Chee-skong-abikong “Lake at the Place of the Huge Rock”
Everyone has a special place on Earth that they mentally escape to, dream of and fantasize about on long dreary days. The memories or fantasies of these places free us temporarily from the everyday shackles that constrain our constant need for adventure. They give us hope, inspire us to reach our goals and many times, change our lives.
This place has always been, for me, the Spirit Forest of Temagami, and at its’ heart, Chee-Skong Lake. I have travelled and seen many beautiful places in this vast wilderness throughout my life, but it was the spiritual allure and ancient forests surrounding Chee-Skong that tempted my soul for many years.
This summer, I finally made it!
July 9th 2014
Day 4 of a 7 day trip with 7 young trippers.
“We stopped for a much needed hearty lunch at the beginning of the 740m portage into Chee-Skong after a long and beautiful paddle through the Wakimika Wilderness. My heart was racing as I was less than a kilometer away from reaching a dream. I just wanted to eat while portaging but I knew it was important to savor this moment, for all of us.
We began our ascent through the ancient pines admiring their beauty and ability to make us feel truly small in our existence.
The anticipation made it the longest 740m portage I have ever done in my life. But I was glad. Too many good things are rushed in my life.
The moment I saw the lake appear through the forest everything fell silent, my heavy breathing, the forest sounds, the clatter of gear, everything was like a dream… was I really here?
I slipped down my gear as quietly as I could while my eyes fixated on the towering cliffs across the way. Slowly I crouched down to my knees and closed my eyes, took a deep breath of forest air and opened again, this is not a dream.. this is heaven on Earth.
I sat in awe along the shoreline as each tripper emerged from the forest behind me, each of them silently stunned with awe.
We slipped quietly into our canoes and made way for the only campsite on Chee-Skong.
It was open.”
Over the next 2 days we explored the area by water and trail and quickly realized why Chee Skong was so spiritually significant for the Teme-Augama Anishnabai. We honored their belief and gave our thanks and hopes for safe passage through the traditional manner of offering tobacco. Each tripper paddled solo across the lake to give their offerings, each taking their own time to reflect and give back. I was immensely proud and inspired by the level respect and gratitude these young adventurers displayed that day.
I soulfully gained inspiration and filled a great void in my life by venturing to Chee-Skong but most importantly I wholeheartedly renounced a bitter stereotype that all youth are disconnected and unappreciative.
J.K Rowling wrote “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” Those places in our dreams are there for a reason, they are a calling and a gift. For them to go unanswered is a terrible waste.
Written By: Justin Metz
Algonquin : Canisbay Lake. Eastern shore.
Oct 1st 2011 –last full day of trip
Fall ( possibly winter)
Wind: Gusty 35 KM N
Variable cloud, sun, rain, snow, wind!
7 am: Awoke to snow covered tents. Better sleep than the night before, well rested but still cold/damp. Wet snow throughout the night. Struggled with fire this morning as the rain then frost made its way under our tarp covered wood pile but Jordan's determination prevailed. Getting the fire going this morning was a strikingly similar depiction of the scene: "Man discovers fire"
Breakfast this morning was scrambled eggs on English muffins topped with bacon and ketchup paired with some much needed strong cowboy coffee.
Sun is coming out while we are cleaning camp. It warms on our faces as we close our eyes in thanks.
We head out to NW corner of Canisbay L. to trailhead of Minnesing Mountain trail. About 10 km, fairly steady . 2-2.5 hours. We are much warmer moving within the protection of the forest, but the fall leaves flail and tremble in the canopy from the North winds. Forest is quiet; birds have long retreated to the South. But the colours, sights and smells that the Maples, Birch and Aspens take their place in awe. We see no one; stop regularly to observe tracks, share classic stories and future plans.
We stopped for lunch on the bridge by Canisbay Creek. Apples + PB+ Trail Mix= Bliss. Time to head back.
We loaded our canoe to the brim with fallen branches that had been basking in the afternoon sun. The North Wind carried us home as we threw out our lines and trolled for trout; laid back with our legs stretched and enjoyed the ride. What a pleasant scene. A loon family drifts with us, the landscape is so beautiful it is hard even for them to leave.
3pm: Set up clothes line, dried all our clothes in the remaining sun. We dipped our heads into freezing lake along the pebbly shore. Dried up and refreshed we got a good fire going.
Our reward for surviving these past 3 nights: A full glass of Sortiliege ( Quebec Maple Whiskey) and Coke. We sat along the shore together, facing the horizon, savoring every sip. Cheers brother.
6pm: "Pizza" Soup with garlic bread turned out delicious. Nice and thick. This will keep us warm tonight.
