Steel River loop

(Cheating the Devil)

 NW Ontario

Sept  4-13, 2023

The Background:

Ever since returning from my BWCA trip, I've been wanting to get out on another extended wilderness solo.  I wanted something even more remote where I might not see people for days at a time and it had to be a loop so I could do it without arranging shuttles.  Initially, I was set on Wabakimi... taking the train to Allanwater bridge, looping up to Whitewater lake, seeing the Wendell Beckwith cabins (or what's left of them) and then back to my car in Armstrong via Caribou lake ... all good, right?  

Maybe not...  I talked to Bruce at Wabakimi Outfitters and he advised against the Allanwater river unless I was a very experienced whitewater paddler and also discouraged doing it solo regardless of experience. Bummer.

I found plan B before I got kicked off of Facebook (they still haven't said why) in the form of a page about the Greenstone area canoe routes where the admin for the page is a fellow poster named Rob Haslam.  Rob has a long track record of helping facilitate canoe trips in that area and some of my favorite YouTube creators credit him with providing maps.  For me, it came down to his Marshall Lakes loop or the Steel River loop.  

I eventually hope to do both but, for 2023 (for better or worse), I chose the Steel River and I had a local print shop print the maps that Rob sent on 12x17 inch (30.5 x 43.2 cm) waterproof paper so they fit nicely in my map bag.

Steel River Provincial Park is located in NW Ontario, North of Lake Superior and, more or less, between the city of Terrace Bay and the town of Longlac.  It is considered a non-operating park, is administered by the Ministry of Natural Resources office (Nipigon Cluster) in Terrace Bay and is what is known as "Crown Land".  Unlike the US, only 11% of the land in Canada is owned privately and 89% is owned by either the Federal or Provincial governments.  These lands are free for any Canadian resident to use (with some, but not many, restrictions) but non-Canadians must apply for a permit which, in my case, cost about $9 (US) a day.  Permits are available here.

The route (170km / 106 miles) is remote, lightly traveled and may be most famous for having what is renowned as one of the most difficult portages in Ontario: The Diablo Portage.  This portage, listed at 1.2 km (3/4 of a mile) and an elevation gain of 100 meters (330 feet) features 45 degree inclines, ankle twisting holes hidden amongst ferns and some of the roughest terrain anyone could cut a portage trail through.  Although I knew it would be brutal, I considered it to be the price of admission to the loop and vowed that I'd get through it.

It seems that most YouTubers put in at the southernmost end of the loop on Lake Santoy and paddle about 8km (5 mi) North to access the portage on day #1 but Rob's maps started near the northernmost point in Eaglecrest lake, ran down the Steel river and returned to the truck via Diablo, Cairngorm and Steel lakes.  This route made a lot of sense to me as it would allow me avoid a huge lake (never been a fan of huge lakes) and would give me some time to get my portage routine figured out as well as getting rid of some weight in the food bag before taking on Diablo.

It would also allow me to actually meet Rob in person, thank him for his help, show him the Freedom Solo strip canoe that I'd built for the trip and, perhaps, get a test paddle in my next build as he prefers the Raven designed by Martin Strep.  Plans were laid for July 15th and Rob would (likely) paddle out onto Eaglecrest with me the first night then return home the next morning as I went downriver.  

Due to the fire bans, however, I didn't actually schedule vacation at work (they lifted the fire bans in Ontario on July 11th so I could have gone) and the trip got kicked back until September.  By this time, Rob had been pressed back into service at the teaching job from which he'd retired (twice, I believe) and the water level in the river had dropped dramatically.  I was assured that I'd get through but the new boat would take a beating so on the Sunday preceding Labor Day, I hopped in the truck & headed north.

The Drive:

According to Mapquest, the fastest route to Longlac, Ontario was 15 hours and 40 minutes via Sault Ste Marie. The Garmin GPS that I use for work every day was of no help as it only includes US roads and I briefly considered paying for the Canadian maps until, on a whim, I entered the destination into my 26 year-old Garmin GPS. Lo & behold, it includes all of North America so, as long as the roads didn’t change much in the past 26 years, it should work just fine.

Only problem was that the older GPS thought the fastest route was through Buffalo, NY (not even one of the three options on MapQuest) so I programmed my newer Garmin to the US border crossing in Sault Ste Marie and figured I’d let the older GPS take it from there.

This strategy actually worked really well; I again avoided the PA Turnpike and I was making great time across the state of Ohio... until I met a police officer. Perhaps I should (not?) mention that I don’t get overly excited about speed limits and I typically view them as theoretical. It’s always seemed reasonable that such limits are the speed at which some group of bureaucrats feel that the average person can safely traverse the highway under average conditions and, in reality, someone with above average driving ability and/or better than average conditions can safely travel that road at significantly higher speeds.

Police officers, however, often have a different view of speed limits and I feared that might be the case with this Ohio State Policeman. He asked if there was any reason that I was 18 mph (29km/hr) over the (theoretical) speed limit and seemed less than impressed when I explained that I hadn’t been paying much attention to speed as I really didn’t believe the old Ranger could go that fast.

He then asked about my lack of seat belt… I didn’t have any real explanation for that and told him so. I had simply failed to put it on after fueling up at the last stop. He asked a few more questions, seemed to completely ignore the wood strip canoe adorning the roof (I couldn’t get lucky enough to get pulled over by a canoe enthusiast, right?) and, after a few minutes, came back from his car with some paperwork.

Perhaps he recognized my superior driving ability or shared my view that speed limits shouldn’t be so limiting but he explained that he wasn’t going to write me a ticket for exceeding the speed “limit”.  

He seemed to take a dimmer view of my failure to strap into any impending wreckage, however, and said that he was ticketing me for the seat belt violation.  I thanked him for not throwing the book at me, he stood by my door until I was properly seat-belted, I tossed the ticket onto the passenger’s seat and sped away. (As I write this, it occurs to me that, I should probably find that ticket and see where I send the payment)

The rest of the drive was uneventful, I crossed the border, restarted my phone to use the Canadian towers, switched GPS units and found my way to the Trans Canadian Highway without much trouble.

I cruised along the eastern shore of lake Superior and past warning signs that made moose seem like nighttime freight trains ready to destroy passing cars until, around 1am, in the area of Batchwana Bay, I noticed a sign that said “last gas for 180km” but the station was closed. I admire Canadians their ability to convert km to miles and vice versa but I’m not as adept. I looked at the fuel gauge at ¼ tank, thought that was likely to be about 50 miles and decided that 50 miles was probably significantly less than 180km.

I had just passed The Chicken Shack motel which showed vacancy but the office didn’t appear to be open and I didn’t want to bang on anyone’s door at 1am so I drove south about a mile to a picnic area along the roadside and decided to sleep in the truck.

