Wakami River Route

CanadaOntarioJames Bay south
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Additional Route Information
124 km
6 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
5236 m
Longest Portage: 
1000 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

Wakami Lake Provincial Park, 75 km southeast of Chapleau
Start at northeast corner of Wakami Lake
P 20 m around dam into Wakami River
P 135 m around rapid (or wade)
Northeast on Wakami River
P 135 m L around dam and rapids just past town of Sultan
P 1000 m around rapids
Paddle short distance to next rapid (or take connecting trail between portages)
P 225 m around rapids or wade (rapids may disappear in high water)
P 36 m L around rapid
P 90 m R around rapid
P 45 m L around rapid (sudden appearance - around sharp bend in river)
P 270 m L around rapid - caution!
P 70 m L around rapid
P 90 m L around rapid
P 54 m R around rapid (right after previous)
P 400 m along rapids and chutes (some wading / lining possible)
North on Wakami River to Ridout Lake
North through Ridout Lake into Wakami River
North on Wakami River
P 117 m L around rapid
P 15 m L around rapid
P 54 m L around falls just before Ransom Lake
P 4 m R around rapid immediately after previous
East through Ransom Lake
P 54 m R aroudn rapids at outlet of Ransom Lake
P 54 m L around rapids at entrance to Bayly Lake (or wade)
East through Bayly Lake
P 220 m L around rapids at outlet of Bayly Lake (or wade)
P 45 m R around rapid (or wade)
P 64 m L around rapids then two small rapids to wade
P 54 m around rapids
Two small swifts withough portages between small lakes
East on Wakami River
P 69 m around rapids hidden aroudn a bend in river (Just before Woman River)
North on Woman River
P 35 m R around falls
P 64 m L around falls
P 220 m R around falls
P 32 m L around falls
P 37 m L around falls (small rapid before falls CBR)
P 127 m L around rapids right after previous falls
P 135 m around rapids just past the mouth of the Rush River
P 650 m around rapids and log chutes right after previous
P 18 m R around rapid (loose rock - a bit of a scramble)
P 630 m L around falls and rapids (through old logging camp)
North into Horwood Lake
North through Horwood Lake into Groundhog River
Road access to Groundhog River at Hwy 101

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 


These notes document the experiences of a group of four paddlers who canoed the Wakami River Canoe Route over an eight day period, beginning August 10, 2003. It begins at Wakami Lake, in Wakami Lake Provincial Park, and ends at the public access dock at the north end of Horwood Lake, just south of the marina.

Topographic Maps (1:50,000 series):
Sultan 41-O/10
Rollo Lake 41-O/15
Opeepeesway Lake 41-O/9
Rush Lake 41-O/16
Foleyet 42-B/1

For background information, we relied on the MNR’s brochure on this canoe route with ISBN 0-7729-1288-2, published in 1986. Two of the paddlers on this trip had canoed this route 25 years prior, in mid-July of that year.

According to the MNR brochure, this route is 124 kms long, has 34 portages and can be paddled over five days. Our experience this August (with higher than normal water levels) with the rapids/portages documented in the MNR brochure is as follows:

PortageNumber Portage Number Portage Number
1 Walked 13 Walked 25 Walked
2 Paddled 14 Paddled 26 Walked
3 Walked 15 Not seen 27 Walked
4 Paddled 16 Walked 28 Walked
5 Paddled 17 Paddled 29 Walked
6 Paddled 18 Paddled 30 Walked
7 Paddled 19 Paddled 31 Walked
8 Walked 20 Paddled 32 Walked
9 Paddled ** 21 Walked 33 Paddled
10 Paddled 22 Walked 34 Walked
11 Walked 23 Paddled
12 Paddled 24 Paddled

Note: “Walked” means walked the portage trail. “Paddled” means paddled, lined or walked down the rapids with packs in the canoes. Although we paddled Portage No. 9, it should have been walked.

Overall, we paddled almost half of the rapids. In addition, there are many other rapids around which there are no portage trails. These were all run and are documented in the description that follows. In general, there was little evidence that this route is used much at all. We were the first group to use several of the campsites. Many of the campsites listed in the MNR brochure were not found and have become overgrown in the intervening years. Several of the portages were not found either, although these become better used once the Woman, Opeepeesway and Rush Rivers join the Wakami River. There is a significant amount of deadfall on some of the portage trails – large logs that require straddling or stooping to get past. There is only the occasional sign to designate the head of a portage trail or a campsite.

Our group included two 40-something year old paddlers and two 71-year old paddlers, with more than a century of flat water and river paddling experience combined. We double portaged all portage trails. Most days we were on the water by 9 a.m. and off the water by 4 p.m. This trip could be accomplished reasonably in seven days, or six if paddlers were single portaging and/or water levels were higher.

It would make a big difference to this route if two people with a chain saw and thirty-four durable portage signs were commissioned to clean up the portages.

