Foggy morning, Diamond Lake Temagami

Temagami: Diamond, Wakimika, Obabika Loop

At a certain point, I thought Martin should really see the trees.

This trip is probably the most popular route in all of Temagami. And when I first got back into canoe tripping in my 30s it was the first trip I did. I went with a guide and spent a considerably longer time doing it. But time spent paddling is never wasted. Certainly not in Temagami.

I didn’t imagine we could squeeze it in. But when I mapped it out, it seemed it was eminently do-able in four days. But I remembered a lot of hard paddling and some tough carrying through the woods.

It had been 15 years since I’d been there. Was I right about the distances? Would it still be the same?

Reader’s digest version:

Day 1:
Cloud gives way to warming sun as we make our way to Diamond Lake after a pre-dawn departure from Ottawa. And we didn't forget anything.
Day 2:
We hug trees, bravely facing the wind for a long paddle to camp on Obabika Lake after waking up in Temagami's thickest fog ever. And nothing broke.
Day 3:
The scale of Temagami's lakes leaves us awestruck and with aching arms and shoulders as we end up back on Ferguson Bay. And nothing got lost. Except the moon.
Day 4:
A short paddle back to the beach and a long drive back to the city. And everything that was supposed to stayed on the roof of the car.

Declaration of undying gratitude

I would like to thank my lovely partner Irene who’s permitted this woodsmoke and water-infused dalliance every year for the past seven. It’s a total treat and I appreciate your indulgence immensely.

Admonition against ill-considered risk

I think it would be a seriously stupid move to try this trip unless some or several among your group knew what they were doing. The portages might be short and easy, but the lake travel can be quite challenging. And capsizing in the middle of a big lake in autumn would be a dangerous situation. Join an outing club. Hire a guide. Or find a less risky way to experience wilderness. I am telling a story. Not providing advice. And following in my footsteps could be a desperately bad decision from which you might not recover.

Fall colours showing up on Diamond Lake, Temagami

Friday September 25, 2015, 5pm. Diamond Lake, West of Chay Island

Our usual early start. 5:30am, rolling out of Ottawa after packing the packs, loading the car and tying the canoe on the car roof the night before. It does get a bit tiring. And every time we pass by the roads to closer tripping destinations, I ask myself if it’s worth it. But from my vantage point today I believe it is.

We’re camped at an island site on Diamond Lake, just west of Chey Island. Of the three maps of this route I’ve chosen to bring along, I’ve been leaning most heavily on Jeff’s Map. And while some of the campsite intel is a little off, we did find a nice campsite around where he said there would be one or more. So I can’t complain.

The route to where we got to today is pretty straight forward. Highway 17 to North Bay, Highway 11 North to Red Squirrel Road. Follow the signs to Camp Wanapitei, then go to the right to the public lot. And as far down the track as you dare.

This year we rented an SUV. Martin’s rental place of choice offered either that or a Toyota Corolla. Given the reputation of the road in, we opted for something with more clearance under the wheels. Judge us if you will.

Red Squirrel Road has seen some maintenance, but there are a number of troubling potholes that you do need to take care to avoid. Slow is good. It’s about 30km down Red Squirrel to the put-in on Ferguson Bay, so budget your time accordingly.

This loop takes us in and out of the various unmanaged provincial parks in the Temagami region. For which one is supposed to obtain a permit. However that’s difficult in the off season as the permit issuer in the area keeps no store hours and only responds to texts and phone calls, not email, it seems. I’d tried emailing without success. So I figured we’d stop in Temagami, drop in and pick up our paper.

I don’t think I’d want to maintain a retail presence on the off chance you might collect $20 or $40 on behalf of the Province of Ontario, so I don’t blame them. They’re a great outfitter and I’ve had good equipment from them on previous trips. But now you know why we didn’t get a permit.

We got to the put-in around 11:20am and hit the water at 11:40. Clouds filled the sky sort of at mid height and there were patches of blue off in the distance. So it could have gone either way. We’d seen some rain on the drive up. We were too jittery to want to stop and eat lunch which is a foolish thing. But we did nibble on pumpkin seeds. So we weren’t totally silly. Just keen to get paddling.

