Spanish River - Pogamasing to Agnew Lake

CanadaOntarioNorth Channel
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Richard Munn
Trip Date : 
Additional Route Information
Distance: 
88 km
Duration: 
3 days
Loop Trip: 
No
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
5
Total Portage Distance: 
1330 m
Longest Portage: 
500 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Intermediate
Lake Travel: 
Novice
Portaging: 
Easy
Remoteness: 
Intermediate
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Unknown
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

Train from Sudbury to Pogamasing
South on Spanish River
South through Spanish Lake
South on Spanish River
P 230 m L around Zig-Zag Rapids or CBR
South on Spanish River
Past The Elbow (intermediate road access)
Northwest for approx. 2 km
The Graveyard Rapids, including
P 500 m R around rapids (or CBR first & P 150 m R second)
P 150 m L around falls
P 100 m R or liftover ledge
P 350 m L at Agnes River (or CBR / line left)
West on Spanish River
Sharp right turn leads directly into Cedar Rapids (CBR / line left)
South on Spanish River
South through Agnew Lake to finish at Agnew Lake Lodge

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

Four Days on the Spanish
Richard Munn

This route description is based on a trip paddled in September 1996. Water levels were not high, but reasonable. There were no major problems with shallow sections as are sometimes encountered on this route. It is worth speaking to the staff at Fox Lake Lodge (705) 965-2701 and Agnew Lake Lodge (705) 869-2239 to make general inquiries about water levels. During very dry periods, the route can be a bit of a bump and grind.

We took four days to paddle this route, but it could be done quite easily in three. Our main reason for taking the fourth day was because the train went up from Sudbury on Thursday Morning, so there was no rush to get back before Sunday. Our group also prefers a relaxed paddling pace, taking time to enjoy the scenery.

Day 1 - Thursday

The train that took us up to Pogamasing was the famous "Bud Car" which travels back and forth every few days along the route between Sudbury and White River. The train was very affordable. By purchasing tickets early, we lucked into a "seat sale" and if memory serves me correctly, we only paid $10 or $12 for a passenger ticket, and $35 per canoe. We arrived at the station about an hour before the departure time of 9:40 am and loaded our gear into the baggage car. The train is wonderfully informal, and we had a grand time visiting with the crew and talking about our route. They are very used to transporting canoe parties along this section. We were dropped off at Pogamasing at 11:15 am.

When I say "dropped off at Pogamasing" I don`t mean at a town or village. The drop-off point is a sign beside the tracks that says "Pogamasing" and that`s all there is! If there are any remnants of buildings that used to exist there, we didn`t notice them. The drop-off is a quick process - as we approached Pogamasing, we were invited to go back to the baggage car. As soon as the train stopped, we jumped down, the gear was passed down to us, the crew said "good luck" and the train disappeared down the tracks.

The river is adjacent to the tracks at this location - a short carry down the embankment and we were paddling in the swift current. The next 20 km of the river was (for the most part) a fast-moving, shallow run over sand, gravel and cobbles. The material in sections seems to be shifting and re-forming into small channels. It can be a little confusing to find the right channel. We certainly weren`t in danger of getting lost, but the occasional channel would simply get shallower and narrower until it just ended. In general, we found that we had the best luck by following the left side of the river. You may or may not find this to be the case at a later date.

We ate lunch as we drifted down a wide, open section of the river. It was nice to be making 10 - 12 km/hr progress even as we put our feet up and ate.

At the 20 km point of the route, we passed the junction with the Mogo River. Apparently there are a couple of cabins at this location, but I don`t remember seeing them. Maybe I was asleep on that stretch. There are some swampy areas around here with maple stands. It looked to be prime wildlife habitat, although we didn`t see any animals as we paddled through.

I have seen mention in some route descriptions of a small swift just after the junction with the Mogo River. Perhaps its presence depends on water levels - we never noticed anything more than slight riffles and strong current in that area. The next 5 km was a fast ride in very shallow water over sand and gravel deposits.

