By: Noah Cole

August 20 2023

Lake Ontario to Lake Superior

Yesterday, after coming back to our neighbourhood from a family vacation, I spent the day unpacking, organizing and spending more enjoyable quality downtime with my immediate family. I prepared for the canoe trip and packed the gear and clothes I would want and need, including canoe trip clothing, gear, cameras, book, journal, toiletries, sunscreen, rain jacket, bug spray and compass too. I went over to my parents house to pack our bags there with my dad. We reviewed the food items, the tent, paddles, fishing licence, our clothes and personal items, drybags, grill, ropes, kindling, camp knives, matches, first aid kit, wet weather clothes and warm clothes, packed up and were set and ready to go.

This morning, I got up at 4:30 AM to get ready to head out with Dad at 5:30 to fly up to Thunder Bay from Pearson on an Air Canada flight, and then to fly into Quetico on a float plane and begin our wilderness canoe excursion through Quetico Provincial Park.

After flying into Thunder Bay, Dad and I easily got our gear and had a rental car within a half hour of landing. Then, we obtained the additional things we needed from the Canadian Tire in Thunder Bay (fishing rod, sunscreen, rainpants, fuel canister) and Dad drove us to Atikokan and Canoe Canada, where we rendezvouzed with Shane who reviewed our route planning with us, and gave us fresh maps, PFDs, arranged the float plane, shuttle there and pickup for the end of the trip at Stanton Bay on Pickerel Lake. It was good to see him, it had been a few years. After coordinating at Canoe Canada, we were shuttled to the floatplane, a DeHavilland Beaver, and we headed into the deep wilds of Quetico Provincial Park.

We flew above the decommissioned Steep Rock Mine, and we flew above seriously vast areas that had been scorched and scoured by massive forest fires of more than fourty square kilometres in scale from recent major wildfires a few years ago. Yet, the forest is slowly returning. The forest landscape including trees like jack pine, red pine, fireweed and blueberries even bears and black-backed woodpeckers benefit from periodic forest fires. It was also impressive and seemed wonderful that large swaths of wetlands stopped the fire in some places, including the area just shy of Rose Island on Kawnipi Lake, and to see the immense multitude of expansive mighty and majestic extraordinary lakes stretching across every direction.

After 20 minutes, we landed on Basswood Lake by King’s Point, the most southerly point in Quetico and on the US/Canada border zone. We loaded the canoe from the floatplane and paddled into the embrace of the northerly Canadian wilderness waters of Quetico. Without embellishment, we soon saw two eagles and several loons and filled our water bottles from the fresh, pristine wide lake.

This evening, we have camped on Cigar Island, incidentally there too is an eagle’s nest nearby and we can often hear the call of the eagles and can see the young eagle by its nest in the pine. Here, there is a lot of forest on the island, exposed beautiful bedrock, smoothed by the glacier and weathered by the water and storms. There is a lot of magnificent lichen and beautiful moss. we were honoured to be greeted by a dragonfly, a grouse, a bird’s nest and the eagles own home here. We are so deeply honoured and truly glad to be here again, on the traditional territories of First Nations peoples and on historic canoe routes. Chi Miigwetch (A big thank you: Ojibwa). Soon after setting up camp and the tent, I made a sacred offering of sacred dogwood bark and thanked Gitchi Manitou.

August 21 2023

Basswood Lake to Silence Lake

Today, we gave thanks to the Eagles Nest and paddled across Basswood Lake to the furthest reaches of Basswood’s North Bay, where before paddling the channel to the South Lake portage, we were greeted by a loon close to our canoe. We then slogged up the beaver dammed channel, paddling through thick mucky waters, over beaver dams to the easy portage. We did about five short easy portages and one 350 metre portage through the “S” chain of lakes. Between West Lake and Shade Lake there was a very beautiful unnamed lake with nearly beyond imagination impressive reflections of magnificent pines. A creek from Shade Lake fed this lake, which had tall old Canadian Shield glacier smoothed cliffs, freshwater sponges, lichen, ferns and wildflowers I’d never been before. After a good lunch on Shade Lake, where I saw beautiful lichens I also don’t recall having ever seen before, we headed onward into Noon Lake, then Sultry and onto Silence Lake.

