Monday, August 25, 2008

Back from Wabakimi

I’m back from Wabakimi! The Otter couldn’t pick us up as scheduled, because of the high winds, so we came out one day later. I got home last night (08-24-08). The Otter is an amazing aircraft. I’ve flown on Beavers before, but the Otter has so much more power.

I had a good time. We saw one moose and one Woodland Caribou. It was everyone’s first time seeing a Woodland Caribou in the Wabakimi. Wabakimi is a boreal forest and where we went was very rugged and remote. We encountered a little of everything- small lakes, big lakes, strong / high winds, no wind, fast water, lining and tracking canoes, portaging (short and long). The weather was great for the most part. We encountered a little rain. I’ve never eaten as many blueberries on a canoe trip. This area is covered with blueberries.

I plan to do some type of trip report, but it will be a while. I’m behind in everything at home due to my trip to Michigan for the AuSable Canoe Marathon and this trip to Wabakimi. I will probably put it on a separate blog and link to it from my blog.

I took about 1,000 photos, so I will include some in the trip report.

Chuck Ryan

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Leaving in a few hours for Wabakimi

Pete Sukontaraks will be here in the morning to pick me up along with his canoe and pack he left here last Sunday. We will stay in Thunder Bay on Friday night. Saturday we will drive 150 miles further north to Armstrong to make our final preparations. The train ride to the put-in isn't until early Sunday morning. See my post a couple days ago, Wabakimi Update, for the itinerary and to the maps of our route.

I'm looking forward to the two week paddle. On Sunday, 08-23-08, we fly out of the park.

The water levels in the park have been high all year long. Here is a link to Canadian Canoe Routes ( about the Wabakimi water levels

Here is what someone else said on another forum who just got out of the park about the water levels.

"Based on our experience, you are taking the trip in small bites. We only travelled 3 days and two of the days were 16 and 14 miles and with the portage challenge, were plenty far for us each day.

Dave from Virginia was a great help giving us tips and advice before we left. He was right on about a lot of things. He will be a great member of your group.

It did rain on us every day exept one, and most were 15 minute showers off and on, until our last night where it rained all night raising concern that our float plane would be late, but the weather changes on a dime up there, both according to Dave and our experience as well.

Stock up on beverages and gas while taking 527 north from Thunder Bay. Its a 150 miles with no services.

And if you are taking the train, it can be late. Have someone call VIA early in the AM to find out the status of the train. Our train was 1.25 hours late, but the train last Sunday didn't show up until 1 PM....5 hours late. Have an excellent trip!

Water levels are at near record highs. We saw islands under water with trees surrounded by water. Some portages were inaccessible as the high water made the risk of getting sucked into rapids too great, so we had to bushwhack in some spots to get around rapids.The bugs are not bad, the two of us went through less than one can of bug spray. Mosquitoes are thick at dusk. Enjoy your trip..."

Here is our itinerary again.

Maps are under the other post if you're interested.

Chuck Ryan

Start of the 2008 AuSable River Canoe Marathon

Here is a link to the start of this years race. Bill Briggs and I were in canoe #75. I see Bill with his light colored hat in the bow of the canoe at 1:09. Then at 1:12 & 1:15 on the video you can see us (canoe #75) in about the middle of the screen. Then at 1:34 the announcer says our names.

Chuck Ryan

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

1949 Mando-Aquatennial Canoe Derby Brochure

Here is the brochure I got from Gene Jensen's brother just before I went to Michigan to do the marathon. It was a PDF file and I couldn't post it.

Matt Ahonen found my blog and read about the brochure that I had and offered to help me. Matt also told me his grandfather, Will Ahonen, was in this race.

Here is some information from of a couple e-mails from Matt which he gave me permission to post.

"My grandfather raced from Bemidji to Minneapolis in the late 40's early 50's and ended up taking second to Estes and Jensen. They had a canvas canoe and Estes and Jensen were in a racing canoe so they didn't stand a chance. I am not sure who it was, but they passed my grandfather while one of them had their feet up in the bow peeling an orange. "

Update: "One thing about the race, my dad isn't sure what place they finished, but he doesn't think it was second."

"My grandfather was Will Ahonen and his partner was Royal "Jake" Oyster. Jake had his hand slammed in gate by a bull a couple days before the race so he had a tough paddle. My grandfather was born in Winton and then moved to Grand Rapids to work at the U of M Ag School as a herdsman."

