Brightsand - Kashishibog - Kopka Rivers

Day 3 - Harmon Lake to Kashishibog River near Graham Road  (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.

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. 

Next Page:

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

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