Opeepeesway Sakatawi Loop

Total Distance: 78 km

Duration:  4 days 

Number of Portages: 21 (a lot fewer depending on water levels and ability to run/line/wade rapids)

Total Portage Distance: 4.1 km

Level of Difficulty: Moderate due to a lack of established campsites along the Opeepeesway and Woman Rivers and one very difficult portage

*** Note: All maps shown on this page are provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada. I have made additional markings to show route information.*** 

At the end of August 2022, I wanted to squeeze in one more solo trip in northern Ontario before I had to head back to work. I spend my winters planning trips and making topo maps, and I had a number of trips to choose from. 

One trip that I was very keen on trying was the Opeepeesway-Sakatawi area, north of the Sultan Industrial Road and west of Gogama. I had originally planned to do the trip in early July when water levels might be a bit higher, but I got quite ill with Covid at that time (alone on the Kirkpatrick Lake Loop - yikes, but that's another story!) So, at the end of summer, I checked my calendar and cheekily squeezed it in if I could do it in four days.  

On this particular route, I made my maps and trip notes based on Brad Jennings' (Explore the Backcountry) video and website. Brad had shared route information regarding campsites and portages on his site, and from that, I put together my own topographic maps of the route. Brad's info was reliable and very useful and I'd like to extend Brad a huge shout-out and thanks for helping make this route (and many others in Ontario!) a viable option for trippers once again. 

Prior to Brad and Cam's trip in 2020, a couple, Scott and Kathy, spent a great deal of time from 2008 to 2020 canoeing, camping, and clearing portages in the area. They made it a project and encouraged others to get on board in keeping the canoe routes in the Sakatawi region alive. Many thanks to Scott and Kathy for their devotion to doing this right up until Scott was in his 80s! They have documented their efforts on the following website: http://www.canoecouple.com/Adventures/Sakatawi/Background/Background.html

Even though it was at the end of August, I was lucky enough to have higher water levels than Brad seemed to have. I was even luckier because Brad and Cam had posted portage signs and did trail maintenance on the route, as well. I spent a bit of time helping out in this respect, too. 

It's a challenging, but scenic, route with a lot to offer canoeists, and I encourage others to attempt it. Feel free to contact me using the form at the bottom of this page if you're interested in more route information. There was a sign at the parking area that stated that there is an 'Active Mining Claim' in the area. That had me very concerned. I would hate to see this route go the same way as the 4M Circle Loop just to the east. If more canoeists show an interest in the route, it might help prevent losing parts of it to mining or logging interests. 

Day 1 - Opeespeesway River Bridge to Opeepeesway River (13km)

On Wednesday, August 24th, I left Peterborough at 6 AM and headed north alone with my 15' Esquif Prospecteur strapped to the roof of my car. After a lunch stop at Subway, a gas fill-up, and a quick visit to a grocery store to grab a couple of last-minute supplies, I was dipping my paddle in the Opeespeesway River by 2:30 PM. 

The condition of the Sultan Industrial Road was excellent, as was the spur that veered off of it up to the Opeepeesway River. Only the last couple of kilometers of that road was a little rough, but with a little slow and careful driving, it was still fine for my Santa Fe to handle. 

There were parking areas on both sides of the river and both had a number of trailers parked on each side of the river. Likewise, there were several fishing boats pulled ashore on both banks. It was a clear run up the Opeespeesway River to the large expanses of Opeepeesway Lake to the south, and it appeared that many fishermen camped at the river made runs into the lake on daily fishing excursions.  

I parked on the east side of the river and put in at the sandy landing. I chatted with a nice fellow from Sudbury named Luc who was camping in his trailer next to the put-in. When I responded to his questions about the trip that I was about to embark on, he looked at me like I had just beamed in from another planet. He wished me well and told me that he would still be there when (if?) I returned. 

I began paddling northward and turned to snap a quick photo of the bridge behind me and the put-in location. I was excited and eager to paddle a route that few people had done in recent years. 

I paddled north for a couple of kilometers before coming to my first obstacle in the river. There were a couple of very basic campsites, one on a small island in the middle of the river and another on the west shore. There was a campsite sign on the island. Although I didn't get out and inspect the sites, they looked pretty rudimentary from the water, but I guess they would certainly accommodate a small party arriving at the river late in the day. 

My map showed that there was a 450m portage on river-left that would bypass 4 sets of rapids. Based on Brad's information, I decided to forgo the portage and try to run and line the rapids. 

The first ended up being the largest of the four, but still would have been a runnable Class II if not for a boulder in the middle of the narrow run at the bottom.  I was alone and didn't want to take any unnecessary chances, so I  easily lined it along the right side. 