Day One (Wakami Lake to Sultan, 15 plus 4 kms)

One vehicle had been left at our take out spot (the public access dock at the north end on the west side of Horwood Lake, off Highway 101 east of Foleyet), and the other vehicle was left at Wakami Lake Provincial Park.

On the water by 9:30, we enjoyed a lovely paddle northward on shallow Wakami Lake, sighting loons and ducks along the way. There is a boat launch on the left side of the dam at the end of Wakami Lake, with a portage sign located on the left side of the dam as well. We took out here, walked over dam and pushed through the bushes to put in on the right side of the river as it makes a 90 degree turn just below the dam. (MNR Portage No. 1, left side, 90 meters, grid reference 646670). The MNR brochure shows Portage No. 2 (left side, 135 metres) immediately following this. This section of the river was a rocky shallows and we were able to paddle and walk our way down these rapids. Following a nice river paddle of another kilometer or two, there were two or three more sets of rocky rapids (just prior to the river widening from one to two lines on the topographic map), all of which were run or walked down.

The river from here to the bridges for the train and Eddy Road, about a kilometer upriver of Sultan, was a very nice paddle with gentle bends and a nice current. Here the Wakami wiggles slowly through a low marshland. It was a hot, sunny day with temperatures around 25C. Ducks and grebes provided regular entertainment, flying off and diving as we rounded big bends. The occasional deer fly and horse fly reminded us that the summer was not over yet.

There were a couple of nice, short rapids preceding the Eddy Road bridge, but none at the train bridge – a nice welcome to Sultan. The portage at the Sultan generating station (MNR Portage No. 3, 135 meters, grid reference 689730) is a short scramble up the steep bank of the river to the right of the dam, then a short walk across the road, to the left of the blue generator and down the hill through the bush along the chain link fence. This was the first time I had launched in a hydro spillway.

The river from here to MNR Portage No. 4 (noted to be left side, 1,000 meters, grid reference 688748) is intimate, winding in big loops. We approached the loud roar of the rapids and started to look for the portage to the left. Although the topographic map does not show any ledges or rapids for the next several kilometers, this was most certainly a notable one. And the MNR brochure shows ten rapids in this next kilometer long section of the river.

There was a lightly worn possible takeout but it sure didn’t look like much, so we slipped down further, under the cedars. Ralph rock hopped down to get a better look at the rapids. Kelly pushed through the bush looking for a trail. They came back reporting no trails and a ‘not runnable’ set of bouldery ledges. Ralph remembered, though, that his group had run these rapids in July 25 years ago. We paddled back upriver to the possible takeout to scout for the portage. It was 4 o’clock. Ten minutes of bushwhacking turned up nothing, then Audrey and I stepped into a nest of something stinging. They got me once and Audrey three times before we managed to escape. We spent another five minutes looking for this long gone portage, then headed back to the canoes for antihistamines, with a decision to camp for the night then return next morning to investigate further.

The hollow in the cedars on the opposite shore offered a possible ‘desperation’ campsite for one tent, with no evidence of previous use. We continued back upstream to the hydro dam. After being hidden in the bush for half an hour, a look to the north revealed a very different weather picture. The sky was dark with clouds and they were closing in quickly. We sprinted back, landing amidst the introductory thunder and lightening, and set up our large blue plastic tarp, using the hydro chain link fence to suspend the back from and cut birch poles to support the front. The skies opened up and it rained for the next several hours. I filled all our water bottles with rainwater while Ralph cooked a wonderful steak supper, accompanied by some crisp green beans. Two friendly dogs, with collars, came to visit with us from nearby Sultan. As darkness fell we set up our tents and settled in for our unsettled night. Kelly and I briefly considered whether we should set our tent on the ground near the generator. Its buzzing from the vibration of the turbines provided the possibility of all night-long ‘magic fingers’ for free.

Day Two (Sultan to MNR Portage No. 11, 8 kms)

Overnight it drizzled; the wind came up in bursts and the morning was grey and cold. We were finished our porridge breakfast when the hydro guy drove up to check the generator. He comes out twice each day, measuring things including the characteristics of the ground vibrations, in order to identify when the generator’s bearings are beginning to fail. We talked about the river, hydro, and people we both knew - we from New Liskeard and he living four hours away, and never having met before. He needs new knees and is on the list for orthopedic surgery at Sault Ste. Marie. And he fishes and traps the river over four districts.

We were on the water by 10 a.m., enjoying again the winding two kms paddle to the head of MNR Portage No. 4 again, this time in a headwind. We pulled up on the left side, at the head of the rapids and re-established a barely there trail that skirts this set of bouldery ledges, flagging it with rosie to mark it for others. It took us an hour to make it less than 100 metres to the steep rocky put in below the rapids.

We found no evidence of the 1,000 metre portage described by the MNR as Portage No. 4. However, our paddling partners had linked with an outfitter in Sultan who drove them north of Sultan on the bush road to the river’s edge, where a short bush trail links the road to the river. They had seen a portage trail leading west from this road, but not east. We hoped to mark the place where the road meets the river, so that we could check our options to continue paddling or portage, when the time came.

