I have always wanted to share the magic of the north with those who have never been there. Stories and photos could only tell so much; the feeling of sitting on a rock island, drinking hot coffee while listening to the cries of a loon can only be experienced. When I stopped by Toronto to visit my cousins after Killarney 2015, they took one look at the photos and decided they wanted to go on the next trip. All I needed was the spark of interest to set the trip planning in motion. After setting the launch date for August 22, 2015, I began mapping out the route. I’ve always wanted to paddle the waters of Temagami in Ontario, what I better way to experience it than with two first timers. I wanted it to be a trip they would never forget. I went all out and designed t-shirts for the trip on CustomInk. It actually turned out halfway decent.
So, on August 22, 2015, Brian and I left Richmond, VA to head to Toronto to pick up our cousins Andrew and Eric. From there, it would be another 4 hours to Temagami. We spent the night of the 22nd in Toronto, helping my cousins pack and trying on watershoes and prepping our gear. In the morning, we finished the drive, stopping only at North Bay to take a quick look at the town and eat some lunch at a restaurant called Cecil’s.
We arrived in Temagami at about 6:00pm, from there we head to our lodging for the night, a place called Loon Lodge nestled on an island on Lake Temagami. The lodge is owned and operated by a very nice couple, John and Jenny. I had never stayed at a lodge like this before, it was Canadian in every way. Outside were forest green, restored Keewaydin Camp canoes resting by the dock, plaques of trophy Pike and Walleye hung from the cabin walls, hummingbirds drinking from the feeder and a portrait of Grey Owl displayed proudly in the dining hall. Needless to say, we were in love with the place. We spent the evening swimming and diving off the docks, racing canoes and enjoying the glory of a Northern summer.
August 23, 2015: Monday morning, we each ate a giant breakfast at the lodge. I had forgotten how good Canadian sausages were. A couple of boys related to the lodge owners joined us and told tales of their fishing victories against giant Northern Pike. After breakfast, we packed up our gear and began navigating through Lake Temagami. Our journey had officially begun. We battled choppy waters and headwinds towards Diamond Lake. Halfway into the paddle and several hours later, we came to the realization that we would have to chose a different route.
The water was far too rough and we raced against threatening storm clouds that turned the water black. With such an open view of the wilderness, we could actually see the rain approaching. The drumming of rain hitting the water became louder and louder until it was finally right over our heads. After paddling a total of 20km that day, we made our way past the Keewaydin camp and into Upper Kokoko Bay where we found a nice rock campsite. I could tell Brian was excited, he’s been interested in the Keewaydin camp for quite some time now. One of the oldest camps in North America, they teach traditional camping and canoeing skills; paddling with woodvas canoes, hauling wannigans and portaging with tumplines. Their camps are broken up into sections of boys and girls. Some of the more experienced sections even take expeditions up to the James Bay. I was surprised to learn that Grey Owl actually was a member of the camp in his youth.
It was pouring by the time we reached the campsite. Brian and I worked quickly to set up the tarps while Eric and Andrew gathered firewood to dry our clothes. We had spicy curry chicken and chickpeas for dinner with a nice loaf of bannock, salami and cheese. The boys had ferocious appetites. As the night wound down, it was clear we were all exhausted. The sound of wind and rain rapping on the tents didn’t even hinder our sleep.
August 24, 2015: We woke up to a chilly morning and lowered the food barrel from the trees. It was time to make some breakfast. Scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese slices in tortilla wraps. Eric and I later took the canoe for a paddle around the bay in search of walleye, while Brian took Andrew for some canoe lessons. He was a natural paddler and was even starting to get down the J-stroke. This afternoon was actually the longest stretch we had on the trip without rain. We found a small rock island where we set our canoes and soaked in the passing sunlight. For dinner we decided to cook some chili with baked corn bread using the reflector oven. The corn bread is definitely something I will be adding to my camping menus, very easy to make and actually really good. For desert we ate smores and drank tea, coffee and hot chocolate. The clouds passed just long enough for us to get a great view of the big dipper.