Across Ferguson Bay the wind came across the port side. A bit rolly polly but it didn’t slow us down. Nothing stress-inducing. At the Napoleon Portage into the North Arm, I realized I’d packed too much into the big pack. At 26kg it moved into the ‘beast’ range of pack descriptors. But Martin took it over the Napoleon portage without complaint, despite the steep uphill on the Ferguson Bay end.

Apart from the hill at the start, this portage is fairly easy. It’s either 600 or 800 or 1000 metres long depending on who you ask. On my GPS track it’s 784m. It’s rocky in places and they were wet and slipperly when we walked it, so we tread carefully.

After Napoleon, we crossed through the tip of the North Arm. You can avoid this portage by heading south and rounding Red Pine Island, but it would be a fair bit of exposed paddling on Ferguson Bay then heading up the North Arm. It would add some time to your trip, which we didn’t really have.

From the North Arm it’s a quick, easy paddle to Sharp Rock Portage. Normally one fears the portages that have names, but Sharp Rock is simple. About 164m, flat, across a road and with docks at both ends. The docks now have boards missing and some of the remaining ones are not very trustworthy. Expect future editions of Jeff’s Map and the Friends Map to rename this one Death Dock Portage. There are a number of fishing skiffs stashed here. And it’s the boundary to Obabika River Provincial Park.

We did the portage easily and pushed on into Diamond Lake, where we’d hoped to get as far west as we could. By this point the sky had cleared and we were down to the lightest layers. Martin in short sleeves, even. It was a stellar afternoon.

We passed a couple of parties of canoeists, fishing as they paddled along, including one couple from Niagara who seemed to be having more success trolling for salad greens than fish. But it was such a beautiful afternoon I can’t imagine they were too troubled by it.

We got to the western batch of campsites around Chay Island around 3:30. We’d made 18km - a bit more than planned - and going further would have left us short of daylight and sore of shoulder so we grabbed this island which seems to have a site at either end. Some maps mark it as a single big site. And I think that’s more accurate. The two ends are close enough that you wouldn’t be afforded much privacy.

It has a thunderbox - albeit a bit over-subscribed - and plenty of reasonable spots to put a tent.

Dinner was the regulation bag and a half of shelf stable dried tortellini. I found pesto in a tube this year – at Whole Foods of all places — which was a positive development. I supplemented the oil in the tube with canola oil, which was a big mistake. I usually think of canola as a kind of neutral tasting oil. Nope. Wheaty, heavy and not at all what should accompany basil and garlic. Oops.

Makes me think about retiring this dish. I like the fact that it’s a one pot meal, but it was a bit of a let-down. Next year I’ll look for an equally simple dish that’s not this. Or bring some olive oil too.

Martin cleaned up the dishes, lit the fire he’d built and we sat around appreciating the last bit of the French Rabbit for a while. But it had been a long day, so we hit the tent around 9:20.

Sunrise, Diamond Lake Temagami

Saturday, September 26, 7:20pm, Splash Point, Obabika Lake

This is an awe-inspiring, large lake. Replete with history, legend and welcoming to visitors. But nasty in the wind. We had remarkable weather today, but the post-noon wind-up paddle down Obabika I will remember as quite a difficult one. More on that later.

We woke at 6:30 and were on the water for 8:15 after our usual fix of coffee and oatmeal.

Diamond Lake was enveloped in fog. And by enveloped I mean I could not see the shore opposite. Or to port or to starboard. And the rising sun was a diffuse glow of white-ish yellow. And it immediately became obvious to me how much I rely on the view of the shore to keep straight. I would be paddling along, doing my usual correction stroke as I felt the canoe’s motion required, only suddenly I would notice the blurry glow off to my right instead of directly behind me, where it should have been.

GPS track of paddling with no sight to shore

Our track log for the day is proof of how absurd it was.

I switched off battery saver mode on the GPS so I would at least be able to use the little directional triangle on the pink route line, but the unit doesn’t update all that often and it wasn’t until the fog had burned off some 25 minutes after we set out that I was actually able to hold the canoe on a steady course. I should have gone toward shore until I could find a shoreline to follow.

We paddled to the southwest end of Diamond and did the two short portages on to Wakimika Lake. The first I track at 438m.

