BWCA First Trip to Wabakimi Boundary Waters Group Forum: Wabakimi
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11/10/2010 07:48PM   (Thread Older Than 3 Years)
Hello to all on this forum!
I am not as advanced a canoeist as many of you. I just like canoe camping better than hiking or biking.
Well, after several trips to BW and Q over the last 20 some odd years, I finally decided that we need to go further north. I am putting together a trip of 4 guys, including at least one who is not very experienced in canoeing. Trip will happen in August, dates not yet firm.
Since this will be our first trip to Wabakimi, I don't want to go gonzo into the far reaches of the park. We're likely going to shuttle in and train out.
Anyone have any idea on the numbers of other canoe groups we might run into traveling from Little Caribou down to Shawnabis?
The point, as I have seen others here express, is that the southern parks have become just too crowded. I like to go a few days without seeing others. Can we expect an experience more similar to BW circa 1970's, as far as population goes??
Any tips, comments, or even bad jokes would be greatly appreciated.
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11/10/2010 10:44PM  
Curious how did you pick your route? It's on my bucket list to do with a child or entire family some year soon... but haven't researched routes yet, so curious how you picked yours. Sorry, can't help answer your question though :)
11/13/2010 07:04PM  
BWP - We looked at WCPP and Wabakimi. The various websites indicated that Wabakimi had fewer paddlers each year then WCPP. So we decided that we wanted to go there. We then contacted Wild Waters outfitters and they suggested two routes. One was train in/train out,south of Allanwater Bridge, and would cost more for one day less in the water. The other is the route we are researching right now. The route is paddle in and train out. We are a bunch of 50 something guys and the outfitter has a cabin at the end of this route with a sauna. Sounds good to us.
Also, since this is our first time into Wabakimi, we don't want to get in too far beyond our capabilities. My research indicates this park is not a place to learn about canoe camping. I note you have a young brood so you should talk to the outfitters. I bet they have trips that are less taxing, but would also provide that all alone experience we seek.
As I get detailed maps, I would be happy to share. We would be interested in seeing any detailed maps of the southern area of the park you may find.
Let me know.
P.S. Do you know what this Wing Night thing is that I have read about??
11/14/2010 09:06PM  
Wing night is name for gathering of paddlers - sometimes an evening at a restaurant, or a full weekend of camping. End of January we rented cabins at a MN State Park for Fri-Sat evenings. There's talk of bonfires/skiing or snowshoeing, cribbage, etc. etc. After that will come a Spring wing night - also a camping weekend but outdoors at Lake Rebecca.

I've never made it, but the past descriptions and pics look like a good family friendly time is had by all.

As to Wabakimi, I went to two Expo lextures on it last April - the "Uncle Phil" leading the mapping of the lesser used areas of the park and access routes into the park from the Crown Land surrounding it. Also Bruce ??? an outfitter owner in Armstrong that is also a legislator in Canada. Bruce's talk said there are definitely family-friendly routes, but I didn't have time to buy his map or stop by his booth to discuss.

I don't hesitate to buy maps and would like to support the Wabakimi project to map out additional routes. I do worry about asking outfitter for help if I don't have anything to buy from them... I'd drive up with 2 boats and all gear. Then again, I guess I'd need a shuttle, parking, bunkhouse maybe... I had kind of dreamed of fly-in, train out trip... but think that will be too much $$ in the end. Still, my kids are begging for something like that, so maybe if it's our big vacation of the year we could do it. has something they call a "trip planning" map - but I don't know if it covers the southern area in enough detail or not. Doubtful.

Will be fun to hear about your trip and what you think of it! I'm still picking a year, but was fun to hear my kids get excited about it. I am sure there will be more speakers at next year's Expo if you're near the twin cities...
11/15/2010 11:53AM  
BWP - "It's on my bucket list to do with a child"
Is the child a boy or girl and how old?
Then reason I ask is that we have an open fourth spot on our trip (our 4th guy just pulled out) and I could bring my 13 yr old son to make this a 6 person trip.
Does this sound like something you be intrested in?
If yes, I can send you a more detailed itinerary and a little info on the other men who are scheduled in for the trip.

