Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Participants are encouraged to question every aspect of the planning and execution of their trips. Answers to some of the most frequently-asked questions posed in previous years are posted here.

Q - Why do some trips indicate no vacancies but are not Sold Right Out (SRO)?

Q - What distances will these trips cover?

Q - What is the typical daily schedule?

Q - What work is involved on these trips?

Q - What route will my trip follow?

Q - Who will lead my trip?

Q - What work is involved on these trips?

Q - Why are the canoe routes that lie outside Wabakimi Provincial Park so important?

Q - How is food kept fresh during the trip?

Q - What are the bugs like in Wabakimi?

Q - Do I need to buy a fishing licence?

Q - Why do I need to carry photo ID on the trip?

Q - Do I need to purchase travel or medical insurance?

Q - What out-of-pocket expenses should I expect once I get to Thunder Bay?

Q - How long should my straight-shaft paddle be?

Q - What kind of footwear should I bring?


Q - Why do some trips indicate no vacancies but are not Sold Right Out (SRO)?

Some trips--especially in July--are not available for several reasons. First, we do not assign one of our qualified past participants to lead these trips. Second, we would prefer to fill each of the remaining trips to full capacity (i.e., three paying participants) in order to help offset the charter float plane costs which can range up to $2,400.00 per trip. Thirdly, July is not the best time to be in the boreal forest clearing trail. It's the peak of the bug season and too hot to safely operate a chain saw when the bush is tinder dry. Finally, we do not need these trips to complete reconnaissance, rehabilitation and documentation (mapping) of the routes that are on our 'bucket list' for the summer. The one exception we are prepared to make is if we receive an 'expression' of interest from a party of three participants for one of the July trips that shoulders those currently available. In that case, we juggle leadership assignments to accommodate such an request.

Q - What distances will these trips cover?

A Wabakimi reconnaissance expedition is unlike any other wilderness canoe trip. Exploration of routes that have fallen into disrepair through abandonment and suffered decades of neglect pose a unique set of challenges. Portage landings are difficult to locate and trails are often impassable. Dealing with them involves considerable time and physical effort. Campsites are few and far between which dictates shuttling back and forth from a base camp to establish the next portion of a canoe route. Other unpredictable factors such as inclement weather make it difficult to maintain a pre-planned schedule. Consequently, overall trip distances are invariably far less than what one would normally expect to cover but it would be safe to say that the average distance covered during these trips is 36-40km.

Q - What is the typical daily schedule?

Newcomers to Wabakimi are dismayed at the number of hours of daylight. On a clear night in late June, there's still enough light to read a map after 11:00pm EDST and dawn comes only a few hours later. Mornings are invariably damp and foggy so rising early before the sun is well up is not practical. Late evenings are cool, dry and bug-free--the ideal opportunity to star gaze and to watch for the aurora borealis while enjoying a campfire. As a result, the daily schedule runs later than most first-timer's expect.

Meals are a most important facet of daily life in the wilderness. Food preparation and clean-up time must be factored into the daily schedule along with the time required to make and break camp. These two aspects of a canoe trip can take up to six hours each day especially if a campsite must be cleaned before it can be occupied.

The nature of our trips is two-fold. They involve reconnaissance of new routes as well as patrols of routes previously explored to ensure they are regularly maintained and even improved where necessary. It goes without saying that the total distance travelled on any given day is dependent on what obstacles are encountered.

Rendezvous days (viz., Saturdays) do not count as full travel days but depending on the float plane schedule, the first day may involve a half-day reconnaissance trip to circumnavigate a lake in search of campsites or to investigate the link to another canoe route. The last day is spent preparing for the extraction flight. The remaining 6 days are planned as travel days, thus, each 7-night trip will involve 5-6 different campsites. This schedule is not rigid--while the weather holds and there are no other delays, we keep going. As Barry so often says, "It's all about forward progression!".

Some of each travel day may be spent making side trips to explore links to other routes and to check out campsites. Side trips are not included in the overall trip distance nor are any portages that link to other routes that are explored but not cleared and measured.