Looking downriver from our put in, we could see a substantial log jam. Thankfully, we were able to squeeze our way through the logs on the left side of the jam, Audrey in the lead. This was followed shortly by the first of many bouldery rapids, which continued on for the next hour. We scouted each rapid from the boat, tacking our way down them by floating or walking. We missed the place where the trail to the road opens up, and the rapids causing MNR Portages Nos. 4 and 5 blurred into one very long set. At one point, Audrey stepped out of the boat to help get it off a rock only to step into a deep pool that plunged her in to her chest. The river here was hard to work at this water level. However, with more water, it could just be a fast, easy run.

A little used campsite marks the end of this kilometer long section of the river and we used this for our lunch spot. It was still cold and grey and we were wet from all the time spent out of the boat, so the physical activity was good for keeping warm. MNR Portage No. 6 (left side, 36 meters, roughly grid reference 673758) followed after an enjoyable kilometer of river paddling. The river narrows here, becoming overhung with cedars. It is intimate, primitive and full of moody atmosphere. The short portage avoids an overhanging tree which we managed to limbo under but which would definitely require a walk around in higher water. MNR Portage No. 7 (noted to be right side, 90 meters) follows shortly thereafter, within a half kilometer, and we ran this rapid as well.

One kilometer further downriver on the left we came to the MNR Portage No. 8 (left side, 45 meters, grid reference 663760), the nemesis that Ralph and Audrey would meet for a second time. Twenty-five years ago, Ralph and son had handily run this large ledge while Ralph and Audrey had dumped in their attempt. Looking at it this time, they decided to portage, and I completely agreed with them finding it difficult to imagine that this would look like a reasonable run at any water level. They had guts in running it! There is a campsite at the beginning of this easy portage.

The next few kilometers of paddling meanders through another low marshy section of the river. Although the MNR brochure notes a campsite on the left side of the river prior to the next portage (MNR Portage No. 9, 270 meters, danger, roughly grid reference 660782), we did not see this campsite. The brochure’s documentation concerning this next rapid is confusing, impossible to tell whether the portage is on the left or the right. However, from the topographic map, I had guessed that this portage was on the right.

The river split in two around a meander, with the original river going to the right and a shallow rapid taking the shortcut on the left. A log jam blocked the water’s flow through the right hand channel. I figured that we would scoot down the rapid and pick up the portage when the two channels rejoined. However, the river had other ideas. A blue plastic ribbon hung from a tree on the right, but there was no sign of a portage here and no way to get to it anyway. We continued on further, scouting the river from shore on the right and walking down as far as we could. However, when the river deepened we were forced to get in the boats again and take our best shot. A pool after a second set of bouldery rapids provided a nice place to relax for a minute before rounding a bend to see the third and worst set yet. Ralph and Audrey almost dumped as they caught a rock sideways while running for a deeper channel. Kelly and I followed, narrowly avoiding the same fate. At the end of this rapid we were mentally exhausted, as well as cold and wet; we were ready for a rest. We should not have been lured into this potentially dangerous series of bouldery ledges. I didn’t do a good job in navigating. Not finding this portage was a mistake. It may be in the meander behind the log jam. Or it might be further upriver on the left. The rapids includes the entire section of river noted on the topographic map as a single line

We ran MNR Portage No. 10 (noted to be left side, 70 meters, grid reference 661792) with no problem and enjoyed this nice little rapid after our tense experience with No. 9.

MNR Portage No. 11 (left side, 90 meters, grid reference 660797) had a notable entrance and we flagged a nearby tree with rosie to make it even more obvious. A yellow Tyvek portage sign lay ripped off in the grass nearby. The portage trail was a nice climb up and down the rocky hill that creates the unrunnable ledge/falls. We chose to make camp here, pitching our tents on the flattest spots along the portage trail at the top of the hill. A large rounded rock ledge down the hill from the trail had been used by others in some prior year for a fire, so we chose this location for our kitchen as well. Our supper was rehydrated tomatoes and hamburger with garlic mashed potatoes – appreciated by all as a tasty and satisfying meal.

Day Three (MNR Portage No. 11 to Little Ridout Lake, 11 kilometers)

Although I had a great sleep on this nice, mossy trail, Kelly had to deal with a hump that nudged him throughout the night. The day dawned clear, sunny and cold, at just 8C. We warmed ourselves with a hearty, bacon and egg breakfast before putting the boats in the water at 10 a.m. MNR Portage No. 12 is immediately opposite the put in from No. 11. However, the rapids looked easy and we enjoyed a free ride on this nice introduction to our day.

The shoreline is close for the next two kilometers, with overhanging trees and shrubs - and something had made the water back up, creating bayous of drowned cedars for several hundred meters. Rounding a bend, the river appeared to narrow into a channel flowing over a three foot beaver dam. Downriver from the dam a shallow rapids and ledge continued around a bend to the left. We thoroughly scouted this obstacle, mindful of our experience from yesterday and knowing that we were in the general vicinity of the next 400 meter portage around two ledges. An hour later we had all lifted over the beaver dam and negotiated the rapids and ledge that followed, grinning at our perhaps overly cautious approach after a day when a scary risk had been taken.

