Temagami – Red Squirrel Loop – Access Denied

Ever since my trip to Temagami in September, I had been wanting to go back.  I had a 5 day trip planned for Thanksgiving to Killarney as I wanted to do a loop from Grace into Nellie into Murray.  I psyched myself up over a weekend and on Monday when I went to book it, someone had booked Nellie leaving no sites,  so new plan was required.  Since I had just had such an amazing adventure in Temagami, I decided to look for a route to do there.

I did tonnes of research and created an awesome loop that would work perfectly for a 5 day trip.  I would start at Red Squirrel Access arriving around 4pm and travel to Lenore Lake for night 1.  There was only a 500m portage into Jamieson and a 1200m portage from there into Lenore so in the 3 hours or so I had before dark, it was totally doable.  From there I would travel south and stay on Tasse Lake for night 2, continue south to stay on Spawning Lake for night 3, then head down and back up through Kokoko Bay up to Kokoko Lake for night 4, then head out from there back to Red Squirrel.  No day had more than 2500m of portaging which was pefect.  The total amount of portages was 21 with about 9000m and 46km’s of paddling.  It would make an amazing last of 2018 canoe trip adventure and be the most challenging, most remote trip I’d done so far, solo or otherwise.  It was exactly what I wanted for the final big canoe trip of 2018.  I was stoked!

Temagami is remote and many of the areas are untouched and haven’t been touched for long periods of time.  I consulted with many people on this route including my friend Dave from Green Plaid Adventures, PJ, the president of the Friends of Temagami and a few others that PJ got in touch with for me.  The result was that people had been through different parts of the planned loop but the last ones that were known about had been there approximately 2-3 years ago.  It was assumed others had been there more recently, but this was just assumed.  This added to the remoteness and adventure of the loop and made me even more determined to do it.   Adding to this, I was told that lynx were known to be in the area around Lenore Lake and moose were known to be in the area where I would be on days 2-3.  AMAZING!

As my friend Dave worked at Keewaydin Camp on Devils Island, we arranged a meetup for Saturday night, night 3, on Spawning Lake.  I guesstimated that I could be there around 1pm and we planned to meet up around then on Saturday, spend the day fishing, hanging out and having some nice steaks for dinner that Dave offered to bring in,  and maybe eat some fish too.  Again, I was stoked.  It was turning into the trip I had hoped for and I could not wait.

There were major weather alerts the day before I was to head out, with wind gusts reaching 80-90kmph accompanied by thunder, lightening and lots and lots of rain.  This storm would end Thursday morning. I was due to arrive at the put in at around 4pm Thursday afternoon, so I took this as a sign of great luck.  The days leading up to the trip however, I was extremely anxious. I do get anxious before most trips, especially epic ones like this, but it was almost an uneasy sick feeling that I chose to ignore.  I marked it up to nerves and did my best to not think about it and went about preparing for all the things to come.  Lots of rain over the 5 days of the trip, temperatures down to zero on a few of the days, which meant that rain could easily turn to sleet or snow. I brought so many extra clothes I had to bring a second backpack, just a small one so I opted to bring my bear vault instead of the Ursack so I wouldn’t have to worry as much about protecting my food.  All was set and I was on my way.

I left work just after 12pm and headed towards Temagami. This time there was no road closure, no drive through Quebec and I made it to Red Squirrel Road in good time.  After being extremely grateful that someone had been through with a chainsaw and cleaned up all the downed trees (there seemed to be quite a few from the storm last night), I arrived at the put in around 4pm.

The sun was shining and the forecast temperature was 8 degrees, feels like 5, but with the sun shining and the wind not anywhere near the expected 39 km gusts that I could see, I was actually warm.  I headed out in just my base layer, having to remove my fleece and rain jacket as I was sweating.  The water was fairly calm and I was again, super happy that mother nature was smiling down on me.  I felt very lucky and hoped it would continue.

It was only a short 1.5km paddle to the portage into Jamieson, I took a deep breath and began the adventure, both excited and anxious for what would come.  The wind was at my back and I again, took that as a great sign, smiled, and continued on my way arriving to the portage just after 4:30.

