Saturday, October 10, 2015

Wabakimi - A Solo Canoe Trip 2015

August 6 - 12, 2015

Aug. 6, 2015 - On the way up, it started raining just as I was leaving Duluth.  I got to Two Harbors about 7pm and had dinner.  My original plan was to drive to White Pine Lake and camp overnight.  But the temperature dropped sharply and a torrential rainstorm hit just as I left two Harbors.  I could barely see the road and I had been driving since 7a.m.  I was fatigued and decided to find a motel room instead.  I pulled into the first motel I saw.  I went into the office and a short, scraggly looking French Candian came out and started yelling at me about how I must tell him what I want.  “Why can’t you just say what you need?!?  Is ‘dis what you great American education produces?!?!  You can’t say a simple t’ing like ‘dis?”  he yells.  “OK, Frenchy, I think that’s all I need.” I said, and left.  It was surreal.  He was like some SCTV character.  I drove a few more minutes and found the AmericInn.  Whoo boy!  Not an auspicious start to a trip.


Aug. 7, 2015 - So I got up early the next morning, Friday, and figured I would be paddling by 2 or 3 in the afternoon. I drove to Thunder Bay and stopped at the MNR office to see if I could buy a topo map.  They don’t sell them there, so I just headed west on 11/17.  I didn’t get to Ignace until almost 4:30pm. It was a much longer drive than I had anticipated. I had a sandwich and filled up the gas tank. At a little past 5 I headed north following the 599 toward Savant Lake.  I had to go about 77.5 miles to the small road that would get me to the 702 RD to Smye Lake.  Once I got on that gravel road, I went only about 20-25 mph for 43 km and followed HighnDry’s directions [look for the rock cairn, next to the 4-wheel drive track on right hand side of road after Km43…Just after that marker on the east side of the road (your right) there will be two four-wheel drive tracks heading off into the woods.  Choose the second track (the furthest north heading up the road). This track leads about 25 or 30 meters back to a small clearing with the portage trail/ATV trail at the back left that will carry you down to the water. ]  Perfect.  I found right off, which was good because it was already about 7:30 and the light was starting to fade.


I turned into the bush and after a few feet there was water crossing my path.  I hesitated, but then gently accelerated through.  It turned out to be only a couple inches deep.  Whew!


I pulled into the parking area and there was a big Ontario government truck with a trailer hauling a 4wheeler.  The door was wide open and the radio was BLASTING!  What the heck?  I did not expect to see anyone here and surely not with a radio blasting rock’n’roll!  Turns out a couple young Ontario Fisheries employees were doing fish counts in the area and they had camped here for a few days.  They invited me into their mossy tent and we sat and chewed the fat for a few hours before hitting the hay.  What a great way to start a trip!


Aug. 8, 2015 – I woke up early and packed up my hammock and tarp.  The guys had coffee brewing and they treated me to a big hot cup'o'joe.  They packed up their truck and I carried all my stuff down to the put in.  I came back for my last pack and the guys wished me luck and drove off.  Now I was alone.


I had it in my mind that I would put in, turn left and head north along the west shore.  But I was going south after putting in.  A quick look at the map and I realized I was still in the small inlet leading to the main body of the lake.  A few minutes later and I was heading north toward Smye Creek.  The weather was spectacular!  Clouds were blowing across the sky and sunlight dappled the wilderness.  I was traveling slowly because I was trying to learn the Canadian stroke.  I had never done this stroke before and I never really found my rhythm.   I reached the firs portage after 45 minutes or so.  It is a short 131m, but as these portages are little used, they are fairly rough.  The next portage is only 43m and I didn’t even look for the put in.  I just lined down the little riffle and kept on paddling.  Another km east and there is a 191m portage with a pretty steep decline at the east end.  This portage took a little longer.  Then I made the mistake of following the southern shore and turned down a little dead end just before the next portage. It took me about a half hour to find the portage this time because I was looking all over the shoreline for it.  I got out of the boat and walked around a bit looking for a trail, but couldn’t one.  Finally, I paddled back and realized my mistake. I had lost count and thought I was going into Wilkie Lake, but I was still on Smye Creek.  At last, I found the 131m portage into Wilkie.  There is some significant blowdown on the trail and I had to walk up and around to a point where I could step over the logs.  When I got the Wilkie put in, it was mid-afternoon and the wind had come up.  Being my first solo, I decided to take a break and have lunch.  I figured as dusk approached the wind would calm down a bit and I could paddle to a campsite on Wilkie.