Another kilometer of moody river follows prior MNR Portage No. 13 (left side, 400 meters, grid reference 662818). This portage is a clearly visible trail that starts before the river narrows and we flagged the tree at the take out with rosie. We lunched in the shade and breeze at the end of this portage. The day was warming up nicely and the sun was hot.

After lunch we encountered two sets of runnable rapids before the river began to widen and bend in lazy loops for the seven kilometers leading into Little Ridout Lake. Rocky pink granite outcrops create lovely scenes along the way. A snorting, growling otter kept his eyes on us as he backed away from us around a bend. And, as we entered Little Ridout Lake, a black bear splashed from the marshy shoreline up to higher ground as we came near.

By 3:30 we arrived at the lovely campsite on the peninsula dividing Little Ridout Lake (grid reference 685872). This campsite had lots of room, with several flat spots available. Audrey and Ralph chose one closer to the water and kitchen, while Kelly and I chose one just big enough for our small tent on a higher, breezier mossy rock platform. It was 28C and we all thoroughly enjoyed refreshing tequila in lemon lime that marked the end of this paddling day. We dried damp clothes and aired out tents and sleeping bags. Kelly and I enjoyed a welcome bath and swim and washed enough clothes to see us through the rest of the trip.

A Harvest Foodworks supper of alfredo primavera was a fast and tasty meal with lots for everyone.

Day Four (Little Ridout Lake to Bayly Lake, 17 kilometers)

A root under my thermarest in the middle of my back made for a very contorted night, to make up for Kelly’s encounter with the hump the previous night. Upon rising at 7 a.m., it was already 14C, in contrast with our cool morning from yesterday. Quick breakfasts for everyone meant that we were on the water before 8 a.m.

A short rapid marks the narrows between Little Ridout Lake and Ridout Lake, with a campsite on the island on the left just past this portage. We ran MNR Portage No. 14 (noted as left side, 117 meters, grid reference 719900) with no problem but saw no evidence of either MNR Portage No. 15 or the thing that it is supposed to be avoiding. We did not see the campsites mentioned by the MNR brochure at either of these portage locations. Three curious otters floated along with us, snorting as we meandered around a bend or two.
As the trip navigator, in preparing for this trip I had found that the section of the river included on the second topographic map was going to be a pain – frequently dipping south back onto the first map. So I got the bright idea to photocopy the relevant sections from the first map and tape them onto the second map. This saved lots of hassle flipping back and forth between maps for the next two days.

MNR Portage No. 16 was tricky to get to. It is found in a confusing section of meanders that dip back onto the first topo map. At grid reference 753896, the river loops to the right around a meander; however, a shallow rapid under overhanging trees takes the shortcut. We followed the meander to avoid inadvertently getting into another Portage No. 9 situation. The meander ended with a short rapid joining it back up with the other channel. Turning downriver and following the river’s flow into still water above the rapids took us to the take out for Portage No. 16 (left side, 54 meters, grid reference 755897). We walked this portage around a double set of falls. Following just a couple hundred meters further downstream is a MNR Portage No. 17 (left side, 4 meters, grid reference 758899), which skirts a small chute. We ran the chute and enjoyed a lovely lunch at a campsite that welcomed us into Ransom Lake on the left side of the river.

We enjoyed a big sky view as we paddled the next three kilometers, returning from Ransom Lake to the river again. It was 26C in the shade and an eagle wheeled overhead, rising on the thermals.

Just after the river bends north, an island divides the channel in two. Most of the water ran over a rocky rapid in the right hand channel, leaving a very shallow rocky rapid to the left. We scouted from the boat on a cursory basis, me finding no clear channel but no major threats either. Kelly thought we should start from the left. Within a few boat lengths of entering the rapid, we crashed head on into a large rock that had been skillfully camouflaged in curling waves. My knee whacked the gunwale and I pitched overboard. Kelly’s shin cracked into the rear thwart but he managed to hold his position. As an ejected bow paddler, I swam the rest of the rapid, remembering quickly to put feet out in front as I pounded against a couple of submerged rocks on the float down. Kelly and the boat made their way down without me, picking me up again in the eddy below. Our stem band was bent and another screw had been pounded out of it, leaving three to hold it in place. Nonetheless, the rapid by-passed by MNR Portage No. 18 (right side, 54 meters, grid reference 782912) should not have been any kind of a challenge at all.

En route to the next portage, we noted a couple of bush campsites that have been cut into the river’s edge on the northeast (road) side of the river. MNR Portage No. 19 (left side, 54 meters, grid reference 793924) is a zigzag rapid complicated by a huge log at the end. However, we enjoyed running this rapid and the short paddle that followed into Bayly Lake. We chose to stay at the campsite on the point behind the three islands at the south end of the lake, making camp at about 3:30 p.m. This campsite has two separate access points, tent sites for at least four tents, and a nice fire pit at one end.

