Brightsand - Kashishibog - Kopka Rivers

Day 7 - Uneven Lake to Kopka River south of Aldridge Lake (20 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.

Day 7 would prove to be an eventful and challenging day.

We woke up early to overcast skies. After a quick breakfast of oatmeal and coffee, we broke camp and were on the water shortly before 9 AM. When we got onto the open water and could look to the opposite side of the island we camped on, we noticed how dark the skies were to the north of us. Of course, I took a picture of our island site from the water as we began our journey for the day. 

As we travelled northeast, we could see the rain pouring down in the direction we were heading. We had our rain gear on the ready. 

The lake split into two long bays. We needed to turn to the north to continue our adventure further down the Kopka River. As we rounded the bend, there were some imposing sharp cliffs on the opposite shore. 

It started raining on us shortly after that, so we made our way to the western shore and put on our rain gear. By the time we got back on the water and paddled a few hundred meters, the rain stopped and it seemed that most of the nasty weather was blowing away to the east. Once again, we narrowly escaped the brunt of potential downpour. 

A few minutes later, I noticed a white object floating in the water ahead of us in the distance. As we approached it, we could see that it was moving. Though it was swimming very fast, we eventually got near enough to see that it was a large solitary Trumpeter Swan, the largest species of waterfowl in North America. Incredibly, this species has a wingspan that can reach up to ten feet. 

Apparently, it is quite rare for a swan to be alone since they normally travel in pairs or as a family, so we wondered why this specimen was solo. It was a first for me to see a wild swan on a northern canoe trip, so it was a nice treat to start the morning. 

We continued north into the second and the largest of the two large bays that make up Uneven Lake. On the far southwestern shore was a large lodge consisting of 5 or 6 buildings. Like all lodges that we had come across thus far on the trip, it appeared to be vacant. We were curious why these lodges were not being used; this one seemed well-maintained and newly built or refurbished from our distant position. 

At the very north end of Uneven Lake we stopped at a campsite to have a snack and stretch our legs. It was only after 11 AM but we needed a short break and wanted to inspect the site. I took this south-facing shot of the lake from the site. 

The lake turned to the northwest and began to narrow. We were heading back into the Kopka. When it began veering to the northeast, it narrowed further and we had to run down a short swift, our first proper moving-water run on the Kopka.   

Twenty minutes downriver from that, we were taking out on river-right to walk a 141-meter portage, our first and only of the day. 

The portage was to the right of a small rocky chute with turbulent water. We climbed over some steep rocks at the beginning and then descended down a well-used trail to the bouldery put-in. We christened the trail "Lost Boots Portage" on account of a nice pair of waterproof hiking boots oddly left at the put-in. Perhaps, a fellow paddler was so confident in his ability to run the onslaught of rapids ahead of him that he felt he could take his boots off and go barefoot in the canoe, only to forget them on the portage. Whatever the reason for the boots being left behind, we felt sympathetic for anyone travelling this river without adequate footwear. Yikes.

I turned to take a picture of the bottom part of the bony rapids that we had just walked around. 

After the portage, there was a pretty, unnamed lake that we made our way through, and then the river narrowed once again and began to drop considerably. It was at this point that the Kopka decided to play tricks on us. We would soon discover that at least two other parties of canoeists had unfortunate tricks played on them, as well. 

At the start of this stretch, the river began to drop through what seemed to be a relatively benign and straightforward series of CI rapids. In the low water, they seemed barely stronger than swifts. It seemed so harmless that we didn't even bother to secure some of the loose items in the canoe like our waterbottles, fishing gear, etc. Luckily for me, at the top of the rapids, I had the wherewithal to take my cell phone out of my pocket and slide it into my dry bag. 

The problem we would soon find out was that the water levels were simply too low to run many of the rapids safely. After a little bit of bumping and scraping and getting through the top part of the rapids, we somehow managed to jam up on an unseen rock just under the surface. Though the current wasn't strong, it was just enough to send us sideways on the rock. I wasn't sure if it was Dad or me, or both of us simultaneously, but we lost our balance and capsized with the open end of the canoe facing upriver. It happened in the blink of an eye. Water began filling up the boat immediately. 

Luckily for us, it was only waste deep and I instantaneously stood up and began pulling the canoe off the rock. It hadn't filled up completely and I was able to lift it off with a couple of good heaves. Had I waited a few seconds longer, it would have been full of water and too heavy to do so. Dad was a bit shocked from the dunking but fine, and I escaped with only a scraped shin. Amazingly, everything stayed in the boat (including our paddles!) except for my hat which I was able to find hung up on a rock just a bit further downriver. 

