Brightsand - Kashishibog - Kopka Rivers

Total Distance: 209 kilometers from Allanwater Bridge to Bukemiga Lake 

Duration:11 days (more might be required -- we had cooperative wind and weather)

Number of Portages: 39 (many can be avoided if running/lining/wading rapids)

Total Port. Distance: 8.9 km

Level of Difficulty: Advanced due to remote location, unpredictable weather, difficult river conditions, and challenging portages

*** Note: Unless otherwise stated, 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.*** 

In 2022, my father and I completed a 10-day trip through the Wabakimi wilderness and we were smitten. Despite the temperamental weather we had experienced, we had a fantastic trip and told ourselves we would return to the area. 

Following the trip, winter descended upon us and my thoughts often returned to Wabakimi. Why not head up to the area again in 2023? Who says I can't go back two years in a row? I began some trip planning. 

We had fun running a few rapids on the Lookout and Berg Rivers in 2022 and this time we wanted to see more of the area's rivers because the falls and rapids were simply breathtaking; Wabakimi is an Ojibway translation meaning “Whitewater”, after all. 

So, after some research, we planned an ambitious route consisting of putting in at the Allanwater Bridge, heading north and having fun running the rapids of the Allanwater River to Brennan Lake, turning south through Granite Lake, hopefully making use of a long, little-used portage to get into Van Ness Lake, up the Lookout River system, crossing the tracks again to the south, and following the Aldridge Lake link to the Kopka. From there, we would run rapids down to the scenic climax of the route at the Seven Sisters Waterfalls. What could go wrong?

Well, Mother Nature and climate change had something to say about our plans. The spring of 2023 was abnormally hot and dry. The lack of moisture in the forest and vegetation basically allowed the Canadian wilderness to turn into a giant tinderbox from coast to coast. Smoke enveloped the entire eastern seaboard of the continent. To put it in perspective, the following graph taken from ( demonstrates how 2023 has far surpassed any previous year on record for forest fires. Incredibly, the record-smashing data for 2023 is based on the first half of the year only! At the time of writing this in August of 2023, the jury is still out as to the extent of the final devastation from the 2023 forest fire season. 

One of those fires was on our planned route on the upper stretches of the Allanwater River and into Brennan Lake. SLK033 started on June 11th and as of August was still classified as "Not Under Control". The following image from the Ontario Forest Fire Info Map shows that over 62,000 hectares of the western part of Wabakimi Provincial Park had been burnt as of mid-August 2023. That is roughly the size of all of metropolitan Chicago, or approximately 155,000 football fields. Yikes. 


Needless to say, we had to change our planned route. 

We decided to save the Allanwater River for another less-fiery time and travel up the Brightsand River, up the Kashishibog River, and cross over the height-of-land portage into Redsand Lake, which is at the headwaters of the Kopka River system. Heading upstream on the first two rivers is not nearly as fun as heading downstream, but taking this route would still allow us to see the Kopka and its incredible Seven Sisters Waterfalls, and have some whitewater fun when we got to the downstream part of the Kopka (...or so we thought! Incredibly low water levels had something to say about river running...but more on that on Day 7!) Besides, we already had our train tickets booked from Armstrong to the Allanwater Bridge, only we would be heading south from the bridge rather than north. 

Well, after a long drive north from Peterborough, with an overnight stopover to visit family in Sudbury, we arrived in Armstrong in the evening. Our train was booked to leave Armstrong at 9:17 AM the following morning, and when we checked its progress online, it was actually running on time -- a rare occurrence, indeed!

(Image taken from Google Maps)

Day 1 - Allanwater Bridge to Antler Lake (19 km)

We spent the night at a motel on Mackenzie Lake a few kilometers south of Armstrong. After a quick breakfast at Gail's Grill and Bakery, we drove back to the train station to unload and get ready to board the unusually punctual train that was soon to arrive. The skies were clear and it was hot! After unloading, we thought we had a half-hour or so to get our vehicle to Wabakimi Clem's place where we had arranged to leave it while on the trip and walk back to the station. At that moment, Dad looked down the tracks and saw that the train was already inching its way into Armstrong considerably early. I jumped in the car, dropped it off with Clem, and sprinted back to the station in time. Whew!  

This was the second year in a row we used the services of Wabakimi Clem. This time, he would keep our vehicle at his place in town and drop it off at our take-out location at the Bukemiga Lake trailer park just off Highway 527 on our take-out date. If others wish to use Clem's services (He has been very reliable, friendly, and informative for us!), he can be contacted at (807-372-1346).

There were two other groups of canoeists boarding the train that morning -- a pair of fellows starting their trip at Redhead Lake and an intrepid warrior who claimed to be 90 years old (Jokingly, we assumed -- if not, he looked fantastic for his age!) and was heading out on a 14-day solo adventure from Flindt Landing. We all sat near each other on the train and talked canoe tripping on the way to our respective destinations. The solo paddler shared with us his planned route but seemed to be unaware of the SLK033 fire that he was heading into. We mentioned the fire to him and discussed alternative options with him over maps. I sincerely hope he didn't run into trouble en route.

We watched the pair disembark at Redhead Lake, and shortly afterwards was our stop at Allanwater Bridge. After obtaining information from a chart that we accessed through the Friends of Wabakimi website online, we communicated to the VIA booking agent the mileage marker of 54.6 miles past Armstrong Station as our departure location. While loading the train in Armstrong, the VIA conductor spoke to us and seemed to know where the "usual" location was for paddlers accessing water. The train stopped and we unloaded. There were a couple of men waiting by the side of the tracks there and spoke to us after the train departed. The older gentleman asked us if we had $500 to access the water through his private property. I wasn't sure if he was being serious or not. I told him I didn't, and said that I was unaware that the train would let us off on someone's private property and apologized for the mistake. He said that we could put in, but didn't seem too pleased about it. 

I'm not sure if VIA let us off at the wrong location (on the west side of the bridge), but I hadn't heard anything about this issue in my research for the trip. I was relieved that the property owner let us access the water, but the interaction wasn't a great note on which to start a trip. Therefore, prior to buying train tickets, I recommend either contacting the outfitters in the area to obtain permission or finding an exact location near the bridge to access the water that isn't on private land. 

It was a short portage to the water and we put in just to the right of a dock next to a cabin.

We paddled south and under the Allanwater Bridge, happy to shake off the stress of almost missing the train and feeling like we had trespassed on someone's property. We were starting our multi-day journey excited to reach its culmination of travelling down the Seven Sisters Waterfalls and into the Valley of the Gods.

During the paddle south through McEwen Lake, we began to realize how low the water levels were. In fact, we were quite concerned about this during our drive from southern Ontario on Highway 17 upon noticing the bone-dry conditions of the very many waterways that dump into Lake Superior. Clem had mentioned that the previous week had been particularly dry and that the area had not received the normal amount of spring rain that year, obviously a major factor leading to the plethora of forest fires. We were expecting lower-than-normal water levels, but not to the extent that we would encounter. A couple of weeks earlier, we had completed the Sturgeon River Loop in Temagami and enjoyed higher water levels, but the Brightsand River is a long way from Temagami. 

My research did not show any marked campsites on McEwen Lake, but we did see one on a nice point about halfway down on its western shore. This would make a viable camping option for canoeists arriving late in the day.

At the south end of the lake, we began looking for the first of the many portages we would take on this trip. We couldn't find it! Would they all be like this? Due to low levels, we scraped over rocks to the right of a headland where the port was supposed to be and I bushwhacked through to the other side to get a glimpse of the river. I saw that we could easily line up the rapids on the right. I was discovering that the low water levels might be a blessing going up the Brightsand River, but a curse when we began heading down the Kopka -- much more on that later.  

So, we scraped back over the same rocks to get out to the lake again, paddled around the headland, and lined up the boneyard rapids on the right, thus avoiding a 307-meter portage that we couldn't find. It was a start.

South of the rapids was a widening of the river, large enough to be a lake in its own right. In fact, on all three rivers that we would travel on, we would see many unnamed lakes that are simply considered parts of the rivers, some of them very large. 

Beyond that lake, we were required to wade up a couple of swifts that weren't on my map. There would be many of these en route, as well -- some of them as strong as CI or CII rapids. 

We headed east through the top end of an even larger unnamed lake and veered south again until we came to a pretty ledge in the river. 

There,  below the drop, we got our first taste of fishing and immediately tapped into a couple of very nice-sized pickerel (walleye), which I filleted and would store in a zip-lock bag until dinner. 

I used both the Ministry of Ontario's published map and the Paddle Planner website to create my topographic maps for the trip. The former was a very broad and rough guide to the route that simply lacked detail. The latter was a good source to show where portages were needed for the most part but did contain some erroneous information regarding portage lengths and which side of the river the ports were on. In this instance, the site showed a portage of 324 meters, but to our delight, it was only about 40 meters in length. Overall, it was a good guide to get us through the trip successfully, and there were no major navigational problems. In my opinion, the errors were to be expected given the relatively remote nature of the route, and the probable lack of feedback that the creators receive from people who have completed the routes. I would recommend using it as a trip planner and guide.

It was a very short paddle before we encountered the next obstacle, a long rapid that we chose to portage around. It would be the longest of the day at 339 meters and was on the opposite side of the river marked on my map. Some deadfall across the trail had been cut which made this portage easier, but there was also some new deadfall that made it somewhat challenging. Again, for a relatively less-traveled route, it was to be expected. 

We opted to take the 79-meter portage past the next obstacle which was an incredibly boney mess. 

Our map showed only two more portages before reaching Antler Lake, our intended destination for the night. The first was to bypass a short, rocky ledge that we were able to wade and lift over on river left, avoiding the 83-meter carry. 

The final obstacle was a narrow rapid. We chose to take the 111-meter portage to bypass it due to poor footing along the shore and a stronger push in the river. Again, the portage was on the opposite side of our map markings. 

The short paddle through to the south end of Antler Lake did not take long and we found our island campsite for the night in a narrows leading out of the lake. It was a nice site on the east end of the island with views looking south, but it felt somewhat closed-in amongst the trees. Perhaps, the high levels of humidity at the time contributed to this feeling. 

