Spanish River - Pogamasing to the Elbow

CanadaOntarioNorth Channel
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Richard Munn
Trip Date : 
Additional Route Information
Distance: 
35 km
Duration: 
2 days
Loop Trip: 
No
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
1
Total Portage Distance: 
230 m
Longest Portage: 
230 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Intermediate
Lake Travel: 
Novice
Portaging: 
Easy
Remoteness: 
Intermediate
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

Access to Pogamasing by train from Sudbury (The "Bud Car")
Start at Pogamasing
South on Spanish River
South through Spanish Lake
Camp night one at the south end of Spanish Lake
South on Spanish River
P 230 m R around Zig-Zag Rapids (or cbr)
South on Spanish River to finish at The Elbow
Road access from the Elbow to Fox Lake Lodge or Highway 144

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

This log is based on a trip taken in August 1997. I did the route with my two sons, Matthew (13) and Jonathan (11). They were paddling a 16 ft. Kevlar canoe and I was in a 14`-6" solo wood strip canoe. Water levels on the Spanish were low, but not too bad.

Friday August 15, 1997
The plan for the trip was to start at Pogamasing (drop-off by train) and to finish at The Elbow. That being the case, we had to get a vehicle out to the Elbow so that it would be there when we finished.

It had been several years since we had driven the road, but we thought we could get out there based on our vague memories of the drive. We did make it out to the Elbow, and the road was every bit as bad as we had remembered. We headed up Highway 144 north of Sudbury until we arrived at the road into Windy Lake Provincial Park. Headed west, following the "Fox Lake Lodge" signs. The road eventually split off and the condition worsened. We bounced and rattled our way down the one-lane gravel road in driving rain, thunder and lightning, and eventually arrived at the turnoff to the Elbow. This intersection is marked by a large green government sign proclaiming how wonderful they are for replanting the area after it was levelled in a clear-cut. Attached to that sign is a large red fox marking the way to Fox Lake Lodge. Turning right at this junction, we began to inch our way down the narrow track. Runoff from the thunderstorm was forming deep puddles at various points along the road. I eventually drove through a depression where the water was about a foot deep. No problem for my truck, but I had some concerns for the Lumina Van my wife Debbie was driving behind me. At this point, we gave up on the idea of bringing the van in. I drove in the rest of the way, then hiked (waded?) back to the van where it was parked.

Didn`t notice taking a different route on the way out, but we obviously did, since we ended up coming out on Highway 144 at Cartier, quite a bit north of the Windy Lake turnoff. Actually, the road seemed much better than the one we had driven in on.

Day One (Saturday August 16, 1997)
Arrived at the VIA Rail station in Sudbury at 8:30 pm since we were told to be there at that time to load. The last time we had arrived that early, we ended up sitting around for quite a while, and it was also the case this time too. The Bud Car didn`t even pull into the station until 9:30 am, and it still had to be fueled. We finally loaded the canoes and packs into the baggage car at about 9:50 and the train pulled out at about 10:00 am.

A brief stop in Cartier to load a large group of cottagers and fishermen, and we were on our way again.

We were finally dropped off at Pogamasing just before noon. The drop-off point at Pog is a grassy clearing beside the tracks. There is a short embankment going down to a good put-in point on the river. We loaded the canoes, picked a few raspberries from the bushes around the tracks, took the traditional photograph standing in front of the Pogamasing sign and then began to paddle south.

The first 5 or 6 km south of Pog is swift water and small rapids. We took our time going through this section and I took the opportunity to show my sons how to watch for submerged rocks, what standing waves were, and how to look for the deepwater channels by looking for the "downstream vees". This is necessary knowledge, since the Spanish is a shallow river - trying to run straight down the centre channel along the whole route will get you grounded out on the rocks every five minutes.

We had a great time running down the continuous riffles and small rapids in this part of the river. Beyond this section, the river settles down a bit but still has a very strong current and the occasional chute or small drop. We spent a lazy afternoon winding our way down the zigzagging river.