I was able to run the following three sets of rapids which came in quick succession. There were some downfalls but nothing that I couldn't work around, and though the river was narrow and rocky in spots, I was able to negotiate a path through with only some minor scraping on the rocks. It was actually a lot of fun. 

Beyond that stretch of rapids, the river widened considerably and I paddled unimpeded for the better part of three kilometers. There was another small, marked campsite on the east bank along this stretch. 

I came to another small drop in the river where the river was split by a small island. There was a sweeper across the right channel and the left channel was a bit too shallow to run. It was fairly easy to line down, though and was a straightforward run at the bottom. Again, I was able to avoid the portage.  Once through, I turned to snap a photo of what I had just negotiated. 

Past that rapid, the river got quite marshy for a kilometer or so. A kilometer past that and it veered to the west and I could hear a substantial drop in the river ahead. There was a yellow portage sign nailed to a tree on the left and a clear 25-meter trail that descended below the falls there.

And what a pretty waterfall that was! 

A few hundred meters past the falls, the river narrowed and went through a small, canyon-like area. Again, with a little negotiation, I was able to do a technical little run and avoid the short portage on the left. 

Once through it, I turned around to take another photo of the bottom of the run. I was having a blast, really enjoying the scenery as I worked my way downriver. 

For the next 20 minutes, the river veered to the south and then did a complete 180 and began flowing north again. The river split again as it dropped once more and after a quick scout, I found out that I had just enough water to run it down the right channel. I missed spotting a rock at the bottom of that one though and bounced the canoe substantially off of it, giving my boat a nice 'character' nick. Yikes. 

A little past that, I had to duck under a strainer. 

And that was immediately followed by a winding, narrow Class I run. 

By that time, it was approaching 6 PM and I thought I'd better start looking for a place to camp. I had one more drop in the river to negotiate before the Opeepeesway flowed into the Woman River. Brad reported that there was a possible campsite in a cedar grove on the west bank below the rapids at the end of the 135m portage there. I was hoping I could stay there. 

When I arrived at the drop, I saw that it went around a blind corner to the left. I pulled the canoe up on the rocks above the rapids and walked around the corner to scout. The top of the rapids had a nice channel that I could run, and in the middle, I could dodge a couple of rocks and keep to my left. There, I would have to eddy out and line the canoe on the left side as the river dropped over a substantial ledge. 

I walked back up to my canoe, got in, and executed my plan. It was a fun, little ride at the top, but a bit challenging to find my footing while lining over that bottom ledge. I managed to do it, however, and I was happy. Up to that point, I only had to take the one portage around the falls and was able to run or line past all the others. Woo-hoo! 

There was a large pool below the rapids. The east shore was very marshy, as was the area on the west shore where the portage emerged. These were not ideal camping conditions. I could see the cedar grove that Brad had mentioned and went up to take a look. There was a very old fire ring on the forest floor there, but the access to the water wasn't great. It was mucky and swampy, and getting clear water to boil there would have been a challenge.  Between the portage put-in and the rapids, the shore was much rockier and the water clearer. I decided I would carve out a campsite there. 

It was a good thing I brought my hammock because there wasn't really any flat ground for a tent. I spent the next 20 minutes or so making a clearing and building a fire pit. In the end, it certainly wasn't the nicest place I had ever stayed at, but it wasn't all that bad. I was able to hang my hammock comfortably, have a decent fire to cook my steak and potatoes, and listen to the gurgling of the rapids as I fell asleep. 

As nightfall descended, the air became still and there was a lovely purple glow over the river. It felt like I was the last person on earth. It was special. 

Day 2 - Opeepeesway River to Rush Lake (22 km)

I slept well though I was awoken a couple of times in the night by a p!$$ed-off beaver. I think my canoe and firepit were in the spot where he liked to wade ashore. He slapped his tail aggressively in the water to show his disapproval a few times. 

I warmed up some pre-cooked bacon and eggs for breakfast, broke camp and was on the water by 8:30 AM. It was overcast and considerably cooler than the day before. My satellite device was predicting a lot of rain in the afternoon, so I had my rain gear on the ready. I snapped a quick photo of my makeshift campsite as I departed. 

It was an easy 30-minute paddle to the confluence of the Woman River. At that location, I was surprised to see a very nice A-Frame Cabin on the east bank. It was loved; it had a nice dock with a fishing boat tied to it and solar panels for off-grid energy. There was no way that boat had come in the way I had on the Opeepeesway, so I was left to assume there was an access point upstream on the Woman River. A quick, subsequent search on the Crown Land Atlas Map, showed the area as Crown Land, so I wonder if the cabin is an MNR outpost.  

As I paddled into the Woman River, I turned to snap a photo of the two rivers meeting. 

With the extra water volume, the river was much wider there. There was a lot of maiden hair in the clear water beneath me. 