I set up my hammock next to the water on the north side of the island and Dad used the single tent pad amongst the trees. After a much-needed swim, we enjoyed a large, protein-laden, 'surf n' turf' meal of marinated rib-eye steaks, potatoes, and the pickerel that we caught a few hours earlier. It was a fantastic way to christen the first night of our trip. 

Day 2 - Antler Lake to Harmon Lake (32 km)

Our second day would be the longest one of the trip for a couple of reasons that are explained below. 

The temperature had dropped in the night creating a lot of dew and a lovely mist was rising off the water when we awoke. 

We whipped up some bacon and eggs for breakfast. In preparation for my longer trips, I powder my own eggs by dehydrating them and then chucking them in the blender after a night of refrigeration. I vacuum seal the powder and freeze it until I'm ready to depart. For bacon, I purchase the pre-cooked stuff sold at Costco, and then vacuum seal it into daily portions. This method seems to work well for up to a week or longer. I have never had the food go off, even in very extreme heat.

We got out onto the water by about 10 AM. I took a photo of our site as we departed. 

As we paddled southwest out of Antler Lake, we rounded a bend and started paddling up a swift. Ahead of us at the take-out for our first portage of the day was a cow moose and her calf feeding in the shallows. The calf spotted us immediately, but it took some time for mama to notice us. Once she did, she hightailed it up the ridge on our left with the calf in tow. 

What a great start to the day! I wish I could report that the day would end on a similar high note, but I can't. 

We got out on our right (river-left) and investigated the rapids which looked a bit too hairy to line up, so we took the short, 83-meter portage. 

Five minutes after putting in and rounding a bend, we were unloading our boats once more at the 122-meter portage that bypassed a CII rapid through a pretty canyon. 

We were noticing how subtly beautiful the Brightsand River was by this point with its frequent rocky drops through a boreal forest landscape. The low water only seemed to contribute more to the beauty by exposing more dramatic Canadian Shield granite. 

We paddled in a westerly direction through an unnamed lake after wading up a CI rapid that wasn't marked on my map by a portage. This was followed by wading up a swift, heading south through another unnamed lake, and then wading up another swift before happening upon a group of teenage boys, most likely from a camp of some sort, heading downriver in 4 or 5 canoes. They were on the last day of a 16-day trip and stated that they were planning to end it at Allanwater Bridge that evening. That would be a long day of paddling, but then again they did have the advantage of going downstream. 

The following 81-meter portage bypassed a couple of rocky CI rapids that went around a bend. We were able to wade up the first in the center of the river and line up the second on river-right.  We were happy to avoid the portage; we were certainly getting good at wading upstream by that point! 

After paddling for another five or ten more minutes, we came upon a more formidable drop in the river ahead. 

We got out at the well-used 108-meter trail on our left. Just off the path, high on the cliffs overlooking the river, was a fantastic campsite above the most dramatic section of this drop. If it hadn't only been noon, we would have definitely thought about staying at that one. 

At the put-in, we had to scrape over some rocks and paddle hard up a swift to get further upriver. 

For the next hour or so, the river widened considerably and we were heading straight into a stiff, but manageable, wind from the southwest. We hugged the southern shoreline to minimize its impact. On this note, I must comment that overall on this trip, with the exception of this instance and a couple of others, we were incredibly lucky with the wind. In fact, I don't think I've ever had such luck with wind on an extended trip such as this one. I suppose it was some retribution for the incredibly low water levels we experienced. That's canoe-tripping for you -- you win some battles and lose others.

We rounded a bend as the river veered to the south. There, we spotted a double rapid, separated by a large island. I'm not sure if it was the incredibly high humidity or the fact that it was 2 PM and I had spent the last four hours paddling, lining, wading, and portaging up rapids without eating, but I made a boneheaded decision. 

My map showed that there was a 49-meter portage to our right of this set of double rapids, but we didn't even go over to investigate it as it was the one further away. Instead, I decided to go to the closest rapid on our left and wade up it. It was a strong current in chest-deep water at points with deadfall on the shore that made it quite difficult. It took some time. When we eventually got to the top and decided to paddle over to the top of the portage to have lunch at the campsite there, we discovered an easy trail that was basically a lift-over past a much shorter rapid that would have been a sweet run going downstream. Had we simply taken this route, we would have spent half the time and a lot less energy. Sigh! 

While Dad whipped up some wraps for us, I threw in a lure below the rapids from shore and immediately got a large pike on the line. The problem was that there were a lot of rocks in shallow water that I had to get the pike across before I could reach it with my net. As I was trying to wade out to it and simultaneously keep tension on the line, the powerful fish gave one last thrust and shook off the lure. Sigh, again

We enjoyed our wraps on the rocks next to this pretty little rapid and then resumed paddling up the increasingly hazy and humid Brightsand River. 

The following hour and a half was spent paddling past the headlands and islands of the west end of Wapikaimaski Lake. This lake was huge and extended for over ten kilometers to the east. I tried to take a photo of that expanse, but it simply couldn't be captured properly. 

We followed the river south out of the lake and had only one more portage to negotiate before reaching the north end of Harmon Lake, our intended destination for the night. The 314-meter trail on river-right (our left) bypassed a gorgeous canyon with a small falls. We spent some time fishing below the rapids but were only able to tap into a couple of small pickerel that weren't large enough to keep. 

Unfortunately, I took only one photo of this incredibly beautiful spot and it turned out blurry. It's a shame because it was one of the nicest spots of the trip up to that point.  I did manage to get a shot of the put-in at the end of the portage and the view of the west-facing channel leading into Harmon Lake. 

As we paddled into the top end of expansive Harmon Lake, we were aiming for one of two sites that I had listed on my maps. Both were on islands in the northernmost bay of the lake. It was nearly 6 PM and dark, menacing-looking clouds were beginning to materialize. It was inevitable with the high degrees of heat and humidity we had experienced over the past two days. 

The first site we came to was on a tiny island and it was a disaster. The island was basically an exposed rock in the middle of the large bay and it was covered in deadfall. It looked as if a giant had picked up a handful of matchsticks and dropped them all over the island. There was a firepit there but it looked like it hadn't been used in quite some time. With a potential storm blowing in, we were definitely not staying there. 

The other site just to the east was occupied by a pair of canoe trippers. What rotten luck! We wouldn't see another soul for the next 9 days and the one viable site that we really needed with weather coming in was not available. I mean, it wasn't as if we were in Algonquin Park or Killarney, we were on quite a remote route. It was simply bad luck and bad timing.

We decided we would continue paddling south through the large expanses of Harmon Lake to look for a place to camp; the wind and the weather were holding off for the moment. When we got to the narrows at the bottom of the northern bay, it started raining, so we pulled ashore and put on our rain gear. 

We were just commenting on how it looked like it would only be rain when a large thunderclap went off right behind us, and it was close! It was quite a weird phenomenon;  we hadn't heard any thunder up to that point and then, bam! 

We hightailed it to the shore and scrambled around to look for a viable place to camp on that rocky point. There wasn't one, so we pulled our canoe and gear up high onto the rocks, flipped the boat, and hunkered down under some trees. Luckily for us, it was a short-lived squall that blew past us within twenty minutes or so. I took a quick video of it as it moved away from us to the southeast. 

After the squall departed, the air became very calm. In fact, the lake was almost like glass. 

We continued paddling south and couldn't really spot a good place to make camp. We were aware of an island site in the centre of the massive southern bay and decided to head for that even though it was getting very late and we had been on the water for approximately ten hours or so. In retrospect, it might have been a blessing in disguise to be able to paddle the wide expanses of Harmon Lake with no wind to contend with.

We arrived at the island just before 9 PM, exhausted. The island was beautiful but was unfortunately sullied by all kinds of equipment and gear that people had left behind. Someone had erected a temporary garage shelter at the back of the site and built a table out of an aluminum ladder. There were supplies left in the shelter and other bits and bobbles left strewn about. There were two plastic toilet seats propped up behind the site and piles of human feces left in the open and unburied beneath them. It was gross and if we had any other options, we wouldn't have stayed there. But after an 11-hour day and with darkness descending upon us, we had to make do.

It was unfortunate. This island is in Brightsand River Provincial Park and is not privately owned. It should not have been treated this way and due to its relatively remote location, it is unlikely that the ministry is able to monitor these sites consistently. 

The one saving grace was that the firepit area at the front of the site was nice with an expansive view over the southern part of the lake.

Despite the wet condtions, we were able to get a fire going in short order and rehydrate some meals before the mosquito witching hour descended upon us. The sun made its appearance to the northwest as it ducked from under the clouds as it was setting. 

Day 3 - Harmon Lake to Kashishibog River near Graham Road

 (19 km)

At around 1 AM in the night, another storm blew in near us. The wind was howling and there was a considerable amount of lightning. Fortunately, it was from the northwest and our location was fairly protected by both the adjacent island to the west and the trees behind us on our island. We both managed to stay dry and intact in our respective shelters. 

When we awoke, it was still very overcast and it looked like it might rain for quite some time. We were also tired from the long previous day, so we took our time to see what the weather would do. When it appeared that the rain would hold off, we departed the island shortly after 11 AM. 

At least we think it was 11 AM, but it could have been 10 AM.  Somewhere between Armstrong Station and Allanwater Bridge, we crossed from Eastern Standard Time to Central Standard Time. For much of the trip, I think we were basically right on the dividing line between the two time zones because both my phone and my GPS watch kept switching back and forth for the next week or so. Or maybe we were in some sort of time vortex due to our proximity to the Centre of the Universe? Perhaps Wendell Beckwith would have had an answer to that question.

I took my customary departing shot of our campsite upon leaving. 

Paddling out through the massive southern bay of Harmon Lake, we were, again, lucky to have incredibly calm conditions. 

Within an hour, we had paddled out of Harmon Lake and were back onto the river. We arrived at what would be our most difficult section on the Brightsand River. The first portage was on our right (river-left) and bypassed a long series of rapids. It looked a bit too formidable to line up them, but in retrospect, after doing the first leg of the portage, we might have given it a try upon discovering the difficulty of the portage. 

The portage was very steep at the beginning and climbed up a large embankment before coming back down to the river through a bushy trail with a lot of deadfall to negotiate. It would be the most challenging carry on the Brightsand River section of the trip. My map had it marked on the wrong side of the river and listed it as 295 meters, but it was definitely longer. It ended at a pool that required us to cross the river and take out immediately again for the next portage on the opposite side. In the low water, a large sand spit had materialized in the middle of the pool. 