The daily routine still allows time for the pursuit of leisure activities of personal interest (i.e., fishing, photography, writing trip journals, reading, swimming, etc.). While participants are expected to assist with camp chores, there's still plenty of free time for rest and relaxation.

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Q - What work is involved on these trips?

The objective of our trips is to locate and explore the canoe routes within Wabakimi Provincial Park as well as those that lie on adjacent Crown lands. Outside the park, the "work" involves clearing, grooming and measuring each portage trail. Within the park, campsites are cleaned if necessary and the location, size and condition of each is noted.

Other data collected includes the locations of sites of cultural, historical and natural value as well as encounters with other park visitors, evidence of recent human activities, and sightings of large or fur-bearing mammals and birds of prey. We promptly report forest fires, extreme water levels, damage created by high winds and any other condition which may threaten the welfare of the park or the safety of its visitors.

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Q - What route will my trip follow?

Determining which routes to undertake in any given year involves consideration of several factors some of which cannot be controlled. For example, natural disturbances such as forest fires (with resulting travel restrictions or open fire bans) and extreme water levels may dictate last-minute changes in route planning. In 2013, the late ice-out date determined which routes could (or could not!) be undertaken in the early Spring. In May, 2007, participants were forced to turn back from the planned insertion point when they discovered the lake they intended to access was frozen shore-to-shore.

A human factor that cannot be ignored is 'team' dynamics. The collective physical capabilities, experiences, skills and interests of the participants will dictate the ultimate choice of route to be undertaken. Then, there's the financial concern that the cost of insertion and extraction float plan shuttle flights not exceed the funds volunteers generously pay to participate.

Finally, prior to undertaking exploration and rehabilitation of any route, an inordinate amount of time must be spent over the winter months searching electronic and print sources for maps and trip reports about the routes being considered. Reconnaissance of any route for which sufficient information has not been gathered and assessed must be put off until the research is complete and the route can be safely undertaken.

For these reasons, The Wabakimi Project maintains a strict policy of not revealing which route is to be undertaken for any trip until the 'team' of three (3) participants meets in Thunder Bay on the eve of their trip departure. At the mandatory pre-trip briefing, the point where the group is to be inserted is revealed and once there, the trip leader orients the 'team' to the route to be followed.

Does it matter what route you follow? Not really! The Wabakimi wilderness both within the park and on the adjacent Crown lands is pristine and uncrowded.

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Q - Who will lead my trip?

Leaders of The Wabakimi Project reconnaissance expeditions are past participants who have demonstrated outstanding leadership abilities, experience in portage trail and campsite rehabilitation, familiarity with the equipment provided, and proven skills and training in wilderness canoeing, orienteering, campcraft, meal preparation and first aid.

Each year, a cadre of dedicated past participants who have demonstrated the requisite skills and experience are invited to lead one or more trips. Exactly who is assigned to lead a particular trip depends entirely on successful recruitment of a full 'team' of three (3) volunteer participants to ensure the trip can be mounted. To this end, the identify of trip leaders is not be revealed until the trip is declared 'a go'. At that point, the appointed trip leader contacts each member of the 'team' to discuss trip plans and answer last-minute questions or concerns.

Does it matter who leads your trip? Not really! Every trip leader is dedicated to ensuring you enjoy a safe and successful Wabakimi adventure.

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Q - Why are the canoe routes that lie outside Wabakimi Provincial Park so important?

Wabakimi Provincial Park is bounded on three sides by Crown lands designated as general use areas. Since no roads lead directly to the park, the canoe routes that lie on these public lands must be used to commute between Wabakimi and the nearest road access points. Depending on the insertion/extraction points chosen, access/egress to/from the park involves 1-3 day's paddle across Crown land. The canoe routes that lie on these Crown lands provide vital access to Wabakimi as well as strategic links to nearby provincial parks and the conservation reserves and are, therefore, an integral component of the park's values. Regrettably, they do not enjoy the same degree of protection as those within the park and are prone to the impacts of road development and resource-extraction activities. Thus, in 2006, the decision was made to expand the scope of The Wabakimi Project to include the canoe routes that lie on the Crown lands adjacent to the park.