Day 1

I slept well and awoke at 6:30, drove back to the closed gas station and decided to wait until 8:30 to see what time they opened. I dozed a little and walked around the area until, finally, I lost patience at 8:15 and knocked on the door of the Chicken Shack motel next door.

I was greeted by a very nice lady who said that the station wouldn’t open “until later” but there was another (Voyageur's) about 10 minutes south that was open by now, would have gas, coffee and really good apple fritters… What more could I want, right?

She also said that “up here”, I should treat ½ tank as empty and start looking for the next gas station.

As it turned out, she gave great advice; the coffee was good, the fritters were excellent and I was back on my way to Longlac by 9am.

The old GPS took me down a terrible gravel road that Rob said was impassable this past Spring but I made it to Longlac around 2:30 where I met him in the parking lot of Robin’s Donuts. We compared canoes, discussed the need for a bear barrel as he doubted suitable hanging trees would be found along the river and seemed to agree that the odor-proof sacks should be sufficient in that area as the bears were not at all habituated to think of humans as anything other than “avoid at all cost”. 

He did, however, hand me a half dozen bear bangers, said that the blueberry crop had been terrible that year and that the bears were likely to be unusually hungry (better safe than sorry). I followed him to Catlonite road where we unloaded a couple of Cherry & Sassafras boards that I’d brought along for him to make some paddles (those woods, not being native to his area are harder to come by while, near my home, they’re ridiculously cheap and readily available), he gave me directions to Sun Road South and I was off again.

Catlonite road was interesting. 4-5 times as wide as any dirt road around home, it had a theoretical speed limit of 70km/hr. I didn’t really need to do any math to determine that I would not be exceeding that speed as it was so badly wash-boarded that the Ranger was getting sideways at 35 mph. I had seen the pictures of logging trucks roaring down these roads in a cloud of dust but, as it was Labor Day, the only truck making dust that day was mine.

He had said that Sun Road South was about 30 miles down on the left but I’d neglected to look at the odometer when we parted so I drove for awhile and started watching. Well over an hour later I figured I’d certainly missed it so I messaged Rob from the inReach and asked him to check my location. While waiting for a response, I started looking at apps on my phone (I’d downloaded a Canadian maps app) and, for whatever reason, I opened the Earthmate app. As it turns out, this is the inReach’s app and I was able to pull up a map that showed my location as well as the names of the lakes in the vicinity. I located Eaglecrest, started back North and soon after received a message from Rob that said it looked like I had gone about 15 miles too far.

(Note: I’d never really dug into the perks of synching my smartphone to the inReach but played around with it quite a bit on this trip and found that the Earthmate app is also the means by which one can type and send messages just like texting on your phone)

I soon found the road I sought (Lat: 49.419867, Lon: -86.698455) and it was, indeed, signed but the sign was much more easily seen when coming from the south. 

It was a bit sketchy-looking but not washboarded like Catlonite. I made my way to the launch by the bridge, parked out of the way of anyone that might want to use the campsite there (purposely leaving the doors unlocked so that any miscreant who came along might skip breaking a window) and loaded the canoe for the adventure ahead.

This access uses, I believe, the Little Steel River and was basically a meandering stream that was teeming with small beaver dams and blowdowns but, as expected, had very little water at this time of the year.

There were more than a few places that required lift-overs but I arrived at Eaglecrest lake around 6pm and began paddling into the wind (my BWCA trip had previously taught me that portages and campsites are always into the wind). As I neared the first campsite, I was disappointed that it appeared to be taken and I was a bit concerned that I could make it to the second campsite before dark but, as I got closer, I realized that there were just tarps covering firewood and that the site was, in fact, open.

I was too tired to bother with a fire and couldn’t find either of my backpacking stoves so I had a trail mix supper and went to bed figuring that I’d have to allow extra time throughout the trip to build and douse cooking fires. There was, however, a suitable tree for the bear bag and I sent the “all clear” message on the inReach at 8:10pm.

Day 2:

I slept well, made a small fire, started coffee and oatmeal and packed up while the water heated. I was on the water by 10am, portaged once and paddled about 6.2km (4 miles) to the junction of the Little Steel and the Steel rivers where I took some time to explore the campsite there. It had been my destination before taking a 30 mile(ish) detour past Sun Road South the day before and I regretted not having made it as it was a very nice campsite complete with a new picnic table, some shovels, rakes & implements of destruction, a pair of binoculars (of questionable utility) and a large sign identifying the site as “Camp Chugabrewski”.

Leaving this site, my maps indicated that I would enter the Steel River proper and would shortly encounter some fast water, swifts, etc which I quickly found to be true. Only problem was that the water level was so low that they couldn’t be run and I was soon walking the boat through every one of the shallows where, in July, I would have probably had a very enjoyable ride. I doubt that it was the first, but it would certainly not be the last time that I would lament the delayed start date.

In between the swifts, the Steel widened out into deeper sections of lakes where I could paddle but only into a fairly brisk headwind. Despite this, the day was warm and sunny and the scenery was outstanding. At times it seemed that I spent more time with a camera in my hands than I did holding a paddle.

There was also wildlife to be found in abundance as I saw the usual ducks, loons and such, some evidence of beavers and otters (maybe minks?) and, coolest of all, in my opinion, owls. 

Owls have always been a favorite of mine and I saw several in the early afternoon. Most seemed pretty camera-shy but I finally got a (somewhat) decent picture on the 3rd or 4th bird. Even this one did not pose long enough to try more than once and soon flew silently into the forest.

The map indicated that there was good fishing below all of the swifts and rapids and I tried a few casts at several of them without much luck. To be accurate, I did get some bites but, in every instance, I wound up either breaking off or having the fish throw the hook and I came up empty. (I’ve never gotten the hang of fishing moving water as trout in PA aren’t [in my opinion] even worth catching. They don’t offer the fight that a smallmouth bass does and, because the State stocks them in every stream, they typically taste like the dogfood that they’ve been eating. I’ve often wished they’d stop stocking and see if the native smallmouth populations would re-establish themselves but I know that will never happen). Oh well, back to the story...

I splashed through the shallows (slopping water into the canoe while doing so) and fought headwinds until 7:15 when I arrived at a very scenic site across from some huge cliffs. There was a nice, sandy beach, a bench by the fire pit and it was nicely sheltered from the wind. With no chance of making it to the falls, I quit for the day, took a swim and set up a tarp by the fire pit because the forecast had rain arriving around 10pm.

I hadn’t taken much time to fish below the swifts and I tried a few casts from the camp but I, again, came up empty so I built a small fire, made supper and turned in as the night started to become chilly ahead of the rain.

