Brightsand - Kashishibog - Kopka Rivers

Day 9 - Kopka River at Unnamed Lake west of Bridge to Kopka River west of Kenakskaniss Lake (16 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 the morning of Day 6, we had quite a bit of walking ahead of us, starting with the longest portage of the trip.

The smoky haze continued to linger in the air casting a dull grey over the day. The temperature had dropped over the night causing mist to emanate off the water. 

After breaking camp and getting some coffee and oatmeal in us, we were on the water by 9 AM. I snapped a shot of our site as we departed. 

We made our way to the most western point of the unnamed lake and rounded the bend heading north. A few minues later we could see a bridge spanning a series of rapids ahead of us and we knew we had come to the portage. 

My notes on this portage stated that this 738-meter trail on the left would get us around a runnable CI before the bridge, a CIII run downstream of the bridge, an unrunnable falls, and finally a runnable CII. We assumed that these descriptions were based on somewhat normal water levels. For us, with the lack of rain on the entire trip thus far and water levels getting lower and lower each day, we knew that every bit of that stretch would have to be carefully scouted. 

Ultimately, we decided it would just be easier and probably less time-consuming to simply portage around the whole shebang. Running most of the whitewater up to that point on the Kopka had not been much fun, but rather a worrisome endeavor of scraping, bumping, and desperately trying to avoid getting hung up in that incredibly rocky river. 

Without scouting, we took out next to a cached aluminum fishing boat on river-left. The trail seemed to be well-used. Within a hundred meters, we arrived at the bridge which was a bit of an enigma; it appeared modern and well-built, yet the "road" on either side of it was extremely overgrown and appeared to not have been used in years. 

We guessed the road was built to access logging areas and was no longer in use. Looking at the Toporama map that I have included above, it appears that there are a number of logging spurs connected to this bridge just to the east of that location. Still, someone had cached that fishing boat at the take-out and most likely accessed the river from this bridge. Perhaps, the boat had been there unused for quite some time. 

On the bridge, we got a look back at the CI at the top of the series of rapids and saw that we could have run it. Oh well, it would have only knocked off about 80 meters of the portage which wasn't much. Paddling to the top of the run and getting out to scout would have taken more time than portaging this short distance anyway. 

The Class III below the bridge looked to be a rocky and dangerous ride. It might have been runnable, but a closer look would have been needed to see if the water was deep enough. 

The trail veered upward and away from the river at the location of the falls. The river became a bit of a gorge at that point. We could only get a glimpse of the bottom part of the falls from the trail at a spot where the forest opened up. 

Overall, the portage was not too difficult. Thankfully, a lot of deadfall across the trail had been cut away by previous travellers. It was narrow and steep toward the end and had a dramatic drop back to the river at the put-in. A look back at the rapids really demonstrated how low the water levels were. The river seemed to be down a good seven or eight feet. 

We put in and paddled another 150 meters before coming to another CII rapid. Did we get off the portage too soon? We thought we had completed the whole 738-meter portage. The distance felt correct and we didn't notice the trail continuing, yet there we were on the lip of another rapid. 

Perhaps it was a rapid created by the low water conditions and would normally be a swift in higher water. We scouted this one carefully, but a large boulder just under the surface in the center of the run dissuaded us from trying to run it. It was doable but a very thin needle would have had to be threaded to make it through unscathed in the low water. Again, without other people in a second boat to help out in case of trouble, we made the prudent decision to line down the rapid on the right-hand side. 

We probably should have fished below these rapids. It looked like a great spot to tap into some pickerel, but we had 5 more portages to get through that day, so we moved on. 

We paddled north through a pretty, unnamed lake before the river narrowed again and veered east through a narrow and rocky channel. It emerged at a small, island-dotted lake. There, we had a choice to make. We could either take two shorter portages at the south of the lake along the river past what my notes said were a series of tricky drops past CII rapids that were runnable with careful scouting, or one longer 460-meter portage at the far eastern part of the lake to bypass it all. 

The river was so bony at the top of the drop that we decided we would just take the single longer portage. We had a little problem finding the take-out, however. We went down a narrow, rocky inlet to look for it, only to discover that we were south of where we should have been. It was a minefield of rocks both in and out of the inlet and we scraped on boulders a number of times. We eventually found the portage at the far northeastern corner of the lake. 

