Touring Temagami

Day 5

Sunday August 1st, 4:20pm, Willow Island Lake

The last two days along the Lady Evelyn River have been the best and the worst of this trip. Certainly the falls, the scree canyon, the boulder-spewn stretches of river bank must be amongst Temagami's most beautiful sights. I hope my pictures will do them justice.

The portages, on the other hand, are a form of torture. None is very long, but many - namely anything that bypasses a falls - are deadly. We had four more of them today in addition to four relatively sane ones, and one instance of lining through a rapid.

More than once I found myself crawling up the side of a cliff on hands and knees, or gingerly lowering myself from precarious foothold to precarious foothold, down some absurdly steep incline. To look at them from the river, sheltered Algonquin/Killarney etc boy that I am, it would never occur to me that these were portages.

If I ever go through this stretch again (I'd love to, parenthetically, is anyone going any time soon?) I would not do the single pass thing. In fact I'd be tempted to hand-carry in a number of places. It's too hard. Half the time we were too fried to even look at the falls. Almost a waste of the trip, really.

So why did I keep doing both items? Am I a stubborn macho twit with a subconscious desire for self-destruction? Yes.

Actually most of the time it was my own optimism that landed me in the situation. After doing one portage, I'd think to myself, "surely now we've had the worst of it. There can't possibly be a way they'd make another one of those things." The other reason is to put some distance between us and the camp groups which invariably struggle to stay at all organized on portages and often get in the way.

It's amazing how much time you save if you only walk a portage once.

In any case, I'd suit up with both items, then I'd get to a scary bit and say "oh fuck it, I'm already here so I might as well keep going." My luck and the soles of my shoes held out. They might not if I tried it again.

Twin Sisters Falls has Hap Wilson's cottage/institute on it. It's spectacular. Hap, if you're reading this, and you ever want to sell, let me know. But I guess road access is out of the question?

There is this tiny island in the middle of Twin Sisters and the Wilson-Aykroyd cabin perches on it, at times leaning out over the frothing water. It's quite a construction. I can't imaging doing the portage to get the lumber there.

After Twin Sisters was Bridal Veil Falls. Just as nasty. The campsite in the middle of the portage looked fairly nice. After that is an 870m portage that is almost Algonquin-esque in its politeness, but for the fact that as on a few others, someone has torn down the portage markers.

Beyond the 870m portage is Fat Man's Falls and the portage of the same name. I found the descent at the south end of this portage particularly outrageous. With any luck you'll see why from the photos. Both of us made it, but coming down this "hill" ranked as both of our "Top moment of terror" for the trip.

Two more unnamed portages and a walk-through of a shallow rapid (we would have run it if we weren't paddling a carbon-kevlar canoe) and the river widens out and flattens. We had lunch on this part. Three kilometres later, it flows into Willow Island Lake.

We paddled north on to Willow Island Lake and put in at Paul O'Donnell's recommended island campsite. I imagine it was in better shape when Paul was here. Signs of use were rampant, and the east side of the island had a distinct toilet smell to it.

It's a small island, about 2.5km south and west of the portages back to Lady Evelyn Lake. It has a shitbox on it, but it's on the well-used side and the squirrels have had at the seat.

While I'm not sure what I think about the whole parkification of Temagami, someone sure is. Namely the someone who went through the Lady Evelyn River's South Channel and ripped down the Parks Ontario portage markers - though only the ones on the north end of the portages. They left the old plastic 'P' markers but all that remained of the yellow diamonds were the roofing nails and a shred of yellow plastic.

Irene and I couldn't find the start of the 870m after Bridal Veil Falls. We figured it was a river bank rock hop like we'd done before. So we started hopping. A few hundred metres down, we ran out of rocks to hop. We decided to bush crash in and find the trail. Irene did. Irene followed it forward, I followed it back. I found another excised portage marker. And a forgotten sock.