It took about an hour before reaching the first drop of the Woman River. I really enjoyed this part of the route, and looking back, it might have been my favourite section of the entire trip. There were dramatic rocky banks on either side and the forest was lush and thick. It was gorgeous. 

Although there were no campsites along this section, I felt there were some locations where campsites could be carved out. At one particular location, as the river turned 90 degrees from east to north, there was a somewhat flat rocky point that looked like it would serve as a nice site if someone were to clear it. Had I made it to this spot the night before, I would have given it a go myself. Here is a photo of it below. I also marked it on my map above. 

I arrived at a small waterfall that was unrunnable. There was a short 40-meter portage on the left that still had a portage sign from a long time ago. I wondered how old it was. 

It was a very pretty spot and I lingered a bit below the falls trying to catch a pickerel or pike, but didn't have a lot of luck. It actually wasn't that deep below the chutes, so I assumed the fish were in deeper holes elsewhere. 

A quarter of an hour past the chutes, the river made a 90-degree turn to the east. There were some large ridges of rock on the left that were dramatic. I felt that a campsite could possibly be carved out below them on the north shore. 

I was paddling close to the right shore in an attempt to cut the corner, but gawking at the cliffs on the left. I didn't see the grouse that was hanging out on limb over the river's edge. Why would I? I have never seen a grouse do that before! I almost bumped into the dumb little guy with my head and when it fluttered away into the forest, I nearly had a heart attack and jumped in surprise. I actually almost fell into the river. I spent the next minute or two laughing to myself. What an embarrassing story that would have been! Knocked into the river by a grouse. 

Around the corner, the river widened again and then began to narrow as it headed in a northeastern direction. From a distance, I could see the splashing of whitewater ahead and I knew I was arriving at my next obstacle. There was a portage on the right that Brad had signed. It was on a rocky landing over deep water. I got out to scout.  

It looked to be a short CIII drop over a ledge that was probably runnable by whitewater junkies, but again, being alone, I didn't want to risk it. It was the push into the hole at the bottom that was deterring me the most. 

The portage was easy and clear. Thanks again, Brad! I tried my hand at fishing again below the rapids but I wasn't getting any love. 

The next set of rapids was just upstream and it was pretty much a steady swift between them. The rocky banks and river scenery were very pretty. It started raining at that point and my camera was getting a little wet, so apologies for the blurry photos. 

I got to the top of the rapids. There was another portage marker on the left amongst some reeds. I got out to scout the run and saw that it was a technical S-run with a ledge in the middle. Again, it was doable, but once again I decided to portage. Was I being too cautious? Perhaps, but when solo tripping, it's always better to err on the side of caution. After all, I only have myself to rely on out there. 

The 160-meter portage had some fresh blowdowns that were problematic. It was also very steep. There must have been a recent storm that had descended on the area. I retrieved my saw from my bag and spent about a half-hour clearing the trail. With one larger blowdown at the top of the ridge, I cut back some smaller trees to divert the trail to a spot on the left where canoeists can step over the large tree that had fallen across the original trail. 

The portage descended through a grassy area as it rejoined the river and there were a number of wild rose hips there.

I spotted the remnants of an old fire pit near the put-in, but I wouldn't recommend it unless absolutely necessary; it looked quite grown over. It could be made into a decent site, perhaps, but would require quite a bit of clearing. And what about those lovely rose hips? You can see the location in the photo below on the right. 

I found myself in a large pool at the confluence of the Woman and Rush Rivers. The Woman continued north, but I was at the top of my loop and I now had to head south and up the Rush River. My goal for the day was to make it to a nice site on Rush Lake. I turned to take a parting shot of the pool and the inflow and outflow of the Woman River behind me as I started up the Rush. 

It was slightly slower going now that I was battling a current.  About ten minutes into my ascent of the Rush River, I spotted a very large bird perched at the top of the trees on the right. It looked girthy. As I paddled closer, I spotted the 'horns' and realized I was looking at a Great Horned Owl. It was huge. I reached into my pocket to get my camera, but he spread his wings and soared up the river before I could take a photo. What a treat! These birds are typically nocturnal, and because of that, I have never had the pleasure of seeing one on a canoe trip before. Perhaps the gloomy and overcast skies confused the poor creature and it thought it was in the twilight hours. 

Ten minutes after that wonderful encounter, I was paddling hard against the current to reach a portage on my right that went around a rocky, double chute.  The rain was coming down in a steady stream by that point and I had to get out and wade the canoe to reach the take-out. I also had to remove a bit of deadfall in the river to get my boat ashore. 

Here is a shot from the portage of the bit that must be waded leading up to the take-out. 