"I am 99.9% certain that my grandpa is in the stern on the 13 canoe in the foreground of the picture on the third page. "


Matt Ahonen

Moorhead, MN

Thank you Matt for your help and the information on your grandfather.

Chuck Ryan

Monday, August 4, 2008

Wabakimi Update

I leave this Friday, 08-08-08, for a two week wilderness canoe trip to Wabakimi Provincial Park.

The park sees considerably less people that Quetico.

I’m going with three other guys who I’ve never met until yesterday. Pete Sukontaraks, from Kansas, stopped by my place and dropped off his canoe and pack. He needs to take care of some business in the area before he picks me up on Friday.

Pete and I will drive up to Thunder Bay and visit Ostrum’s and hook up with Dick Beamish from Maryland. On Saturday we will drive up to Armstrong, Ontario where we will meet Dave Phillips. Dave is from Virginia. Dave is already on a trip in Wabakimi . He’s on the Wabakimi Project.

If the weather is favorable he will fly back to Armstrong on Saturday. Our trip begins on Sunday.

Earlier this year, Dave and Pete did a trip to Quetico. I believe it was two weeks. Then Dave immediately went to the Woodland Caribou for a solo trip.

I was planning on doing a solo trip to the Woodland Caribou toward the end of June, but I decided to do the AuSable Canoe Marathon.

We take the train to our put-in, paddle for two weeks, then fly out.

Here is a little info:

Kopka Waterway Park: Adjoining Wabakimi’s southern boundary, the Kopka is a picturesque river of whitewater and scenic waterfalls, interspersed with sizeable lakes, which terminates at Lake Nipogon.

Brightsand Waterway Park: An excellent canoeing river, the Brightsand adjoins Wabakimi Park (and the Allanwater River) from the south, and is accessible from the Graham Road, which runs north from Highway 17 near Upsala.

VIA Rail will transport passenger’s equipment and canoes along the Canadian National Railway line (at the south end of the park). Contact VIA Rail Canada 888-842-7245to get the latest on train schedules and procedures. ARMSTRONG STATION TO ALLANWATER BRIDGE SIGNPOST STOP. VIA Rail currently offers service from Armstrong westbound and eastbound three days per week.

The summers of Wabakimi are hot and dry. The average July daily temperature is 18.4C (65.1F). By contrast, the winters in the Armstrong area are cold and clear with an average temperature in January of -20.4C (-4.7F).Canoeing season is from mid-May until mid-September. Early and late season canoeists may experience widely variable weather, from summer-like conditions to snow showers, with afternoon temperatures typically less than 15C (60F).

Visitors to Wabakimi must be fully prepared for independent wilderness travel. Emergency assistance may be available only by attracting aircraft in the area. Make sure that you include in your pack a complete first aid kit in the event of a mishap. Whitewater canoeing skills are necessary on some routes.

Canoe Route Caution:
Wabakimi Park is a big area. Not all canoe routes are maintained and some areas receive less frequent maintenance than others. Note that maps and park information may be wrong for a variety of reasons. Campsites and portages are not signed. Natural circumstances may have changed the configuration of waterways, landscape features and portage routes. There are no signs showing the location of portages in the park, and trail conditions may vary considerably. On some routes and portages, navigation can require skill with map and compass. Canoeists travel these water routes and follow the route descriptions at their own risk. Additional information on waterway and portage conditions can be obtained from outfitters in the Wabakimi area.

Canoe Trip Itinerary:
The plan should have a description (color/ make) of your canoes, tents, vehicles and vehicle locations. In the event of an emergency, the trip plan information can be forwarded to the Ontario Provincial Police detachment in Armstrong (phone 807-583-2394).

Wild Fire:
Wild fires play an integral role in the life cycle of the Boreal forest. Wabakimi Provincial Park has a wilderness wild fire management philosophy. You may be traveling in areas where wild fires are not suppressed. Your safety and well being may depend upon your ability to assess potential respiratory or visual problems associated with thick smoke, ash and haze, as well as your selection of travel routes to avoid narrow waterways and portages near fires. Check with the Ministry of Natural Resources office or your outfitter regarding the status of wild fires in the park and the fire weather indices. Consider wild fire contingencies during the planning of your trip.

Thunder Storms:
Severe summer thunderstorms are common in Wabakimi, with lightning and strong winds being a particular hazard. In an approaching storm, get off the water and avoid prominent exposures and tall trees.

