logo

Woodland Caribou – 2018 Group Trip

Trip Dates: Monday, July 30, 2018 to Saturday August 4, 2018
Total Trip Distance (km): 80
Difficulty Notes: Wilderness canoeing with limited options for bailing out. Good bushcraft and wilderness survival experience is necessary to travel through Woodland Caribou Provincial Park.
GPS Track DownloadDownload GPX File
Lakes Traveled: Adventure, Haven, Gulch, Jigsaw, Wrist, Streak, Amber, Mexican Hat, Glenn, Optic, Telescope, Hjalmar, Onnie


As usual for WCPP over the past few trips, all of our pre-planning kind of went out the window as the end of July 2018 approached, thanks once again to wildfires. In 2016 my plans were thwarted by both a sprained foot and a huge wildfire, this year it was just a whole bunch of forest fires that cut us back to “plan B” planning. Of course, as usual, WCPP “plan B” trips still consist of pristine wilderness, amazing landscapes, endless amounts of fresh Walleye, Pike and Lake Trout, moments of peaceful tranquility and excruciating pain and suffering, so it’s pretty hard to complain too much about them. The main impacts of changing plans last minute was that we ended up with two days that were a bit small and short compared to what we normally do.

Video from the first 5.5 days of the trip with our group.
Woodland Caribou 2018 Group Canoe Trip – Overall Route Map.

The 2018 trip was once again split into 2 parts. The first part was a group trip with a twist and the second part was my first solo canoe venture which I’ve documented in a separate report. The ‘twist’ on the first 6 days was that we’d be flying in to the heart of WCPP and paddling out, instead of doing a circle route from our vehicles. I was going solo on the second part of the trip for the simple fact that my son doesn’t currently share my love of wilderness and chose not to join me this time. That’s OK. I’m sure someday he’ll come back to it and I don’t want to pressure him into loving the same things I do. Our 2016 trip was my favorite WCPP canoe trip and I think it was a bit long for him. I have been wanting to try a solo canoe trip for many years already so there was a lot of nerves and excitement going into this part of the trip.

Please click here to launch the full photo gallery for our Group Trip.


Day 1 – Monday July 30, 2018 – Winnipeg – Red Lake – Adventure Lake

Our first day was pretty chill from a canoeing perspective!

Monday morning dawned early, especially for Hentie, Harold and I as we were planning to leave Carman, Manitoba around 04:00 in order to complete the ~6 hour drive to Red Lake with enough time to stop for breakfast and do last minute gear adjustments before our flight into Adventure Lake at 13:00. We picked up Rod on our way past Winnipeg before grabbing some take-out breakfast and driving the long, familiar Trans Canada highway to Kenora and then the much smaller and slower hwy 105 up to Red Lake. We arrived in Red Lake around 10:00 and spent some time at Red Lake Outfitters (RLO) with Harlan, organizing rental gear and paying for backcountry passes. Due to the nature of the wildfires in 2018, Harlan wanted to be contacted daily with our updated positions and plans in case evacuations were needed. This might sound like overkill, but it already happened the two weeks previous when Harlan had to rearrange a bunch of canoe parties in the park to different areas due to all the fires! Good thing I bought a Spot X this year, it allows me to text anyone, anywhere in the world and also has GPS tracking and rescue abilities. I added Harlan’s cell number to the Spot and told him to expect daily updates. Since it’s a two-way texting device, it also allowed Harlan to send us route information if it became relevant, such as new fires blocking our planned route or something similar.

Two of my favorite things sitting in front of Red Lake Outfitters on the main drag in Red Lake, Ontario.

After an hour or so of logistics – there’s always way more to organize than you first realize on these trips – we were ready to fly to Adventure Lake. But wait a minute! Apparently when we signed up for the flight, we’d signed up for TWO flights, not one. When we arranged the flight we’d been asked if we preferred a Beaver or an Otter and since the Beaver was $500 cheaper for the four of us, we chose that one. What we didn’t realize was that the Otter is a much larger plane and can carry two canoes and the whole group in one flight, whereas the Beaver is much smaller and can only carry one canoe and two people at a time. (See here for more details on float planes and canoeists.) This wouldn’t have been an issue, because normally we’d be flown out together in two Beaver’s. Due to maintenance on one of the Beavers, however, we’d have to be flown in one plane now – adding at least 2 hours to our day as one group would be waiting for the other to be picked up and flown over. C’est la vie. This is the north and things are done a little more “last minute” and casual here compared to the stodgy formalities and stiff contracts of the concrete jungles of the world.