I decided to take the pack first as the portage opening was very narrow and I wanted to see what I was in for with the canoe before bringing it. With the recent storm and not many people using this route, I could clear any branches, trees, etc more easily with the pack on my back and it was a good decision to make.

The portage was pretty difficult.  The start of the trail wasn’t too bad and I did my best to open up the branches a bit so they wouldn’t scratch the canoe too much.  Then I came to an open area beside a stream that looked so barren.  It was full of rocks of all sizes, logs, branches and grasses and was a little tricky to navigate making it time consuming.  It was a bit hard to see the trail exactly but easy not to get lost.  Eventually I found an opening that took me back into the forest where I sloshed through lots of puddles and then finally came to the end.  There were a few small trails there, but none of them led to a path that was open to the water, so I picked the cleanest one and got to work bending branches and opening up the way to get the canoe to the water.  Once I did as much as I could in the time I had, I walked back to get the canoe and repeated the process.

For being one of the more used portages in the first few days of the loop, I was concerned.  It was a challenging portage and very overgrown and if this was the easier of the portages in this area, I might be in trouble.  I remained hopeful, happy to have gotten the portage done and out of the way and paddled through Jamieson towards the second and last portage of my day today into Lenore Lake where I would make camp. I had been told Lenore was a beautiful Lake and I could not wait to see it.

It was 5:30 and I was doing okay time wise.  I assumed the 1200m portage would take me around an hour and a half, being generous with my time in case it was a struggle,  and would land me on Lenore Lake just as the sun was going down.  Sunset today was at 6:53 and usually it didn’t get dark until about a half hour afterwards, so I felt pretty good about my current situation.

I was happy when I located the portage into Lenore.  There was a very definite opening and the trail looked great. Nice and wide and open and I was relieved about that.  Hopefully, it would be easier than the last one and I would be on Lenore sooner than later.  Boy, was I wrong.

The first 50m or so of the trail was great! Then I saw this above.  I was carrying the canoe, wanting to get it over with as with the backpack full of food being carried with it, it was much heavier than I was used to and I found it hard to carry both on the last portage.  Taking the canoe first, I had the option to piggy back and go back, get the pack, take a break from the canoe and backpack and then pick it up later again.  That was probably not the best move.  I was determined though and after taking a quick photo and a video, I took the canoe off my shoulders and turned it sideways and somehow squished it through that opening so I could continue with the portage.  Obstacle surpassed, not a problem! Off we go!

I put the canoe back on my shoulders and continued and only got about 20 feet, discovering another group of trees blocking the path.  I made it through this area a bit easier and again, felt confident and continued on, walking only a few more steps until….

I came up to this.  Although I hadn’t photographed and videod all of the obstacles, this was now the 5th one in a matter of 50m?   I was loosing my optimism by the second and getting more and more upset and frustrated as well.  I put the canoe down and decided to walk ahead to see how many more blow downs and roadblocks I would encounter before I could just freely walk with the canoe and make even the tiniest dent in this 1200m portage.  What I saw left me heartbroken.  More downed trees, one after the other and a very large one that blocked the trail left me wondering where it picked back up.  I couldn’t find it and even if I did, there was no way to get through.

I didn’t have time to waste. I didn’t have hours to attempt to clear this trail. I had less than 2 hours and then it would be dark.  I stood on the trail frustrated, full of despair with tears stinging my eyes.  I ran through some scenarios in my head quickly but there wasn’t really any choice at all.  The thoughts went something like this:  I was not carrying a chainsaw with my 5 days worth of gear. I did have a saw and a hatchet but it would take me so much time just to clear the area I was in, let alone what laid ahead which I had no clue of?   I couldn’t find the trail up ahead and couldn’t get through to anything that might be the trail.  It was less than 2 hours from being dark.  THIS was the easier part of the first few days of the trip. If THIS was the easier more passable part of the route, would I have to turn back tomorrow or the next day anyways after fighting and pushing my way through what I saw here?  I was alone. I risked so many things happening.  I had to be safe. I had to admit this route for me, today, right now, was impassable. I had to go back, not forward. I had to quit the plan. I had to give up, tuck my tail between my legs and abandon this route before I had barely even started it.  My plan was shattered but I knew for sure it had to be and there was nothing I could do about it.  I had to go and I had to go now.  I had no time to spare.  I pushed the canoe back through all the little holes in the trees I’d brought it through, wincing as I heard the branches scratching the skin from every direction. I made it back to where just 20 minutes before thought this was a great portage.  HMPhffff  YUP  Funny!