I also vowed, that night, that I’d have to get better at sealing dry bags and minimizing the amount of water that got into the boat as several items got wet that weren’t supposed to: most noticeably, my journal and the copy of Trail of the Lost that I’d brought along. The book, while damaged, wasn’t ruined but I’d have to keep my journal electronically on my phone from here on out.

Day 3

The rain came as expected and it rained hard most of the night. I got up and found that I’d also need to work on my tarp skills as there was a huge puddle of water trapped in the tarp. Happily, the folks at Cooke Custom Sewing do a nice job and I was actually pretty impressed that, given the weight of the water collected, all seams and attachment loops (they don’t use grommets) were still in great shape.

The campsite was wonderfully shaded for a summer trip but, on that morning, was just cold, damp and dreary so I broke camp while the coffee was brewing and I managed to get the tent & sleeping gear stowed before the rain started again.

When I carried gear to the beach, I was relieved to see that the water level of the river had risen by what I estimated to be about 3 inches overnight and I was hopeful that I’d now be able to run the swifts instead of constantly hopping in and out while tracking water into the boat.

I paddled into a light, intermittent rain and checked out the next campsite shown on the map. It was listed as having some old plywood tables in an old Cedar grove but someone (I’ve since found out who but hesitate to mention in case the MNR would find offense) had been busy upgrading the accommodations.

Gone were the old plywood tables and, instead, there was a huge steel / treated wood table under a massive tarp frame. Firewood racks, tools, folding lawn chairs, a fish cleaning station, at least 2 skillets and a huge firepit completed the camp and it certainly seemed that one could be at home here for an extended stay. (I’m told the table donor and friends stay at this site for 5 days at a time once or twice a year, fishing the surrounding river and disrupting the serenity a little). Almost within sight of the previous night’s camp, I think this was the superior of the two even though it seems that all YouTubers stop at the cliff site.

I paddled on downriver and the increased water level helped with some of the swifts although I was still walking most of them. I almost didn’t realize when I came to what the map listed as a “problematic” rapid with no port. The recommended procedure was to line down river right until I could hop in and run the haystacks below the rapid but it was such a boulder garden that I opted to portage in the riverbed instead. 

I triple-carried as it wasn’t far enough to bother attaching the paddles and launched well below the non-existent haystacks.

I continued working my way, from map to map, downstream through the light rain with, wonder of all wonders, a tailwind and, although the day was dreary and didn’t photograph well (especially since many of the pictures show water droplets on the camera lens), it was a very pretty section of river.

I checked out an island campsite on map #6 and decided that it would work but it was not comparable to some of the others I’d visited.

Shortly after leaving that site, I changed maps and started watching along river right for portage signs. The notes warned that I was approaching Rainbow Falls and warned me not to miss the portage as the falls were very large and going over them was extremely unlikely to end well even at these water levels.

I became a bit more concerned when I saw a “warning, falls ahead” sign on a tree in an area of the river that widened to the size of your typical baseball field. Naturally, this caused the water to become extremely shallow so I waded it dragging the canoe and keeping well to river right so I wouldn’t get caught on the wrong side of the river.

These precautions were unnecessary, however, as the sign was posted well upstream of any real danger. I hopped back into the canoe, paddled just a bit further, clearly heard the falls as I approached them and saw the portage sign above a small, sandy landing.

About 2/3 of the way down the port, as advertised, I found a very nice campsite so I dropped my pack, grabbed my water filter and headed back for the canoe. I hung the filter on the portage sign, carried the canoe through the entire portage and returned to the beginning to retrieve the filter and photograph the falls.

That being accomplished and still having a few hours before dark, I grabbed my fishing rods and tried my luck below the falls. I had 2 spinning rods along, one with 6 lb flourocarbon line and one with some very lightweight braid that I’d spooled up for this trip and, while lure selection seemed adequate, line was certainly not and I broke off on a half dozen fish before finally landing a smallish pike who accompanied me back to camp for supper.

I ate very well that night and turned in early, setting the alarm on my phone for 5:30am as the maps noted that tomorrow would be a long day.

Day 4

I was awake early and broke camp shortly after 6:30 in anticipation of a very long day. The map notes said that Deadhorse bridge was a 2 hour paddle and, after that, camping opportunities were limited until I’d reached the beaches of Santoy lake.

Realistically, I knew that, given the low water levels, decent sandspit camping would be more readily available than normal but that every mile would be more difficult to complete. In all, I was hoping the early start would equate to a long but satisfying day that ended on a beach within sight of Diablo.

The rains of the past 2 days again helped a little with water levels and I donned my last pair of dry socks in hopes that I could stay in the canoe most of the day and, in fact, I was able to run most of the swifts at that point. It still took me 2 hrs and 45 minutes to reach Deadhorse bridge which the map indicated was the last chance to escape to civilization.

As I passed under the bridge, aka the point of no return, (what?… I suppose you were expecting Kansas?… well, I think that was spelled differently)...

Anyway… as I passed under the bridge, it occurred to me that Rob had said he’d paddled the whole loop (when he was young and dumb) in 3 days… I’ve got to remember to ask what paddle he uses…

The map notes indicated that the nature of the river changed dramatically below the bridge and, as expected, this was correct. The stone cliffs had given way to sand mounds that seemed to intermittently collapse into the river carrying with them whatever trees were unlucky enough to be growing upon them.

The slower, deeper sections were also gone and the river became a shallow, meandering waterway with dead trees at every twist and turn. On the bright side, the rocks that had been scratching the hull for the past few days were also (mostly) gone and I figured that the river here might actually start sanding out some of the scratches for me.

The dead trees would also periodically collect in areas where they would wedge themselves into the banks and I was warned to be prepared for anything but that I was likely to encounter 4 logjams that I would have to portage around.

I found the first of these with the sign well above any visible logjam but with a nice beach upon which to land so I beached the boat, grabbed my pack and followed the signed trail into the woods. I hadn’t gotten far, however, before I’d lost the trail but, looking toward the river, I also saw no evidence that the logjam was really obstructing the waterway.

Unable to relocate the portage trail, I bushwhacked my way down to the water at a reasonable place and returned for the canoe. Just to be sure the river was blocked, I paddled downstream to look for the blockage and soon arrived at my pack. The first logjam was missing!

I picked up my pack, continued downstream and soon found the logjam as it was plastered onto the upstream end of the second logjam shown on my maps.

The maps warned that both the take-out and the put-in for this port were steep and, boy, were they ever. Someone had left a rope hanging over the bank at the take-out and I found it helpful in hauling me and my gear up the sandy incline but, the canoe... I simply dragged it up by the stern painter while standing at the top of the bank.

