mouth of the creek.) This is a nice site with generous space for two to three tents on flat, level ground. Although the water access is a little steep, the sandy lake bottom stays shallow at knee to thigh height for many yards from shore. We found big, fat blueberries galore on this site when we did this trip during the third week of August.

Prior to taking this site, we had cruised on down to the next one further south, assuming that the site on the peninsula would be nicer. When I checked it out, I was not impressed with it at all but I was very happy with the campsite that we chose for the night.
Day 3
Drizzle started at midnight and we awoke the next morning to drizzle and rain, which lasted to early afternoon.
The section between Expanse Lake and the Forks was shallow and fast - a lot of fun - and our arrival at the Forks was heralded by a view of a train (which would turn out to be the first of tens of them). We did not see the campsite indicated on the island at the Forks.

The next portage is indicated about 3.5 km down river from the Forks. It is shown on the topo map at grid reference 377064 and is actually a set of two rapids, the first of which we portaged and the second of which we ran. The campsite for this portage, which is located on the river right shore, is midway through the portage and has room for three or more tents.

The rapid shown about 1 km further on was run easily. And we couldn`t figure out the cause for the portage indicated to be just south of the confluence with the Pogamasing River because we noted neither rapids nor swifts in this area. There are a some good haystacks in the rapids below the railroad bridge north of Sheahan and, in general, we found lots of swift water along this section to the meanders south of the Pogamasing train station, as marked on the topo map.
The Ministry map indicates four campsites in the area of the meanders - one on each of the eastern "teeth" of the meanders. We saw the first one, missed the second one and fourth one (the next morning) but camped on the third one. We were making good time through this section, though, paddling strongly in the swift current to get the full effect of flying! The campsite on the third meander is spacious, with room for many tents spaced well away from each other. There is a second access to the campsite downstream and around the bend from the first but the tent sites near it are not as nice. The blueberries were even better here than on the previous site!
This day we paddled 26 km over five hours.
Day 4
Clear skies, heavy dew and cottony spider webs everywhere greeted us this morning. Strange, pestering but non-biting, small, blackflies hounded us terribly last night and continued to do so this morning. Thankfully, they disappeared at sunset. They followed us until noon through the racing, shallow island-strewn meanders.
The campsites are marked inconsistently on this trip: some are marked with orange signs, some with brown and yellow signs and some are not marked at all. The same is true for the portages.
A campsite was seen on river left in the vicinity of grid reference 437850 to 442840. The one indicated by the Ministry on river right just before the confluence with the Mogo River was not found, although we did see one a couple of kilometres further down river (on the next topo map) around grid reference 462768.
The headland on the east shore at the top of Spanish Lake provides a nice lunch spot. The campsite on the eastern shore at the south end of Spanish Lake was also noted.
The campsite on the river right just south of Spanish Lake is set on low-lying ground in the shade of a grove of cedar trees on river right. It is large enough for three or more tents but pray that it doesn`t rain, because they would be very wet tents indeed!
We ran all rapids from here through to Graveyard Rapids, getting lots of water in the boats but having a lot of fun! Kelly lost his hat in the rapid just south of Spanish Lake, so if anyone finds a grey Tilly-style hat, please return it to me...
The tent site indicated at grid reference 462686 was seen but we opted for the one below it at 453667 instead. This is a nice, double site with room for three or more tents at each of its two access points. River access is made up steep river banks and there were no blueberries to be found! We covered 22 to 25 km today in about five hours of easy paddling. Camped early, we goofed around in the river tied off to ropes around trees, learning that floating down river in a life jacket was fun, but swimming upstream against the current was impossible.
Day 5
No dew this morning - a portent of things to come on this day that is beginning with more mist than usual...

The rapids from the campsite to Graveyard were all just fast shallows, requiring easy moves to avoid obstacles. The Elbow was a vast, open field with spots for a score of tents.

