Friday, 24 May 2013

Solace Lake - Pilgrim Creek - Yorston River Loop, May 2013

Spring finally arrived with ice out occurring in the Temagami Region on May 8th, almost a month later than in 2012! I always plan a spring trip to take advantage of higher water levels on the rivers and creeks of the Temagami Canoe region and this year was no different, other than I’d not be solo but with my friend Daniel.

Planning commenced sometime in early March or so and we decided on a trip in the northwest corner of Temagami. We planned to canoe down the Sturgeon R. from the Gervais crossing and cross over into the Solace Waterway Park, and then head south down Pilgrim Ck., a little travelled route that is more of a spring run. Once through Pilgrim we would crossover to Yorston Lk. and then head north again using the upper Yorston R. watershed back to the Solace Waterway Park. We would head west and then north through Solace Lk. to Reagan and Hamlow lakes back to our starting point on the Sturgeon R.

Day 1

We left Sudbury headed for the put in under overcast and cool skies. It’s about a 2-hour drive from my place to the Gervais crossing and the road is in good shape with the only disturbance just north of the 1st Wanapitei River bridge, where a logging operation is in progress. We arrive at the bridge, which is closed to non-logging traffic, and quickly load the canoe and park the truck well off the road. We push off down river and are surprised by a large sweeper across the river about a minute downriver. Fortunately we have time to move to river right and squeeze under/through the branches without mishap, fellow canoeists beware! 

headed down the Sturgeon River
The river is much higher than when I travelled the river last spring at the same time and we
quickly make our way to Paul Lk. and then Ghoul Lk. for the 1st portage of the day – 1275 metres to a small pothole before Selkirk Lk. We pass over and after a quick paddle across the pothole is a 220 m. port to Selkirk Lk. The sun burns through the overcast conditions and we experience mid to high teen temps and sunny skies for the rest of the day.

There are 2 possible routes from Selkirk Lk. to Solace Lk. our eventual destination and we choose the northern route. 3 shorter portages lead to a 660 m port into the small lake before the 900 m. portage into Solace Lake. It’s a nice afternoon and we begin to work our way through the chain and discover a few muscles and joints that haven’t been used very much over the winter! One nice thing is that there are absolutely no mosquitos or black flies present! We reach Solace Lake somewhat sorer than when we started out and we head for the southern most marked campsite on an island near the east shore of the lake. We set up camp, and enjoy a nice steak dinner and some colourful skies for the evening. 

evening glow
Distance portaged – 3250 metres

Day 2

Morning dawned under overcast skies again, however the forecast promised sunny conditions later in the day. We ate and packed up and headed south for Solace Ck our route out of Solace Lk. The creek levels had dropped already and the first 2 sets of rapids forced us out of the boat and we waded and lined our way down to the first small widening of the creek. 

Solace Creek
We decided here to take the marked portages on the Friends of Temagami planning map over to Apollo Lake. There are anywhere from 6-9 further sets of rapids along Solace Creek till it joins Pilgrim Ck and we worried that we’d spend too much time negotiating these obstacles as we were hoping to make it to Limit Lk for the evening. 
The 3 ports to Apollo Lk. total 1100 m. but the 1st port of 800 m. is a bit of a nasty one with a swampy area in the middle to negotiate and the trails are not readily apparent. This port was most likely worse at this time due to the recent melt and the swampy sections were very wet. We managed to find the trail across the swamp but in retrospect we’ll always wonder what we missed by taking the ports instead of the creek.

Once on Apollo Lk. we headed south and entered Pilgrim Ck. as the sun again appeared for the rest of the day. From Apollo Lk to River Lk we encountered about 6-8 C1, swifts and rock lift overs plus a fair number of log lift overs, wet feet were to become the daily norm! Between River Lk and Limit Lk the obstacles become a little more serious with some longer C1/2 rapids and swift areas. We waded what was too shallow to run and did a fair bit of bump and grind down the rest of the sections we ran. All in all a pretty fun afternoon but in lower water levels you’d be doing a lot more wading and lining.

