The moments before a trip begins, when old friends all converge in one place, are always full of excitement.
Brian Lachine arrived in Bracebridge first for a wedding. His friend Alex Patterson arrived Saturday night. Brian and I tag-teamed the church service at Wellington Street Pentecostal Church. Shane Metcalfe was next to arrive from Petrolia on Sunday afternoon. Matt Douglas from Mississauga rounded out our team of five people: two tandem canoes and one kayak.
By 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, our caravan of Brian’s truck with canoe on top, Alex’s car with kayak on top, and my Escape towing a gear trailer with a canoe on it hit the highway. We arrived at the Agnew Lake Lodge at dusk.
The lodge gave us a patch of grass down by the lake to camp on that night. In a few minutes we had our tents set up and a campfire blazing.
Agnew Lake Lodge Campsite:
N 46° 20.239′
W 81° 51.963′
Day 1: Duke Lake to Breadner Swifts (30 km)
We awoke at 6:30. As the sun rose over Lake Agnew, the mist was lifting.
We met our Lodge-supplied driver, Gary, and set out for the 2.5 hour drive to the put-in on Duke Lake. Brian rode shotgun listening to an Gary’s stories and an old Johnny Cash cassette. (My favourite Gary moment was when we first met and introduced ourselves. Matt said, “Hi, I’m Matt”. Gary replied, “Sure.”) Matt and I rode in the back of the cab. Alex & Shane drew the short straws and were stuck bouncing along in the cab.
We put-in at Duke Lake.
Duke Lake Put-In:
N 47° 23.416′
W 81° 50.949′
A gentle 5km paddle made it feel like we picked up right where we left off a year earlier (except we were Nate-less). The next ten lakes were appropriately named Tenth Lake through First Lake. The “swifts” marked on the map to connect them were negligible. We all gave credit to Alex who paddled a whitewater kayak all day across flat water.
The “Adventure Map” we used as a guide mentioned pictographs on Ninth Lake. They were easy to find, and quite impressive.
Ninth Lake Pictographs:
N 47° 19.004′
W 81° 51.619′
We stopped for a lunch of cucumbers, baby carrots, hummus, salami, Triscuits, and chocolate bars on Eighth Lake. I threw my line in the water where the current from Ninth Lake came around the corner, but nothing bit.
Lunch at Eighth Lake:
N 47° 17.404′
W 81° 51.463′
Even on days without spectacular rapids, there is always plenty to see and admire. I watched a kingfisher dart along the shore of one of the lakes just ahead of our canoe. We also managed to hit the fall changing of the leaves perfectly. Most of the deciduous trees were poplars with yellow leaves. The odd maple tree with flaming red leaves painted a bright contrast.
First Lake was interesting. What at first looked like a drift-wood shadow along the eastern shoreline turned out to be a large black bear. We paddled toward him but he fled into the bush before we got very close. Next we paddled to the west shore to check out Snake Rapids in the hope that we could find something runnable.
The rapids were beautiful, but they were more waterfalls around rocks than open water.
I caught a big pike on my second cast at the base of these rapids.
The end of the day was a boulder-coaster run through shallow water to our campsite at the northern end of Expanse Lake.
We feasted on stir-fry with fresh peppers, glass noodles, and a butter-chicken sauce we packed in a Lock & Lock container. This meal was a huge hit—we’ll reuse this recipe on another trip.
After a long chat with good friends around a warm campfire, we went to sleep with full bellies.
Expanse Lake Campsite:
N 47° 07.632′
W 81° 50.882′
Day 2: Breadner Swifts to Pogamasing (31 km)
We awoke to the sound of wind and rain on the tent. I laid in my sleeping bag for a few minutes imagining paddling into the teeth of that wind up the length of Expanse. We filled up on pancakes before breaking camp and setting out. Fortunately, the lake that looked long and straight on the map was curved enough to offer us shoreline features to tuck in behind out of the wind.
We rested our arms and shoulders by a big beaver house at the end of the lake before hitting a run of fun swifts in deep-enough water. This effortless paddling was welcome after Expanse Lake. We raced down to a campsite at “The Forks,” where the East and West branches of the Spanish meet.
“The Forks” Lunch Site:
N 47° 02.178′
W 81° 51.223′
The campsite was marked by 1/3 of a canoe resting against a tree—an omen?