By the time we were 18 or 20 km downriver, we were ready to stop for the night, but the Spanish is not always an easy river to find sites on. It is thickly treed right down the the waterline, and good camping locations are sparse. We passed a few level spots on sandbars and gravel beds, but there was a cold wind from the north and some dark rain clouds so we hung on, looking for a treed site where we could put up a rain tarp. The first acceptable sites we found were on Spanish Lake. We ended up setting up on the right side of the river just south of the lake.

I had stayed at this site on a previous trip and remembered it as being a nice location, sheltered in a grove of cedar trees. It was as nice as I remembered with one exception - the group or groups that had used the site prior to us were absolute pigs. They obviously had not brought along a saw, since the fire pit area was cluttered with half-burned sections of logs 5 ft to 6 ft. long, many of them green. The fire pit contained foil and tin cans. The tent areas had been carpeted with cut balsam boughs, trimmed from the trees in the area. There was toilet paper and shit everywhere. It was a most depressing sight, and a bit of a cleanup to get the site back into shape.

We erected a tarp quickly, more for a windbreak than a rain shelter, since the rain that had been threatening all day never materialized. Enjoyed a leisurely supper and were in the tents sleeping by 10:00 pm.

Day Two (Sunday August 17, 1997)

Our long paddle on the first day meant that we only had a short 8 km second day to get down to the Elbow where our truck was parked.

The first obstacle was Zig-Zag Rapids, just south of our campsite. I had run this rapid on a previous trip (although in deeper water conditions), but had warned the boys before the trip that we would be taking the portage. We surveyed the rapid from the right shoreline. It is shallow and boulder-strewn, and the path through the five small drops along its length alternate from right to left (thus the name zig-zag). There are reasonably good deepwater vees at each of the steps, but there is a bit of ferrying required to get to these vees when the water is low. A good rapid for Royalex and moderately experienced paddlers. We had neither, so we took to the 230 m portage on the right side. The trail is fairly level except for a steep embankment to climb down at the end, but it is overgrown in places and there are a few blow downs along the length.

The next two or three kilometres were all fast water and riffles - the water surface has an obvious "downhill" slope to it as you paddle along. None of these areas were any problem, except for grounding out on the shallow boulder-covered riverbed a few times. The only drop worth mentioning (we did get out and scout it) was just after a "widening" in the river. Not 100% positive, but I believe it was right where the second "S" is in SPANISH on the topo map (about 4 or 5 km north of the Elbow). This drops over a few good ledges and there is a bit of maneuvering required to get to the downstream vees over these ledges.

After scouting, we decided that most of the rapid would just be a "bounce" through the standing waves providing we hit the vees (which were well-aligned on the right side), so I headed down with my boys following about 50 ft. behind me. Everything went fine for the first 2/3 of the run, but differences in paddling styles caused a bit of a problem. I tend to be a very cautious whitewater runner, back paddling and ferrying continually as I weave my way down a run. My boys had adopted the style of "paddle straight ahead as aggressively as you can" and actually caught up with me at the narrow trough at the last major ledge. It was obvious we weren`t both going to make it through this slot together, so I deferred and ferried hard to the left. They popped through, and I found myself sideways on the ledge. Unfortunately my upstream gunwale was lower than my downstream one, and water was beginning to splash into the canoe. I considered the unpleasant potential for going off the ledge sideways and "wrapping" the canoe on the rocks below. Not willing to subject my cedar strip canoe to that indignity, I was almost prepared to bail out, shove it through the vee and swim the last 50 m of the run. However, a bit of rocking back and forth and the bow caught in the current, pulling me into the main flow again.

Beyond this point, the river widened and got very shallow. The river bed was covered with millions of small fist-sized spherical stones, and the water was only inches deep in places. This section involved the challenge of keeping to the deeper outside side of the turns and watching for these shallow spots. In no time, we were down at the Elbow - hard to miss, since a sign on the gravel bar in the middle of the river says "The Elbow". We hauled the gear up the hill to our waiting vehicle and began the bouncy ride back out to Highway 144.

Richard Munn
August 1997

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
41 I/12 Cartier 41 I/13 Pogamasing
Other Maps: 
Chrismar Adventure Series - Spanish River
Other
Special Comments: 

A simple weekend trip - a bit of fun taking the train up to the put-in. No major whitewater, but the majority of the route is swift water of shallow sections of sand, gravel and boulders