Sept 16 – 23, 2017
We left Alan’s house at 2:30am after the arrival of Sean and Ryan, in a bid to drive straight through to Thunder Bay. We stopped in Sault Ste. Marie to stretch our legs and grab a hot sit down meal at “The Breakfast Pig”. After 7 hours of driving this was a welcome reprieve! Large servings and great eggs benedict. Driving along the coast of Lake Superior was an incredible experience, which we all likened to the foothills of the Rockies. Despite most of us having grown up in Ontario, none of us had ever been this far north in the province.
After a few pit stops along the trans-Canada highway, we arrived at the Thunder Bay KOA around 6:00 pm. Overall it’s a nice place, right next to the highway, with clean facilities and showers. We got our gear sorted out, and headed into Thunder Bay to grab dinner at “The Sovereign Room”. After a day on the road with little sleep, the enormous stone baked pizzas and beer were fantastic.
We rose at 6:00am after a midnight thunderstorm reminded us why the area is called Thunder Bay, packed up and hit the road. We grabbed a quick breakfast at McDonald’s in Thunder Bay, and drove on to Atikokan. The park office in Atikokan was closed, and reservations were finished for the season, so we paid our fees in cash using the self-service envelopes in what is locally known as the “canoeing capital of Canada”.
After fuelling up, the White Otter Inn made us some sandwiches for the road, and we backtracked slightly to Nym Lake. We sorted our gear out and ate lunch at Nym Lake paddlers access, which requires a short portage down to a floating dock put-in. Once we were all ready to go, we exited the sheltered bay, and were greeted by some intense headwinds and whitecaps ranging from 1-2.5ft. Paddling was incredibly taxing, and we ended up island hopping to try to keep out of the worst of the wind, and within easy reach of land as much as possible. The weather conditions may have been the remnants of Hurricane Irma. Thankfully, we didn’t also have to endure rain.
After making our way across Nym L. we found the two-part portage into Batchewaung, but were unable to locate the main portage. Portages are not signed in this park, and many have the appearance of a slightly more well-used game trail. The two-part portage is slippery and has some fairly steep elements making it more of a challenge than the main portage as we found out later.
Heavy winds and large waves greeted us again on Batchewaung. The portage ends at a nice beach-head, but with the waves crashing on it, it was difficult to load and get out of the surf. We aimed for the group of two islands to the SW of the portage, as this was directly into the waves, and looked promising for a sheltered campsite. As luck would have it, the site is on the smaller of the two islands, and is nestled in a bit of a rock bowl surrounded by mature pines. While the tent sites weren’t ideal, being out of the wind was spectacular.
As the storm blew itself out, we were treated to an incredible sunset and starry night skies. The milky way was clearly visible and we even glimpsed a slight aurora. There is a fantastic rock wall on the south side of the island from which to view the show.
Temperatures dropped to low single digits that night, and in order to make up lost time fighting the winds, we opted to get up at 5:30 the following morning to push off at first light.
Sept. 17 Stats
Max Temp: 11.3 °C – Min Temp: 2.8 °C – Mean Temp: 7 °C
Precip Accumulation: 0.5 mm
Total Distance: 5 km – Total Time: 4.5 hrs
We were up before dawn the following morning and packed up in the dark. Breakfast was freeze-dried omelettes from MEC (Our only pre-packaged meal) which we determined was about one step up from airplane food. We were treated to an incredible sunrise with clouds still hanging around overhead, and we pushed off shortly after first-light. With the wind died down and the sun peaking over the horizon we struck off for our intended destination of Jean Lake. The portage from Batchewaung L to Batchewaung Bay was much easier to locate and better travelled. Due to rain there were some slippery and muddy parts, but overall easy to traverse. We passed a group still eating on Little Batchewaung Bay, and was reassuring to know we weren’t the only ones out!
We mis-identified the portage from Maria to Jessie, and ended up in Hamburg Lake instead. Given that it would have wasted more time to go back, we chose to press on
through Hamburg. We ate an early lunch at the end of the portage – tuna teriyaki wraps. Great success! Potentially should pack larger tortillas next time. The portage from Hamburg to Oriana ends in a muddy creek which forced us out of our canoes multiple times to get through the remains of beaver dams and shallow mud. The banks were relatively firm, but the narrow winding water channel was not able to be paddled for the most part. Travel was slow, and we arrived into Oriana Lake around 2:00pm.
We decided to stay the night on Oriana rather than press on to Jean since we had been on the water since approx 8:15 that morning and stayed on the site due north of the point around which you would travel to either Quetico L. or Jesse L., on an island. The site was wonderfully open with a raised fire pit and well placed trees for tarp setup and shelter from any wind. The main site also faces west and gives commanding views of the sunset. Unfortunately cloud cover did not allow for any stargazing or a view of the sunrise the following morning. Overall however this site has great tent sites, and afforded us a wonderful evening after trying to make up for lost time.
Sept. 18 Stats
Max Temp: 17.7 °C – Min Temp: 1.5 °C – Mean Temp: 9.6 °C
Precip Accumulation: 0.2 mm
Total Distance: 21.6 km – Total Time: 6.5 hrs
After some discussion in the morning surrounding our route options, we chose to travel via Jesse to Walter Lake and stay two nights in order to sit out what was forecast to be a thunderstorm the day we were intending to cross Sturgeon L. Walter promised some nice sites on the island in the lee of the wind, and views of both sunrise and sunset weather permitting.
Unfortunately, all of the sites we could find (only 3 out of the 4 listed) on the island left a lot to be desired., and after evaluating the site to the immediate west of the portage from Elizabeth, we decided to press back to Elizabeth Lake in hopes of a better site.
