Mississagi River

Total Distance: 140 km from the put-in on Spanish Lake to Aubrey Falls and requires a shuttle to the put-in

Duration: 7 days (though I recommend it in 8 or 9)

Number of Portages: 27 (including some extras if done in low water, some can be avoided if running rapids)

Total Port. Distance: 6 km

Level of Difficulty: Moderate (some challenging portages, skill needed in running or lining rapids, wind on Rocky Island Lake)

Ever since I started canoe tripping, I had always wanted to paddle the Mississagi River. I mean, what canoeist wouldn't? Remote lakes, far-flung outposts, rapids and waterfalls, Grey Owl's cabin, and the muse for Tom Thomson to become a wilderness landscape painter are just a few reasons.

Dad and I wanted to tackle two trips in the summer of 2021 and we discussed several options. The Steel River Loop was high on the list, but after having a wonderful solo trip in the Algoma Highlands earlier in the summer, I was eager to go back to the area. Besides, by mid-July, forest fires and low water levels were starting to be an issue in the northwestern area of the province, so we decided to keep our trips further east for the summer. Unfortunately, our plans for Wabakimi would have to be put off. The only issue was trying to arrange a shuttle with outfitters. Many were still not offering the service due to Covid.

However, thanks to an online trip report, I learned that Northern Skies Resort (formally Kegos Camp) was offering the shuttle service. A couple of phone calls later and we were booked for a shuttle to our put-in on Spanish Lake.

Day 1 - Spanish Lake

So, on a Saturday in mid-July, we left Peterborough at 6:30 am. With only a few stops along the way, we were able to reach Northern Skies on Highway 129 by 1:30 pm. Soon after, Mike Allen, the former owner (his daughter has taken over running the camp) pulled in and introduced himself.

We followed Mike in his car for about 45 minutes to the take-out location near the Aubrey Falls Dam. There, he parked his car, hopped in mine and we began the 3-hour trip to Spanish Lake.

About 30 minutes later we saw an adult bear hanging out by the side of the highway. It was our only bear encounter on the trip though we did see bear scat on the majority of the portages, some of which were quite fresh. I guess that is not a bad thing; while portaging, this is the only evidence of bears that one wishes to see.

Just past Wenebegon River Provincial Park we turned east onto Highway 667 and passed Wakami Provincial Park. These both contain routes that are also on my bucket list, so it was interesting for me to see where they were located. Just before we reached the hamlet of Sultan, we turned southeast onto the Sultan Industrial Road. There, we stopped at a small cemetery where Mike showed us the grave of a local soldier who had survived WWII only to meet his demise, ironically, a short time later at home.

The scenery on the Sultan Industrial Road was disheartening. Logging truly had taken its toll on the wilderness in the area. Vast tracks of the landscape appeared as if the entire area had been bombed. Mike explained that clear-cutting is no longer legal and the logging companies have to leave a certain number of trees intact in a designated area; however, to my admittedly ignorant eye, I couldn't see how the trees that had been left behind could survive. There weren't many of them and they looked little and sick. I felt depressed by the time we crossed the bridge over Spanish Chutes.

I had been somewhat concerned about taking my Santa Fe on the Sultan Industrial Road, but Mike assured me it could handle the trip and, indeed, he was correct. In fact, we were quite surprised and bemused to see small, 4-cylinder vehicles on the road with little clearance. The road was in fairly good shape, but there were still several potholes to negotiate. The only mishap occurred when we turned south toward Spanish Chutes and I came over a rise and nailed a formidable pothole doing about 60. The road had been good to that point and I was getting overconfident. The suspension and alignment survived, luckily. Earlier, upon turning onto the road, the warning sign pictured below did little to assuage my apprehension though.

Mike said that he knew of a place a few kilometers past the bridge where we could portage from the road into the lake for about 200m, thus allowing us to skip about 1000 meters of portaging upriver from the lake had we put in at the Spanish Chutes bridge. Needless to say, we took him up on his suggestion.

We found the access portage easily and unloaded. I handed the keys over to Mike, he turned the vehicle around and we said our goodbyes. Mike was great. He is a wealth of local knowledge and a nice guy. His family has been in the area for generations. His fee for the shuttle was very reasonable considering that it was about an 8-hour return trip for him from his house. Later that evening, using my Zoleo device, I was able to text Mike and he replied saying that he had made it back to our take-out spot without incident and our car was safe and sound. This gave us peace of mind at the start of a long trip.

On the portage into the lake, a couple of lads passed us in ATVs. They were returning from fishing on Spanish Lake. These would be the only humans we would encounter for the next few days.

