Wakami Loop

CanadaOntarioJames Bay south
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Additional Route Information
56 km
4 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
2550 m
Longest Portage: 
300 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

Hwy 667 west of Sultan - south to Wakami Lake Provincial Park
South on Wakami Lake
P 350 m R on creek heading northeast from south end of Wakami Lake
Northeast through small lake into creek
P 300 m L from creek to small lake
P 350 m from small lake to East Wakami Lake
North on East Wakami Lake
P 300 m to pond
P 400 m from pond to Little Wakami Lake
North on Little Wakami Lake
North on Little Wakami River
(numerous liftovers in this stretch due to beaver dams)
P 400 m R about 1 km before joining Wakami River
Southwest on Wakami River
P 400 m around rapids / dam at north end of Wakami Lake
East then south through Wakami Lake to finish

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

September 25th 1996 - 5:00 pm
We arrived at Wakami late today but the weather was spectacular. We had heard that the Indian name, Wakami translated means "Still and clear waters" but we had also heard horror stories about the upper end of the lake on windy days. Apparently, because it is so shallow, the wind seems to whip up the waves quite substantially and whitecaps are not the most enjoyable to paddle in. Nevertheless when we arrived the lake was like a sheet of glass.

As we loaded the canoe and pushed off from the staff house dock we could feel the warmth of the setting sun on our backs. Wakami is a rather large lake and given the lateness of our departure and the time of year, both Sandra and I shared a feeling of uneasiness that the nearest campsite might me occupied. We expected a full moon tonight and if necessary we knew we could continue on by its light, but it was an unfamiliar lake and it was a long drive up here.
We watched a pair of Osprey almost hovering over the surface ahead of us suddenly dive into the water, emerging with small fish in their talons. The task at hand seemed to vanish immediately and we were caught up in the very reason we came out here... to forget about civilization for 4 days.
We approached the north shore of the lake at about 7 and found the campsite unoccupied. With the tent set up and dinner on the stove we relaxed and watched the sun set. We knew were already behind schedule on this trip. We both intended on getting to the second portage before nightfall but I purposely left this trip open ended for this very reason. I had no intention on rushing this loop at all.

Sandra and I were serenaded by a half dozen loons, their individual yodels and tremolos were echoed and intensified by the sheer rock face across the lake providing us with a resonant chant not unlike the voluminous Hallelujah Chorus. Within moments a pack of wolves joined in to be followed by a barred owl in a balsam fir behind our campsite. Apparently everyone wanted to get into the act. Sandra muses that it had been ages since they`d had a captive audience. There is a cold chill in the air now and I cannot disregard the coming winter. I`m glad we finally did this trip.

September 26th 1996 7:00 am
Early morning greeted us with a thick halo of mist enveloping the lake and a feeble yellow sun labouring to cut through it. Overhead a whistling osprey danced in and out of the mist and dove, wings folded back, into the black waters emerging with a small whitefish in his talons.
Soon after breakfast we paddled south to a deteriorating sluice box used to transport logs into Wakami Lake. The portage around the barrier is an easy 350 meters. Looking at the density of the shoreline forest it is difficult to envision the clear cut practices of the early logging industry. The forest`s recovery has been rapid. At the river`s shore our greatest difficulty was getting the canoe into the water. The river`s level was so low that it was torture on the Kevlar bottom The river was strewn with large boulders. Next time we come in the spring or early summer to take advantage of the higher water levels.
We had lunch at a campsite near the stream leading to a beaver dam. According to the map the portage is about 200 meters further up the stream. Pulling along side the dam I see that others have met with the same dilemma and created a path to the portage. Oh well, when in Wakami. This short portage took us overland through the remains of a heavily forested area. I can`t believe the process of recovery. If Sandra hadn`t explained to me the reason for the new growth I wouldn`t have even noticed. We encountered bear tracks in the valley and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. The tracks were fresh and scat near the trail was still steaming. I was relieved that it was only scat and tracks I found but we kept a watchful eye nonetheless. As we approached the pond we chuckled . It was maybe twice the length of the portage we had just completed. On the opposite shore we found fresh moose tracks in the black mud. This was turning into a fantastic trip for wildlife confrontations.
By about 5:00 pm I could tell that Sandra was getting a little weary and we decided to camp on East Wakami Lake for the night. After the portage into East Wakami we found a small campsite on the point. We decided to stay there and take the time the following day to explore the lower section of the lake. The weather took a turn for the worse so we set up the tarp tonight. The rains started before dinner and didn`t let up all night. It was pretty quiet around the campfire and I knew that Sandra was wondering what we`d wake up to in the morning. East Wakami is a long lake with many bays and inlets. This is a welcome relief if the winds are relentless, and during the autumn, north winds are quite common.

September 27th 1996 8:00 am
Hearing the sound of the rain pelting our tent, we saw no point in rushing today. I had strategically placed the stove and espresso machine in the vestibule before turning in last night and surprised Sandra with a welcome treat this morning. We both needed something to take our mind off the weather. Over coffee we both decided to take a day off today and explore that long narrow bay south of us. I really wanted to see where the river joined and I could take the time to do a little fishing as well. Just a lazy day around the campsite but I knew Sandra was far from bored. She had a good book and so far this trip did not give her much opportunity to indulge. Too much work, she said. The fishing wasn`t that great but I did savor the quietness as I paddled the small river and bay south of our site. The rains were persistent and finally, at 6 tonight the sun came peeking out just above the horizon. Well, at least we saw it set. We turned in early, excited about tomorow`s adventure. We had two more portages before we arrived at Litle Wakami Lake.