There were fresh blowdowns on this one, as well. Again, I had to cut a new path around a large tree that had fallen on the steep part at the start of the carry. The put-in was quite mucky and was close to the start of the rocky rapids. It gave rise to some dramatic scenery. 

I continued south and the river became wide and marshy in spots. I stopped and made a couple of wraps for lunch and ate them in the boat while there was a lull in the rain.

I continued paddling at a relaxing pace and made it to the final large obstacle on the Rush River, a scenic waterfall. As I approached, the rain started teeming down. Unfortunately, this lent to taking some blurry photos. 

Brad had marked that there was a campsite to the left of the falls, but I spotted the portage a good 50m to the right of the falls, so I didn't head over to that side to check out the site. 

The take-out was under a canopy of trees and was pretty much straight up for the first 30 meters. With the rain pouring down, it was very slippery and I had to tread carefully. There was a cached red canoe there, but I couldn't figure out who it could be for. There weren't any structures or campsites to speak of below the falls, and the only thing that I could think of is that maybe it was placed there by a fly-in lodge on Rush Lake. 

Here are a couple of shots of the steep bit of the portage from above. The photos don't give the steepness justice. 

Despite the incline, the portage was in fine condition and didn't require any further clearing. 

I put in and paddled across a pond for a few minutes before the river narrowed into a small canyon. I didn't see a portage at all, so I got out to wade and line up the Class I rapid. I lined on the right side, but I had a bit of trouble finding some footing in a few spots. It was canyon-like with deep rocky banks. In retrospect, it might have been easier to line up the left side. I turned to snap a blurry, watery photo of the rapids from the top. 

From there, it was clear sailing up the rest of the river and into Rush Lake....or so I thought it would be. The river widened considerably as I neared the lake and the wind started whipping up. To make matters worse, it started raining so hard that it was decreasing visibility. This was unfortunate because there were gorgeous dramatic rocky cliffs on the east bank. 

I hugged the west shore to try to stay out of the wind somewhat and made for a site that Brad had marked on a rocky point on the west shore. Indeed, it was a gorgeous site high on a rocky point overlooking the lake. 

There was a firepit on the rocks and I tried setting up the tarp over it, but was having trouble based on where the pit was located. The trees weren't in a good position to hold the tarp in the correct spot, and the poles that I cut to hold the tarp up kept slipping down the slope. After 20 minutes of getting frustrated, I stopped and re-gathered my thoughts. Why not build another firepit in another location where I can easily erect the tarp? Duh! I laughed to myself at my stupidity and realized that I wasn't thinking clearly. 

I had been on the water for nearly 8 hours, had covered about 22 km of distance paddling solo, did five portages with some clearing work on two of them that were very steep, and had been fighting an upstream current and wind for the last few hours. I was tired, wet and hungry. Once I sat down and reasoned with myself, I realized that I needed to get warm and dry, and to get some calories in me. It's amazing that in the throes of canoe tripping, and when you are out there alone, you don't realize how fast the fatigue and cold can creep up on you and affect your thought processes. 

I looked around and reassessed. I quickly got the tarp up in a spot behind some trees and built a firepit against the slope of the rock beneath one of its corners. I went back into the bush, found some birch bark and cut up the dead low branches of some spruce trees and began collecting wood under the tarp. Despite how wet the world was, I got a good fire going in no time. I  changed into some dry, warm clothes and rehydrated a hot curry with naan bread for dinner. My world changed.

The rain stopped for a bit and I was able to get my hammock up in the grove of trees behind the site without it getting wet. I gathered more firewood which I kept drying by the fire. The rain and cool wind continued through the night, but I was cozy and it was actually quite enjoyable sitting next to the fire which was throwing a lot of heat; I kept it going until about 10 PM when I went to bed, warm and cozy in my hammock. I slept well.

Little did I realize it at the time, but just a short distance away, the weather was considerably worse. A couple of days later, I met Luc and his family at the end of the trip and he said that they had had a horrible storm back on the Opeepeesway River with crazy wind, thunder and golf ball-sized hail that day. That was probably only about 20 kilometers away from me as the crow flies, but I  luckily didn't get anything like that on the Rush River. 

Day 3 - Rush Lake  to Rice Lake (18 km)

I awoke to sun. Yay! But it was cold! All the previous day's rain had cooled everything off and there was a stiff north wind blowing. The air was considerably cooler than the water. Steam was oozing off the lake's surface in the morning sun. What an amazing view! 

Despite the chilly temperature, I decided to quickly jump in the lake to wash off the grime of the previous day. The sun was rising and I was banking on it getting warmer. If I wasn't awake before the dip, I certainly was afterward. 