The trail wasn't an easy one. It had some tenuous footing in spots and quite a bit of deadfall to traverse. The middle section was open and had a plethora of blueberries and Labrador tea, however. The put-in was rocky, and once on the river, I turned to snap a picture of the last set of rapids in the series we had just portaged past. 

The river widened and we paddled east for 15 minutes before the river narrowed again and we could hear the small falls we had to portage around just ahead of us. 

We easily spotted the short 50-meter portage on the left of which we made short work. The falls were little more than a couple of cascading trickles over a mound of rock but were still very pretty, nonetheless. 

We were only in the pool below the falls for a minute or two before we needed to take out again at the next portage which would take us past a series of three dramatic drops in the river. The first of these drops was separated by an island and before taking the portage, we decided to paddle to the island to get a view of these drops from the top. 

The following is a  rough video of these three chutes from both the island at the top and from the bank next to the center drop. 

The portage had a nice campsite at the take-out where we had our lunch between the two legs of our carry. The trail was easy and had a ton of blueberries which we also amply enjoyed. My notes had this portage at 202 meters, however, it seemed like it was at least 300 meters in length or longer. 

The rocky put-in off of the rocks was a little challenging below the last drop in the river. With the three longest portages of the day behind us, we decided to fish there for a while. We only came up with a couple of small pike and a pickerel that was too small to keep. We got snagged a couple of time on submerged logs in the low water conditions, so we called it quits after 30 minutes or so. It didn't matter, however; it was a gorgeous spot and I could think of many other worse places to spend a half-hour. 

Continuing east through a wider section of river for ten minutes took us to another narrow spot of rocky fun. My notes showed a 102-meter portage there but we didn't see one. It was a very short stretch of a boulder garden that we easily lined through without any difficulty. 

Beyond that, we found ourselves in another one of the Kopka's unnamed lakes, albeit a smaller one, where we paddled east for 30 minutes or so. At the eastern end of that lake, there was a long and narrow bay to the south that was a couple of kilometers long. Half a kilometer away on the western shore of that bay we watched a bear climbing around on some downed logs before sauntering off into the forest. 

At the end of the lake, we took out at a campsite that was at the start of a very odd set of falls. The river seemed to fall into the next lake through a braided series of narrow trickles. Perhaps, in higher water, it would be a single larger waterfall. The water snaking through the jagged and rugged terrain was gorgeous. 

At 75 meters, the portage was short but steep. The put-in was in the middle of a swift where the trickles had collected in a narrow little gorge. We rode this current out to the unnamed lake. 

The lake was about four kilometers long and contained no campsites that we knew of or could see. On my map, I had a lodge marked on the northern shore about a kilometer past the put-in, but when we paddled past, I only saw a dilapidated old shed. 

A headwind had come up at that point, one of the few we had on the trip. It wasn't strong enough to cause any major problems, but it was about 4 PM at that point, and we were feeling tired; we had been on the water for 7 hours and had done quite a bit of portaging. We were looking to call it a day. 

At the eastern end of the lake, the river veered south through a narrow swift into another smaller lake. There was an island on the other side of those swifts and my map showed a campsite marked on the island. The next marked site after that was on Kenakskaniss Lake after another two portages. We certainly weren't up for another two carries at that point, so we headed over to the island to investigate. 

The site was on a nice slab of rock facing east, overlooking a peninsula jutting out on the east side of the island. It seemed like it hadn't been used for quite some time, however. There were plants growing out of the firepit and quite a bit of deadfall strewn about. We decided to clean it up a bit and call it a night there. 

After setting up and getting a better look at the firepit, we discovered a large colony of half-black, half-red ants swarming the area -- perhaps the reason the site wasn't often used. For this reason, we built another firepit 25 feet away from the existing one further down on the slab of rock. 

It worked somewhat, but we found the ants to be a general nuisance throughout the island. They weren't biting aggressively but were an annoyance nonetheless. Likewise, the swimming area was a bit grimy and slippery at the base of the rocky slope. We had to walk down to the southern part of the island to find a suitable place to do our nightly wash-off swim. Though it was a scenic spot, it wasn't one of the better sites we enjoyed on the last half of the trip. 

Dazzling sunsets continued to elude us through the smoky and cloudy skies of the evening that night. 

Despite the ants, gloomy skies, and poor swimming, the site was still in a fantastic wilderness setting and did the trick in the end. I'd take that over an over-used fisherman's site with trash, discarded gear, and junky bushcraft constructions any day.  We both slept well that evening, and that's what counts in the end.