Pilgrim Creek
We set up camp on the island at the north end of Limit Lake and enjoyed a hearty supper in the afternoon and evening sun. Once camp chores were done a cow and a yearling moose wandered out across the lake from us feeding along the shoreline. We sat and watched them for close to an hour before the cow finally sensed we were there and they slowly melted away into the bush. 

some of the local's
Distanced portaged – 1100 metres with a fair bit of wading, lining and lift overs

Day 3

It was a clear and cool night and we awoke to a hard frost coating everything in the morning. We allowed things to thaw out a bit, ate and packed and we’re on our way again. There are 3 marked ports south of Limit Lake around rapids chutes and falls. Well they are marked on the maps but there is not much indication of them on the ground! We spend some time figuring a way around the obstacles and portage all 3 of them on river left, total distance for the 3 ports is probably 5-600 m. of dense brush and rock etc. to traverse. It made for a longish morning. We did however see a 3rd moose on the creek between the 2nd and 3rd rapid/falls. 

There are some further rapid areas south of the 3 ports but we ran, waded, lined and lifted over the numerous logs etc. The creek widens and slows somewhat for a for a distance of 6-7 km. with only the odd tree/log jam across the creek and 1 rocky C1 till you get to where the creek narrows and begins it’s quick descent down to the Sturgeon River.

Where the creek narrows there are 2 rather impressive falls and chutes to portage around before you reach the crossover portages from the creek to Yorston Lake. 

chute on Lower Pilgrim Creek
We arrived here fairly late in the afternoon and after spending some considerable time scouting we managed to portage our gear around the first set of obstacles on river right. There was some old blazes etc. present but it’s basically a bush bash around the falls/chutes. We were tired and a bit sore so we elected to camp for the night at the end of the 1st carry as the 2nd portion was going to be even nastier with thicker bush and deadfall etc! We set up camp, ate supper and watched our local beaver patrol the pool between the drops while Daniel made a few casts and managed to catch a nice brook trout in the pool. 

campsite on rock face area
Distance portaged – approx. 800 metres with a fair bit of wading, lining and lift overs

Day 4

Part of the problem the previous afternoon with the carry around the 2nd portion of rapids and chute was that the bush was very thick and once past the chute there was also a major log jam to get over as well. The combined distance was probably about 300 m. and we were not looking forward to it at all. However, Daniel suggested scouting river left across from our makeshift campsite in the morning and found that it was probably 110 m. around the chute through mostly open cedar whereupon we could paddle across the creek and carry about 50 m. around the log jam through an easier section of bush on river right. So, that’s what we did! Funny how a problem can be thought through when you’re rested and looking at it with fresh eyes. It’s only about 300 m. further down the creek to the crossover portages to Yorston Lake.   Ottertooth map

We reached Yorston Lake at about 11:15 am having already portaged close to 3 km before lunch! As we headed north we ran into the first folks we had seen since leaving. They were camped on an island and enjoying the long weekend fishing. We continued up Yorston Lk. and stopped for lunch at the campsite on the north end just before the portage we intended to take into Seagram Lk. A good lunch, water break and we were off again, this time up and over the ridge and down a fairly steep incline for 660 m. into Seagram Lk. where we again ran into a party of 4 fishermen in 2 boats.

There had been a large fire through the area in the late 80’s and as we paddle west and north along the upper Yorston R. we pass through the regenerating growth crowding the shorelines. 

Upper Yorston River burn area
There is a portage at the western end of Seagram Lk. that bypasses the spectacular Seagram Falls. The portage climbs the hill right along side the river and falls and the upstream takeout is quite close to the drop – a place to take care. You have to bypass a couple more, smaller drops before you reach Long Lake. Here we find some remnant ice and snow on the north-facing cliff at the south end of the lake.
Long Lake

We are headed for Talking Falls and the campsite there for the night. We track 75m through a small rapid and portage 135 m past a small drop and arrive at Talking Falls with lots of daylight left to relax and clean up and dry some gear. A good day, straightforward progression all day long!

Distance portaged/tracking – 4245 metres

Day 5

I awoke at 3:00 am to the sound of rain on my hammock tarp and was glad that I had placed all my gear except for my boot socks under cover before retiring. I wasn't worried about my socks, as we had wet feet during the day since day 1 from all the wading and swampy ports etc. We had breakfast under the tarp, packed up and headed north aiming to reach Solace Lk for the night. It was destined to be a long wet day with some tough portages along the way.

We worked our way up the Yorston R. to Bluesucker Lk and the start of the Solace waterway park once again. As we’re wet we elect to wade and track wherever we can and consequently only have 1 small port of about 150 m till we reach Bluesucker Lk. 

