Solo Tim River – Nipissing River – Burntroot – Tim Lake Loop
May 6 to 11, 2015 - by Shawn O’Reilly
After planning this trip last fall and choosing my dates based on historical ice-out dates, I was extremely anxious watching the weather in April and reading the Park’s statement that the backcountry would remain closed until May 8th. But, finally on May 3rd(ish), the weather changed, the ice went out and the permit offices were open for business. I was ready to go on my first solo trip of the season.
Day 1: Wednesday, May 6, 2015
Details: 23 kms, 5 portages = 3,000m total, longest 1,800m
I departed home at 4:45 AM with a temperature of 3°C and clear skies and got breakfast at Tim Horton’s in Orillia -1,000 calories of fat and sugar to pre-energize and reduce the food I needed to carry on day 1.
My goals on this trip were to enjoy the solitude of a seven-day solo backcountry trip in a remote area with plenty of wildlife sightings and good trout fishing. Hopefully as a sign to come, I saw my first cow moose at the edge of the Magnetewan River on the road into the Tim River access point shortly after picking up my permit in Kearney.
Within the first hour of paddling leisurely down the Tim River, I was fortunate enough to see my second moose of the day, a large bull that swam across the river in front of me. Unfortunately, these would be the last of my moose sightings for the week. One hundred yards downstream I paddled past the floating carcass of a dead cow moose. A week later when I passed by it again, it was partially consumed by ravens and covered in large leaches.
The portages from the Tim River to Nipissing River were relatively straight forward, but I did have a nasty fall on a downhill, slippery slope and banged up my shin bad enough that I briefly wondered whether or not it was broken. It wasn’t of course, but I was intent on carrying on in any event!
Fishing on Latour and Loontail Creeks was surprisingly good, and even though I didn’t plan on eating fish on the first day, a deeply hooked fish dictated a dinner of boiled trout ala Frank Kuiack.
My first night was spent at High Dam on the Nipissing River, which turned out to be a less than perfect site at the bottom of the falls, right in the middle of a moose rutting area. A dropped antler on the portage trail indicated that he spent the winter there and was likely still in the area, so I was careful not to set up my bivy in the middle of the moose trail to the water!
Day 2: Thursday May 7
Details: 21 kms, 6 portages = 1,750m total, longest 875m
I woke up before sunup, around 5:30. It was a dewy and chilly night but I was still too warm in my OR Advance Bivy sack and sleeping bag.
I took my time getting organized and left camp at 7:00 after eating a hearty breakfast of oatmeal and bannock. I planned on consuming about 3,600 calories per day on average; with breakfast and dinner the only cooked meals of the day.
This was a relatively easy day so I took the opportunity to slowly drift through the spring landscape, enjoying the mating calls emanating from the plethora of song birds found along the river’s edge and the surrounding woodlands. The tranquility of the scene here was palpable and it resurfaced often throughout the remainder of the trip.
The portages so far had been relatively dry, easy to navigate and clearly marked, but several blow downs required some creative maneuvering with a canoe and pack on my back (I single-carried every portage). While I did clear some brush off trails, I generally felt it was safer if I didn’t do any mechanical trimming while I was alone. In general throughout the trip, I was pleased with the level of maintenance on the portages and the campsites.
The fishing was decent along this stretch between High Dam and Stewart’s Dam where I spent the night and the remote nature of this part of the river was extremely enjoyable. The portage trails were plastered in moose and wolf scat, but I was disappointed to not see any large mammals for the rest of the trip, other than a few fellow paddlers on the final days!
For dinner I cooked one brook trout with spaghetti and mixed vegetables, and turned into bed by 8:45. There were zero black flies but a few mosquitoes buzzed me, so I had the bug netting draped over my head while I slept.
Day 3: Friday, May 8
Details: 20.3 kms, 7 portages = 5,845m total, longest 2,140m
I slept in a little later and got up at 6:00 to make breakfast and to pack up. I discovered a packing error. I'd forgotten my day-three 12-grain cereal, so ate only bannock with peanut butter and trail mix.
Based on other trip reports and books on the area, this was the day I was most anticipating for good fishing and I wasn’t disappointed. The scenery was breathtaking, with two major sections of whitewater - Allen Rapids and High Falls, both beautiful and wild.
This section also included a few bad logjams, two that I had to bushwhack around through the alders - brutal!