August 25, 2015: We woke up to yet another morning of overcast. It actually took us a few hours to eat breakfast and pack up all of our gear for the paddle home. At this point, we polished off the remainder of the food. I actually originally planned for an additional day and night out in the backcountry, but our food supplies were low, the fishing unsuccessful and the rain persisted. We decided to head back and get an extra day in at the lodge. We had a 6 hour paddle ahead of us and it was time to feed these guys. We made all 12 packs of oatmeal, as well as the mac and cheese with tuna.
With satisfied bellies, we made the easy paddle to the portage site. It would be a 570m portage and we were dreading it. It was wet, slippery and the mosquitoes were out. The fiberglass canoes were much heavier than kevlar. In addition, the yokes were not formed very well. We decided to assign two men per canoe for the portage and it ended up saving our spines. The paddle home was much more scenic than the way in. Kokoko Lake had several beautiful island campsites with Jack Pine scattered throughout. There were also shallow marsh regions which reminded me of Algonquin. We then reached our second portage a short 120m that was even rockier. After a quick snack break of gorp, salami and dried fruit we paddled through the beautiful and peaceful Kokoko bay. The water was calm and the paddling was smooth. The boys have come a long way since the beginning of the trip. Their paddle strokes were now powerful and consistent. Despite the rain and overcast, the beauty of Temagami was overwhelming.
Upon reaching Loon Lodge at 7:10pm (closing time at 8:00pm), we were happy to see John and Jenny once again. We were all starving. John fired up the grill and we ate massive meals of fish and chips, burgers and poutine. After the feast, we carried our gear to the welcoming and familar common room of the lodge. We were cold, our faces weathered from the wind, our muscles sore from paddling. We each took turns taking hot showers and felt like kings. I don’t think the feeling of dryness and warmth could never be appreciated enough. We hung our clothes by the imitation fireplace and watched Steven Seagul movies on Canadian television. It amazed me how easy it was to get dry indoors. While we were out in the upper Kokoko bay, hanging the clothes out to dry was basically futile against the intermittent showers and wind. Even during times of sunshine, there was an invisible mist of humidity which kept things damp.
The next morning we packed up early and said our goodbyes to John and Jenny. John gave us a boat lift back to the access point and we loaded up the car. They seemed likely truly genuine nice people. As we were driving down the Temagami lake access road, the corner of my eye caught sight of a whole family of bears. One mama bear and 4 cubs. The tradition holds true! An epic wildlife sighting at the end of every trip. Tradition recap: Algonquin 2014 (moose), Killarney 2015 (black bear), now Temagami 2015 (family of black bears). The perfect exit to our time in the Temagami wilderness. We decided to explore the town, and hit up markets and local businesses. Andrew ended up buying a dreamcatcher, a necklass and bracelet. I ended up buying some local gin by a distillery near the Georgian bay. Brian picked up a case of beer. We picked up grapes as well and ate lunch in the town, fish burgers with poutine. We also visited an old site where they made wood canvas canoes many years ago. It appeared that the shop was no longer in use.
Before leaving the town, we decided to make the climb up the Temagami firetower. It was a high climb with 157 steps to reach 100 feet. It stands on top of Caribou Mountain 400′ above town and 1300′ above sea level. The scenery was beautiful as we marveled at the boreal forest and Canadian shield while a beaver plane took off for an adventure.
The main reason I wanted to go on this trip was to immerse my cousins in the experience of true backcountry camping. By the looks on their faces, I knew they had a good time despite rain for four straight days. In a short time, they learned the basics of canoeing, they learned how to make fire with wet wood, they filtered water, they looked after one another and they cooked meals in the wilderness. They portaged difficult trails and carried heavy fiberglass canoes from lake to lake. I think most importantly, they learned the lesson of delayed gratification. If it’s raining, it’s okay to be uncomfortable, wet and cold, as long as you are working to improve the situation.
Setting up tarps, gathering firewood is all hard work under wet conditions, but knowing that we will be warm and dry once again is something to work for. Portages are difficult, but they too are conquered one careful step at a time. By enduring these difficulties that not many people are willing to take on, you are rewarded by being present in the splendor of Canadian wilderness.