Chiniguchi Canoe Trip - Sept./Oct. 2010

From Wednesday September 29th, to Sunday October 4rd 2010, Dan Payne and I treked into the solitude of the Chiniguchi area, North-East of Sudbury Ontario (between Sudbury and Temagami, as the crow flies.) The following map shows our route.

Chiniguchi is an area I've been wanting to paddle for many years. This region is crown land, and some of the area is partially protected as a non-operating park. But, because there are no permit fees or reservations required, the area can be a zoo in prime paddling season. Alas, Fall 2010 finally provided the opportunity (and time window) to paddle Chiniguchi off-season. As a frequent paddler in reservation parks such as Killarney, Massassauga, Haliburton and Algonquin, I was leary of what Chiniguchi would be like. Would the camp sites be a mess, would hunters' gun shots be bouncing off the hills, would the loggers have stripped the forest bare?

All my worries were put to rest, as the area was very remote, mostly untouched, camp sites in reasonable shape and not too worn out, and whatever hunters were in the area were far away from the paddling routes. In fact, once we got past Wolf lake, we saw and heard no one for days, providing an isolation that was rare for me, even comparing to the farthest north sections of Killarney PP.

Day 0: Tuesday Sept. 28th

Dan and I planned to leave late Tuesday afternoon, and crash at the Hungry Bear Restaurant & Motel south of Sudbury on highway 69. This would give us an early start to the trip on Wednesday, and allow us to cover some good distance on the first day. For early and late season trips in Killarney and farther North, I like going up the night before and staying there, otherwise known as the French River Trading Post. Certainly nothing fancy, but more than sufficient. If you're arriving very late, as we were, they simply leave the key pinned to the room door with your name on it.

It took us a bit of time to get on the road, as we needed one last stop at the grocery store to cover off a few items Dan was not so sure on from the shopping list. With steaks and coffee packed, we got trucking, making our way to highway 400 North to Barrie, and beyond.

Tripping in early October is always a weather-adventure, not made any easier given that the forecast was calling for some wet cool days and cold nights. My cautionary advance reports to Dan must have sunk in, as I helped him sort through the mountain of clothing he had packed that night at the motel! With half of the redundant clothing set aside, we managed to get his pack down to a reasonable size ("layers dude... it's all about layers".)

We woke to a gray, cool drizzly day, as expected. A classic breakfast at the Hungry Bear restaurant, and we were off. We got off highway 17 just east of Sudbury onto Kukagami Road, and traveled north. The dirt road was in far better condition than I expected, as several trip reports I had read warned of crater-sized pot holes, mad logging trucks, and gun-toting red necks. We say none of the above, and made it up to Matagamasi Lake without a hitch. For details on how to get to the access points for Chiniguchi, there is no better resource than the web site.

Day 1: Matagamasi to Wolf Lake

  • 13.5km to Wolf Lake: p350, p360.

    We had decided to park our vehicle at Lakeland Lodge. This meant we entered the water from Portage Bay on Lake Wanapitei, adding an extra kilometer of paddling and a short 100m portage to Matagamasi Lake itself. But, this is a worthwhile price to pay, to ensure your car is safe. I had read trip reports that the government dock on Matagamasi is small, over-crowded, and tires have been slashed in the past. The folks at Lakeland Lodge were extremely helpful on the phone, and charged only $2 a day for parking... compared to the $14/day rates that Hartley Bay Marina charges in the French River, this was nothing! If you plan to park at Lakeland Lodge, just call a few days prior, and they will sort you out with simple instructions.

    Creek along the portage to Wolk Lake

    We had just finished the first small portage along the road between Portage Bay and Matagamasi, when a guy on an ATV drove up from Lakeland Lodge (their lodge is on an island in Portage Bay, so we didn't actually see anyone at the launch.) We chatted for a bit, and learned a bunch about their core business, which is outfitting and guiding hunting trips, which in the Fall, means bear hunters. We learned that the Europeans come over with bows, and show incredible hunting skills without guns. Americans, their other main source of customers, like the Big Guns, and can always be found at the before the end of the day waiting by the road side for pick-up before spooky darkness sets in. I asked if we had to be careful for hunters in the area, and we were told no, the hunting is done far away from the canoe routes. Indeed, this proved completely true, as we never say a single hunter, nor even heard a gun shot.

    As we paddled up the North (West) arm of the Matagamasi to Wolf Lake, I was amazed at how few cottages there were. Having paddled in crown land several times, I had expected a far more cottages and boats. Once we got into the North arm itself, there were no cottages at all, and we never saw a single boat in the water (admittedly, it was mid-week, cold, threatening rain, and most cottagers were done for the season.) We did see an eagle flying high on a ridge line, which was a great start to the trip.

    Water Falls and wading pool

    At the first portage to Wolf Lake, we encountered a large youth group being led by a local outfitting company. I always like seeing young children on trips, as it reminds me of trips with my 13 year-old son. Alas, a week off school is too much, so Devin was not with me on this trip. The leader of the group came down the portage to our landing as we were packing up, and we had a great chat with him. He was excited to tell us all about the area for our planned loop trip, and sat with us for over 15 minutes pouring over the maps. We walked the portage together, and we learned he had been a trader at the Toronto Stock Exchange, and quit to start his outfitting company. Following his dream, this guy was truly in his element, and easily handled the gaggle of kids all clearly confused and not-so-much in their element! We said goodbye, and carried on to the second half of the portage to Wolf Lake.