So I sat down and had a bite to eat.  I filmed a little bit and explored the area some.  About an hour after I arrived, I started hearing thunder off to the southwest.  I put up a tarp, just in case.  As I was finishing stringing the tarp, a big gust a cold wind came up and the thunderheads started rolling in fast.  I tied down the canoe and hauled all my gear up under the tarp.  It started raining just as I got everything put in.  I decided to hang the hammock and take a snooze while the storm blew through.  I fell asleep pretty fast with the rain falling on the tarp.  When I woke up the sun was pretty far to the west and I could see that more storm clouds would be coming.  So I decided to just stay the night.


I cooked dinner on the alky burner.  Mountain House Chicken Teriyaki and rice.  I realized as I ate that before dinner I had only eaten 1 granola bar at breakfast  and 1 cup of granola for lunch.  While I was putzing around, the fishing group that was staying at the lodge across the lake came back out and were hauling in fish left and right.  I could hear their cheers as they netted one after another into the boat.  They sure were having some fun!  I went to bed early and slept pretty soundly.  I do remember vaguely hearing a LOT of rain falling during the night and I’m pretty sure there was lightning, too.  But I was so tired I really slept through it all.


Aug. 9, 2015 – I woke up and heard rain drops on my tarp.  Dang it, anyway!  I didn’t want to pack up and travel wet.  I stayed in the hammock drowsing for a while.  But my tarp is translucent and I eventually noticed that it seemed too bright to be raining. I got up and looked out. The sky was absolutely cloudless! I mistook residual rain and dew falling from the trees for rain.  So I got a late start.  I packed up, skipped breakfast and, and started paddling.


I was travelling slowly again.  I just could not get the hang of the Canadian Stroke.  Oh well, I think if I keep trying it will come to me.  I got across Wilkie in a couple hours and then moved onto the portage to Flindt.  Again, I ran into some blowdown, so it took a little longer to complete.  At the Flindt entry I added some corduroy to try and make entry a bit easier.  I got the boat loaded and started to pull it into the water.  Of course, my foot slipped off a log and into muck.  Slurp! Right up past my knee.  I lost my balance and the other leg sank into the boot sucking mud.  For a moment I was immobilized and fell back onto the bank.  I had to grab the canoe to get myself up and out of the mud. 


I paddled along the western shore of Flindt looking for the fish camp.  I reached it in about an hour and then cut across the bay to the area that the map indicated had 2 campsites.  I checked out the furthest south campsite first.  It was PACKED with blueberries.  But there was no good spot to hang the hammock.  So I paddled back north a few minutes and checked that site.  Almost no blueberries, but a real nice spot for the hammock.  The site also had a nice fire area.  I decided to camp there.


I was feeling listless and a bit edgy.  I set up camp and then realized that I was hungry and dehydrated.  My lack of energy was solved with a big lunch of cheese, summer sausage and bread. I decided to build my chair.  I went back into the woods and found a few downed pine trees.  I cut them into logs for my tripod and crossbeam.  I lashed 3 logs into a tripod and then tested out the new camp chair that Martha had sewn up.  WOW! It is sooooo comfortable!  I relaxed in the chair for a while and just watched the clouds blow.  While in the woods I discovered an old table. I hauled that table up to the site and set it next to my chair.  I was sure living the life of Riley!


As late afternoon rolled around, I decided to lay in a fire for dinner.  It had been some time since anyone had camped at this site.  The fire pit had collapsed.  So I had to rebuild the fire pit.  After moving the rocks away I went to clear away the moss covered, wet, ashy loam.  Much to my surprise I found two toads had taken up residence tucked under the moss.  I relocated them into the woods and completed the new fire pit. 