I took my time breaking camp. Clothes, tarp and hammock fly were all soaking wet, so I took advantage of the beaming morning sun to dry it all off. Besides, it was an excuse to enjoy an extra coffee with a sniff of Bailey's. I finally got on the water at 11 AM, and as is customary, I snapped a departing shot of the site that treated me right. 

I paddled east across the expanse of Rush Lake (originally called Sakatawi). I had assumed that I had the lake all to myself, but when I was halfway across the bay, I heard a motor. A few minutes later, a couple of dudes in a fishing boat putt-putted out from behind the islands at the top of the south bay. I waved as they zipped past me off my bow, after all, they were the first humans I had seen in two days. They waved back and continued on up to the northern expanses of the lake. I assumed there was a fly-in lodge somewhere up there. 

There was a large beach on the headland across the bay. I paddled past and could see a campsite there with a clearing in the trees. It looked nice, but I prefer rocky points over beaches and was happy with the site I had chosen the previous evening. 

In fact, as I continued east, I saw many beaches all along that headland. It looked like there were many possibilities for camping. As I began crossing the bay that led into Marion Lake, I was exposed to the north wind coming down from the far northern regions of the lake, and though it didn't make the paddling too difficult, it was chilly. I didn't mind much though; the morning was beautiful and so was this big lake. 

I made it to the southeastern end of the lake and saw the reeds and weeds around the outflow of the Rice River. 

I paddled up the river and was surprised at how shallow it was. There was also more current than I had expected there to be, so it was slow going for the first half hour. It was a low-lying wetlands area that was fairly choked with weeds. 

The river meandered in a southerly direction for about 1.5 kilometers, and in spots I barely had enough water to paddle. In fact, I had to get out of the boat and move it off the bottom of the river a couple of times. 

It then made a 90-degree turn east, narrowed and the paddle against the current got a little more difficult. I came up against the first of five sets of rapids on the Rice River that I would have to negotiate, and though there was a portage, the river was shallow enough for me to wade the canoe up the left-hand side. I was happy to avoid the first portage. 

Above the rapids, the scenery was markedly different than it had been below. The wetlands had given way to thick, lush forested banks. It had a real jungle-like feeling to it, and for a minute or two, I felt like I was on a mission heading into hostile territory in search of Kurtz. 

Fifteen minutes later and I was at the second set of rapids. This one was a lot rockier and had a little more push than the first. I spotted the portage sign on the left bank and decided I would take this one. My notes showed that it was only 60 meters long. 

The trail was not well-worn, but clear and easy to follow. Right inside the woods after the take-out, I came across a strange artifact lying next to the trail on the right. It was the rusted metal frame of a bed. 

It was odd because I couldn't see anything else. There were no remains of a cabin that I could see, nor any other items that one might find in a cabin. What was a metal bed frame doing way out there all on its own? It was strange. Nevertheless, I chose to name that trail "Rusty Bedsprings Portage".

Arriving at the put-in, I looked back at the top of the rapids and was glad that I had opted to take the portage rather than trying to wade up it. The drop was steeper than it looked, and there was an island in the middle of the river causing the river to swiftly push into the narrows on either side. 

Within another quarter of an hour, I was at the base of set three. The river was narrow and shallow there and the drop wasn't as dramatic, so it looked fine to wade. The only issue was that there were a number of sweepers across the river. Somehow, I managed to squeeze under them all. It was a long set, and it took a bit of time to choose the right footing and to work my way up the current, but it was still much faster and easier than the 440m portage. 

I also waded up the fourth set. Although shorter than set three with its sweepers, set 4 had a stronger push to it and required a little more elbow grease in dragging the boat upstream. By this time I was getting a little tired, but it still beat taking the 180m portage on river-right.

The last set was just before Rice Lake and was a must-portage. The rapids were strong at the bottom and there were some chutes at the top. The 55-meter portage on the left was clear and in great condition, albeit steep. I wasn't bothered in the slightest, however; of the 5 portages on the Rice River, I only needed to take two of them and they were the shortest. 

I had read that the Rice River would be the hardest part of the trip, but I actually quite enjoyed working my way up it. I had good conditions and the scenery was stunning. I was having a great time. 

Above the chutes, it took a bit of hard paddling to get up a swift but I soon found myself in Rice Lake. There was a lovely campsite at the point where the river departed the lake, but it was still only 2 PM and way too early to make camp. I took a quick pic of it and moved on. 

Rice Lake was expansive. As I paddled south, I was still happy that there was a prevailing north wind that helped push me down the lake. It wasn't as strong as it had been in the morning and was more of a breeze, but hey, what canoeist would complain about any tailwind?!  

