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OCTOBER 27, 2008

An island of snow

Snowy caprice on Temagami.


OCTOBER 24, 2008

Environment commissioner sees ecological threats ignored in new plan

Ecological integrity was sacrificed in last year's parks-and-Crown-land- recreation plan (TIP), according to the annual report of Ontario's environmental commissioner.

The commissioner (ECO), Gord Miller, a northerner and frequent visitor to Temagami, dedicated a section to Temagami in the report.

In the TIP plan, he reports, MNR compromised between the needs of motorized and non-motorized users in the wilderness park, created as an oasis from non-motorized activities.

He believes "that in attempting to strike this balance, MNR gave only secondary consideration to what should have been its primary concern: ecological integrity."

"The ECO believes that one of the most significant threats to ecological integrity in the Temagami area is ATV, snowmobile, and motorboat travel in Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater [Wilderness] Provincial Park (that curiously does not encompass Lady Evelyn Lake itself which is in Obabika River Provincial Park)."

"Even limited motorized activity can have adverse ecological effects."

The report criticized Ontario for caving in to political pressure and granting lifetime extensions to private land-use permits (leases by any other name) in parks, contrary to MNR's own policy. There are private leases on Lady Evelyn, Solace, Bluesucker, Scarecrow, Willow Island, Sucker Gut, Pilgrim and Selkirk lakes.

The 200-meter boundary from water's edge in waterway parks (Obabika River, Sturgeon River, Makobe River, and Solace) has long been considered little more than window dressing to protection.

Mining leases and logging along boundaries continues to threaten parks. When unauthorized motor access does occur the plan does not explain how it will be enforced. Nor does it give direction on decommissioning roads.

Miller expressed skepticism over MNR's long-term commitment to campsite and route maintenance.

The commissioner is appointed by the Legislature and audits government activities, but has no direct authority to make, or change, Ontario's laws or policies.

  EXTERNAL LINK: Environmental Commissioner's 2007-2008 report

                               (Temagami: p. 71)

Photo: bald eagles at nest, Lake Temagami, 2008

Bald eagle still at home on Lake Temagami

OCTOBER 19, 2008 Bald eagle up north on October 3. Arrow indicates its nest. The family is in September's Photo of the Month.











from sat phone

OCTOBER 18, 2008

Who you gonna call?

You've busted up your canoe.  Your leg is broken. You're on Florence Lake. There are no roads.

But, today, the satellite phone works. Who you gonna call?


But your satellite phone might not connect.

The backup: 888-310-1122.

You get through, but to the dispatcher sitting in an urban office Florence Lake might as well be in Mongolia. GPS coordinates are vital, otherwise any help will be delayed for hours, or longer.

This is what happened during the Obabika Falls incident. Without GPS coordinates the OPP's Emergency Response Team, which does not know the backcountry, scrambled to find the location. And when it did, it called the local conservation officer for help with the maze of logging roads   adding to the delay.

Don't count on the OPP to scramble one of its helicopters. If it can get to you by road, then it will. And it took officers over an hour before anyone got in a cruiser bound for Obabika Falls, at least two hours from the detachment office.

However, if you have a medical emergency the Air Ambulance helicopters based in Sudbury are capable of immediate response. But you must make the medical urgency clear to 911 and have those GPS coordinates handy.

And if you see a helicopter, or expect one, place yourself out in the open and wave when it is in view. From the air, you are not as obvious and you may believe, and the crew may see more than one group of canoeists and be uncertain which called for help.

Before you step in the canoe, make sure the satellite phone and GPS unit, packed in a waterproof, shock-resistant carrier, are easy to reach, even if you lose the canoe.

As Alscool said in a forum discussion, "Write that number on the inside of your canoe in indelible marker!"

  DISCUSSION Making that call


Photo: canoe swept over Obabika Falls, Obabika River, 2008

Two fragments of the canoe pulled from the river and left at the lower portage landing, August 14.

OCTOBER 3, 2008                                                                     UPDATED: OCTOBER 7

Canoeists go over Obabika Falls

By Brian Back

August 4 was the first day of a five-day trip for brothers Paul and James and their dog, Baby. They descended the Obabika River and missed the portage takeout above Obabika Falls.

Paul, the experienced canoeist, troubled with other matters, paddled mechanically. He did not see a falls on the map. They entered a swift and ran it. They entered a rapids and ran it.

They swung around a turn to the right and the falls thundered in warning. The river propelled them toward the fury. It was too late to pull over. They shot into the void.

In that second of falling, Paul would later say "it felt like jumping out of an airplane."

The river, probably the highest it has been in 35 years, narrowed into a tumultuous, two-step, 20-foot plunge.   

They were in their seats when the red canoe hit the churning pool. The fiberglass burst into three pieces. The rapids and rocks tossed them around, but they made it to shore, bruised and battered.

