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Cote- Contact-Sulphide-Freda-Sim-Freestone-Hebden-Contact
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Author:  nymslm [ July 17th, 2020, 12:38 am ]
Post subject:  Cote- Contact-Sulphide-Freda-Sim-Freestone-Hebden-Contact

Canoe Trip Report- Cote-Contact-Sulphide-Freda-Sim-Freestone-Hebden-Contact Loop
June 20 to 26, 2020
Travel Route: Car parked at Mackay Lake Campground. The trip consisted of 19 bodies of water and a total of 21 portages. Most of the lakes were relatively small. A map of the travel loop is shown below.
List of water bodies: Cote, Baldhead, Contact, Mekewap, Sulphide, Dog River, Caribou, Dog River, Freda, Unnamed pond, Sim, Freestone, Unnamed pond, Hebden, unnamed North lake, unnamed South lake, Contact, Baldhead, Cote

Key gear used: 16’ Prospector canoe, double bladed paddle and a spare single, one 60 L barrel with harness, 1 large canoe pack ( contained a 20 L food barrel), daypack with key supplies and a 12 gauge shotgun with low recoil slugs. All meals were dry: bannock, porridge, dehydrated spaghetti, dehydrated chili, etc. A water filter was used to collect water from lakes.

Portages were almost always triple carry. Large barrel and paddle on the first trip, canoe & day pack on the second trip and then large canoe pack on the last trip. This means each portage was walked 5 times: forth & back, forth & back and forth.
Being alone on this trip and with limited canoe tripping experience I used a satellite messenger and contacted two friends on a daily basis. One of them, Kelly, is a hardcore canoe tripper and is familiar with the area that I travelled. Going forward, Kelly will be known in this report as “The Ferg”. The Inreach device also has a SOS feature in case I get into serious trouble.

Day 1
Travelled path: From highway portaged into Cote Lake and from here paddled and portaged into Contact Lake.
Total length paddled: 3.7 km , total amount portaged: 555 m ( 145 m, 185 m, 225 m)
Great to be back in the North. I started the trip at 10 AM and arrived at the Contact lake large group campsite by 1 pm. This campsite is well established and I sense that this island camp has seen some parties in its days. The first two portages were wet and muddy.
There is a fishing cabin west of this campsite and on this day the cabin folks were active with their boats. I got a good start so far and updated my Inreach contacts. Dehydrated chili for dinner and ready to go first thing in the morning. There was an active merlin falcon nest at the campsite keeping me well entertained and welcomed.

Day 2
Travelled path: South on Contact, into Mekewap, Sulphide, Dog River, Caribou, Dog River and Freda.
Total length paddled: 14.5 km , total amount portaged: 1215 m (445 m, 180 m, 130 m, 130 m, 80 m, 180 m, 70 m)
This was a warm sunny day with low South winds. I took a 90 min lunch break at a campsite on Sulphide Lake. Nice rocky campsite. Bannock and a pack of pre-cooked bacon on the fry pan and I was reloaded with energy (4 pm). The goal today was to camp on Caribou Lake or if all went well into Freda Lake.
I completed the first part of Dog River and arrived into Caribou Lake. The rapids sections on the Dog River were impressive. The river narrowed down to only a few meters with rocky steep shores along the rapids. It was 6:30 pm and I was unable to find the campsite on Caribou Lake. I did not like the sight of this area and decided to move on.
Back on the second part of the Dog River. As I approached the portage, a rapids with beaver dam, there was a black bear on the beaver dam. I was 200 m upstream and started to shout to scare the bear away. It left but reappeared. This was a very uneasy feeling. Do I go back to the campsite on Sulphide (2.5 hrs back)? Or proceed knowing there is a bear on my trail.
I reached for the 12 gauge and shot a warning shot. The loud bang worked and the bear immediately left site. After waiting 20 minutes I decided to push through. I had to shout the whole time to overcome the loud noise from the rapids. Crossed the first portage without a second encounter.
The last portage on the Dog River was short but unlike anything I have every seen. The trail was at times 1 ft wide and on a steep rocky shore. A slip on this trail can mean ending up on the rapids! At one point the trails requires the canoeist to step through the river. Rugged and wild. After a section of meandering flat but swiftly flowing river I arrived at Freda Lake. And finally arrived at the large campsite on Freda Lake (9:40 pm).

Day 3
Rest day today. Enjoyed the beauty of Freda Lake and this wonderful campsite. Across the campsite on the west shore was another fishing cabing. A young fisherman trolled the shores and passed by twice to say hello. I didn’t really get out of bed till 3 pm except for a few smokes. At 10 pm, went for a water run on the lake and paddled around a little. Freda is a long ( ~7 km +) narrow lake with steep rocky shores. Both nights on Freda I made nice fires on the pit.