The bugs on this site were incredibly thick (something we didn’t expect on October 1st), but they only added protein to the delicious meal of Triscuits and Tuna Cheese melts Brian cooked up. Alex tried to exit the campsite with an epic kayak slide.
Our afternoon paddle brought us to some fun rapids and swifts including the Upper and Lower Athlone rapids. My favourite moment in these rapids came when I called on Shane to power paddle across the moving water to catch an eddy on the far shore. We shot through the water like a bullet. For a moment I thought we might climb the far shore!
Later in the afternoon the wind turned against us which made paddling more difficult. We also met the train—a loud violent screeching train rounding the corner by the Pogamasing Dam. I caught a small pike here on a spinner.
We arrived at our campsite after passing the tiny railway community of Pogamasing:
N 46° 54.039′
W 81° 46.381′
There were an unbelievable amount of bugs here until the sunset when they all vanished. We ate Naan bread coated in garlic, fried in butter, and smothered with melted extra old white cheddar. It tasted like paradise. We followed it up with our best batch of Angry Red Lentil soup yet. I tripled the recipe and used a whole scotch bonnet pepper in it. The heat was just right.
We had another good campfire (which took a little persuading due to the wet wood) and quickly fell asleep. Twice during the night we were woken up abruptly by passing trains. They were close enough to this site to shake the ground!
Day 3: Pogamasing to The Knuckle (32 km)
We left the air scoops on the tent open last night, so it was a chilly wake-up! There was a beautiful mist rising off the river.
The best way to get warm in the morning is to just get on with it, so I jumped out of my sleeping bag in my compression shorts and got dressed outside on the dew-drenched pine needle carpet. Fried apples and oatmeal made for a filling breakfast.
Today’s paddle began with 5 km of swifts and rapids. What a great way to warm up!
Another 5 km or so of flat river (with a solid current) brought us to Cliff Rapids.
Cliff rapids curve to the right around a height of land with the portage crossing it. The cliff it was named after is a large face of granite rising above the Eastern side of the river. We all portaged to the end and scouted up the shoreline before deciding to run it. It was short but fun. There were some big waves to crash through. (It’s a shame that footage from the shore never does justice to the rush of the moment.)
A few kilometres later we found a spot to eat lunch by Mogo Creek.
Mogo Creek Lunch:
N 46° 46.267′
W 81° 43.207′
Just before we arrived, the stainless steel bolt that hung Shane’s bow seat from the gunnels snapped off landing Shane on his back in the canoe! The weight of the drop also snapped the wooden dowels which held the seat together. Fortunately, Alex was well prepared for any emergency. At our lunch site he bound the seat together with some extra strapping. He used his multi-tool to take the nut off the snapped piece of bolt and affix the seat in a higher position. Crisis averted.
For lunch, we feasted on black bean burritos (I should mention that we brought enough Crispers to feed an army. We learned years ago that a salty snack is critical when you’re sweating all day. The Crispers came out at every stop.)
The little swift by our lunch site combined with the heat of the mid-day sun was too much to resist. Brian, Shane, and I stripped down, waded into the water, and rode the current by our site. It was so much fun, we did it a second time. By now, the peer pressure was too much to resist so Alex and Matt followed suit. I rode it out a third time. How refreshing!
Our hooting and hollering drew the attention of the people in the small camp just upstream of our lunch site. They got in their small motor boat and putted over to the top of the rapids we were swimming in. We tried to say “hi,” but when they saw people swimming in October by their camp they just turned the boat around and let us be!
The afternoon was a long stretch of flat river paddling along with a run across Spanish Lake. The wind helped us here.
After Spanish Lake, we paddled about 1 km to Zig-Zag rapids. On our way, Shane and I met some inquisitive otters who kept popping up around our canoe and snorting at us.
Zig-Zag rapids was a lot of fun—it lived up to its name!
Shane and I ran it slowly, taking every opportunity to eddy out and get video of our friends running it.
In the last part of Zig-Zag, I called for Shane to eddy-out to the right. He executed a strong cross-bow draw … before the end of the wave-train we were riding out! We hit the haystacks sideways, causing Shane to drop his paddle and grab the gunnels to prevent jumping it. What fun!