Our plane. A de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver from Viking Outpost Air. This is a classic workhorse of the Canadian north. No new Beaver’s have been built since 1967 so if you’re flying in one, it’s old.

I have to admit that it was tough to sit on the dock in perfect weather waiting for almost 2 hours for the plane to arrive from picking up other clients and their RLO guide. Again, this is just the way it is and Harold and Hentie had to wait a lot longer since Rod and I went first. I don’t love flying in general due to an incident on my very first flight. A small plane, inexperienced pilot and strong thunderstorms don’t mix well! Small planes make me especially nervous. Small bush planes cause even more anxiety!  You can imagine my nerves as the tiny Beaver was loaded up and we started taxiing on the lake for take-off. I love how casual  bush plane flights are – the pilot wore shorts and t-shirt, the windows were cranked wide open and there was a wrench free-hanging right by my head. You really get the feeling like you’re jumping in a taxi with one of these trips, which is exactly what you are doing – a water taxi that flies and has your canoe strapped to its side!

Taking off over Red Lake.

The engine on a Beaver is so loud you require ear covers while flying, or you’ll go deaf. As we took off over Red Lake I realized how bumpy our ride was going to be and it made me question (not for the first time) how much thought went into planning this part of our trip back in the middle of a Calgary winter – i.e. not much! Oh well. All’s well that ends well and we obviously survived the ~45min flight. We could see many spot fires burning in the park as we flew over it. The Domain Lake fire was putting a pretty good sized plume of smoke into the shimmering, hot summer air to the north. It was very cool to fly over familiar lakes such as Douglas, Hatchet, Embryo, Hansen, Rostoul and Haven before the pilot began a very steep and fast descent to Adventure Lake. The reason for the very steep landing was partly to conserve fuel for his take-off run, as he had to turn around and taxi back to the end of the lake for take-off. It may have had something to do with the unstable air we flew through too – better to just cut straight down through all the updrafts than flirt with them gently! The landing was super smooth and before long we were loaded into our boat and watching the plane take off again.

Quite the feeling, flying over the Embryo / Telescope Lake region on route to Adventure Lake.
Disembarked and watching the Beaver take off to pick up and return with Harold and Hentie.

We probably should have fished for some of Adventure Lake’s famous Lake Trout, but honestly we were feeling pretty tired and hungry at this point after waiting for two hours in the hot sun in Red Lake and than almost another hour of flying to Adventure Lake. We slowly paddled for shore and I even took out my stove and brewed up a much needed cup of coffee! It felt so good to be back in the heart of WCPP again, and a bit surreal because of how far into it we were already on Monday.

After Harold and Hentie are dropped off, watching civilization fly away.

You might wonder why we chose to fly into Adventure Lake, only to pretty much immediately start portaging towards Haven Lake. Why not either fly further (i.e. Bulging Lake) or just directly into Haven? It’s a good question and one that I believe we didn’t take long enough to consider – on hindsight. Because the afternoon slowly ticked past as we continued to sit on the docks in Red Lake and mostly due to the double flight issue, we ended up “losing” 2-3 hours out of our day compared with our original plan. Not a lot, but it made a difference. And don’t forget – our original, original plan was to fly into Royd or Gammon Lake and paddle down the Gammon River into Hammerhead or Rostoul Lake on Monday. We were hoping up until the last minute that this route would reopen for us but it remained closed due to a small fire near Hammerhead Lake (we saw this from our flight). What we should have done, on hindsight, was land in Bulging Lake and paddle our way to Adventure or even Haven on Monday. I wanted to camp in Haven due to the excellent Walleye fishing there, which limited some of our options. All good – either way it was enjoyable. 

Once we were done our little shorebreak, we got back into the canoe and started towards the portage landing out of Adventure towards Haven in order to do some scouting before Harold and Hentie arrived. As we paddled towards the portage, their plane flew overhead, circled and landed. Cool! The trip could now officially begin. We immediately headed for the portage and found it, no issues. I have to plug the incredibly useful PaddlePlanner website here. All the portages in WCPP are well marked on the base map and download along with generated GPS tracks which makes finding them MUCH easier in the field using a GPS, than with a paper map. I’ve been updating campsites and portages on PaddlePlanner as I complete different trips around the park.

One advantage of traveling through WCPP in August instead of June! We ate hand fulls of these delicious blueberries along every portage in the first few days of travel.