While enjoying our afternoon and beginning meal preparations, a couple of fishermen motored over to us. These guys were the first people that we had seen since meeting up with the hydro guy. They were originally from the Dundas/Hamilton area – one an unemployed accountant and the other a geologist working in Kirkland Lake. They had been coming to the lake for years and we talked about the weather, Mars, and the rapids following Bayly Lake. After chatting for awhile they left to resume their sport while we turned to dinner. Tonight, a creation called Thai Chicken, from the Wanapitei Canoe Trippers Cookbook II. This was the first time for this recipe, which was greatly appreciated by all and will be repeated on subsequent trips.

Everyone felt good about this day. The scenery was great. It wasn’t too hot or too cold, too windy, or too hard or too long. A good time was had by all.

Day Five (Bayly Lake to 1 kilometer past the confluence with the Woman River, 22 kilometers)

We awoke to the sound of logging equipment. All afternoon the prior day, we had heard industrial clanking and engine sounds intermittently but our campsite must have been within just a few kilometers of an active logging area. The sun was hot, already over 20C by 8 a.m., so we wasted no time getting on the water for our next day of adventure.

We passed quietly by the otter slide campsite that had been staked out by the fishermen – a long, steep, wide slope down to the river from the roadside on the north shore of Bayly Lake, where their screened tent was perched. While the MNR brochure shows a second campsite on the south shore of the eastern third of Bayly Lake, we could not see one. However, we did note that, once narrowed to a river again, there was a campsite on the first or second point on the southwest shore in around grid reference 824915.

My reading of the MNR brochure indicates the location of each of the next few rapids/portages to be somewhat downstream from their actual location. The grid references provided here are accurate. MNR Portage No. 20 (noted on the left side, 200 meters, grid reference 827915) bypasses a rounded rocky headland on the right shore. We ran this rapid. MNR Portage 21 (right side in a narrow bay, 45 meters, grid reference 829913) passes by a steep, boulder strewn ledge. Although short, this portage managed to have both a mucky take out and put in.

Another couple hundred meters further and we reach MNR Portage No. 22 (left side, 64 meters, grid reference 833913). This hilly, rock climb avoids a lovely falls, with a campsite for a single tent perched on the hill.

The rapids at MNR Portage No. 23 (noted as left side, 54 meters, grid reference 836913) takes a dog leg bend to right. Here, we opted for a very conservative sneak route down the right channel, close to shore. Unfortunately, the current had other ideas and pushed us directly onto a flat rock. I hopped out, leaving Kelly’s end to swing downstream. He looked at me with large eyes planning his route backwards and solo through the remainder of the rapid. I muscled the boat off the rock and into calmer water, turning it around so that we could finish our run pointed forward and with both of us in the boat. Audrey and Ralph chose a route with more water and had an uneventful ride. Paddling for the next few kilometers was enjoyable, flatwater stuff, winding through a series of small, unnamed lakes joined by short rapids and swifts. The peninsula at grid reference 843906 offers a possible campsite. The scenery through this area is very pretty and we found an ideal lunch spot, with some sun, some shade and a bit of breeze to keep the mosquitoes at bay just past ‘the intersection’ at grid reference 855878. Just before lunch, Audrey caught a small pike with an eight foot cast. The fish couldn’t wait to lunge at her lure, so we towed it behind us for the next many kilometers until suppertime.

Passing under the bridge marks the transition from forest to marsh again, as the Dore Road snakes its way north from the Eddy Road. A bush road parallels the river on the northeast shore briefly, and a camper trailer is perched on the high river bank in a nice, open spot here about 1500 meters past the bridge. This may or may not be the campsite marked in the MNR brochure at approximately the same location. A line of blue plastic tape marks a trail through the reeds to the shore a few hundred meters further on, also on the left side of the river.

The river widens here, opening into a very reedy marsh. At one point we had to push our way through weeds and reeds for a hundred meters or so to make it to open water again. Fortunately, this was short-lived and the river resumed its channel again, making its way through marshy low lands for the next 10 kilometers until the confluence with the Woman River. Roughly six kilometers beyond the first bridge, the footings for a second bridge, no longer used, remain in the water (grid reference 927851). There is a nice, short rapid here that we ran and enjoyed as a nice break from our now continuous paddling.

MNR Portage No. 24 (right side, 69 meters, grid reference 967865) was run. We could not find the beginning of this portage and were disappointed, because the MNR brochure indicates a campsite here and we were hoping that this could be our evening camp. The end of the portage was evident, following the rapid, so I hiked back up it to try to find the campsite. Scrambling up the rocky hillside, I climbed over many fallen logs, quickly concluding that there was no way that we could muscle the packs through this mess, even if I did find the campsite. In reward for the effort, though, I was able to scoop up a handful of blueberries in no time flat, bringing them down to share with the group.

