Day 6 - Whitewater Lake to McKinley Lake (10 km)

Day 6 - Whitewater Lake to McKinley Lake (10 km)

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

I woke a little earlier than normal with the sun beating down on my tent. I was happy though! After the previous two days that had given us a lot of nastiness, the sun was more than welcome. Unfortunately, a quick weather check on my satellite device predicted more ugly weather later in the day. 

I got up and lit a fire to make some coffee. I couldn't sit and really enjoy it, however. The mosquitoes emerged with the heat of the sun, and boy, did they come out to play! I took my coffee over to a rocky point on the northern side of the island where there was a little more breeze to blow the little b@$t@rds away. 

I saw the red canoe of the canoeists we saw the previous night heading toward us from the north. When they got closer to our island, they noticed me sitting on the point and paddled over for a chat. They were childhood friends and had been going on canoe trips together for 40 years!  They were on the way to visit the Beckwith Cabins and working their way back to Smoothwater Lake. We chatted for a bit, sharing our experiences and thoughts of our time in Wabakim thus far. 

After they departed, I heard my dad up and about and walked back over to our site. The mosquitoes seemed to be getting worse as the day got warmer. We both put on our bug shirts as we ate our breakfast and broke camp. There were relentless clouds of them. It was August 2nd and that morning was the worst for bugs I had experienced all summer! 

We were happy to get out on the water and into the breeze of the lake. I took a departing shot of our beautiful, buggy island site as we paddled away. 

In addition to the amazing beauty and fishing that exists in Wabakimi Provincial Park, another reason Dad and I chose the route was to visit the Beckwith Cabins. 

A couple of years earlier, through the canoe tripping forum, we were turned on to a documentary entitled "In Search of Wendell Beckwith". It was created by Wendell's grandson, Tyler, in partnership with the Thunder Bay Historical Museum, Lakehead University, and other stakeholders. It's an amazing 96-minute piece, narrated by Tyler, that explores Wendell's journey and mindset which resulted in him existing for 19 years in one of the most incredible hermitages ever built in Canada. In the film, Wendell is depicted as an eccentric genius with some very original and unusual ideas, one of them being that Best Island is the Center of the Universe. Much has already been written and said of Wendell Beckwith, therefore I won't elaborate further on Wendell's story, creations and theories; I will let the documentary do that. I have included the link below and I encourage readers to watch it in its entirety when they have the time. It really is an amazing story. 

We beached our canoe at a rocky point on Best Island; it was a campsite that was connected to the Beckwith Cabins via a short trail. We spent some time marvelling and exploring Wendell's constructions, all in various states of dilapidation. The documentary explains why they have been left to deteriorate. 

Seeing the cabins firsthand was one of the highlights of our trip, and I recommend other paddlers see them before they have returned to the earth. While walking through the area, it felt like I was in an open-air museum, learning about the history of a man who chose to live and devote his life to something he felt was greater than himself. 

We were careful to leave things as they were and acted as temporary observers only. I hope other visitors do the same so that future paddlers can also experience the fleeting sensation of what it was like to have lived there for so long and the awe in noticing the painstaking attention to detail that Wendell employed in the cabins' creation. I have included a few photos of our experience on that day below.  

Later in the week, back in Armstrong at Gail's Grill and Bakery, the owner allowed us to snap a pic of an old photograph that he had on the wall of the restaurant. It shows what the front of the main cabin looked like back in its glory days. The detail on the door, shutters and carved mask on the eaves, amazingly demonstrate that the cabin was built to be a permanent homestead rather than just a shelter to survive. 

We would have liked to stay longer at that special location, but the sky was beginning to cloud over yet again, and we could feel wind gusts coming in. We had a large open crossing at the south end of Whitewater Lake and we thought we had better get moving before the wind wouldn't allow it. 

We paddled south in the channel, east of the large island that dominated the bay between Best Island and the mainland to the west. When we rounded the southern tip of that island, the wind hit us hard and the waves became large. We decided we would head to the west and go through a narrow channel between the island and a smaller one to the south so we could skirt the west shore as we moved south. It was the most prudent and safest route.