    We had learned that the youth group was planning to camp on the north end of the lake, and was staying put there and returning a couple days later. So, we decided to camp at the site in the 'cut' midway on Wolf Lake. The site was clean and well maintained: these local outfitting companies depend on this area for their trips, and clearly respect the land, and are good stewards. Throughout the trip, this proved true: camp sites were clean, unlike some in Temagami I've dealt with that were littered with garbage, requiring extensive clean-up. Although this camp site happened to have a thunderbox, it was in serious need of a new home, so I dug two new holes, and relocated it (one for the surplus waste poking out, and one for the new box location.)

    We tried a bit of fishing from the site and in Wolf Lake, but the weather started looking worse and the wind picked up, so we headed back to camp. We stuck to hamburger steaks on the fire, which was just fine after a good first day of exercise in the 10C degree weather.

    Day 2: Wolf Lake To Chinguchi Lake

  • 12km: p200, p540.

    Creek along the portage to Dewdney Lake

    It rained in the evening and on and off in the night, but stopped by morning. We got up and enjoyed a fine slow breakfast of quiche and bacon, packed up the wet gear, and paddled off. The sun poked through eventually, but the rain clouds were never far out of view. As we paddled the North end of Wolf Lake, we say the youth group on the water practising paddling techniques, with the leader off to the aside offering encouragement. At least, from our distance away, it seemed like encouragement, and we were OK leaving with that happy notion.

    The Two Dans, enjoying the sun

    The sun was out in full now, which felt fantastic, but meant shedding layers to avoid over heating. The trip would come to be the "layer on, layer off" trip as the weather constantly shifted from sun to cold gray and drizzle. We entered Dewdney Lake with a beautiful clear sky to enjoy the surrounding peaks. The wind was comfortably behind us, making this stretch a joy to paddle. And, if that wasn't enough, the Fall colors were still in, providing a wonderful view of the ridge lines to the West. The only down side was that we didn't have time to walk to the old fire tower, or explore the old haunted ranger's cabin on this lake... next year!

    We made our way into Chiniguchi Lake, and I was amazed to see no cottages, no motor boats, and not even any other paddlers. From this point in, we would not see anybody until we came all the way back around to the East arm of the Matagamasi. We setup camp at the North end of the lake on a pennisula, with "The Elephant" South-West of us a kilometer or so. The weather was starting to look a bit threatening now, as clouds rolled in from the North, so we opened the tent up to get the job down quickly. And it instantly poured down on us, soaking the tent. Then, it promptly stopped raining 5 minutes later, the sky opening up to sunshine.

    Which meant an amazing double rainbow, in full glory. I've seen some very nice rainbows on past trips, but this one was unique in that it was a very clear double rainbow. The sunshine allowed us to air out the tent to dry it off from the short soaking, which certainly helped given the very cold 3-5C degree nights.

    A double rainbow

    A double rainbow close up

    Dan #1

    Dan #2

    wide rainbow view

    And if the above pics were not enough, here is a short video of the "Double Raindow" experience.

    BIG bass

    And to top off that day, Dan saw a big fish jump in the lake, so he grabbed his pole and tried a few casts. As is usually the case, the first cast does the job, and he hauled in a monster bass, that I quickly filleted for dinner. Man... that was good eats, and a fine end to a good, but challenging day. We had planned on squeezing in a hike to "The Elephant" ridge across the lake, but time ran out as darkness set in by 8pm.

    Day 3: Chinguchi Lake to Evelyn Lake

  • 12.25km: p800, p150.

    Morning fog

    The day greeted us with another clear sky, hinting at a beautiful day, but probably promising much worse. After another leisurely breakfast of fire-baked bannock, beans and bacon, we packed up and headed off to McConnell Bay and the Laura Lake portage. Of course by the time we had packed up, the clouds rolled in with rain. The whole day would be punctuated by sun/clouds/rain, repeat: I've never had my rain gear on and off so many times.

    In general, I expected the portages in Chiniguchi to be somewhat more difficult than those in the heavily traveled and well-maintained reservation parks like Killarney. So far, I was completely surprised how good the portages were. Alas, The McConnell-Laura Lake portage would provide the challenge I was waiting for. Midway, it goes down into a swamp for 150m, before rising again. From other trip reports, I was expecting this to be a bit swampy, but it had rained heavily prior to our trip (almost 1m of rain in a week), so this low section was a complete mess. But not so messy that you could paddle across... no sir, it meant walking across.

    Dan had conveniently forgotten to bring a second pair of footwear and had no sandals or water shoes, so this presented another challenge to the crossing. And there's no bypassing the swamp, as it's really a long valley-swamp, with no way around. So I threw on my sandals, stripped down to shorts, grabbed a big stick, and began trying to scout the trail with just my pack. My stick went down 6 feet in spots, and whatever logs and sticks have been thrown down for walking on were 6 inches under water and hidden. It was dangerous, as a misstep could mean going up to your arm pits, or worse. Dan tried jumping from bog mat to bog mat, but this approach petered out half way with no way to continue.