We got everything up on the rocky bank on river-right and did a quick inventory of our gear. Other than the hat, everything was accounted for. The important stuff in our dry bags remained dry. The canoe was fine because I was able to get it off the rock before it filled up and began to wrap around the rock that we grounded on. The only thing that was hurt was our pride due to dumping in what seemed to be an innocuous part of the river. After all, Dad and I have run much beefier rapids than that one without any issues. 

Here is a photo of that section of the river. It certainly doesn't look nasty or anything to worry about, but it was enough to cause problems in the low conditions. We learned a valuable lesson in not underestimating any kind of rapid and being twice as cautious at extremely low water levels, especially being in a very remote location with one boat only. 

After changing into some dry clothes, we began laughing off the moment shortly afterward, but it was enough of a reminder for us to look at every rapid, even the small ones, more carefully and to take our time. 

It was a blessing in disguise because only a couple of hundred meters downriver from where we dumped, we came upon a sweeper at a very dangerous spot in the river. It was just around a corner and at a point where the river began to pick up some steam. Had we not dumped earlier, we might have cruised through and headed into it without thoroughly scouting. 

Unfortunately, other canoeists before us seemed to have done just that! It was one of those spots that didn't look very bad until it was. Next to that sweeper was this...

Yikes! What a disaster that would have been if the canoe barrelled into the sweeper, and judging by the fact that its final resting place was directly beside the sweeper, we assumed that was exactly what happened. We certainly hoped there weren't any injuries and the paddlers got the help they needed.  

We found the yoke of that canoe hung up on a rock a few hundred meters downstream. It was a beautiful cherry yoke and we would have taken it with us, but it was an extra bulky item to carry and we still had a long way to go on the trip. We decided to leave it for the next group to recover should they want it. 

We had to wade and line down what seemed like an endless succession of bony rapids along that stretch. It was very slow-going, and we weren't putting many kilometers behind us quickly. When we came to a bend in the river that was finally devoid of rapids and had a bit of a sandy embankment, we pulled ashore and made some lunch. It was shortly after 2:30 PM and we were hungry. 

Back on the river, we had about 200 meters of solace before we were out of the boat, wading and lining yet again for another long stretch. We eventually came to a narrow and straight CII drop that finally had deep enough water to run. We probably would have given it a go except for the fact that there was a large cedar strip canoe wrapped around a rock in the middle of the run! We didn't want to chance getting hung up on it and carried our canoe and gear around it on the right. 

After the trip, we showed the photo to Clem and he informed us that this canoe belonged to a girl's camp that he had shuttled. Apparently, they needed to be rescued. Again, I sincerely hope no one got injured. 

This section of river certainly proved to be a calamitous stretch of whitewater at the extremely low levels we were experiencing. Within two or three kilometers of river paddling, we narrowly escaped wrapping our boat on a rock and saw two other canoes that recently hadn't made it through intact. Prior to embarking on the trip, Clem had warned us that some groups needed to get rescued from the river shortly before our trip dates; we logically assumed these broken canoes belonged to the groups in question. 

We had a few more shallow rapids that required more wading and lining before going through a wider marshy area where we could mercifully paddle for about a kilometer without having to get out of the boat. After that, we came to a deeper CI run that we ran; we were ecstatic to actually paddle some rapids. At the base of the run, we immediately pulled up to our campsite for the night across from the 1000-meter portage that accessed the Kopka from the Aldridge Lake area. We pulled our gear and boat ashore, exhausted but relieved to be through that nasty boneyard section of the river. 

Here is a picture from our campsite of the last rapid of the day that we were finally able to run. It doesn't look all that exciting, but believe me, after an entire day of incessantly getting in and out of the boat, it was as thrilling as riding a rollercoaster. Notice the new scratches through the gelcoat on the bottom of the canoe from the day's events. 

The campsite was a good one. It had a nice rocky porch near the water that was good for swimming and a firepit area on a lofty knob overlooking the river. Fishing yielded no results for us at the base of these rapids. It seemed that the site was well-used, most likely from people coming in from Aldridge Lake, and was perhaps a tad fished out. There was room for a number of tents with an even larger cleared-out area further up the hill behind the site. 

We enjoyed a meal and some libations by the fire and called it an early night after a difficult day.