We paddled on, saluting the Woman River as the Wakami River merged into her. Within several hundred meters of this junction a bush camp came into view on the left shore. There was framing for a large tarped structure, with miscellaneous pots and pans lying around. However, there was no fire pit anywhere, and the site was a field of grass, blueberries and other small bushes. We checked it out, then opted to push on another kilometer or so further, to the campsite noted in the MNR brochure. By this time, the wind was at our backs, so it was effortless to push on to explore for a better location.

Ralph and Audrey opted to check out a potential campsite on the point on the northeast side of the river, at grid reference 988863. They would whistle for us if it was suitable. Kelly and I continued downriver for another kilometer looking for another site. Not finding anything even remotely possible, we turned into the headwind, approaching the point to see Ralph and Audrey getting into their boats. Our choice was to remain on the point or to paddle back to the bush camp. Since it was now about 5 p.m., we opted to stay put and make do. There was enough space for our two tents, with another flat, mossy spot deeper in the bushes. Our campfire would go on the rock overlooking the river furthest downstream. It was a tight fit, and one that required the sacrifice of many, many blueberries. We picked each patch before we squashed the plants with tents or packs, eating until we were full then saving the rest for breakfast.

The day was even hotter and muggier than the one before, easily 30C in the shade, with rising humidity. Wildlife sightings for the day included both an eagle and a beaver. We also watched two snakes swim across our bow, crossing the river. The first was only about a foot long. The second was about three feet long, diving as we approached it, then surfacing again as it neared shore.

Our supper included the fish, dubbed Mike the Pike and enjoyed by all, followed by a main course of Harvest Foodworks Cajun Beans and Rice. While finishing our dishes and camp clean up, a fat mouse ran over Ralph’s shoe, diving underneath the canoe. Overnight it was very warm and sticky, with mosquitoes buzzing in a continuous drone in the vestibule of our tent.

Day Six (1 kilometer past the confluence with the Woman River to the end of MNR Portage No. 30,16 kilometers)

We awoke to a 24C muggy morning, with the sun not even shining on our campsite yet at 7 a.m. On the water by 9 a.m., we were thankful to have left this small, buggy point. There was no sign of the campsite that the MNR brochure indicated as being located a further kilometer downstream.

MNR Portage No. 25 (right side, 35 meters, grid reference 008868) appeared right on cue. This is the first of the last eleven portages, all but one of which we had to walk. Almost all of them bypass falls and un-runnable ledges. This one skirted a very large chute.

MNR Portage No. 26 (left side, 64 meters, grid reference 006877) followed within a kilometer.

Paddling another two kilometers brought us to MNR Portage No. 27 (right side, 220 meters, grid reference 998895). The campsite noted in the MNR brochure as upstream of this portage was not seen. However, there is a campsite at the end of the portage, reached by taking a side trail up a small hill. The campsite overlooks the river from a nice height and offers room for several tents. As the portage trail slopes down to the river, a rusted metal pipe drains water from a hole in the hillside. The water was clear and very cold, with a lot of sand in it. We concluded that it tapped into a spring, so we stopped to drink our fill, comfortable in the knowledge that we had an anti-diarrhea medicine in our first aid kit if required. With the next portage six kilometers away, we were able to take advantage of strong winds from the south to speed us along our generally northerly course.

At the confluence of the Opeepeesway River, someone has brushed out a place to store two large metal boats and a motor. While this spot did not look as if it had been used as a camp, it would certainly do for one in a pinch. During our canoe lunch, we traveled more than a half kilometer down river, courtesy of the south wind.

MNR Portage No. 28 (left side, 32 meters, grid reference 003962) needed some work with a sierra saw to remove branches from a huge fallen tree. But once this work was done, we were able to scramble under with packs and over with canoes to reach the other side. A very healthy patch of poison ivy greets canoeists to the right of the portage take out.

The campsite noted in the MNR brochure on the river bend one kilometer further down is still there. However, we opted to bypass this campsite in favour of one that Ralph and Audrey had used 25 years ago in the pool following MNR Portage No. 30. Two more portages to go. There is a blind of some kind on the half kilometer of river heading due north, preceding MNR Portage No. 29. This portage (right side, 31 meters, grid reference 025983) took us around a high volume rapid into a pool with an island in it. A couple of downed trees make this short portage a little more challenging.

MNR Portage No. 30 (left side, 127 meters, grid reference 028989) follows shortly thereafter. This portage flanks a fast, rocky rapids with some nasty obstacles in it. It scrambles up and down a rocky hillside and also features a variety of downed trees, offering hurdles to clamber over, low bridges to duck under and one unique set of two hurdles and one bridge all in a single grouping. The end of this portage opens into an exposed grassy area, with a three foot drop to the river. Kelly and I offered to scout for the campsite while Ralph and Audrey finished their second portage. However, our paddle of the pool and the section of river following yielded nothing, so we returned to the end of the portage to camp there for the night. The campsite from 25 years ago is commemorated in a photo album that we looked at again following our trip. It is almost certainly located on the point of land on the left immediately following the portage. But with little to no traffic on this canoe route it has become completely overgrown, with waist high tag alders, various trees, raspberry canes and blueberry bushes. It would take some dedicated work to return it to a usable campsite. But it was already 4 p.m. and we didn’t have the time.

