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PostPosted: September 22nd, 2006, 6:44 pm 
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Here is a rather longish (but not too long or detailed) report on our Steel River trip:

It was four of us, Damir, El Gordo, Jackpine and me in two 17 foot canoes (Dagger Venture ABS and Trailhead Prospector Kevlar) we each had a 60L food barrel,a canoe pack and a day pack.

This was intended to be an eleven day loop trip with 3 days off (side trip to Eaglecrest Lake)

Day One (Saturday Sep.9.2006.)

Left Toronto at 6:00 AM stopped in Parry Sound for breakfast and in The Soo for lunch. Arrived Marathon at 8:30 PM and checked into the motel and then had dinner in town. We saw high fire hazard signs on the highway north of Wawa, but since we were going to use stoves anyway it did not matter to us that much.

Day Two

Left motel before 9:00 AM (after breakfast) and got to Santoy Lake sometime before 10:00 AM and were in the water about 10:00AM. Once we paddled out of the south bay we faced a moderate north wind with waves approaching a foot witht sunny weather but then further up the lake the wind died down and we had an easy paddle on a calm lake to the stop sign at the beginning of the infamous Diablo Portage. We commenced the portage at noon (fortunately everything was VERY dry). Boy was it tough with us being out of shape and with heaviest barrels. Once we got to the top, of the slope we had lunch and then continued onto the other famous section (Devil's Den). By the time we got to the island campsite on Diablo Lake, it was 7:45 PM! We were completely bushed, set up camp ate and crashed!

Day Three

Being very tired we got up late and only set off at noon! Another beautiful sunny day. There were no mud holes on the 800m portage (all dry black soil). This portage actually got extended by us by portaging through the grass around the first pond (not enough water to even float a paper boat) and right onto the second pond. My brother said he saw a spruce grouse in the aisle (portage), another linguistic faux pas!
Cairngorm Lake was like glass (called Crankhorn by Damir!!). We paddled to the campsite on a small peninsula (with a view from a rock west of the site and arrived at 6:00 PM. Smelled smoke on the wind from the north.

Day Four

Another sunny day! Decided to lay over here on Cairngorm another day to recuperate from the Diablo!

Day Five

Left the site around 10:00 AM on a sunny day and the lake like glass. Top end of Cairngorm is all burnt we got yo the 590m portage and could not access the shore directly and had to go through bush to bypass deep muck. While carrying a load I slipped on a hole in the grass I couldn't see and fell onto my chest on right side (nothing broken fortunately but the pain accompanied me an the rest of the trip (maybe cracked ribs- had no trouble breathing, just turning while sleeping- could be cartilidge or ligaments?). Near north end of the lake we saw plumes of smoke from forest fires in the north and northwest and something in the east.
End of portage and Steel River begins at a small falls (what falls, just a few drops over rocks!?!). Very dry fall season.
We dragged canoes and carried gear for the better part of the afternoon on the winding dry river here! Finally, we decided to portage along the river bed to the paddleable section just before the 50m portage around another small rocky rapid (again just rocks, hardly any water). Esker (Moose) Lake finally and then the winding river section after the 250m portage over the road at the bridge. We saw big smoke plumes from forest fires in the east, north and west. A water bomber flew overhead.
Hit Steel Lake very late. The first campsite (in Kevin Callan's book) on the east shore is in the burn and very rough. We continued up the lake (calm as glass) and decided to camp on a sandy beach about 2km north of there (it was 8:30 PM and dark by then and we were tired and only had snacks (no dinner or stoves) and hit the sack immediately thereafter. Due to forest fires just northeast of us we toyed with the idea of a fire watch for each of us but then decided to forgo it.