After making our way across the pool which took all of one minute, we unloaded our gear again.  This rapid was shorter and perhaps could have been lined, but it had a lot of push to it, so we just decided to do the portage again. Thankfully, it was shorter and not nearly as steep. 

When we got to the top, we saw that it was a little more formidable than we first thought and we were glad to have made the decision to portage around it. 

Imagine our surprise and dismay when immediately after these back-to-back carries, we had to wade up a C1 rapid and then take another portage, neither of which was marked on our map. I was somewhat anticipating it, however; one of our source maps displayed three ports along this section whereas another only marked the first two. I was hoping the latter would be correct, but it was not to be. It was about 100 meters in length on river-right and it went past a pushy CII/III.

Above the rapids, we were on calmer water for a good length of time. The topography was much different along this part of the route. We had been paddling through dramatic, rocky, drop-and-pool Canadian Shield terrain thus far, but south of the three portages we had just completed, it was sandy, weedy, and swampy. It had much more of a wetlands feel to it. Perhaps the river's name is derived from this section.

The skies remained somewhat gloomy well into the early afternoon as the river veered directly to the south and into a large unnamed lake that would be bigger than most lakes in southern Ontario cottage country. It was nearing 3 PM (It might have been 2, but who really cares on a canoe trip?!?), and our tummies were beginning to rumble. My map displayed an island campsite to our left, so we headed toward it to make some lunch. 

As we arrived closer, we spotted something shiny and sparkling on the shore. It turned out to be the broken end of what was probably a Grumman Canoe. We couldn't figure out how a nearly indestructible aluminum boat would end up ripped in half on the downstream side of an island in the middle of a large lake. Our only guess was that it was perhaps ruined on a rapid upstream and then towed there. Ahh, the things we find in remote locations and the fun we have musing about their stories. 

The campsite itself looked like it hadn't been used in decades. There was so much deadfall on and near it, that I had trouble even climbing the shore to get up to it. The bushcraft constructions were in tatters and there were rusted cans all over the place. It would take some considerable work to clean up this site. 

Destroyed boat, destroyed site, gloomy skies -- that site gave me the heebie-jeebies. We filtered water and ate our lunch wraps down at the shore; then, we got out of Dodge. 

An hour later, we had paddled the length of the unnamed lake and arrived at our last portage on the Brightsand River -- a 206-meter carry on our right past CIII rapids and a ledge. 

We fished for a good while beneath these rapids and initially had some great luck. The sun came out and we were enjoying ourselves. We probably spent too much time there, but all travel and no play can make a canoe tripper grumpy.  

I caught what was close to a 3 lb pickerel on my first cast which we kept. This ended up being a curse because after that, we got greedy. We caught three more smaller eaters and all together they would have made a fantastic feast, but we threw them back. We were looking for one larger one to go with the one we caught, but then as is often the case with fishing, the well ran dry. Silly foolishness. We did enjoy the bigger fellow later that night for dinner as a side serving, though. 

The portage was a nice one. (Is it possible for a portage to be 'nice'?) It reminded me of a mini version of the Fantasia Portage that we did the previous year in Wabakimi at the south end of Smoothrock Lake. It was an open trail through a sparsely treed forest with a plethora of caribou moss and blueberries that we amply enjoyed on our walk back for our second load.

At the end of the portage, there was a campsite with a very interesting structure on it. It was basically the framing of a cabin built out of spruce trees just waiting for someone to come throw a tarp over it. Useful? Yes, but not exactly a poster for "Leave No Trace" camping. Sigh.

Fifteen minutes upstream from bushcraft paradise, we crossed the northeastern end of Brightsand Lake and arrived at the Graham Road Bridge where the Kashishibog River dumps into the Brightsand River. We spotted some aluminum fishing boats pulled ashore on the north side of the river outlet, so assumed correctly that the portage started there. 

Luckily for me, I had the wherewithal to scout the portage first. We knew that the portage would meet up with Graham Road, but we weren't sure whether to go left or right on the road. The portage climbed up a bit to a large, open car camping site, complete with gas barbeque and chair, next to the road. 

(Image taken from Google Maps)

Getting to the road, I understood how these items got there. The road was in excellent condition. It would be a great place to put in and start a shorter Kopka River trip and a viable option to allow canoe trippers to avoid the difficult upstream travel on the Brightsand if it weren't for the fact that it would be nearly a four-and-a-half hour shuttle ride to the take-out. Perhaps some logging roads would make this shorter, but it would still be a long haul. Besides, difficult as it was to travel upstream on the Brightsand River, it did have a lot of wonderful scenery and excellent pickerel fishing that shouldn't be missed. 

On the road, I walked both ways and discovered two things. The first was that the put-in to the Kashishibog was found by taking a right at the road, over the bridge, and down a 30-meter sideroad to the water. The second was that there was a short, but steep, trail from the river below the bridge that would first require us to line up the bottom set of rapids. By doing this, we could shave off about 200 meters of portaging. 

And that is exactly what we did. I backtracked back to Dad and the boat, lined up on river-left, crossed the river under the more formidable upstream rapids, portaged up the river bank, over the bridge, and back down the side road to the put-in. Easy Peasy!

The following is a photo of these rapids from the bridge and another of the bridge from the put-in. 

So, we bid farewell to the Brightsand River and warmly greeted the Kashishibog River. It was wide and within a few minutes we found ourselves in yet another large, unnamed lake. 

It was 7 PM by this point and we getting tired and hungry. We knew of an island site in the middle of this lake and aimed for it. It turned out to be a spacious site in a pretty grove of trees but was also unfortunately marred by a lot of decrepit bushcraft constructions and discarded junk. Again, because of our lateness in arriving, we were forced to stay there due to a lack of other options. We were looking forward to getting upriver and away from access roads to enjoy proper wilderness sites.  

After making camp and taking a fantastic swim, we enjoyed the pickerel with some rehydrated black bean burritos. It was a good meal.

 It started to cloud over again as the sun descended, and my weather app predicted some rain, so we battened down the hatches on the site. 

On one hand, we were treated to an eventful night that didn't lend to a restful sleep. On the other, we were ultimately quite lucky with the weather; allow me to explain. Just after 1 AM, some loud thunderclaps went off to the northwest of us. There was some strong wind, a spectacular light show, and a few drops of rain, but it predominantly missed us to the north. This lasted for a couple of hours or so. After finally falling asleep again at around 5 AM, another storm began blowing in from the southeast! This one seemed heftier and the wind even stronger, but again, the brunt of it just missed us to the south. Though we didn't get a lot of sleep due to constant flashing light, thunder booms, and flapping tarps, we dodged a couple of bullets. Storms in the Wabakimi area can be fierce and trees in the boreal forest can come down on a hapless camper much more easily than in the mixed forests to the south. 

Day 4 - Kashishibog River (after Graham Road) Bay to Kashishibog River (west of Kashishibog Lake (16 km)

I was glad I fell asleep again after the second storm. We both didn't wake up until after 9AM which is quite late on an extended canoe trip. We were in no hurry to get at it because the wind was still howling from the east and we were obviously windbound for the moment. 

A weather check on my sat device stated that the wind was going to change directions later in the morning, so we slowly began to break camp and get ready to depart once it did. By 11:30 AM, the wind was still strong but much more manageable and now at our backs, so we left the site shortly after. Here is a shot of the site from the water upon our departure. 

We paddled out of the unnamed lake and up into the Kashishibog River that became quite narrow just east of the lake and once again at the outflow from Sparkling Lake. At that location, there were some swifts that we lined up on our left. A loon was on the other side welcoming us to the expanses of Sparkling Lake.  

Sparkling Lake is a large, gorgeous lake that is dotted with many islands and beaches. Starting from the northwest bay, it was calm as we paddled south, protected by the western shore. However, when we reached the crossing to get east of the many islands in the centre of the lake, we needed to tack southwesterly into the strong wind blowing from that direction. 

The islands in the centre offered us protection as we paddled in the lee to the east of them. We noticed a nice-looking campsite next to a large beach on the most easterly point of the large peninsula that jutted out into the lake. It wasn't on my map, but for others who may try this trip, it looked like a gem. 

When we paddled east past the headland and islands, we were back in a wide open expanse and the winds were blowing in hard from the southwest. Had we aimed directly for our destination at the southeastern corner of the lake, the whitecaps would have hit us broadside, so we opted to tack into the wind to get to a spot where we could use the wind behind us to push us to our destination. 

This brought us to the island in the middle of the large bay. There was a fly-in fishing lodge on the island that was vacant at the time.  In the lee, we borrowed their dock for a moment to eat some wraps and to rest after our battle against the wind. After that, we headed east again and used the wind to sail down to the portage out of Sparkling Lake. This would be the one of the few times that wind was an issue on the entire trip. That's pretty incredible on an 11-day excursion in an area known for volatile weather and storms.  

There was a campsite on an island in the narrows just before the portage. The rapids were a bit too long and bony to line up, so we decided to pull ashore and take the walk on river-right.   

There was a large, grassy campsite at the take-out with some odd targets tacked to trees for lord-knows-what kind of shooting or aiming.

The carry was fairly easy, but at the put-in, the trail kept going. We knew that we had to paddle through a pond for about 400 meters before taking out again, so we assumed the trail just connected the two portages to make one long carry. We opted to put in again in the hopes that we could line up the second portage. 

We enjoyed no such luck, however. The rapids were formidable and were a bit too beefy to line. We took out again and endured a narrow trail with a lot of blow downs and deadfall to negotiate.  Again, we felt that the 243 meters marked on my map was at least 100 meters shy of the reality. 

After two back-to-back portages, we were very happy to be able to line up the next two. The first (third after Sparkling Lake) was a little tough against a hard flow, but we both had an end of the boat and were able to do it up the left (river-right). The last was just a swift that didn't cause any issues.  Again, my two sources had discrepancies with one saying a 294-meter port existed there and no port with the other. We didn't see a trail and if there was one, it certainly would have been much shorter than 294 meters. 

