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 Post subject: Steel River+ Trip Report
PostPosted: September 3rd, 2015, 6:16 am 
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Joined: April 1st, 2003, 9:40 am
Posts: 231
Location: Toronto,ON
While not as comprehensive or detailed as the Albinger brothers trip report earlier in the season, my wife wrote a trip report for our Steel River trip in July.

Steel River Loop – Pukaskwa – Lake Superior PP

Day 1
Wed – Jul 8

After a long drive from Toronto and we aimed for Gloria's Motel on Hwy 17 between Wawa and Marathon. We had been through here two years ago on our way to Red Lake for our Bloodvein trip and with so many motels with vacancies, this time around we planned to play it by ear. Gloria's was booked solid, the three motels in Marathon were also 'No Vacancy', hydro crews everywhere!! After dinner in Marathon we went for Plan “C” and camped at Neys Provincial Park just down the road. We were so lucky the weather was fantastic and we got a site with direct access to the sandy beach on the shores of Lake Superior. I love camping and will take a tent over a motel room any day. Beer and chips on the beach watching the sun go down. As far as I'm concerned the trip has already started.

Day 2
Thur – Jul 9

On our quest for a hearty breakfast we drove past the Steel River access road, making a mental note of the tiny flagging tape marking the gravel road, and on to Terrace Bay for a really great meal at “The Bakery”. Back at the Santoy put-in we saw a car we believe belongs to the Albinger brothers and two other cars with Minnesota / Wisconsin plates. Amazing, this puts three parties on the loop perhaps separated by a day or two each. Steady tail wind to the Diablo portage. This portage is relentless, any one bit is doable, you just don't get a break. We benefited greatly from the dry cool weather and following closely on the heels of the people before us, the flagging tape, tramped down vegetation and trail maintenance. It's easy to see that it wouldn't take much to turn it into the portage from hell. Once past the first climb from Santoy, the lush vegetation, rock walls and huge boulders made for a beautiful setting. It's so worth it just to see it all, I even recognized some of the rocks from trip reports, patted and said hello to the unfortunately positioned wedge rock across the trail, a bit of a challenge for my short legs. Three hours got everything from Santoy to Diablo and on to the island campsite, plenty of time to relax. Campsite SC8 from RHaslam’s maps, on this report I'll refer to the campsites using his numbering.

Day 3
Fri – Jul 10

Another beautiful sunny day with a south breeze.
First portage out of Diablo was fine, leading to an exercise in muck puddle paddling between portages.
The next portage was the portage of many trails, I took off along one branch, Mikey took another and before long we found ourselves facing each other, oh boy... and on to Cairngorm.
Many foot prints and discernible paw prints on the wet portions of the portages, there's a happy dog ahead of us tripping with the humans.
Sticking to the plan of taking it easy doing the loop, we stopped early at SC9, not used in a long time but with a high campsite and a big view down the lake.
The campsite got a really good clean up and moving of blow downs when I couldn't remember where I'd put down my Gomboy folding saw. All three of us got into it and once we'd given up there it was, on top of the barrel under a hat. I really need to pay attention to where I put things. On the plus side, the campsite got some much needed attention.
Darryl caught a pike on the first cast, he put it back, something about being the wrong kind of fish.

Day 4
Sat – Jul 11

This is a lazy day, we are only going to the end of the lake and intend to stay at SC11. We drift along with the wind, Darryl and Mike washing lures as we go, very hot and sunny. A couple of fish tried to bite my paddle, it's dark carbon fiber with a pretty yellow logo less action on the trolling lures. Very disturbing that the burn is total on both sides of the lake, I keep hoping the campsite area has been spared, no such luck. SC11 is really quite small and very exposed, change on plans - we're bound for Steel Lake.
On the portage out of Cairngorm we lost Mike somewhere in a mud bog, the pink tape really helped us navigate our way but it was still easy to lose the trail. A very pretty water fall by the put in, it's the beginning of the river. Made it through the log strewn meandering creek, cutting, shoving and lifting over and around obstacles.
We got so used to seeing brilliant flagging tape that we missed the (unsigned) huge portage landing on river left as we approached the road bridge, we also expected to see the portage on river right. Mikey and I scrambled up on river right to the road and walked across the bridge till we cut the portage. Very well maintained first half up to the road, after that there were sections where it was follow your feet and crash through the bushes. I walked the last portage while Darryl and Mike lined the canoes and we paddled on to Steel Lake.
On the map SC12 seemed to be on the east side of the lake but it was really on the west side atop a high rock wall, a bit of a scramble, plenty of room for tents, the fire pit had not been used in a while, interesting site but it didn't speak to me, I voted to keep going. We paddled on to SC13, it exists and is available, the foot prints on the portages are so fresh it feels like we should see people just around the corner. We landed on a tiny beach, so happy for the shade and the constant breeze. Shades of Murdoch Lake from our Bloodvein trip where we paddled a nine hour day just to get out of the burned area.