Having eaten a late lunch, I wasn’t really hungry for a big dinner, so I just snacked on some granola and then lit a fire.  I sat back in my chair and soon fell asleep.  I awoke a few hours later and both the sun and my fire had gone down.  I was cold and it was dark.  I was a bit disoriented, but after a minute I got up and trundled off to the hammock for a sound night’s sleep.


Oh, by the way, there was a steady wind blowing all day and into the evening.  No mosquitos or flies bothered me at all.


Aug. 9, 2015 – I slept in until the sun was well up in the northeast. I got up and started a cooking fire and put the water on to boil. It sure is nice to have a chair to sit in first thing in the morning! That makes getting your day underway just that much less painful.


I had an eggs and mushroom breakfast casserole.  I ate leisurely while the fire died down.  I had several nice hot cups of tea.  After I digested for an hour or so, I took a dip in the beautiful clear lake.  I washed my pants which were pretty dirty after my muddy put in yesterday. The wind was up again and the sun was shining between fast moving clouds. The pants dried on the line in less than an hour.


I just kicked back and read my book all afternoon. Sometime in early afternoon a big yellow Otter landed and went up to the fish camp a mile north of me. I figured they were dropping off a group of fishermen and I would see their motor boat later in the day. The sun was shining more so I went for another swim. Boy, that is so refreshing!


About 2 or 3 hours later the Otter taxied out and turned into the wind right in front of me. The folks in the plane all waved and then they took off into the wind. No one was at the fish camp after all.


As the day wore on, I started feeling sick. I knew something was coming on and I did not want to go further into the park if I was going to be really sick. I had to force myself to eat dinner and had only a small fie that night.  I turned in early, even before the sun had fully set.


Aug. 10, 2015 – I got up before the sun. I felt pretty bad and decided to get as far toward the take out as I could today. I knew there was a campsite on Smye Creek that I could stay at if I needed to. I had a light breakfast of granola and water, packed up and hit the water just as the sun was coming up. I used the kayak paddle almost exclusively and started paddling north toward the Wilkie portage. The wind was in my face, but I made great time up the lake. I made it into Wilkie pretty quickly and started to paddle southwest. The wind was behind me now and I made excellent time. I stopped for a snack and some water, but my stomach let me know that was a mistake.


I portaged into Smye Creek while the sun was still firmly in the east. The creek has several narrow points defining small ponds between. I paddled and portaged each in series until I came to the second to last portage, the 43m.  I looked left. I looked right. I paddled around a little point off to the right. I went back over to the left. I looked and looked for that portage for about 45 minutes. I never did find it. Finally, I just paddled up to the shoot between the two ponds, got out and hauled the boat up through. The water got up to my chest once or twice, but it wasn’t exactly a roaring rapid.


Being in the cool water helped make me feel a bit better.  But once I was back in the boat and paddling, my stomach started to roil. I had to take a break at the last portage. After a few minutes I got back in the water and paddled to the take out point. I portaged everything back to the car. I had to take a few breaks, but I got everything packed and tied down the boat all by 2:30 pm. I pulled onto the 702 road and started south toward Ignace. I felt really sick and was having trouble focusing.


The drive south was difficult. By the time I got down to Ignace, I had extreme heartburn, I had the shakes. I tried to eat dinner but I had to run back to my room. I was vomiting repeatedly. I curled up in bed at about 6pm and spent a restless night in bed until 6 the next morning. When I got up I felt better and ended up having a nice big breakfast. I drove all the way home that day.


General Trip Notes and Impressions

My original plan for this trip was to enter the BWCA at LIS and do Shell, Lynx, Huslter, etc. I changed the plan a few days before entering so I could avoid what looked like a fire ban coming.


I had been looking at the Smye Lake/Wabakimi route for some time. So I made a switch and my planning was not too difficult. As it was, I planned on 6 mi/day, which I thought was reasonable for a first solo. And if I had gotten to my put in on Friday, instead of Saturday, maybe I would have done my complete loop. But maybe not because we did get rain on both Friday and Saturday.

