Brightsand - Kashishibog - Kopka Rivers

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

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.

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.