A lot of fast water took us to our campsite by “The Knuckle”:
“The Knuckle” site:
N 46° 39.084′
W 81° 42.781′
We arrived relatively early so we enjoyed the sun and prepared a good campfire.
Brian noticed a couple grasshoppers getting affectionate on his tent fly!
We ate pasta mixed with Shane’s homemade pesto and a bunch of chopped sundried tomatoes. This has become one of our go-to meals. After supper we were in bed by 9:20. Thankfully, there was no train to wake us up this night!
Day 4: The Knuckle to Eagle Rock (42 km)
Today promised the best whitewater on the trip—unfortunately it was also the morning the batteries of my camera died.
Breakfast was what we dubbed, “diabetes delight”. We fried granola in butter and stirred in chocolate chips! We broke camp and paddled down a lot of fast swifts as we passed “The Knuckle,” “The Wrist,” and “The Elbow.” We had at least 3 kilometers of swift moving water. The wildlife was beautiful—we saw a Bald Eagle flying from tree to tree ahead of us and a large owl visible on the shoreline.
The trail to Fox Lake Lodge & Spanish River Outfitters is very obvious.
The major rapids were next. We were able to run the first half of Little Graveyard Rapids before portaging around the drop. Alex with his whitewater kayak was in his glory. We watched him run paths we couldn’t even consider with our canoes.
We ran “Lift Over” Rapids (just to spite the name) before stopping at “Big Graveyard”. It required a portage if we were to spite its name too! Cascade Rapids required another lift over. Brian caught a nice pike at the base of these rapids. Shane and I had a great moment at the base of a rapid. We paddled into the wave-train where Shane snagged his paddle on a rock, dropped it, and almost flipped the canoe. Good times! We caught up with his paddle and reminisced about Brian losing his paddle on the Upper Missinaibi a few years earlier.
Agnes Rapids was a beast. It was long, straight, and full of foam and buried rocks. We all pulled off to the right and scouted by walking the shoreline. There’s only so much you can see from the shore.
Shane and I went first. My paddle snapped in two just after the entry when I tried a powerful draw to slide around a submerged boulder. Fortunately, I stashed the spare paddle right in front of me so I was able to grab it without missing a beat. We drew left and right around rocks, back-paddling to spill speed before hitting a big standing wave and taking in some water. We almost made it out unscathed, but the end of the rapid was a solid wall of whitewater. We picked the wrong spot to exit and bounced off a rock. We lost some protective strip off the stern but made it to shore safely.
Alex came through next, unscathed in his kayak. He spotted my broken paddle shaft bobbing in an eddy and tried to grab it, but missed. A few moments later it came drifting by the shore where we were drying out. I launched the empty canoe in a hurry and caught up to it. It’s a great souvenir!
Next we signaled for Brian and Matt to follow. They ran the course perfectly. I tried to signal the proper exit to them with my paddle and they came through unscathed. We paused to dry out gear and eat homemade pita-pizzas.
We paddled through some more swifts and hit Cedar Rapids, a long curving rapid with a lot of flow. Shane and I misjudged the power of one of the standing waves and took in a bit of water.
The afternoon was a delight. The map called this section of water the “Royal Ride” which featured over 20 km of moving water! I have never experienced anything like this before. We traveled at 5 km/hour without paddling! It felt strange seeing downhill “S” curves.
We went so fast so effortlessly we decided to push past our planned camp site and sleep at the 10 km mark. It rained this afternoon so we paddled in rain gear. We tied up a tarp at our campsite, then set up our tent under the tarp before moving them out into the rain.
We feasted on another pesto & pasta meal under the tarp. The rain let up and the temperature got colder—perfect for sleeping.
10 km Site:
N 46° 24.934′
W 81° 50.778′
Day 5: Eagle Rock to Agnew Lake Lodge (10 km)
We awoke at 6 and got the coffee rolling with images of Chinese Food dancing in our heads for lunch. We paddled the final 10 km across Agnew Lake to our vehicles by 9:15.
We arrived in Espanola before the Chinese buffet opened, so we drank coffees at Timmy’s before hitting the buffet.
In the end, the shuttle service cost $96 total, and the food worked out to $55 each. It was an amazing trip at a great price.