Rice Lake is adorned with a plethora of islands and inlets. It was a gorgeous lake to paddle down. After about 45 minutes I was approaching two large islands that sat in the middle of the lake, blocking the view south. It was nearing 3 PM and I hadn't really had anything to eat since breakfast other than a couple of handfulls of GORP. Though it wasn't hot, the sun had been beaming down on me all day and I had ploughed through all of my water. It was time for lunch and I needed to filter some water. 

The first of the two islands was reported to have a nice site on its northern point. Indeed, when I paddled up to it, I saw a lovely rock porch with fantastic access to water off its edges. I pulled ashore, got my water filter going and ate a couple of peanut butter and honey wraps. 

I liked the site so much that I was tempted to stay there, but I simply couldn't take the paddling conditions I had for granted. It was sunny and I had a tailwind. I was still 8 km away from the portage out of Rice Lake to the south and who knew what kind of wind I would have the next day, so I pressed on and took advantage. 

I rested for a half hour in total at the site and felt a lot better. I turned to take a parting shot of this awesome campsite in the middle of Rice Lake. 

I paddled past another island campsite about 20 minutes later and saw gear on it, though its occupants were not there. I did see a fishing boat in the large bay to the west, so I guessed they were the ones using the site. Wow, more humans! 

When I paddled into the massive bay that dominated the southern half of the lake, I was beginning to think I was back in cottage country. There was yet another fishing boat trolling along the inlets on the eastern shore and I could see two float planes moving about on the surface at the far end of the lake to the south. With the great conditions, I was paddling directly through the center of this huge bay. I got a little concerned when I could see both of these planes speeding toward me to take off. I exhaled in relief when they took to the air a few hundred meters in front of me. 

I wondered if they were dropping the fishermen off or taking them away; I didn't expect the lake to be this busy and was getting a little concerned because I only knew of two sites at the south end of the lake.  I was really hoping to stay at one of them. If they were occupied, I'd have to find an alternative somewhere or take two long portages out of the lake before the next possible campsite.

When I paddled past the first site at the southern tip of an island, there was no one there, however, I could see some 'stuff' on it. I wasn't sure, but I thought that I actually saw a gas BBQ. It was obviously a fly-in fisherman's site and in my experience, these sites are typically trashed with plastic chairs, broken glass around the firepit and some sort of hideous bush construction stuck to trees. I moved on without even checking it out. 

The other site was on a long ridge of an island across the bay to the east. There was yet another fishing boat with a pair of fellows trolling in front of it. I nodded as I paddled toward them and made the obligatory "Any luck?" fishing greeting. One fellow answered with, "What?!" I made the greeting again and he responded by grunting, starting up the motor and putt-putting away to the north. I laughed to myself, shrugged and paddled over to the island hoping it was vacant. 

The island was literally a long mound. I could see a campsite sign tacked to one of the trees and again wondered if Brad had posted that there. The island was a bit of an anomaly to me; the tree species that dominated the island was red pine. So far, on this trip, the vegetation had been sub-boreal forest with a lot of spruce, cedar, jack pine, and white birch, yet there it was, like a clump of forest that had been lifted out of Temagami or Algonquin and placed in Rice Lake, an island of tall red pines on a lake where no others existed that I could see.  

The front of the island was insanely steep to access, so I paddled to the back and accessed the island from there. It was nice and clean! Yes, there were bush constructions on some of the trees but these were only a couple of small, well-constructed shelves and not hideous at all. It was a keeper. 

I set up camp, gathered wood for the night and made a large pasta dinner. It became overcast by 7:00 and I walked around to explore the island a bit. I realized that the camping area that I was at had recently been cleaned by someone. There was another dirtier camping area at the north end of the island which sported a massive mound of beer bottles and broken glass. It looked as if someone had walked around the island picking it up and piled it there to get it out of the way. Thank you to whoever did that because my end of the island was immaculate. 

The fishermen returned again before dusk and I could hear them fishing off of the northwest point of the island, but they didn't stay long. 

The night was cool and I was enjoying sipping on a whiskey or two next to the fire. I had originally planned to head back out on the boat and do a little evening fishing, but I was beat. I had gotten a little too much sun throughout the day and was feeling it. I retired to my hammock fairly early to read my novel, but I don't think I even finished a single page as I nodded off. I was asleep before it even got fully dark. 

Day 4 - Rice Lake to Opeepeesway River Bridge (25 km)

I woke up very early. The sun hadn't risen yet, but I was awake. I had slept well and felt refreshed. I got up and began getting ready to depart. I had all of Opeespeesway Lake to paddle and I was hoping to get across it before the afternoon winds whipped up. Because of the east-west orientation of the lake, it is known for getting windy. 

I got a great shot of the sun peeking over the ridge to the east behind my site. 

After a quick oatmeal breakfast and a coffee, I was on the water by 7:20 AM. I took the customary departing shot of my site with the morning sun rising behind it. I officially named the site Red Pine Ridge. 

