Trip Reports

Organic Anarchy in Woodland Caribou Provincial Park

Organic Anarchy in Woodland Caribou Provincial Park

Organic Anarchy?

It has been a while since I have had the pleasure of canoe tripping and I had forgotten the organic anarchy of a successful canoe trip.


I know that the standard understanding of the word, anarchy, is a state without order or government, in fact many people would apply it to the riots and looting in England. Anarchy is also a political ideal in which the individual is absolutely free to act without any kind of government or regulation. That is the way I am using the word anarchy.

We have heard the word, organic, used in the crunchy granola, no pesticide, no artificial fertilisers sense. But it also has another meaning:

… denoting or characterized by a harmonious relationship between the elements

of a whole:

“the organic unity of the integral work of art”

I am using it in that sense.

And the Successful Canoe Trip

The Magnificent Seven

I see a successful canoe trip as a group of individuals who are free to act as they will but work to create the kind of harmonious relationship that makes great canoe trips possible. I have seen no better example than this trip.

I sent this report to our trip members for editing and Meir replied:

the most worrisome aspect of this trip was the prospect of spending an intimate 12 days with 6 complete strangers with no possibility of escape. We would paddle, portage, cook, eat, sleep, swim, chat, and totally depend on each other. What if my canoe partner was a jerk? What if the trip leader was an idiot? What if . . . so many possible nightmares.

Happily, this last worry turned out to be completely unfounded When I think about this trip, what is etched most clearly in my mind is not the memory of the portages, or the lakes, or the spruces, or the campfires, or the wind-bound days, but the six people that shared this trip with me.

Not that we didn't have our differences, and we certainly took turns doing things that frustrated the others, but nobody blew up, nobody lost it, nobody was rude (outside of occasional outbursts), and everyone helped each other in whatever way they could.

There were seven people from four different cities. There wasn’t one person in the group who knew all the others. Brian Wraight, in Montreal, was our facilitator, doing the research on the park, working with the outfitter to make our arrangements and setting up a menu and general information schedule in Google Docs. Brian had the excellent idea of assigning dishwashing and wood gathering to the boats that weren’t responsible for evening meals. He printed, laminated and taped this with the menu schedule to a large white pail he called his kitchen bucket. It made it easier for everyone to remember when they were doing what, even if they did choose to switch with someone else or modify the menu.

George and I were the shed raiders, depot and transport. We transported equipment to and from the shed, and for Brian, Ken and our guest from Toronto, Meir, we hauled barrels and canoes and packs to Red Lake in our trailer and on the Subaru. We hosted meetings with prospective members and one lucky day had Brian, his wife, sons, mother and father, Ken, visit us. Ken, a guest on this trip, kept us all in line with his wicked sense of humour and his unfailing good humour.

Meir had a surprise for all of us: t-shirts to commemorate the trip. This is a tradition of his. He has t-shirts for almost every one of his trips.

Other members of the trip, such as our guest from Peterborough, Caroline and YCCC member Mike Fostner made other contributions to the trip. In fact, Mike rescued a certain pair who ran out of gas on the trip home. I name no names.

Happy Birthday, Mike!

The Trip

Brian had chosen a trip from Kevin Callan’s book Quetico and Beyond. It was supposed to be a reasonable six or seven day route. As we wanted to have fun and take rest days, he proposed an additional four days. Given that the age range on the trip was 44 to 74, it was a wise idea even though we all had a reasonable level of fitness. WCPP is a wilderness park and once in, there are only two ways out: by canoe or by air.

Within two days we discovered that the portages were difficult. They were usually short, but every step had to be watched and often carefully negotiated or we had to scramble up or down sharply angled slopes, sometimes on large rocks slippery in the rain. Low water conditions meant more exposed boulders requiring awkward steps from one to the next. Portage landings were often very muddy, sometimes deceptively so. At one portage, George started sinking and discovered there were hidden stakes among the mud; manoeuvring to land became trickier. At others, the only rocks available to perch on while unloading were underwater and greasy with slime. No matter how much we cautioned each other, at least one person would slip. George managed to turn his into pratfalls and claimed he had intended to take those dips.