This portage trail was easier to follow although it, at times, seemed to run perilously close to the edge and there was one spot where a particularly nefarious (perhaps simply mischievous) old Cedar pushed my canoe toward the river causing me to lose balance and I nearly joined the melee below. As one might expect, the tree probably thought it was funnier than I did but I clawed my way back up the bank, re-shouldered the canoe (out of reach of the tree) and resumed my portage.

Some distance downriver, I saw another large, white portage sign atop a steep bank on river left but, looking downstream, there was, again, no sign of any logjam. Having some experience with this scenario, I continued paddling.

Before long, there was a second, badly beaten-up, white portage sign hanging from a tree above a steep bank but, again, no logjam in sight. I paddled by wondering if I’d missed another logjam or if I would need to return upstream because the banks become less stable but it turned out that neither was true and I soon came to a newer, smaller, yellow sign above a sandy beach with a gentle slope up into the woods and a whole bunch of dead trees clearly blocking me from paddling further.

The portage ended on another sandy beach with a relatively gentle slope down from the woods but, by this time, the sun was starting to sink lower and I knew I wouldn’t be camping on Santoy that night.

I started looking for a level sandspit and soon found one that didn’t seem to have many moose tracks or active game trails. I hung a clothesline to try again to dry out some gear and decided against making a fire pit as I’d found my backpacking stoves in my pack during the stay at the falls.

There were, again, no suitable bear bag trees here but there was one set of bear tracks (looked old but hard to tell in the sand) so I tucked the bear bag against a log near the tent, peed all around it and trusted that the combination of odor-proof sacks inside the bag and man scent all around outside might be enough to dissuade any curious Ursus Americanus that may wander past.

Most of the day was colder (cold enough to see your breath for much of it) and most of my gear was between damp and outright wet but the rain had stopped and my sleeping bag was among the driest of the gear. Surprisingly, I wasn’t cold even though I was in shorts (I’d unzipped the pants legs as they’d just get soaked any way).  I’m a huge fan of merino wool and I found that a t-shirt, a mid-weight long sleeved shirt and the rain jacket were sufficient

I wore all but the rain jacket to bed that night and also wore my driest pair of socks in hopes that, even if they didn’t dry out overnight, at least they wouldn’t be cold AND damp in the morning.

Day 5

I awoke to a morning that made it really hard to get out of bed and, in fact, I delayed getting up until the sun was well above the banks and it was clear that it was unlikely to warm up quickly that morning.

I fired up the pocket rocket stoves on the overturned canoe while I broke down camp and was really surprised to find that the sandy mud on the hull was frozen and there was also ice on my tent and the backpack that I use as a ditch kit.

I’ve never been a huge fan of camping on sand as it gets in everything but I moved the tent off of the dry sand to the wetter sand near the water and that seemed to reduce the amount that stuck to the tent.

Shortly after starting to paddle, I ran across what I believe to be a family of river otters although I couldn’t get close enough to get decent pictures or verify that they were otters instead of mink (honestly, I’ve not seen enough of either to be able to tell the difference). They didn’t seem to be in any particular hurry to get away but, nonetheless, seemed to keep a comfortable distance ahead of me as I worked my way downstream.

I debated paddling like crazy to see if I could sneak closer but the water depth was still only about ½ of the blade and there was just no way to do it quietly. Besides, it was clear that they knew I was there so I doubt I could have gotten any closer regardless of tactics.

Not long afterward, I came across a “mini logjam” where there was a tree set up as a sweeper and some odds and ends of others piled up against it. I tried to duck under it as I’d done elsewhere on my journey but conditions did not allow for that and I did the next best thing… I dragged the fully-loaded canoe across the sand and around it. (Hey, it needed sanded any way...)

The sunny day really made it clear just how tannic the water here was and also helped finding water that was deep enough to sink a paddle into and I was surprised that the deeper areas were not always on the outside of the bends. I paddled on trying to remain in the deeper, more darkly stained water and made my way toward the 4th logjam.

I found it in due time and, as described, it was huge but the portage, being often used by fisherman, was well beaten, clear and easy to follow even without signage. There were 3 cached boats at the upstream end and the ascent from the river, while steep, had a well-worn trail that made it relatively easy to climb. (It occurred to me that, perhaps this time, the low water level may have worked in my favor as, at higher water levels, getting out of the boat with gear might have been sketchy)

The logjam itself was huge and the portage, while listed at 350 meters (383 yards or 70 rods for the BWCA crowd), was a little tricky to navigate as I kept staring to my left looking at all the piled-up trees and, of course, the tripping hazards were not clearly marked.

The day was sunny and beautiful and the paddle from the 4th logjam to Lake Santoy was listed as about an hour but I was surprised to find the landscape opening up before me in only 45 minutes despite my detour into a small side lake to look for a moose.

I’d initially thought I’d just come to another wide spot in the river but, as I approached, it became clear that there was a lot of water in front of me as well as a lot of wind. The wind was blowing hard and steadily from the south, pushing whitecaps past the shallows and into the mouth of the river.

I paddled into the wind and around the inlet then snuck along the shore until I saw the beach campsite(s).

I beached the canoe, buried my paddle blades in the sand, stretched a clothesline between them and started drying gear. I set up the tent on the sand to dry it as well, wandered the beach awhile and even enjoyed a short nap in the sun.

As the gear dried out and it became obvious that I would be going no further that day, I shook the sand out of the tent & carried it behind the tree line where I felt it would be warmer after dark if the wind persisted. This turned out to be wise as the wind blew hard until a few hours after dark and I came to understand why there were two rusted barrels sitting between the lake and the fire pit.

In the late afternoon I saw the first people of the trip, a young man & woman who were fishing far more successfully than I had to that point in the trip. They were too far offshore to talk to them even if the wind wasn’t howling so a wave sufficed and we went about our individual businesses.

Part of my individual business was to contact Rob via the inReach for a 5 day forecast and a better idea of where the “new” portages (that would allow me to avoid the dreaded Diablo portage) might be. I figured that the Steel River had done a pretty fair job of providing a backcountry beatdown and there was no sense adding to the suffering just for the sake of “street cred”. (Hey, I didn’t get old just to continue doing stupid things)

As in every other experience I’d had, Rob went above and beyond. He seemed to have as general an idea as I did as to where the portages would be but said that the 5 day forecast was for warmer temps, little, if any rain but some pretty strong headwinds on the larger lakes.

He then went a step further and offered extraction on Sunday if I wanted to sit tight on Santoy for a day or two. (it’s worth noting that, that would require, probably, 2-2 ½ hrs of driving hauling a boat for him to get to Santoy as the launch is at the southern end of the lake. He would then have to traverse the length of Santoy to rescue me and then return the way he’d come… essentially giving up the better part of a whole day to get a virtual stranger out).