By the time we arrived at Graveyard, the rain began in earnest. We found it confusing to try and match up the MNR information with the bars on the topo maps and compare both of these against "the real thing". We also found it difficult to determine, in the upper section, where one rapid ended and another started.
From the Elbow to past Agnes River, we defined eight distinct rapids:
The first we ran river right, after scouting.
The second was like the first, with the opportunity to eddy out on river left, but we chose not to run it and portaged it on river right. Within a hundred yards of this rapid was a small four foot falls which we portaged in conjunction with the previous rapid.

The third obstacle is a chute, which we ran to river right.
The fourth portage is made to river left, around a falls. There is a campsite in the middle of the portage.

The fifth obstacle creates a lining, dragging or lift over exercise, with a campsite that would provide space for one or two tents in close proximity.

The sixth rapid, is the one after the confluence with the Agnes River and it`s created when the river channel splits around an island. At this point is was thundering, lightning and pouring rain, drowning out all of the sound clues that rapids offer. This set is probably runnable after scouting but we did not want to bushwhack in the rain, so we wimped out and took the soaking wet, low lying portage to river left. There is a poor campsite at the end of this portage where we stood under a saturated cedar tree and at our soggy lunch. (We were very wet, and beginning to get cold, but we were still having fun!)
This rapid was run.
This rapid was run
We noted many easy rapids and swifts from the end of the Graveyard series right through to the confluence with the Wakonassin River, all of which we ran easily. The only one which concerned us was one kilometre long Cedar Rapid, which falls in one continuous bend to the left around a rocky headland. Although the topo map shows no bars to mark its passage, it was every bit as challenging as some of the other rapids marked on the map and would provide a very long and nasty swim for anyone who dumped at the top of it.

Throughout this section of the river, from Graveyard to Cedar, we saw a number of abandoned, broken canoes - reminders of the river`s power and canoeists` folly.

Flying through this section of the river, I did note an extra campsite on river left at either grid reference 363647 or 361633. (We were moving so fast, I lost track of exactly where we were, relative to the map.) I did not see the campsite indicated by the Ministry on river left at 363595 but did find the one at 353568. The campsite located south of the confluence with Acheson Creek on river right at 352539 provides room for many tents with good access to the water. There is another spot, a couple of hundred metres further down river on the same side, that affords more privacy.

We camped at the big, open site high up on the river bank where the Wakonassin River adds its waters to the widening Spanish River. The last couple of hours of this day`s paddle were quite tiring, as we meandered back and forth across the river, continuously searching for the deepest channel in the now one foot deep river, racing just inches above its gravelly bed. When we arrived at camp, we figured out that we had traveled 35 kilometres, including three portages and one lift over in this eight hour day!

The scenery at this spot was quite beautiful, with an open, park-like setting, lush riverbanks teeming with burgundy flowers, birch and mixed forest behind the campsite. The campsite is in a open area of tall grass and wildflowers nestled against young forest. However, this spot provides the worst access yet - a steep, thirty to forty foot scramble up the sandy, rocky river bank. Once up the bank we had breath-taking views both up and down river.

Bill walked back behind the campsite into the woods beyond, doing a double-take at the field of white daisies that he finds there. On closer inspection, his daisies turned out to be sodden mounds of toilet paper on tiny piles of shit - a virtual minefield. We avoid the area.

Day 6
The morning brings heavy dew and clear, blue skies and light winds from the northwest push us gently home on our painless, three hour, 17 km paddle. Throughout this paddle we found the tent sites noted by the MNR. The site on river left at grid reference 345430 on the last of five topo maps provides a nice, smaller, rock campsite for one or two tents. The one following it, on river right in the kilometre below the islands looked as if it would accommodate one or two tents as well. Another site is located on the peninsula on river left at 344386.

The take out is located at the Agnew Lake Lodge, not at the headland facing north, at the end of the main road but at the mouth of the southern bay marked with an "anchor" symbol on the topo map.

We thoroughly enjoyed this short trip on the Spanish River, covering 135 km of river in less than five full days of canoeing. Only our 35 km long Graveyard Rapid day in the pouring rain proved to be a tiring day - and this is probably just as much from the level of concentration and from dealing with the elements as the eight hours of paddling and portaging.
We would welcome the opportunity to join other paddlers on this river again, some time, perhaps a little earlier in the year to ensure adequate water levels. Of course, then you get more bugs along with more water! By going mid-August we had few mosquitoes to torture us in our travels, although killing horseflies became a minor diversion in the windy section of the river around Pogamasing.