For the next 45 minutes or so, we cruised up the Kashishibog River with the wind at our backs. The river was wide and incredibly beautiful there. It was a wonderful and pleasant surprise to behold; we had no idea what to expect, and it was a gorgeous area. It reminded me of the north channel of the French River in many places with exposed rock dramatically lining the shores and popping up as islands. Looking back on it now, barring the Seven Sisters Area, I believe it was one of the more scenic locations on the entire route. 

We arrived at an island-dotted bay with the river pouring into it over a couple of ledges. It was a very pretty spot. When we got out to inspect the campsite overlooking the chutes on the short portage on river-right, it took a microsecond to decide to make it our home for the night. We were ecstatic to have a campsite unmarred by discarded junk and dilapidated bushcraft constructions in a beautiful, natural setting. 

We set up camp and played in the water for a while, swimming above, in, and below the small chute. There was a nice little pool on river-right that we could sit in and have the cool water pour over us -- nature's jacuzzi. 

We had a wonderfully clear evening. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and the moon came up amidst a pinkish hue just as the sun retired for the day. What a fantastic night! It was a welcome relief after the previous two nights' storms. It would be one of our favourite sites on the trip. 

Day 5 - Kashishibog River (west of Kashishibog Lake) to Kopka River (north of Siess Lake) (21 km)

I slept through the night very soundly and woke up early. Upon climbing the ridge behind our site for my morning constitutional visit into the back forty, I quickly realized we were camping beneath a gold mine of a blueberry field. As far as the eye could see, there were bunches and bunches of blueberries. It was amazing. I went back up with an empty mug and filled it with berries to make some incredible blueberry-laden pancakes for breakfast.

We took our time breaking camp and leaving the site. The skies were mostly overcast when we departed, but the rain was holding off. I snapped a couple more pics of the area from below and above the chutes as we departed; it was so nice that I couldn't resist.  

Just after 11 AM, we paddled out into yet another widening of the river that easily could have been a named lake. It was a very late start to the paddling day, but we didn't care. We weren't in any kind of hurry and had no real plan to where our destination would be for the evening. We had been making very good time on the trip up to that point. We were just seeing how we felt and would try to find a nice site in the late afternoon when we became tired. 

The river veered to the north and we entered into the western reaches of Kashishibog Lake. Again, we were impressed with the rocky beauty of the shoreline on the Kashishibog system. We noticed a few nice campsites along this section of the route. 

As we moved northeast, further toward the main part of the lake, I made a bit of a navigational error. I misidentified where we were on the map and we ended up paddling too far to the west. Consequently, we had trouble finding the portage into Redsand Lake and ended up wasting a good 30-45 minutes before I realized my mistake. We paddled back to the west and easily found the portage. 

At 463 meters, it was one of the longer carries thus far on the trip, but not one of the harder ones. Despite being a height-of-land portage between two watersheds, it was relatively flat, open, and not within the confines of a thick forest. The trail was easy to follow and traversed through sparsely treed fields of brush, berries, and exposed granite.  

We found an 'artifact' on the portage that was a bit of a mystery to us. Approximately halfway across the portage, we noticed what looked to be a couple of axles from a rail car hiding in the moss under a tree just off the trail. What the heck were these heavy bits of metal doing way out there far from any tracks? Was there a rail line through that area in the past? If not, why, how, and for what reason would someone get these things way out in the middle of nowhere? A mystery, indeed.

We had some snacks at the put-in and then paddled north past a pretty island that separated the southeastern bay from the main part of Redsand Lake. We were now in the headwaters of the Kopka. No more upstream travel! 

There was a fishing lodge on the southwestern shore of the main bay but it appeared to be vacant at the time. 

There were some islands in the centre of the lake and one particular rocky island had some very aggressive birds that didn't seem very pleased about our presence near their home. They lost their minds and began flying in a very erratic pattern before collectively landing on the rock presumably in an effort to protect their young. If anyone knows what species of bird is in the following video, kindly drop me a line if possible.  (**Subsequently, a reader has responded by saying that these are Arctic Terns -- tenacious fellows that apparently hold the world record for longest bird migration. )

At the north end of the lake just as we turned to the southwest to get into the waterway that would take us to Siess Lake, I noticed a couple of black dots moving about on the far northeastern shore of the northern bay. It appeared to be a couple of bears, most likely a mother and her cub, most likely enjoying some berries at the water's edge. 

The passage to Siess Lake veered to the southwest and then north again through a shallow weedy channel. It looked like a prime spot to snag a pike, but the only thing I snagged was my lure on deadfall, so we abandoned the effort. 

A headwind came up a bit as we travelled north. It was enough to slow our progress somewhat but manageable; it didn't last too long. We enjoyed the scenery while emerging into Siess Lake. Though it was large, it had a number of rocky islands and shoals that made for very pleasant scenery

After emerging through a narrow channel that separated the lake into two distinct northern and southern sections, I spotted a cow moose standing on the shore of an inlet to our right. 

She saw us before we spotted her, yet she just stood there looking across the bay, seemingly unafraid. She then turned her gaze on us and we engaged in a staring contest for a while. I found it strange until I noticed that she was waiting for two calves to finish swimming across the bay to join her. They emerged from the water and then proceeded into the forest together; they were young and adorable. I attempted to get it on video; apologies for the shaky camera work, it was taken only a cell phone. 

Happy after that encounter, we made our way around the point and saddled up to a rocky beach where there was a rough campsite. We had our lunch wraps there. 

I'm not sure if it was because we were still feeling elated from the moose encounter, or if it was because we were getting a little bush crazy on Day 5 of our trip, but we decided to mug for a crazy-looking selfie and give our best "loony in the bush" look before continuing on our trip.

The wind was cool but not strong enough to slow us down much as we continued north. At the top end of Siess Lake, we came upon yet another vacant lodge on the northwestern shore. 

From there, the lake narrowed and began heading east; we knew we had finally entered the Kopka River. It was a good feeling to reach the waterway we had come all that way for. Little did we know at the time, but it would present us with considerable excitement and challenges over the next 6 days. 

After a couple of kilometers of heading downriver, the banks became rocky with gorgeously rugged cliff faces.  

This was followed by a widening of the river filled with a number of islands of flat rock and matchstick trees. It was 5:30 PM by this time, so we decided to make one of these islands our home for the night. 

We found a lovely, if not exposed, campsite on an island at the narrowest point of the river. The only issue was that there weren't any trees large or thick enough to support my hammock. Dad suggested looping the two trees that my hammock was tied to with a number of other nearby trees to hold my weight. It worked like a charm after an initial bit of concern. 

After a great swim and a little fishing, we enjoyed the rest of the evening in that ruggedly beautiful spot on the upper Kopka. 

Day 6 - Kopka River (north of Siess Lake) to Uneven Lake (17 km)

We awoke to an overcast sky, but again, no rain. We were on the water before 10 AM. As mentioned, we had been making good time thus far, so we vowed to make a little more time for fishing that day rather than knocking off a bunch of kilometers. 

The river northeast of our campsite sported more dramatic cliffs on the southern bank.  It was fun paddling and fishing beneath them. We only managed to tap into a couple of small pike there. 

Waterhouse Lake was a pretty body of water with a couple of nice campsites on its southern shore. The sun came out and a light breeze materialized that was just enough to cool us from the sun, yet not strong enough to impede our paddling efforts. 

We continued in a northeasterly direction until we reached the southern edges of Gael Lake. 

There, we had a choice to make. We could make our way north through the southern islands of Gael Lake, across Gael Lake's expanse, and take the winding Kopka River into Uneven Lake, or take a 494-meter portage from a southern back bay straight into Uneven Lake. The former would be more eventful with a series of CI/II rapids to run and a couple of smaller portages; however, with water levels what they were, the runs would have been bony and most likely a bit of a grind. Therefore, we opted for the latter choice, the one-time longer portage into Uneven Lake. 

We found the portage easily next to some fishing boats that the fly-in lodges had cached there. 

The portage was in decent shape and seemed to be used quite regularly, most likely by the lodges. At the Uneven Lake end, there was even a portage sign -- the first one of the trip!  There was some deadfall on the trail like most portages in the area, but nothing that required cutting or bushwhacking around. 

We had some lunch wraps at the Gael Lake end at the start of our second trip across the portage. 

The shallow and weedy end of the long, narrow southwestern bay of Uneven Lake looked like it might be a good place to cast a line. We decided that we would aim for an island site that was only about an hour's paddle away, so we decided we would spend the afternoon fishing as we slowly made our way to our destination. So, I cast my line and trolled while paddling slowly, and Dad would cast for spots and reel in simultaneously.

I love trolling from a canoe; it's very effective in catching fish. We were only in the canoe a short time before I felt something substantial take my line. It was hefty, and in the shallow water, I assumed it would be a nice-sized pike. Imagine my surprise when I saw the very girthy pickerel on the line as I got it closer to the boat. Not wanting to lose this fellow while reaching for the fishing net, I asked Dad to net the fish for me. Well, Dad and I both require reading glasses -- Dad's condition, a little worse than mine. He didn't have his on and instead of getting the net under the fish, he jabbed the lucky creature by mistake and knocked it off the line. Oh, the horror!

Actually, it was very funny. I laughed, but poor Dad felt horrible. It would have been my personal best pickerel at about 5 or 6 pounds (not saying much, sadly). In the end, it is a good fishing story and allowed me some ammunition for some light teasing later. 

The bay widened as we slowly moved northeast, fishing along its northern shore. We were able to reel in a number of small pike, but eaters eluded us. We didn't really care that much though, because we were just enjoying the moment and the scenery of the gorgeous rocky shoreline. 

As we approached the wider expanses of Uneven Lake, the wind dramatically heightened its intensity; we were getting to our campsite just in time. 

Ironically, after spending a couple of hours fishing and yielding nothing to eat despite the fruits of our labour, I managed to net a nice pickerel about 30 meters in front of the site. The wind and the waves were a bit too much to fish at that spot comfortably, so we went ashore. I cast another line out and got an even bigger pickerel on my first cast from the site! Hilarious! Fished an entire bay for hours with little reward, and then got two in quick succession right in front of the campsite. We would have a fish dinner after all.  

