Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Spanish River, Duke Lake to "The Elbow" - May 2006

Day 1- Duke Lake to Tenth Lake
We left from our house in Sudbury at around 1:00 in the afternoon for the put in at Duke Lake. Tony and Rick plus his dog Casey in Rick’s van and myself, wife Jan and a friend Dave in my vehicle. Jan and Dave would be shuttling Rick’s van from Duke Lake back down the highway and through the bush roads to the “Elbow” where the 3 of us would finish our trip. It was a gorgeous spring day and we quickly unloaded the canoes from the vehicles and said goodbye to Jan and Dave and hit the water. As it was later in the day we planned to only canoe down to the first campsite on Tenth Lake and setup for the night.

Day 2 - Tenth Lake to Expanse Lake
We awoke to another beautiful day and after a leisurely breakfast we packed up and headed off for the day’s paddling. This section of the Spanish River, the “East Branch”, is a series of narrow lakes nestled in amongst hills on either side of them as you travel downstream. The lakes are connected by narrow channels of moving water. Duke Lake is the starting point and you next enter Tenth Lake and travel downstream through to First Lake and then into Expanse Lake. From here it is about 3 kms of river travel to “The Forks” where you meet the “West Branch” of the river which flows out of Biscotasing Lake.
After we passed through into Ninth Lake we detoured to the northeast corner of the lake to look for some native pictographs on a small cliff. The water levels are high and many of the connecting channels between lakes are little more than a few riffles with a noticeable current pushing the canoes onward. The forest cover is typical of this section of Ontario, which lies between the Boreal forest to the north and the St Lawrence - Great Lakes forest to the south. It contains species from both zones such as pine (white, red and jackpine), spruce, balsam fir, cedar, white birch, poplar, maple and ash. The leaves are only beginning to flush on the hardwoods and the ferns and wildflowers are easy to pick out as we travel along. We finally reach Expanse Lake in late afternoon and stop for the night at a campsite about ½ way down the lake on the east shore. We enjoy a couple cold beers and chicken quesedillas for supper. The evening sky shows some high cirrus clouds and the wind dies away leaving the lake like glass.

Day 3 - Expanse Lake to Lower Athlone Rapids
The morning brought an overcast day. The past 2 days had been fairly benign when it came to the bugs, the mosquitos and blackflies had been quite manageble with just enough breeze to keep them at bay. This being spring in Northern Ontario they can be quite fierce but we’d been fortunate to this point. We were prepared with bug dope, head nets, bug jackets etc and of course my Eureka VCS 12 bug tent. The ability to get under cover from the bugs while cooking and eating makes a trip like this bearable. However, today was to be a different story! The winds were light, the humidity and cloud cover spoke of possible rain later and the bugs were out in force and looking to feed! We didn’t dawdle too much while packing up and headed on our way. The trip changes once you leave Expanse Lake as it becomes much more of a down river trip from this point on with only Spanish Lake to cross before you reach our take out at the Elbow. After leaving Expanse Lk. you travel through the Kingfisher Swifts down to the Forks where the West Branch meets the East Branch and you begin to see the CPR railway line. We arrived at the forks just in time to see the Budd Car heading west on it’s way to White River. It’s about 3 km from the Forks to the first serious whitewater of the trip - Upper and Lower Athlone Rapids. The rapids are runnable however caution and scouting are required especially in spring high water conditions. The first set is the most difficult with a large standing wave river centre and a chute available river right. We headed out and to make a long story short - the gods decided we needed a bath! We missed the chute and the standing waves filled the tandem and Rick’s solo as well. We all swam ashore and picked our gear out of the eddy and repacked the canoes, lined down stream to get across the break and ran the rest of the rapids sucessfully. It’s a short haul down to the Lower Athlone Rapids and here discretion carried the day and we portaged the set. There’s a nice campsite at the end of the rapids and we decided to spend the rest of the day here as it was mid-afternoon and it had been raining a bit off and on. We changed into some dry clothes and took stock of our gear. Everything came through mostly dry and the only losses were a sponge and my hat.
Day 4 - Lower Athlone Rapids to Cliff Rapids
We got up to a grey sky and more bugs! The plan for today was to head for the campsite at Cliff Rapids with a stop along the way to explore an old logging camp just south of Pogamasing. Water levels are high and we encounter no difficulties with any of the rapids or swifts along the way today. Once passed Sheehan I began to look for the area where the abandoned logging camp is situated. It is located below Pogamasing and before the mouth of Path Creek on river left. The area has grown up considerably since the late 40’s when the camp was active and can’t be seen from the water. I stumbled across it the previous fall when in the area on foot doing a reconnassance for a winter camping trip. We landed on the bank of the river and had lunch and then wandered into the bush to find the camp. We spent an hour or so poking around the old building remnants and looking at old bottles and cans found laying around the area. From here it was only about another hour to Cliff Rapids and our campsite for the evening. Cliff Rapids is aptly named as there is a high cliff river right as you enter the rapids. The campsite is also river left at the bottom of the run. We pulled in set up for the evening. The sky had cleared and the sun was once again out making for a pleasant late afternoon and evening. Once supper was out of the way Tony and I decided that the cliff must be climbed. We found a way to scale to the top and were rewarded with some great views of the river valley from the top. 

Day 5 - Cliff Rapid to the “Elbow”
Our last day on the river would prove to be the nicest day weather wise. We were under a huge high pressure ridge and the temperatures climbed to the mid 20’s and there was hardly any wind at all. The river was like glass in it’s calmer, deeper areas. We stopped for lunch on the campsite at the north end of Spanish Lake and the lake was a huge mirror. After lunch we headed off for the last stretch to the Elbow. This consisted of Zig Zag and the Tofflemire Rapids interspersed with swifts and fast flowing water from Spanish Lake to the Elbow. We stopped above Zig Zag to scout the rapids and picked a line although with the amount of water flowing downriver there wasn’t a huge need to do much of any zigging or zagging. The Tofflemire Rapid was just as much fun and consisted of one long wave train after another. Soon we arrived at our journeys end and reluctantly pulled the canoes and gear up to the van for the trip back to Sudbury.  
It was another great trip with good friends and considering that it had been snowing and raining on the weekend before we did the trip, the bugs and a couple of light showers along the way wasn’t much of a hardship at all for the excellent conditions and trip we had.
Photo credits: RP - Rick Pargeter, unattributed - Sid Bredin

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