On the first I managed to go off-piste and lead us through some bush crashing instead of finding the road along which you walk before the trail veers off down to the lake. “This would have never happened in Algonquin,” I said to Martin. But before I’d even finished the sentence I had Hap Wilson in my head rebuking me for making such a newbie move as to require training wheels, guide ropes and markers on a 400m portage.

The second portage I track at 516m. It seemed shorter.

We didn’t lose much time, though, and we found ourselves on Wakimika Lake. There was still no wind, and the water was dead calm so we paddled easily to the south end of Wakimika Lake and into the Wakimika River. I would like to thank whoever went through the river with a chainsaw cutting through some of the deadfall. It made our passage so much easier and allowed us to avoid hazards, accidents etc and afforded us more time to take in our surroundings.

The river has many twists and turns - 4.9km all in which took us 1hr 20mins - but we encountered only one carry-over. What seems like an abandoned bridge for an even more abandoned logging road. The beavers have dammed inbetween the two bridge cribs, built with 4” by 4”s. Probably kept there when the road was disassembled because it keeps water in the river and makes it canoeable.

I reckon there’s a story there somewhere.

We made it onto Obabika Lake by 12:40pm. We paddled over to the trailhead for the Obabika Triangle Stand Trail, with a slight miscue, and saw a group of kids in Northwaters canoes setting off from the site nearest the trail.

We pulled in at the beach, had lunch and hiked up into the hills that are home to the big trees, one of the last stands of old growth pine in the province. All in we walked a leisurely 2.7km, staring at the trees for around 90 minutes. We only explored about half the trails. You could easily spend another hour walking and gawking.

They are awesome. We missed the three sisters - the biggest of the big trees - because I headed left when I should have gone right. But we were looking at a bunch more paddling and the wind had been in evidence from the moment we hit Obabika Lake and it was just gettting stronger. I regret not taking more time to walk the trails. And not getting better pictures of the trees themselves.

The Northwaters boats were the only humans we’d seen all day. We saw them again as we were scraping our way south on Obabika Lake straight into a fairly strong wind, with waves in the 12 to 18 inch range. They were sheltering in the lee of a peninsula.

I looked at my watch. 2:30. They were heading in the same direction as us. “There’s no way they’re aiming to get off this lake today,” I said to Martin. The race was on. We overtook them as quickly as we could and – in that friendly, hail well met fellow traveller who’s trying for the same campsite we are kind of way – asked them where they were going.

Turns out we were beat before we started. They already had the site on Ranger Point. And the island off shore. Their leaders very kindly offered us the island – they were just using it so that some of their charges could do a wilderness solo exercise – and pointed out that there was another site a couple hundred metres down the south shore of Ranger Point that we could use.

But they knew and we knew that two curmudgeons are not going to enjoy camping within earshot of a group of school kids (from the Halton Waldorf School if you’re curious — a backcountry canoe trip in Temagami as part of the curriculum? How cool is that!). They love the empowering feeling you get from shouting and singing in the wilderness. We like peace and quiet.

So despite their generous offer of coffee, we decided to push on to Splash Point.

It meant another hour of paddling into a strong wind. And our shoulders were screaming at us by the time we got there, but it was worth it. This site is maybe not quite as nice as Ranger Point (there’s no spring with a water pipe for easy filling of Nalgenes for example) but it’s pretty great.

We put in at 4:25. We still had plenty of time to set up camp, cook dinner and clean up before losing the daylight. And we’re 4.8km further along than anticipated, which should make tomorrow easier. This is worthy consolation for the extra effort since tomorrow includes an eastbound paddle on the North Arm’s Devil’s Bay which gets a special mention on Jeff’s Map as being “particularly windy."

Dinner was dahl with rice and naan. I do believe it’s time to re-do the menu at Chris’s Wilderness Kitchen. I thought maybe adding the naan would make a difference. I even fried it in oil. But it’s the second night of me not really enjoying the food I’d been looking forward to all day. The lentils really do need to be cooked in vegetable broth.

We were in the tent by 10pm after witnessing a nearly full moon rising to the south and an awesome sunset.