I paddled for two kilometers into the most southern bay of Rice Lake and saw another fishing boat already out and on the water. The sun was rising and the sky was clear. It was shaping up to be a very nice day. 

I paddled the southwestern shore of the bay looking for the 870m portage and eventually spotted a cached fishing boat and a clearing through the trees. Then I noticed the small portage sign tacked to one. 

After pulling my boat and gear ashore, I turned to take one last look at the beautiful, island-dotted waters of Rice Lake in the morning sun. 

I knew this portage might be a tricky one in terms of finding my way and it kind of was. There were a number of ATV trails and logging roads in the area, so I had to make sure I was going in the right direction. 

The trail leading out of Rice Lake was an ATV trail and straightforward in terms of direction. I just kept following it for about 350m uphill until it came to a logging road. The problem was that it was wet and fairly chewed up by the ATVs. Just inside the forest near the lake, there was a crude cabin loaded with discarded items and garbage strewn about all over the place. It was disheartening to see. 

I kept to the little ridge in the middle of the trail that was between the tire tracks and managed to get past the mucky bits without too much trouble. As I moved up the hill, it got less muddy.

After about 350m, the ATV trail arrived at an old, overgrown logging road. I turned right there and followed it for about 50 meters before it came to a junction. I put down my gear and checked my GPS to get oriented. In the picture below, I needed to go left (west), the way my canoe is pointing. 

That road was even more overgrown with high grass and weeds. Here is a shot of what it looked like:

I walked for 200m or so down that overgrown road, passing a swamp on my right, before coming to a clearing with some large stumps arranged in the middle of it. There, I had to look around a bit, but I eventually found the trail down to the lake through some overgrown bushes on the right. There was a very faint trail, and once I crashed through the bushes, I easily picked up the trail that was an actual narrower canoe portage rather than an ATV trail. It had been cleared and it was very easy to reach the lake after walking about 250m.  Here is a photo of the clearing. The spot to look for the portage trail has been identified in the photo. 

There was another cached fishing boat at the put-in. There wasn't a name for this lake on my map, but it was a gorgeous little lake. I thought it would be a fantastic place to camp if someone were to carve out a site on one of its rocky bluffs. 

The paddle on this unnamed lake was only minutes in duration. I went as south as I could and got my feet even wetter trying to pull my boat up onto the swampy take-out. The view of the lake behind me was sublime. 

I wish I could say that the next hour and a half was a wonderful walk in the woods as I made my way into Little Rice Lake, but I would be lying. Up to that point, I was having a fantastic trip that had exceeded my expectations in nearly every way thus far. However, if there was any part of this route that might dissuade would-be paddlers, it would be this portage. If you are a Type 2 fun junkie like myself, however, this might be up your alley. 

Brad had reported this portage as "boggy" in the conditions that he walked it. When I did it, I might go a little further and describe it as a "quagmire". I had just completed the Laura Lake Loop in Temagami the week before this trip and I found the infamous Laura portage much easier than this one. If you recall, on Day 2 of this trip report, it had rained steadily for about 10 hours straight and the area was still holding a lot of that moisture. For those who try this route, I hope you have drier conditions...at least for this part.

The photo below depicts a nice clear trail and a pretty forest. Don't let the tranquillity fool you. Despite going incredibly slow and choosing my steps ever so carefully,  I sank into the earth up to my knees on every third step. The entire forest floor was simply wet and soft. I tried to walk the edge of the trail, but consistently ended up bouncing my large bag or canoe off the trees and ricocheting back into the middle of the bog, which just lead to another sinking. I tried looking for root clumps and bits that looked solid, but it was impossible to tell what was solid ground and what was boot-sucking muck. It was exhausting. 

After the first 400 meters, it got better and there were only a few really boggy bits in the last 300 meters or so, but every now and again, I would sink again just for fun. It was certainly a lot of hard work. On the return trip, I tried throwing a lot of loose branches and logs into the muck to give it more sustenance, but it was just very wet. I simply slid off the logs and into the muck again. Fun! Fun! Type 2 Fun! 

I took a selfie of my torso after the 90 minutes it took me to complete the 950-meter portage. Normally, I would be able to double-trip a portage of that length in less than half the time.  All of the wetness on my shirt was sweat. On the bright side, as a 51-year old fellow who tries to stay in shape, I probably lost 10 lbs on that portage, so that's a plus! 

(Update: Brad and Cam were back through the area again more recently. They also struggled with the boggy conditions of this portage. To see Brad and Cam's trials and tribulations on this port, click  on the link below)

The odd thing is that after I finished, I was ecstatic. It was a tough portage and during it, while the canoe was falling off my shoulders for the 9th time and I was past my knees in muck, I sounded like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. After getting through it and accomplishing it, I felt on top of the world. This is why I love canoe tripping. It challenges me and makes me a better, stronger person. Type 2 Fun!