I am always amazed at how many backcountry adventurers stubbornly continue to use ancient techniques to navigate the landscape, including compass and paper maps. Why the heck would you limit yourself to such outdated and error-prone technology? If you have a modern smartphone you should download either Gaia or ViewRanger (I have both) and learn how to use them. Both apps work without cell service in airplane mode. As long as you remember to download the base maps ahead of your trip, you can use your phone as a very respectable GPS device. Of course you should always carry a paper map and compass with you in case of device failure, but in the past 5 or 6 years I’ve honestly NEVER used my compass in the wilderness! I’ve also NEVER gotten lost – and that includes hundreds of trips in the Canadian Rockies and many canoe trips. I planned different routes in PaddlePlanner before the trip and downloaded the whole WCPP map into my iPhone X. On the trip I had all relevant portages, campsites and distances pre-loaded which made the usual headaches of finding a decent campsite pretty much vanish and we never had issues finding portages. Some people view this as “cheating”, but IMHO, anything that makes a wilderness trip safer is simply smart in the same way that using a sharp ax is smarter than using a dull rock that you found lying around tied to a stick, because “that’s how it used to be done”. 😉

Paddling on the narrow waterway between Adventure Lake and Haven Lake.

The first thing we noticed on the first portage was how easy it was to navigate, thanks to all the clearing work that has been done in the area. I think the Adventure Lake / Haven / Wrist / Mexican Hat section of WCPP is becoming very popular with guides and fly-in guests and this is why all the portages and campsites along this route are becoming so civilized. Whatever the reasons, we enjoyed the portages to Haven for another reason too – blueberry overload! I’ve honestly never seen so many berries before. We could easily scoop up hand fulls of the delicious fruit – and did so as we walked. The next 2 days would have similar conditions and this is the first canoe trip where I didn’t feel depleted of vitamins afterwards. I guess this is an advantage of mid-summer trips.

This little piece of paradise was just as nice as I remembered it from 2016. Getting to it was a heckuva lot easier this time though!

Haven Lake was gray and moody, but gorgeous as usual. We made our way to the great island campsite that Niko and I used in 2016 and it was a great as I remembered it. It’s always a bit strange coming back to familiar sites in the middle of nowhere. Life moves by at such a furious pace in between these visits, it always gives me pause to be thankful for the few times I manage to enjoy such remote and peaceful spots.


Journal Entry – 22:00 – Haven Lake Camp

I’m currently sitting in Haven Lake. The bugs are finally coming out but man – what a first day we’ve already had! We flew in via a de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver in pretty turbulent air from the heat rising over the WCPP forest canopy and granite. The flight was bumpy as heck and had me wondering yet again why I plan adventures in February! In the back of my mind I was assuming the plane would be similarly sized to the one we flew into Family Lake a few years ago and that we’d all be on the same flight with both canoes strapped to the same plane. Not so. The Beaver is only licensed to carry one canoe at a time and is pretty darn small. We heard Harlan casually mention, “their second plane went down this morning” and started freaking out a bit. Apparently it didn’t “go down” but was simply down for maintenance.  What this meant for us, however, was two separate flights from Red Lake to Adventure Lake.

On the flight in we were surprised by all the wildfire activity we could spot from the plane – especially towards our originally planned route around Royd / Gammon / Hammerhead Lakes which showed very recent burns and were still smoldering. Just NE of that area the Domain Lake fire was putting out a large plume of smoke. Rod and I took the first flight and waited ~1.5 hours for the plane to return to Red Lake, pick up Harold and Hentie and then fly back to Adventure Lake.

We could have fished for Lake Trout on Adventure, but to be honest we didn’t really feel like it. There was a pretty stiff wind and we just chillaxed after a very busy and long day already. It felt great to be out in the middle of nowhere within about 45 minutes of leaving Red Lake. I brewed up a coffee and we let the wilderness sink in a bit. By the time we got ourselves back into the canoe to scope out the portage to Haven Lake, the plane was already back with H and H. From Adventure Lake we made pretty short work of the route to Haven where Rod promptly put two Walleye on our stringer for supper! The portages between Adventure and Haven were pretty decent and were absolutely LOADED with both blueberries and raspberries. We figured out later that the burnt areas of WCPP hold incredible amounts of berries compared with the normally forested sections. As we walked the portages we stripped handfuls of delicious fruit – a great start to the trip and one which kept me healthier than I usually am by the end of a tough few weeks of canoeing.

