Brightsand - Kashishibog - Kopka Rivers

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

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

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, thus 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 Lady Evelen 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.