Paul's dog of nine years was gone. A search found all their gear and packs except part of the tent, the car keys and map. But still no dog.

They got out of the water and set up camp on a logging trail off the portage. For Paul, the worst sensation was not the plunge but "thinking I had lost the dog."

He continued to search and saw Baby's small, yellow figure on the far shore silently huddled among driftwood. She was so traumatized he had to swim across and carry her back.

At this point, night was coming and without a map, they had no idea how they would get help, or get out.

Paul's mistakes:

  • Lack of attention so didn't see the portage takeout,

  • Didn't scout the rapids,

  • Failure to use a topo map instead used one from Hap's book.

The following morning a Keewaydin Camp trip was loading canoes at the upstream landing. The guide, Matt McKean, had seen the broken canoe below the falls. It looked liked a recent disaster and he wondered if anyone had been hurt.

A disheveled man ran up, startling them. There was blood on his jeans and shirt. He was missing a topsider, limped, and duct tape was wound around his left leg.

"He had a blank look in his eyes and he stared right through us," McKean recalled. "His pupils were dilated and he was in obvious shock."

Paul refused to say his name when asked. He told them that he and his companion had gone over the falls and it was their canoe fragments in the river.

The guide asked him about the duct tape. "I'm using it as a splint."

McKean, a trained Wilderness First Responder, offered medical assistance. Paul refused it. He said his companion was injured.

"Do you want me to your check your friend?" McKean offered, while not knowing the person's whereabouts. Paul refused.

McKean worried that the companion could be missing and the man, in his state, could not be aware of it. He pressed the man on the companion's location and repeated the offer of help.

"No, no, not necessary. Definitely not necessary."

He was offered food. Paul refused it.

McKean asked him when the accident happened, but he was evasive. Since it was 6:30 a.m. McKean realized it was unlikely they could have come downstream from the nearest campsite so early. He worried the man had been out overnight and might be suffering from hypothermia.

Paul wanted to know how they could get out. McKean showed him on the map some nearby roads connecting to Lower Goose Falls on the Sturgeon River, hoping this would be reassuring. He told him he would call for help on his satellite phone.

Unfortunately, the phone did not pick up a signal. McKean realized the urgency for help, but he needed to change location to get a signal. Knowing that more Keewaydin groups were within minutes of arrival, he decided to move on to a place he could get a satellite connection.  He told Paul to stay there and wait for help that would come from park staff.

Paul did not stay put. He went to his campsite, packed up and with his brother started walking along a nearby logging road.

The Keewaydin groups missed them.

McKean's 14-year-old campers speculated for three days, flipping between characterizing the strange man as a meth addict and a serial killer. They asked, "Do you think he killed the other person?"

McKean acquired a signal over four hours later at Wawiagama Lake. He phoned the park office in Temagami. Park Superintendent Kevin Pinkerton called the Ontario Provincial Police, which conducts search and rescue.

Pinkerton spent time e-mailing maps to the OPP and helping them find the location, determine access and get more information from McKean through the poor satellite connection. Communication stretched from Paul to McKean to the park office to the OPP. It was more like a telephone-circle game.

Paul and James walked eight kilometres on logging roads to Lower Goose Falls. In the afternoon a passing ATV gave Paul a 25-kilometre ride to Manitou Lake Lodge on Hwy 805.

Owner Mike Allen responded to the stranded man's plea for help. He drove to Lower Goose Falls and picked up James, the dog and gear. Then he put them up for the night and drove them to Sudbury the next day. He topped his generosity off with money for a bus ride to Toronto where the paddlers would retrieve another set of keys for the car still parked at Wawiagama.

Members of the OPP's Emergency Response Team did not leave Warren, on Hwy 17, until after 4:30 due to delays in communicating with the Parks office and McKean.

Shortly after getting in their car, the police learned from Paul's sister-in-law, whom he had phoned, that they were at the lodge. The OPP phoned the lodge. When they were certain that Paul and James were the same people that McKean reported, and that they said they were safe and uninjured, they called off the search.

There is no local memory of anyone previously going over the falls. The portage landing is well marked and obvious.

This was James first canoe trip, and probably his last.

On October 1, when I spoke to Paul, he admitted his surprise that the OPP had been trying to find him or that anyone thought he needed to be rescued, despite McKean explaining that he was going to call the park for help and telling him to stay put until help arrived.

He had lapses in memory of the events and when reminded of his state at the falls, claimed his responses to McKean were shaped by embarrassment. He asked that his last name not be used for this story.

"I wouldn't say I was in shock. I've been canoeing for 25 years so it's embarrassing to relate the story. It makes me seem like an incompetent canoer."

  DISCUSSION Over the falls



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