After setting up camp on the great site I’d stayed on with Niko back in 2016 and eating Walleye for supper, we went back out on the lake for an evening fish. Now we’re enjoying a snack of Walleye! We can clearly see the Domain Lake wildfire smoke plume from Haven Lake and Rod and I even spotted a small flare-up on Haven’s far eastern shore as we paddled back to camp from fishing! I have no idea why it started when it did, but Rod noticed the smoke. We watched it with some trepidation but it seemed to die down after around 15 minutes. Very strange. It certainly wasn’t anyone’s campfire, since we’re the only ones on Haven right now and there were zero signs of people in that area.

The weather was decent today – very hot while we were waiting for the flights in Red Lake but clouding over significantly in the afternoon and getting blustery. Tonight is very pleasant with the clouds clearing somewhat overhead.


Our first day was a long one! So strange to wake up in my parents house in the morning, 500km away and then lay my head down at midnight on a lake in the middle of nowhere with loons calling back and forth and the sounds of night washing over our little camp. To be honest, I think a better strategy might be to arrive the night before in Red Lake and stay one night at a hotel before making our first day a bit more about paddling and a bit less about all the logistics such as driving, wilderness passes and organizing gear. I’ve said it before, but there’s a lot of work that goes into these short trips and getting that extra 1/2 day on the water would be welcome.

A family of Mergansers.
A beautiful sunset for our first evening of the trip.
A very full moon rises over our little corner of paradise.

Day 2 – Tuesday July 31, 2018 – Haven – Gulch – Jigsaw 

Another relatively easy paddling day on Tuesday. The wildfires resulted in a few less intense days up front but this worked out OK since the weather wasn’t 100% anyway. Note the campsites on Jigsaw Lake that I’ve marked with a ‘???’. These sites were nonexistent as far as we could see from the water anyway.

Our second day and first morning in WCPP wasn’t a very long one. We only had to go to Jigsaw Lake, so the fact that the forecast wasn’t great and we woke up to a pretty wet camp didn’t bother us as much as it might normally have. I’ll let my journaling describe this day.


Journal Entry – 15:31 – Jigsaw Lake Camp

We had a slow, relaxed day today with rain and very high humidity. We were up at 07:00 but didn’t need to rush since we only moved camp from Haven Lake to Jigsaw Lake. The portages were as good as I remembered from my 2016 trip in this area – cleared through short regrowth forest and cairned over the barren burned out landscapes and Canadian Shield. We had to be very careful not to slip on the slick, wet rock thanks to the rain but everyone got through unscathed. The weather wasn’t very cooperative early in the day with very low clouds and the occasional blast of wind and rain but we’re much more prepared for this type of thing than we used to be on these trips, and can still enjoy the day much more than before. Sure! We’d rather have sunshine as everything is easier, but out here you pretty much have to take what nature gives or stay home.

A very gray and wet start to our day.

Rod and I got a bit too far ahead of Harold and Hentie on Jigsaw as we scouted for a campsite. Presumably there’s four viable sites on Jigsaw, but really there’s only two that we could find. The first one was a bit too close small for our liking so we kept canoeing – searching for a better one. It was a bit windy and cloudy at this point, so we wanted to find and set up our site before heading out for more fishing. Of course we had a few Walleye on the stringer already for lunch! 🙂 Jigsaw is an aptly named lake and was burnt in 2005 and obviously still recovering. The combination of low / burnt forest and a myriad of small islands makes navigating around this lake interesting to put it mildly. Soon we had no idea where Harold and Hentie were and found ourselves following the GPS carefully in order to locate the other way-pointed sites.

Dismal weather blows through as we execute the 575m portage from Gulch to Jigsaw Lake.

The second site we checked out turned out to be the deluxe site on Jigsaw. Contrary to my opinion in 2016, when I assumed there were no good options for camping on this burned out lake, this site has a ton of room and is quite well protected where it needs to be. We wanted to set up camp immediately, but we had no idea where the H’s were or if they’d found an even better site and were waiting for us! This highlighted the need to stick a bit closer together for the remainder of the trip. Eventually we tired of waiting and went to check out the third site that was supposedly near our current pick. We paddled against a fairly stiff wind and weren’t too impressed by the third site – we didn’t even see a site there to be honest. We still didn’t spot the H’s at this point, but I had a feeling that they would be taking the “handrail” option via the north shores of the lake and we headed in that direction. Sure enough! Soon we spotted them and realized that they hadn’t found a better option. We headed to the deluxe site and set up camp, cooking some fresh Walleye for lunch.


