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 Post subject: West Montreal River
PostPosted: October 18th, 2016, 12:49 pm 
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Location: Toronto,ON
West Montreal River – Duncan Lake Loop
Sep 17 - 24
Participants: Darryl and Rosa
Report by: Rosa


Day 1 - “I'm a dreamer, Montreal” (Marx Brothers, Animals Crackers 1930)

We left at 7am and enjoyed the sunrise before it got obscured by heavy clouds, soon we were driving through rain, sometimes with car wash intensity, along the familiar drive Hwy 400 to 17 to 144 to 560 and eventually to the Wapus Creek access of the West Montreal River, just 18km west of Gowganda.
With various stops along the way we got to the put-in around 2pm and were paddling by 2:30pm.
There's a “No Parking or Camping 9pm – 5am” sign at the very nice put-in area, Darryl left the car on the wide shoulder of the gravel road on the other side of the hwy, opposite the put-in.

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Be a good Subie, we'll be back in a week

The weather had cleared up and we scouted a marginal campsite at the junction of Wapus Creek and West Montreal, strictly emergency. We paddled on down the river and I shoulder checked a drive-in occupied campsite (very steep narrow track down from the dam gravel road), also took a quick peek at the gorge below the dam.
We stayed at the first marked campsite on Metikemedo Lake, a smallish but nice site after a little clean up.

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View from campsite on Metikemedo Lake

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Mr. Jack at the point – looking north

Day 2 – West Montreal River to Rankin Lake

Rain started after 8pm last night and intensified with the approach of thunder and lightning accompanied by strong wind. We could tell the main storm passed south of us.
This was a day of dramatic ever changing skies with amazingly very little wind.
We boat scouted the second campsite on Metikemedo, I wouldn't even consider stepping off on the slick slimy rock.

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Metikemedo Lake – slimy rock campsite

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Cute little campsite on the narrow river portion before Penassi Lake

At the entrance to Penassi Lake, the south east campsite still has remnants of an old cabin, the north west campsite should not be considered a campsite, very littered and abused, enough said.
There's a very nice, big, clean campsite on the east shore half way up the lake with a humungous cemented rock wall fire pit, “Big enough to roast a moose whole” Darryl says. It has an easy sandy beach canoe landing. We didn't find the next two campsites, maybe everyone stays at the sandy beach campsite.
Darryl ran the canoe solo down the shallow rapids past the 100m portage, I walked the very wet slimy trail and was glad I didn't have a heavy load to carry. The portage while well established had multiple blow down step overs, tripping hazards galore.

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Darryl maneuvering around rocks bypassing the 100m portage

We didn't find the campsite past the rapids so we knew we had to go all the way to Rankin Lake.
The dark threatening clouds were all around and the torrential rain caught up to us as we paddled the next set of rapids on river left, lots of time saved by avoiding both portages. Both portages are obvious and 'bush maintained', either water level issues or perhaps upstream travel factor in their use because both set were easily paddled without any rock touches or tricky manouevres.
The weather cleared once again and we made the left turn to Rankin Lake, it is easy to see how some people have missed this. There was barely enough water to float us into Rankin Lake. We off to the beach campsite, what you see is all there is, a strip of sand with a swamp behind it.
We paddled on to the next campsite and came across it on a point on the east shore, a very nice campsite with a full view of the lake, just not where we expected to find it. Very odd, the beach campsite has a campsite sign but the other much more superior (IMHO) campsite does not.

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Beach campsite

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Rankin Lake

Day 3 – WHAT-A-DAY

We went to bed under a starry sky and woke up to gray skies, the fog rolled in and totally obscured the lake, sunny by the time we left.

The Portage Carry (Rankin to Duncan)

The start of the portage was where we expected to find it and on the short scout up the hill it looked like a regularly used trail.
This portage was a known “unknown”, we had planned to double carry but now opted for single carry, I started off ahead loaded with the canoe pack with instructions to stop and wait should the trail become confused, Darryl followed with the food barrel and the canoe.
It didn't take long for me to stop and wait for Darryl, the trail disappeared and we were left to navigate as best we could the decaying stumps and roots, scrub growth and fully soaked dense squishy moss, we were ultra careful with our footing. It was very challenging to do this fully loaded, we took a few rest stops, sometimes it felt like we were on a moose trail other times a bear trail.
Eventually we hit a wall of trees and thick underbrush, we put down everything and started scouting. I went along a muddy squishy opening in the trees but it went straight to a marsh so I reversed my steps. All our scouting led nowhere so Darryl had a go at the muddy squishy opening, veered left and broke through to high ground, his call soon got me there.