Please feel free to call me if you would like any further information about this trip. You can reach me at 705 647 0288, generally any night after 7:00 p.m.

Happy Paddling!
Sharon vanValkenburg

Near Miss on the Spanish

By: Peter B. Irvine

This article originally appeared in Vol. 21 No. 1 (Spring 1994) of "Nastawgan - Quarterly Journal of the Wilderness Canoe Association"

Reprinted with the kind permission of the Board of Directors of the Wilderness Canoe Association

We all learn from our mistakes. The mark of true wisdom, however, is to learn from the experiences of others. Perhaps you can learn from ours.

After a long car ride from Pittsburgh, PA, the eight of us with four canoes and lots of gear got on the train in Sudbury. A pleasant ride on the "bud car" from Sudbury to Pogamasing, and unscheduled stop on the railway maps showing nothing but the river and the track right next to it, marked the beginning of our late June 1989 trip down the Spanish River. We had to ask the conductor to stop at Pogamasing as the train does not do so without a special request. On the way we saw a beautiful waterfall, several lakes, and a deer bounding into the woods.

On the train we met an older couple who were going back to the river after canoeing the Spanish the previous year, when they cracked their fiberglass canoe in a rapid they called The Wall. They were travelling alone, and when the accident occurred they lost everything and had to hike back to the train track for help. Unfortunately the train only runs three times a week, and so they had to wait some time before being picked up. After an experience like that, it was incredible to us that they had decided to return. We had an ominous feeling about our own trip. What would happen when we encountered The Wall? Were we in over our heads?

The most difficult rapids on the Spanish River are contained in the Graveyard set, a series of seven rapids (by our count) some of which may be run after scouting, and some of which must be portaged. Our advance information on these rapids was gleaned from the book “Canoeing Ontario`s Rivers,” by Ron Reid and Janet Grand, which proved quite reliable.

We determined to tackle the entire Graveyard set in one day, camping at the Elbow the night before, running as many of the rapids as possible, portaging the rest, and stopping that evening in the old lumber camp at the base of the last rapid. As it turned out, we were able to accomplish our objective, but not without a major mishap.

We got on the river at 11 in the morning in good spirits, ready for a long day of paddling and portaging. We passed two small islands and found the first portage without difficulty. Walking down the trail, we could see that the first part of the rapid was runnable. Then we reached a point in the trail where someone had tied an old glove to a sapling. This marked a second entrance to the trail from the river and the beginning of more formidable rapids. We agreed not to run this second set.

Running the first would save us a 350 m portage, but we would be in trouble if we were to miss the portage marked by that old glove on the sapling. We walked back to get the others and made fairly quick work of the rapid and then the first portage. We took pictures of each other in front of the rapid at the foot of the next 150 m long portage on the right.

We shortly came to the subsequent portage on the left, scouted the rapid, and pronounced it unrunnable. The trail was rough over many rocks. We passed a campsite right over a beautiful fall, and one of us said that we should have camped there the night before. She like the idea of camping next to the fall. The portage was 100 m long, and we were all tired at the end. As we were resting, our friend turned to me and said “Peter, I just want you to know that I`m having a good time.” After all the complaints about the voracious black flies in camp the day before, and the threats never to return to Canada because of the pesky little creatures, that remark did me a lot of good.

The next rapid, known as The Wall, was a disaster. Characterized by our guide book as having a liftover on the right, the rapid`s nature was somewhat unclear to us. We did not recall whether a liftover referred to a rapid suitable for lining or merely a short portage. In retrospect, it turned out to be the latter. It may help to note here that when we find a portage marked on a map in Canada, it indicates to us that the rapid is absolutely unrunnable, no ifs, ands or buts. The problem was, there were several questionable rapids marked “check before running,” and it was tricky keeping the classifications straight.