Windy and sunny perfect for drying wet shoes: Ferguson Bay Temagami

1:54pm, Sunday, September 27, 2015, Ferguson Bay, Lake Temagami

Today kinda picked up where yesterday left off. Windy. Overcast with somewhat limited visibility. Still pretty warm but wind against us as we set off on our short jaunt down Obabika to the portage into Obabika Inlet. We were on the water by 8:25 after getting up at 6:45. We are becoming a machine.

The wind always sounds more fearsome by the shore and on land, as the trees seem to amplify its sound and thus its apparent force. So lying awake in the tent, waiting for a polite time to get up, I was feeling pretty daunted.

The portage into Obabika Inlet is marked as 855m on Jeff’s Map. I tracked it at 793m. It’s easily located and the terrain is easy. A good starter portage, if you’re looking for that sort of thing.

Obabika Inlet is quite sheltered so it didn’t really matter that the wind was coming across the beam. Waves and wind were minimal as we headed east toward the portage into Devil’s Bay. The sun poked out from behind the clouds for a few seconds, just to see what was going on. But it didn’t feel like staying. The clouds, always moving, couldn’t decide if they were staying or going. But they weren’t dropping any water.

I think I’m done anthropomorphizing the weather. But at some point while we were paddling Obabika Inlet, the wind changed direction, swinging round to the south east. I reckoned it would be good news for our arms. But I worried that if it picked up a lot as well we were going to need that bailer.

Our second and last portage for the day - indeed the trip - brought us to Devil Bay, on Lake Temagami’s North Arm. I tracked the portage at 525m. Devil (or is it Devil’s the maps differ on this) probably got that name because it’s really windy, as Jeff’s Map mentions. It did not disappoint.

When you first arrive, the bay is calm because the portage is in the shelter of an island. The bay out to the first point of land is relatively calm too. Or it was when we did it. I remember saying to Martin, “Well, if this is as bad as it gets we’ll be at the car by noon today.” It wasn’t.

It was, however, more or less at our backs. Most waves had a line of white froth and were probably on the order of a foot and a half. Some a bit more. We got splashed a bit, but were generally more surfing that paddling. I couldn’t actually paddle a lot because every wave that overtook us had the boat wanting to pivot, the wind grabbing us and no pinning wave at either end to keep us tracking.

I found the swivelling a bit unnerving, but I got Martin to give me the left side so I could at least use a pry to keep the boat going straight, rather than be constantly doing the equivalent of a chin-up with my paddle on the windward side.

Despite having no rhythm and very little momentum provided from the stern we still cruised up Devil’s Bay at around 7km/hr. The lake narrows at Philly Point which kind of acts as a choke point on the waves, and things calmed down a bit as we entered Ferguson Bay proper.

We made our distance target by 12:10pm. But the campsite I was using as a benchmark didn’t exist in real life so we decided to push on.

We did see a paddler in a short-ish, red wood canvas canoe, his only company a big food barrel acting as ballast in the bow. We’re pretty sure he’d paddled past us Saturday evening too, while we were lazing in the camp chairs sipping wine and feeling bad for him. Now we encountered him again, sheltering in the eddy of a point at the entry to Ferguson Bay. Probably hoping the setting sun would tame the wind a bit. No such luck. We said hello and paddled on to find a site opposite the beach near Wanapitei. We saw him making the crossing, moving steadily at a diagonal looking like he was heading to the Wanapitei put-in. My arms ached just thinking about having to solo that.

We got to a site opposite the beach at 12:45pm (Ferguson Bay is about 2.5km wide at this point) and checked it out. It had a lovely smooth rock point, but not a lot of flat space inland. One mediocre tent pad, no thunder box and lots of garbage.

We didn’t feel like backtracking, and my recollection of the beach sites on the northeast shore of Ferguson Bay was that they were poor. I lobbied heavily to stay, promising that the wind would die down by early evening.

We hemmed and hawed, had lunch to think about it some more and eventually decided to stay despite our misgivings.

It would prove to be a very fortunate decision.

It gave us time to have an afternoon coffee, give the bean casserole time to soak, and us time to take in spectacular scene that is Ferguson Bay. There’s a massive cliff across the way from us, with a scree bed and trees lining its top. Temagami is wilderness writ large and that’s very apparent here.