Day 4
Travelled path: North on Freda, into an unnamed lake and then Sim lake.
Total length paddled: 7.8 km , total amount portaged: 415 m (185 m, 230 m)
The plan today was to reach the island campsite on Sim Lake. The next campsite would be after the Sim-Freestone portage next to a waterfalls. I feel safer on an island. Good day of travel today through Freda. Did I already mention how beautiful Freda is? From tip to tip, this lake amazed me. Interesting portages today, both by raging little streams. The trails had some pink rock surfaces. I encountered one large spruce grouse on the trail.
Arrived on Sim Lake campsite by 2:30 pm. Very nice and well established with a fish smoking teepee. This island campsite had a very rich birdlife. In the first hour, I saw a bald eagle, woodpecker, several small birds and large welcoming red squirrels. At this point in the trip, I was at the furthest point. The feeling of loneliness really sank in. These little critters helped pass the day. Caught a few pike of the rocky shore. I was fully geared to cook the fish but I did not bother to take on this additional task. Being a solo camper I found myself busy enough with camp chores.
At 9:30 pm, I went for a water run on the lake and went to locate the next portage. I trolled around for 15 mins but did not find any signs of a landing or trail. This portage is supposed to be 666 m long and in good shape but this forest was burnt badly in 2015. I had contacted Churchill River Canoe Outfitter to inquire on this trail and I was told that no one has been on it this year but it should be in fair shape. I was in contact with The Ferg throughout the day and he mentioned heavy rains (20-30 mm) the following day, heaviest around 10 AM. I planned for a very early start with a cold breakfast.

Day 5
Travelled path: North on Sim, Freestone, an unnamed pond and into Hebden
Total length paddled: 9.4 km , total amount portaged: 881+ m ( 666+ m, 140 m, 75 m )
I arrived on the north shore of Sim lake by 6 AM. I spend about 20 minutes looking for the landing and trail again- no signs. The shoreline was uphill and all I can see were burnt blown down trees and thick regrowth. The sight was not pretty and the thought of turning back crossed my mind. I decided to land and look further. Still no signs of any trail. The clouds were heavy and rain was a matter of time. I decided to push through the bush hoping to find a trail. By 7 AM, I was only 100 m into the bush and moving uphill through thick revegetation.
I was using my Inreach GPS map to navigate and it had the portage trail on it but I was still unable to locate it despite my GPS indicating me being meters from the trail. I still tried to stay close to the dotted trail line hoping to find it. By 10 AM, I was in less thick bush but the ground was covered with a thick spongy mossy carpet with hidden water pockets.
The vegetation got so thick again that I can only move 20-30 m at a time, using my red canoe and my orange paddle as flags. I went back and forth moving up with my gear through this portage from hell. The vegetation got so thick that at times I had lost both my canoe and my packs. As physically demanding this portage was, I had to use all my mental strength as it was starting to feel like a survival mission.
While pushing through the burnt forest I thought I encountered a pocket of ashes or something. Whatever it was, the chemical made me cough to my knees. I figured it was ashes or a foul forest natural chemical. Around 10 AM, while mounting a pack on my back my bearspray on my right hip burst a cloud of pepper spray and I was on my knees again coughing as I had swallowed the spray. It turns out the safety release on my bear spray was lost allowing the trigger to engage. With all the bad luck, I was extremely thankful my eyes were not affected.
By 11:30, it started to rain very heavily and I had to make an emergency shelter. I quickly deployed a tarp and changed from my soaked cloths into dry gear. My right thigh and hip were burning very hot from the bear spray. I was already 6 hours into the day and by now my water supply was also limited. During the heavy rain, I collected rainwater from my tarp, from which I made a hot coffee with and applied a wet cloth on my burns. In some ways the rain helped me. The forced break allowed me to stock up on water, regain body and mind strength. I was in a mess, far from any human and in an unsure situation. The Ferg was a text away and communicating with him helped me mentally. I was ready to make camp here for the night if needed. But during the rain breaks I walked around and from the height of the land I could see Freestone Lake as well as hear the waterfalls. During this break, I made a good decision to take out my compass and use it in addition to the Inreach GPS.
Luckily for me, by 2:30 pm the rain stopped and I packed up, put all my gear in the canoe and dragged the canoe downhill (through thick brush) heading Northeast. Before the rain I was actually moving the wrong way (NW) using the Inreach map. Using the compass after 90 minutes I managed to find the portage trail and used it for the last 100 m. From 6 AM to 4 PM, I was on this portage from hell. On this canoe trip, I lived mostly in the near future always preparing for the next step. The thought of pressing the SOS button did cross my mind if things got worst. By 4 pm, my burns healed from the wet cloth treatment I used.
Winds were low and I did not look back at this place but finally started my journey to Hebden lake. After 9 km of paddling through long and narrow Freestone Lake and two portages I arrived at Hebden island camp by 8 pm. Long day. I made the tent and fell asleep before taking out my sleeping bag. Freestone is another very long and narrow lake with very interesting rock formations. The forest is young and bright green now with regrowth. There are some traces of the 2015 fire.