I assured him that I was ok (I still had vacation for 8 more days and food for 12-13 so I wasn’t in a hurry) but that I was not going to allow the Diablo portage to beat me up and I would essentially sneak into the theatre without paying the price of admission. Yes, I would simply cheat the devil and skip it altogether.

Day 6

The Lake Santoy I woke up to was far different than the one I knew the day before. Smooth as glass, there was a light fog lifting from the water as the sun rose and, in hindsight, I should have been underway before that. As it was, I enjoyed the quiet of early morning on the beach as the fog grew thicker, breaking camp & paddling away around 8am.

The sandbars around the mouth of the Steel River extend quite a ways into Lake Santoy and, in order to maintain a nice depth for paddling, one must swing wide around the inlet. As the fog thickened, I wound up far enough out that I lost sight of the land in the fog and, after paddling far enough that I figured I’d be beyond the mouth, I turned right and paddled back toward the trees… except that there were no trees…

I, wisely, stopped paddling, opened the Earthmate app on my phone, grabbed the compass from my map bag and soon discovered that I was paddling due South right into the heart of Lake Santoy and in the exact opposite of the direction that I wanted to go.

Laying the compass on the floor of the boat, I focused on the needle, lined the boat up with North and, after 5 minutes of paddling, the trees of the shoreline started to become visible through the fog.

I made my way along the beach stopping twice to walk the tree line looking for signs of a portage and as the beach ended I saw someone moving; doing some yard work at the last camp before the rubble shoreline began.

Not wanting to intrude on his solitude, I was just starting to paddle away when he greeted me and asked about my boat.

The man’s name is Gerry Boutilier. He’s a retired & rehired steamfitter from “the pulp mill” in Terrace Bay and he bought the camp in 1982. We spoke for some time and he showed me where the portage officially begins just beyond the edge of his property (Lat: 48.906687, Lon: -86.887934) but the entrance was not marked that I could see and the portage was severely overgrown. In talking to Gerry a bit, I got the distinct impression that he greets anyone doing the loop in the same manner as he did me; he’s a very likeable guy and I suspect that most (if not all) are invited to use an ATV trail on his property to connect to the portage trail (note: he specifically asks that everyone use the actual portage trail if he’s not there. He said that he had cleared the trail last fall [2022] and he would do so again in the Spring of 2024)

We chatted far too long, he said that more and more people seem to be doing the loop starting in Eaglecrest lately, he was extremely friendly and he invited me to stop in the evening if I ever do the loop again and we’d share a few beers on the porch… an offer I will certainly take him up on if I get back that way again.

As suggested, I used his ATV trail to access the portage and found that the trail became quite distinct above his property (which is what makes me suspect that he invites everyone he sees to use his ATV trail).

It was still not an “easy” portage as it was rolling terrain, a bit swampy in places and I’d estimate it to be about 8 or 9/10ths of a mile (1.5km). It exits into Pike lake (where Gerry has a cached boat) and the trail was very easy to follow. About 2/3 of the way up, there is a right turn where I took a break on the second carry and I’m reasonably sure I lost a Vortex 8x36 monocular there. It’s black & green so it won’t be easy to see but, if you’re ever that way, take a look. Their lifetime warranty covers anything but “lost” so, even if the Canadian winters destroy it, you’re still in luck by sending it in for replacement. (note: this was the first, but not the last, indication that the devil might be upset about being cheated)

Pike lake was gorgeous but I didn’t take time to fish it due to its namesake; I am never thrilled with catching those toothy buggers. Instead, I worked my way to the West where I found the portage out (Lat: 48.914673, Lon: -86.911691).

This portage was also easy to follow and led me to Little Diablo lake. I did try my luck there a bit but I was eager to get to Diablo lake and try for some brook (aka “speckled”) trout in a narrows that Gerry said they fish successfully in the winter.

In hindsight, it would have been better if I tried a bit harder to fish either of those lakes as, after locating the portage to Diablo in the SE corner of Little Diablo (Lat: 48.910066, Lon: 86.918387) and carrying my pack to Diablo lake, I realized that I hadn’t seen my tackle bag since I put it down at the end of the Santoy-to-Pike lake portage.

Back down the portage I went, paddling back across Little Diablo, portaging back to Pike and paddling back to Gerry’s cached boat and my tackle bag… right where I left it among the rocks. (I’m rethinking having a green bag… maybe neon pink or something like that…)

Tackle bag in hand, I retraced my steps to Diablo lake and arrived with all gear except the monocular (although I didn’t realize it was missing at the time) around 6:30.

I was really hopeful of catching some brook trout and was fairly tired from the extra portaging so I decided to head for the island campsite at the top of the Diablo portage (after all, I figured, the devil had probably gotten his due with the forgotten tackle box and all the extra portaging, right?)

I paddled down the NE branch of Diablo Lake and came across a campsite that was not shown on my maps just before the narrows where Diablo lake runs up to the portage into Cairngorm (Lat: 48.896060, Lon: -86.922008). I briefly explored it but found it wasn’t very nice. It might work as a backup or if it’s cleared better but it seemed to me to be a recent addition and may be used more if the portages around Diablo are used more.

I rounded the point, paddled southeast to the island just west of the Diablo portage and settled in for the night. I’m unsure if the trip around Diablo was easier than the portage itself would have been but I felt pretty good for having made it and I wasn’t sorry that I’d avoided falling into ankle twisting holes covered by ferns.

Day 7

It had started raining around midnight and I woke to a light rain that seemed to be clearing as the dawn progressed. By 9:30 the rain had stopped and the lake was like glass. I debated paddling to the Diablo portage and walking down it a bit but decided that, if one succeeds in cheating the devil, it’s probably best not to taunt him.

Instead, I turned North and found that the “speckled” trout were biting as I paddled toward Cairngorm Lake. I trolled a large(ish), gold Niti1 spoon as I paddled and caught 4 nice trout, keeping one and releasing the other 3.

I stopped briefly near a cabin on the southern shore and cleaned the trout, put it in the nalgene bottle that had served me so well in that role during my BWCA trip and filled it with lake water. I would drain & refill the bottle several times throughout the day to keep the fish cool and the bottle, once again, proved invaluable for this purpose.

I found the 800 meter portage out of Diablo lake without any problems and, as usual, it was a mix of rolling terrain with 3 steep spots mixed with a few swampy areas which, for me, weren’t bad. Someone had laid logs in the swampy sections but I avoided these as it had started raining again and the logs were more slippery than the moist ground surrounding them.