The canoe routes north of the CNR right-of-way between Highway 599 and the western boundary of Wabakimi Provincial Park lie on a portion of the Forest Management Unit (FMU) known as the Caribou Forest. Recent timber harvesting operations and the development of forest access roads have threatened the integrity of these routes, many of which have fallen into disrepair due to lack of maintenance. Over the past three years, the majority of the routes in this area have been explored, rehabilitated and documented by volunteer participants of The Wabakimi Project. Since this entire area lies within the watershed of the Albany River, all of these routes are included in Wabakimi Canoe Route Maps - Volume Two (Albany River & Southern Tributaries).

Documentation of the canoe routes that lie east of the park on the Ogoki Forest FMU and southwest of the park in the recently-expanded Lake Nipigon FMU will be published in Volumes Four and Five, respectively.

 

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Q - How is food kept fresh during the trip?

Most of our food is either dehydrated or freeze-dried--very little perishable food is carried. We carry some canned foods but rinse the containers and carry them out at the conclusion of the trip. Perishable food supplies include deli meats, margarine, jam, chees slices and pre-sliced loaves of cocktail breads.

Deli meats will last for a week without refrigeration even in very hot weather. Pre-cooked bacon strips do not require refrigeration. The cocktail bread has a 6-week shelf life and lasts very well. I've never had a problem with the cheese that we take either.

Deli meats, cheese, mustard, ketchup and margarine are carried in a soft-sided, insulated lunch bag. At night, it's placed under the thick sphagnum moss so prevalent in the boreal forest. In the morning, the margarine is often so hard, it's difficult to spread--even in July!

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Q - What are the bugs like in Wabakimi?

There are several 'critters' that bite in the boreal forest including blackflies, mosquitoes and no-seeum's. The season varies for each but usually reaches its peak from mid-June to mid-July.

Each participant is issued a bottle of Ben's 95% DEET and an After Bite stick. Mosquito coils are burned in the tents each evening (during dinner when they're not occupied) and the campsite is smogged as required. Scent-free lip balm, sunscreen, hand lotions, etc. also help to avoid attracting bugs and even bigger critters.

The best defence against bugs lies in the choice of proper clothing. Participants are encouraged to wear light-coloured long-sleeved shirts and full-length pants with two pairs of socks--one pair inside the pant leg, the other pulled up over the pants. Some people prefer to wear head nets or even two-piece bug suits; others find them too hot and cumbersome when clearing trail. A bandana or neckerchief helps to protect the back of the neck. Of course, a hat should be worn at all times.

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Q - Do I need to buy a fishing licence?

Many paddlers do not consider a wilderness canoe trip complete unless they get to enjoy a few good servings of fresh-caught fish. A fishing licence is not needed to share in the consumption of sport fish legally caught by a licensed angler.

For each fish meal, we need 2-3 fillets per person which means we must catch 4-6 fish depending on their size. With a limit of 2 fish per Conservation Licence, 2-3 licences are needed to legally catch and possess that number of fish.

Almost all angling in the boreal forest is done from a canoe as against from shore. The best fishing is invariably found near moving water. For safety reasons, there must be 2 paddlers in each canoe. In other words, even if you do not wish to fish yourself, it may be necessary for you to accompany your paddling partner if s/he chooses to engage in this activity.

It is illegal to enter a provincial park with a view to living off the land. In other words, you must pack in all the food you'll need and not plan to rely on catching fish, hunting game or picking berries. Our menus are quite complete even without the addition of fish. But every dinner menu is planned so that half need not be opened if we wish to substitute fresh-caught fish.

If your decision not to participate in catching fish is based on a personal preference not to engage in harming or killing wildlife, I can respect that. But during any foray into the wilderness, one should be well versed in a variety of survival techniques not the least of which is the ability to catch, capture and gather food. You must ask yourself, if push came to shove, do I have the skills necessary to provide for myself and the other members of my party?

