mag 09 227_jpg_t285I actually appreciate it when canoeists lie to me about a favorite route of theirs. I do the same when it comes to fishing holes. My father taught me the art of convention and the principle keeps with an unwritten code I have always followed before I write up a route (or fishing hole): if the route isn't part of a protected park with an already existing canoe route or it can't withstand high use from paddlers, I respect the "secret" spot and move on to investigate another paddling area. Island Lake, north of the Magnetawan River, fit that "secret" principle I follow; that is until it became a protected and labeled Island Lake Forests and Barrens Provincial Conservation Reserve on every road map. Once that started, the rules changed. I knew paddlers would start going there, even if I didn't write about it. I'm also wise to the philosophy that there are times where telling paddlers to go to an area, especially when trying to keep it a secret, is the only way to actually protect the area from other more harsh user groups. So, let me tell you that if some paddler tells you that Farm Creek, linking Wahwashkesh Lake to Island Lake, is impassable, they are lying to you. It's an easy paddle.

But what about the overuse of Island Lake? Well, that's where this story comes in. I spent a good part of this season to retrace some connecting routes surrounding Island Lake in hopes to spread out the crowds when the come, and to recreate a series of unbelievable canoe routes.

I gathered information from paddlers on the web site who had tripped in the area before (Galehouse, Canoeing Eagle and Wotrock). But it's all thanks to Mike Kipp for more solid information. He's a fellow paddler who happened to be one of the members of the Hysert Hunt Club on Farm Creek, and when I mentioned to him about a possible canoe trip to Island Lake, it was he who suggested we have a look at an old government Forest Branch map, dated 1933, stored in a metal cylinder inside his cabin. How could I resist. It was like a pirate being told of a map pointing to long lost treasure.

Mike and I used the public launch on Wahwashkesh Lake to start and end our journey. The access is reached by taking Highway 124, turning north onto Highway 520 just east of Dunchurch, and turning north again onto Wahwashkesh Lake Road (before the town of Whitestone). The parking lot and dock site are 9 kilometers along this road, just past Linger Lake Lodge.

Wahwashkesh Lake is a large piece of water to paddle across, with a good number of islands to confuse the navigator along the way. But you generally head northwest, toward Deep Bay and where the Magetawan River flushes out of the lake. Just prior to the river, on the north shore, off the tip of Sandy Hook Island, you'll see where Farm Creek empties out into Wahwashkesh.

The first of four portages along the creek begins right away with a 100 meter carry to the left, avoiding a small section of rocky rapids. Then, after a quick paddle across a widening of the creek, there's a second 100 meter portage, also to the left of a rock-bound rapid. From here the creek opens up again, and to the right you enter a narrow section which veers to the left into another widening of the creek. It's here where you'll see the Hysert Hunt Camp, to the left of where the creek flushes through a miniature granite gorge.

The cabin is on leased land and the third portage en route (250 meters) is to the left, between the outhouse and the main building. The club has eight members, with the oldest being 73 and the youngest (Mike) being 40. Mike's father started hunting in the area by canoe tripping up Farm Creek and then Cramadog Creek. And when him and other hunting pals made up the hunt club at the cabin they all insisted on always canoeing to the cabin due to the amount of ATV abuse the area is getting.

We stayed out first night in the cabin so we could scan over the old map and record the old portages neighboring Island Lake, and shared our bunks with a dozen or so mice. It's more of a shack then a cabin but has a cozy feeling to it, decorated with deer and moose antlers, logging relics found in the creek (and pin ups dating back to the 1960's).

Before 8:00 a.m. Mike and I were paddling up what remained of Farm Creek, lifting over the first of five beaver dams not far past the cabin. Not long after we also made a dramatic turn left where Cramadog Creek flows into Farm Creek from the northeast. The four remaining beaver dams were further up, in the last remaining quarter of the creek, with the third being a more prominent lift-over to the left of a major rock outcrop (where some moose hunters trashed a campsite with beer cans and rusted lawn chairs). From here Farm Creek makes a major twist northwest, then north. It's a maze of dead end channels where a distance of less then 2 kilometers as the crow flies took us over two hours to paddle.

Eventually a bridge comes into view and the last portage before Island Lake was reached. The 300 meter trail is to the left of the bridge and heads across an ATV/Snowmobile trail, then cuts through some impressive old-growth pine and hemlock before crossing a patch of swamp grass and more old-growth trees. And near the end it joins the last bit of another ATV trail that leads down to the water's edge.

Island Lake on it's own is a paddler's paradise. The lake is over 6 kilometers long and 3 kilometers wide, and is covered in islands, most of which make prime campsites. Even with a fly-in fishing lodge located in the southwest bay and a handful of private camps, this lake still provides an exceptional place to hang out and enjoy a wild setting. And that's exactly what Mike and I did. We spent the rest of the day navigating through the labyrinth of island, catching monster smallmouth and largemouth bass, and surprisingly, we only got confused of our whereabouts once. Both Mike and I thought we were paddling in a bay to the northeast but our compass showed us travelling westward. But by getting lost we ended up finding a 50 meter carry over creating a short-cut to the far northwestern bay we wanted to enter the next day.

…to be continued.