    End of the portage from hell

    Half way, I dumped my pack on a small semi-dry bog patch, and went back for the canoe. I dropped in the food pack, and dragged it back to my pack. If only there was 6 inches more water, we could have push-paddled across. So, with canoe roped behind me, I scouted from submerged log to log, avoiding the 5+ foot deep sink holes. Finally getting to the other side of this mess, covered in mud up to my waist, it began to rain. And, of course, I had left my rain jacket back at the start of the section with some other gear. So, I slogged back, got the remaining gear and my jacket, during which time Dan miraculously hopped his way across without too much soakage.

    Dirty, wet and cold... but we were now across. Dan must have ballerina in his blood, because he managed to not get his feet wet at all! Them thar was some water proof boots! We completed the remaining 200m of the portage easily, and the sun came out, again. We ate lunch in the sun drying off. Dan was completely energized by the experience and challenge, while I was a bit pissed at myself for not forseeing the difficultly. Not that one can do much about this portage... but the anal planner in me never likes to be beaten by the environment. Mother nature... you win this round!

    The weather continued to change several times during the day as we made our way down to Evelyn Lake. Rain then sun, sun then rain. But weirdly, the wind seemed to always be behind us, even as we changed direction from East to South. This was good, as there was full white caps with 2 foot chop at times.

    The island camp site on Evelyn Lake was fantastic once again, with a great ridge-top setting and sunset view. Stuffed with rehydrated beef burrittos for dinner, we were ready for the cold night that set in.

    Day 4: Evelyn Lake to Matagamasi/McCarthy Bay

  • 9km: p800, p600, p120, p700.

    Another gray drizzly day, with cold wind and tempting segments of sunshine. You'd think it was late October, not late September! But it was hard to seriously complain, given the amazing remote location, and total lack of encounters with any one else. We also had been able to star-gaze a bit that night on Evelyn, which I rarely get a chance to do in prime July/August season, given that the bugs usually drive you tent-bound before the sky is dark enough.

    The portages in this section were not maintained as well, which meant some tight squeezes with my 17'6" Swift Temagami ultra-light canoe. On some portage sections, it was more a case of just going from flagging tape to flagging tape, avoiding whatever trees you could. But nothing was too onerous, especially compared to the swamp hell we had experienced the day before.

    After returning to McCarthy Bay, which connects to Matagamasi Lake, we saw our first cottage in the distance since before Wolf Lake... the usual sign that a trip is coming to a close. We paddled South a couple of kilometers to nice camp site, which included a well-serviced and useable thunderbox. We tried a bit more fishing, but had no luck: we would have to be thankful for our one monster bass. Instead, we enjoyed a tasty pizza for dinner.

    That night, around 10pm, we could hear odd sounds in the near distance. Dan thought it might be gun fire, but it repeated every couple of minutes, and sounded more like rocks being smashed together. So, we quickly got dressed (it was down to 3C at that point), and headed to the shoreline where we could hear the noises across the bay. At this point, it really sounded like rocks being flipped over along the shoreline, some of which would 'sploosh' into the water. And not small rocks, gauging from the deep echoing splooshes! We knew there were no cottages, camp sites or anyone else around, so our imaginations started racing. A racoon looking for cray fish along the shoreline... no, those rocks being flipped were way too big. A beaver dragging logs or actively working the shoreline... no, it was definitely big rocks being flipped into water.

    Which left... a bear, flipping rocks into the water along the shoreline. So, flashing our headlights across the water and a few hoots and hollers, the commotion then stopped. We headed back to the tent, quite aware of the very short distance across the water to our camp site! On return, I queried some other paddlers online about this, and found some who had heard the same sounds during the day, and discovered a bear doing exactly what we had guessed: overturning rocks looking for food (probably crayfish.) Mystery solved, thankfully without incident.

    Day 5: Matagamasi/McCarthy Bay to Access Point

  • 10km, p100.

    End of trip

    After a hearty breakfast of pancakes and oatmeal, we packed up for the final leg of our trip. I'm never ready for a trip to end, and this one was no exception. The only good side was that there were reported to be numerous pictographs along the west shoreline. And indeed, we say at least 10 very well preserved native pictographs on the return. I've read of other pictographs in Alongquin and some other areas, but never could conclusively say I made them out: these were very clear, and easy to recognize.

    Alas, we made it back to the access point far too quickly, and had to say goodbye to Chiniguchi. This is an amazing waterway, and well worth paddling off season. I'm already planning a spring return trip!

    Other Useful Chiniguchi Resources

  • Sportmans Lodge, on neighboring Kukagami Lake.
  • Some general details about the non-operating park are available here:
  • An excellent trip report of the area by another canoeist.
  • Chiniguchi trip loop summary.
  • Canoedog trip report of the loop.
  • A trip report from Kukagami Lake.
  • A description of parking in the area.
  • The best place to park... lodge with access.
  • Summary report of the loop and portages.