Mississagi River

Day 4 - Bark Lake to Mississagi River north of Split Rock Rapids (20km)

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 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.

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 rare 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. Feeling the sun after a heavy rain is glorious! All was right in the world again.