Mississagi River

Day 2 - Spanish Lake to Kashbogama Lake (26km)

Maps 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 (26km)

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 center of the lake and unfortunately, it appeared as if the island had had some fire trouble on it in the past -- 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 Lake 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.

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 James Bay to the north. 

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.

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".