At about the 25 km point, the river began to widen and slow down, and eventually entered Spanish Lake. There are a couple of buildings on the lake. There is a campsite just to the left of where the river exits Spanish Lake, but it isn`t great. We continued a little further, and found a nice site on the right side of the river a few hundred metres past the Lake. The site was surrounded by a grove of cedars, and had plenty of room for tents. Just downriver from the site you can see and hear the first whitewater of the route.

Friday - Day Two
We were on the water at 9:00 am. The first task of the day was the scouting of Zig-Zag rapid, the one we had seen from our campsite. It is not shown on the topographic map, but it is certainly worthy of noting. There is a simple 230 m portage on the right side which bypasses the rapid. Water levels were high enough when we were there to run the rapid. It was shallow and rocky, but by starting just left of centre, then bearing hard to the right, we were able to follow the deep water channel and make it through without touching bottom. Had water levels been lower, it wouldn`t have been possible - the rapid is quite shallow and rocky.

The next 10 km of the river (from km 29 to km 39) was a great stretch of fast water with riffles and small rapids - a fun ride. At the time we paddled the river, all of the chutes and rapids were easily navigable - for the most part, a short bounce down in small waves.

At km 39, we reached the Elbow - the "corner" where the Spanish changes from a southerly to a westerly flow. There is a grass field and some derelict buildings on the south side of the river. There is also a gravel road which leads to Fox Lake Lodge and eventually to Highway 144 about an hour north of Sudbury.

The 2 km following the Elbow is a stretch of fast water. It is very shallow at the Elbow, with sand and gravel bars in the centre of the river, but deepening as you approach the Graveyard Rapids. The rock walls at the sides of the river also grow a little higher. We stuck to river right since we knew we were approaching the Graveyard Rapids, but there was little danger of missing them - we could hear the roar of falling water from several hundred metres away.

The Graveyard Rapids certainly deserve some caution and respect, but they are not difficult to get around. The description of the entire set is as follows:

Rapid No. 1 Actually a set of two rapids. The first set is not bad, but the second must be portaged at all times. This gives two options - a 500 m carry around both rapids on the right side; or a careful run of the first then a 150 m portage around the second on the right. Some members of our group chose to take the trail around both rapids, while others ran the first without incident and portaged the 150 m.

Right after this double set, there is a small chute or drop. It can normally be run, but it can also be portaged, lined or waded to the left. It leads to a small "pool" - a quiet area overlooking the next rapid. As soon as you reach this area, you should head over to the left side of the river for the next portage.

Rapid No. 2 This is really a small falls with an ugly-looking hydraulic at the base. It was pretty obvious that anyone going over the falls would probably spin around in this hydraulic for a few hours (or days) before they were finally spit out. Not something that we were interested in trying. This is a location where several paddlers have been killed, which is a shame since the takeout is easily accessible and the portage is neither long nor difficult. The 100 m trail follows the left shoreline. It climbs up a grassy / soil base to a small clearing (campsite) then drops down a rocky slope to a put-in at the foot of the rapids. We stopped at this location for lunch.

Following this portage, watch for a ledge which crosses the entire river. It looks harmless from 20 m away - a small line of white splashes, but it is a small vertical drop which is not runnable. Head over to river right and there is a portage along the shoreline of 150 m. If water levels are moderate or low, it is usually simpler to wade and then lift over on the right side of the ledge. Head over to river left and follow the shoreline for another 500 km.

Rapid No. 3 Watch for some wood cribbing filled with rocks on the left side. This is an old diversion crib built when the area was logged. This is at the location where the Agnes River joins the Spanish from the north. Although the topo maps show a point sticking out from the north shore at this location, there is actually a small island and the Spanish flows around both sides. Don`t bother checking the right channel - it isn`t navigable. The left channel may or may not be depending on water levels. On previous trips I have run this rapid (shallow, rocky and bumpy), but on this trip we felt the water levels did not permit running. We had decided to line down the left shore of the rapid rather than take the 350 m portage.

