A quick stop at a family restaurant on Main Street in Huntsville for pancakes, bacon and eggs then we continued north – it wouldn’t be long now! I was headed to Kearney to obtain my permit and from there to a lesser-used access point just north of the Tim River – it’s a bushwhack to West Koko Pond and cuts a good amount paddling and portaging off the route which allowed me to get further down the Nipissing River on day one. We arrived in Kearney a little after 9 a.m. and the permit office was packed. It took me about 25 minutes to obtain my permit. Eventually I was served and I inquired about my stay at the Highview Cabin and if fires in the woodstove were a part of the ban. I was told no, because its not an open fire, but I’ve also heard that it might apply – either way I didn’t think I would need the fire for warmth, but I did want to light the stove at night for ambiance and for some interior photos of the cabin. Once everything was printed up and ready to go, the final thing they wrote in big green letters across my permit was ‘RFZ’. Restricted Fire Zone. It was official now (to me) there was no way around it – the next 16 days I will be without fire. I couldn’t believe my luck – this trip was a year in the making and completely changed due to three little letters. RFZ. Oh well - Improvise, Adapt, Overcome – right? After making the final turn up a little logging road, I approached the park boarder (indicated by signage and a gate). ‘I’m here – this is the spot!’ I said, with no water in sight. ‘Where are you going from here?’ I was asked. I looked at the forest around me, then looked at my GPS and pointed to a random, but accurate spot in the bush and said, ‘That way! Believe me, about 300m that way is a lake and then I’m on the canoe route!’
They didn’t look too confident, but I knew exactly where I was headed and what to expect. I unloaded my canoe and my gear while the deer flies flew all around me – this wasn’t looking good – they were everywhere! I made quick work of dismounting the canoe from the car and removing my pack. Everything was ready to go – the adventure was about to begin. I waved goodbye and watched as my ride left down the narrow gravel road leading home. I gave one look at my gear, one look at my canoe and one look at the forest and only one thing came to mind: Double-Carry. Not only because this was a bushwhack, but I also had 8 days of supplies with me. This would be the only portage on the trip in which I would double carry.
I walked along the little road following forest and searching for a less-dense area to make the bushwhack easier. As luck would have it, my buddy Glen was here just a few weeks before me and he flagged the trail. I found the entrance he marked and began to follow his orange flagging tape. It was a pretty thick trail, but the tape definitely helped. I was having a pretty easy go at it but suddenly I began to lose sight of the flagging tape. I saw a bit on the ground but none beyond that. I referred back to the GPS and decided to make a straight run to West Koko Pond. Seeing how the ‘trail’ was only 300m I knew it may be bad, but it wouldn’t last long. This came true after about 3 minutes I began to see the lake through the trees. After climbing over some rather large fallen trees I arrived at West Koko Pond. I looked for a decent spot along the shore to launch and dropped my pack. I marked its location on the GPS then doubled-back for my canoe. The trail felt a lot friendlier on the way back – must have been the lack of a 80lb pack on my back – who would have thought. I saw some of the flagging tape I missed on the first time around but just continued along the new trail I had made. It was pretty easy to get back to the canoe and it wasn’t long before I was back at West Koko Pond – the adventure may have begun when the car left me back there, but it wasn’t until I launched my boat on the lake that I felt the trip had officially begun – I mean, who starts off a canoe trip with a portage anyway?
The paddle across the lake was pretty straightforward and by 11:20am I was at the landing for P790 to Big Bob Lake. I sat at the portage landing for a few minutes just to take in everything around me. I feel like this was the moment it hit me: It was finally here, so much planning and it’s finally here – I was finally out on my ‘big solo’. I snapped out of it to get back to the task at hand – getting to the other side of this portage. I have a total of 9 portages to cover today, but most of then are less than 100m. I was looking forward to getting this 790m out of the way as it was by far the longest trail I’d have to deal with today. With the paddles secured, I picked up my pack – which was insanely heavy, pushing 80+ lbs – I knew I wouldn’t be getting across this trail without taking a few breaks. Little did I know the first hundred meters of this portage has a 65ft ascent. I huffed, puffed and groaned my way to the top where I immediately had to take a break. It was hot and I was already soaked in sweat. I debated double carrying but after a few minutes of rest and water I loaded up once again and continued down the trail. It was now a steady decline to Big Bob Lake and though my legs were shaking by the time I got there, I managed to do it without another break – which was nice because unloading and reloading takes a lot of energy.