The philosophy that governs how I plan and manage guided, wilderness canoe trips can be summarized as: Safety, Education, Enjoyment. If you lack the experience or skill to competently catch fish, fear not! I'd love to help you learn. Hopefully, I won't drop your catch over the side as I did with Barry's trophy walleye in Winn Lake. He didn't even get a photo! Ouch!

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Q - Why do I need to carry photo ID on the trip?

If you plan to purchase an Ontario fishing licence at the air base, the issuer will ask you to produce proof of identity. Acceptable photo ID includes a driver's licence, passport, OHIP card, military ID or age of majority card. Both Ontario residents and non-residents must possess an Outdoors Card in order to purchase a fishing licence.

Ministry of Natural Resources & Forestry (MNRF) Conservation Officers (CO's), provincial park wardens and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) have the legal authority to demand proof of identity to verify your right to fish or to occupy a campsite.

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Q - Do I need to purchase travel or medical insurance?

The Ontario Hospital Insurance Plan (OHIP) covers health costs for Ontario residents anywhere within the province.

Some participants choose to purchase the extra benefits offered in the travel insurance plans sold by most banks and major credit card companies. The per day premiums are not that expensive. Be sure your coverage includes all of the days you'll be away from home.

Zip-lock bags will be issued at the pre-trip briefing to store your photo ID, fishing licence, Ontario Outdoor Card and health/travel insurance card.

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Q - What out-of-pocket expenses should I expect once I get to Thunder Bay?

Quanto dinero? Several participants have asked what out-of-pocket expenses to anticipate while away from home. Aside from any outstanding balance owed, here are some other expenses to consider.

If you're flying to/from Thunder Bay, you should have enough change on arrival to use a pay phone at the airport to summon your taxi and to tip the driver for each of your airport taxi shuttles. Since you're expected at the airport at least 2 hours prior to departure, you may wish to have enough cash to purchase food at the Tim Horton's on the mezzanine.

Most participants are not interested in a big breakfast on the morning of the trip starting date when they must travel 3 hours by road from Thunder Bay to the air base near Armstrong and then fly in a float plane. A stop will be made on the way out of town to purchase coffee, sandwiches, etc. Have enough cash in hand to buy lunch in Armstrong in case inclement weather delays either your insertion or extraction flight.

Fishing licences may be purchased at the air base. Cash payment in either U.S. or Canadian currency simplifies the transaction but credit cards are accepted.

I'm recommend you bring a credit card to purchase your dinners in Thunder Bay on the pre- and post-trip evenings. Last year, many "teams" of participants went out for dinner on the eve of the trip departure. It a great getting-to-know-you opportunity; ditto as a post-trip wind-up.

To minimize the cash you must carry, you can pay any balance outstanding by cheque. If you need confirmation of your balance owed, let me know.

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Q - How long should my straight-shaft paddle be?

The vertical distance from the top of the bow seat to the floor of the boat is 10"; 9" from the stern seat. Keep in mind that the Souris River 18' 'Wilderness' model is a cruising canoe and the seats are meant to be sat on. Kneeling with one's feet under the seat is not a practical option. This affects the length of a paddle required for this paddling position.

Most people tend to focus on the overall length of a paddle and, to a lesser degree, the length of the blade. They fail to consider the shaft length and its proportion to the the other two measurements. The Grey Owl 'Voyageur' model we supply has a shaft-to-blade ratio that suits most paddlers despite their torso size or arm length.

For straight-shaft paddles, most paddlers use the traditional technique of standing erect with the paddle positioned on the toe of their shoe. They choose a paddle whose overall length brings the top end (viz., the grip) up to a point somewhere near the nose. This measurement invariably exceeds that needed for the Souris River canoe and paddlers find themselves overreaching awkwardly with a paddle that is too long. A better measure of the length required using this method would be somewhere nearer the chin, viz., at least 3-4" less.