Day Six

Another nice sunny day! Steel Lake is calm and we set off about 10:00 AM (some mist still on the lake). See big smoke from fires on the east shore of the lake. After the first 10km (first dog leg of the lake) we leave smoke clouds behind but see more in the northwest and the north. Get to second dog leg around 6:00 PM and check out Kevin Callan's island campsite. No one has been there in years, plants are growing in a perfect circle around the fire pit and it's a lousy site for more than one tent! Decided top go to the buggy site in the northwest bay of dog leg to stay away from fires and smoke clouds. This site required walking on dry land through reeds for 50 feet to get to shore and we did have mosquitos and black flies but not many
Here we weigh our options if forced by forest fires. We can try to continue tomorrow if the smoke blows away or walk out on the road to the west to Longlac (long way and no guarantee of no fires on the road) or, retreat the way we came.

Day Seven

Off around 9:30 AM nice day, and as we turn around the point to go north on the last leg of Steel Lake we can't see the top end (it's all covered in smoke!). We decide to wait a little while to see if the south wind is going to clear the smoke away but no such luck, and instead of paddling into the smoke we turn around and start heading back the way we came. Thw wind increases and we get some waves on the lake. Halfway down the midle leg of the lake Jackpine and I are paddling along the east shore and Damir and El Gordo are on the west shore. We decide to stop for lunch at the same spot where we stoped on the way up and star crossing to the wast shore and when I looke south toward the first dog leg I exclaimed, holy shit! What Jackpine and I could not see from the east shore was that at the dog leg, the east shore was on fire at the dog leg. After lunch we continued down along the west shore as we watched the flames and trees coming crashing down into the lake (that area is a steep cliff and is in an old burn but with plenty of brush and dry old tree trunks standing). At the dog leg, some smoke descended to the lake and we got a few ash flakes falling and we hightailed out of there as fast as possible to avoid breathing smoke. Around the dog leg we saw huge billowing clouds of smoke all along the east shore of the lake. We made a camp site on a small island about halfway down the bottom leg of Steel Lake (near west shore) ans watched the smoke clouds. A number of helicopters flew over (one with a water bucket) the fire area. In the evening, you could see the huge glow of fires on the east side of the lake.

Day Eight

Off by 10:00 AM. Back up the winding part of Steel River across Esker Lake and had lunch on the dry river bed before portaging the entire river section to the little pond at the north end of 590m portage (it started drizzling there, and by the time we finished the portage to Cairngorm (6:00 PM) it was cloudy and dark and the wind as howling something fierce (too much to paddle anymore) so we set up camp at the end of the portage.

Day Nine

Paddled Cairngorm (some wind and then calm with cloudy conditions and a few sunny breaks) and camped at the same site from day three and four.

Day Ten

Did the last part of Cairngorm and as we were unloading at the 260m portage a helicopter flew very low along the last channel of the lake (we think it may have been looking for us!) and right over us. We finished the portaging and got to Diablo Lake and back to the same island site! It rained over night and became very cool and windy (7 degrees C in the morning and we were not looking forward to a wet Diablo portage).

Day Eleven

Paddled to the Diablo portage and did it for the second time (in reverse) but this time in 4 hours. At the bottom end Santoy Lake was angry with large swells and whitecaps and when I delivered the first load we said we'll see what it's like when the portage is done. Fortunately the lake (around 5:00 PM) became manageable with swells up to 2 feet and we scurried down the lake to end at 6:50PM at the docks. Then we drove to Marathon thinking it would be no problem to get a motel room due to mid week and late season - we had no reservation for this day since our plans got altered- (boy were we wrong, there was a mining convention in the area and ALL the rooms were booked!). We finally got the last 2 rooms at Coach House Motel by driving back towards Terrace Bay.

Day Twelve

Did some sight seeing along the way to Michipicoten (hiked in Pukaskwa) on our way to Rock Island Lodge where we had reservations for the 20th. We had a nice evening with live entertainment provided by Steve Schellenberg of Winnipeg (www.steveschellenberg.com)

Day Thirteen

Drive back with stops in Lake Superior Provincial Park. Had lunch in The Soo (again) and dinner in Sudbury on Lasalle at Pat & Mario's (passed through famous Copper Cliff and we even joked about stopping at Richard's place, it was 6:00 PM).
Got back safely at midnight.