I paddled through Jamieson quickly, at first intending to find a place I could make camp there. There were no actual sites on Jamieson but I saw 2 places I could possibly camp. And then what? I couldn’t think clearly any further ahead than I had to.  I was already so flustered and I didn’t want to make any huge decisions but this one would have to be made.  Could I traverse the portage tomorrow and continue with the route?  Everything in my logical mind said no, I could not.  If I got to Lenore, it would just get worse as I reminded myself once again, this was the easiest part of the next few days.  NOPE nope nope.

There was no point staying on Jamieson.  I had enough time to return to Red Squirrel. I had seen a beautiful site just before the portage and if I was going to be upset and camp somewhere, that would be the site.  I was already miserable, I needed to in the very least, camp on a nice site tonight.  I paddled hard across Jamieson and did the 500m portage again, back into Red Squirrel, arriving at the campsite a few minutes after the sun had set.

I hurried and did all the things on auto pilot, the entire time cursing myself, the route, the trees and anything else I could add in there.  I set up the tent, blew up my therma-rest, set up my sleeping bag, put all my gear into the tent, tied up the canoe, gathered a good amount of firewood and finished all the things,  just as it got dark dark.

Then I started a fire and just sat there for a minute and took a deep breath and watched the flames flicker. I began to feel the warmth. It had gotten quite chilly in the last hour or so and with the sun down and me sitting in my clothes that had gotten sweaty and damp, I was cold.  I warmed up my hands and got my socks and hiking boots out and changed from my wet Keen sandals and water socks to my nice dry warm socks and boots.  I already felt so much warmer.

It was only just after 8pm but it already felt like 10.  I got my cookset out and plopped my precooked roast, noodles and gravy into my pan and heated it up. I was starving.  I put the food on my lap to warm my legs and ate, still not quite believing all that had just went down.

I sat for a while after dinner in a daze, listening to the loons who were making my favorite call.  The call that meant they were looking for another loon, a baby, a friend, a mate, someone they were missing.  It was the perfect call for my mood and I was grateful that the loons were there with me, somehow participating in my feeling of being sad, lost and hopeless.

As soon as I cleaned up my dinner gear, filled my nalgene, treated it with Purinize drops, as I was too lazy to pump any  water, and boiled water for my hot water bottle (which took forever due to the cold) , I headed to my tent quite ready to end the day. I did a recap video which brought me to tears but it had to be done.  Even thinking about it right now writing this I am getting watery eyes.  Sigh.  I was warm and cozy but it took me several hours to finally fall asleep and when I did, it wasn’t a very good rest.

I woke up around 5:45 to use the privy that I couldn’t find, meaning I had to dig a hole. LOL.  It was expected to be around zero but I was dressed well and wasn’t really cold at all. It was still almost dark and overcast so after taking a few photos, I went back to my tent, crawled into my sleeping bag and went back to sleep.

I woke up again just before 8am and was amazed I’d slept so long. I was tired and I didn’t really have anywhere to be so I guess deep down I knew that and my mind let me rest.  I got up and as it was pretty cold, I made a fire, again, with no huge rush to do anything, I sat by the fire and warmed myself and eventually put some water on a grill that had been on the site,  and boiled it for some oatmeal.

I sat by the fire and ate and took my time enjoying my surroundings.  I had looked at the map and found a possible loop I could do,  but really there wasn’t much that involved portaging from this area that I either hadn’t already done, attempted, or had interest in doing.  My biggest priority right now was to get to Dave, or call,  or message Dave to let him know that he should not head out tomorrow morning to meet me on Spawning Lake because I obviously would not be there.  My first thought was to pack up, head to the take out, drive down Red Squirrel Road until I got a signal and send a message to Dave on my way home.