Day 5
Sun – Jul 12

Mike went fishing in the mist, no fish were harmed but he lost a lure. Steel L 1 – Mikey 0.
Steel is a monster of a lake, paddle, paddle and paddle some more, the slowly recovering burned shore always in view.
A huge lake with few opportunities for campsites, even landing for a pee is an adventure.
The steady south wind along with the threatening clouds and eventual rumble of far away thunder kept us paddling with a purpose. 10am – 3.30pm
Stayed at SC14. Mike has a brand new Souris River 16 foot light weight prospector and is not inclined to introduce it to rapids just yet. Both canoes get portaged to the put-in for tomorrow. There's fresh evidence of trail maintenance along with lots of flagging tape. We do a bit of maintenance around the campsite as well. Very “involved” dinner from Mikey, his first of the trip. Darryl caught a walleye and put it back. Very hot and humid.

Day 6
Mon – Jul 13

Woke up to rain.
Mikey sneaked out to get his laundry off the line, went fishing and lost another lure. Steel L 2 – Mikey 0.
Left camp late, since we're one day ahead of schedule the plan is to paddle to Eaglecrest Lake, have a short day and stay at SC1.
The first portage out of Steel is straight forward. The second has many ups and downs, whatever it's actual length it feels far longer with erosion about to force yet another reroute of the portage. Once on the water a fish bit my paddle with vigour and made me jump. I walked the third portage, footing fine but seldom used. Darryl and Mikey ran the rapid, first rapid for his new the canoe, tentatively named “Little Merlot” because of the colour.
Overcast day with a south breeze. We carried the very well maintained (buggy) portage bypassing the rapid into Eaglecrest and had a floating lunch on the meandering paddle to the campsite. Darryl dragged a lure close to the canoe, lots of fish splashed trying to bite it. Great campsite with many tables, many grills, many nails on trees and a boom-box complete with a toilet roll stored in a coffee container. Plenty of time to dry all the gear. Even here we face the fire scorched and recovering scrubby growth, our constant visual companion over the past three days.
Mike made a great apple crumble for dessert.
Sky starting to clear by 9pm, hoping for a sunny tomorrow.

Mikey went fishing after dinner and came back as we were admiring the view from the sand spit. Off to bed we went while Mikey freed his lure from a hook caught in the canoe painter.
“Darryl, I need a little help.” - We heard.
Darryl went out and over the next 30 min there was much to do… Mike while freeing the treble hook from the rope had got one of the hooks into the top of his right middle finger and the barb was well buried beneath the skin. Darryl cut the hook from the lure and also snipped the exposed barbs from the treble-hook, etc, etc, much talk on the strategy to get it out. There were pliers, tweezers, a syringe with treated water to squirt the wound area, the table in the middle of the campsite used as the operating theater. Darryl wished for Eugene, a tripping friend who is a medical doctor.
Eventually I heard “We need a third set of hands”, I came out, my job to hold the head lamp and keep the skin stretched, this hook didn't want to come out. I got curious and wiggled the hook, that's all it took, I started feeling queasy and wobbly, made a dash for the tent to lay down, all very embarrassing.
As I lay there Mikey said - “Darryl, think of me as a big fish” - I wanted to laugh, Mikey is not such a little fellow. Next thing - “It's out” - all very anti climatic after that, clean and cover the wound, send Mikey to bed, 45 min all together.
(This event was fully documented with pictures but Mike's camera went missing by the time we made it back to Santoy Lake.)