ANIMALS SEEN by one all or some (plural means more than one)

Spruce Grouse (many)
Common Loons
Spotted Sandpiper
Yellow-rumped warbler
Canada Geese
Mergansers
Ducks (not identified)
Thrushes (not identified)
Golden Eagles
Peregrine Falcon
Pileated Woodpecker
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Chipmunks
Red squirrels
Ravens
Herring Gulls
Mourning Cloak Butterflies

ANIMALS HEARD but not seen

Broad-winged Hawk
Northern Flicker
Hairy Woodpecker
Flycatchers
Sparrows

ANIMAL TRACKS SEEN

Moose
Black Bear
Otter


Last edited by Otter Mel on September 23rd, 2006, 2:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: September 22nd, 2006, 7:21 pm 
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Great write-up... thanks, always wanted to go there. Sometimes the most memorable trips are the ones where the unexpected happens... I can just see those flames at the edge of the lake with the trees falling over the cliff. Glad all went well otherwise and no serious problems from the fires.

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PostPosted: September 22nd, 2006, 7:41 pm 
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Very cool trip report. Sorry things didn't go as planned but glad you made it out in one piece. How are the ribs?

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PostPosted: September 22nd, 2006, 11:11 pm 
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So glad to hear you are alive. I had to cancel my school trip to Eaglecrest because of the fires, so i was going to head down on Friday to try to find you guys, but an Emergency Area Order was inacted, and the catlonite road was shut down. This made me very worried because I figured you might try to come out at Eaglecrest, and then find no vehicles due to the road closure. I called MNR and told them to keep an eye out for you. Glad you turned around, there is no water in the river system...you did the right thing. Sorry the trip had to be so full of peril, but on the other hand, it must have been somewhat exciting. I checked with the fire base today. The north end of Steel is still burning, they are taking in bulldozers and stuff today, the entire area is still burning badly.

Glad you are safe!


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PostPosted: September 23rd, 2006, 7:18 am 
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I really enjoyed reading your trip report this morning! What an experience! Yes, the burning trees, crashing into the lake from the sides of the cliffs leaves an indelible image. Wow! Wow! When I did this trip many years ago the only "peril" I faced was bugs …they made me almost insane in some areas. But every leg of the loop has remained one of the most life-changing experiences in my memory. I loved reading your report -- we are really lucky that you guys turned around and that you shared your experiences with CCR. I think it will probably take you some time to heal from this trip.

p.s. must be comforting to know that RHalsam was looking out for you…Good friend!

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PostPosted: September 23rd, 2006, 7:24 am 
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What an interesting read - especially for someone like me who never had to deal with burning forests during a trip. Thanks!


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PostPosted: September 23rd, 2006, 12:33 pm 
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Thank you all!
We are glad that we did not go on. Under the circumstances, it was not possible anyway (did not want to inhale smoke).
When we got out, Dead Horse Creek Road was still closed to traffic and certainly we are glad now that we did not take the Catalonite road out (better doing Diablo twice!).
Overall, it was a tough trip due to long days (low water) and difficult portaging, but the weather was great the whole week with some rain at the end and we made it out on the wings of the north wind on Santoy (not the usual south one which would have been tougher).
The ribs are getting better but I'll still go for an x-ray next week just to check it out.


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PostPosted: September 23rd, 2006, 12:38 pm 
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I just read your post and then saw the images posted re: Diablo portage.
Wow! What a climb. Your detailed commentary was appreciated.

Thanks for this.


D

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PostPosted: September 23rd, 2006, 3:51 pm 
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Go to CCR Gallery for 19 photos I posted (a small selection to show some of the conditions and fires)

http://gallery.myccr.com/thumbnails.php ... tup&cat=-3


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PostPosted: September 23rd, 2006, 4:03 pm 
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My question: Is the only way to Steel via Diablo portgage? I assume yes or why would you guys torture yourselves.

