We tackled the Bird River on July 7 and 8, 2018, a weekend you might remember as a mighty hot one. I remember our crank weather radio telling us over and over that it felt like 40 degrees in Nopiming Provincial Park. Not surprisingly, it was not a busy weekend on the river – we only came across three or four other groups.
It was very hot, but it was also very windy. The at-times ferocious wind kept us feeling cool, but also made us have to work a lot harder to get to our destination. We weren’t sure if we were staying one or two nights, but in the end we only stayed one night.
We set off on Tulabi Lake at 7:30am on Saturday after spending the night in the Tulabi Lake Campground and checking out Tulabi Falls in the morning.
We had a peaceful paddle across Tulabi Lake and the first part of the Bird River. It was easy paddling overall. The three portages were short and easy. It took us about 3 hours and a half to come across the first campsite, which by the way, is not very nice and if you can avoid it, you should.
As soon as we turned into Elbow Lake we noticed the wind and our peaceful, relaxing paddle suddenly turned into a more vigorous one, just as the sun was reaching its peak in the sky. We pulled into campsite 3 or 4 for a snack and a swim to cool off, unsure if we wanted to continue on the agitated lake in such blazing sun.
We continued on and the wind picked up even more as we turned on Elbow toward McGregor. We again considered pulling into a campsite in that area, but opted to keep going. When we pulled up on the two portages before McGregor Lake, the first portage sign was on the South side of the river, even though there appeared to be a trail on the North side of the river (if we had opted to take this route we would have missed paddling up to the falls that came next as this trail bypasses it all.) We went to the South side, portaged then got back in the water after walking our canoe through some shallow rocky water. The view of these falls was worth it!
On the way home the next day, we opted to take the North side trail that bypasses the falls and the rapids. It saved us time, and since we had already seen the falls it seemed like a good idea. There is a steep incline at the West end of the portage, which was easier to manage on the way back than it would have been on the way in.)
We pulled into campsite 17 on a cute little island. This would have been a perfect spot save for the winds that nearly blew us off. Our tent was well staked, but I felt the need to put a large heavy rock in there to ensure it wouldn’t blow off the island. My flip-flops, our coffee mugs, everything was flying off the picnic table. Although we had noticed them earlier in the day, the black flies really starting bothering us in a way they never have before. They were swarming us and no amount of deet was keeping them off. We both went for a swim to get a reprieve from the flies and after dinner we paddled off the island in a desperate attempt to get a break from the flies. Our plan at this point was to paddle to McGregor Falls and come back to camp well before it got dark. Unfortunately, our crank weather radio had been warning us of a possible severe thunderstorm in Nopiming Provincial Park and around this time the sky darkened and the wind picked up even more. Not wanting to get stuck near the falls with our gear at the campsite during a storm, we turned around and paddled back to Fly Island, where we made the decision to head home in the morning. In the end, the sky cleared up and we didn’t get a storm. We also gave in and put on long thick pants and wool socks (despite the extreme heat) and finally the flies left us alone and we were able to enjoy the rest of the evening by the campfire, sipping a fine mezcal and reading.
The wind died down overnight. We woke up early to McGregor Lake as still as glass and set off on the paddle home. We didn’t get to see McGregor Falls, so we’ll have to do this again one day. Hopefully, the flies won’t be so bad next time.
Overall, this was a fun journey. Each campsite has a backcountry toilet and a picnic table, so quite luxurious!