And as tempting as that sounded to me right now, I knew in the very least I had to go to Devils Island and see Dave myself, visit with him, and then decide what to do from there.  Even though I felt shitty, that didn’t mean I was allowed to be shitty to other people, especially someone who had spent so much time helping me with the pre-planning of this trip, so I guess that was what I would do.  I dried out my water socks as best as I could while packing up my gear and then decided since I was going past the take out, I would exchange them and my sandals for my rubber boots.  If I did continue to camp after my visit with Dave, I wanted my feet to be drier and warmer and the boots would help with that.

It took me some time, in the mood I was in, to get all my gear packed up and loaded into the canoe, but eventually by 9:45, I was ready to head out.

After my pit stop to put on my boots, which were already warming my feet up, I paddled the few km’s to the 700m portage from Red Squirrel into Sandy Inlet.

It had not rained, but it threatened to do so at any minute, which somewhat surprised me. Today had been the only nice day in the forecast for the 5 days of the trip and was to be party cloudy and around 12 degrees. It was not either.

The paddle to the portage was fairly uneventful and as I wasn’t in a rush, I took my time and enjoyed the beauty around me.

When I arrived to the portage, I had to do some scouting around to find the entrance.  Eventually I settled on the area I thought it was and found out I was correct.

PJ had mentioned to mark any trails I could that didn’t have any signs etc so I pulled out my green trail tape I’d brought and tied it to two of the trees at the opening, (after I’d walked a bit to ensure I was actually at the portage).  It wasn’t blaring, but people would see the tape and know the portage was there, which made me feel better to be doing something productive at least, while I was here.

The portage was really pretty showing off it’s fall colors and I only had one spot where a tree had fallen onto the trail. It wasn’t a huge tree so I spent a bit of time and bent back all the branches and opened the trail back up before moving on and happily finding the end without any issues.

Just after starting the trail though, it began to rain? err, snow? err sleet. It sounded like sleet but I still am not sure if it was snow or ice pellets.  The sound in the forest was tinkling but I wasn’t too affected by it. I caught a bit on my glove when I arrived at the end and was in a bit more open area, but nothing too crazy.  My first snow/sleet of the year, I suppose.

I went back and got the canoe and repeated the process, going very slowly today. I just was’t feeling it and if it wasn’t for needing to let Dave know about not meeting up with him, I think I probably would’ve gone home, I was that upset.  But duty called,  so I continued on.  I grabbed one of my wraps for the creek paddle as it was almost noon.  Today I had an S+haha moo. Something I’d written on the wrap to make me giggle, not knowing how much I’d need that today.  Salami and laughing cow cheese hit the spot. LOL.

The paddle through the small creek was stunning and I just coasted along taking photos and videos and enjoying the views.

The snow/sleet had stopped by then but it was still pretty dark and gloomy out which suited my mood perfectly.

In the middle of the creek/river I was paddling on was an open area I had to get through. It was full of grass but the water was deep enough to paddle in.  The grasses made a cool sound as I paddled through and I did my best to capture some if in the video.  It somehow reminded me of the singing sands in Nova Scotia, but I called them the whistling grasses. LOL. I was very surprised when I’d gotten through them and to the other part of the creek.

Even though it was cold and dreary out, the yellows of fall looked spectacular in the mirror water and I took my time taking lots of pictures and video clips along the way.

Eventually I made it to Camp Wanapetei, a place I had been curious to see from my last trip here.  It was the camp on the sign when I couldn’t find the put in and I was curious to see where it was and what it looked like. It looked pretty awesome from the water but it was clearly shut down at this time of year.  As I passed it, I saw the beautiful bridge that I would pass under next.

The bridge was so pretty and I loved the way it looked with the mirror image and some fall colors.  I took a few photos and then paddled under it to get into Sandy Inlet and begin the big water (for me) portion of my padding today.

It took me 2.5 hours to paddle from the bridge to Daves dock at Keewaydin.  The winds stayed down which I was grateful for and it rained on and off during the paddle.  At the start I saw a bald eagle soaring above the mountain on the top left, then watched it dive down into the water, pick up a fish and fly away.  Unfortunately, I didn’t film any of it, but it was really neat to watch.

