Brightsand - Kashishibog - Kopka Rivers

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. 

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 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.