Bluesucker Lake
We pass to the west shore and the first portage to Benner Lk.  15 or 20 minute paddling brings us to the port into Rodd Lk. with another 15 minute paddle to the port into Pilgrim Lk. It’s lunch time, we’re wet and cold so we stop at the campsite on Pilgrim and set up a tarp. We have a fairly leisurely lunch and dry ourselves as best we can in preparation for the more onerous ports to follow.

A quick look at the topographic map for the area will show you what lays ahead! The 2 portages from Pilgrim to Maggie and Maggie to Bill lakes all cross over multiple contour lines and are fairly strenuous to say the least! The weather improves somewhat for the next 5 hours or so and makes the ports a little more bearable without the rain. Once you reach Bill Lk. there are 2 shorter portages, which bring you, back to Solace Lk. We see some folks on the northern campsite island on Solace and spend the night on the southern most site again. The weather turns again and we manage to get set up for the evening before the rain starts again and enjoy supper and coffee under the tarp.

Distance portaged/wading/tracking – 2750 metres

Day 6

Awoke to the sound of rain again on the tarps, sometimes you win and sometimes you get wet! We eat and pack as it rains off and on with varying intensity, load the canoe and head north up Solace Lk. We are using the old Nastawgan route north from Solace to eventually get to Hamlow Lk. for the last night on our trip. This route was reopened starting in 2003 by some folks with the Friends of Temagami and by the Keywadin camp. Today the trails are open and easy to find although it does travel through some rough country with some good elevation changes along the way! We head into Einar Lk after saying hello to the canoeists camped on the northern site in Solace Lk. We quickly pass through into Biscuit Lk. and then into Broadbent Lk. and all the while it’s raining. The port from Broadbent starts out with a steep climb out of the lake where it flattens out with a small swampy section at the Carrying Bar Lk end. 

Carrying Bar Lake
The portage from Carrying Bar into Tooth Lk. passes quickly; I just wish the rain would pass. There is a lift over into the creek between Tooth and Melanson Lk. and we elect to wade and lift over through the 120 m section at the Melanson Lk end rather that portage along the shoreline. We quickly head for the portage to Regan and once we are out of the wind we stop for lunch and wring out our socks once again! Once lunch is done we head for Regan Lk and head for Hamlow and our evening campsite.

The weather continues to rain off and on and the wind has picked up also. We use the shorter portage into Hamlow and check the marked campsite at the old Portelance sawmill site. It is fairly wide open and covered mainly with birch and poplar trees and with the wind and rain find it very exposed to the elements. We elect to head across Hamlow and look for a place to tuck ourselves in out of the wind for the night. We settle on camping along the portage into Stull Lk on the north shore about 80 m in the bush and out of most of the wind. It quits raining for a bit allowing us to set up for the night, gather some wood to cook supper and breakfast with and to relax after another long wet day! 

tucked into the trees
Distance portaged/wading/lift overs – 2840 metres

Day 7

Well, we had quite a thunderstorm hit us last night just as we turned in for the night! However it is not raining when we wake up and that’s a bonus for a change. We have breakfast and pack up all our soggy gear, load the canoe and head off across Hamlow for the last portage of this trip. It is the traditional Nastawgan trail that connects Hamlow Lk with Stull Ck just before it meets with the Sturgeon River. Last year the when I was through here I used the Nastawgan to get up to Ishpatina Ridge and then took Stull Ck back to the Sturgeon, however the water levels were considerably lower then.

We hit the trail and are launching the canoe about an hour later for the short run down Stull Ck to the Sturgeon R and the 15-minute paddle back to my vehicle parked at the bridge at the Gervais Crossing. 

Gervais crossing on the Sturgeon River
We unload the boat, load the truck, tie on the canoe and yes, you guessed, it starts to rain again. However, we’re dry and on our way back to my place in Sudbury for a hot shower, a fitting end to the trip!

Distance portaged – 1650 metres

This was a fairly ambitious trip through some of the last roadless, virgin and wild areas of the Temagami Canoe region. The Pilgrim Creek section of the trip is particularly rough and not travelled much, which was the reason this particular route appealed to us. You need to be confident in your bush living and path finding skills in particular if you travel this portion of the loop we did. All the other areas are more used and the portages etc. are either marked or easy to locate. We used Hap Wilson’s - Canoeing, Kayaking and Hiking Temagami guide for information on the routes and the Pilgrim Ck portion in particular plus the excellent maps produced by Brian Back on the Ottertooth website.


  1. Going for a trip near seagram and pilgrim. What fish are in the creeks?

    1. Caught a speck in Pilgrim Ck. Only creek we tried.