We put in next to a few aluminum fishing boats and made our way northeast out of the back bay that we were on. A half-hour later we saddled up to a little island in the centre of Spanish Lake and made camp. It was close to 7 pm and we had driven about 11 hours that day. Once we had set up on our home for the night, we enjoyed a nice evening consuming my dad's marinated steak and a couple of beers that were still frosty in our cooler bag as the sun retired in the west.

Map provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada. I have marked my route in blue and portages in red.

Day 2 - Spanish Lake to Kashbogama Lake

I woke up a little earlier than Dad and got out on the water to see if I could catch a little meat to go with our eggs. All those fishing boats must be there for a reason. I trolled along the rock shoal in front of the site and was lucky to reel in a walleye, which I filleted and zippered. Yum! Eggs and walleye breakfast.

The day was shaping up to be a hot and sunny one. We knew we had the large expanse of Bardney Lake to traverse, so we wanted to get across it before the afternoon winds whipped up. Shortly after 9 am, we were paddling south on Spanish Lake and I turned to snap a shot of our island site.

It didn't take long to reach the south end of Spanish where the lake did a 180-degree turn through some shallows to the portage alongside Bardney Creek. It was an easy uphill climb that ended to the left of a hydro dam.

At the put-in, we were surprised to notice a boating mishap in the clear water. We could only surmise what the story was behind that one.

We paddled out of the northern back bay and into Bardney Lake proper. The day was warming up in a hurry, but other than the heat, we couldn't have asked for better paddling conditions. Bardney Lake is a massive lake and we had only a light breeze causing slight ripples on the surface, just enough to cool us off.

We passed by the small island campsite in the centre of the lake and unfortunately, it appeared as if the island had some fire trouble on it -- careless campers, no doubt. We continued our way south without seeing a soul on this large northern lake, a rare and pleasant experience. Having said that, we occasionally heard the sound of vehicles just to the west. We first noticed it the previous evening on Spanish and heard it again on Bardney. Our maps didn't display a logging road there, but it seemed that logging operations were ongoing in that vicinity.

Map provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada. I have marked my route in blue and portages in red.

Just past the large island in the centre of the lake, we saw some interesting little "icebergs".

It took about an hour and a half to reach the south end of Bardney, after all, it is 10km long. There, we did the 430m Height of Land portage, which meant the waters we would be paddling south of that would end up in the Great Lakes. On Bardney and Spanish, the water from those lakes would eventually flow to Hudson Bay. The portage was fairly steep, but it was clear and easy to negotiate, despite the relatively small amounts of people that might use it. On the portage, there was a logbook for paddlers to record their names. There was only one previous group that recorded their names in the book for 2021 in the third week of June. It seemed we were only the second party of paddlers to do the route in the year.

We were extremely hot and sweaty by the time we crossed Sulphur Lake, so we decided to stop for a swim and a snack on the campsite next to the portage into Surprise Lake. We didn't stay long, however. There was a fairly fresh bear scat on the site.

Getting from Bardney Lake to Mississagi Lake wasn't easy. It took five portages to do so with almost no paddling between them -- all in 30-degree heat. The portages themselves were no cakewalk, either.

The 200m port into Surprise was probably the easiest of the bunch. Conversely, the following 930m into Circle Lake was the most difficult. Despite having done the Height of Land portage already, this one went up and up. The last half of the portage has a series of steep rises and a few rocky and muddy sections that make for some tenuous footing. The first of the two 90m portages had a horrible beginning. Immediately after taking out, we had to cross a bog in which I watched my dad sink up to his hips. Judging by the expletives, I don't think he appreciated my laughter. However, he got his revenge when the same thing happened to me, so I guess we were even. The second 90m portage was also muddy but thankfully had no sinkholes.

Needless to say, when we got to Mississagi Lake, we were fairly exhausted. It was about 4 pm at this point and we hadn't had a proper lunch. Our body batteries were depleting just on the granola bars and trail mix. We stopped at the site on the point at the north end of the lake and made some wraps and filtered water. We should have called it a day there, but for some reason, we felt we should keep going.

As we continued south, we could hear and see a substantial waterfall to the west where White Owl Lake dumped into Mississagi Lake. The lake, the headwaters for the river, was the highest point of elevation on our trip. It had a sandy bottom and was very shallow. The tree-lined shore seemed to be a transition zone between the boreal forest to the north and mixed forest to the south. There were a lot more jack pines and black spruce and far fewer deciduous trees, other than poplar and birch than in Algonquin Park.

Exiting the lake, we ran a small swift and finally found ourselves actually in the Mississagi River as the water winded its way into Upper Green Lake. It was a nice change from large lakes and portaging. As we rounded a bend, we spotted the back of the Mississagi Lodge, a fly-in fishing lodge on the north shore of Upper Green.

