Brightsand - Kashishibog - Kopka Rivers

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

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!