I had reserved a site at High Falls but it was far too loud and the last site below the falls was too hard to land on so I carried on to Remona Lake - a very pretty lake with open, pine campsites and lots of ducks and frogs - thousands of loud spring peepers, but still serene. I could here a moose walking in the lake after dark, but couldn’t quite see it.
Earlier in the day, I encountered the first black flies at Dogey’s Dam where I cooked up a couple of small trout at the base of the falls, then more at the Nipissing-Remona Lake portage, and now many biting mosquitoes at dusk. In response, I went to bed at 8:30 with the bivy fully closed.
Day 4: Saturday May 9
Details: 19 kms, 4 portages = 1,910m total, longest 1,285m
I got up around 6:30am (I just noticed the pattern of later waking times - must have been getting tired!), made coffee and muesli and hit the water by 8:00. I trolled around the shoreline of Whiskey Jack Lake to no avail, but the lake is beautiful with clear, turquoise water and a rocky, white pine shoreline. The creek on the portage between Whiskey Jack and Robinson was full of spawning suckers. I encountered the first two fishermen of the trip on Robinson and heard that they revisit the area and the surrounding lakes every May.
Because I pushed on further yesterday, this day was relatively easy so I was able to walk the 1300m portage to Burntroot Lake without breaks. I was happy that I spent so much time over the winter endurance training and calculating my calorie and gear requirements. The lake was calm so I paddled quickly south until a thunderstorm rolled in and I went ashore to wait it out. Shortly afterwards, I caught a decent brook trout and a 28” laker on a floating perch Rapala while trolling the shoreline.
I saw one solo paddler pass by on Burntroot and then two brothers in their 50s on Longer Lake, camping at the falls. Today felt like the 401 compared to the first three days!
I had a late shore lunch of fried brook trout and quinoa on a nice campsite just north of the falls site and contemplated continuing on to Shippegew since I was ahead of schedule. By the time I finished eating, thunderstorms had rolled back in so I set up camp and went to bed at 7:30, writing in my journal and reading until 8:30.
Day 6: Sunday May 10 - Mother’s Day – oops, should be home!
Details: 26 kms, 4 portages = 2,325m total, longest 1,465m
I didn't sleep well for some reason but I’m sure the rain, wind and thunderstorms didn't help. I got up at 5:45, ate oatmeal and left the site by 7:00. Today was another good fishing day.
In addition to the overnight rain, the day was on and off precipitation all day, including steady rain all evening. Increased current and wet wood would be a concern today for sure. All meals this week were cooked on my Kelly Kettle, so no fuel.
I ran into an older couple coming down the second portage with a brand new Swift Prospector. They were surprised and concerned that I was paddling upstream as the current was strong upriver and there were some nasty logjams. The current above farm depot was definitely swift and not easy to navigate! I saw lots of ducks - wood, ringneck, scaup, merganser, mallard, goldeneye, black - in the marshier sections. I passed two young guys heading downriver to farm depot and further up, two women heading to the lowest Tim campsite. Both remarked at how tough a paddle upriver would be. Uh oh!
I spent the next two hours paddling hard nonstop with a double blade paddle to reach my home for the night, which was a welcome sight. A rescheduling conflict with the delayed park opening caused me to lose my original campsite and I had to book the Little Trout Creek site, two hours further upstream. I arrived at 5:45 and spent another two hours setting up a tarp first .. then making dinner of orzo, peas and trout and gathering firewood.
I used my folding saw and Helinox chair for the first time which somewhat made carrying them all week worthwhile. From now on, I need to bring hand sanitizer as my hands were badly infected from fish teeth abrasions. It took me 45 years to figure that one out!
Day 6: Monday May 11
Details: 23.6 kms, 3 portages = 760m total, longest 410m
I was up at 6:30 and paddling hard upstream by 8:00. I'd slept quite well despite the all night rain and the incessant spring peepers.
My plan was to spend my last night on Rosebary Lake. The wind was picking up from the east, which meant to me that it was not likely to get any nicer out, and also meant that if I made the decision to cut my trip short by one day, I would have a stiff following wind to bring me home up the Tim River. And so it ended. I was a little disappointed to finish early, but I was looking forward to another solo trip to the north end of Killarney PP in early June and plenty of day trips, so I chalked it up to a perfect start to a busy paddling season and headed home.
Video link https://youtu.be/YtrCShFJsPA