We’ve decided to camp out on Silence Lake, where I had a lovely swim, saw a few warblers that I hope to relocate in the morning. I set up tent while Dad gathered firewood, and made fire and prepped dinner too. Dad was interested in portaging today and did really well carrying the canoe over several hundred-meter portages. I was concerned that his back or hip might hurt from the spinal nerve calcification, but he was portaging those well. He said the doctor explained that he could do any activity but not to overdo it, and if it hurt then to stop. Dad is great, he has such a loving and wonderful spirit. Today, though it was raining lightly, I didn’t mind as it was pleasant paddling weather and with great company and magnificent natural environment there was a lot to truly admire and appreciate.

August 22 2023

Silence Lake to Kawnipi Lake

We began the day on Silence Lake, where we woke up at 6:30 to get an early start. It was lovely to observe the flock of warblers for a while again as they flitted from bough to bough. We packed up and headed out on the quiet smooth lake. Soon, after a short carry-over we portaged into the mighty, majestic and outstanding Agnes Lake. We enjoyed a serene and spectacular 10 kilometre paddle up Agnes Lake, where we saw two eagles; one juvenile eagle flew 50 feet from us, some distant loons and an osprey. We also not only had several nibbles but also caught and landed a three-foot seven pound pike.

Dad is currently tending the fire and cooking the impressive northern pike we’ll have for dinner tonight. On the way up Agnes, I told Dad that in a way I felt badly or somewhat regretted that I had wasted a couple years or misspent some time as I was learning and reprocessing my life in healing from trauma after being extensively bullied, physically and mentally abused and ostracised; focusing on determining my objectives, interests, values, goals, insights and aspirations as I was finding myself, restoring myself again. I had to do a lot of healing and work, including introspection, understanding personal and social contexts, a lot of philosophical work, ultimately more than 20 years of therapy. This included contacting the Anglican all-boys college in Toronto and asking for an apology with full recognition from the current headmaster. Dad said it was impossible not to have experimented in my youth, learning about myself from the past and new or novel experiences with some venting, socialization and fooling around. He was very understanding of that, and that even if I had partied a bit, smoked a bit more pot or fooled around a little more than I now would have preferred to – in that I should have better focused on my studies and personal targets, that it was OK because when you’re young is the time to figure out these things as when you’re much older as an adult is very difficult. And now, like an eagle looking down, I can see the big picture and consider what things are important and what to stand up for, what I can work on and do, to take it easier and be more compassionate towards myself and others, and what things I would not want to do or advise not doing again.

And so, after several short portages and after meeting a mother and son from Toronto who had been coming to Quetico for more than 40 years and seeing some uncommon horizontal pelt lichen on a portage, we arrived on Kawnipi Lake and found an island campsite near the one we had camped on last near Rose Island. We paddled into Kawnipi Lake, the heart of Quetico, where the lush pristine northern forest, lichens, osprey, and a broad-winged hawk chasing ducks in the wetland welcomed us and where Rose Island welcomed us back.

We enjoyed being on the island just south of Rose Island where we camped and had kind warm conversation by the campfire and a delicious fresh pike dinner.

August 23 2023

Kawnipi Lake to Chatterton Lake

Shortly after waking up at 7 AM, we got ready for the day, packed the tent and enjoyed some morning conversation with our granola, coffee and tea. Dad noticed and pointed out two warblers, which I was able to photograph and identify one as a yellow-rumped warbler. Soon after my last photos around the campsite, we loaded our canoe and headed up the north-oriented west-side channel of Kawnipi’s Rose Island towards Quetico’s Poets chain of lakes and Shelley Lake.