Dinner was tomato bean stew with polenta. I have to say I like this meal the best. I think I should see what else Laurie Ann March has to suggest. I felt it paired particularly well with Martin’s suggestion for a nicer wine, Hess, a reasonably priced California Cabernet Sauvignon. And we ate it all.

10:30pm - One of our satellites is missing. We were really excited to see the full moon rising right over the rocky cliff on the shore opposite. My crappy travel camera pictures don’t come anywhere close to doing it justice. We were sitting, sipping scotch and appreciating Martin’s fire when I saw that a chunk of the moon had gone missing.

“Oh neat,” I said. “A partial eclipse of the moon.”

But then the shadow kept moving across the moon. And just now it totally disappeared.

I guess we didn’t get the memo about the total eclipse, but what a wonderful spectacle. Wow. I wonder if I would have taken the time to watch it if I were in town and had line of sight on the moon. Here we were perfectly positioned and had all the time in the world. What luck. We hit the tent when the clouds moved in.

Sunset on Obabika Lake

10:55am, Monday Sept. 28, 2015 Red Squirrel Road

So the wind gave us a slight break this morning. Only slight though. Still present with maybe 6-9 inch waves for our 2.5km paddle back to the put-in. Directly astern, though, so not a problem or a strain. A fine paddle really.

We slept in until 7:15. The clouds hung low in the sky portending of rain. But we didn’t feel drops until after we’d eaten our pancakes and started the stove to boil water for our second cup of coffee. Gutsy I know, given the impending downpour. But you get so few perks in this job. How can you blame us?

The rain did start after we’d packed everything. We took it as a sign that we’d reached the end of our welcome. And off we went. We were on the water for 9:30.

We hit the beach at Ferguson Bay 25 minutes later. We hauled our packs the canoe and the rest up to the car. It would have been a great swimming opportunity but the cold and rain even managed to deter Martin.

Off we went, another trip done. We stopped for some food at the Subway on Mattawa and were home around 5pm.


I think some of the things these mirrorless, micro four thirds cameras can do are cute (panoramas, colour filtering etc but for composing shots and actually taking good pictures I miss the view finder. I have to find a decent SLR camera case for camping for next year. I think I'm just going to have to take the weight.

Pre-trip selfie: Year 7. Ferguson Bay, Lake Temagami

Pre-trip selfie

Napoleon Portage - the Ferguson Bay side: See how steep it is? Pity us. Please

Napoleon Portage - the Ferguson Bay side

Ferguson Bay, Temagami, Napoleon Portage: Martin hauling the canoe out of the water. Nice that he's doing all that work while I'm clicking snaps.

Ferguson Bay, Temagami, Napoleon Portage

The North Arm of Lake Temagami: At the portage to Ferguson Bay. So serene. How unusual.

The North Arm of Lake Temagami

Sharp Rock Portage: Short portage over a road

Sharp Rock Portage

Paddling in shirt sleeves: Late September Temagami. Who'd believe it? Heading to Diamond Lake through the North Arm of Lake Temagami

Paddling in shirt sleeves

New shoes on Diamond Lake: Gave me a blister on my left instep. Otherwise, great.

New shoes on Diamond Lake

Kinda blue: Diamond Lake campsite

Kinda blue

Fall colours: Seem to be late this year. Diamond Lake

Fall colours

Diamond Lake, Saturday morning: Enshrouded in fog

Diamond Lake, Saturday morning

Heading west and south to Wakimika: Whichever way that is. Diamond Lake

Heading west and south to Wakimika

Diamond Lake: Fog burning off, early morning.

Diamond Lake

Diamond Lake: Log jetty

Diamond Lake

Taking in the scenery, now that we can see it: Diamond Lake - heading toward Wakimika

Taking in the scenery, now that we can see it

Diamond Lake: Heading toward Wakimika

Diamond Lake

Wakimika River: Twisty turny

Wakimika River

Bridge over the Wakimika River: Abandoned or destroyed?

Bridge over the Wakimika River

Mouth of the Wakimika River: Fall colours represent!

Mouth of the Wakimika River

Tree Hugger: Obabika Triangle Stand Trail

Tree Hugger

Martin Happy to be not paddling: Obabika Triangle Stand Trail

Martin Happy to be not paddling

Splash Point, Obabika Lake: Nice to be sitting and not paddling.