Wow, we re-found the portage trail in the middle of the logged and forgotten wilderness, this section was on open rock and the old path was still very evident through the moss. The moss was working hard to recolonize the bare rock with a lot of it already covered with new green growth, it takes an undisturbed trail a long time for this to happen.
We loaded up again and made our way to the trail, we should have taken a picture but we were too excited to have found the trail, we felt we must be near the end. We walked the trail flat footed, careful not to slip on the moss and lichen covering and past several collapsed cairns. This section didn't last long and we were back into trees and obscured trail. We put our gear down and I was stunned to see at eye level a solitary bright bit of pink flagging tape. We had stopped at the edge of a precipitous drop, Darryl scrambled down and was certain the trail didn't go that way even though there was more pink tape, with inspection the tape had Timiskaming Forestry markings. Towards the left Darryl thought he found an opening through the trees, I thought it was just more bush, all scouting came to a halt with the arrival of a rain thunder storm. Darryl overturned the canoe against a tree and we had lunch under it, we needed a break.

Quote:
“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”
Arthur Conan Doyle
(in our case the only way to find our way was to avoid the impassable)

On a second scout along the opening through the trees I tried to visualize the portage and bushwhacked further keeping a keen eye on the trees, “Is that an old blaze?”, I checked both sides of the tree and sure enough we found the continuation of the portage.
We loaded up and were off again, me in front snapping and clearing tripping hazards, soon we ground to a halt directly across from a very well maintained logging road, we were at the same level as the road separated by a steep wide ditch that went a long way to either side of us. At this point the trail should have started dipping down to the lake, the road construction crew had used the missing material to build up the road.
We scrambled along the edge till we could descend, then walked along the bottom till we found a place to scramble up the gravel scree to the road, we knew there was a logging road but we were still shocked with the scar it put on the land and the damage done to the portage.
We came out directly across from the 6km sign on the road and logically the portage should have continued directly opposite on the other side of the road, we split up and scouted along the road under a bright blue sky (darn hot), no sign of a trail down to the lake.
Eventually we just went for it and bushwhacked through the blow-downs and undergrowth to the edge of the sedge choked water that will take us to Duncan Lake. We didn't find any kind of trail so we returned back to the road, spitting out at a different spot than we went in.
There's no easy way to do this, it's each man for himself, we grabbed our loads and crashed into the bush at different spots, this time I dove in directly across from where the trail came out, we were separated but I could still hear Darryl whacking trees with the canoe.
It was in absolute bushwhack hell in the middle of huge blow downs with a heavy pack and nowhere to turn, then I saw flagging tape and being curious made my way towards it teetering over tree trunks, slimy logs and utter destruction, this quest kept me focused while I tried to keep my balance.
The flagging tape marks an old blaze and a little further on there's another, I keep following as best I can and soon I'm down to where Darryl is, he points to a tree by the water festooned with faded to white flagging tape, we came out at the actual end of the portage, unbelievable.

People haven't been through this portage in a long time and it's almost on the way to non-existence. The clear cut logging really mess it up but it's the logging road that has crippled it. It will need many people to go through it with saws and plenty of flagging tape to help bring it back. The really bad part is between the road and Duncan Lake, not sure what we would have done if we had tried to do the portage in the other direction. Finding the portage trail still stamped on the moss through the exposed rock section was the most amazing part.
Darryl kept the GPS going the whole time except for when we had lunch, including all the scouting, we walked (stumbled) about 4.5km in just under four hours (the linear distance is about 1600m). Good thing we were single carrying, to have gone back for gear would have been slower and more frustrating.

Duncan Lake

The grasses grew close to shore, too thin for us to walk on, too thick to float a canoe, we could see some open leads in the sedge grasses towards the lake. Darryl loaded up the canoe and pulled it along on top of the sedges till we both hopped in, much polling through the grasses on the way to open water.
The wind is up and gusting from the south east, we enter Duncan Lake at the north end where the waves are piling up. We have no campsites marked on our map for Duncan Lake but Darryl found an old MNR map online which showed a campsite at the north end of the lake on the west shore. We stick to the east shore for wind relief and Darryl keeps looking at the far west shore, eventually asking if I see a line between two trees, I agree and with fingers crossed we do a huge wind ferry, quartering the three foot waves, and get to the west shore. We're in luck, it's a big flat elevated campsite, we unloaded while getting splashed by the crashing waves, scrambled up the sandy trail and set up camp against the relentless wind as the sky turned threatening.
The far away thunder was followed by several periods of rain, we feel very lucky to have found this campsite.