With the Covid lockdowns, we weren't sure if the lodge would be in operation or not. We called out from the canoe, but it seemed no one was there. Knowing that this was originally an outpost of the North West Company of the fur trade, and later an outpost of the Hudson Bay Company, we wanted to get some photos of this historic location. We paddled around to the beachfront and snapped a few shots from the beach. The original cabin was interesting, having shown some restoration, but also seemed to be falling into a state of disrepair.

The main lodge was in better shape and obviously not as old.

Upper Green Lake is a large round lake and known for its winds. Tom Thomson capsized there in a storm in 1912 on his trip down the Mississagi. However, on that particular day, we had almost no wind. It was after 5 pm and we had come a long way, but we wanted to take advantage of the calm conditions and get Upper Green behind us.

We spotted the fire tower to the east but had no inclination to climb it given that it was late in the day and we were tired. I managed to take a distant, blurry photo of it over the treeline as we crossed the lake.

Map provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada. I have marked my route in blue and portages in red.

Arriving at the southeastern end of the lake we could hear the running water of the Mississagi making its way further south. There was a bushy little campsite there, overlooking the chutes, but it didn't appeal to us. We had come a long way that day and had done some difficult portages; however, the prospect of finding a nicer site on Kashbogama Lake spurred us on.

Thankfully, the 90m portage into Kashbogama was relatively tame, though it did have a tricky little slope down to the water. At the put-in, there was a bunch of freshly cut wood that was just left there. It was odd, as there didn't appear to be a campsite there and this route seemed to be only marginally maintained. Why would someone just leave a bunch of freshly cut wood there?

We could see the buildings of the lodge in the southeastern bay of Kashbogama, but couldn't tell if anyone was there. We weren't too concerned about it though; we were focused on the campsite on the peninsula across from the portage. We crossed the shallow bay and were happy that our extra efforts were rewarded because it was a very nice site. Here are a few shots of it taken the following morning.

We were granted a fantastic, if not buggy, evening. Generally speaking, the mosquitoes were not bad on the trip. They only became a nuisance for about an hour just after sundown, a time that Dad and I termed the "Witching Hour".

Day 3 - Kashbogama Lake to Bark Lake

Map provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada. I have marked my route in blue and portages in red.

We woke up to another beautiful, sunny morning. As an early riser, I was up before Dad and went out to do some fishing. The bay was shallow so I was aiming for bass and pike. Despite fish breaching the surface around me, I didn't have any luck. They simply weren't biting what I had to offer.

The previous night we finished off the steak that we didn't fully eat from Night 1. The frozen hamburger patties, which we had planned for our 2nd night and were room temperature in our cooler bag at that point, had to get eaten. So, we had hamburgers and coffee for breakfast. Why not?! Who says you can't have hamburgers for breakfast on a camping trip?

We had a very short paddle to our portage into Shanguish Lake. There, we had two options. We could either take the longer 300m portage that bypassed the entire set of swifts and rapids between the lakes, or run/line the first set and then take a shorter 90m portage. Against my dad's better judgment, we went for the latter.

The river level was too low to attempt to run anything, so we lined the first set. Here is a shot of the rapids from the bottom. It was a boulder-fest.

After that, we had quite some trouble locating the portage to get past the chute that followed. We knew it was on river-left, but we could not spot it for the life of us, even after a few attempts of getting out and peering through the thick bush onshore. There was no safe way to line the chutes as the banks had steep mini cliffs of rock on either side and a huge sweeper was blocking the entire passage. We finally paddled right up to the edge of the chute and just past some initial bush at the shoreline, I was able to spot a faint and overgrown trail up the bank. From there, it was only about a 20m walk/bushwack to the main trail. It appeared that the shorter portage had not been used in quite some time. With all the time it took lining and searching, we ended up spending at least twice as much time than simply doing the easy 300m port. Sheesh! Again, another reminder that there are no shortcuts in canoe tripping!

We made quick work of Shanguish Lake, a pretty lake that had some nice campsites. At the far end of the 30m portage, we fished for a while at the base of the small falls there (pictured below). We tapped into several pikes. I pulled in a perfect eating-sized pike on my first cast, but with the earlier setback, we didn't take the time to fillet it. It was still a bit early for lunch and we were hoping to make the Bubble Bay island campsite on Bark Lake that evening.

Paddling through a marshy bit on the approach to Limit Lake, we came across a bridge. It wasn't just any ol' logging road bridge; it appeared to be well-built and newly renovated. Our map did show a logging road that ended just a few kilometers to the west of it, but no doubt the map was outdated. Perhaps the road is now much longer and this was the road that went north and to the west of Bardney and Spanish, where we heard vehicles from that direction earlier?