On the return trip for the canoe, I noticed a canoe rest that someone had built and I watched for it on my second carry. I slipped on some of the uphill climbs and was in need of a break but I was certain that I’d missed the rest as sight lines are limited with your head inside of a boat.

I finally laid the canoe on the ground to take a break only to see the rest about 30 feet (10 meters) further up the trail.

The portage ended in a swampy wetland with a cached canoe that someone, according to the sign on a tree, had designated as “Tom’s Pond”. It was extremely shallow and launching was a chore. There was barely enough water to float the loaded canoe and I wound up weaving my way from hummock to hummock, often through the canoe, and pulling the boat along for at least 100 yards (meters) until I reached somewhat deeper water. The hummocks were, for the most part, sufficient to hold my weight and I rarely sank past ankle deep but, especially with the rain, it had been a slog since leaving Diablo. Little did I know, it was about to get worse.

The portage sign at the exit of “Tom’s quagmire” was hanging by one nail and I thought that winter might remove it altogether so I wrapped a loop of paracord around it in hopes that it would stay until someone could fix it properly, that I could gain a little good karma from the act and that (maybe) Diablo might see it as a form of atonement… (the unappreciative &@$!@^&).

The portage was listed as 350 meters with launching conditions at the end being dependent upon recent beaver activity. The notes indicated that: “Sometimes you can launch fairly easily, other times it’s an adventure in loon shit”.

The day remained warm but overcast although the rain had stopped and I found the portage itself to be reasonably easy but launching was simply not going to happen. Any beaver activity had likely ceased years ago and the pond had nearly disappeared. On the bright side, there wasn’t enough water to entice a loon to visit or relieve itself so the continued adventure was confined to dry(ish) land.

I wondered if Diablo might not yet consider the account squared but the trail through the old pond bed was fairly prominent so I had to conclude that this particular adversity was not to be considered penance for cheating.

In all, the two portages and short paddle were now one portage of about a mile (1600 meters / 320 rods) and the carry was extended slightly on the Cairngorm end in order to get beyond a more recent beaver dam.

I arrived on Cairngorm by 2:30, checked out two campsites at the southern end (adequate and lightly used but not spectacular IMO), trolled my brass Niti1 through the lake trying for another trout and made my way back into an inlet hoping that trout and walleyes, like bass, might prowl the inlets looking for food.

I managed to catch a few pike but, hopeful of another trout or a walleye, I released them.

I then made my way back to the main lake to discover that the wind had increased significantly and the open water crossing to the West shore was an adventure. I snuck up the bank, hiding behind points and casting out into the windblown lake and managed to catch 2 more pike. I considered keeping one but released both as I made my way toward a huge gravel and sand beach where the maps showed “one of the nicest campsites of the trip” and “a great place for a rest day”.

The beach made for a nice landing in a wind-sheltered cove and the campsite, just up a small hill above the beach, was as advertised. I cooked supper and read a bit more in my damp but readable book and my only regret was having not kept one of those pike. The trout, while delicious, merely whet my appetite for more.

At this point, I was caught up to my original itinerary as I had hoped to make it to this site on Saturday the 9th and take a layover day on the 10th. I still had plenty of time for that if I decided to, so I left that decision for “morning me” and I turned in. The day ended as it had begun and I fell asleep to the sound of light rain on the tent.

Day 8

I took a brief morning paddle to see if I could catch a fish or two for breakfast while fully expecting that I may, indeed, be taking a layover day but Cairngorm lake seemed petulant about my scorning the pike offerings of the day before and would give up none of her fish.  Meanwhile, a strong north wind blew me steadily down the shoreline.

I returned to the camp, made breakfast, pulled up a weather forecast on the inReach and saw no rain and nice temperatures but strong winds for the next couple of days. Reasoning that, if the wind beat me up too badly, I could always layover tomorrow in Steel, I packed up and paddled north on a beautifully sunny morning.

When I met him that morning on Santoy, Gerry had advised me to troll the brass Niti1 while on Cairngorm as there were lake trout there that might really go for it but, with the headwind, I found that pretty difficult to do. Even casting would often get me started turning perpendicular to the wind and I felt sure that an extended battle with a fish would likely have me in a precarious position long before the fish could be landed.

I did, however, try casting around windblown points as I was often sneaking along the shoreline to avoid the headwind but Cairngorm lake remained frugal with her fish and steadfastly refused to give up any more of them.

There were several places where I had no choice but to do open water crossings and the headwind on those was absolutely brutal. It was, however, warm, dry and sunny and the scenery was fantastic!

The map notations described Cairngorm as being “once beautiful” but “fairly desolate” due to fires a few years prior to Rob’s last trip through the area in 2011. I hope that he finds happiness as he reads this that the area is recovering nicely and, although evidence of the burnover is still easy to see, the landscape is once more stunning.

As I neared the North end of the lake, I varied from the route shown on the map slightly so that I could hide behind some of the islands and avoid the brunt of the wind. This worked well, I did not run into anything so shallow as to be impassable and nearly 4 ½ hours after breaking camp, I arrived at the portage out where I promptly sank into calf-deep mud while getting everything ashore.

After that, the portage itself went smoothly although, as I neared the end, I noticed what appeared to be another trail leading off to the right. Curious, I followed it up over a small hill and back to the water just below a beaver dam that I would have had to cross if I’d launched at the actual portage sign.

Like the lakes of the BWCA, this lake (often called Moose Lake), benefits greatly from beaver activity. I paddled about ½ of it and counted no fewer than 4 beaver huts which, interestingly, seemed to  always be built against the shore rather than completely surrounded by water as they often are at home. I had to assume that, with winters being longer here, the beavers were forced to forage on land by the end of winter and they built their homes accordingly.

It was an easy paddle to the next portage which goes around a set of rapids and past a small bridge that was put in during one of the fires. The maps warned of a very messy landing at the upstream end but someone had laid a dead Cedar on the mud which served nicely as a dock.

There was also an enormous rowboat cached at this location so I suspect that the fire road may be used by fishermen to access the beaver-enhanced lake.

The beaver activity continued as I worked my way north and I next encountered a large beaver dam and one of the sketchiest portages of the trip. The marker was actually on the breast of the dam (or the dam had been extended to reach the marker… either way…) and the portage trail beyond was swampy even at this time of the year.

The low water levels again came into play at the exit of this portage as the stream was very rocky and there was not enough water escaping the beaver dam to allow paddling. Like the swampy entrance of “Tom’s pond” a couple of days earlier, I hopped from rock to rock, often navigating through the canoe, and pulled the canoe through to the open water beyond.

As I entered the southern end of Steel Lake, I was, again, assaulted by headwinds and the shallow water allowed little of the paddle blade to catch so I was essentially poling my way north from a seated position.

