By Christopher Mayberry
I cannot remember why we picked the Spanish River as our first wilderness trip but I am certainly glad we did. Whatever our prerequisites were, most of the boxes must have been checked. Remote but not too remote, a train trip, rapids, under a week trip and first voyage for Elizabeth on the Chi-Cheemaun ferry. Our schedule was relaxed: we drove from London to Espanola on our first day. Elizabeth enjoyed her first trip on the Chi-Cheemaun. On Manitoulin Island, we pulled over often to watch the sandhill cranes.
We reached Espanola late afternoon and settled in. The following day was free to arrange the shuttle, parking and permit. Elizabeth was able to log in quite a few hours of the cooking channel, another trip highlight.
“Ray, of Ray’s Taxi Service, picked us up at Agnew Lake Lodge”
July 24th our trip began. Ray, of Ray’s Taxi Service, picked us up at Agnew Lake Lodge, our take-out spot, and dropped us off at Sudbury’s train station. He has a 5-star shuttle service. We had a comfortable ride. His trailer was large enough for canoe and packs, and en route, he pulled over at Tim Hortons so I could get a much needed coffee. The train was punctual enough and the Budd car was filled methodically but with haste. While checking our tickets, the conductor assured us that we would be dropped off at the Forks. As we left Sudbury, the rain started and seemed steady. Upon arrival, we, and two other groups, quickly unloaded. The rain had stopped briefly and gave us time to set out.
Our first campsite was to be Athlone Rapids at km 98 but, because of the weather and speculation that the sites might be taken by the previous two groups, we just paddled a few hundred meters to the Forks site. It was a wise choice, camp was made comfortably and in between rain we paddled around the Forks area and enjoyed the day.
Day two, we set out on an overcast but not so wet day. Our night had been comfortable and I had enjoyed the train going by in the middle of the night. The farm I had grown up on had the Goderich to Guelph line over the lane not too far from the house: I think the association gave our campsite a warm, nostalgic feeling. We quickly reached Athlone Rapids. Already, I surmised the water levels were up compared to late spring, early summer levels. The top of Athlone Rapids had a wonderful large wave train and we portaged our packs before running it. Elizabeth was a little nervous but after that run, she was hooked. As we paddled, we noticed that the overcast weather was in part smoke from a distant fire. We camped at Cliff Rapids that night as planned (km74).
“…it was the highest water they had experienced on the Spanish…”
Day three we set out as an energetic group of young men showed up ready to set up camp and fish for the rest of the day. One of them mentioned that it was the highest water they had experienced on the Spanish, being his 5th summer trip. After Cliff Rapids we met one of the groups who had started with us at the Forks and visited for a bit. At Zig Zag Rapids we met the second group from the train setting up camp. Zig Zag was a great rapid to run and it was followed with four or five kilometers of swifts. Late afternoon we made it to Tofflemire Rapids, our planned campsite (km55).
The next day was glorious weather. We pulled over at the Elbow and visited with a local outfitter. At Graveyard Rapids we portaged our gear and Elizabeth chose not to run the rapids because of the falls. We struck up a friendship with a fellow camping at the falls, and he and I paddled the set to make it more of a liftover. He mentioned that he often camped there, paddling down from the Elbow and poling back.
“Elizabeth often mentions how much she enjoyed lining the canoe.”
We came to the second falls which had a short portage and took lunch. I believe Agnes Rapid soon followed where we ran the top and lined the second half. Elizabeth often mentions how much she enjoyed lining the canoe. Cedar Rapids followed, certainly a favourite for me. We found an eddy halfway and enjoyed an afternoon snack. We made it to our last planned campsite on Reynolds Creek (km26). It was by far my favourite campsite, open with tall pines and a gentle brook.
The last day was good weather and gentle winds thankfully. I think we made it to Agnew Lake Lodge shortly after lunch and headed home to London.
In summary I can see why the Spanish is a go-to trip. I didn’t mind seeing the occasional paddler, as everyone was happy to be there. It also meant eventually someone would paddle by if you wrapped your canoe beyond repair. The bugs were having an unexpected renaissance for late July but that was welcome due to their scarcity in the spring. Fishing was poor by all accounts, one fisherman’s theory being the sudden rise in water levels. All the campsites were decent and seemed to be treated well by fellow paddlers. Most importantly my twelve-year-old enjoyed herself and has committed to two trips this year!