Limit Lake was another nice lake. We probably should have spent more time fishing these waters. After all, people spend good money to fly into these lakes for the fishing. But we had already spent 30 minutes or so fishing at the take-out and had wasted an extra 45-minutes looking for the portage into Shanguish earlier. The sites we saw on Limit didn't seem that special anyway.

A long canoe trip is a funny thing. Though we were in no hurry, we wanted to spend our evenings on nice campsites that we learned about in our research, so we had goals for our days. Also, when you get into the motion of paddling and moving, it seems to break the momentum to stop and fish too often. It's always a trade-off. I love the fishing, but I also love exploring.

By the time we arrived at the 60m portage into Kettle Lake, it was mid-afternoon and we were getting a little hungry. After portaging our gear to the end, we walked back up to have a nice lunch on the moss-covered rocks next to the rapids. It was another scorcher of a day and it was nice to splash water on our heads and sit in the shade for a bit

Kettle Lake was gorgeous. It is dominated by a massive island in the middle of the lake. That created a dramatic effect of narrow channels of steep rocks and cliffs on the shoreline. Paddling south out the northern narrows, we saw a flagpole and a cabin on the eastern shore. As we approached closer, we could make out the form of a human onshore in the distance! Oddly, this individual seemed to be at the shoreline watching us as we paddled the entire north section of the lake and then as we veered right to the north of the central island -- no doubt, with a set of binoculars in hand. It was a little unsettling to have someone watch you for that length of time, but I'm guessing if he/she were up there alone, it might have been the highlight of the week to see a canoe go by!

Afterward, I tried to research online what that cabin might be. A fly-in fishing lodge? A provincial park ranger station? A privately-owned cabin or cottage? I was unable to find anything out. We didn't see a bush plane and were too far away to see what kind of watercraft was there. (Just out of curiosity, if anyone reading this knows what that structure is, kindly shoot me a message at the bottom of this page. Thanks!)

Map provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada. I have marked my route in blue and portages in red.

Heading south, east of the large central island, we watched a pair of otters poke their heads out of the water and scamper up onto the shore. Boy, did they move quickly!

At the southwestern end of Kettle Lake, we re-entered the Mississagi once again. Shortly after, we had to complete two short 60m portages in quick succession. The first was quite interesting as it followed a high ridge to the right of the white water below. I suspect it was quite a bit longer than 60m. Conversely, the second was much shorter and was more of a 15-20m lift over a bluff rather than the listed 60m that was on my map. I snapped a quick pic above one of the sets of boney rapids

As we moved around the bend on Arrowhead Lake and up through the narrows into the top end of Upper Bark Lake, the sky began to cloud over somewhat. The air was heavy with humidity and there was only the lightest of breezes. It felt like rain was on the horizon. Little did we know what we were in for the following day.

We passed the campsite on the point at the north end of Upper Bark. It was a large lake that was dotted with several beautiful tree-clad islands. Despite the sweltering heat, we were happy to be crossing it with almost no wind

At the south end of that large northern bay, we veered left and ran a fun little swift that took us through some narrows and out into another large bay of Bark Lake. There, paddlers of the route have the choice of either paddling east around to Middle Bark Lake, a jaunt that takes about three-quarters of a day to do, or head directly south, liftover a beaver dam, and paddle a couple of smaller lakes and take two portages into the same area. We chose the latter as it would be much quicker; however, that was on the agenda for the following morning. At that point, it was 5:30 pm and we were getting tired and hungry. The famous Bubble Bay island site was calling to us.

We headed west and saw a cabin on the north shore of the bay. We guessed it might be a northern outpost of Glassy Bay Outfitters, the fishing lodge located next to Grey Owl's cabin on Middle Bark Lake to the south. It appeared to be vacant on that particular day. It looked like a nice little cabin and a great spot to stay.

We made it to our destination island in Bubble Bay and had a very nice night. It's a lonely little island in the middle of a large bay. The island is small and doesn't have a lot of flat tent pads, but is extremely scenic. I wouldn't recommend larger groups stay there. It simply can't support many people. For the two of us, it was fine. In fact, we enjoyed the nicest sunset of the trip there.

Day 4 - Bark Lake to Mississagi River north of Split Rock Rapids

We woke up and the sky looked grim. The heat and humidity had been building for three days and we knew our run of amazing weather had ended. Though it wasn't raining yet, the sky was dark and rain was imminent. Anyone who has broken camp in a downpour knows how much fun that is, so we quickly did so before having breakfast and coffee. No sooner had we done so when it started spitting.

After a quick coffee and instant oatmeal in our raincoats, we were on the water paddling southeast. I turned to snap a quick shot of the Bubble Bay island on the way out.

Map provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada. I have marked my route in blue and portages in red.