Portages were slowing down a group of reasonably competent paddlers. We were working so hard that the only time we stopped long enough to examine the flora was when we were crapping on it. It was time to review our goals. After some discussion, every paddler concurred in the solution. Instead of doing the loop, we decided to go as far as Mexican Hat and then take a leisurely return.

This was organic anarchy at its best. There were paddlers in the group who could have done the loop and there were some who might have done it with great effort but there were clearly paddlers who would have hurt themselves trying. The solution allowed for a safe and pleasant trip. Those who had more skill and energy could do day trips as well.

How to Enjoy a Rest Day. Some of our Choices:





Mexican Hat’s campsites were almost all full. There was a 20,000 hectare fire in the northeast sector of the park. Only one WCPP eastern entrance was open so this popular lake with its sandy beaches was unusually busy. By 7 p.m. we were tired and hungry so the beach at the east end of the lake had enormous appeal. The appeal was enhanced by the wind at our back. It may not have been our best site, but it had a beautiful view. To the right and left of the beach were enormous cliffs that created a narrower entry point to the bay than the width of the beach at the other end. As the sun lit the cliffs, nothing could have been more dramatic. Unfortunately the friendly wind that blew us ashore also kept us there for another day. We watched as white caps on the lake spread to white caps in our sheltered bay. After the previous day, we were glad to stay put. Some of us hiked to the top of the cliff, others read or pottered. The next morning, the water’s glass like surface was innocence itself as we packed up and headed for a more comfortable campsite.

The most striking thing about the flora in the park was the moss that carpeted the forest floor. I do not exaggerate. In some areas, there was nothing but moss on the ground. It covered dead leaves, fallen trees and rotting trunks. Occasionally a large rock interrupted the green and sometimes patches of pale lichen varied the moss. It was soft. Throw a sheet over the moss and you could have slept on it. The richness of the green was a strong contrast to the weedy spruce and contorted Jack Pine. Even the odd graceful birch could not compete. For someone who has never camped north of 50, this was truly exotic. This was what an old forest looked like.


Our outfitter told us that neither the parks nor the ministry of transportation has the cash or will to spend money on maintaining the roads to the park’s access points. Outfitters are trying to maintain some of the roads, but without people like us using the park, who will advocate for their preservation?

I am glad I went, in spite of some difficult portages. I saw for myself what an old forest looked like, learned from our outfitter what life is like in a gold-mining town and working in a gold mine in addition to a wealth of information about the park and enjoyed the company of six very different good people. What more could one ask?


From Ottawa, Red Lake is roughly 2,250 km. You can fly from Ottawa to Red Lake. It is not cheap or direct and the last leg from Thunder Bay is in a small airplane that does not have a toilet. You can drive to Red Lake comfortably in four days or you can fly to Thunder Bay or Winnipeg and arrange transportation from there to Red Lake with an outfitter or a fellow paddler who chose to drive.

The nearest town to WCPP is Red Lake. From there it is about an hour and a half’s drive along some very bad road, complete with surprise washouts and frequent corduroy spots, to the put in point for WCPP on Lake Leano. Unless you don’t mind taking risks with transmissions, shocks and potential breakdowns miles from nowhere, it is a good idea to use an outfitter to get into the park. The local garages are said to demand $500 to extract you from this road and I imagine it gets a lot worse once they have your car in their shop.

We rented a satellite phone through the outfitter so we could call for help in an emergency. We couldn’t persuade Brian that running out of coffee was an emergency. The sat phone certainly made some of our families happier about us disappearing into the wilderness and it got one of our crew out of trouble because he was camping with us instead of home for his 44th wedding anniversary (that WAS an emergency).

We didn’t see any woodland caribou but those of us who were awake at 2:15 a.m. one day heard the music of wolves howling in the distance.


Useful sources of information:

This is the outfitter we used and were very satisfied with the service.  Brian did check out other outfitters in the area.  It is worth visiting this website for the wealth of information on it.


Feature Story: Woodland Caribou Provincial Park— Where Nature Still Rules

by Timothy Eaton

Ontario's Woodland Caribou Provincial Park - A Different World for Canoe Travelers

The Story of a Solo Canoe Trip Through Ontario's Woodland Caribou Provincial Park

By James Hegyi