Finally at the last portage of the day - P165 around a small obstruction in the river
Campsite on the Nipissing River at Grass Lake
Looking west up The Nipissing River from P65
Looking west across Big Bob Lake from the landing of P790
With dinner finished I washed up and walked behind the campsite to find a suitable branch for hanging my food. It took a while due to the type of forest around here but eventually I found a branch capable of holding 8 days of food. I hoisted the food bag, which was more challenging than I thought it would be then went back to the site to finish cleaning up. It had been a long and exciting day and I was really looking forward to getting some rest. I got in the tent just before 10pm and was fell asleep in no time.
Bushwhack to West Koko Pond and on to the Nipissing River @ Grass Lake
At last! The river 'widens' a bit
The paddle down the Nipissing was beautiful and about three hours after I launched from P110 I was finally at the last portage of the day – a 165m trail around a rocky section of the river. I was getting pretty tired by now. I’ve been travelling in the hot sun for 6 hours and was really looking forward to making camp and relaxing. I was booked for the campsite just past Grass Lake on the river. I made a very quick crossing of the last portage and found a canoe safety kit from an outfitter on the ground. It must have fallen from someone’s canoe. I picked it up and figured the best place for it would be the Highview cabin, so I took it with me. After a quick launch, I was back on the water and as I approached Grass Lake I could hear something splashing around in the water - but because of the tall grasses on the river bank I couldn’t see what it was – though sounded large. A moment later I emerged onto Grass Lake and saw two female moose eating lilies on the opposite shore. I hope they stick around enjoying their dinner while I get mine going, I’m hungry too! Then it hit me – I remembered that I’d have to ‘pan-fry’ my steak tonight as I couldn’t have a fire. Oh well – better than no steak at all. Finally – just a few moments before 6pm I arrived at my campsite. It was recommended by Glen and it was a good call. All of the sites along the Nipissing River that I’ve passed so far left a lot to be desired – this one was nice with a commanding view of the river and Grass Lake in the background.
Day 1: West Koko Pond to the Nipissing River @ Grass Lake
Its 5:15 a.m., the alarm goes off and instantly I’m awake. I didn’t get much sleep last night due to sheer excitement. Today would be the beginning of the longest and furthest trip I had ever attempted – 16 days - and I was going solo. I wasted no time getting dressed and outside to load the canoe on the car, with everything else pre-packed in the trunk the night before. With the canoe secured on the roof, we set off by 5:50 a.m. and made a quick stop at Tim Horton’s for coffee and muffins – our plan was to stop in Huntsville for a full breakfast. The highway had very little traffic and the drive up was actually peaceful – which is not always the case on highway’s 400 & 11 going north. During the drive up I began to mull over all the trip plans in my mind. I reviewed the food I packed (on a list) and compared it to the food in my re-supply box that I had dropped off the week before in Brent (see TR19). In a very unfortunate turn of events just days before this trip began, a total fire-ban was put into effect. I couldn’t believe it from a planning perspective, but knowing how dry the forest had been lately and how little rain the area had seen, I’m surprised the ban wasn’t called earlier. The unfortunate thing about a fire-ban being called just days before a huge trip like this is the monkey wrench it throws into both your food and waste management plans. I pre-pack in a way that I burn a bit of garbage each night with a fire and only carry the non-burnable stuff out with me. A fire ban changes that – I now had to figure out how to manage 16 days of waste on my own. I wasn’t able to get in touch with Jake in Brent before I left, but I hoped that when I arrived there in 8 days to pick up my re-supply he would help me dispose of my garbage. As for food, I had to make slight variations to the menu, and add a larger fuel supply for my stove for all cooking and boiling. I was pretty sure I had it covered.
When I arrived at P110 I noticed the river was becoming much more narrow than the sections I had just paddled. I knew this part of the Nipissing was plagued by alders and I wondered where they were. I loaded up, crossed the trail and immediately had the answer to my alder pondering. The river here was is narrow and I expected to be fighting alder spiders for the next couple hours. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. The river here is extremely narrow and made worse by the alders closing in from both sides. They were fairly consistent with only a few sections here and there where you could see the sky. There are about 5 or 6 lift-overs throughout this section and it’s quite challenging when solo – especially when using a double-blade. It took me a solid hour and a half to get past the log jams and finally the river opened up a bit. For the most part the alders were over but there were still small sections here and there to navigate through.