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Duncan Lake – elevated campsite

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Duncan Lake – weather rolling through

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Bannock – Yum

Day 4 – Duncan Lake

Once the rain cleared we went to bed under a starry sky.
Departure was under a full blue sky, we stick to the west shore for shelter from the mostly south west wind. There's a south facing campsite on the big island at the north part of the lake.
We paddle on and on always into a head wind with occasional funky cross gusts.

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Big beautiful Duncan lake

Our lunch stop was at the bay with the portages up to Lehmann Lake, they are marked on Darryl's map but not on Jeff M's map. We found the start of the portage marked with old blazes and a piece of wood nailed to a tree, the trail was obvious from the water but after yesterday's experience this doesn't necessarily mean anything.

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Lunch stop - portage to Lehmann Lake left of the picture

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Lunch stop – quiet bay

Soon after lunch we came across a really nice campsite on a point on the west shore, we would have stayed but it was still early, we paddled on. Towards the south end of the lake we saw a couple more campsites on the east shore, bald rock with a few jack pines, we paddled on.
We stayed at last campsite on the lake, situated on a point on the east shore with a great north view. The fire pit has been used there's no evidence of recent campers.
The clouds that built up through the day cleared and it's another big blue sky.

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Duncan Lake – campsite with north view

Day 5 – Pigeon Lake and Kentuckians

We went to sleep with the far away sound of a water fall and left camp under a blue sky and a gentle west wind.
At the southern most end of Duncan a small boat rumbled out between a couple of islands and headed towards the waterfall as we made our way to the Pigeon Lake portage. When we get to the portage there's a boat pulled up at the landing with Kentucky State stickers on it, this boat is a long way from home.
We load up and proceed down the trail, I'm happily bopping along in my head (too loaded up to do it physically), woop-dee-doo it's a real trail.
There's a campsite halfway down the portage that hasn't been used in a long time, beautiful setting at the top of the water fall.
We launch and paddle north on Pigeon Lake, it feels wildernessy and empty. There's an island campsite at the narrows just before the lake opens up, small and rustic, our kind of campsite.
Towards the north end of the lake, we had lunch at an island campsite just south of where the West Montreal River mergers in the Pigeon Lake, looks nice from the water and has been used by many people in the past, we hope we don't have to camp there.

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Island campsite – lunch break

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South view

There's another island campsite just north of West Montreal merge into Pigeon, more to our liking and it will become our fall back if the campsite at the portage to Drop Lake is not to our linking.
Just around the corner we bumped into two guys fishing from a small boat, their greeting of “Y'all were on Duncan earlier?” gave them away, these were the Kentuckians which left their boat on the Duncan side of the portage.
According to them Pigeon is the best lake for fishing, they pulled up a stringer with two huge fish on it and they had caught bigger ones the day before.
We paddled to the end of the lake and identified the start of the portage through a big clearing that showed signs of an old cabin, campable but not well established. We backtrack to the last island campsite. This island is pristine compared to the bigger island but it's best not to look too closely into the bushes, there's half buried rusty cans everywhere, I believe this used to be a flat island and it's built up on rusty cans.
Calm weather and a gorgeous blue sky, the fish are jumping but are safe from us, Darryl didn't bring his fishing gear. Great view and happy to be here.

Day 6 – Day Off

The rain arrived in the morning with uniform gray skies.
We put off exploring the Little Eagle portage to Drop Lake. Talked of paddling up the West Montreal to the rapid, put that off too.
It turned into a day off with a hot lunch and plenty of reading.
Our island doesn't have any squirrels or chippies, just very cheeky mice, it needs owl patrol.
On and off rain all day.

Day 7 – Duncan Lake Dam

We paddled up to the last rapid before the West Montreal calms and flows unimpeded to Pigeon Lake, the portage is well used but the rapid is quite runnable.
We reversed our way back to Duncan and headed towards the dam. At the dam we wiggled past the blockage floats on the left shore and got off on the right shore by a large grassy area.
We set off to explore and eventually found the dirt road down to the campsite I saw on the first day.
The previous occupants must have just left, there's a large tent footprint of yellowed grass, the tire treads show no evidence of yesterday's rain and the huge rocks on the fire pit feel warm. Great campsite with a great view.
While I set up camp Darryl walked the long dirt road to the highway and over to the car and drove it back and parked it at the top the hill behind camp.

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Campsite by the dam

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Campsite view

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Subie by the road to the dam

Day 8 – Going Home

Cold overnight and we woke up to very dense fog, the geese made a racket as they few overhead.
We had another look at the dam before driving back to the highway.