Journal Entry – 21:00 – Jigsaw Lake Camp

After lunch we went exploring and fishing. Rod and I went north to find the other campsite which was supposed to be on a small island in a shallow bay. When we got to the island we weren’t impressed. I’m not sure anyone’s camped here in a while. The whole north end of the lake is pretty shallow too – not really good for fishing. We managed to catch a few more Walleye closer to camp despite the crappy weather which was cool and windy. Harold and Hentie also caught some Walleye and we had more fish for supper. Thank goodness we brought a lot of wraps because we’re using them up quickly with all the fish we’re eating!

The weather cleared up a bit for us in Jigsaw which was nice. The site is a bit exposed around the kitchen area but the tents had enough shelter.

We were surprised to see another party of two canoeists heading for our camp at around 18:00 while we were eating supper. They were surprised to see us too, I think. The way they conferred for a while before paddling onward made us think they’d been planning to stay at the same site as us. This is a huge benefit of planning early arrivals at campsites. Even though WCPP isn’t busy, having 70% of the park closed seems to be concentrating the groups a bit more than usual. I was going to stay up later tonight but the rain is coming back in and I’m tired so I’m probably off to bed sooner than later. I have a weather update from Hann stating that tomorrow’s weather is going to be a lot better than today and we’re looking forward to some sunshine, hopefully. The toques are on and we are layered up – this is certainly not the mid-summer conditions I was expecting but at least we’ve learned and came prepared for anything.


Day 3 – Wednesday August 01, 2018 – Jigsaw – Wrist – Mexican Hat – Glenn

Wednesday was a ‘proper’ canoe trip day at 23km and a number of portages.

Our third day in the park started out on the negative side and ended extremely positive. Once again, my journal is pretty extensive for this trip and I’ll let it do the talking for me.


Journal Entry – 20:00 – Glenn Lake Camp

I woke up this morning to a very cold wind (it was only 8 degrees!), low clouds and steady rain. Both Rod and I were hoping against hope that the sound we heard upon waking up in the tent was leaves blowing in the wind but nope – it was rain. Thankfully now I’m sitting on the great peninsula site in Glenn Lake on a dry rock in sun that’s almost too warm. Almost. 😉

Needless to say, moods were a bit low around the morning camp in Jigsaw Lake as we packed up wet tents while wearing toques and all our layers in the drizzle and wind. There were some grumpy comments about technology and how getting the weather forecast was worse than not getting it. I concurred with this sentiment – it was the same for us back in 2016 when the forecast seemed to over promise and under deliver on good weather as a daily habit which became very demoralizing after a while. In this case an updated forecast proved very accurate with a prediction of clearing skies by around 10:00 while we were navigating the suck to Mexican Hat Lake.

Harold’s hunched shoulders tell the tale. Another dreary, cold, wet morning – and it’s now August! Where’s the stable, warm, HP systems that are supposed to linger in mid-summer?

The long portage from Jigsaw to Wrist was cold and wet but relatively easy just as I remembered from 2016. Rod managed to catch two Lake Trout while trolling across and out of Wrist Lake but the rest of us were skunked. As we walked the short portage into Streak Lake I noticed that some of the foliage was yellowing and that the amount of berries was significantly less than around the Haven / Adventure Lakes area. The Streak / Amber Lake section burnt in 2015 but the area is traveled more often and the berries might have been harvested already.

I love this terrain for some reason. The dreary landscape is offset by the cheery pink in the rocks.
The 825m portage between Jigsaw Lake and Wrist Lake is much easier than its length implies. It’s mostly on solid Canadian Shield rock and is well cairned for routefinding.
Looking back at the burnt shoreline near the end of the 825m portage into Wrist Lake as Hentie and Harold finish up their portage.


There were warnings on the Internet forums regarding the “suck” in between Nutria and Mexican Hat Lakes where the beavers tend to either flood the entire stream making travel easy (as was the case in 2016) or they build more than one dam and really muck it up – literally. Alas, we got the later scenario! Rod and I led the way along a very shallow and boggy stream towards the large dam that always blocks easy passage through this area. At first we had to walk beside the boat on floating bog, which was interesting. Eventually the water in the stream got deep enough that we almost lost the boat before jumping back in and paddling to the huge dam that blocks the entire drainage. We heaved most of the heavy gear over the dam before sliding the boat down the 3 or 4 feet to the larger stream below before noticing another party of canoeists waiting for us. We told them about the H’s behind us so they waited a bit longer. I think they weren’t in a hurry once they noticed how muddy our feet and legs were!

