Photo: Tim Nicholson

Lifting over a waterfall on Bigstone River

Tim's Log cont'd 

The upper Hayes empties into the very large Oxford Lake.  We got lucky and crossed half the lake, without the presence of wind, the afternoon we got there.  Our luck changed however, and the wind came up the next day pinning us on a winter site used by local natives.  The next day we paddled a couple of miles, but the wind crept up mid-morning, pinning us on a small island for the remainder of the day.  We sat there, wind-bound, in the true sense of the word, feeling a bit like Robinson Crusoe.  That evening we paddled the rest of the lake and camped just shy of the Semple River’s outlet.

The Semple would take us to the height of land between the Bigstone and Hayes systems.  I was a bit concerned because, although the map made travel seem straightforward, I had no other information on the river other than some hearsay about people going down the river.  We were going up and I didn’t know what to expect.  Luck was with us, however, and we were up the river and over the height of land in three days.  The river was no problem to navigate and portages were in all the right places.  The locals from Oxford House clearly use the area. 

Once on Bear Lake, the headwaters of the Bigstone, we met our re-outfit plane and were off and running down the Bigstone River by July 14.  It was at this point when we realized we had a problem.  When Dave and I planned the trip, we took into account as many contingencies as we could.  We had 21 days to complete the trip once we started the Bigstone. We knew that we had been conservative with time, but we never considered that we would be too conservative!  Travel in Manitoba proved to be so easy, and so straightforward that we discovered we wouldn’t be having weather days, portage cutting days, big time-consuming rapids and so forth.  All of a sudden we realized that we had 7 to 10 days to kill. 

Alex demonstrating that Section C is not afraid of a little pork.

 

Photo: Tim Nicholson

We considered several solutions and decided that one answer would be to take a southerly branch of the Bigstone called the Sipanigo River.  The Sipanigo would put us several miles downstream on the Fox and would allow us to see more of that river. The re-routing would also add at least a couple of days to the trip.  We decided that we could afford to pull out at Gilliam a couple of days early and eat up some time on the road as well as on Lake Temagami.  With the addition of a couple half days and rest days, we would be able to stretch the time out so that we were not stuck with a week of nothing to do.

The Bigstone proved to be well named with lots of Temagami-style campsites and the occasional impressive rapid along with lots of runnable whitewater.  The highlight was Ox Canyon Falls where we spent a rest day, and enjoyed this spectacular waterfall over mounds of well-cooked pizza.

On the morning of July 19, we left the Bigstone for its much smaller cousin the Sipanigo.  Not knowing anything about this river, we were excited about the prospect of exploring.  “Old Sip” as Bob McCoubrie is fond of saying, was a delightful river with delicate little rapids and perfect campsites nestled into its banks.  We spent three days enjoying what we thought of as true Keewaydin tripping.  The portages were nonexistent and needed to be cut.  The campsites were virgin and we were running by the seat of our pants.  By this time the section was working seamlessly and we couldn’t have been happier.  

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