The view from my campsite near Grass Lake
Thankfully - THIS is the Upper Nipissing
I was a bit laggy in setting up camp, probably from being out in the sun all day but after chugging a bunch of water I was starting to feel better. I need to be more conscious of drinking water when its so hot out. It was cloudy and looked like it could rain, which I would welcome at this point because though it was getting late it was still very warm out. Once the camp chores were complete I mixed up a drink of rum & Mio Lime. Sounds questionable I know, but it’s actually pretty good. I spent the next hour sipping on my drink and relaxing by the shore overlooking the marsh. The moose were long gone and it was a quiet evening. I was really surprised at how few bugs there were, especially for a marshy area and no smoky fire to ward them off. Eventually I decided it was time to make dinner and I got everything ready to go. The meal tonight is steak, mashed potato and red pepper. One thing I must admit, it took me much less time to cook dinner due to the fire ban, seeing how I didn’t have to gather wood, light a fire and wait for a bed of coals to form. I had dinner ready in about a half hour and once again sat down by the shore to enjoy it. It was just before 9pm now and the bugs finally came out for their evening feast. It was tolerable as I munched my pan-fried steak and fixings.
The downstream end of P200 - Ready to keep going down the Nipissing River
I knew the Upper Nipissing River would be small but... seriously?
Slowly, the river starts to close in from both sides
It's better if you don't touch anything - every branch has what I call 'Alder Spiders' - and they're jerks.
The insane obstruction P65 circumnavigates
More alders, spiders and who knows what else
Just when you've had enough of the Alder Spiders, these guys start falling on you
Landed at my first 'real' portage of the trip - P790 to Big Bob Lake - with this one down, only 61 to go!
There's supposed to be a river here - do you see a river? I don't see a river. I see an endless meadow.
Campsite on the Nipissing River at Grass Lake
I didn’t rush to get down the river, instead I took my time and paddled as quiet as possible hoping to see some moose. This river looked like a moose hot spot and I figured it was just a matter of time before I spotted one. There is a good gap between portages here and I debated pulling out the rod for a bit and having a go at some brook trout. I opted not to as I had a pretty late start to my day and still had six more portages to tackle. It took me about an hour to get from Big Bob to the first portage on the Nipissing – a quick 65m trail around an old logging dam. There wasn’t much evidence of the dam, aside from some scrap iron rods. I crossed this trail, launched on the river and approached the next 65m portage. This trail was just the same as the last – very quick and you can see both ends from either landing. I relaunched on the river and had a slight log jam to contend with – but nothing troublesome and I managed to keep my feet dry. Just a few more minutes and I hit the next portage, a 55m trail with a campsite on it. I debated stopping here for lunch but I wasn’t hungry yet and decided to push on. About an hour after I began the first portage of this sequence, I was at the 200m trail around a small set of rapids. So far, all the portages along the Nipissing River have been signed and cleared of debris, making the crossings very quick. This one was no different and I relaunched onto the Nipissing River for the 5th time today.
This guy is so disgustingly large I wondered if perhaps the portage was to get around him!
I looked out at Big Bob and immediately thought, ‘Oh I’ll definitely be coming back here to camp.’ (which I did, see TR 33). The lake just had a wild and remote feel to it, the pines that surrounded it looked a little different from the rest in the park. I launched my boat and made the short crossing to P200 leading out to the Nipissing River. I thought the campsite near this portage looked nice – a huge rock sloping into the water. The landing for P200 was clear of obstructions and I was able to land & load in just minutes. This was a flat trail following a creek and before I knew it I was out in the meadow – but where was the river? All I could see was the tiny little creek – ‘this can’t be it’ I thought. I knew it was record low water, but this had me worried – what would the rest of the river be like? I decided to follow the creek a bit more and the decision paid off. I arrived at the Nipissing River proper and was happy to see it was wide with plenty of water. I launched the boat and started down the river. Last week when I dropped off my food supply and camped on the lower Nipissing River I was looking around wondering what the upper section would look like. It’s a fairly different river from one end to the other.
Looking back across West Koko Pond from the landing of P790 to Big Bob Lake
The river becomes even more narrow towards Grass Lake