Splash Point, Obabika Lake

Sunday Morning looking toward the portage: Will we get rain? En route to Obabika Inlet

Sunday Morning looking toward the portage

Old school portage marker: Big yellow P. Into Obabika Inlet from Obabika Lake

Old school portage marker

Sun thinking about making an appearance: Obabika Inlet

Sun thinking about making an appearance

Eye Lake, at the portage to Devil Bay, Lake Temagami: Get ready for wind.

Eye Lake, at the portage to Devil Bay, Lake Temagami

Getting some length back in the spine post portage: Going from Obabika Inlet to Devil Bay

Getting some length back in the spine post portage

Devil Bay, Lake Temagami: It's deceptively calm here. No pictures of the crossing itself. I dared not let go of my paddle.

Devil Bay, Lake Temagami

Through the squeeze point into Ferguson Bay: Stretching out the shoulders after a long haul

Through the squeeze point into Ferguson Bay

Our soloist friend: Relishing the tail wind

Our soloist friend

Ferguson Bay: Opposite Ferguson Mountain

Ferguson Bay

Ferguson Bay: Impossible trees. I got a bit obsessed with these trees. And we had a bit of time on this site. As you'll see.

Ferguson Bay

Ferguson Bay: Wilderness writ large.

Ferguson Bay

Ferguson Bay: Look. The wind is dying down.

Ferguson Bay

Ferguson Bay: Can't just take one picture.

Ferguson Bay

Relaxing at our last night's site on Ferguson Bay: A man and his firewood pile

Relaxing at our last night's site on Ferguson Bay

Late afternoon, Ferguson Bay: Checking to see how the shoes are drying

Late afternoon, Ferguson Bay

Mount Ferguson: Breathtaking backdrop to an awesome site

Mount Ferguson

Looking towards Camp Wanapitei: And the car. Ferguson Bay

Looking towards Camp Wanapitei

Ferguson Bay: I am in awe

Ferguson Bay

UFO clouds: Ferguson Bay

UFO clouds

The fire, the supermoon, the eclipse is coming: Nonchalant about it. Ferguson Bay.

The fire, the supermoon, the eclipse is coming

Map and route

Route overview

Route redux

Diamond - Wakimika - Obabika Loop trip GPX file

Day Distance Time Average speed Portages Portage distance
Friday 18.4km 4:15 4.3 km/h 2 968m
Saturday 29.6km 8:18 3.6 km/h 2 954m
Sunday 22.6km 5:12 4.3 km/h 2 1380m
Monday 2.7 km 0:26 6km/hr 0 0m
Totals 73.3km 18:27 5.3 km/h (Strava's "moving average") 6 3302m

Map comparison

I brought three maps along. As well as the GPS. I hate getting lost. My favourite is still Hap Wilson’s map, but it’s so far out of date now that its use is largely folkloric or historical in nature.

I brought:

I put the image of Jeff’s Map on my GPS. More about that later.

It was the Jeff’s Map that I kept open in the map case. The others I would examine in the evening to see if they offered any extra insight or intel. It’s cluttered and quick glances for direction, location etc. suffer from that but there’s a reason why people often say they’re poring over maps. They’re looking closely. Focused. So I can live with the clutter because of the depth of the locational information supplied.

Chrismar’s Temagami 2 is 1:80,000 scale which I feel is too big to use for dead reckoning. There’s not enough detail there. But you do get a nice, bigger picture of the area.

The Friends map is beautiful. And a small scale which makes dead reckoning easier. A lot less writing though. I didn't manage to figure out their portage marking system while on the trip. They mark the portages with Px where x is a number, when multiplied by 100, gives an approximate length of the portage. Someone (a fan or possibly sponsor or creator of the Friends map) remarked in the comments that indicating exact lengths is misleading in a number of ways. And the Friends map's approximations afford you enough of an idea of the portage's length to ensure you took the right trail off that lake.

The fact that they focus on two routes only is a testimony to the effort required to produce these maps. I credit all three for what they produce and forgive all any flaws I encountered. The main challenge they have is location of campsites. It’s very fluid. And hard to maintain accurately. All three maps share this problem. But that’s part of the adventure, isn’t it.

All three are available in Tyvek which is brilliant because it withstands folding and water much better than paper.