A beautiful sandy beach marks the portage from Wrist Lake into Streak Lake.
Hoof prints in the sand.
We didn’t get quite as many wild raspberries as blueberries but dang were these suckers GOOD! Small and sweet, they beckoned like gold on some of the portages and we couldn’t help but slow down and snack on them.
The portage between Amber and Nutria Lake is always a bit of a harbinger of the “suck” to come, as it always seems to be wet and mucky.
Here we go! The “suck” is living up to its online reputation this year! Rod seems to be pondering whether or not to throw himself back in the canoe here.


We had a very pleasant lunch on a pristine sandy beach on the western end of Mexican Hat Lake just as the clouds finally dissipated and blue sky started showing through with warm sunshine to back it all up. We took our time on the small sand bar, making coffee, soup and drying out our gear on the nearby bushes. It was here that I also photographed some Cedar Waxwings. After a lengthy break, we were in much better spirits and ready for the paddle to Glenn Lake for the night.

I believe this is a Cedar Waxwing.
Golden sand sparkles under clear water in Mexican Hat Lake.

We were looking forward to some of the best Walleye fishing in the park – along the falls between the two lakes where we’ve had great successes in the past. For some reason, I forgot about the second set of falls from Beck’s Lake into Hansen Lake and thought we were fishing those falls which are generally the better ones for larger Walleye. Rod and I were catching some Walleye, but they weren’t very big and the falls were way lower and current way slower than I expected. After an hour or so I wondered where Harold and Hentie were and realized that I’d forgotten all about the “better” falls! I was stewing over my forgetfulness and had pictures of the H’s landing tons of huge Walleye while Rod and I hauled in smaller ones while we paddled through Beck’s Lake and towards Glenn. We had four fish on our stringer but fully expected to be letting them go when we saw the H’s larger fish. Nope. In a real twist, the falls into Glenn Lake were all but dried completely up! Harold and Hentie had spent a while removing a beaver dam from the top of the falls, so there was a trickle running down, but absolutely zero Walleye to be caught! I could feel Rod saying, “I told you not to worry” as we paddled for the excellent and familiar peninsula site a few kilometers up the lake.

The sky has completely cleared and we are enjoying a perfect afternoon in WCPP on our way to Beck’s Lake from Mexican Hat.
Portage trails are drying out.
We get some visitors checking us out.
Camp on Glenn Lake.

The evening is so still right now as I write this, that I can hear the falls running north from Glenn into Hansen Lake. Alas, this route was closed to us thanks to forest fires, or we’d have been coming out of there in a loop out of Wrist Lake rather than taking the Mexican Hat detour. The loons are starting to call and their haunting cries are echoing off the mature forest that surrounds one of my favorite lakes in all of WCPP. Amazingly there are essentially no bugs and especially no mosquitoes so far this trip! I’ve barely put on any bug spray – only on my feet for the biting black flies. We can still see the forest fire smoke north of here despite the rain and cool weather.

Soft evening light comes down around us.

As we sat around the fire on a beautifully still night, I noticed that Mars was showing up very clearly in the southern skies and was shimmering on the calm lake surface. I got some interesting shots before returning to the fire for a while as darkness descended on WCPP and the air grew even calmer. It was only as the sky got really good and dark that I realized the Milky Way must be amazing overhead and left the fire to take a photo and see how visible it was. The next hour or two were spent stargazing and looking up at the clearest night sky of the year. Just before going to bed the amazing experience was capped with a display to the north – the Northern Lights decided to show up.

An amazing night starts out with Mars shimmering off the surface of Glenn Lake before the stars start to show.
Mars and the Milky Way reflecting in Glenn Lake. This is a rare phenomenon because the surface of the lake has to be dead-calm for the reflection to work.
To cap off an incredible night, we get a light show to the north!

With the moon rising around midnight the overhead displays were washed out and we retired to our tents, very satisfied with the excellent day we’d ended up with.

Day 4 – Thursday August 02, 2018 – Glenn – Optic

Our 4th day wasn’t too aggressive at around 15km and only two portages.

Our fourth day in WCPP was another beauty. We’ve paddled through Optic Lake a few times, but had never even seen the campsite there. Before getting to Optic we paddled the long north end of Glenn Lake and up a very low Rostoul River. I’ll once again let my journal talk.


