superiortrailsgranite lake in wabakimi Park
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Wabakimi Fly-In Canoe & Fishing Trip: Palisades River - Burntrock to Kenoji Lake
Armstrong, Ontario

wabakimi palisades river

In 2004 I managed two canoe wabakimi canoeing expeditions. The first one, in June, was with my long time buddy, Paul Linde. This was his first trip to Wabakimi and marked the 30 year anniversary of our very first wilderness canoeing & fishing adventure together (in Quetico Park).

I first heard about the Palisades River at the Canoecopia Exposition in Madison, Wisconsin. They guy described these towering cliffs and canyon like passage through them. It was a trip that he remembered fondly. Since then I've had it on my mind that I must take this trip and I managed to talk Paul into accompanying me.

As I have in the past I used the services of Wabakimi Wilderness Outfitters of Armstrong, Ontario for our trip. We stayed at the B&B with hosts Bert and Brenda Zwicker the night before and departed early the next morning from their dock.

Wabakimi Wilderness Canoe Outfitting Services

Paul (on right) and I get ready to board the DeHavilland Beaver for Burntrock Lake, which would be our departure point for our trip on the Palisades River.

Far right, a map of our complete route > > >

In the air over Wabakimi on the way to Burntrock.  

John, our pilot, dropped us off east of the center of the lake where there aren't any "rocks" that would sabotage the floatplane. (FYI - Often you must load the canoe and yourselves in the middle of a lake because of the threat of unseen rocks). The sun was shining and the wind light and we were off on our trip without incident.

Click on the image to the right for an annotated map of Burntrock and the beginning part of the Palisades trip. > > >

I had purchased a set of laminated route maps from Bert which would hold up better in the elements than my section maps I keep at home for reference. The scale on these maps is much larger so I had seven sheets that covered a route that on the normal map covers a little more than a square foot. Great, easy on the eyes and waterproof too!

But I soon learned a downside of this luxury. After several years of navigating using a 1:50,000 scale map my actual view vs map view was adjusted to this scale. So when Paul and I got to the end of the Burntrock channel leading to the first portage I thought whoa, we got here awful fast. I scanned the map and the corresponding topography around us didn't seem to match. Man how embarrassing, right off the bat took the wrong channel, so we headed back.

Long story, short. After futzing around we determined that we were initially in the correct channel and I realized the problem was the features on the map were greatly magnified from what I was used to seeing. From that point on - after re-tuning my mental scale, I had no problem with the maps.

 

Our first day, we camped on an island about a quarter mile below some waterfalls. While I putzed around camp setting up the tent, Paul paddled over to the falls to check out the fishing. I caught him on a long lens from our campsite > > >

He later told me he caught and released a 31 inch Northern. Later I joined him and we went back to below the rapids. He repeated his catch of a 31 inch Northern (left my camera back at camp!), while we both caught a number of walleye. I am holding a stringer of fish we brought to shore for culling and eating. Paul caught the biggest ones! > > >

Day Two

The island turned out to be a good campsite choice not only for the fishing. Our maps didn't show were was the portage route. So staying on the island gave me a chance to investigate. The most obvious channel - on the right - turned out not be runnable nor could I see a portage trail around it. It turned out the heavily disguised left channel had a small spillway but then opened up to navigable water. So by camping here overnight, we essentially saved a portage across the island. When we broke camp, I hiked the gear and the canoe a short walk to the downstream side of the spillway on the left channel. And off we went from there.
 
We put on a few miles that day paddling and portaging. The only difficulty we had was on our first portage. It was a double one that required us to put back in the middle of fast water. The map showed our next portage on the same side, but it turned out we had to ferry across the channel. The portage path was strewn with downed timber but after doing some scouting we found a way through it. See the map for more details > > >

The right hand photo shows a channel that usually has some low grade rapids/fast water, but they all but disappeared with the higher water levels > > >
We found another nice island campsite. Was not indicated as such on our map, but served us quite well. It was about a mile+ downstream from an area I had been told was good fishing (below another waterfalls). After a heavy day of paddling and portaging we decided we'd check out the falls the next morning. We set up camp, did a little fishing off the island, and just relaxed enjoying the atmosphere. > > >
One of two nice Wallies Paul caught while fishing from the shore of our Island. She and her sister went back to the water as we had spaghetti in mind for dinner! > > >

 

Day Three
The next morning, we paddled back upstream to below the waterfalls. Again we had great fishing luck with catching numerous Walleye. I'm holding up two fish I caught early in the session (not the biggest ones). These fish also were returned because we didn't want to drag and portage them along to our next campsite. > > >
Up till this point, while the fishing was great and the scenery was attractive enough > > >

. . . I kept wondering when we would begin seeing the grand palisades that gave the river its name. I was beginning to wonder if our particular route was going to miss the sights that has so captured that fella who first told me about his trip on the river.
In reviewing the map, I noticed what appeared to be a west branch of the river that joined us less about a kilometer downstream. Following this branch into larger lake I could see the telltale contour lines of some high and steep cliffs lining an increasingly narrow channel upstream of the lake. So I talked Paul into taking a little side trip - as I didn't want to miss those fantastic palisades. Click on Map for details > > >  
I dropped Paul off at our third Island campsite, while I soloed upstream towards what I thought might be the vaulted palisades!