Unfortunately, as we were paddling past the cribbing to get over to the left shoreline above the rapid, one of the canoes got a little too close to the top of the rapid, and were pulled in by the current. In retrospect, they should have probably just paddled down and other than a few bumps and scrapes on the bottom of the canoe, the ride would have been uneventful. Instead, they tried to get over to the shallows at the left side of the river and ended up tipping and swimming the rapid. Their description after the event indicated that the ride was not much fun. The rapid was very bouldery, and even going down on their backs, feet first they picked up a lot of bumps and bruises on the journey.

Two of our group in another canoe immediately ran the rapid to ensure the swimmers were ok at the bottom. They made it down the rapid easily, although the ride was bumpy.

The rest of us continued lining down the left side. The river bank and the river bed were made up of slippery boulders ranging from bowling ball size to pumpkin size. They provided poor footing as we made our way down the rapid. The current was very strong, even at the shoreline and it was a struggle to keep the canoes lined straight. At one point, one person slipped on some rocks, a line went slack and before we knew it, a gunwale went underwater, the canoe filled and began to wrap around a large boulder. Fortunately they managed to pop it off the rock before it folded, but there was some ominous cracking and some minor damage to the canoe.

Our appraisal of this final rapid in the Graveyards? If it`s too shallow to run, then take the 350 m portage. It would have been faster, safer and easier than lining. The trail is not bad - generally downhill to the end of the rapid, although in places it is quite narrow and overgrown.

About 500 m past the base of this rapid there is another shallow rapid. This is generally just a riffle and can be run down the centre. It can be very shallow - depending on the water level, you will probably bottom out at this location, but it is certainly not dangerous.

After the excitement of one group dumping, and one group almost wrapping their canoe, we decided to set up camp for the day. A little further downriver, we found a good site. There is a large cobblestone "beach" and a steep embankment leading up to a level area. This is not a bad campsite, and is also the location of an old logging camp. The remains of the old bunkhouses are still standing in the bush, but they are only half-height walls with no roofs. Many small metal artifacts litter the site. This site is at the 44 km point of the trip - just past the last small rapid.

Day 3 - Saturday
About three km past the campsite, we arrived at a point where the river almost seemed to split around a small island. The left channel is actually a dead-end channel, and the island is actually a point. The other channel turns a sharp right, and seems to head into a shallow gravelly rapid as it turns out of sight. In reality, this is Cedar Rapids - if you head down this blind turn you will find yourself in an 800 m long rapid with very large standing waves in the centre. It looks deceptively simple from the entrance, but increases in difficulty as you get around the corner.

I had run this rapid before, although in shallower water conditions. I remembered it as a bit of a bounce through standing waves with not many rocks to avoid. The higher water levels made the standing waves much higher this time, however. It was a very bouncy ride through 3 ft. high waves, with one large boulder to avoid at centre channel. All of the group made it through without incident except for the duo that had been for a swim the previous day. Since they were behind me, I didn`t see exactly what happened, although to this day, the sternsman swears that he was blindsided by what he calls a "rogue wave" which appeared out of nowhere and filled his canoe. The rest of us had eddied out to various spots along the shoreline and watched canoe, paddlers and gear go bobbing by. This was another rocky ride, and both paddlers picked up a second accumulation of bumps and bruises. The canoe, unfortunately caught a rock as it travelled down the rapid broadside and wrapped.

We fished out the paddlers and recovered the gear at the bottom of the fast water. We then went to recover the canoe and began to assess the damage. Both extruded aluminum gunwales were snapped completely through, the portage yoke was ripped out, and the thwart was only connected on one side. There were five or six major cracks in the hull, and the canoe was shaped like a banana. Not a pretty sight.

We pulled over at a convenient campsite for lunch and repairs. Holes were fixed with duct tape, the yoke and thwart were re-fastened with material from our repair kit, and we managed to stomp and pound the canoe back into a shape resembling a canoe. All in all, the boat looked surprisingly good when we were done.

There is no portage around Cedar Rapids - you simply have to wade the canoes down the riverbank. Either bank will do, but the left bank seems to be shorter and easier. As soon as you have waded around the corner, you should be able to see the remainder of the rapid down to its finish. It should be quite obvious when you can put back in and begin to paddle instead of wade. Stick close to the left shore when paddling - it is the quietest part of the rapid.