This year the ever-evolving world of digital maps turned in my direction. I actually had the route planning map digitially. I’ve spent the first decade of the GPS era transposing what I see on the paper planning map to the computer’s map which typically involves some interpretation about where to draw the route. With occasionally interesting results.

But with the Garmin-compatible Jeff’s map, I’m actually drawing the route and choosing the waypoints on the computer with the planning map as a back drop. This is awesome.

So I thought it would be even more awesome to copy the custom map itself to my GPS unit. This is awesome too. So long as you’re travelling north. See the thing is I like my GPS to rotate the map according to the direction in which I am heading, so I can, without thinking too much, decide if I need to nose the boat left or right or take left or right path.

This works fine on a standard Garmin map. But with a custom map - which would seem to be really just a location-calibrated image file - when you rotate the image, the writing on the image rotates too. Which is fine so long as you’re travelling north. But remember how I was saying there’s a lot of writing on Jeff’s Map? Good intel all of it but rather distracting when it’s upside down or sideways.

The other issue with using an ‘overlay’ map is that it doesn’t zoom well. Once you zoom in past its effective resolution it ceases to be useful as a backdrop to your route. And that happens after not a lot of zooming. After a day and a half I disabled the Jeff’s Map overlay and just went with the Garmin Topo and the route I’d generated on Base Camp with Jeff’s Map as an overlay. Much better. And as always I had the hard copy to refer to.

Notes on gear, sleep and shitting in the woods

Another camping superstition shattered?

We went three nights without setting up the tarp. And it didn’t rain until we were already going home. Holding off even until the last of the dry bags was rolled and clipped. Could it be all this time that putting up the tarp did not ward off rain but instead invited it?

An end to Two-ply Trilliums

I have written this many times before. And I get that it’s gross. But please take your used toilet paper with you. Bring a ziplock bag with you when you go find your petit coin. And, when it’s used, drop your toilet paper into the bag, not on the ground. Because you know what’s more gross than disposing of your own toilet paper? Finding a small field of someone else’s not fifty feet from where you’re going to lay your head at night.

Fjallraven pants almost perfect canoe tripping pants

The perfect canoe camping pants (almost)

After last year’s disappointment with Prana zip-off trousers, I went big and bought a pair of Fjallraven Keb trousers. And they’re amazing. They are brilliantly put together. They have stretchy fabric that puts me in mind of thicker cycling kit around the butt and waist, then on the front of the legs they have this thicker, sturdier stuff that looks like you could crawl around on your hands and knees on it all day (why I don’t know) and have it survive.

They've got big front pockets and thigh pockets for carrying stuff. They dispense with butt pockets because you can’t reach them anyway with a big pack on your back or when you’re sitting in a canoe.

They don’t zip off at mid-thigh but the do have zipped vents to cool off if needed.

The only canoeing drawback which highlights their intended use as hiking pants is the cuff, which is thick, to the point of weighty. It's designed to be resist the wear and tear of going whiff whiff against hiking boots, and to clip in to gaiters or some hiking kit. It’s water resistant but it does get wet and stay wet much longer than the rest of the garment which dries quite quickly.

MSR pot set fried after one trip

A better pot set mostly

I’m on a lifelong quest to arrange a rational, compact yet light weight kitchen pack. And the pots, pans and cups have been a preoccupation and frustration for some time. I’ve been using two nested steel pots big enough to store cutlery, utensils and mug mates within. But the multi-purpose mugs and frying pan and handle just sort of clatter around the kitchen bag.

So this year I got a new purpose-built pot set. And it was sort of an improvement. It’s definitely lighter than the stuff it replaces. It packs smaller. But I still need to bring a frying pan, which must now double as the place where the utensils and mugmates are stored. The non-stick interior of the two pots seemed a little precious to me, but we’ll see how it holds up over the seasons.

Maybe if I added this quick skillet I might reach nirvannah. At least as far as packing the equipment goes.

I have two other issues with this set. The first is the lids for the cups. They are going to take some getting used to I think. I see why they included them. Snap them on to the top of your coffee and no more accidental caffeine deprivation incidents. And if someone is off doing something after the coffee is poured, they might still enjoy some warmth when they get back.

But they’re another thing to clean and they’re a really tight fit. I didn’t use them at all.