There are several positive aspects to the trip I took. I can say that the nylon sling chair setup on a tripod was a great success. It’s very comfortable. The wife sewed it up for me and I am really happy with it.  Another positive is that I learned that I am not a solo trip guy. Just because I did not enjoy being alone I still view the experience as a positive one. Also, I know that I can find and traverse some really primitive portages (even if I never found one them).


Overall, the weather was really pretty good. Even though I had some heavy rain the first day, it was only at the end of the day and through the night.


I did plan a fairly long trip for a first solo. So, not doing the whole thing doesn’t really bother me. I tried a few things, like splitting small logs for kindling and trying to start a fire with only a fire steel and roughed up birch bark. I also cooked over the fire using bush crafty type methods. I didn't try the bow drill. That is something I still want to try.


Even though a solo trip is not my style, I still want to go back up there and do more of the western area of Wabakimi.  In the coming years I am pretty sure I will.


  1. Kennorman76@comcast.netDecember 2, 2015 at 8:26 PM

    Jim, Thanks for posting this. I was there twice this summer on smye and wilke. (as well as up on Ogoki river just to to the north). On the second smye portage you would have walked by a little blue pouch on the ground that had some hardware in it. 3 feet off the trail in plain sight. I left it there in June and when I went back in September there it was right on the ground. Hope you have another opportunity to go to Wabakimi again. It's priceless! I'm going twice in 2016 still formulating whether I'm going solo or with a friend depending on schedules. Ken Norman

  2. Thanks, Ken. I am hoping to get back up there next year with 2 or 3 other guys. I sure didn't get anywhere near as deep into Wabakimi as I wanted to. I sure wish I could get there more than once a year. It takes me nearly 20 hours to drive to Smye lake so my trips are limited to just 1 per year. I also am looking at entering through Brightsand at some point.

  3. Kennorman76@comcast.netDecember 3, 2015 at 9:35 PM

    Jim, I understand. I'm a couple hours from you here in South Bend, IN. The drive to smye is a pain! On my solo Sep 15 trip I drove past smye up to Ogoki River and bushwhacked nearly to Tew Lake. After getting totally defeated by the portage from triple hell (think of a box of giant lincoln logs poured out in front of you ) It was surreal. I turned back and drove down to Smye, parked and portaged over to Wilke. I was so tired from the Ogoki ordeal I laid around for 2 days on Wilke camp site and then returned to Smye. It's good to know others are interested in Wabakimi. Hope we can share information and stories.
    Also, in June I went with HighNDry who I see you have posted with on Boundary site. I had bad giardia on that trip. He helped me a lot. I'm going to post a few of my videos on youtube. I'll let you know when I do. Ken

  4. Ken- H&D and I are planning a trip back to Smye next summer.
    AndySG is in the mix, as well.
    The plan is just a few emails so far, but we have narrowed our dates to the month of July.

  5. Jim, I've been studying the topo maps. I'm looking at a trip that will start 36k N of Smye on a tertiery rd off 702 - just W of Tew where I was in Sep. I feel I have some unfinished business with a specific portage that kicked my rear.:) if Resolute is logging on that 3rd tier rd, then I have plan B to go on down 20 more K where I know for sure it is closed to logging because i scouted it last year - .but a very challenging portage situation yet again.
    Since I'll do 2 trips, I'm of course open to and would like to do a trip with others. I'll stay in touch with you and H&D just in case we have similar goals and it would work out. luckily there's a good amount of time yet to plan.
    BTW, it's great to be discussing Wabakimi with you. Also, I enjoyed your videos and the adventure you described. Hope your sickness wasn't due to giarda! Ken


    I'm open to another trip w/others and prett

  6. Ken - Are you talking about a put in at 50.611076, -90.086057? Google maps shows the "Wabakimi Rd." coming close to two small lakes that lead into Tews at about 50.614390, -90.028455. The first 2 lakes are about 1 mile each and the third is about 2500 ft.

  7. I am scoping out these areas. The Plan B entry, is that Valley Lake? It looks like you could go Valley, Sassenach, Flindt River, Tews.

    1. Jim, let's switch to email. i can respond better there. thanks.

  8. Jim, let's switch to email. email me at I'll respond there. thanks.

  9. Jim, probably would be easier if we switch to email. I'm having trouble posting for some reason.