We paddled into the inlet at the south end of Upper Bark and lifted over a large beaver dam into a lake with large cliffs on the opposite shore. The rain was on and off for most of the morning.

It was a nice paddle along this long narrow lake, seemingly formed by beavers. Arriving at the southern end, we had a little trouble finding the 500m port into the next pond. But once located, it was an obvious and well-used trail. I tied off some bright orange flagging tape at the take-out so it could be more easily spotted.

It was a short paddle across the next small lake and even a better trail into Middle Bark Lake. The portage trail emerges right behind the old forest ranger cabin that the famous (infamous?) Grey Owl occupied for a while. His name (along with every canoe tripper in the province, it seemed) is etched on its walls. The cabin was open, but we dared not enter it in the condition it was in.

We were aware that it was on private property, but the portage ended right behind the cabin; there was no way to avoid it. So, we took a quick peek before moving on, not wanting to disturb anyone.

It was interesting to read the names and dates of all the people who had passed before. We saw one dating back to 1923.

If anyone reading this isn't familiar with Grey Owl, I highly recommend reading up on his life. It is extremely interesting. I read a biography on him last winter and was fascinated. The link to the blog below is a good place to start.

From the portage, we had heard a generator running, so we knew someone was at the Glassy Bay cabin. We put in at the end of the portage and paddled the 100m or so over to the main cabin. The Chrismar map that we were using stated that the people running the outfitters may be able to sell supplies. It was Day 4 for us and we definitely wouldn't have turned down a cold drink at that point.

So, we paddled next to the dock and politely called out a friendly greeting. I was expecting that the owners of the operation would be on-site, but what I didn't know at the time was that it was simply one cabin and the operators flew in clients to stay there on their own. A man answered and came to the door. Once we learned that he was a client, we apologized for disturbing him and prepared to leave; however, he invited us up. We sat and chatted for a bit on the porch. He pulled a few chairs out and offered us some beer! We were very grateful to have a cold drink in the middle of a week-long trip. The skies opened up again and the rain started coming down much harder. He invited us into the cabin and we chatted for a while about fishing. He was a retired fellow on his way up to visit his daughter in the Yukon and loved fishing. He showed us a few pics of his fishing success on Bark Lake. He even gave us a few more coolies for our trip. What a nice guy! (Thanks, Rick, you made our day!)

We said our goodbyes to our new friend and wished him well on his summer adventures. It was just about a two-minute paddle before we re-entered the Mississagi again and were heading west down a swift. About 10 minutes later, we saw a beautiful bald eagle fly above us and perch on a treetop on the south bank. I reached for my phone to take a photo, only to discover that my phone wasn't where it should be. I was hoping it hadn't fallen in the water while running the swift. The last time I used it was back at the cabin. Reluctantly, we paddled back upriver, just managing to get up the swift and had to disturb Rick, yet again. (Sorry, Rick!) I had left my phone on the BBQ while saying our goodbyes. In my head, I thanked that bald eagle profusely. Who knows how far we would have headed downriver before realizing I had forgotten my phone!

The weather for the day progressively got worse. The rain became a steady downpour as we rounded the bend and the river veered southwest into a series of four boney rapids. The river level was quite low, however; most of the swifts were simply too low to run. We ended up only being able to run one and had to line, wade and portage the other three. The rain was pounding us pretty steadily by the time we had gotten through the last of the four obstacles and I snapped a quick selfie to celebrate the moment, as miserable as it was at the time.

The river widened once more, went around a bend, and headed northwest again. We took advantage of a lull in the rain to get out on a rocky outcrop and down a couple of peanut butter and honey wraps.

We continued northwest through some channels where the mighty Mississagi negotiated its way around several islands, many of which sported fire rings though no campsites were marked on my map. I wondered how long they had been there? This section of the river couldn't get many visitors!

As the river changed direction yet again to the southwest, it narrowed once more. We could hear moving water ahead and soon came upon a set of rapids. We got confused a bit because the first obstacle on this stretch was supposed to be a 150m portage past a 6' waterfall. This did not seem to be it, however. We could only surmise that the river levels were so low, we were encountering whitewater that wouldn't normally be there. Once again, we had to line the canoe and our gear downriver.

When we eventually approached the falls, the skies unleashed fury upon us. It started raining, and when I say raining, I mean of the cats and dogs variety. It was after 5 pm at this point and we were tired, wet, and miserable. It had rained continuously for the better part of the day and the rain was coming down harder than ever. Worse yet, our map displayed a campsite at the start of the portage that did not seem to exist. The next one was two portages away and reportedly not that great. Our spirits were low.