Basics - AUG 2011, we leave Chicago on a Thurs and arrive back on a Sat. (the actual week is still flexible)
Little Caribou to Shawnabis == 60 mi., 15 portages
We anticipate we would spend the last night at outfitters cabin on Shawnabis and train out early FRI morning to Armstrong.

Let me know.
11/19/2010 10:47AM  
My daughter and I went a few years back when she was 16. We trained in and flew out, but that was before the train schedule changed. We went in at Redhead and out at Granite and didn't see anyone for the 8 days we were there. This was the begininning of August as well!

I'd opt for using the outfitter to plan transportation and get your permits. It was a great time!

Another thing, with the soil so thin, there are very few trees for hanging packs. Plan on using food barrels.

And beware of outfitters telling you about campsites on their maps....1 out of 10 was a real site, the rest were never/seldom used. Even the heavily used sites had grass growing in the fire ring.


11/20/2010 09:08PM  
DO6 - Thanks for the info! This trip is looking more intriguing every day! Food Barrels, check! We certainly will be using an outfitter for park access, canoes, permits, etc. Which outfitter did you use?

I have recently connected with Phil Cotton, founder of the Wabakimi Project. He has been very helpful with his intimate knowledge of the entire area. His group is slowly mapping the whole park [and some surrounding areas], but hasn't published a map for the area we will be in. The trip reports I have read from folks who used his first volume or two indicate that the maps are quite accurate and comprehensive for canoeists.

I have recently switched to a hammock from a tent. I think this will be advantageous in Wabakimi as I see several folks noting that campsites are very primitive and most often have only one viable tent pad. Naturally we want to shy away from camping anywhere but established sites. The route we are most probably going to take is one of the more popular routes. So we expect that we will be able to find sites along the way, even if not necessarily where a map indicates. But if not, well...that's why we call a wilderness ADVENTURE, right?
11/20/2010 11:34PM  
We used Wild Waters. Probably not the least expensive, but we got to stay at their 'resort' the first night and they took us to the train the next morning. Then our sea plane landed at their dock. All very convenient. They took very good care of us. No complaints.

The couple that runs the resort are very nice, friendly and helpful. Too bad they weren't there the night we stayed as they were on vacation. Part of the package is they supply maps with portages and campsites, and then will talk over the maps with you when you get there. Since they were out, Bruce Hyer's wife (nice lady) was covering for them and she was no help in talking over the maps. In a way that was good so we had no idea what to expect and there were serveral challenges we then had to face and figure out on our own due to the record high water they had there that year. (Think portages under water, etc).

The maps were nice to have with that level of detail. But don't expect BWCA portages....nicely manicured and room to pass! These are at most scratched out of the boreal forest and there was only 1 portage we had where there wasn't a tree down. There was one that was 160 rods and it took us about 2.5 hours to complete due to all the deadfall. It was like walking through a war zone!

Also, we were on a route described as "main street" in Wabakimi...and still we saw no one for 8 days. Let me know if you have any more questions.
11/23/2010 09:45PM  
"Also, we were on a route described as "main street" in Wabakimi...and still we saw no one for 8 days."
Now that's what I like to hear. I would be happy if we could have 3-4 days without seeing anyone!

As I stated above, we have contacted Brenda at WildWaters. I have been all over the web looking at various canoeing sites and it seems WW gets high marks for their service and knowledge. As for whether they are more expensive or less, well, ... I can always make more money. Since we are not flying in it looks like the outfitting will cost a few hundred dollars. Also, there does not seem to be a lot of outfitters up there catering to folks who want to canoe into the park.
If we were to fly in I would more likely be talking to the folks at Mattice Lake.
11/23/2010 09:59PM  
BWP - After I got your reply I saw the thread about Wing Night south of the TC. I wish I could go, but I will be officiating at my son's swim meet that weekend. I really would like to meet some of the folks whose trip reports and gear reviews I have been reading. I hope you all have a great time in January!
11/25/2010 03:39AM  
Thanks jcavenagh, I'm sure wing night will be a smashing success. Will be my first.

As to August 2011, I sent you an email.
12/05/2010 04:34PM  
You probably won't see many other canoeist -- probably more like Quetico in the 1920s.

The last time I was there we paddled for 22 days and saw only one other group of paddlers. We did see fly-in fishermen though on some of the larger lakes, as well as a few outpost cabins.