While the hills were high, steep and impressive, no palisades within my vision, > > >

On the way back, I did some fishing in the bay of where our island was located. Worked a point and steep drop off pretty hard. Likewise around the mouth of a creek that entered the lake. No luck. Back at the Island, Paul managed to keep his string alive. He caught a 21 inch Wallie off the bank.
 
Day Four

We broke camp the next morning and retraced our route back to the intersection with the main branch of the Palisades River. After the first portage, we had some fun shooting some rapids and then took a lunch and cigar break > > >

Our maps showed some pictographs ahead so possibly that would be where we might see some Palisades. See details > > >
Finally!! The Palisades > > >

While impressive sights, I've seen higher ones on my Kopka River trip and in the Boundary Waters. The area where the Palisades were located was perhaps a 2 kilometer stretch of water. Curious that an entire river would get this name from such a relatively short stretch of Palisades?The reality failed to measure up to the image I had expected from listening to it being described several years earlier.

Shortly after the Palisades, a cold wind picked up and soon after delivered rain on our parade. We got soaked before we could make it a suitable landing to dig out our rain gear.

The rain slowed but the cold wind picked up. We came upon a nice campsite in a sheltered area, but Paul wanted to continue. He was afraid a major storm was brewing and he didn't want to be too far away from our pickup rendezvous.

[I later learned that Paul had lost track of time and thought our pickup was the following day - when actually it was the day after.]

 


So we charged on down to Kenoji Lake. See detailed map > > >

Once we left the river, we were increasingly exposed to the full force of the gathering wind. We had three and half days of decent weather, but now that was over. In the strong cross winds, I was having difficulty keeping us on course and avoiding waves hitting us broadside. I felt like a cork bobbing around - a nervous sense of lack of control and confidence. [I later concluded this unsteadiness was because Paul outweighed me by a goodly amount and we happened to have more of the heavier gear loaded forward. So the canoe was pivoting near the bow and me in the stern riding high being buffeted around by the wind and waves. Since till now we had been on a river trip, going downstream, and with near ideal weather, I just hadn't noticed this imbalance. My main concern had been insuring the load was well balanced left and right - which it was.]

As we entered the main part of the lake, we saw Kenoji in all its ugliness. Kenoji is a broad, shallow, rocky lake with a good portion of its shoreline denuded from a forest fire. The water levels were high and most of the shoreline appeared marshy. No potential campsite in view. To make matters worse, long shallow shelves extended far out from the shoreline with lots of exposed rocks. With the high waves it was hard to see some of those partially submerged rocks. So we had to strike a course far from shore and exposed to the full force of the wind.

We decided our best chance for a campsite may be one of the small islands ahead. Luck would have it that one of the first ones we came upon was ideally suited. It was maybe only 30 feet across, but had everything we needed. We found a nice little docking spot on the lee side out of the wind and there was about five square feet of space we could use for our camp kitchen - also out of the wind. We were able to place the tent in a small clearing between some trees and brush. We named the island Paradise Island because it had all the amenities we needed and was a very welcome port in the brewing storm. Our Paradise Island campsite > > >

As it turned out the brewing storm subsided and by evening the winds calmed down. After dinner Paul and I toasted our good fortune in "Paradise." > > >

For the first time, however, Paul failed to catch a fish off our campsite.


Day Five

The next morning, the wind picked up again, suggesting maybe another storm might be headed our way. Paul and I decided to pack up and head to the other end of the lake where our maps indicated two campsites on a pair of larger islands.

The wind was coming out of the west-northwest. Not knowing where on the island was the campsite, we passed it before we recognized it. Unfortunately it faced the wind and the oncoming storm. We got around on the backside of the island looking for a suitable landing spot and campsite. None was available. The nearby shoreline was desolate and offered no promise of shelter. > > >

By default, we again looked to one of the small islands in the relatively calm waters behind the large island. While not as nicely laid out as Paradise Island, we made it work. With a storm on the way, we didn't have time to be picky. A little brush clearing we had our tent up and most things battened down when the high winds and rain hit us. Paul and I lay in the tent on our stomachs holding on while horizontal rain came driving at us and waves lapped to within a few feet.