I paddled out to the first rocky point on Little Rice Lake and jumped into the lake. It felt glorious. 

There was a nice campsite at the south end of the first bay there, and just around the corner from that, there was a photo of a young man tacked to a cross that was affixed to the rocks high above the water. The name 'Alexci' was inscribed on the cross. I was left to assume that a tragic accident happened at that location. Curious, and if so, sad. 

It didn't take long to paddle through Little Rice Lake. It was a smaller lake, but very scenic with its many rocky side bays. There were a few cottages near the portage at its southern end. 

The 60m portage out of Little Rice looked well-used. It was wide and easy. After putting in, I was happy to have completed my last carry of the trip. 

The paddle to Opeepeesway Lake was through a marshy wetland. There was a massive beaver dam to lift over just before the lake. The drop in the dam was a good 3 feet. Effective beavers! 

The East Arm of Opeepeesway was large. It was about 11 AM when I started my westward journey on it, and I was facing the typical summertime west wind. Thankfully, it was not strong, yet. I paddled hard to get through the East Arm before it gathered in strength. 

I stopped at the bottom end of the jutting peninsula on the north shore to have a quick snack and a water break. A pair of fellows in a fishing boat whizzed by to the east end of the lake. I turned to snap a photo of the large bay I had just paddled. 

I continued west for another half hour or so, and as I got closer to the narrows that would take me into the main part of the lake, the wind began swirling for a bit. When I got through the narrows and up to the point where I could see the peninsula that held the ghost town of Jerome, the wind began to kick up. 

Had it been calmer, I would have paddled over to investigate Jerome, but with the wind picking up. It would have added three or four extra kilometers of paddling on a large, windy, choppy lake. Apparently, Jerome was a gold mine site and a town was built there to house the workers and other interested parties. It reached a population of 150 people, but closed in 1945 when there was a large bushfire and buildings burned. Due to the war, funds couldn't be obtained to reopen the mine, so everyone left. With the 'Active Mining Claim' sign that I saw at the parking location, I wonder if there are plans in the works to reopen this mine. 

The weather seemed like it was turning for the worse. Dark clouds were blowing in with some stronger winds. I paddled hard across the expanse of Opeepeesway Lake in an effort to make it to the North Arm before the winds got too nasty. 

The waves got quite big once I passed the island campsite, and I had to tack in a northwesterly direction into the wind. It was hard work. 

There were a couple of fishing boats on the east shore of the bay and one putt-putted over to me when I was at the mouth of the North Arm. It was a father and son who have been coming to the area for many years, and they were curious about what I was doing on the lake. They were friendly and smiled when I told them about the loop that I was just completing. They asked if I ran into anyone on Rush and Rice Lake. I said I saw some fishermen on Rice Lake who didn't seem that happy to see me, and they laughed. They said the owners of the lodges on those lakes aren't keen on sharing the lake, but then they added, "But don't worry about it. They don't own the lakes and you have as much right to be there as they do." Indeed! 

I continued into the North Arm and saw a total of 5 more fishing boats. It was a weekend and it was busy! By the time I reached the site on the west shore of the North Arm, the sun had come back out and I needed a break. It was about 2 PM and I was getting hungry. I made some lunch, filtered some more water and had a swim. The site was very nice and had deep water to swim in off its rocky porch. 

I stayed for about twenty minutes and moved on. Getting around the bend from the North Arm and heading west into the Opeepeesway River was not easy. The wind was really pushing in from the west on this stretch and it took a lot of elbow grease. Once I got to the point where the river began heading north, it narrowed and the wind seemed to disappear. For the rest of the way north, it was a very scenic paddle along the river's rocky, tree-laden banks. 

Just after 3 PM, I rounded a bend and saw the bridge span across the river before me. I had come to the end of my trip. I paddled under it and beached my canoe just as Luc and his family pulled in with their fishing boat behind me. We chatted a bit, while I retrieved my car and loaded my boat and gear. I wished them well and good luck with their fishing for the rest of their vacation. 

It was an eventful four-day journey that I won't soon forget. The route was challenging but beautiful and well worth the visit for avid canoe trippers. I had three days of wonderful solitude, and even though I saw a lot of fly-in fishers at the south end of Rice Lake, and many others on Opeepeesway Lake, it was really only busy on the last day and that was probably because it was a Saturday. I would have liked to spend more time on the northern end of the route doing a little more fishing, campsite maintenance and exploring if I had had a little more time. I encourage other canoeists to get out there and spend some time on this rediscovered route, as well. They won't be disappointed.