Journal Entry – 07:00 – Glenn Lake Camp

Wow! What an experience we had last night! Yesterday had the full range of weather and corresponding emotions. We started with rain, clouds and wind in 8 degrees and ended with a late night nature show like we’ve never had in WCPP and the photos to prove it. It was around 21:00 that we first noticed a strange shimmering red line in the waters just south of our camp. It didn’t take long to realize this was Mars reflecting in the slight ripples of the lake surface. As if that wasn’t cool enough, I soon realized that if the lake surface went to mirror-calm, I could easily end up with a really neat shot of Mars and the Milky Way including some reflections in the water which is normally a VERY hard thing to capture. After sitting around the fire a bit and waiting for the night sky to darken more, I went out with my camera again around 22:00 and was shocked at the brilliance of the Milky Way and Mars. The almost-full moon hadn’t risen yet and so I quickly set up my gear and proceeded to take photos. I called the other guys over from the fire to witness the incredible sky and they were amazed. We’re usually canoeing too early in the year to witness dark skies – in June the sun barely sets below the horizon this far north.

As the moon started to rise the Milky Way faded and by around 23:30 that part of our show was over. The moon was so bright it almost looked like the sun rising to the east! We thought we were done for the night at this point and went back to the fire. I happened to glance north at one point and thought maybe I saw a flickering of Northern Lights but wasn’t sure so I ignored it. Sure enough! Not 5 minutes later, Harold said, “Are those the Northern Lights?”. Yes they were. We spent the next few minutes watching and photographing a pretty good light show that faded fairly quickly. Quite the night in WCPP! It made up for some of the crappy weather we’ve been dealing with so far.


Journal Entry – 18:00 – Optic Lake Camp

I am sitting on a rocky point near our camp on Optic Lake. The gusty winds from earlier have died down and it’s quite hot and humid now. I can see the Domain Lake wildfire smoke rising ominously to the north of our camp. Today we blew east with the wind across the very long and narrow north end of Glenn Lake. We couldn’t have gotten more fortunate with the winds today! We managed to nab enough Walleye for yet another shore lunch at the SE campsite on Glenn Lake that we used in 2016 with the group.

Glenn Lake is quite large – especially the east-west top portion of it. Thankfully, we managed to time the wind right and blew down most of it.
Nobody mentions how lovely the Rostoul River in WCPP is but I love it’s calm nature. Here we’re heading for the first portage to Optic out of Glenn Lake.
I love this place!
This falls out of Optic Lake is still at reasonable flow rates, but we didn’t keep any Walleye from it since we didn’t want to lug them to Optic.

We have just finished the first non-Walleye supper of the trip and plan on heading out soon to try our luck fishing in Optic. This site is pretty darn sweet – another deluxe site for sure with the tents set back in protected trees on soft ground. Plenty of room on this site too. I got a bee sting right in the foot today and it hurt like heck! I’m glad I’m not allergic as it’s been many years since my last sting and I wasn’t sure. It felt like a hot (dull) needle going in – and not a small one either. 🙁

Now THAT is a deluxe campsite! I think the site on Optic Lake might be a new all-time favorite in WCPP. It’s a top 5 for sure.
Looking over the awesome kitchen area on the Optic Lake campsite.

I’m slowly getting “into” WCPP again. The first few days were a bit rocky for me and I wasn’t totally into it for some reason – I’m sure the weather had something to do with it. Today I settled into this harsh land of rock, trees, water, wind and sun. It’s strange to think that tomorrow is already the other guys’ last full day and I have another week or two out here yet! I’m still a bit on edge about my solo venture, but less and less every day.


Journal Entry – 21:00 – Optic Lake Camp

That was predictable! We caught more Walleye this evening and are having another late evening fish snack. Optic is a beautiful lake and I’m glad we decided to camp here as we never have before. I’ll certainly be back. I’m still amazed by the almost total lack of mosquitoes we’re experiencing. There are some biting flies but not many.

A late evening Walleye snack. Gotta love WCPP!
Enjoying another perfect evening in WCPP – snacking on Walleye as the sun sets.

Day 5 – Friday August 03, 2018 – Optic – Telescope – Hjalmar – Onnie

Our fifth day in WCPP was one of the nicest start-to-finish weather days we had, although even it ended with some pretty severe thunderstorms late in the day! We started our day with a relaxing breakfast on Optic before setting out for the two portages towards Telescope Lake. Our only concern for this day was a strong east or south wind, as Telescope is very wide in an east-to-west alignment and we were paddling east. We witness two planes taking off as we paddled north on Optic and rounded the NE corner near the outpost lodge which had just been stocked with a ton of beer! The paddle along the Rostoul River between Optic and Telescope was very familiar – I’ve been through there three times in the past few years now. We caught some Walleye at the first set of falls before continuing towards Telescope.