As we navigated beyond the northwest channel of Kawnipi with its many marvellous islands into Shelley, we saw the remnants of the massive forest fire that occurred in Quetico two or three years ago. Though the size of the fire was actually much larger, along the stretch of five kilometres that we were able to perceive, we saw the charred and burnt matchstick-like spectre-like standing remnants of vast swaths of pine forest, including the burnt mainland, burnt islands, exposed white and pink granitic shield, as well as the returning vegetation including fireweed, blueberries and yarrow. En route, we portaged around several swifts and chutes into Shelley Lake. Once in Shelley, after about a kilometre of paddling the lush dense forest transitioned around us again, we saw a couple of Canada jays high up in the treetops along the shoreline on Shelley too. Canada jays are now listed as a species at risk of special concern in Ontario as populations of these birds, in Ontario, have been decreasing, likely as a result of climate change and how warmer temperatures negatively impact food cache viability for the omnivorous Canada jays. We had lunch on Shelley Island, where I noticed freshwater sponges and numerous fascinating species of lichen. After our lunch of smoked salmon, feta and an apple we set out and paddled again and soon arrived at the famous Have A Smoke portage, where we agreed it should suitably be renamed for more relatable modern trends like the “Have Some Water” portage. At the end of the Shelley-Keats portage there was an iconic curtain waterfall whose rapids fed into Keats Lake. It was an admirable scene with tall majestic pines, verdant mossy glacially smoothed rock including a northern forest backdrop beside the expansive Keats Lake.

Keats poetically flowed past islets towards Split Rock Falls, a place we have traversed many times. After the 500 metre portage across lichen-strewn boulders and slopes, we took a photo of ourselves at Split Rock Falls, loaded our canoe then decided to fish now that we were closer to our site. So, we selected a spinner lure, baited the line and paddled no more than five feet offshore, and while in the shallows – I had the rod across the canoe ready to cast. The lure, still uncast, was in the water for only thirty seconds when a four pound bass took the lure and almost dragged the rod in. Thankfully, I caught the rod and we reeled in a wonderful smallmouth bass, a quick unintended catch. This was certainly the least amount of time I’ve ever spent in successfully bringing in any fish.

We then paddled up Chatterton Lake, seeing two eagles and a loon along the way, filleting the fish before arriving at where we would rest for the night, and soon deciding to camp at the site above the Grand Rapids. The site here is truly exquisite. It is certainly a world-class campsite. The view lookout out over the lake is lovely, and we saw at least three eagles from our campsite, perching in boughs of tall pines across the river. Here Chatterton Lake flows into Chatterton Falls through glacier and weather smoothed beauteous Canadian Shield narrows with potholes and pools at our site, a lush moss-and-fern-covered open forest, tricolored bumblebees frequented the goldenrod by the water and the site offers unprecedented views of the mighty upper falls. Dad cooked the smallmouth bass and made rice and tea on the campfire and we enjoyed an outstanding meal on the smooth rock by the river. Today was so good and a great adventure.

August 24 2023

Chatterton Lake to Dore Lake

The day began on Chatterton Lake by the Grand Rapids. As I looked out to the lake from the tent, I could see that the morning was misty and overcast. A thick blanket of mist had settled over Chatterton Lake. The weather had changed and cooled. Still, Dad and I enjoyed a breakfast of granola and tea sitting on the rocks together by the Grand Rapids. We soon paddled out to the Chatterton-Russell Lake portage and heard loons and saw bald eagles along the way. At the portage, we admired an ancient old growth 200-250 year old white pine. Old-growth white and red pines in Quetico are phenomenal not only in scale, but also because they are also old survivors of large forest fires that burned the undergrowth and many surrounding trees but would also released nutrients into the soil, cleared canopy space and encouraged successions of plant and wildlife species to return in natural cycles. It is also amazing to imagine the local historic and environmental events that this white pine along the portage influenced, survived through and in its way bore witness to over 250 years.

Dad and I then canoed up Russell Lake, past glacial erratics to the Sturgeon Narrows, where we skillfully navigated the swift current there through the narrows into Sturgeon Lake. Sturgeon Lake, though we had paddled across it many times before, was undisturbed and mirror-like on this occasion. Surreal, like we had never seen it before and wondered if the warming of the oceans had something to do with the stillness of the winds in the Atikokan-Quetico region this year. Shane from Canoe Canada Outfitters had said that Atikokan and Quetico had little wind this year and that the area had been quite dry. We paddled several kilometres to Blueberry Island, where we had lunch and swam. After lunch, we paddled six more kilometres to Deux Rivieres, where we went upstream through wetlands and stands of wild rice (manoomin: Ojibway). We actually moreso pushed our canoe through the muck and low water levels, and carried our gear over several beaver dams in to Twin Lake. Then, tired from the brief exhausting paddle venture, we slowly portaged the Deux Riveres portage. Dad carried the canoe as I hauled the heavy pack. We were both tired at the end of the carry-over trail, but were glad to be on Dore Lake.