The site was a nice one. It was well-protected from the prevailing west wind by a steep rocky knob behind the site and some larger jackpines. There was a large stack of firewood that had been gathered and piled. The crazy thing was that there was a brand-new picnic table on the site. What a luxury that was on Night 6 of an extended wilderness trip! The spot was obviously used frequently by the lodges and we guessed they were the providers of this luxurious piece of furniture. There was a tent pad atop the steep knob, but it was a bit of a hike to get up to it and was more exposed, so we both opted to put up our shelters in the small area near the firepit. It was a busy if not cozy area. 

We had our fish with some rehydrated side dishes after some threatening weather came and went with only a few drops falling soon after we arrived at the site. 

At sunset, we climbed the knob and onto a cliff at the northwestern corner of the island which overlooked the large western bay of Uneven Lake. The sky was clear and we thoroughly enjoyed the bird's-eye view as the sun descended over the distant shore. 

The night was beautiful and we stayed up next to the fire to watch the moon rise until the mosquitos forced us to retreat to our shelters shortly after 10 PM. 

Day 7 - Uneven Lake to Kopka River (south of Aldridge Lake) (20 km)

Day 7 would prove to be an eventful and challenging day.

We woke up early to overcast skies. After a quick breakfast of oatmeal and coffee, we broke camp and were on the water shortly before 9 AM. When we got onto the open water and could look to the opposite side of the island we camped on, we noticed how dark the skies were to the north of us. Of course, I took a picture of our island site from the water as we began our journey for the day. 

As we travelled northeast, we could see the rain pouring down in the direction we were heading. We had our rain gear on the ready. 

The lake split into two long bays. We needed to turn to the north to continue our adventure further down the Kopka River. As we rounded the bend, there were some imposing sharp cliffs on the opposite shore. 

It started raining on us shortly after that, so we made our way to the western shore and put on our rain gear. By the time we got back on the water and paddled a few hundred meters, the rain stopped and it seemed that most of the nasty weather was blowing away to the east. Once again, we narrowly escaped the brunt of potential downpour. 

A few minutes later, I noticed a white object floating in the water ahead of us in the distance. As we approached it, we could see that it was moving. Though it was swimming very fast, we eventually got near enough to see that it was a large solitary Trumpeter Swan, the largest species of waterfowl in North America. Incredibly, this species has a wingspan that can reach up to ten feet. 

Apparently, it is quite rare for a swan to be alone since they normally travel in pairs or as a family, so we wondered why this specimen was solo. It was a first for me to see a wild swan on a northern canoe trip, so it was a nice treat to start the morning. 

We continued north into the second and the largest of the two large bays that make up Uneven Lake. On the far southwestern shore was a large lodge consisting of 5 or 6 buildings. Like all lodges that we had come across thus far on the trip, it appeared to be vacant. We were curious why these lodges were not being used; this one seemed well-maintained and newly built or refurbished from our distant position. 

At the very north end of Uneven Lake we stopped at a campsite to have a snack and stretch our legs. It was only after 11 AM but we needed a short break and wanted to inspect the site. I took this south-facing shot of the lake from the site. 

The lake turned to the northwest and began to narrow. We were heading back into the Kopka. When it began veering to the northeast, it narrowed further and we had to run down a short swift, our first proper moving-water run on the Kopka.   

Twenty minutes downriver from that, we were taking out on river-right to walk a 141-meter portage, our first and only of the day. 

The portage was to the right of a small rocky chute with turbulent water. We climbed over some steep rocks at the beginning and then descended down a well-used trail to the bouldery put-in. We christened the trail "Lost Boots Portage" on account of a nice pair of waterproof hiking boots oddly left at the put-in. Perhaps, a fellow paddler was so confident in his ability to run the onslaught of rapids ahead of him that he felt he could take his boots off and go barefoot in the canoe, only to forget them on the portage. Whatever the reason for the boots being left behind, we felt sympathetic for anyone travelling this river without adequate footwear. Yikes.

I turned to take a picture of the bottom part of the bony rapids that we had just walked around. 

After the portage, there was a pretty, unnamed lake that we made our way through, and then the river narrowed once again and began to drop considerably. It was at this point that the Kopka decided to play tricks on us. We would soon discover that at least two other parties of canoeists had unfortunate tricks played on them, as well. 

At the start of this stretch, the river began to drop through what seemed to be a relatively benign and straightforward series of CI rapids. In the low water, they seemed barely stronger than swifts. It seemed so harmless that we didn't even bother to secure some of the loose items in the canoe like our waterbottles, fishing gear, etc. Luckily for me, at the top of the rapids, I had the wherewithal to take my cell phone out of my pocket and slide it into my dry bag. 

The problem we would soon find out was that the water levels were simply too low to run many of the rapids safely. After a little bit of bumping and scraping and getting through the top part of the rapids, we somehow managed to jam up on an unseen rock just under the surface. Though the current wasn't strong, it was just enough to send us sideways on the rock. I wasn't sure if it was Dad or me, or both of us simultaneously, but we lost our balance and capsized with the open end of the canoe facing upriver. It happened in the blink of an eye. Water began filling up the boat immediately. 

Luckily for us, it was only waste deep and I instantaneously stood up and began pulling the canoe off the rock. It hadn't filled up completely and I was able to lift it off with a couple of good heaves. Had I waited a few seconds longer, it would have been full of water and too heavy to do so. Dad was a bit shocked from the dunking but fine, and I escaped with only a scraped shin. Amazingly, everything stayed in the boat (including our paddles!) except for my hat which I was able to find hung up on a rock just a bit further downriver. 

We got everything up on the rocky bank on river-right and did a quick inventory of our gear. Other than the hat, everything was accounted for. The important stuff in our dry bags remained dry. The canoe was fine because I was able to get it off the rock before it filled up and began to wrap around the rock that we grounded on. The only thing that was hurt was our pride due to dumping in what seemed to be an innocuous part of the river. After all, Dad and I have run much beefier rapids than that one without any issues. 

Here is a photo of that section of the river. It certainly doesn't look nasty or anything to worry about, but it was enough to cause problems in the low conditions. We learned a valuable lesson in not underestimating any kind of rapid and being twice as cautious at extremely low water levels, especially being in a very remote location with one boat only. 

After changing into some dry clothes, we began laughing off the moment shortly afterward, but it was enough of a reminder for us to look at every rapid, even the small ones, more carefully and to take our time. 

It was a blessing in disguise because only a couple of hundred meters downriver from where we dumped, we came upon a sweeper at a very dangerous spot in the river. It was just around a corner and at a point where the river began to pick up some steam. Had we not dumped earlier, we might have cruised through and headed into it without thoroughly scouting. 

Unfortunately, other canoeists before us seemed to have done just that! It was one of those spots that didn't look very bad until it was. Next to that sweeper was this...

Yikes! What a disaster that would have been if the canoe barrelled into the sweeper, and judging by the fact that its final resting place was directly beside the sweeper, we assumed that was exactly what happened. We certainly hoped there weren't any injuries and the paddlers got the help they needed.  

We found the yoke of that canoe hung up on a rock a few hundred meters downstream. It was a beautiful cherry yoke and we would have taken it with us, but it was an extra bulky item to carry and we still had a long way to go on the trip. We decided to leave it for the next group to recover should they want it. 

We had to wade and line down what seemed like an endless succession of bony rapids along that stretch. It was very slow-going, and we weren't putting many kilometers behind us quickly. When we came to a bend in the river that was finally devoid of rapids and had a bit of a sandy embankment, we pulled ashore and made some lunch. It was shortly after 2:30 PM and we were hungry. 

Back on the river, we had about 200 meters of solace before we were out of the boat, wading and lining yet again for another long stretch. We eventually came to a narrow and straight CII drop that finally had deep enough water to run. We probably would have given it a go except for the fact that there was a large cedar strip canoe wrapped around a rock in the middle of the run! We didn't want to chance getting hung up on it and carried our canoe and gear around it on the right. 

After the trip, we showed the photo to Clem and he informed us that this canoe belonged to a girl's camp that he had shuttled. Apparently, they needed to be rescued. Again, I sincerely hope no one got injured. 

This section of river certainly proved to be a calamitous stretch of whitewater at the extremely low levels we were experiencing. Within two or three kilometers of river paddling, we narrowly escaped wrapping our boat on a rock and saw two other canoes that recently hadn't made it through intact. Prior to embarking on the trip, Clem had warned us that some groups needed to get rescued from the river shortly before our trip dates; we logically assumed these broken canoes belonged to the groups in question. 

We had a few more shallow rapids that required more wading and lining before going through a wider marshy area where we could mercifully paddle for about a kilometer without having to get out of the boat. After that, we came to a deeper CI run that we ran; we were ecstatic to actually paddle some rapids. At the base of the run, we immediately pulled up to our campsite for the night across from the 1000-meter portage that accessed the Kopka from the Aldridge Lake area. We pulled our gear and boat ashore, exhausted but relieved to be through that nasty boneyard section of the river. 

Here is a picture from our campsite of the last rapid of the day that we were finally able to run. It doesn't look all that exciting, but believe me, after an entire day of incessantly getting in and out of the boat, it was as thrilling as riding a rollercoaster. Notice the new scratches through the gelcoat on the bottom of the canoe from the day's events. 

The campsite was a good one. It had a nice rocky porch near the water that was good for swimming and a firepit area on a lofty knob overlooking the river. Fishing yielded no results for us at the base of these rapids. It seemed that the site was well-used, most likely from people coming in from Aldridge Lake, and was perhaps a tad fished out. There was room for a number of tents with an even larger cleared-out area further up the hill behind the site. 

We enjoyed a meal and some libations by the fire and called it an early night after a difficult day. 

Day 8 - Kopka River (south of Aldridge Lake) to Kopka River (Unnamed Lake west of bridge) - (17 km)

We awoke to our second consecutive morning of gloomy skies, but yet again the rain seemed to be holding off. 

We were acutely aware of further stretches of potentially dangerous river ahead of us prior to making it to Sandison Lake, so we didn't dillydally and got on the water at a respectable hour. Here is my customary shot of our campsite a few meters downriver from it. 

For the first 500 meters or so, the river was wide, shallow and swampy.  

As it bent to the south it became rocky again and began to drop. I wouldn't go so far to describe our mood and approach to the river as apprehensive, but the previous day's challenges did keep us alert and cautious. The rapids at this point were not intense, but very bony and we employed an approach of running the river but immediately getting out to wade and line anything questionable. It worked fine and we were able to get through the section easily. 