Note: The site to the west of the portage on walter was nice, flat, and open with an excellent swimming area. However, it is very exposed to the south, and with the storms we had so far experienced we decided this would be a little too open for our preferences.
Upon reaching Elizabeth Lake, we chose the site on the eastern side of the small bay directly to the north of a small rock island in the western portion of the lake. This was a fantastic site with an abundance of pines for tarp set-up, and some decent tent sites as well. A few rocky outcrops on the lake provided some great views of
both the lake-scape as well as the night sky.
Miraculously, the clouds that had been following us all day began to clear as the sun began to set, and while there were thunderstorms on the horizon, the milky way and some red auroras were visible along with the odd lightning strike and thunderheads off in the distance.
Sept. 19 Stats
Max Temp: 20.2 °C – Min Temp: 12.1 °C – Mean Temp: 16.1 °C
Precip Accumulation: 0 mm
Total Distance: 18.5 km – Total Time: 5 hrs
The thunderstorm struck overnight, and the rest day afforded some nice relaxation as the day cleared up into a brilliant sunny afternoon. As the sun set, we were treated to an incredibly clear night of stargazing with an exceptional view of the milky way. As the wind died down, the host of stars above us began to reflect in the still waters of the lake, creating an incredibly serene vista. There also seemed to be evidence of of some multi-coloured auroras dancing overhead.
Sept. 20 Stats
Max Temp: 18.8 °C – Min Temp: 5.4 °C – Mean Temp: 12.1 °C
Precip Accumulation: 21.2 mm
Total Distance: 0 km (Rest Day)
The next morning we swapped our final day instant oatmeal to try to get a jump start on the day. Unfortunately morning tear downs + coffee are still keeping us in camp for too long first thing in the morning. We then paddled off towards Batchewaung Lake. Some high headwinds greeted us again on this large lake, although nothing like our first day. Rollers of about 1 ft made for an easy challenge as we navigated the breadth of the lake. On the point due south of the portages there are three sites around a small bay on the west side.
The site on the North side of the bay looks amazing (and is highly rated), however was already occupied. We then opted for the next site around the bay at the top of a large rock face that slopes gently down into the water. There are no good tent sites on this site, but the rocks were relatively flat, so we decided to try our hand at camping on these instead. I would not recommend this site if there is any chance of inclement weather. The site on the next point to the south has better tent sites, and a great view of the lake, but the water access looks quite challenging as the site sits atop a small cliff.
With the sun hot and overhead, and after 5 days in the woods, we decided that a swim was needed, and that the cold water would need to be braved. The bay offers some fantastic swimming areas with virtually no vegetation growing in the waist deep water. We dried out on the sun warmed rock face with a commanding view of the lake, including the first site we stayed on not more than a few kilometers away.
With the Atikokan cell tower visible over the edge of the lake, Ryan checked for any weather updates that might delay our drive home so that we might prepare as best we could. In doing so, we realised that yet another thunderstorm was due to hit us overnight, and given our exposed camping situation, we were in a bit of a tough position. In the end, we decided to pack up and head for the take out that evening. We paddled across the remainder of Batchewaung as the sun was setting, and managed to complete the portage before the light was lost completely.
We then struck out across Nym lake as the thunder clouds built up behind us. There was very little wind, and the sky was still clear overhead, which left us paddling across glass-like water as the stars began to appear out of the darkening sky. The lack of ambient light made it a bit difficult to navigate, but with compasses and maps we managed to get ourselves to the public boat launch and haul out as the wind began to build. Alan and Ryan went off to get the car (approx 30 min walk), and Sean and I hauled our gear up into the parking lot. While hardly an ideal ending to the trip, we stayed the night in the Chippewa Campground on French Lake, and took full advantage of the hot showers available.
Sept. 21 Stats
Max Temp: 22 °C – Min Temp: 3.5 °C – Mean Temp: 12.8 °C
Precip Accumulation: 0 mm
Total Distance: 22.5 km – Total Time: 6.5 hrs
We rose early as our destination of Lake Superior Provincial Park was a solid day’s drive away, and while foggy throughout the day, we had an otherwise uneventful drive. While the temperatures near Thunder Bay were still in the low teens, we were made aware that Toronto had just undergone a heat wave during our trip with temperatures soaring into the mid 30’s. This was evident as we travelled further south and the temperature and humidity built considerably.
By the time we stopped at Agawa Bay Campground, thunderheads were clearly visible over the lake, and we were party to an incredible array of brilliant sunset colours, lightning strikes, and incredible stars peeking through the clouds.
Total Route – 67.4km
Day 1: Nym to Batchewaung – 5km
Day 2: Batchewaung to Oriana – 21.6km
Day 3: Oriana to Elizabeth via Walter – 18.25km
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Elizabeth to Nym – 22.5km
D1: Ginger Mango Chicken w/ Cashews and Rice
B2: Omelettes. MEC – Freeze Dried Packs
L2: Tuna Teriyaki Wraps
D2: Beef Stew w/ Dumplings
B3: Cold Cereal & Dried Fruits
L3: Roasted Red Pepper & Chipotle Chicken Wraps
D3: Cuban Pork Stew
B4: Spicy Potato Cakes + Ham & Cheese
L4: Cream of Potato & Roasted Garlic Soup
D4: Chili Con Carne & Cheddar Chive Biscuits
B5: Instant Oatmeal & Dried Fruits
L5: Cured Meats, Hard Cheese, Dried Fruits, Salted Nuts, Baguette Crisps
D5: Tuna & Corn Chowder