In any case, two of our party got way ahead of us. As we approached the rapid, we saw that their canoe had capsized and their gear was floating all over the river below the rapid.

We spotted the portage trail on the right, pulled over and jumped out to go after the people in the capsized canoe. We ran to the end of the portage, but there was no sign of our friends.

My partner shouted we unload our canoe and try to find them. We called for someone to bring a throw rope, then unloaded our canoe and double carried it down the path. Our friend with the throw rope was nowhere to be seen. We ran back for the paddles, returned to the canoe, and paddled downriver.

It seemed an interminable time before we reached the floating gear. The canoe was on the right-hand side of the river. The bow had been bent at right angles to the stern. In desperation, we shouted to our missing companions. To our great relief, one of them answered that they had both survived, miraculously unhurt. They were hidden from our view on the left side of the river. One had been washing-machined in a hydraulic below the rapid and was badly shaken. We quickly paddled across the river to pick them up.

My female partner got out of our canoe to stay with the other woman, and the second survivor and I began picking up the floating debris, paddling across the river to the damaged canoe. It looked like a total loss. We were worried about getting all of us out of there with one less canoe.

We dragged the boat over to the shore and pulled it out of the water. The canoe being made of aluminum, we were able to bend it back straight. One of the thwarts was broken, but the canoe appeared salvageable. We need the hatchet-sized maul (which we brought for splitting wood and pounding tent pegs) to complete the job, so we went back up to the portage to fetch it. Our friend with the throw rope was waiting for us. He had run down the right bank through thick underbrush after our lost companions. When he found they were all right, he returned to the portage.

Two of our group took our canoe to go down and fix the damaged one. The rest of us began portaging the gear and remaining canoes.

After a long time, the shaken couple came back with my partner. One person was still with the broken canoe. Three of us paddled down to get him and the repaired canoe back to the portage. They had done an admirable job repairing a puncture in the hull caused by the broken thwart with duct tape and replacing the thwart with a strong tree branch.

After this three hour ordeal, we sat down to eat lunch. No one was hungry, but we ate anyway. There was some discussion of staying there for the night, but we decided that we should push on and do the last portage in the Graveyard set. This portage was 350 m long, on the left side of the river; it was muddy, swampy and buggy. We did it fast, barely pausing for breath. We then ran two rapids before finding a campsite. Some Canadians we had seen earlier were kind enough to invite us to share their camp, which had two sites, and we gratefully accepted.

Over dinner that night, the post-mortem discussion revealed that our companions who had gotten so far ahead had tried to scout The Wall from the river, but by the time they got close enough to take a look, it was too late to turn back. They had missed the take-out. The canoe hit a wall of water, the force of which catapulted the bowperson back over the stern and bent the canoe at an angle. To our great surprise we discovered that the canoe had not been wrapped around a rock as we supposed, but rather had been wrecked by the sheer force of the water in the Wall`s hydraulic.

The lesson we learned from this terrible experience, in which, after all, the fates were with us, is this: do not overestimate your abilities. Even an expert is capable of making a mistake, and wildern4ess rivers can be very unforgiving. If in doubt, scout, and do it from the shore.

Our trip on the Spanish was a delightful one in many ways, but were we to attempt it again, we would do it differently. One, we do it in August rather that in late June, as the black flies were horrendous when we were there. Two, we might break up the Graveyard set into two days instead of trying to run it all in one. Haste is the mother of grave errors.

Finally, we recommend that anyone running the Spanish River have confidence running Class III whitewater, as there is much to challenge even the experienced canoeist. The most essential ingredient for any trip, however, is sound judgement, and that is hard-won as often as not, through many mistakes and learning experiences.

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
41 P/5 Westree 41 P/4 Low Water Lake 41 I/13 Pogamasing 41 I/12 Cartier 41 I/5 Espanola
Other Maps: 
Chrismar Adventure Series - Spanish River


Post date: Sat, 01/01/2000 - 07:00


"Go With The River" a back country matiance company has been working on this route over the last three years instulling box toilets and resigning all campsites and protage trial.