Day 6
Travelled path: West on Hebden, several portages back into Contact Lake.
Total length paddled: 3.6 km , total amount portaged: 1550 m (1200 m, 80 m, 270 m)
Today was mainly a portage day. Woke up early and made bannock and bacon, a high calorie diet for the long day. The 1200 m portage was actually the best one so far but the last portage of the day was difficult to locate. Although only 250 m long, I entered from the wrong landing. I easily lost what I thought was a trail and had to bushwack using compass for 150 m through thick bush. Once I arrived on Contact’s shore, I found the actual trail and taking this trail back to the start of the portage I found myself about 70 m away from the canoe, separated by a high rock cliff! After some goat trailing I was back in business and used the spare paddle to land on the main trail. Portages on this trip were at times very hard to find. Be caution when using GPS systems as the trails on the GPS can be outdated.
Back on the Contact Lake campsite. Had a double dinner and prepared to go back to the car tomorrow. Around 6 pm, the water was like glass. As I was relaxing, within 90 seconds, the wind picked up and there waves in the bay next to me. This little weather system came out of nowhere and this is why I always paddle near the shoreline.

Day 7
Travelled path: From Contact heading West to Baldhead, Cote and then the highway to reach the end of the trip.
Total length paddled: 3.7 km , total amount portaged: 555 m (225 m, 185 m, 145 m)
Closing comments:
The overall voyage was about 45 km. I lost close to 9 lbs over the 7 days. My advice to anyone interested in doing this loop is to go the opposite direction. The portage from Sim to Freestone cannot be found from Sim but it probably still exists the whole way and the landing from Freestone cannot be missed.
This will be the last time I carry bearspray. I want nothing to do with it and don’t want to hear about how it is more effective than a firearm. In the heat of the moment, a discharge can backfire at your face if the winds are in the wrong direction. The smell was in my cloths and in my mouth for the last days of the trip. I personally feel more comfortable with a firearm. I had my shotgun on my person at all times and as long as no round is chambered a misfire is not possible.
“If you are carrying a firearm, do not let it be a false sense of security, make sure it is on your person at all times”- Jim Baird- Canadian Adventurer
One important learning I thought I would share: a GPS is a great tool but without my compass I would have possibly arrived on Freestone lake at the end of a high cliff.
Lastly, the ancestors of this land had a simple rule. They did not travel in bad weather. I broke this rule trying to beat the rain on day 5. I was soaked from head to toe and unless I changed into dry gear the potential for hypothermia was there. I survived but many lessons were learned on this trip.


Author:  Ralph [ July 17th, 2020, 9:48 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Cote- Contact-Sulphide-Freda-Sim-Freestone-Hebden-Contac

Congratulations on completing your trip. Generally sounds like you had a good time.
The southeast end of the portage from Sim to Freestone is hard to locate. It is not where marked on topo maps. The SE end is east of the old trail. I've been through that trail a number of times and the last time through, we put up a bunch of flagging on the SE end but evidently it is not there any more. A strategy I use when I can't find a portage trail is to go a little way into the bush and then walk parallel to the shoreline. If there is any sign of a portage trail it is often more obvious in the bush than it is along the shore where grass, willows and alders obscure the trail. We went through that way one year after the fire went through and, even though we knew where the trail was located, we had a lot of trouble finding it. Alders and poplars had grown to over head height all along the trail. We eventually figured that out and then spent about 4 hours with 4 people clearing the trail - quite a mess. By the way, the next year that trail had some of the best blueberries I have ever seen.
We did let Ric at CRCO know that the portage trail was east of where it was marked. He is usually very good at including any changes on his maps. I recommend stopping by Missinipe and picking up his latest map of the area where you plan to paddle.
Glad everything worked out OK for you.
P.S. How were the bugs?

Author:  nymslm [ July 18th, 2020, 1:03 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Cote- Contact-Sulphide-Freda-Sim-Freestone-Hebden-Contac


Thanks for your comments. Bugs were not bad at all until it rained very hard. After the rain, they were bad to unbearable for the rest of the trip.