Day 7
Tues - Jul 14

Big wind storm blew in overnight with a little rain, so glad we had plenty of cover as we had set up deep into the campsite. SC1 is a 10/10 campsite. Mike’s communing with “Mother Earth” and “Father Sky” is working. We retraced our steps and headed south towards the Steel River enjoying a steady north wind and a big blue sky. The Steel River is a pleasure with a tail wind, great cliff walls, lively water and beautiful unburned trees. While admiring a balsam fir we spotted and GPS'd an unmarked campsite on river right. We stayed at SC3 across from a beautiful rock wall. Shade, great view and plenty of room for tents, A+. Sunny, dry, cool day, very much appreciated after all the sweating on Steel Lake and subsequent wet weather.
Darryl caught a walleye and put it back. One of these days we'll actually get to eat some fish, maybe…

Day 8
Wed – Jul 15

Darryl caught another walleye in the morning but he spit out the hook on shore while the keep vs release discussion took place – decision made by Mr Pickeral.
Cold with heavy mist clearing to a sunny day with a gentle south breeze. Gorgeous paddle down the river with lively water on the narrow sections, we scouted SP3 and then ran it. Darryl GPS'd another unmarked campsite on our map, this time on river left. Had lunch at SC5, beautifully situated with a great view, needs a little clearing. Stayed at Rainbow Falls, very impressive. SC6 is huge.
Darryl caught a pike and put it back.

Day 9
Thur – Jul 16

Overcast, started to sprinkle at breakfast and we left under a torrential downpour, no rainbow for us.
Fun paddle along the fast flowing current, eventually under Dead Horse bridge to the first log jam. Short and nasty portage and very soon we hit the second log jam. It was getting close to four as we were finishing the second portage and I hadn't seen anywhere appropriate for camping since we left Rainbow Falls. On such a cold damp day everything looks uninviting but towards the end of the portage I could visualize (with minimal trimming) a couple of tent pads and room to set up the Mantis. It didn't take much convincing to get the guys for agree to an early stop, who knew how long we would have to paddle to find another place. We don't camp on portages but this one time we felt pretty sure there wasn't another canoe party hot on our heels. Lots of time to bake a bannock and have a long lazy dinner. Somewhere at this camp Mike's waterproof Olympus camera went missing, possibly slipping into the river during an awkward water scooping event, sadly many pictures of this trip were lost. We fell asleep to the funny gurgling sounds of water passing through the log jam.

Day 10
Fri – Jul 17

The Mantis tarp from saved us from the bugs and provided a cozy environment last night and from the rain during breakfast. The current has now slowed down, we paddle many hours through cold dense mist. The changing scenery, beautiful trees, high cliffs glimpsed through the mist always amaze and lifted our spirits. Spotted two owls observing as we passed. Saw a portage sign on the right but obviously that log jam is now cleared. Did the fourth portage and by then most the mist and low clouds were lifting. We are eager for the last portage which will signal we are close to Santoy. Difficult scramble up the clay banks on the last portage and soon we have to deal with a steady head wind, almost a new thing for us on this trip. We paddled past the shallow mouth of the river and landed on the beach to the left. Pleasantly surprised by the nice campsite just behind the screen of vegetation. We fell asleep to the rollers crashing on the sandy beach.

Day 11
Sat – Jul 18

8:20am departure into a calm oily water still lake shrouded in thick fog. Mikey very happy as a solo paddler. A mystic/mysterious never-never land feeling as we glided along. The smooth water is rippled by a light breeze as we pass Wendigo Wingwam Point while the low clouds continue to obscure the surrounding hills, a different experience then what we have read on many trip reports.
Back at the cars, Mike packed up and headed home.
Darryl and I are now on our own for the next six days.
We made a pit-stop at the Marathon grocery store and got back on the road.