9pm: Clear crisp night, hints of Northern Lights over a roaring fire. Jordan casts a few lines out which ripple the now calm star –studded waters. I watch cross legged on the flat rock point, bundled up, puffing on a Colt cigar.
The art of journaling is a dying breed. For centuries journals were the only proof of what lied beyond frontiers. The journals of Alexander Mackenzie, Lewis and Clark and Samuel de Champlain formed alliances, created states and powered economies and legislation. Imagine how Canadian history would have differed if Mackenzie and Champlain had forgot a pen and paper. Nowadays our experiences are haphazardly documented in social media, texting, emailing and even blogging. (Does that make this article ironic??) Hand written letters are all but extinct today, something only elderly people do. But if history has taught us anything, it is to learn from our elders.
My Grandmother has kept a detailed journal of our family's cottage in Temagami every year since we purchased the Island in the 70's. It is a one- of- a –kind historic account of our northern life. Her entries include the weather, our current projects, bug severity, water temperature, visitors, gas prices and fish quotas. This is extraordinary to look back on 40 years down the road. The changes in weather, economics, ecology and family structures are proof that each entry is history in the making.
Keeping a journal on canoe trip is sacredly important. For legal and safety purposes, keeping a detailed account of the days occurrences is a required task that all guides must use while leading large groups. But for many of us, our tripping journals are our personal history. A timeline of how we've grown, risk we've taken, our priorities and what we've come to cherish each year. While our entries might not alter the course of Canadian history, it is an intimate account of our adventures that can be looked back on through dark winters and in time through our grandchildren's imaginations. For them it may be a link to a world and a way of life that may not exist anymore.
I always teach our students on trip that the sole purpose of journaling is to train the mind to observe the little details using all of your senses. It is these tiny details that your mind will recall in later years to transport you back to those special places in times of need.
"Touching the pictographs with my fingertips connected me with an ancient energy. A powerful realization that we are now in an ancient world"
"We were overwhelmed with laughter, soaking wet from all the fish we were hauling in"
"My palms are rich with the smell of cedar bark from rubbing its fibers into a ball to make fire starters"
"My heart pounded relentlessly, the enormous beast and I locked eyes for what seemed like an eternity."
These are all instances from my journal that the moment I read them my current emotions mimic exactly what I was experiencing during that time. I constantly try to capture what sensual experience defined each day. These are the experiences that no one can ever take from us, only ourselves. In today's fast paced world we are faced with so much distraction, stress and bombardment of information that we too easily forget the moments that define our most "unforgettable" adventures.
Journaling is the art of appreciation. We must remember there are many places in this world that aren't worthy of remembering. We are so lucky to have endless pages of experiences waiting for us to discover, remember and passed on through the simplicity of pen and paper.
Written by: Justin Metz
For centuries Bannock has been common to the diet of virtually all North America's Indigenous Peoples. Original First Nations' bannock was made of corn and nut meal, and flour made from ground plant bulb each with their own regional variations Through generations different ingredients and methods of cooking were diversified by aboriginals, pioneers, cowboys and of course, canoe trippers. Bannock is one of the most popular and easy to make staples in any wilderness adventure. Here's our version:
3 cups all-purpose flour (or whole wheat flour)
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (60 ml) butter or margarine
3/4-1 cup milk (or water)
2 tbs oil
Tips: Get creative! Add cheese and spices, dried fruits, maple syrup, cinnamon or my favourite, fresh wild blueberries.
On trip bannock can be cooked in many different and equally delicious ways. You can bake it slowly over hot coals in a Dutch or Outback Oven. Fry it up pancake style in a pan or simply wrapped on a stick over the campfire.
1. With "floured" hands, mix the flour baking powder, sugar and salt into a medium bowl
2. If you have butter or margarine, slice into tiny chunks
3. Add milk/ water until the dough can be handled without being sticky
4) Mix in desired fruits, cheeses etc
4. Knead lightly until the dough becomes consistently smooth
1. Make a bed of coals for the Dutch oven
2. Divide the dough into desired number of rounded batches and sprinkle with flour. The thicker the batches the fluffier.
3. Pat into oiled Dutch oven and cook for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
Fry Pan Method
1. Get a steady fire going.
2. Make 2-4 "pancake style" loafs with desired thickness with added fillings.
3. Place in an oiled fry pan on grill. Cook like pancakes, flipping until golden brown. I like a bit of crunch on the outside so I put a coat of maple syrup on the top and bottom right before they are done.
Camp Stick Method
1. Roll the dough into a long rope with a 1 inch diameter.
4. Divide it into 6 inch lengths
5. Snake each piece of rope around the end of a classic camp stick.
6. Hold and rotate over campfire until golden brown.
Pair with great friends, pristine campsites and blissful views.