We loaded up and spent only a few minutes in the canoe before finding a beautiful campsite with an open mature pine forest, stunning views of the lake and even a few moose droppings around the perimetre of our site. As if by magic, the overcast sky lifted in the evening and beautiful warm golden light shone over the surrounding forest. Terns flew around the lake, a pair of loons circled their lacustrine territory and many trout jumped out of the water while feeding on insects. Terns occasionally dove down and caught small fish too. Dad and I greatly enjoyed the amber-hued evening light, as we had dinner by the shore and tea by the fire.

August 25 2023

Dore to Pickerel Lake

This morning we woke and prepared for the day at the beautiful mature open campsite on Dore Lake. Invited to appreciate the morning by the call of the wild, thanks to the vocalizations of the loons, terns and an eagle that flew above the far side of the lake. Also this morning, we enjoyed seeing beams of light from the morning sun gracing the forest at the end of the lake, which seemed like a sign of good fortune. Just as we were about to depart there was a sudden heavy downpour that lasted one minute. We headed out onto the lake in lighter rain after the downpour, and yet ten minutes later there was another heavy downpour, the last for the day. There was light rain for the next couple of hours and then the cloud ceiling lifted up together and the rain dissipated and ceased.

Dad took a nice photo of me as I began carrying the canoe across Pine Portage. While we were on Pickerel Lake, despite some light rain, there was very little wind, which seemed unusual and was a first in our experience. Again, we thought of the warming of the oceans and the impacts on wind currents. We paddled out of Pine Portage Bay and around the eastern shore of Emerald Island, then northwards towards Stanton Bay. We took an end of trip photo of ourselves and completed the final portage of our phenomenal 2023 Quetico wilderness excursion. Eric from Canoe Canada picked us up at the rendezvous point and shuttled us back to Atikokan. We passed by two active logging sites along the way just outside the park boundary, one reforested with birch and alder that had grown a little since their first year of being planted. We thanked Shane from Canoe Canada, showered and got ourselves organized. Then after a couple photos of Atikokan, we headed out to Quetico Provincial Park’s Dawson Trail Pavillion.

I had not visited the Dawson Pavillion since 1998, when I was up north enjoying a month and a half here on the Quetico Foundation’s Student Summer Research Team. Upon visiting, I saw the Quetico Foundation’s new information section including details about Quetico’s more than two-hundred year old pines, Anishinabec names for trees, and the local whereabouts of Paul Kane’s famous French River painting site. I also visited the park store, signed a copy of my book, Ontario Wildlife Photography, to help promotion and sale of it. The pavillion store staff were glad to hear about our wilderness canoe trip experiences and said that not many people had signed the books offered in the store before. I feel honoured that my book is offered on the same shelf as Shirley Peruniak’s book. I bought several books from the store including Peruniak’s, a book identifying plants by Shan Walshe and small books about the history of the park and about loons from the Friends of Quetico, as well as some smoked salmon for Dad and tshirts for the kids.

I texted my wife too, to let her know that I was well and coming home early tomorrow morning. Nearly finished our northern experience, Dad and I drove to Thunder Bay and had a delicious locally made Italian meal at Nook. I believe it was a good omen that I saw a rainbow and the moon at the same time after dinner then. Finally, we made our way to the Hampton Hotel to get ready and rest before our 5 AM flight.

August 26 2023

Lake Superior to Lake Ontario

We, after within 28 minutes of waking up at 3:30 AM at the Thunder Bay Hampton Inn, had quickly showered, brushed our teeth, pulled together our personal gear and rapidly made our way to check in at the Thunder Bay airport. A check in with record level expediency. After checking in and going through security, we got ourselves a coffee and tea and patiently waited a half hour before boarding. Accordingly at 5 AM on the dot we make our way into the air above Lake Superior, aware that there are so many marvels to be appreciative of.