“So lovely was the loneliness of a wild lake.”Edgar Allan Poe
The process of securing a back country campsite in Canada, (at least in Ontario):
- You must reserve the same morning that you are planning to camp in the back country.
- You cannot reserve a certain site. (First come, first claimed.) Begin paddling (or hiking) and hope for the best!
- If you cannot find an open campsite, you either return to your vehicle or find the best tenting area you can find until the next day, when you can scout for an open site.
August 21st, 2019, Phil and I had just returned from the small town of Wawa, Ontario, where Phil had bought his one-day fishing license. We had high hopes of landing a whopper that we could cook over the open fire. Having no idea which types of fish swam in the massive Mijin waters, Phil rigged his pole and hoped for the best. The wise, old saying speaks volumes… “you can’t catch anything if you don’t try.” He, at least, would give his rubber salamander a bath. 😀
By the time we loaded all of our food, gear, everything we needed for two nights and roughly two days of kayak camping, it was 7:00pm and the storm clouds we had been pensively watching were bearing down upon us. We could feel rain in the strong breeze blowing through the trees and tensions were mounting. Our goal was to kayak to an island, not far away, and hope that the campsite was available.
We had left much too late in the day, but we reasoned that it was Wednesday, the middle of the week, so there should be plenty of open campsites available, right? Wrong! We paddled up to three or four (I’ve lost track now) along the North Arm of Mijin Lake and they ALL were taken! It was beginning to get dark and luckily, the rain clouds were not venturing closer, but we were both feeling the pressure to find a campsite. We found a small island that we could pop our tent on if we absolutely HAD to, but after looking at the map, decided to keep moving north in the hopes of finding one that was available.
Two hours after starting this adventure, we found our campsite!! It was back from the main stretch of water, and nestled between tall, aromatic pines and peeling, white paper birch; secluded and perfect!! We set up our tent and unloaded our gear, noticing that the sunset was quickly becoming picture-worthy. Grabbing our cameras, we captured the stunning colors of a glorious, August sunset, on a wild and wonderful Ontario Lake!
It had been a long day. Earlier, we had hiked six miles back from Agawa Falls, drove to Agawa Bay Campground to purchase back country campsites for two nights on Mijin Lake, took showers, then drove to Wawa for Phil’s fishing license. Now, after paddling for two hours and feeling the energy drain from our bodies, we brushed our teeth, crawled into our sleeping bags, and… lights out!
We awoke the next morning feeling rested and ready to explore the rest of the North Arm of Mijin Lake… after coffee and breakfast, of course.
After cleaning up from breakfast, we took off in our kayaks, looking for the campsites north. We found them and made mental notes of which ones we may want to stay at in the future. There were two that would work well for group camping, and another that was nice for one family.
We talked with a couple who had two young children and a dog in their canoe, and they told us there was a waterfall on the other side of the lake we should check out. We paddled along the east shore and came to the portage to Maquon Lake. It was roughly a three-quarter of a mile trail, one way, and we decided to park our kayaks and take a hike.
It felt SO good to get out and stretch our legs! I love kayaking, but after awhile, the lower half of my body starts to cramp and get restless. Hiking the portage was a nice break from sitting for hours. The path through the woods wasn’t too rough, but we imagined it could get dodgy with a kayak or canoe on top of our heads! Phil was already dreaming up a contraption he could build to make it easier for us to pull two kayaks loaded with gear, up and down the portage hills. (He truly is a MacGyver, at heart!)
We saw moose tracks and there were ponds visible from the trail with signs of beaver activity. It was a beautiful, partly sunny day and the temperature for hiking was perfect! As we approached the end of the portage, a young couple with their three-year-old son, were sitting at the edge of Maquon Lake, soaking up the gorgeous scenery.
They were from an area north of Sault Ste. Marie, and you could just sense their love of the wilderness. Their little boy told us about jumping from rock to rock, along the trail, and he performed his loon call, which sounded EXACTLY like a loon!! This couple had portaged with a canoe ten years earlier and had camped out on this lake. They had heard wolves howling from the mainland and the next morning, came across a cow moose and her newborn calves, safe on the island from predators. Listening to their story sparked a strong desire to someday make that portage and camp on that desolate island, far from people.
All the way back to our kayaks, Phil and I tossed around ideas that would make it possible for us to make that voyage. We discussed making two trips with our kayaks, packing in inflatable kayaks, or using a canoe with a two-wheeled cart. The canoe was the best choice since we could load it with our gear and make only one trip. It wouldn’t be easy, but it would be achievable.
On the paddle back to our campsite, we stopped at an island and ate some of our snacks, checked out the site, then paddled though the dark blue, calm waters, and back to camp. I wasn’t satisfied with my sleeping pad, thinking that I could adjust the amount of air in it and make it more comfortable. After an hour or so of adjusting (yes, I ended up falling asleep), I awoke to Phil making a campfire chair out of slate rocks. Ingenious!! He had been keeping himself busy gathering firewood, then exploring further back into the woods where he came upon moose tracks and an animal trail leading into a swampy area. I forgot to mention that we found several piles of older moose scat, right in our campsite!