Where are you paddling this summer? I am thinking of doing a trip up at McLennans.


Author:  Ralph [ July 22nd, 2020, 12:14 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Cote- Contact-Sulphide-Freda-Sim-Freestone-Hebden-Contac

Hi, nymsim,
We are planning to do a short trip near McLennan Lake to introduce some friends who are new to portaging to the area. Will do that the second week of August. Hopefully another portage clearing trip the second week in September.

Author:  Mollycollie [ July 26th, 2020, 10:26 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Cote- Contact-Sulphide-Freda-Sim-Freestone-Hebden-Contac

Thanks for the great read and pictures Nymsim!
My son and I were through that area back in June so I’ll add my 2 cents on the route and portages from Sim’s to Hebden. We travelled the route counterclockwise (with the current) like you did, and most certainly had less vegetation to deal with than you did being a month earlier. We found the portage from sim to freestone fairly easily, located maybe a touch to the east of where my old topo has it marked. It’s pretty much in the pit of that north east bay before the creek flows in. It’s a pretty grassy spot at the start,but we found the trail not too bad to follow. I’m surprised you didn’t see any sign of us on this one, we did a little clearing and broke the tops off copious amounts of saplings to mark the trail and even left a little flagging tape here and there.
The condition of the portage form Freestone to Hebden is in another class of maintenance and back in June it was beginning to fill in with growth. We found the portage as marked on the topo and I’m pretty sure we left a piece of flagging tape at its start. It was a jumbled mess of alders and birch and perhaps my flag might not be visible with new growth. At the time we were there the first half of the trail was basically a spring fed creek (and it probably still is with all the water we are getting) flowing down the side of the hill which made it pretty easy although messy to follow, once over the height of land the rest of the trail was a little easier to follow as the alders eased up and the pines took over, however there is quite a bit of blow down in this area. We broke a lot of sapling tops and cleaned the smaller blow down on this one too and left a bit of tape. Next time I’m through there I’ll be packing my clearing axe.
Glad you enjoyed your trip! It really is a fun little route with lots of great features.

Author:  Canoeheadted [ July 26th, 2020, 1:12 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Cote- Contact-Sulphide-Freda-Sim-Freestone-Hebden-Contac

I would suggest taking a course on how to use bear spray and leave your gun at home.
At least with the bear spray accident you were still able to walk away.

Maybe look into bear bangers and how to use them properly.

Author:  nymslm [ July 26th, 2020, 8:44 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Cote- Contact-Sulphide-Freda-Sim-Freestone-Hebden-Contac

Hi Canoeheadted,

Thanks for reading and commenting. If I got sprayed in the eyes under those conditions I am not sure how I would walk away. A friend just came back from Northern Sask and they got chased out of a campsite by a bear. Spraying the bear in the face at close range DID NOT stop the bear.

Obviously there are risks with firearms but millions of people carry firearms on a daily basis without injuries. It is about proper training as well. Like I said, it is not possible to have an accidental discharge if a round is not chambered.


Author:  nymslm [ July 26th, 2020, 8:56 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Cote- Contact-Sulphide-Freda-Sim-Freestone-Hebden-Contac

Hi Molliecolie,

Thanks for the comments! Lots of lessons learned for sure. I should have spent more time trying to find that Sim-Freestone trail even if it took me 2-3 hours.


Author:  Ralph [ July 27th, 2020, 9:31 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Cote- Contact-Sulphide-Freda-Sim-Freestone-Hebden-Contac

Hi, Mollycollie,
I see that you did the direct portage over the ridge from Freestone to Hebden. The east end of that portage was, as you said, a flowing creek with tangled alders and deadfall when I went through that way a number of years ago. We tried to clear it twice but the improvements never seemed to last very long. We thought it wasn't worth the effort to try to maintain it because of the water and deadfall issues.
We now go to a portage that is much further south on Freestone. This southern route is quite flat and goes to a pond, across the pond, into a small channel and then a short portage to Hebden Lake. I haven't been that way in a few years but we did clear it the last time through. Google Earth puts the Freestone Lake end of the portage at about 55*26.148' north and 104*47.593 west. Once at the pond, travel pretty much straight north to the small channel at about 55*26.295' N and 104*47.633 W. Paddle/push your way up the channel as far as you can go and then there is a fairly short but fairly rough portage to Hebden. When I look at Bing Maps - aerial, the trail is quite visible because of the remains of a snowmobile trail on the ice of the lakes and pond.
Hope that helps for your next time through that way.

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