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Duncan Lake Dam

The every efficient departure allowed enough time for us to stop and check out the impressive falls just north of Dowling, the setting of an AY Jackson painting.

Another great trip with the crossover from Rankin Lake to Duncan lake not like to ever be forgotten.

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Onaping Falls – our picture

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High Falls – AY Jackson


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 Post subject: Re: West Montreal River
PostPosted: October 18th, 2016, 5:59 pm 
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Joined: November 6th, 2009, 9:37 am
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Location: Kingston, ON
Great report! The route from Rankin to Duncan sounds like a real trial. Thanks for sharing.


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 Post subject: Re: West Montreal River
PostPosted: October 19th, 2016, 11:47 am 
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Location: Ottawa, Ontario Canada
Very enjoyable read. You must be in great shape to single carry kit that includes a Mantis tarp!


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 Post subject: Re: West Montreal River
PostPosted: October 22nd, 2016, 11:52 am 
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Location: Toronto
Another lovely report, once again providing me with inspiration for another trip. Thanks for sharing.

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 Post subject: Re: West Montreal River
PostPosted: October 23rd, 2016, 10:20 pm 
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Rosa, Day Three - What-A Day! What-A-Portage! Wow. :clap: Definitely beats anything I've ever faced.

Another excellent adventure to add to your collection - even day 3 in retrospect! - and the pix are enticing. Neat how you matched the AY jackson painting.

Now I'll have to check the topos and see exactly where you were!

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 Post subject: Re: West Montreal River
PostPosted: October 26th, 2016, 10:23 am 
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Location: Toronto,ON
Here is a link to a CalTopo map of our route: http://caltopo.com/m/240E

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 Post subject: Re: West Montreal River
PostPosted: October 26th, 2016, 11:50 am 
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Darl-h wrote:
Here is a link to a CalTopo map of our route:


Thanks as I was just about to ask!! hehe.


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 Post subject: Re: West Montreal River
PostPosted: October 26th, 2016, 12:43 pm 
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Thanks for the maps...good as gold.


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 Post subject: Re: West Montreal River
PostPosted: October 26th, 2016, 7:32 pm 
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Thanks for that map! Nothing like a map to make things a bit more clear!

You know that potential campsite at the top of Pigeon Lake that you checked out - the one at the start of the Little Hawk Portage to Drop Lake and on to Ferris? Well, we camped there for three or four nights back in 2013 while Ed MacPherson and Paul Bisson carved a new portage trail from the south. Meanwhile Laurent Robichaud and his crew were coming down from Ferris Lake.

Was that portage sign still there at the trailhead?

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N.B. photo "borrowed" from Ottertooth site

http://www.ottertooth.com/discus/messag ... 1374110496

I've yet to hear of anyone who has done the Little Hawk Portage. Maybe a potential highlight of your next trip?

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Last edited by true_north on December 16th, 2016, 5:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: West Montreal River
PostPosted: October 27th, 2016, 5:04 am 
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Rosa and I did the Grassy River in the spring (2016) and side tripped to Ferris Lake. While scouting the campsites on Ferris we had time to portage to Ember and clear the trail a bit but did not continue towards Pidgeon.
Link: http://www.myccr.com/phpbbforum/viewtopic.php?f=108&t=45024
There was no sign at the Pigeon Lake side of the portage as of our trip Sep-2016.


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Sign at the Ferris Lake end of the Little Hawk Portages

I wanted to check out the viability of a Temiskaming to James Bay via West Montreal - Grassy-Mattagami-Moose River systems.
I think the route is quite doable, the dams on the Mattagami may be the biggest obstacles.

On a side note, I can't believe how much harder a carry the Rankin to Duncan portage was compared to Diablo on the Steel River system. Its not just length or elevation change, trail conditions trump everything else.


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 Post subject: Re: West Montreal River
PostPosted: June 25th, 2018, 6:51 am 
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We just did the West Montreal-Duncan loop (without side trips) in 2 nights/2 days. Wowzers that portage from Rankin to Duncan sucks. Like Darryl and Rosa, we had to whack our way through clear-cuts until we hit the rocky portage. We followed the bush trail (tree tunnel) tot he road and then bushwhacked 10m down to the bog below. Dragged and lined our boats to the creek which was thankfully deep enough to paddle. 4hrs for 1.5k (single carry) and one sprained ankle.... I fell into a hole and toppled with pack and canoe in a very awkward manner. ouch.

Great route. Killer 'Portage'.

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