Is their an option to fly-in? And is that worth doing (ie flying in to paddle Steel)

Is the conditions on the Steel unpredictable or can a paddler like me (average) do it without fear of killing myself. I have paddled with some wind and some swells but nothing like what you described. I know Superior can be quite dangerous (based on people I have met who have been there and by reading) .

BTW I loved the pictures and understand these types of experiences cannot be replicated in photos - but it certainly provides some context.

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PostPosted: September 23rd, 2006, 4:23 pm 
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thanks for the pictures Mel....I've only seen the water that low once before....you really got a full experience, that's some tough slogging when there is no water in the creek down to Moose lake

Question....was that ugly cabin still at the beach campsite on Steel Lake? MNR told me they were going to take it out.

I just can't believe that Steel Lake burned again, this makes it three times in ten years, and this time burning in the burn over. It's mind boggling!

Lady Di....there are several other ways to access the trip, and you would definately be able to do it. PM me if you are interested...with all this "heat" generated by Mel's trip, I'd judt like to mention that I will be doing the loop in the first or second week of July, cutting ports and resigning, that kind of stuff. If anyone wants to tag along, I'd be happy to have company.


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PostPosted: September 23rd, 2006, 5:09 pm 
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Hey Ladydi,

Diablo is not just a "guys" thing. I've done it twice and know for sure two other women on this site have also portaged Diablo. Anywhere can be dangerous if you are not prepared or if you take chances. With smarts and enough time Steel River is a great trip...the first time I did it was my second time paddling, ever!

RHaslam,

I never thought I'd get another chance, but now that you've made that offer I am going to try and arrange my life so that I can come out and help you next year.

All the pictures posted today have sent shivers down my spine! Thanks OtterMel for posting your pics and Redstart mouser for finding that photo album on the Diablo Portage thread.

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PostPosted: September 23rd, 2006, 5:15 pm 
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Be glad to have you along Tess, but don't worry about working on ports....I'll have some young strong kid to do the clearing, and I'll do the chainsawing, whoever comes along can just give us a ten minute head start on the ports so we can get things cleared up for those following....its been so long since i've tripped with adults, I'd be happy just to have people along for company.


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PostPosted: September 23rd, 2006, 5:32 pm 
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Tess wrote:
Hey Ladydi,

Diablo is not just a "guys" thing. I've done it twice and know for sure two other women on this site have also portaged Diablo. Anywhere can be dangerous if you are not prepared or if you take chances. With smarts and enough time Steel River is a great trip...the first time I did it was my second time paddling, ever!



I appreciate the encouragement but no, I won't attempt Diablo. I like to canoe with my 2 K-9s and I like to go alone and can't imagine getting the canoe up that God awful climb.

I am not feeble, but realistic. My last portage was 950 M - it took a lot out of me going in mostly because I had been travelling half the day etc and I took too much food (I NEED fresh fruit and yes, I know I am not supposed to carry it but thats my requirements - bunny hugger needs fruit)

Even on the way out, I had plenty of rest and a light load and found it was enough. And the portage was FLAT , dry and easy to negotiate.

So, RH says I can still get there and enjoy the scenery without killing myself - that's good enough for me! It would be exciting to get further out - I am bored with Algonquin and Killarney and yearn for something different,, also, I really want to see an EAGLE.


P.S. RH - I sent you a PM .
Regards
D

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PostPosted: September 23rd, 2006, 7:37 pm 
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Yes, Diablo could use some cutting. There were a few trees over the portage that we had to get over and other portages had a few such obstacles but it's nothing when you do it because this is a part of canoeing! 8)

By the way, the weather was great, mid to high teens temps and lows around 5 to 10 except the last couple of days when we got fall weather and very little wind with two exceptions as per the report.

Rob, I am not sure which beach site you mean. The one we were on had no cabin. There was one higher up the lake on the east shore (exactly opposite the island we stayed on, on our way back - the night shot of fires was taken from there - with a table on it but we did not stay there due to proximity to the fires.
In a bay on the east shore (within 2km of Dead Horse Creek Road) there were about a dozen motor boats and I don't know what they were doing there.


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