***Snow and Wind Damage Update
While most visitors to Wabakimi will not require a snow shovel, nobody should be surprised by a late season snow squall. Last fall took this concept to new depths. On October 24, 2001, about 18" of heavy, wet snow fell in the park followed by high winds. This storm caused extensive blowdown over a very large area. Work crews are being planned for spring and summer portage maintenance. The potential impact of this storm on campsite and portage conditions should be factored into all trips. Watch for 'snagged' tops and sweepers, weakened and leaning trees, and be prepared for some portage challenges. Be aware of the potentially increased forest fire hazard associated with having new fuels at ground level.
The park office and your outfitter will be able to provide additional information on specific areas.

Barry Simon,
“We use Souris river 18' kevlars into Wabakimi. The reconnaissance efforts for these canoe last 12 weeks each year. Sure they get scratches and see all sorts of moving water, lining, hard landings etc. Make sure you do not mind wet feet exits and ports. Wabakimi is a boreal forest with many blow downs and muskegs to walk through. Solitude is un-believable. Portages are nothing like BWCA or Quetico since Wabakimi is mostly a pool and drop of no more than 100m across the entire length of the park. At most you will see a short cliff of 8m but then flattens out to the next lake. “


“I've taken several trips into train from Armstrong and the other from Savant Lake on the western side. I paddled out the first time, and came out by float plane the 2nd. Outfitting services are very limited and they take advantage of that (read:$$$$). “”The park itself is still very primitive and there were several times we had to cut our way thru the "portage". The 2nd time, I was doing a survey for the MNR so I had a decent map...but the first time in, the map I had from the outfitter looked like it was scribbled on toilet paper while sitting on the throne.””Campsites are limited and very primitive...there were several times I wished I had packed a weedwhacker .” ”Fishing: The good news is, there are sooooo few people in there, those fish act like they've never seen a lure. The bad news is there are no smallmouth if that's your fish of choice....too far north to breed or something. You'd have to "settle" for as many Walleye as your arms can stand pulling in :-).”

“I think the biggest difference between W and Q is ACCESS. In this respect, an outfitter can be a big help. They were very helpful in arranging our train pickups....very early from the east side (6 am)....very late from the west side (10 pm). “”First night coming in from the west side (Savant Lake) was tricky....its a class V put-in from the train...straight down the 55 degree grade from the built up train tracks to the water....and in total darkness. We actually got an overnight booking at a fish camp off the tracks located on Lake ??? (I'll have to look this one up)...and the proprietor was waiting for us at the mile marker to help us off the train at 10:30 pm. Spent the night in a very cozy fish cabin and walked all of 50 yards to the lake put-in the next morning. East side pickups are much easier from Armstrong. Pickup is early morning and, tho the put-in is still class V, at least you can see where you're going.””The next biggest difference is in campsites. No great Fisher Maps w/ the little red dots showing four-star campsites. There are much fewer campsites, and when you find one, grab it quick....we made a mistake bypassing one at 5 pm thinking another will be around the corner and didn't find one until after 11pm... in the the rain...ugly night.””I hope I don't put anyone off going to Wabakimi by these was a totally fantastic experience. Very different from "The Q" in that it is a HUGE park and you are much more ALONE. We didn't see another party the whole time we were in. When a float plane picked us up, we were told there were only 50-some people in the park....AWESOME. Extra caution should be observed in everything you is NOT just around the corner and you probably won't see another person for days.”


“I have been to both parks. WCPP I have paddled with Jerry R and agree with his assessment for the ingress and egress. I just got back from my second tour of Wabakimi doing survey and portage clearing for a project that a gentleman by the name of Phil Cotton is coordinating. I am doing the physical mapping of the canoe routes as the product of our work. Both parks are great but Wabakimi is more remote as far as access is concerned. There are a couple of YMCA groups out of Ely that have been in there this year and are planning to make Wabakimi an annual trip due to the fact the Quetico and BWCA are too crowded. One way to enjoy Wabakimi is to train in and paddle out. This can be done in a 12 day trip out of Allan Water to Caribou Lake. The further north of the Ogoki River watershed you go, the less people you will see thus flying in is a great option and paddle out to Caribou lake works well. Mattice Outfitters can help you out here. As for WCPP, good option as well but I wont re-state Jerry’s thoughts since he is bang on. Goldseekers is an excellent option especially with an overnight bunk stay before heading out. Great shuttle service if you need them.”

Here is our itinerary:

Follow the red line on the maps.