Pukaskwa National Park

When planning this trip we had vague ideas of perhaps backpacking in Pukaskwa after finishing the Steel loop so that's where we headed under a cool but sunny sky.
Fantastic hot shower at the National Park and very nice car camping sites. Great to open the bins in the car and restock in dehydrated meals and clean clothes. In the afternoon we walked the North and South beach trails, the beaches strewed with logs galore. Water very calm with dense heavy mist, hard to believe there's a huge lake out there, cold (+11 °C) with morning mist at 5pm in the afternoon, where did summer go!!!

Day 12
Sun – Jul 19

Cold overnight and in the morning (+5 °C).
We have decided to skip hiking the coast and head to Lake Superior Provincial Park for the remainder of the week.
Sunshine and gusting south wind straight off the lake for our morning hike (Manito Miikana trail). It's freezing, +11 °C at noon as we drove out of the visitors centre.
A couple of years ago we looked at accessing LSPP using the Miji road for a nine day winter trip. There's no plowed parking so we ended up snowshoeing/sledding along the road to Gargantua Bay (that was a great trip). So we wanted to take a look at Miji (Mijinemungshing) lake. It's not a big area but it will do as the take it easy tail end of our trip.

Lake Superior Provincial Park

We paid the fees and can go anywhere we please (no specified lake or areas), so different from southern Ontario parks.
The temperature is very pleasant, +23 °C, we haven't seen this in over a week, feels like summer is back. Stayed at a great sheltered campsite on the south shore of Miji lake. We are not the only people here but it feels like an empty lake. Incredibly gusty south/west wind, what a nightmare if we were paddling Santoy Lake today.

Day 13
Mon – Jul 20

We planned to paddle to Old Woman Lake today but soon after leaving camp the wind picked up something crazy and we were ducking behind islands for relief from the gusts and rollers. Darryl carefully plotted our way to the south west arm with a sheltered campsite on small island, riding the waves and following the foam streamers. The boat we brought on this trip is our Esquif Mistral 16', a prospector style design, it handled the 2 foot waves well even if progress down the lake was slow. Lazy (gusty wind) afternoon. We were visited by a tiny bird that wouldn't go away, making a Piu-Piu sound persistently, upon close observation he still had a little fuzz on his head. Mom eventually showed up and shush him away, all very cute.

Day 14
Tues – Jul 21

Darryl was for moving to another area on Miji and doing day trips, I wanted to go to Old Woman Lake, so to Old Woman Lake we went.
OMG, shallow water and lily-pad chocked meandering on the way the beaver dam at Mirimoki Lake.
We tried to always follow the open lead through the lily-pads, thankful that people had gone by recently and parted the tall grasses through the denser sections, poling with our paddles. If not for the canoe scraped/painted rocks we would think this wasn't a canoe route. Unofficial campsite at the first portage landing. Much up and down on the 1235m portage, a couple of blow downs on the 350m portage and gigantic ferns on the 130m portage into OWL. We're going to have to back track on these portages in two days, the only real annoyance is the chocked lily-pad section. The campsite at the north east end of the portage into OWL has not been used in a long time, strictly an emergency site but there's a very well beaten path to the boom-box. We launch into rollers and a steady head wind. Campsite on 'Far Island' is taken. The next site is on Brunt island and is also taken, great looking campsite, the occupants look set up to stay for a while complete with a Mantis tarp. Who knew OWL was so popular. We paddled on and stayed at the eastern most of the last two campsites on the south end of the lake. Extraordinary wind made bearable by the Mantis tarp.

Day 15
Wed – Jul 22

Even though we are staying on this take for two nights, we took down camp and packed up the canoe to continue with the tour of the lake. The wind is still very strong and this is an exposed site with only patchy shade.
The small family on Far island made for the portage towards Gamitagama Lake (the first of six). The campsite marked on the map by the portage is actually a ranger cabin (lodge?) on an “island” attached to the mainland by five stepping stones. It's a huge cabin with a large fire place (plenty of ashes) in the main room and a bank of windows overlooking the lake. It has a table with bench sitting, brooms and various pots and utensils hanging from the walls, stairs lead to an upper floor.
I took a peak at the portage, it goes straight up over boulders, all those counter lines on the map… As the family prepared to tackle the hike we heard the man say “keep the rope out, we're going to need it for the canoe”. The people that do this portage must have their own set of endearments for it. The campsite marked just south of this portage is signed but it's just a rock landing. We now made for the vacated Far island, a bit of pruning made for a great site, sheltered from the wind and very shady, very nice now that the temperature is up.
With the low water challenge on the way in from Miji or doing all the portages in from Gamitagama, this is not an easy lake to get to which gives it a definite back country feeling. The surrounding fully treed high hills help with the far away feeling, no sounds of the highway here.
Darryl declares “this lake has no fish”.