We had no choice but to hump it down the 150m portage which was very slippery and contained a couple of tricky blowdowns. It was raining so hard that we had to yell to communicate with one another. As we emerged into the open over a large expanse of rock, I nearly got on my knees and kissed the ground when we came to a very picturesque site at the base of the falls. Better yet, there were enough trees on either side of it to run a ridgeline. This would allow us to put up a tarp and our bug net over the camping area. The site was at the end of the portage and not at the start as indicated on the Chrismar Map.

We spent the next hour setting up camp including both the bug tent and a tarp over a fire ring. By about 7:30 pm the rain stopped and the sun even emerged for a bit. We had some rehydrated Pad Thai and one of Rick's coolies that he had given us. Feeling the sun after a heavy rain is glorious! All was right in the world again.

Day 5 - Mississagi River (North of Split Rock to just west of Abinette River)

We woke up to clouds and mist, but the rain seemed to be holding off for the moment. I got in the canoe and fished for a bit at the base of the falls. It was so serene and beautiful.

Without the rain, I snapped a pic of the 6-foot drop at the top of the portage. We were very fortunate to be camping in such a pretty spot without another soul for miles.

Map provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada. I have marked my route in blue and portages in red.

We broke camp and got the day started. We knew we had a long day of river obstacles ahead of us. We hoped the rain from the previous day might have raised water levels a little more to work in our favour.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. The first two sets of whitewater had to be portaged. It seemed the safer choice as the river banks provided little in the way of the footing to allow us to line. The water was just too shallow for us to run them in our kevlar composite boat.

The weather was a mix of cloud and sun, but mostly cloudy. We were just grateful it wasn't raining again. We were able to line one of the 60m runs above Split Rock Rapids.

When we did arrive at Split Rock, we were so used to getting out and portaging by that time that we did so automatically. It was silly. We really should have scouted it first because it was just one little ledge that looked fairly easy to run. It might have saved us a bit of energy that would be needed later in the day. I think because this obstacle was named, we just assumed it was something more formidable. It was a pretty little canyon, though.

Shortly after Split Rock, we arrived at Hellgate Rapids. We were dreading this portage based on descriptions in trip reports, but it wasn't too bad in the end. Sure, it was longer than the others, but it was incredibly scenic. It rose steeply at the take-out to a campsite that sits high on a ridge over the turbulent water. The views from the top were wonderful.

We had noticed some old growth trees along the shoreline in this section of the river and toward the end of the portage, there were some amazing specimens right along the portage trail.

The remainder of the afternoon was portaging over the last three sections of boney whitewater before the marshy sections of the river. We stopped for lunch on some rocks at the top of the first of these after running some small swifts.

At the end of the 450m portage (it seemed more like 600m!), the last of the bunch, there was a campsite, but it was not appealing to us. It was little more than an empty patch of dirt on the river bank. So, we paddled for another 10 minutes until we came to a spot where a logging road connected with the river.

Our map showed that there was a site at that location, but upon arrival, it looked like it was set back from the river just off the road and it looked bushy.

It was about 5 pm and we now had a decision to make. We were exhausted after all of the portaging of the day in high humidity and we knew that we had at least another two hours of paddling to get through The Maze -- a 7km stretch of river that consisted of numerous switchbacks through a massive marsh. In addition, the sky was getting dark and we could feel some nasty weather was most likely on the way. The prudent thing would have been to take the site at the logging road, but we kept paddling as we discussed and debated, and before we knew it, we were already well over a kilometer past the site! We rashly decided to go for it by that point.

Our one saving grace was that there was no wind. We were in the calm before the storm. We had expected to encounter some wildlife in The Maze, but it was silent and still. It was weird.

Map provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada. I have marked my route in blue and portages in red.

Shortly after 6 pm, we heard thunder in the distance coming in from the southeast. The sky was dark and the clouds were rolling our way. We made very quick work of The Maze, spurred on by the chance of getting caught in the storm.

By 7 pm, we were through most of the marshy bits. There, the river had high sandy banks. The thunder was right behind us at this point, and we could see lightning flashes in the sky. I'm not comfortable being on the water when lightning is discernible, but Dad wanted to keep going, thinking it was passing us just to the west. We pulled over for about 15 minutes until it seemed like it was passing us by. In the end, he was correct, but I was nervous for while. I don't like the feeling of being on the water with lightning nearby. It freaks me out. The lightning had been a little too close for my comfort level.

Kevin Callan's report on the Mississagi stated that there was a trapper's cabin along this section of the river just before the bend where the Abinette River flows into the Mississagi, but we couldn't find it. Perhaps, it has since been demolished? We did see a campsite at that approximate location. It was a cleared-out section high on the right river bank. Again, it was a bit bushy with dense forest all around it, so we decided to check out the two sites just past the Abinette confluence. If they didn't pan out, we would return to that bushy one.