Written by: Justin Metz
An eye opening canoe trip redefines the way one guide feels about the future of today's digitally dependent youths and the outdoors.
"Do you get service up here?" a young tripper asks me upon arriving at the launch site in beautiful Lake Temagami. Astounded that this was his first question, and not, "Can we jump in now?!?!" I replied, "No, and trust me, you won't want it" He looked at me in absolute shock that anyone could not want the power of unlimited social media content.
Is this what childhood was coming to? Being more afraid of that dreadful cellular symbol "x" than being attacked by a 400-pound black bear or getting lost in a sea of seemingly never-ending wilderness?
This recently common question is a sentence that was non-existent and otherwise irrelevant in my youth (I'm 28, so not too long ago). Payphones were there when we needed them, and texting was then a hands-free way of communication, that used to be called "face to face chitchat". My heart sank as my perceived notion that teens today have no desire to explore, get dirty, cut up and bruised was quickly becoming fact.
Before hitting the water their precious digital companions were left in the van and the sounds of the doors locking were almost too painful for them to bear, as if I was throwing them in No Service Prison forever. It casts an enormous grin on my chin; these kids were in for a treat.
Now my daunting task was to wake these kids up from their digital fantasy worlds that they were possessed in. I needed to become some kind of wilderness Priest, splashing Temagami Holy Water on them with my paddle, "The power of Nature compels you! The power of Nature compels you" What would it take to open the eyes and imaginations of these kids in this beautifully ancient landscape? How could I possibly justify that swarms of ravenous mosquitoes, monstrous portages and going # 2 into a plywood box could possibly beat their digitally comfortable living rooms?
Turns out, I didn't have to do a single thing.
By the start of the first portage a few kilometres away, nature had taken care of everything for me.
Digital masterminds or not, there is something evolutionarily inborn in every kid. A primordial imaginative instinct that is set loose once a stage is set for them to truly discover the art of being a kid in the woods. In this short paddle, perfect skipping stones were collected, war paint was fashioned from mud and bloody mosquito bites and fishing rods and tackle were being made from scratch. All this from an hour in the wilderness, with nothing but the endless sights, scents and sounds of the forests to shape their own version of the "good old days".
Along the trail I saw superhuman powers come out in these kids carrying loads that exceeded their own weight while having their peers cheer them on triumphantly at the other side. I witnessed shy kids blossom by sharing their unique skills, quiet skinny academic type kids turn into fearless wilderness leaders and watched friendships form among the most unlikely of classmates. Not one of these wonderful experiences would have endured a cell phone and an empty landscape and I could not wait to see what the next portage held.
There is still hope for our next generation to experience the little things that we held dear from our golden years. Kids will always be kids but these connections need to start with disconnections, of cellphones, of parental fear and of technological reliance. Then they will understand the true meaning of "unlimited wireless access".
Written by: Justin Metz
first trip of the season. a bitter wind blows but brave-hearted souls find warmth in the woods. in the Haliburton Highlands we head off, leaving big footed tracks in the fresh blanket of snow. trudging to far end of lake with sleds in tow to make camp and take in the wondrous winter world. icy trees bend and creek and heavy laden branches bow down to us as we look up to them. between them a rope is run and our canvas tent is raised, wood stove assembled, and fire lit to warm our hands while hot soup is poured into cups. our new friends, Stephanie and Mike take rest too from their fervent, fanatical digging and scooping and piling and patting of their snowy mound into their glacial abode. in the background, Marley the wonder-dog barks and from from the forest and across the lake, her echo barks back, exciting the playful pooch whose tail wags as she runs circles in the snow before sneaking sticks from the wood pile. in the evening, when work is done, the quinzee hollowed out, and bellies filled with big bowls of delicious hot chili, good-nights are wished and we all settle in for a tired winter's sleep. sweet dreams.
from a warm restful sleep we awake to a fresh day, fresh air and fresh snow fallen through the night. hot cafe mocha and sweet cinnamon oatmeal with fresh apples for breakfast, we await the arrival of more intrepid explorers to join us for a snowshoeing trek through the woods that surround with no sounds but ours. covered trails then off-trail, up hills, across lakes and break for lunch under the hemlocks. a view across Ooze with summer sausage and cheese before our return under snowflake filled skies. time to contemplate ahead of final lake crossing to camp but really a way to prolong our brief stay in the land, the forest that welcomed us, that sheltered us, that always looks over us whenever we escape back to it. all packed and sleds loaded we follow along our drifted trail to our waiting cars for the drive home to warm beds, to work, to whatever awaits, bringing with us our new experiences and memories to revisit...
... next time.
Written by Pete Shuttleworth