Our canoe tore lose from its moorings and threatened to take off. We charged out in the storm grabbed the canoe and shoved it as far into the brush as we could and then tied it to a tree. Half an hour later, the storm was past. We dined in the tent, ate our trail mix for dinner, and polished off the last of the Yukon Jack and Brandy. A few hands of cribbage finished off the evening. Our last campsite (the next morning while getting packed up) > > >
Day Six

We had a dry and relatively calm morning to pack up and get ready for our rendezvous with John our Float Plane Pilot.

We headed for the bay in which John had indicated was a small beach where we could pull in and wait for him. When we arrived, we searched the shoreline in vain for such a beach. [High water had buried it] Meanwhile the wind had picked up again making navigation a bit dicey.

So we anchored close to shore to wait for the plane. A few minutes before the appointed time, a silver plane flew overhead (not the yellow Beaver I expected). He circled around once, we waved, and then the plane flew off down the lake! [He didn't see us] About 5 minutes later we heard a plane approaching again. This time I grabbed my space blanket with the aluminum coating and waved it vigorously at the plane as he went by. Spotted this time. He circled around and prepared to land. > > >

 
As if on cue, the sky darkened and the wind picked up as John landed the Norseman in the middle of the bay and motioned for us to paddle out to him. > > >

Because the wind and waves, with some whitecaps, were coming at an angle to us, we had to tack 3 times before we reached John. By then he had blown too close to shore (and the rocks) for comfort. So we had to hang onto the pontoon while he taxied out to deeper water. We then handled the rather tricky maneuver of unloading the canoe while bouncing in the waves. John had to taxi one more time out to deeper water before we could complete the toeing on of the canoe.
 
 
Half an hour later we arrived at the Float Plane base camp where Bert was there to pick us up and take us back to the comforts of the Wabakimi Wilderness Outfitter's B&B.

Wabakimi
Wilderness Outfitters
B&B Lodge
Outfitting
Outpost Camps

(807) 583-2626
(807) 767-2022
email
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Advise to Others - Benefit of Hindsight!

This trip could be easily done in four days, three nights. You could add an extra day & night if you wanted to stay in one spot for two nights. The side trip to the "west palisades" wasn't worth the time & effort of the round trip and setting up/breaking camp. Yet it was too long a side trip to do in a day trip and back and throw in a few hours of fishing. The kind of side trip I'd recommend is one where you elect to stay two nights at one spot and do a day excursion out and back from that spot.

This is a great trip for a taste of wilderness adventure without a lot of risk involved. Pretty scenery, great fishing, relatively mild portages, some fun but runnable rapids, and a true escape (we saw no one else until we arrived at Kenoji). If you could arrange float plane pickup on the west vs east end of Kenoji, it would be the near perfect 3 - 4 day fly-in paddling/fishing/camping experience.

Even if the weather was nice, I would not have enjoyed spending time on Kenoji. It's an ugly and desolate looking lake. There's an outpost resort on the lake as well so you will see motorboats. If you are being picked up there, I'd arrange for later in the afternoon so your last campsite could be in the river or the nw end of the lake where its more sheltered and not marred by burnt over lowland. Under good conditions you should be able to paddle to the east bay pickup point in 2 hours . . . so allowing 4-5 hours gives you some leeway for surprises.

[Fly-in fisherman. I don't mean to ding Kenoji's outpost resort. The lake may be excellent for the boat fisherman whose primary interest is catching fish. I would expect the outpost operators to know the lake well and provide helpful advise on navigation and fishing. My point is its a lousy lake for canoeing and camping.]

One more thing, if you are starting a trip at Kenoji, going down the Ogoki River, Bert tells me there are some pretty nasty rapids right off the bat. At the time of the telling there still was a canoe wrapped around a rock as a reminder of the last daredevil's who didn't want to portage.

On the way home, this guy came out on the raod and posed for us so nicely. I suspect this act has gotten him a number of sandwiches in the past. He looked dumbstruck when we drove away without "payment" for the show!
 

Wabakimi Links

Wabakimi & Kopka River Canoe Trip
Return to Wabakimi & Kopka River - Canoe Camping Trip
Wabakimi Fly-In Fishing Canoe Camping trip, Granite and Brennen Lakes,
  Allenwater River
Wabakimi Fly-In Fishing & Canoeing Trip, Palisade River & Kenoji Lake
Wabakimi, Train-in, Fly-out Outpost Camp - Shawanabis Lake
Wabakimi, Fly-in, Fly-out Fishing & Canoe Camping - Chance Lake -
  Allenwater River - Granite Lake


Resource Links:
Canadian Canoe Routes
Wabakimi Wilderness  Park
Boundary Waters  Canoe Area
Wabakimi Outfitters  Links


 

 


Research Report
Personality Type & Outdoor Recreation
(including canoeing)



Research Report
Personality Type & Outdoor Recreation
(including canoeing)