We couldn't find the site at the confluence with the Abinette, so we just hoped the one about 600m further downriver would be nice. At first, we didn't see that there was a site, just a massive rock overlooking the bend in the river, but I spotted a fire ring at the top as we got closer. It was starting to spit again and we could still hear thunder in the distance, so we jumped at the chance to finally make camp.

It was nearly 8 pm when we finally hauled our canoe and gear up the near-vertical rock face to access the site. The low river levels made that take-out a little more challenging than it should have been. We had done too much that day and were exhausted. We quickly set up camp and ate our dinners in the bug tent as the night and rain descended.

Day 6 - Mississagi River west of Abinette River to Rocky Island Lake

It rained most of the night and then began really pouring in the wee hours of the morning. It continued raining extremely hard right up until noon.

There was no way that we were going to break camp in that nonsense, so we enjoyed a restful morning in the bug shelter. Using my Zoleo device, I got a weather report for the day. 50mm of rain! On the bright side, we would have a drier afternoon with actual sunshine by the early evening. Whew!

By the time it stopped pouring, we broke camp and departed the site at around 2 pm. High on the cliff overlooking the river ended up being the perfect place to ride out the deluge. All the water drained away. It would have been miserable on a mud-filled forest floor with pools forming everywhere. Our hard work and late arrival to camp were worth it in the end.

Map provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada. I have marked my route in blue and portages in red.

Just past the site, the river split into two sections. The southern channel was logjam city, so we lined over the rocky rapids in the north channel. After about a half-hour later, it split again. Once again the northern channel should be taken there. The southern one is navigable but is known as Bulger's Folly and would have added an hour to the trip.

There, I made a silly mistake. I knew we had a lift-over to do at the beginning of the north channel. I spotted a grassy bit with about a 20m walk to avoid a logjam that was blocking the north channel. We did it, taking our gear out of the canoe, of course, only to proceed and realize that this was just a small island and we weren't actually at the split in the river yet! My father was not amused, but, hey it was all a part of the adventure.

When we finally got to the separation in the river, we had to portage about 40m over some slippery rocks. Even with all the rain, the river was too low to line the canoe. It made us wonder how much they were letting out of the dam at Rocky Island Lake.

We paddled into Majestic Marsh which is a provincially significant bird habitat. We didn't notice anything special, but it was an interesting paddle through marshland with high, sandy river banks. There were a few exposed campsites there and we eventually stopped on a sandy bank to have our usual peanut butter and honey wraps.

Coming out of the marsh, the river began to narrow and have a rocky shoreline again. Soon after that, we oddly spotted and heard some whitewater up ahead. On both sets of maps that I had, there wasn't any indication of a portage or rapids at that location. Yet, when we arrived at it, we were a little dismayed to see the obstacle in front of us. We could only guess that river levels were so low that a set of rapids appeared where there should probably just have been an easily navigable set of swifts.

This one was a little tricky to negotiate. I lined the first 100m on the left to a point where there was no more footing close enough to the river to allow me to continue. Then, we had to portage the next 100m up and over the large boulders on the bank until we could put in at a spot to run the last couple of rapids. All of that took some time.

At the end of our first load on the portage, something huge crashed in the woods behind us. We both jumped and turned, expecting a large charging moose! After apprehensively waiting a minute or two, nothing emerged. If you hear a tree fall in the forest next to some rapids, does it mean a moose isn't there?

Below the rapids, we finally seemed to be at the mouth of the river as it emptied into the massive Rocky Island Lake. Large stumps of cut trees dotted the shoreline and water near the shore. We assumed this was done by the hydro company at the time the dam was built.

Nearing Rocky Island Lake we heard the unmistakable sound of sandhill cranes coming from high up on the right bank. I managed to snap a distant shot of them as the pair eventually took to flight.

The call of the sandhill crane is unique. It sounds like something you might hear in the jungles of Borneo rather than northern Ontario, and, boy, was it loud! We heard them from our campsite on Rocky Island the following morning. Click on the youtube video below to get a sample. I bet you can't last the entire three minutes of the video!

We made it out to Rocky Island Lake and actually were scraping along the bottom in a few spots. The water levels on the lake were crazy low! With all of the hot and humid weather we had experienced over the week, we guessed that the demand for powering air conditioners across the province had been large, indeed. No doubt, the turbines at the Rocky Island and Aubrey Lakes dams had been in overdrive mode.

It was about 7 pm when we're out on the big bay and though it was only marginally windy, white caps were forming on this shallow expanse of water. We made a beeline for the campsite on the southern shore. Arriving at the site, we had to hike up a fair distance over the exposed rock to get to the site due to how far the shoreline had receded. In the photo below, taken at 9 pm, you can see the line of driftwood where the shoreline should be and how low the lake was at that moment. We had no idea how much the dam would affect water levels over the night, so we pulled the canoe way up for safe measure.