After Cedar Rapids, there is a very swift section of the Spanish which zig-zags its way south. There are no more major rapids, but there are numerous shallow sections, gravel beds and small chutes. As with the upper section, the river is wide and shallow, with a bouldery bottom. This type of landscape continues for about another 20 km. As we reached the end of this section (about the 70 km point of the trip) we reached the junction with the Wakonassin River. The landscape changed dramatically at this section. Instead of shallow, fast moving water, the river becomes broad and marshy - like a river delta. This is excellent wildlife habitat in this area.

From this point, we noticed the Spanish continually widening and losing its current. Although there are many camping spots in the area between Cedar Rapids and Agnew Lake, we tried to get fairly close to Agnew Lake. We did this so that we would have a short final day, giving us the afternoon to get home and unpack gear. We camped at a site on the right side of the river just north of Agnew Lake - nice, site with good tent spots.

Day Four - Sunday
Not much challenge to this day - a short hop down the remainder of the river, the a crossing of Agnew Lake to finish at the lodge. Less than two hours, and we were out of the water.

Richard Munn
April 1997

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 I/13 Pogamasing 41 I/12 Cartier 41 I/5 Espanola
Other Maps: 
Chrismar Adventure Series maps - Spanish River
Photo Gallery

Comments

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

Comments: 

I run a Scout troop in Sarnia and every summer for the past 20 years we have done the Spanish from the Forks to Agnew Lake with our eldest patrol (age 14-15). Since we spend time each year previous doing some type of moving-water paddling, there aren't many surprises when we get there and they are comfortable with Class I/II rapids.
The Budd car is an experience that shouldn't be missed.
Although we've done our share of dumping, to date the worst event we've had is having an empty canoe float free at the first Graveyard set and bump/grind over the ledge. No damage other than bruised egos from allowing this to happen.
I think the biggest issue is ensuring that your youths are prepared and your Leaders are skilled. A wonderful river that is practically a liquid bobsled ride.

Post date: Tue, 07/29/2008 - 00:40

Comments: 

Thanks for the info. I plan on the trip from Elbow to Agnew this weekend.

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

Comments: 

I did the same trip this summer with two of my boys ages 12 and 10. This is a great river for learning whitewater provided the guy in the stern is experienced. We did have one experience to share about this route that is a cautionary tale. On our second day we came to Zig Zag rapids. Having read trip reports that suggested an edyy turn at the top of the rapid I decided to do just that as my sons had not really done this before. The eddy turn was executed to perfection and following by a back ferry to round the bend to the right. Having completed our first big whitewater test we let our guard down at the finish and ran on to a rock. Bingo everyone leaned left and we wre in the river. Our paddles wre floating away. Andrew the 12 year old was told to retrieve them. That left Lucas and myself with the canoe. All seemed under control at this point. I grabed the stern line and started swimming for shore. At that point thing literally came undone. The ploypro rope rope did not hold its knotand I found myself holding a rope with no canoe attached on the other end. This was not good as we were still in fast water. In like most of the Spanish it the fast water never abates. Back o the canoe in swam and grabbed Lucas and swam him to shore. Nowmboth boys were on dry land but the canoe was now a few hundred yeards down river headed for the next swift. I jumped back into the river and shot the next swift floating on my back. I was lucky to have the canoe run a ground just before the next swift and I finally caught up to it. After unloading the canoe I emptied the water, loaded it back up and did a s ferry to get back to river right and hock up with the kids. As all our packs wre lashed in we did not lose anything we could not live without. We did have the rainjackets loose in the canoe and those and we lost all three, or atleast we thought we did. Once we were cackmon the river and after about an hour of paddeling we saw something red floating in the middle of the river. Sure enough it was my rainjacket which had succesfully shot at least another 2 rapids before we found it. The rest of the trip saw no repeat accidents and the we shot alot of rapids saw a moose and found a great campsite at the Graveyard rapids.