To the vandal(s): I'm not saying I'm against all forms of vandalism as a form of political action in all cases, and I have no idea what motivated you to waste my (and also possibly your) money destroying some ranger's work, but could you please be consistent?

I want to know if I'm looking for a marker or not. The portage put-ins look like moose trails half the time. If not for the tell-tale lone sock, how would I ever know I was in the right place?

Dude, if you're trying to make a point, get a leaflet or a website. If you were just souvenir hunting, may you and your canoe wash over Fat Man's Falls face first.

We had rain last night and this morning's sun disappeared quickly enough that we reckoned more was coming. So we broke camp before our various large nylon surfaces were dry. It's amazing how much all those teensy water droplets can weigh.

I am relieved to be able to say that the anticipated rain did not materialize and the sun came back in time to dry the various precipices - some marked others not - along the Lady Ev' River.

Those rocks are quite slippery with even a little moisture. When wet, you might want to consider hand carrying your gear through the nastier bits of those portages.

This island seems to have the same sort of ankle-biting flies I encountered on the Bruce Trail a couple of years back.

Apart from being a rumble lake, Willow Island Lake is beautiful. And we've only seen a trio of motor boats.

Wildlife spotting has thus far been limited to otters along the Lady Evelyn River (they're cute when they snort), meerganser ducks, gulls, loons and of course squirrels and chipmunks.

The socks of Temagami

Socks. Must say something about socks. It seems the only sure-fire way to know you're at the start of a portage is to look for a lone sock, soaked in mud and rainwater. I'm not sure if the colour means anything but I'm thinking that if it's a (formerly) white sweat sock, it means the portage is difficult and you may need a belay.

Perhaps our marker murderer was only trying to enforce the Temagami sock standard for navigation and clear up any confusion. Still, I can't help thinking of the sacrifice of all those paddlers, walking around with one blistered foot and a bug-bitten ankle. Thanks for taking one for the team guys. There's many of us that made it back home that are forever in your semi-barefooted debt.

Sanctimonious talk about shitting in the woods

I've found most of our sites littered with toilet paper. Of all our sites only two have had the thunderboxes familiar to anyone who's ever camped at an interior site on one of Ontario's managed parks. The others have been turd anarchy. People shit everywhere and no one, it seems, takes their toilet paper with them.

We saw new stuff, old stuff, stuff that had been buried but had risen from the grave. Toilet paper does not degrade with any reasonable speed and burying it is not good enough.

I know, it's hard. Most North Americans shit using devices, which when properly maintained, deliver the illusion that you're the only person to ever shit there and, once you're done, eliminate all evidence that you've ever shit there. Anything less antiseptic induces a degree of discomfort or disgust. In increasing order of queasiness: public washrooms, skidmarks on the bowl, a heap of other people's turds deep in a dirt hole, a smaller heap nestled just six to eight inches deep in the humus.

I understand the urge to shit, wipe, drop, say "eeeew!" and run. But you're in Temagami, for crying out loud. If you were expecting something else give your head a shake and grab the next float plane for Murphy's Point.

The proliferation of two-ply trilliums is one of the stronger arguments for turning Temagami (as soon as anyone can define its boundaries) into a managed park. We don't manage anarchy very well. At least if they could use a box, the prissy gits who drop the stuff wherever they drop their pants would at least have an incentive to help contain the mess - they'd have somewhere to sit.

stripslashes(Cabin Falls aka Twin Sisters Falls)

Cabin Falls, aka Twin Sisters Falls

stripslashes(Scree canyon, below Twin Sisters Falls, Lady Evelyn River. Temagami, Ontario, Canada, Earth.)

Scree canyon, below Twin Sisters Falls, Lady Evelyn River. Temagami, Ontario, Canada, Earth.

stripslashes(Fat Man\'s portage, Lady Evelyn River. Yup. Sure looks like a portage to me.)

Fat Man's portage, Lady Evelyn River. Yup. Sure looks like a portage to me.