After our very hot, muggy and portage-filled day, we plunged into the river to cool down and wash off a layer of grime. It was wonderful to float on the surface, finding warmer and then cooler places.

We set up our tents in a row along the end of the portage trail, us more in the open and Ralph and Audrey a little further back. We also hung a tarp, as the skies began to darken and the quality of the air hinted of rain. Since we were camped in a grassy area, we opted to cook on the stove rather than a campfire, enjoying a Harvest Foodworks oriental dish that provided a nice flavour but a third day of rice. We quickly finished up our dishes and camp clean up to hit the tents for 7:30 p.m. just as the first of the raindrops fell. Five minutes later, the skies opened up and the wind rose, whipping rain at our tent as it shook the frame. While we had usually been in bed by 9 p.m. or so, going to bed at 7:30 was a little bit much. So we watched ‘reality TV’ for campers. Lightening flashed regularly, followed by claps of thunder seven to ten seconds later. A tiny worm inched its way up the side of the tent for five minutes, before turning around and heading back down. A grasshopper crouched on the tent under the fly and would not move even when we tickled his feet through the tent wall with fingers. (It was still there in the morning, when its reluctance to move was explained by the fact that it had only one of its great hopping legs intact. We moved it to the bushes before tearing down our tent.) A tiny spider made a web in the peak of the tent. And we watched for drips from the fly onto the tent.

Day Seven (end of MNR Portage No. 30 to one kilometer up the west shore of Horwood Lake, six kilometers)

5 a.m. and I was wide awake. How long can a person stay in bed anyway? (We were canoeing in Algonquin Park when hurricane Andrew blew through many years ago and spent an entire day cooped up in our much larger tent then… I remember that I read an entire book that day: The Milagro Beanfield War.)

It was cooler in the morning. The cold front that had swept through overnight left behind a solid cloud mass with the occasional blue patch poking through. After a quickie, MSR stovetop breakfast, we hit the water by 8:30, ready for another day of portaging.

MNR Portage No. 31 (left side, 127 meters, grid reference 036989) is a short but nasty mess. There were a number of large downed trees on this portage, requiring the usual hurdle and limbo maneuvers. However, for variety, one of the logs was followed immediately by a rocky pool of stagnant, green water that came up over our knees. Yuck! We found ourselves wishing for a chainsaw once again… This portage bypassed an impressive bouldery ledge/falls with a large volume of water crashing over it.

There is a grassy, sloped clearing on the point opposite the put in that could be used as a campsite if needed.

Following the pool below this rapids, the river narrows again and makes a sharp turn to the left. Here there are two easy, short rapids with no obvious portage around either of them. We enjoyed this brief paddle before stretching our legs on MNR Portage No. 32 (right side, 650 meters, grid reference 036998). There are two take outs to this portage, as there are for several others – one for the water levels that we experienced and one for higher water. Ours was just upstream of the island that divides the river here. There is also potential for a campsite at the beginning of this portage. This trail was one of the best of the entire route, with no problematic deadfall to deal with. It passes by a series of very loud rapids, although the bush between the trail and river allows only tantalizing glimpses of the river from time to time.

There is a short but steep hill at the end of this portage. Kelly and I found a location for packs and canoes close to the river’s edge, while Ralph and Audrey chose a spot higher up to dump their gear. In the process, they stirred up some hornets, with Audrey and Ralph each bitten twice as a result of their irritability. Once more, we dove into the packs to abstract the antihistamine. (From this trip, we learned the importance of keeping both this medication and a sierra saw readily accessible at all times…)

A half kilometer paddle took us to MNR Portage No. 33. This begins with a chute, then pools and continues with a wide rapid as the river bends to the left. We all packed our gear around the chute, scrambling over the wet, slippery rocks to the right of the river. Kelly and I chose to avoid canoeing the chute as well, while Ralph and Audrey decided to run it. They made it in fine style, loading their gear into the boat before we all ran the second rapids and the last one of our Wakami River adventure.

The last two portages follow these rapids by less than a kilometer, marked by a large rock near the left shore. MNR Portage No. 34 is actually two portages with an upstream creek paddle in between. The first portion is a 200 meter steep uphill climb that begins on the left side of the river at grid reference 035016. It ends at a steep put in heading upstream on Heenan Creek. We paddled up this creek for perhaps half a kilometer, pushing past a log jam/beaver dam that probably marks an old bush road, then continuing on to the take out on the northeast side of the creek at a grassy clearing. A 45 gallon drum in the water and a rusted bed frame sticking out of the grassy shore marked the entrance to this portage. This is an old logging camp from bygone days. The roof of one of the buildings was still standing, and a look back into history through Ralph and Audrey’s photos revealed that this building had been standing 25 years ago, in relatively good condition. We followed an ATV trail from the clearing to the top of a hill, for approximately 150 meters. Then the ATV trail continued on to the west, while the portage trail marched along directly ahead, now heading steeply downhill to the foot of Horwood Lake. Two thirds of the way along this downhill segment we encountered a bear baiting station right on the portage trail, with a hunter’s aluminum stand attached to a nearby tree. Rotten bread, fish skeletons and some other very smelly stuff made sure that bears from near and far would be attracted to the site. We made a lot of noise as we skirted this area, shocked that someone would be so careless as to put canoeists at risk by bear baiting on a portage trail.