This led to another swampy section of flatwater for a kilometer or so before we came to another rock-filled drop. My research showed a 215-meter portage on the right, but after scouting, we found that we could line the rapids and run some parts successfully. We didn't notice the portage at that location. 

After a few hundred meters of flat paddling, we came to the lip of a more formidable drop that was laden with boulders and logs. It was a no-go. The portage on the right was obvious and easy to find, so we beelined there to unload the boat. 

There was a small but nice campsite with some freshly chopped wood overlooking the rapids. 

The portage was listed at 170 meters on my map, but it felt closer to 300 or so. We looked for a spot to possibly put in and run the bottom, but it was a minefield throughout in those conditions. On the bright side, we were able to enjoy a nice mid-morning snack of blueberries along the trail.

Downriver from the portage, I am happy to report that we were able to paddle almost straight through to Sandison Lake. The river became very shallow in a few spots and we had to get out for a second or two after grinding to a halt on the sandy bottom. There was only one other set of rapids just before the lake that we actually ran despite a bit of scraping. Whoo-hoo! In my jubilance, I turned to snap a shot of them. 

Upon reaching Sandison Lake, we could relax a bit knowing that we had the worrisome part of the river behind us. We fished for a while in the glass-like lake near the mouth of the river, but the water was so low it made it unlikely that we'd tap into any pickerel there. We only managed to catch a couple of dink pike before moving on. 

We began paddling north through the island-dotted waters of Sandison Lake. It was pretty despite the gloomy aura that the dark sky was projecting. 

By midday, we arrived at our next portage that cut off a bend in the river past a rocky CII. It was only about 80 meters long, so we didn't even bother going out of our way to scout the run in the low conditions. It would have been a bushwhack to see the whole run around the bend and much more effort than simply completing the portage. 

There was a campsite at the take-out and we had our lunch there after carrying our first load across it. Here is a shot from the site looking back at a steep ridge on the western shore overlooking the northern bay of Sandison Lake. 

It was only a 15-minute paddle to the next 90-meter portage that was to the left of a small falls. My quick shot of falls from the water beneath them turned out blurry, but I was able to get a good picture of the rapids below the falls from the put-in. 

The river headed directly east after those chutes and within 10 minutes we came to a CI rocky rapid that we easily made it through with a combination of running and lining. 

There was a large unnamed lake after those sets that was very pretty. We noticed a couple of nice campsites on the eastern side of the lake that looked appealing but it was only about 2:30 PM and we wanted to get a little more distance behind us that day. 

Once through the lake, the river turned to the north yet again. The clouds began to break and we were finally able to get a bit of sun after a lot of gloom thus far in the day. 

We arrived at our last portage of the day which was about 100 meters to the left of a series of ledges containing large boulders and sweepers.  

There were two take-outs to this portage. The first which was further from the lip of the rapids has the canoeist climbing a steep rocky knob before descending down the portage to the put-in. The second is closer to the edge of rapids but is much easier to take out on. I'm guessing the first one would be preferable in high-water conditions. 

After those scary-looking rapids, we paddled through yet another unnamed lake before turning to the southeast. The river became very narrow after a while and we came to a nice, deep CII wave train that circumvented a large rocky outcrop. We happily ran that but had to immediately eddy out after the run to avoid heading into the rocky minefield further below. We were able to line through the remainder with a bit of difficulty due to a couple of sweepers. 

Here is a shot of the part we ran. It would prove to be the most exciting run of the trip, short that it was.  

The river widened again and we found ourselves in another large unnamed lake. It was about 4 PM and we decided to call it a day. Just past the lake was the longest portage of the trip and we decided that we would save that for when we were fresh in the morning. 

I was aware of some campsites on the eastern side of the lake and we paddled over to investigate. We could spot a very odd table of some sort on a small island. It seemed to be very high from our position on the water, so either it was a fish-cleaning station for NBA players or perhaps a food cache. Either way, the island was small, rocky, and not that appealing. 

We spotted a nice rocky knob on the northeastern shore of the lake and correctly assumed that it would be a campsite. Upon investigation, it took us a microsecond to decide to make it our home for the night. It had a wonderfully large rocky slope down to the water and a fantastic firepit area at the top with panoramic views over the lake. There was a large cleared-out area behind the rock for a number of tents. After our daily swim to wash off the grime of the day, I just had to take a short video of the wide view of the lake while we were cooking dinner .

As mentioned in the video above, the skies were darkening again. We began to think that perhaps it wasn't clouds at all, but smoky haze from distant forest fires despite the lack of any smoky odour. 

The way the sun appeared as a dot in the sky at sunset further confirmed our assumptions. Normally, the light of the sun would spread across the horizon at sundown, even amongst clouds. On that night, the sun appeared to be dulled somewhat and hung as a dot in the sky, the way the moon would. It seemed a little off and unusual to us. 

Any kind of nasty weather held off for the night and we both slept very well. 

Day 9 - Kopka River (Unnamed Lake west of bridge) to Kopka River (west of Kenakskaniss Lake) -(16 km)

On the morning of Day 6, we had quite a bit of walking ahead of us, starting with the longest portage of the trip.

The smoky haze continued to linger in the air casting a dull grey over the day. The temperature had dropped over the night causing mist to emanate off the water. 

After breaking camp and getting some coffee and oatmeal in us, we were on the water by 9 AM. I snapped a shot of our site as we departed. 

We made our way to the most western point of the unnamed lake and rounded the bend heading north. A few minues later we could see a bridge spanning a series of rapids ahead of us and we knew we had come to the portage. 

My notes on this portage stated that this 738-meter trail on the left would get us around a runnable CI before the bridge, a CIII run downstream of the bridge, an unrunnable falls, and finally a runnable CII. We assumed that these descriptions were based on somewhat normal water levels. For us, with the lack of rain on the entire trip thus far and water levels getting lower and lower each day, we knew that every bit of that stretch would have to be carefully scouted. 

Ultimately, we decided it would just be easier and probably less time-consuming to simply portage around the whole shebang. Running most of the whitewater up to that point on the Kopka had not been much fun, but rather a worrisome endeavor of scraping, bumping, and desperately trying to avoid getting hung up in that incredibly rocky river. 

Without scouting, we took out next to a cached aluminum fishing boat on river-left. The trail seemed to be well-used. Within a hundred meters, we arrived at the bridge which was a bit of an enigma; it appeared modern and well-built, yet the "road" on either side of it was extremely overgrown and appeared to not have been used in years. 

We guessed the road was built to access logging areas and was no longer in use. Looking at the Toporama map that I have included above, it appears that there are a number of logging spurs connected to this bridge just to the east of that location. Still, someone had cached that fishing boat at the take-out and most likely accessed the river from this bridge. Perhaps, the boat had been there unused for quite some time. 

On the bridge, we got a look back at the CI at the top of the series of rapids and saw that we could have run it. Oh well, it would have only knocked off about 80 meters of the portage which wasn't much. Paddling to the top of the run and getting out to scout would have taken more time than portaging this short distance anyway. 

The Class III below the bridge looked to be a rocky and dangerous ride. It might have been runnable, but a closer look would have been needed to see if the water was deep enough. 

The trail veered upward and away from the river at the location of the falls. The river became a bit of a gorge at that point. We could only get a glimpse of the bottom part of the falls from the trail at a spot where the forest opened up. 

Overall, the portage was not too difficult. Thankfully, a lot of deadfall across the trail had been cut away by previous travellers. It was narrow and steep toward the end and had a dramatic drop back to the river at the put-in. A look back at the rapids really demonstrated how low the water levels were. The river seemed to be down a good seven or eight feet. 

We put in and paddled another 150 meters before coming to another CII rapid. Did we get off the portage too soon? We thought we had completed the whole 738-meter portage. The distance felt correct and we didn't notice the trail continuing, yet there we were on the lip of another rapid. 

Perhaps it was a rapid created by the low water conditions and would normally be a swift in higher water. We scouted this one carefully, but a large boulder just under the surface in the center of the run dissuaded us from trying to run it. It was doable but a very thin needle would have had to be threaded to make it through unscathed in the low water. Again, without other people in a second boat to help out in case of trouble, we made the prudent decision to line down the rapid on the right-hand side. 

We probably should have fished below these rapids. It looked like a great spot to tap into some pickerel, but we had 5 more portages to get through that day, so we moved on. 

We paddled north through a pretty, unnamed lake before the river narrowed again and veered east through a narrow and rocky channel. It emerged at a small, island-dotted lake. There, we had a choice to make. We could either take two shorter portages at the south of the lake along the river past what my notes said were a series of tricky drops past CII rapids that were runnable with careful scouting, or one longer 460-meter portage at the far eastern part of the lake to bypass it all. 

The river was so bony at the top of the drop that we decided we would just take the single longer portage. We had a little problem finding the take-out, however. We went down a narrow, rocky inlet to look for it, only to discover that we were south of where we should have been. It was a minefield of rocks both in and out of the inlet and we scraped on boulders a number of times. We eventually found the portage at the far northeastern corner of the lake. 

The trail wasn't an easy one. It had some tenuous footing in spots and quite a bit of deadfall to traverse. The middle section was open and had a plethora of blueberries and Labrador tea, however. The put-in was rocky, and once on the river, I turned to snap a picture of the last set of rapids in the series we had just portaged past. 

The river widened and we paddled east for 15 minutes before the river narrowed again and we could hear the small falls we had to portage around just ahead of us. 

We easily spotted the short 50-meter portage on the left of which we made short work. The falls were little more than a couple of cascading trickles over a mound of rock but were still very pretty, nonetheless. 

We were only in the pool below the falls for a minute or two before we needed to take out again at the next portage which would take us past a series of three dramatic drops in the river. The first of these drops was separated by an island and before taking the portage, we decided to paddle to the island to get a view of these drops from the top. 

The following is a  rough video of these three chutes from both the island at the top and from the bank next to the center drop. 

The portage had a nice campsite at the take-out where we had our lunch between the two legs of our carry. The trail was easy and had a ton of blueberries which we also amply enjoyed. My notes had this portage at 202 meters, however, it seemed like it was at least 300 meters in length or longer. 