On our evening paddle around the lake, we had the privilege of watching a mother loon dive for fish and feed her mostly, grown chick.
As we were approaching our campsite, we saw the young couple with the three-year old floating in their canoe, not far behind us. We were all being very quiet, trying to spot wildlife in or near the lake, and I heard a loud SPLASH behind us! Thinking it was a fish that had jumped, I paddled up to Phil and asked if he saw the fish. He hadn’t and we decided to paddle back to the family in the canoe and ask them if they saw it. Turns out, they were watching a beaver swim quietly in between their canoe and our kayaks… stalking US! The splash we heard was its tail hitting the water as it dove down, probably scared by the closeness of the canoe. They thought we had seen it, but we hadn’t, and we all had a good laugh over the sneaky little stalker.
Phil and I really enjoyed talking with this couple and they educated us on the amount of snow they get in the winter. They aren’t able to do chores or walk around at all without snowshoes, in the heart of an Ontario winter. They had been canoe camping on Mijin Lake at the end of May and woke up to snow, completely covering the ground! Winters are longer, and a bit more harsh than southern Michigan winters, no doubt. It is a snow-lover’s paradise with cross country ski trails, snowmobiling, and down-hill skiing close in proximity. Ice-fishing is huge in Canada and there are always competitions with big money prizes for the largest fish caught. These Canadians know how to make the best of their harsh but invigorating climate!
Darkness was falling and we said our goodbyes, the friendly Ontario family paddling back to their island, and Phil and I, paddling the short distance to our campsite. Phil started a small, but warming campfire and we sat with our eyes on the sky, alert for falling stars. We talked about how relaxing it was to be here, breathing in the clean, northern air and hearing only the sounds of the water, gently lapping the shore, with an occasional loon laughing in the distance.
Little songbirds would keep us company during the day with their singing and chirping, while ravens would call out from the mainland. No sounds of people… no cars, only the occasional airplane would fly over. This area was known for its fishing tourism and float planes were heard, once or twice a day. Many areas in Ontario are only accessible by bush pilots flying in float planes, and then there are only a handful of fishing camps out on these remote lakes. Paradise!!
While our two cans of soup were warming over the fire, our senses consumed the sights, sounds, and smells of being in the heart of this wild and rugged country. The call of the loons brought an instant connection to this home of moose, beaver, wolves, eagles, otters and many other animals… we had hungered for this taste of the wild, and now our souls were full and we felt the warm glow of contentment. Full bellies… full hearts and souls… we are truly blessed.
We crawled into our sleeping bags, listened to the night sounds of crickets, cicadas and the occasional loon… then fell fast asleep. I’m not certain what time of night it was when we were suddenly awakened by a very large KERSPLASH coming from the shore, right where our kayaks were beached! Then, another loud SPLASH, which was followed by a third! We were frozen in fear, unsure of what could have made such loud splashes. The idea popped into my mind to talk to whatever was out there in the dark in hopes that it would move along and not decide to come up on shore and visit us. So, I talked… then sang to whatever animal was just outside of our campsite. My poor husband thought I was nuts! (She’s lost it! Been hanging with these “crazy” loons too long!) After sitting and listening for what seemed like an eternity, I heard Phil breathing deeply as he fell back asleep. I decided I should do the same. Whatever “it” was, had gone, so I relaxed and allowed myself to get some rest.
The next morning (our last day on Mijinemungshing Lake), we had our breakfast of coffee, freeze-dried granola and blueberries, warmed ourselves by the fire, then packed up. We paddled slowly along the edge of the mainland, looking for signs of animals, when we spotted what we thought to be a beaver up ahead, swimming towards us. The animal stretched its neck up to get a better look at us, and that’s when we saw it was a river otter! We had wanted to see one of these cute critters for years and were always looking for them wherever we traveled.
The otter didn’t stick around to make our acquaintance, so we paddled furiously to try and get closer for a picture. He was almost clear to the other side of the lake when we saw him pop his head up for air. They can hold their breath forever!! Phil wasn’t giving up and paddled like mad all the way across the lake in hot pursuit, but he never was able to get close enough for a picture. They are SO elusive!
As we rounded the last bend in the lake, a bald eagle cried out from a tall white pine tree and watched as we paddled by. The kayak camping trip ended as planned, but we left Mijin Lake with big plans for the future. Next year… ONE WEEK… will be spent kayak (or canoe) camping and exploring areas of this massive lake unknown to us. 😀
The adventure continues…
PS. Phil never did catch a fish… not even a nibble. It turns out, after talking with two experienced kayak fishermen, that Mijin Lake has only trout and they like live bait. The rubber salamander was never in any danger of being bitten… Better luck next time! 🙂