It was there that I noticed something grey moving on the south shore of the larger island. It was a female Woodland Caribou! Unfortunately, we were bouncing about in the waves and we were unable to stop and take a photo. We tried to silently paddle closer to calmer waters, but as we were upwind of her, she caught our scent and headed for the forest before I could get a shot. What a lucky encounter, though! There are only approximately 300 of these creatures in the entire park. We had sincerely hoped we would see one and suddenly we had the pleasure of watching her for a good half a minute, moving along the shoreline and munching on things. The Beckwith Cabins AND a caribou encounter all in the same morning. It was shaping up to be a good day! 

As we moved south along the western shore of this large bay, the sun came back out and the wind died down again. This aided us greatly in crossing the large bay and we were able to take a direct route to our destination. We noticed that wind gusts seemed to coincide with clouds up in Wabakimi. We were learning how to read the weather.

We passed a series of well-kept cottages on the west shore. My map had it listed as a First Nations community. It appeared to be vacant as we paddled past, however. 

We paddled south and through a channel into a back bay. As we got to the marshy southern tip of that bay, we noticed a large burn area to the southwest. We were looking for a 550m portage that we knew to be less used than the alternative more commonly used ones that went upriver to the east. Even though it was longer, we preferred to take one 550m portage rather than three short ones. Half of the work is just loading and unloading the boat.  

It took a little while but we eventually spotted some flagging tape and the take-out spot. 

The start of the portage was very muddy but manageable. It ran south and parallel to the shore before veering east, uphill and through a burn area. It was overgrown in spots, but the trail was discernible the entire way. 

We put in on a small unnamed lake and had a short paddle before we came to a series of rapids that led into McKinley Lake. We were heading upstream at this point, so we got out on the right to take the 286m portage. On the short crossing, the sky got very dark and unleashed a torrent of rain on us just as soon as we started walking. To make matters worse, the trail was quite overgrown, so much so, that we got a little lost and turned around for a minute, despite its short distance. 

By the time we put in and began paddling on McKinley Lake, we were soaked despite our protective rain gear. The formidable headwind had really picked up and was blowing the rain at us sideways. My map displayed a campsite on an eastern point leading into the main part of the lake. Even though it was relatively early in the day, we aimed for it, given the weather. To our dismay, as we rounded the point, we saw that it was occupied by the pair of canoeists that spoke to us that morning.  We were wet and cold, and there were no other campsites that we were aware of in the immediate vicinity. McKinley Lake was frothing and it would have been difficult and dangerous to proceed. The only other option was to head back through the awful portage that we had just completed and camp at the island site on the unnamed lake. Not wanting to do that nasty portage again, we were momentarily at a loss when one of the fellows came down and said, "It's a large site with plenty of tent pads for you guys. Come on up!" Incredible. Canoe trippers are good people!

The boys had already set up a wonderful tarp that one of them designed himself. It had a rather intricate system for tying off the ends and slots for support poles. We brought our gear under it and changed into some dry clothes. When the rain stopped for a bit, we set up our tents on a nice flat spot on the point and had a nice social evening with a pair of fellow canoe trippers. We were extremely grateful for their hospitality and willingness to share their site with us.  Thanks, Ken and John! 

Around 1:30 in the morning, I awoke. There were flashes of light all around my tent and I first thought someone was just outside moving about with a flashlight. It turned out that a storm was moving in. What confused me at first was the frequency of the flashes. For the next hour, there was quite a display of lightning.  The only other time I have seen that much lightning was when I experienced a tropical storm while staying at an island resort off the east coast of Malaysia in the nineties. For the better part of an hour, there was a lightning flash every second or two. Luckily, I don't think we got the brunt of the storm since there were only a couple of thunderclaps that were very close to us. I was more concerned about the wind blowing down a tree on any of our tents. It eventually blew past us and we all survived the night. 

Day 7 - McKinley Lake to Smoothrock Lake (25 km)