The rocky put-in off of the rocks was a little challenging below the last drop in the river. With the three longest portages of the day behind us, we decided to fish there for a while. We only came up with a couple of small pike and a pickerel that was too small to keep. We got snagged a couple of time on submerged logs in the low water conditions, so we called it quits after 30 minutes or so. It didn't matter, however; it was a gorgeous spot and I could think of many other worse places to spend a half-hour. 

Continuing east through a wider section of river for ten minutes took us to another narrow spot of rocky fun. My notes showed a 102-meter portage there but we didn't see one. It was a very short stretch of a boulder garden that we easily lined through without any difficulty. 

Beyond that, we found ourselves in another one of the Kopka's unnamed lakes, albeit a smaller one, where we paddled east for 30 minutes or so. At the eastern end of that lake, there was a long and narrow bay to the south that was a couple of kilometers long. Half a kilometer away on the western shore of that bay we watched a bear climbing around on some downed logs before sauntering off into the forest. 

At the end of the lake, we took out at a campsite that was at the start of a very odd set of falls. The river seemed to fall into the next lake through a braided series of narrow trickles. Perhaps, in higher water, it would be a single larger waterfall. The water snaking through the jagged and rugged terrain was gorgeous. 

At 75 meters, the portage was short but steep. The put-in was in the middle of a swift where the trickles had collected in a narrow little gorge. We rode this current out to the unnamed lake. 

The lake was about four kilometers long and contained no campsites that we knew of or could see. On my map, I had a lodge marked on the northern shore about a kilometer past the put-in, but when we paddled past, I only saw a dilapidated old shed. 

A headwind had come up at that point, one of the few we had on the trip. It wasn't strong enough to cause any major problems, but it was about 4 PM at that point, and we were feeling tired; we had been on the water for 7 hours and had done quite a bit of portaging. We were looking to call it a day. 

At the eastern end of the lake, the river veered south through a narrow swift into another smaller lake. There was an island on the other side of those swifts and my map showed a campsite marked on the island. The next marked site after that was on Kenakskaniss Lake after another two portages. We certainly weren't up for another two carries at that point, so we headed over to the island to investigate. 

The site was on a nice slab of rock facing east, overlooking a peninsula jutting out on the east side of the island. It seemed like it hadn't been used for quite some time, however. There were plants growing out of the firepit and quite a bit of deadfall strewn about. We decided to clean it up a bit and call it a night there. 

After setting up and getting a better look at the firepit, we discovered a large colony of half-black, half-red ants swarming the area -- perhaps the reason the site wasn't often used. For this reason, we built another firepit 25 feet away from the existing one further down on the slab of rock. 

It worked somewhat, but we found the ants to be a general nuisance throughout the island. They weren't biting aggressively but were an annoyance nonetheless. Likewise, the swimming area was a bit grimy and slippery at the base of the rocky slope. We had to walk down to the southern part of the island to find a suitable place to do our nightly wash-off swim. Though it was a scenic spot, it wasn't one of the better sites we enjoyed on the last half of the trip. 

Dazzling sunsets continued to elude us through the smoky and cloudy skies of the evening that night. 

Despite the ants, gloomy skies, and poor swimming, the site was still in a fantastic wilderness setting and did the trick in the end. I'd take that over an over-used fisherman's site with trash, discarded gear, and junky bushcraft constructions any day.  We both slept well that evening, and that's what counts in the end. 

Day 10 - Kopka River (west of Kenakskaniss Lake) to Kopka River (6th Falls of the Seven Sisters) -(13 km)

On Day 10 , we thankfully awoke to sunny skies after a couple of days of gloom. We actually had some rain in the night, but it was all sun in the morning. We were also excited to be entering the Seven Sisters Waterfalls area. We knew we would be experiencing some incredible scenery that day.

After a quick breakfast and coffee, we were on the water at around 9 AM. I got my usual photo of our campsite from the water upon our departure.  

We entered the channel heading east from the unnamed lake we were on and came to a short, bony CII rapid that we were able to line through fairly quickly avoiding the 73-meter portage.

Immediately following that, we came up to the next set of rapids which my map stated was a CIII with a 301-meter portage on the left. From the top part that we could see, it looked like we could line or possibly even run it. We seriously considered it for a moment or two, but the problem was that the river turned a sharp corner to the left and we could not see what was around the bend. As a CIII rapid, we knew that would be a formidable drop, so we backtracked north to look for the portage on the eastern shore. 

The trail was quite bushy in spots and we got soaked on it from the leaves still holding moisture from the previous night's rain. Toward the end of the portage, the trail ran parallel to the river and we were able to get a glimpse of the rapids. We were so happy to have decided to take the portage! The river was a pushy, low-water stream through a ton of boulders. There appeared to be sweepers, as well. 

At the end of the rapids, the water was so low that the final drop was completely dry. The water was just a trickle that veered to the sides. The center of the run was just a wall of rocks. 

Our next consideration was 5 sets of swifts that would carry us south into Kenakskaniss Lake. We were appealing to the canoe gods for enough water to run them unimpeded. 

In the midst of these swifts, we came upon a large bald eagle on the left bank. It was flapping about on a log and didn't fly away despite us being very near to it. We assumed that it was injured and couldn't fly. 

A few seconds after that video ended, the eagle flew about 20 feet behind us and landed on the shore again fruther upriver. It didn't look injured after all, so we assumed that it was perhaps guarding a kill an that's why it didn't fly away from us despite our proximity to it. Either way, it was a fantastic encounter. They are incredibly massive birds; the video doesn't do its size justice. 

We were able to run all five of the swifts in the shallow water and only had to get out of the boat once to nudge the boat off a submerged rock. We were making good time. 

Kenakskaniss was a pretty lake with some nice-looking campsites. One particular site on the western shore at the point where the lake narrows in the middle looked to be a gem. 

We were experiencing a tailwind from the northwest and when we got around the point where the lake began curling east, the wind picked up substantially. Dad used his shirt as a sail and it actually worked for a bit! 

We made it into the shallow eastern bay of Kenakskaniss Lake around noon. 

In days gone by, there used to be a lengthy portage from the southeastern part of this bay called the Mink Bridge Portage that would bypass the falls of the Seven Sisters in one go. Apparently, it doesn't exist anymore. Even if it made travelling easier, it wouldn't have been our choice; seeing the Seven Sisters is what we came for! 

 It was somewhat difficult just getting into the bay through the very many rocks in the shallow water. 

The Kopka snaked to the northeast from the top of this bay and was an absolute minefield to get through to the next portage take-out that we could see on the other side of a horribly bony swift. 

It took us three attempts, but we finally found the best way through on the far left. 

At the portage take-out, we rehydrated some curry for lunch and ate a couple of granola bars. We knew we had our work cut out for us in the afternoon, and that the portages would be challenging. 

According to Wikipedia, between Kenakskaniss Lake and Wigwasan Lake, the river drops 250 feet over a series of rapids and falls in only 1.6 kilometers of linear distance. That meant, from our location we would be portaging down the equivalent of 25 flights of stairs, only we wouldn't have nice uniform steps to climb down, but rather a scramble among huge boulders and down sheer cliff faces. The first portage alone was listed as somewhere between 519 and 700 meters , depending on the source. Some of that stretch of rapids could be run at normal levels, but after looking at what we had to deal with, we didn't even consider it. 

Thankfully, the portage had been flagged along the way, otherwise, it would have been difficult to follow. It was very rocky and there were a couple of downed trees blocking the trail, one at torso height -- too high to go over and too low to get under. There is a 100-meter stretch of intense boulder hopping toward the end that is reminiscent of some Temagami portages along the Sturgeon River.  

In the low-water conditions, the put-in was not easy. It was off some steep boulders in deep water. 

As we paddled out, I turned to take a scenic photo of the last of the series of rapids that we had just portaged around. 

It was at that point that we began to enter a landscape with mindblowing scenery. The trees were healthy and grand, and the riverbanks rugged and rocky. It was a short five-minute paddle to the next portage which was around the first of the major drops of the Seven Sisters. 

Unfortunately, just as we were pulling up to the take-out, some very nasty clouds and thunderheads appeared above us to the northwest. We sincerely hoped that the impending storm would stay north of us and not hit us.

My map had the portage listed at 217 meters, but in reality it was about 300. The first 250 meters descended somewhat gently to the right of the series of falls, but the final 50 meters was nearly a sheer vertical drop, including a 6-foot ledge that we had to lower all of our gear over. On our first load, we carried our gear to the drop of that ledge. 

Returning to retreive our second load, we decided to hike off the trail and get a glimpse of the falls from the riverbank. I could use many superlatives to describe the beauty of the falls, but I'll let the following images speak for themselves. 

In addition to feasting our eyes on one the most beautiful spots in all of northern Ontario, we feasted on some of the largest wild blueberries that I had ever seen. There were so many of them all over the place. 

By the time we reached the take-out again to retrieve the canoe and food barrel, those thunderclouds were upon us. I grabbed the canoe and walked it in about 50 meters or so when a zap of lightning hit within 100 feet of us. The clap was deafening and we could smell the ozone in the air. I propped the canoe up on a fallen tree and we sat under it while rain pelted the area and some lightning struck around us. It was exciting and nerve-wracking all at once.

The storm only lasted about 10 minutes or so; once again, luck was on our side and the brunt of the storm missed us to the north. It was enough to give the ground a good soaking, however. 

When we continued down the trail and got to the incredibly steep part at the bottom, the rocks were incredibly slick . Unfortunately, Dad slipped and fell. He slid down the rock about six feet before catching himself and coming to a halt. I immediately put the canoe down, thinking I had it secure against a tree, and went over to check on him about 20 feet away. 

Incredibly and amazingly, he was fine and only had a couple of minor scrapes. As I was with Dad and making sure he was fine, I heard a noise behind me. Apparently, in my haste to help Dad, I hadn't put the canoe down in a secure enough place. We both watched, seemingly in slow motion, as the canoe trembled for a second or two, then began a rather speedy run down the steep rock face all on its own. It was too far away to get over to it and once it came off the tree I had it propped against, nothing would halt its gravity-propelled journey off the cliff and into the trees below. 