Can you tell we traveled mostly east-west on day 5? Another decent day of paddling at around 23km.
A very peaceful morning on Optic Lake.
Falls on the Rostoul River coming out of Telescope Lake.
Well, you knew this photo was coming up after you saw the waterfall picture! 😉

The paddle across Telescope Lake was very smooth. A slight SE wind started up for the last 1-2km but we managed to avoid most of it and stopped for lunch at the eastern campsite. The day was getting super warm at this point and a break was welcome. The portages and paddling from Telescope through the Hjalmar Lakes was easy, as usual. I remember thinking to myself that I’d be going back through here on my solo trip in about another weeks time, which was a little strange. The pictographs along the way were neat to see again – Rod and Hentie hadn’t seen them before.

Enjoying a lunch break at the far eastern end of Telescope Lake after paddling the entire thing from west to east in one shot – trying to stay ahead of any afternoon winds.
The portages from Telescope to Onnie are well-traveled and easy to find and navigate. This is entering the “weekend” area of travel and is much more popular than more central areas of the park. We still didn’t meet anyone here, despite being in the 30% of the park that was open thanks to wildfires.
It’s not all fun and games, sometimes you have to get your feet wet!
The pictograph on Hjalmar Lakes.

Journal Entry – 18:00 – Onnie Lake Camp

Phew – it was bloody hot today! We went from Optic Lake to Onnie on a longish sort of day. The wind picked up later in the day, but we managed the long paddle across Telescope Lake before it really picked up – thank goodness! We didn’t do a ton of fishing today but Rod and I caught a bunch of Walleye under one of the nice waterfalls between Optic and Telescope Lakes. It’s weighing on my mind that tomorrow I’ll be on this campsite all by myself. The weather forecast is for strong tstorms which isn’t helping my nerves any. I think I’ve almost had too long to think about this solo trip and now I just want to be starting it.

Paddling along a rock wall in Onnie Lake.

Enjoying the deluxe island site on Onnie Lake.

As we sat around the fire late on Friday night in Onnie Lake we noticed the northern sky was starting to light up every few seconds from lightning strikes. As time went by the strikes got brighter and brighter until we could hear the peels of thunder accompanying them. The lightning appeared to be mostly sheet lightning but it was near-constant as it started picking up the pace and we got nervous enough to batten down the hatches around camp. Finally around midnight the storms were close enough that we decided to head into the tents. Just as we ducked into the tent we heard what sounded like a 747 coming in for a landing on our lake! Sure enough – there must have been a wall cloud at the front of the storm and it slammed into our little corner of nowhere with some pretty scary strength. The trees around the Canadian Shield are not rooted very deep thanks to the copious amount of shallow rock, hence they blow over quite easily. Considering we were surrounded by fairly tall, old spruce and jack pine, we were pretty sure something was blowing onto our tent more than once. There was nothing to do but hold on and hope for the best as little puddles started forming in the corner of my mid – apparently it was time for some minor repairs. I fell asleep to the sound of driving rain and wind.

Day 6 – Saturday August 04, 2018 – Onnie – Suffel Lake Road – Onnie

Day 6 consisted of a pretty short exit for the others at about 5km total with 3km of portaging. I had to double those numbers giving me a lot of portaging!

Day 6 was the last day of the group trip and the first day of my solo effort. It was a day full of mixed emotions and excitement – most of it good and some of it a bit different than I expected.


Journal Entry – 10:30 – Unnamed Lake between Onnie and Suffel Lake Road

We’re drifting slowly around a small, unnamed lake on the series of portages from Onnie Lake to the Suffel Lake Road. We have to wait until 11:00 or so to make the last 350m portage to the road for the pickup / delivery of my truck around noon. I’ve been going through a wicked cycle of nervous energy in advance of my upcoming solo trip and it’s really messing with my head for some reason.

The final carry with a partner – next time back here I’ll be solo carrying the canoe.

Last night we were hammered by a series of pretty intense tstorms and strong winds and I was seriously thinking about simply driving home with the guys tomorrow! It’s one thing to imagine yourself out here alone on a windless, sunny day but when strong tstorms are nearly blowing your tent in the lake and the night is pitch dark and long thoughts take a turn for the worse. I even had all my excuses worked out – what I’d tell people etc. Oddly, I fell asleep during the storm and woke up energized and ready for the trip again. I’m feeling nervous again as the time draws near and there is the feel of tstorms and active weather in the hot, humid air again today. I HAVE to do this though! I’ve had this plan for many years and I can’t go back to sit in an office tower in Calgary knowing that I was primed and ready for a solo trip and backed out because of a couple of tstorms.

Harold and Hentie approach the final portage landing before exiting to the Suffel Lake Road.

Click here to continue with my solo canoe trip.

Leave a comment