Excellent canoe country.
12/06/2010 01:32PM  
Arctic - Thanks. We have already been advised about a fairly large fishing outpost on Smootrock Lake. We will likely be heading south along the far west shore of that lake. I am pretty deep into the research and I am thinking that our first 2-3 days seem to be the most likely that we'll see others. The smaller lakes at the southern end of the trip look very inviting. It now looks like I may be in the park with the Wabakimi Project in June so I'll get a better feel for the area. One difference I have noticed is that there appears to be a lot more flowing water in Wabakimi than in BW/Q. The southern parks have more open lake area, I think. My experience has been on flatwater almost exclusively, so I look forward to a little more river paddling.
We are currently awaiting word from our #4 man. Once he speaks to his boss we'll know if he can go.
If not, we'll posting on this site for a 4th.
12/07/2010 11:27AM  
Cool news about joining Uncle Phil!! jealous here...

Heard Rob Kesselring speak about Wabakimi last weekend here at a MWM event. He didn't really give details on routes/maps, etc. but had some video clips of the plane and train that were cool.

He also said that Wabakimi portages were typically right at the brink of where you would not want to paddle... His assumption was that Native Americans and Voyageurs of days past were very confident in paddling skills and wanted to minimize the portaging as much as possible. I'll be curious if that is your experience too.

Hoping your 4th comes through for you.
12/07/2010 01:51PM  
quote BWPaddler: "He also said that Wabakimi portages were typically right at the brink of where you would not want to paddle... His assumption was that Native Americans and Voyageurs of days past were very confident in paddling skills and wanted to minimize the portaging as much as possible. I'll be curious if that is your experience too."

That was our experience. We had one portage that if we missed it, we were down the rapids. It turned out the portage was flooded half way across and we had to return to the start and paddle back upstream, which was a nail biter in itself. Then there was another that with the water being so high, we could not get to the portage and had to bushwhack a couple dozen rods to be able to bypass another set of deadly rapids. There were several more that were 'on the brink'. I'd agree with his assessment.
12/07/2010 01:57PM  
BWP- Yes. I've seen others report that the portages are generally right before the rapids through out the park. Some report it is a bit nerve wracking looking for those portages with the water roaring just ahead of you. Again, we are looking for adventure, so it sounds like fun to me. So now that Wabakinmi is solidly in the planning phase, I am sitting on the couch [just had my rt knee scoped]dreaming of something more ambitious up in Woodland Caribou for 2012. I think I am going to have to buy a canoe. Maybe a Quetico 17?? What canoes do you have?
12/07/2010 02:33PM  
quote BWPaddler:

He also said that Wabakimi portages were typically right at the brink of where you would not want to paddle... His assumption was that Native Americans and Voyageurs of days past were very confident in paddling skills and wanted to minimize the portaging as much as possible. "

That is the norm throughout the North, and is not unique to Wabakimi.
The original portages around rapids and falls in what is now the BWCAW and Quetico were almost certainly that way too, but were modified as the areas became tourist meccas.
01/08/2011 08:05PM  
nothing finer then coming around a corner to a rapid or drop off waterfall, with seconds to get out, and current tugging at you as you have litterally a minute or so to figure out your strategy and approach, to the portage you have just spotted... Wow I love this kind of trippin.
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01/08/2011 10:10PM

i've been in there since 1980. great canoe country, but it's not like paddling the border. be careful in there. it's drop and pool country, and river travel can present challenges even in normal water levels.

i spoke with phil cotton over the holidays on the occasion of his 80th birthday, and he had in front of him the annotated custom map set Chuck and I furnished the Wabakimi Project from our 2009 trip .
01/09/2011 11:30PM  
Good to know about portages! I enjoy adventure too and used to be a decent river paddler pre-BWCA days... but that info is pertinent to how I'd plan a trip with my children. In the BWCA, my oldest two usually take one canoe for a good portion of the day's paddle. They've done that since they were 8 and 9 years old, but they're only 11 and 12 now and I would not consider them expert paddlers by any means. I could probably count on my eldest in the bow, she's a natural at figuring out what we need... Son, not so much. And littlest kiddo (8) wouldn't touch the bow in that situation at all.