The web-strapped seats of the 'Wilderness' model are slightly bowed or curved, that is they 'dip' towards the centre. The measurements quoted above were taken at the centre of each seat. The bow seat is about 4.5" below the gunwales at the side of the boat; the stern seat is about 6" below the gunwales at the side. This latter figure reflects the fact that the stern seat is closer to the stem of the boat which is higher than at midships.

Using these fixed measurements belies the one, all-important variable that needs to be taken into account, viz., the draft of the boat when fully laden. It is not the fixed distance from the top of the seat to the floor of the canoe that should dictate one's choice of paddle length but rather, the vertical (and variable) distance from the top of the seat to the waterline.

Fully laden on our Wabakimi expeditions, the 18' Souris River 'Wilderness' canoe will draw almost 3". To that end and assuming the boat is properly trimmed stem to stern, the vertical distance one should take into account is more like 7" for the bow seat and 6" for the stern.

With regard to paddles whose shaft length is inordinately too short or too long, there is another measuring technique to confirm that it fits the paddler's arm length. Holding the paddle horizontal before you at shoulder height, grasp the shaft just above the blade and at the neck with palms down. Lift the paddle (still horizontal) over your head and drop it onto the back of your neck level with your shoulders. Now, compare the position of your forearms. If they are vertical, the paddle shaft is the correct length; if they lean outwards (i.e., away from the shoulders), it's too long; if they pull inwards (i.e., towards the shoulders), it's too short.

I am exactly 6' tall and most comfortable with a 58" in the bow and a 56" in the stern but I have used a 54" for an entire trip in both paddling positions without any discomfort.

There is one other measurement to consider and that is the depth the paddle dips into the water at its deepest point. The lakes and rivers of Wabakimi are very shallow. A paddle that penetrates too deeply will constantly be hitting bottom.

A cruising canoe is meant to be paddled using the Canadian stroke which is executed most efficiently by keeping the elbow of the lower arm (i.e., the arm closest to the water) straight throughout the entire stroke. A paddle that is too long will invariable cause the paddler to bend his/her lower elbow of this lower arm and even to 'hitch' the shoulder during the recovery stage of the stroke--a terrible waste of energy, very tiring and extremely debilitating.

Using the voyageur timetable of paddling 50-55 minutes of every hour with a 5-10 minute 'pipe' break at a cadence of 45-60 strokes per minute, in an 8-hour day, that amounts to about 18,000 strokes per day. The voyageurs often paddled up to 18 hours a day on long, open-water hauls such as Lake Superior, Lake Nipigon and Lake Winnipeg. You can imagine that they strived to realize the the greatest efficiency out of every stroke.

Don't fret too much about sizing paddles and PFD's. During the pre-trip briefing, Sarah will assist you to make the correct choices.

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Q - What kind of footwear should I bring?

Participants are encouraged to bring two pair of lace-up shoes: one pair to wear during the day; the other pair to be worn in the evening around the campsite. It is important to pack at least four pairs of heavy-duty socks. Some paddlers prefer to wear seal skin or neoprene socks but they do not 'breathe'; two pair of wool work socks work just as well.

Footwear worn during the day on any canoe trip will invariably be wet most of the time. Canoe shoes such as the Salomon 'Amphibian' dry quickly even while being worn. They have a good tread and provide excellent support and grip while hiking over rough portage trails or wading in rocky streams and rivers. For safety reasons, shoes worn during the day must be laced and not slip-on. Open-toed sandals and heavy hiking boots are totally inappropriate--the former expose feet to injury; the latter make good anchors.

The other pair of shoes are referred to as the 'dry' pair. They are packed at the top of the personal pack along with dry socks where they are readily accessible. Sandals are not recommended as they provide little protection. Here again, two pair of socks are better than one. The outer pair can be pulled up over the pant leg to protect ankles from pesky biting critters.

The "dry feet" ceremony is a daily ritual that all serious wilderness canoeists look forward to with keen anticipation as soon as the evening campsite is reached. We carry Johnson's Baby Powder to apply to our feet before donning our 'dry' shoes and socks. Ah! Sweet bliss!

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