I really disliked paddling on big water (for me) and for most of the paddle, I just put my head down and did what I had to do.  I didn’t even feel like paddling.  I know that sucks, but that’s how I felt.  I really hoped that Dave would be around today and didn’t have any plans because I was really looking forward to seeing a friendly face and warming up a bit before I decided my next move.  I was happy to finally see Devils mountain, which was right next to Devils Island and after missing the inlet that went right to Dave’s dock and paddling around the entire island, I finally saw a familiar face.

Mojag, Dave’s dog was sitting on his dock patiently waiting for me and I was delighted to see him.  I knew now I was in the right place and hoped this meant Dave wasn’t too far away.  I paddled up to the dock and let Dave’s doorbell (barking dog) ring until he presented himself outside and walked towards the dock with a quizzical expression.  I filled him in on all that happened, and then he helped me bring my gear inside the cabin and the canoe up onto shore.  I was so happy I’d decided to come.

Once I got warmed up and settled, Dave took me on a tour of the camp.  He was so excited to show me this pine tree.  It was seeded in 1776. In 1987 a core sample was taken and the age was determined.  Dave said the tree glows at night and is incredibly magical. I had to give it a hug.

The camp was established in 1893 and was initially a boys only camp.  Only the last 20 years have they included females at the camp and their addition has been quite successful.  Currently, they have about 50% of each sex in attendance and the girls, of course, really kick some butt on the trips!  Most of the campers are from the United States as the camp was created by Americans and all of the recruiting is done there.  This doesn’t mean Canadians can’t come to the camp though, they are most welcome. A few of the Canadians who’ve had the good fortune of spending time at Keewaydin are Temagami legend Hap Wilson’s son and daughter.

There were so many interesting facts I learned about the camp.  For example, the fireplace in the building where they put on the end of season shows, was built entirely of tripping rocks.   The campers would return from each trip with a rock and put it in a pile and one day, they built the fireplace including all the rocks from the various trips they’d been brought back from. So very cool!

In this building, buns are made.  The oven is fired up and they used to bake buns that would be consumed not only at the camp, but other locations throughout the area.  The ovens still work by the way and are still used occasionally.

On the porch of this building there are homemade wooden wheelbarrows.  When the shipments of food and goods come in by boat, the campers must take the carts to the dock and load them and then bring them to the appropriate locations to unload them.

Campers from the ages of 10-17 come to this camp every summer, starting in June and complete various levels to be able to go on certain trips.  Trips range from a few days up to the largest, most difficult, which is 50 days in length and can be done to Hudson’s Bay or the Ungava Bay.  One recent trip was even done in Lake Winnipeg into the Berens.  Many campers only spend a few day at this location to get outfitted and then they are off on their adventures in the backcountry.  I only wish I’d gone to a camp like this when I was a kid. How amazing that would’ve been, but I am lucky that I am still able to get my adventures in now.

After checking out the camp and walking the 50 acres to see all the buildings and the amazing history there, Dave and I hung out in his cabin.  I got to sit beside the woodstove and warm up, and we shared trip stories, went over maps, and shared many laughs.

Dave was a wonderful host and for dinner, he cooked up the steaks that we were supposed to eat the following day on Spawning Lake. Since that wouldn’t be happening, I was glad I still got to have my steak with him as it was incredibly delicious and much much better than the freeze dried meal I had planned for this evening.

After lots of stories and great chats, it was finally time to turn in.  I definitely got spoiled  and instead of camping in my tent outside in zero degree temperatures, I was lucky enough to score this lovely guest room, complete with heat and the most comfortable duvet I’d ever slept under.  I was toasty warm and slept like the dead.  It was awesome and I was very grateful.

I woke up early as I usually do and heard Dave in the living room.  I went out to wish him a good morning and thanked him for the wonderful sleep and accommodations.  I looked out the window at my canoe, sitting on a stand and still felt no desire to paddle it.  It just sat there and looked like that’s where it should remain, on land, and not in the water. Sorry canoe.