September 28th 1996 7:00
We were on the water early this morning and. although it was drizzling constantly, we were determined to get to Little Wakami. It wasn`t a race but we were excited. The shore looked like prime terrain to photograph moose if we were quiet about it. On the north shore of the East Wakami the prospect of a 200 meter portage into a 100 meter long lake had us scouting the shore for a trail around. fortunately we paddled the "nuisance" lake to a welcome spectacle. A cow moose and her calf were ambling along on the opposite shore. Spotting us she led a hasty retreat into the thick brush behind her.
As I looked over the map from the north bank of this lake I noticed only one contour line crossing our 400 meter portage near the end of the trail. As we approached the end of the portage to Little Wakami Lake, the map did not indicate it but the trail was a gradual upward climb and as we crested a minuscule knoll we could see beautiful Little Wakami lake spreading before us... 50 feet below us!! The bank ascended nearly vertically , a narrow trail and numerous switchback snaking to the lake below. The footing was treacherous all the way down compounded by the drizzle. Forunately the switchbacks made the decent possible. To avert injury I opted to lower the canoe by rope while Sandra guided it down. If she lost her footing I had the rope and would prevent her from sliding down the hill. At least in theory although it didn`t get tested. Thankfully.

Little Wakami Lake was a welcome sight as we loaded up the canoe. This was our last big carry according to our map. We knew that the water level in he rivers ahead could make carry overs necessary but other than that we were home free. Paddling the shoreline slowly and silently we photographed moose and calves grazing in the northwest shore of the lake and before we realized it, the day was almost over. We hadn`t eaten anything since breakfast and it was getting dark. We found a campsite on the northeast corner of the lake and once we started eating dinner we realized just how hungry we were. This was turning into a fantastic trip.

Looking over the map after dinner was a sobering event. The Little Wakami River is a long snaking, narrow river which would probably take us all day tomorrow to navigate. I had to keep reminding myself that there was no time limit on this trip and I wasn`t out to beat any records. The sole purpose for this vacation was to have fun and explore an area I had wanted to see for ages.

September 29th 1996 7:30 am
We woke today to drizzle again but with it there was a drop in temperature. As we approached the Little Wakami River I tried to take a few pictures of Sandra in the bow of the canoe but when I took my camera out of the Pelican case everything fogged up. The humidity was somewhere around 99.9%. I was able to fire off 3 shots before the lenses were translucent.

It was nice to feel the current tugging at our canoe. This is the location where the two watersheds meet. The Atlantic had controlled us up to this point but now the Arctic had the upper hand. I think that I drove Sandra crazy as I ranted and raved about this fact but I found it fascinating. All the rivers from this point on flow into the Arctic ocean and everything south flows into the Great Lakes. At first, as we allowed the current to carry us between the cramped banks, we feared that this river might eventually dry up leaving us to walk overland many miles but it slowly transformed into a meandering river with twists and turns to maneuver and constantly changing forests and aquatic vegetation. Along our route were scattered the decaying remains of old trapper`s cabins.

The transition from the Little Wakami to the Wakami River was apparent by two factors. First, beavers had elaborately dammed the mouth of the Little Wakami where it empties into the Wakami and immediately after we traversed this barrier and reentered the water we noticed that the current was no longer in our favor. This, as first was unsettling until we looked over our shoulders to see the Wakami continuing on behind us to the north-east almost parallel to the Little Wakami. Wakami is almost 3 times wider than the Little but much shallower making some poling necessary along the way. Even with the current moving slowly, the going was quite slow at times.

As we approached the final set of rapids we could hear the roar of the Wakami Dam. The final portage took us over the dam and a service road to the north west corner of Wakami Lake. The dam was built in the early 1920`s raising the lake level by 2 meters. Our paddle westward was hailed (or cursed) by dead standing and submerged trees and stumps attesting to the lake`s original shoreline.
While rounding the point and settling into an angle to take advantage of the three foot whitecaps riding up the lake, Sandra and I watched an adult eagle lift from a tree ahead of us and hover nearly stationary on a nine foot wingspan above our heads, We both sat motionless and silent as though witnessing an apparition.

As we crossed the lake north of our takeout the lake depth increased and soon swells replaced the whitecaps making paddling easier and drier. It`s rather ironic that Wakami is Indian for "clear and still waters" and we spent the final day of our trip fighting the contrary.

There was a feeling of satisfaction mixed with almost sadness that accompanied our landing at the beach. Trips like this have an affinity for placing life in proper perspective for us. This journey within two watersheds changed us. If nothing else it taught us patience. We`re really looking forward to doing it again in the Spring when the water level is better.
Earle Jones

Maps Required
Other Maps: 
Provincial Series Maps 41 O/NE Ridout 41 O/SE Biscotasing
Special Comments: 

May and June are optimal months - summer water levels are very low north of Little Wakami Lake