It took a while to set up camp. We had to cut down a couple of widow makers next to the spots where we were both planning to camp. We had our dinner as the sun retired and enjoyed an extended campfire through the witching hour. The exposed location and light breeze thankfully kept the majority of bugs at bay. It was our first dry night since staying on Bark Lake. We were happy.

Day 7 - Rocky Island Lake to Aubrey Falls

We woke up to a wonderfully calm and sunny day. Not wanting to tempt fate, we got up and out to get through the big waters of Rocky Island before any wind came up. I snapped a quick photo of the site before leaving. It seemed the water levels were even lower!

Map provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada. I have marked my route in blue and portages in red.

We got across the big bay and as we approached the islands on the far shore, I began to get worried. We followed the route on our map but ran out of water! Water levels were so low, this whole section of the lake had disappeared! For a minute, we were thinking that we would have many kilometers of portaging across a muddy lake bed. It was a moment of panic. Could they really have let this much water out of the dams!?! I was so temporarily flummoxed that I didn't think to snap a picture, so I can't display it here.

I left Dad at the canoe and walked past the island we were near. Yes! I could see shining blue water behind the island in the direction we were heading! If we backtracked and went south of the island, it looked like we would have a passage into Stimpy Channel. Crisis averted.

As we paddled through the channel, we were able to relax again and appreciate the scenery. The shoreline contained several cliff faces and amazing rock formations, thus probably giving the lake its name. We couldn't help but wonder what kind of environmental impact was being caused by the incredible fluctuation of water levels, though. With the water that low, it seemed so unnatural.

Once through the channel, we entered the second of the large bays of Rocky Island Lake. We passed an island where we saw some nesting bald eagles in their treetop eyrie. About halfway across the bay, a motorboat passed us. It was surreal. It was the first motorboat we had seen since our first night of the trip! But, that is what we had come there for.

As we were approaching Seismic Narrows, we stopped at the island campsite to have a swim, lunch, and filter more water. The day was hot and the sun was unrelenting.

And what a site it was! It appeared that there had once been a cabin of some sort on the island and there were several etchings on the cabin's remains, which had been stacked in a pile. Some of these carvings were posted and others were strewn about the site. Some dated back 40 years or so.

As amusing as that was, it wouldn't have been my choice of site to camp on. It seemed a bit trashy for a wilderness experience for my liking.

In Seismic Narrows we marveled at the massive cliffs on the north shore. Judging by the name, we must have been paddling through an old fault line of some sort.

Map provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada. I have marked my route in blue and portages in red.

Past the narrows, we encountered a couple of more fishing boats on our way to Rocky Island Dam. There, we portaged from outside of the buoy line which seemed like it might have added a couple of hundred meters to the carry. It was along a road for the entire length and easy despite its length. We returned for our second load along the river rather than back up the road to get a good look at the dam.

Water levels on Aubrey Lake seemed normal compared to Rocky Island Lake. The forest was denser. It seemed like we had entered an entirely different area. What a difference a portage can make!

We planned to stay on one of the two sites on Carter Island for the night, investigate Aubrey Falls the following day, and drive home. However, when we arrived at Carter Island we weren't very impressed with the campsite on the west side of the island. It was overgrown and there wasn't a spot for Dad to put up his tent.

It was about 6 pm and we ran through our options. We could paddle back to the other sites on the lake that we had passed, but that would be nearly an hour of backtracking, or we could paddle the 45 minutes or so to our vehicle and finish the trip. We had already paddled a good 25km that day and wanted to get off the water, so in the end, we decided to finish the trip.

We did investigate Aubrey Falls and managed to hike down the portage to the top it, however, since it was quite late by the time we got there, we didn't have the time to get all the way around to the bridge and vantage point to get a great shot of it. No matter, it gave me a great excuse to get back to the area for another peek at that magnificent waterfall!

Overall, we had an unforgettable trip, though looking back, we felt that we should have probably had a couple of shorter days. It wasn't our intention to push each day to the limit, it just sort of happened that way with where we were on the river when we were looking to camp. It seemed that on several days we were pushing it an extra hour or two just to get to a decent campsite. In reality, we did the entire 140km in 6 days of paddling since the first day was only a 30-minute paddle to our campsite for the night. It was a lot in low water conditions. In retrospect, better planning on where we would stay each night might have solved this issue, but on a relatively rarely traveled route with dynamic water level conditions, that is easier said than done.

Despite the challenge, I feel so rewarded and fortunate to have experienced this historical and gorgeous river route and to have shared that with my father.