Uncle Phil is 80? Wow. Saw him last April at MWM... Could have fooled me. Happy birthday to him!
01/10/2011 05:31PM  
As trips will, this one is evolving. We may have my 13 yr old son and a buddy of his, a long time scout, along with us. The scout's father (a troop leader) is pretty excited about it and trying to see if he can get the time. I really hope it works out that the boys can come with us. In case no one has noticed, I, too, am pretty excited about this trip!
01/10/2011 05:44PM  
jdr- Yes. I have read Chuck's report a couple times already! Great report and great photos! It's 2011, already!! Just a few more months....
01/27/2011 09:46AM  
we most recently paddled in wabakimi several years ago and saw no other canoeists. we did run into a few fly in fishing camps. we canoed some of the ogoki river, there are several sets of rapids that we had to run, no portages, at least we found none. it seems that some of the older portages are become overgrown with disuse. i would suggest some whitewater practice before you take any of the larger rivers. i took a 21 day trip up here in the 70's. we saw no one the entire trip except on the albany river when a freighter canoe of native americans (canadian indians) pulled into our campsite. none of them spoke english, it was interesting, to say the least.
01/27/2011 08:46PM  
JW - I expect to have a week with some experienced paddlers before the August trip. We should do some whitewater paddling and I will be seeking instruction. I have been thinking about this for some time as the vast majority of my paddling has been flat water.
Thanks. JC
01/28/2011 06:15AM  
jw, that camp visit must have been interesting - did they speak french or their native american language?
01/28/2011 07:49AM  
i had always assumed that these were cree indians. now with the internet I am able to do more research. i believe that they were from Fort Hope, as the albany river upstream from petawanga lake is impassable for their large freight canoe due to the many rapids and waterfalls. per wikipedia these indians are Ojibway and speak Anishinaabe, no french. basically, besides the little motor on their old canvas canoe, it was like stepping back in time. i am sure they were curious about our presence on their land, it wasn't a park then. they were quite comfortable to come and sit on the ground and examine all our gear, and not speak much, if at all. one of the teenagers did speak a few words of english and was able to do a some interpreting, with a lot of gestures and pointing. as the next stage of our trip involved cutting south to lake nipigon, traveling a route we had no information on, we believed that the elder indians may have some useful knowledge of our intended route which involved going up the witchwood river, whiteclay lake, picket,cliff lake and finally the pikitigushi river down to lake nipigon which we paddled across to reach the road to armstrong, where we hitchhiked back to the train station in armstrong. the elder indians grinned wildly when they realized what we were about to do. i am sure they knew the route well as there were many old, rotting trapper cabins along the way. so the youngster says yes, it is doable. so off we went, into canoing hell, the rivers were choked with long stretches of fallen timber, requiring long portages through the thick boggy forest. our canoes were vintage wood and canvas chestnut prospectors, boats that are famous throughout canada as the best wilderness canoes ever built. they are also very heavy, and as we had run a lot of rocky whitewater with them on the albany river they were all scratched up on the bottoms, meaning that they were gaining water weight. we had a schedule to keep, as the route was next to impossible that meant we were up every morning before dawn and didn't finish paddling until dusk, 16 hour days. we made it to lake nipigon, on schedule, and had to paddle across that monstrous lake to gull bay. this is where the prospectors proved their reputation, paddling in six or more foot swells we appreciated the 15" depth of these fabulous canoes. as this lake is almost like superior we stuck close together for safety, for long stretches we couldn't see each others' canoes even though we may have been only 16' apart. the waves were huge, even with no wind, but never once did any of us feel any fear that we were in danger. actually it was a riot, my most enjoyable day (and night) in a canoe ever.

sorry long story.

my internet search on fort hope was interesting. the town is currently in a state of emergency due to skyrocketing violence. three murders in the last year.

wiki on fort hope

cbc news

this photo is a typical site that you may find on any canadian river route, i believe that this photo is actually in manitoba

as long as i have a mini novel going here i may add that "my precious" a restored peterborough cedar canvas canoe that i purchased in thunder bay, ontario was used in the 1940's in this area by a trapper. to me that makes it's 75 lbs weight worth carrying.

my 1941 boat from the canadian bush

01/28/2011 09:47AM  
What an incredible adventure! Thanks for sharing.

That picture of your canoe is fantastic! I bet you have this one framed in your home.

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