Day 16
Thur – Jul 23

A beautiful summer day.
Left OWL into the lightest of breezes. Reversed the three portages back to Mirimoki and the lily-pad challenge. Knowing what to expect did not make it easier as we pushed our way through the gunk, muck, puke, sludge, nasty smelling mess. Saw a couple of otters slidering through mud, they seemed to enjoy it. Once back at Miji we made the tour of the north east shore looking at campsites as we went, ended up on a north facing beach site on a banana shaped island. This is not a designated group side but could accommodate many tents on the upper level. We set up camp on the grass by the beach and were visited by many curious loons. Gorgeous view and a great way to end our visit to LSPP.

Day 17
Fri – Jul 24

Yesterday's blue sky is now very moody and threatening, we got deluged by rain on the short paddle out.
The rain must have been very localized, Miji road was dry and the weather continued to improve on the long drive home.
We stopped at the Agawa pictograph site, not sure on what we'd find, we were absolutely blown away with the impressively massive scale and beauty of the area. The lake was calm with nary a ripple, great visibility, we also have the place to ourselves which made even more special. Uneventful drive home.

Another great trip.


PostPosted: September 3rd, 2015, 8:44 am 
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Joined: August 27th, 2002, 7:00 pm
Posts: 2557
Location: Geraldton, Ontario Can
Very nice report, I really enjoyed that. Do you remember how many log jams you encountered? I haven't been down since 2011, I'm curious as to what kind of jackpot is forming up down there. I went back to check the maps I posted, and I see i didn't make reference to that campsite, #12. It was really just an emergency site on the east shore on a small spit of sand, I used it once when when I was tuckered out and didn't want to go any further. I did check out that rock face that you looked at, but didn't bother recording it as a potential site. The beach site you stayed at is really the best destination for that day.

Thanks for the report!

PostPosted: September 3rd, 2015, 9:56 am 
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Joined: June 2nd, 2003, 12:09 pm
Posts: 379
Great report & beautiful pictures! Thanks for sharing.

PostPosted: September 3rd, 2015, 10:08 am 
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Joined: April 1st, 2003, 9:40 am
Posts: 231
Location: Toronto,ON
@RHaslam, the logs jam count is still four. Your maps were very helpful, accurate and great for trip planning. The Steel River was absolutely delightful, if I was closer to the area, EagleCrest Lake to Dead Horse Road Bridge would be a repeating trip.

PostPosted: September 5th, 2015, 11:33 pm 

Joined: September 8th, 2009, 8:29 am
Posts: 318
Location: Burlington, Ontario
Hello Darl-h: Excellent report and beautiful pics! Congrats on getting out for 17 days. Thanks for sharing.

Take care,
Cousin Pete


"Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around." - G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 1908

PostPosted: October 15th, 2015, 8:33 pm 
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Joined: August 29th, 2006, 7:57 pm
Posts: 505
Location: Toronto
Darl-h, just got back from a trek in the Andes and was scanning the trip reports when I noticed you had posted your report on your Steel River loop. Excellent read and more great pix. Sorry to hear about Mike's camera disappearing - that always hurts, more for the pix than the camera!

You're right about the stretch from Eaglecrest Lake - or even higher - all the way down to Dead Horse Road bridge. That would make a great introduction to wilderness canoeing. Nice swifts, Rainbow Falls, easy rapids, some nice campsites...perfect.

The section through the four log jams from the Bridge to Santoy Lake would up it one level of difficulty; and the part from the start of the Diablo Portage back to the Steel River just below Eaglecrest Lake would crank it up some more,

Quite the variety for a one-week canoe trip!


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