At the end of the trail, some 100 meters further on, Horwood Lake has created a shallow, sandy, log filled bay. An open, grassy area slopes down to this shore, offering a potential campsite when bear baiting is not in progress. Kelly and I scouted up the lake for other campsites, while Ralph and Audrey completed their second carry. Roughly a kilometer further up the western shoreline (grid reference 030031), we found a spot that had originally been posted with an orange Tyvek campsite sign. I clambered up the twenty foot bank to take a quick look, found that it had flat spots for tents and previously used fire rings, then returned to the canoe. Returning to the foot of the portage, we took the time to pass by the outflows of the two branches of the river that now contains the waters from the Wakami, Woman, Rush and Opeepeesway Rivers. These offered impressive demonstrations of the power of water and rock formations, and we played in the strong outwash currents for a few minutes before returning to the portage.

Winds were now consistent and strong from the north, under cleared skies, creating comfortable paddling temperatures. We set up our camp, then Kelly went to explore the bush and trails behind our campsite. Not more than fifty meters away there was another bear baiting setup! This one just as disgusting as the first one, with the like new aluminum hunter’s stand in a nearby tree. We had visions of vandalism, tempted to cut down the stand and throw the bear baiting paraphernalia into the lake. However, we didn’t know the rules and regulations for bear baiting, so were not sure whether it was us or them who would be at fault in law. (Although most certainly, the hunters/outfitters were at fault in common sense having established such a hazard on a known and signed canoe route.) Having no other options for campsites, we were obliged to remain here for the night – making lots of noise and sleeping only fitfully. Thankfully, we were not visited. However, I was committed to contacting the MNR to learn more about bear baiting and to try to influence where this occurs.

Day Eight (one kilometer up the west shore of Horwood Lake to the public access take out just south of the marina and Little Bear Camp, 25 kilometers)

With blueberries everywhere, we tried a little culinary experimentation involving scrambled eggs. Ralph and Audrey like their scrambled eggs a little moist, so we added some blueberries into the mix just before their eggs were served. This made for a tasty treat with a nice presentation of purple berries embedded in yellow eggs. However, Kelly and I like our scrambled eggs dry. In turning our eggs to get the required consistency, the berries broke and the overall colour of the eggs turned into a sickly blue green very reminiscent of the colour of mold. Although tasty, it sure looked disgusting and we wondered if this creation would be a seasonally gross hit or a turnoff for kids.

On the water by 9:30, we headed north up the narrow fault line of the tail of Horwood Lake. En route, we scanned both shorelines for potential campsites, noting only a few possibilities. In the bay to the east, about three kilometers from the last portage, there may be opportunity to camp on some of the rocky headlands. And on the eastern shore again, within a kilometer opposite the group of small islands (four kilometers from the last portage), there may be another place to camp. Otherwise, pickings are exceedingly slim on the bottom half of Horwood Lake.

A headframe on the eastern shore, perched above a large hill of mine tailings, marks the Y junction where Hardiman Bay veers off to the northeast. We continued around massive Horwood Peninsula to the northwest, heading for the dam at the lake’s north end. There has been a lot of development on the central and northern portions of this lake since the 1995 date of my topographic maps. Many homes and cottages now fringe the shoreline of this beautiful lake, and boats of all description were on the lake as we paddled north. Thankfully, we only encountered headwinds for an hour or so of our paddle, then they died off to let us resume our course without opposition.

The north end of the lake is beautiful, with many large and small islands creating interest in view and paddling. Although there were many shoreline dwellings, the islands appeared largely unpopulated, so setting up camp to explore the top end of the lake for a day would be an option for canoeists on a fine day who had no other particular place to be.

We rounded Birch Island and headed for the white roofs of the marina and camp, finding our vehicle as we had left it at the public access dock, roughly located at grid reference 048277. The end of our trip is a sad time, for me. I could easily just do laundry, re-provision and head out into the bush again. However, worklife and the wishes of paddling partners don’t allow for this luxury. But the end of a trip also provides an opportunity to document the route and share it with others. I hope that publishing this information makes the Wakami River Route more accessible for other canoeists. It is a fine river trip for paddlers with moving water skills and no aversion to a little hard work on short to medium length portages. It was also a great repeat trip for our friends, Ralph and Audrey, and a lesson in how quickly the forest reclaims campsites and man-made structures that are no longer used.

Have fun on this river!

Sharon vanValkenburg
Copyright 2003

Maps Required
Other Maps: 
41 O/NE Ridout 42 B/SE Folyet (Provincial Series maps)