Dave made up a tasty breakfast of bacon, eggs and potatoes and I was delighted.  I was hungry and not missing my oatmeal at all, even though I had a new fruit for each day, it would keep until my next adventure.

After breakfast, it was time to get ready to head out.  I had decided that I would not be doing any more camping this weekend.  Going over the map, there wasn’t really a route that I could just do in 2 days that I liked and after experiencing such a huge disappointment over not being able to do the loop I set out to do, I just didn’t have it in me to continue.  I could’ve easily just portaged into a lake and stayed there and camped but with the weather as it was forecast, cold, rain, sleet, snow, I wanted to be moving and travelling to keep warm and I couldn’t locate a route in the area I was already in to do that, so I decided it was best to just head home and regroup.

Dave put my canoe on top of the speedboat, offering to take me across the water to the bridge at Wanapetei Camp.  As it was now raining and cold out, I didn’t have any arguments, saving myself about 10km’s of paddling and about 2 hours of time.  Yesterday, paddling in to Keewaydin had seemed like such a long distance to go and I realized how far I’d come when we traveled back by speedboat with the rain running down the windshield.

In about 10-15 minutes, we were at the entrance to the little creek that would take me to the 700m portage back into Red Squirrel.

Dave took the canoe off the boat while I unloaded my gear and before I knew it, I was alone again paddling up the creek.  It was strange being solo after hanging out with Dave since yesterday.  I do go on most of my trips by myself,  but they start and end that way and there is pretty much no other people involved.  Spending time with someone in between, made me feel more alone somehow.

The creek was just as pretty as yesterday, but I noticed that the water had this pale green color to it that I didn’t remember seeing yesterday. Maybe the rain had stirred it up and made it look that way, I don’t know. I just noticed it was strange looking on the way back and was curious why?

It took only about a half hour to get to the 700m portage going back to Red Squirrel, but it took me forever to actually do the portage.  Somehow, I guess, I’d gotten lazy on my stay at the cabin and it was a great effort for me to carry the canoe and the backpack with the food in it. So much so, I had to do a piggyback, which I haven’t done in many trips, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to get done, and eventually, I was.

It took me 45 minutes to complete the 700m portage and just as I began to paddle through Red Squirrel, it began to rain. First it was just a light mist but that quickly turned into heavy rain, which I somehow thought fitting.

I put my head down and paddled hard and just kept going, not wanting to stop until I arrived at the takeout.

About 30 minutes later I was at the take out and very ready to go home.

I pulled the canoe up and began unloading it, taking the pack to the car first and unlocking it, then taking the canoe up and putting it onto the car.  Thankfully, I always pack a bag in the car with dry clothes, so I took a few minutes to change into them before settling into the drivers seat, heat on full blast and backing up to head out of the Red Squirrel Lake Access point.

I was still very upset and disappointed that I wasn’t able to complete my loop, but I was happy that I had made the right choices, turned around and went back when I did, and took the time and effort to paddle to visit my friend Dave, and tell him in person that I wouldn’t be meeting him at Spawning Lake. It was awesome to spend some time with Dave and Mojag and see Keewaydin and I was glad I’d gone to do that part, at least.

When planning trips that are remote and challenging, things like this are bound to happen.  Temagami is a wild natural place and that is why I like it, but that part of it, is also why I wasn’t able to complete my loop.  I had to accept that things like this happen and they most likely will again as I continue to explore more places like this that no one has been to in years and no one knows the conditions of.  It’s all part of exploring.

Special thanks to The Friends of Temagami, PJ, Dave, Bob, Tierney and everyone that helped me with the research for this trip and to those of you who help protect and take care of this area.  I am truly grateful.

I am VERY excited to announce that in a few weeks I will be heading back to Temagami to start clearing some of these trails with my friend Dave.  Hopefully, we will be able to get them into shape for next paddling season so I can once again attempt this loop with more success than this trip.

I hope you enjoyed my post and you check out the videos that go along with it. If you have any questions, comments or just want to say hi, please leave a message.

Happy Camping!

Camper Christina

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