I paddled for about an hour to the 1st campsite shown on the maps (about 1 ½ miles / 2.4km from the last portage) from which I thought I could see the second site but it was another mile and a half into the headwind and it was nearly 8pm.

I fished briefly around the point, scored a decent pike and returned to the beach campsite for the night.

While setting up camp, I found a piece of plywood laying upon a downed Cedar and I carried it onto the beach for use as a windbreak for the firepit. It worked really well, the campsite was more than adequate for one person and I slept well knowing the I had not snubbed my nose at the pike offered up by Steel lake.

Since my journal had gotten wet on the 2nd day I’d been using a voice recorder app on my smartphone. I sat on the beach that night marveling at all of the other apps on the phone that were completely useless here due to lack of service and I felt utterly at peace with the silence of the woods and the serenity of the sky above me. (though, truthfully, I could have done without the angry beaver who kept slapping his tail at me)

Day 9

My maps list Steel Lake as being 30 kilometers (18 miles) long and “usually friendly with winds” but further state that “it never hurts to tackle it early in the morning”. 

I also knew that Rob said he typically paddles the entirety of Steel Lake in a day and, looking at the maps, topography around the lake and other online sources, I’d seen no indication of established campsites (or many good camping prospects) except the established sites near the southern end or the one on the portage out at the North end.

Given all of these factors, I was up early, skipped the fire & made breakfast on the backpacking stoves.  I packed up and was on the water just after 8am. There was already a headwind but not as bad as the night before and I was optimistic that, maybe, it was just about finished.

The sky was clear and it was warming up nicely as I stopped briefly to check out the campsite that I’d not been able to reach the night before. It was much larger than where I had camped, would have been better sheltered from the wind and had better tent pads but I felt that I’d made the right decision the night before as it would not have been worth the effort if I’d not been able to reach it before dark.

I checked the inReach and found that I’d been paddling about 3.4 miles (about 5.5 km) per hour despite the headwind and felt pretty good about the prospects of reaching the portage out shortly after lunchtime.

Leaving the campsite, I re-entered the wind which seemed to build steadily as the morning wore on. As you may have noticed, my reports tend to be picture-heavy and, while the day was perfect for photos, the conditions were not and every picture came at a cost. 

The second that I stopped paddling, I stopped moving and, by the time I’d taken a picture or two, I was already moving backwards at about the maximum speed I was able to achieve while paddling. 

For this reason, I took few mid-lake pictures and settled for the majority being taken from behind a point where I could hide from the wind.

Despite the adverse conditions, I found Steel to be truly beautiful and, like Cairngorm, the evidence of previous fires wasn’t hard to find but the resilience with which the trees rebounded and the abundance of new growth was breathtaking. Also impressive were the rock cliffs that often lined both sides of the lake.

Confirming my preliminary evaluation, I saw few good camping options on the way North although, around 3pm, I passed a large island (approx location: Lat: 49.243008, Lon: -86.833470) that seemed to have possibilities (I had just spent 10 minutes resting behind an outcropping and would have had to paddle straight across the wind to investigate or I might have checked it out better. The only alternative was to paddle past, quarter the wind back to the island and quarter the open water crossing to return and that was not, at all, an attractive option)

I continued on as my progress often slowed to less than 2 miles (3.2km) per hour and I tried to keep open water crossings to a minimum as progress in those situations was agonizingly slow.

In the morning, I’d thought that I might have to decide between Camp Chugabrewski or Eaglecrest that night but, by 4:30 I was just going to be happy if I could get to the portage off of Steel.

Around 4pm, as I passed through an area that had an “emergency bug hole site” camping possibility listed (bugs were not a problem at any point on this trip), I ran across something that I found very intriguing… I’d seen many cached boats throughout the loop but there was one cached here on an island. I’m not sure how they get to it except by boat yet that seems strangely redundant…

At around 5:30, I flipped to the last map of the day and, with "the end in sight", I decided I’d do a little trolling to see if I could catch supper. 

No sooner had I cast out and begun paddling than, despite the inReach’s 0% chance of rain forecast; it started raining. I quickly stashed the camera and phone, donned rain gear and grumbled.

I paddled on until, around 7pm, I reached the sandy NE shore of Steel Lake. The map said that the portage out began at a rock face but there were no rocks… just sandy, grassy shoreline… with an inch or so of water… and more water beyond! 

I walked the canoe through the shallows and into the final bay where there was (thankfully) a portage sign clearly visible

By the time I’d arrived at the portage, I was wet, cold and hungry. My back was aching, my arms were sore and, to top it all off, I had a beaver slapping his tail at me. Now I’m a pretty easy-going guy but, honestly, if he’d been closer, I might have slapped him with a paddle… I was in that kind of a mood.

I had been on the move for over 11 hrs, paddling for 7 ½ of that and, with all of the weaving to avoid direct winds, I’d covered 19.3 miles (31Km) into a non-stop headwind. I carried boat and gear to the campsite above the takeout and collapsed.

I messaged Rob after supper to see about meeting to return the bear bangers and he said he’d be in Longlac around 4:30 but could possibly make it at 3:30 if need be. I assured him that I’d gladly sleep late, wander and fish my way back to my truck and, hopefully, see him late afternoon.


As planned, I slept in a bit, dawdled through breakfast and broke camp around 11am. The first portage went well and ended in a pond that was so small that I could almost see the take-out from the put-in. As I sat my gear pack down, my GoPro with a head harness fell into the water and I set it on the rocks beside my pack.

I went back for the canoe, paddled across the pond & began a much tougher portage climbing steeply to the top of an old burn area and skirting some parts of the trail where it had washed out pretty badly. During the canoe carry, I lost my footing on a root, went down hard and the canoe went down even harder. By the time I’d reached the end of the portage, I was glad that portaging was nearly over and I also noticed that the fall had taken a chunk out of the stern gunwale. (I was more disappointed in my lack of epoxy penetration than I was that the gunwale broke.

I really felt that, had the joint been fully saturated, the Cherry would have held. Oh well, it needed sanded anyway, right?) Throughout this second portage, I kept reminding myself of two things: 

the amount of regrowth since the burn over was phenomenal and… 

it sure beat paddling 19 miles into a headwind.

The final portage skirted a set of rapids that my maps said might be lined at low water and, initially, I looked at trying this. The current water level, however, rendered this rapid as much more of a boulder garden than I cared to scrape my way through and I returned upstream to portage around.

The 160 meter (175 yard / 32 rod) portage ended at the “Camp Chugabrewski” site and I fished a little (unsuccessfully) below the rapids before starting to retrace my path toward Eaglecrest Lake.

The weather was perfect and I was making great time… almost like the devil had finally decided the account was squared and / or was now trying to lure me back. 