The second is more serious. I think the teflon coating on the pots might be a bit too precious for canoe camping. Either that or my tripping partner and I abuse cookware. This is what the bottom of the main pot looks like after making three meals and being washed with a cloth and camp suds three times.

No camping equipment stays pristine forever, but this I think is too much too soon. I'm torn about taking it back because it looks like some of this might have been done by a scrubbie. And that's human error. But the whitish discolouration looks like either heat damage or some sort of damage done by a J-cloth?

Sleeping while camping

This was the first year I’d used a fitness tracker on a canoe trip. I wouldn’t want the trips to become an extended workout or form of training. But I was curious about the level of effort required and the level of sleep. Fitbit Charge HR to the rescue.

Canoe trip Regular week % Difference
Minutes Asleep 413.5 392.8 +5%
Minutes Awake 28.0 31.0 -10%
Number of Awakenings 20.8 20.8 0%
Time in Bed 441.5 434.0 2%

Compared to a regular week, I spent more minutes asleep, fewer minutes awake during the night, but with the same number of awakenings and a bit more time in bed. This is surprising since it goes against my impression that sleeping while canoeing is less restorative because of all the tossing and turning, trying to get comfortable.

But on the face of it, the only real problem is getting so little sleep the night before leaving.

What are your thoughts?

Prove you’re human



Posted Saturday, October 3rd, 2015 09:40 pm

Chris from Ottawa writes:

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Posted Wednesday, October 7th, 2015 02:13 pm

The FOT Trip companion map portage length detail is 100's of meters.
A P3 would be 300 m. or less, though a 210 would have been marked a P2.
If you head into a P3 and pace it off quickly cause it was closer to 250 m. who cares really?

I find it odd that the other maps can report the portage lengths to the meter, considering put in and take outs, tree falls, inundated areas and such all play a factor in the total length traversed. And who is measuring all these to this accuracy, I mean every single portage in Temagami is measured to this exacting tolerance that you would expect 247 m.

How many of Jeff's Map portages are actual GPS tracts, I know for certain lots are not. How do these mappers deal with the vertical distance when measuring over a 2D base?

In measuring the portages in the FOT map, we used GIS, and none were conforming to the Hap Wilson record which is likely the best understanding from his personal pacing of many of the portages.

All good points. I didn't actually figure out the legend and the system the Friends Map uses until you pointed it out. Whoops. Now I get it. I have revised my notes about the maps in the hope that it helps someone else avoid the mistake I made. Thanks for writing.


Posted Sunday, April 17th, 2016 05:49 pm

Jeff from writes:

I totally agree about the Garmin version of my map being suboptimal. It's really just a quick and easy hack that lets me make something available quickly/easily in the short term. I've always intended to release a proper vector version of the map for Garmin GPS's, but with so many other things to do it's never been a high enough priority. It's certainly on my todo list though :)

Re: being cluttered - I think I've gotten much better over time but there's always a bunch of room to improve. I certainly do include a ton of content, but my goal is to try and have the important stuff that you'll need in the moment stick out (portages, campsites, canoe routes) with everything else being lighter and fading into the background. If there's anything in particular that you found distracting do let me know. If not just know that I'm always striving to do better and better :D

Re: Portage Distances (Responding to Chris's Comment) - That's correct - a good chunk of the portages on my map aren't yet GPSed but it's only a matter of time (over the last few years I've got my Algonquin and Killarney maps ~90% GPSed and intend to do the same with the Temagami map as it evolves). While I respect that you feel differently, I round my numbers to the nearest 5m since:

a) Especially on the low end there's a big difference between a 5m portage and a 90m portage (if only because it gives context to what you should be looking for) and
b) when I go tripping I estimate my pacing in minutes (I estimate 66m/minute, so a 65m portage would be 1 minute, a 135m portage would be two, etc) so that level of granularity is something I personally find helpful.

Yes, things like blowdowns modify the actual distance that you're portaging making it such that there will inherently be some variation, but in general I've found that whenever I get multiple GPS tracks of the same portage they're usually within 5m or 10m of each other. If the FoT feels differently then hey, no problem, they can do whatever they feel they want to do, but that's why I've made the choice to display distances in the manner that I have.