In all, it travelled about 25 feet down the steep rocks, shot off the aforementioned 6-foot high ledge, and into the lower boughs of some pine and spruce below, where it remained neatly lodged and stowed. Dad and I looked at each other and all we could do was laugh at that point; however, one does get a bit of a sinking feeling in one's stomach watching his only means of transportation in a remote wilderness setting go sailing off a cliff into a dense forest. 

Sunny blue skies emerged again just as suddenly as the storm had materialized , and with that, Dad and I began to lower all of our gear down the cliff, gingerly and cautiously.  

Beyond all belief, the canoe was fine! It certainly had some new scratches, but no punctures. Kudos and hats off to the good people at Esquif Canoes and their T-Formex design! Here's a short video showing the cliffs we portaged around. Where Dad is in the video is the spot below the ledge and where our canoe went flying into the forest. 

We paddled into the large pool below that final drop to get a look at the falls from below. Wow! 

 Our map showed that there was a choice of portages to get into the next pool, either a 40-meter portage on the south shore, or a 60-meter portage at the north of the pool past a small falls. We paddled over to the north section to investigate, but couldn't spot the take-out for the portage, so we went back to the south and found the trail to the right of a narrow, but relatively small, drop in the river. The view back at the falls from that drop was fantastic. 

Though only 40-meters long, the trail past was almost entirely on a slab of rock and was very slick after the rain. Neither Dad nor I wanted a repeat of the previous portage, so we trod very carefully. 

In the next pool, we paddled north again to get a glimpse of the small falls between the two pools. 

That was the view looking west. Behind us to the east, we saw the top of the second of the major drops in the Sisters. From the cliffs past the falls in the distance, we could tell it was a formidable drop.  

This portage, again, on the right, had its own challenges, too. Rather than a six-foot ledge to drop our gear down, this one had a seven-foot ledge that we had to hoist our gear up. Thankfully, previous travellers had constructed a makeshift ladder out of tree boughs to assist us with that. 

Once we got our canoe and gear up and over that ledge, the rest of the portage wasn't too tricky. The descent to the water at the end was steep, but not as slick and much easier to negotiate than the previous one. To the left of the portage, on the cliffs overlooking the falls was a campsite. The view from that site was so astonishing that we immediately decided that it would be our home for the night. This was the view from the campsite looking back at the falls. 

Besides the great views overlooking what has been termed "The Valley of the Gods", the firepit on the site was large and wonderfully constructed. There weren't a lot of flat tent pads, but Dad found one on the south side of the site, and I managed to find a couple of appropriately-spaced trees to hang my hammock from at the back of the site overlooking the falls. Wow.

No sooner had we just both set up our shelters when we noticed that to the north of us the sky was beginning to look very dark and menacing once again. We assumed that the storm that had hit us 90 minutes earlier was all the nastiness that we would encounter for the day, but apparently it was the opening act for a much larger and spectacular show. We were quite exposed on that open cliff top and began to think that we made a mistake in choosing that site. I quickly got a tarp up and we began to batten down the hatches. 

Incredibly, we ended up narrowly dodging another very nasty weather event. Once again, the storm passed us by just to our north. We got some smatterings of rain, and a few wind gusts, but that was it! We could see it was a bad one from where we were by how dark the sky was to the north. Later, Clem told us that large hail stones pelted Armstrong, causing damage to vehicles. Luckily for us, Clem had delivered our vehicle to our take-out spot further to the south earlier in the day and no damage was done to it. 

Apparently, that storm continued to rip through Ontario that night and the following day. By the time it hit Ottawa, tornados were touching down. Yikes. 

With the storm passing, I took the following short video of the campsite. 

No more nasty weather came in for the day and we had a fantastic evening on that cliff top, revelling in the beauty of our location. Having a place like that to ourselves, even for just one night, truly was an unforgettable experience. I am so grateful for having spent some time in that very special place. 

Day 11 - Kopka River (6th Falls of the Seven Sisters) to Bukemiga Lake -(19 km)

We awoke to somewhat sunny skies. When I emerged from my hammock, I couldn't stop myself from taking one more photo of the falls from my sleeping location. 

We got our morning coffee and breakfast going and took a little longer than normal to break camp. We didn't want to leave such a gorgeous site. 

We were back on the water with a fully loaded canoe by 10:30 AM and spent some time exploring the pool beneath the waterfall and the small lake. It was incredible just paddling beneath all of those massive cliffs!

The wind was picking up somewhat and though we would have loved to spend more time on that gorgeous lake, we knew we had some big water to cross on Wigwasan and Bukemiga Lakes, so we thought we should get moving. Besides, who knew how long the next portage would take. After all, it was the infamous "Mountain Goat" portage. 

Paddling over to the top of the final "sister", we had a choice -- the shorter 117-meter "Mountain Goat" on river- left where we would have to lower our canoe and gear down a cliff on ropes and pulleys, or the longer 320-meter down an incredibly steep boulder garden. What would be the lesser of two evils? We thought we'd head over and see how scary the "Mountain Goat" portage really was. 

The answer to that was... yes, it was scary. 

I think my claim in the video of being 100 feet above the water might have been a slight exaggeration, but not by much. As usual, the video doesn't do it justice. Just climbing down that rock face without heavy gear was frightening enough for a fellow that isn't great at heights, so I was reluctant to try it. As mentioned in the video, I was "nervous" about it. I lobbied for paddling over to the steep boulder garden to see what it looked like and if it would be easier. Dad wholeheartedly agreed. I guess we were both "nervous". 

The other portage was also a little nerve-wracking. Just the view from cliff at the top of the trail was enough to make us gulp after seeing the elevation difference in just a little over 300 meters of portaging. In the photo below, you can see that the lake is quite a drop from where we were. 

We decided that we would try the steep boulder garden in the end. The rocks were large, and so were the holes between them, so we had to watch each and every step very carefully. We took it very slow and each kept a paddle in hand to use as a third leg to keep us upright. I even did this with the canoe on my shoulders. It was so steep in spots, we didn't want the weight of our gear to pull us off the mountain and into a fall. 

There was one tricky spot below the main boulder garden where there was a ledge. It was narrow and just around a corner.  There, I  loaded all the gear down to Dad and it worked out just fine. I was thinking how a number of spots along these Seven Sisters portages would be quite difficult for a solo canoeist without having the assistance of a partner with gear in the tricky spots.

In the end, it was tough, but certainly not the worst portage I have experienced. After letting out a Jim Baird-like holler of "Yeeeaaaahh!" upon completing both trips of the portage safely, we took stock of the gorgeous cliff-lined lake beneath those last falls. 

Before moving downriver though, we really needed to paddle over and check out the last of the Seven Sisters. It did not disappoint.  

I'm not sure if it was because we were both reluctant to say goodbye to the Seven Sisters and the Kopka, but we stayed for quite some time in that pool below the falls fishing and hanging out. There was a gorgeous campsite right across from the falls that looked nice, but well-used. We weren't having tremendous luck with the fishing, catching only a couple of small pickerel and pike that were too small to make a meal, yet we stayed for a good 45 minutes or longer. 

Eventually, we said our goodbyes to the Valley of the Gods and moved eastward toward Wigwasan Lake. We passed through a narrows and came to a portage on our left that bypassed some rapids. We pulled ashore and after boulder hopping down the bank to scout, I found that we could get through these rapids through a combination of lining and running. The river was still very low, but there were spots that we could actually run. Toward the bottom, the river split into two channels and we decided the left braid was the one to take. We lined the initial drop there, and ran the last half in a technical little run moving to the left. We emerged unscathed and were happy to avoid having to take the 435-meter portage. 

Paddling out into the expanse of Wigwasan Lake, we began to feel the wind. It was blowing from the northwest with some considerable force by that time and we knew that when we got around the point, the wind from the large bay to the north would be an issue. To gather some energy for that crossing we pulled ashore at a rock beach on that point and spent a half-hour rehydrating and eating a curry lunch. 

As predicted, the lake was ugly around the point and we had some whitecaps to deal with. We tacked to the north, heading straight into them and then did a 90-degree turn to let the wind push us southeast. That took us to the southern part of the long island in the middle of the bay which allowed us to use the leeward side of the island as protection once we got on the other side of it. It was a bit of a dicey crossing again to get across to the spot where the Kopka left Wigwasan Lake. The portage to Bukemiga was next to the rapids there on river-left. After tacking into the wind a couple of times to get us in position, we arrived at the rocky beach at the take-out spot.

Unfortunately, in the low water conditions, that set of rapids was a bit too boney so we opted to take the 342-meter portage. It was an easy portage, however, starting at a large fisherman's campsite with a number of cached boats and continuing down a well-trodden path to the put-in at Bukemiga Lake.

The western bay of Bukemiga was calm until we arrived past the headland and into the wind blowing down from the long bay to the northwest. It was dodgy for a few minutes until we were in a position to turn southeast and let the wind blow at us from behind. With the wind at our backs, we sailed down Bukemiga in no time. 

As we approached the south end of Bukemiga Lake, we passed a campsite on the western shore in a grove of cedars. It looked a bit bushy and buggy, but would make do for canoeists arriving at Bukemiga late in the day if they were planning to head upriver on the Kopka. It certainly would be better than camping at the trailer park. 

Shortly after 5 PM, we spotted the trailer park where Clem had parked our vehicle on the southeastern shore of the lake. Our Kopka adventure had come to an end. 

Pulling up to that beach was very bittersweet; after 11 days in the bush, we were certainly looking forward to a hot shower, a cold beer, and a meal at Gail's Grill and Bakery in Armstrong. At the same time, we revelled in our time travelling down the Kopka and certainly felt a little sad that it was suddenly ending. Perhaps, the large bald eagle perched on a treetop next to our vehicle sensed our melancholy, and was watching over our departure as a farewell gesture.

Sure, we endured horribly low water levels and didn't get to enjoy running many of the rapids as a result, but it was still an incredible trip. What will I remember? The scenery amongst the many rapids was outstanding; the campsites were amazing once we were away from access roads; the wild blueberries were large and ubiquitous; the fishing was world-class; the solitude was otherworldly (9 days without seeing another soul!); the wildlife encounters were fantastic; and the challenges that we overcame allowed us to grow and develop further as canoeists. 

I wholeheartedly recommend this trip for canoe trippers who can handle an advanced trip in a remote location for longer than a week. Who knows, maybe you'll have enough water to even run some rapids!