I paddled into the early afternoon sun and soon came upon a couple of canoes filled with fishermen.

Al, Ian, Jim & Irwin seemed more than a little surprised to see me; seemed very interested in the strip canoe I was paddling and were very willing to chat and share a beer. After I gratefully accepted, they realized that I was from the states and one of them (not sure which) apologized for not having a “light beer” for me. (sigh... imagine eye-roll emoji here).

One of them was filming with a GoPro and I remembered having dropped mine in the water that morning and laying it on the rocks... As you may suspect, it is probably still there. It wasn’t a huge loss as the sd card was my backup and only had footage of the Steel Lake debacle so I decided not to spend an extra day to retrieve it. It’s waterproof so maybe it will survive the winter; it is certainly more likely to be found than the monocular that I lost around Pike Lake.

As it turns out, the foursome from Toronto have been taking canoe trips together since they were young and, now in the mid-late 60s, still liked to get a post-labor day trip in. They also credited Rob with having given them the maps and indicated that they had stayed at “Camp Chugabrewski” last night and were fishing their way to Eaglecrest that night.

I believe it was Irwin who announced that if I beat them there, I should expect company and the rest quickly invited me to stay as long as I didn’t catch more “pickerel” than they did. (no danger there… I’d just spent 9 days on the loop and hadn’t managed a single “pickerel” (aka walleye) yet.

We talked about access and Al indicated that they’d taken the portage into Eaglecrest rather than paddling the inlet stream. I should have paid more attention to exactly where the portage was but I thought I could spot it when I got close and we parted ways amid one last request to hang out and help them reduce the amount of beer that they’d have to transport home.  (Although I, typically, prefer to be solo, it was tempting, believe me)

In all, I probably spent an hour or more talking to them and enjoying the easy camaraderie of the group. We met again, briefly, at the portage into Eaglecrest Lake and then I was again paddling solo for the inlet.

 I looked all around the inlet for the portage while wishing I’d listened more carefully and then, unable to find it, started paddling upstream and pulling over all the obstructions that I’d pulled over so many days ago. The only difference was that the bow of the canoe seemed to have even more of an affinity for current than the stern and it was nearly impossible to paddle it upstream so I wound up wading & dragging back to the truck.

Perhaps it was the enthusiasm of starting a trip vs the lethargy of the denouement but I didn’t remember the stream being so long and it took me well over an hour to reach the parking area.  At that point, I realized that the time I’d spent looking for the portage had been wasted as their truck was not parked in the same place as mine.  I suspect they’d parked at the “emergency campsite / road access” spot that was marked on my map but I had neither the time nor the inclination to check it out.

By that time, Rob was finished in Longlac and headed back toward his home in Geraldton. He said not to worry about the bear bangers as he had plenty and I loaded everything in the Ranger, fired it up & returned up Catlonite road (this time dodging speeding log trucks) for a sandwich and coffee at Robin’s Donuts.

I skipped the sketchy gravel road that the GPS had led me in on, filled up the fuel tank and took route 11 East to route 631 instead. With the fuel gauge nearing ½ tank, I stopped at a gas station in Homepayne. It was closed but a tow truck driver said there was fuel in White River and cautioned me to be careful of moose. I still hadn’t seen a moose and certainly didn’t want to see one crashing through the windshield of the Ranger so I assured him that the theoretical speed limit was not in much danger of being broken that night.

I reached White River around 11pm and decided to call it a night, grabbed a room at the Continental Motel & Dining Lounge, showered and turned in.

Return to the grind

I left White River about 7:30am on Thursday, Sept 14th and ran hard down the Trans Canadian Highway passing everything but gas stations while I listened on Bluetooth to all the voicemails (mostly spam) that had collected while I was off grid. I returned the few legitimate calls (yeah, most were work-related and I was on vacation but what else did I have to do for 12+ hours of driving, right?)

A little South of Wawa, I noticed more hardwoods showing up (Maples and such) and the leaves were already changing along the shores of Lake Superior.

I crossed the border and continued running hard through Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania all the while passing quite a few police cars. The officers within these vehicles all seemed inclined to tolerate my interpretation of traffic laws and none stopped me to ask for an autograph. (though I WAS properly strapped into any impending wreckage… like Diablo, I thought it best not to taunt them)

Between traffic, gas stops, road construction delays and people riding the left lane who were unwilling to break traffic laws for real, I arrived home around 10:30 that night.

My friend Cathy was already there watching the house and cats while I was away and she seemed pleased that the cats piled all around me the moment that I walked in.

Over the next 2 days, I would air out and dry the tent, tarp, etc, wash the merino wool, sleeping bag, etc for the next trip and return the canoe to the upstairs canoe shop for repairs. I downloaded over 800 pictures from the cameras, many of which would have been better without water droplets on the lens and most of which would have shown off the gorgeous scenery better if the weather had been more cooperative (lots of pictures of gray, gloomy skies).

Looking back, even though I’d cheated the devil and skipped the toughest portage, the Steel River loop was tough. Even though I’d run into some really tough weather, it was remarkably beautiful and, although evidence of humans was omnipresent, it was remote enough that I went 4 days without seeing other humans... twice!

I would not hesitate to do the loop again although I think I’d plan it as a 10 or 12 day trip. 4 days on the river seems right even with better flow, see about that beer on Gerry’s porch, take a rest day at the beach site on Cairngorm and find something in the middle of Steel to break it up and allow some fishing time…

If I return, I’ll have to spend more time fishing. I still need to figure out the Walleye and, obviously, that’s going to be more difficult than just dragging a spoon along while I paddle. Good things come to those who work for them and I suppose tasty fish are no different.

Which reminds me… I would definitely cheat by skipping the Diablo portage although I’d make sure I had everything loaded before paddling away on Pike (and every other lake).

I’ll have to replace the monocular I lost before hunting season (I’ve never liked putting the rifle scope on anything I wasn’t sure I might shoot) but the GoPro… maybe not. I never get around to editing the video anyway and I rarely get the head-mounted camera pointed at a reasonable angle (I take lots of footage of the sky).

I wouldn’t hesitate to take the trip solo but I think I would do it in mid-July or early August. A few more bugs for a lot more water seems like a trade that I can live with but we’ll see…

In the meantime, I’ll build another boat, with a bit more rocker, in hope that it handles moving water better, I’ll look a bit more into unique wilderness trips (I’d still like to get dropped off by train) and I’ll return to work to renew vacation time, restore the savings account and to fully appreciate the time that I spend alone in the forest.

Oh yeah, I really should look in the Ranger for that ticket too… I’d better take care of that before I get pulled over in Ohio again... After all, given the varying outlooks regarding some legal concepts... it’s probably just a matter of time...