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Day 3

The islands in the entrance to the deep bay below the egress of the Rupert from Lac Mistassini were littered with campsites.  The Cree route to the Rupert follows a short portage across an esker at the northwest corner of this that cuts off approximately the first 15 kilometers of river.  The portage is found at 51° 02’ North, 73° 47’ West.  We camped on the east shore of the westernmost island in the northern part of this bay.  The site is marked by a large boulder.  Danny Carpenter once told me that this was traditionally the spot the Cree would stop at to make an offering to the river and the lake before embarking on the downstream journey.  The campsite is in a shallow, sandy bay at about 51° 00 North, 73° 49’ West.  Again it was an easy day.

The Cree operate a sport fishing camp called Camp Louis-Jolliet just upstream of the river end of the portage.

Crossing Lake Mistassini


Photo: Bill Seeley

Day 4

Follow the west shore into the long narrow bay (oriented north-northeast).  This is where you will find the portage.  It is a short portage across the sand rise of the esker (250 yards) whose landing is at the end of the bay.  There is an easy rapids between the portage and the first lakeish section of the river proper.  The upper Rupert splits into two branches at the north end of this lake.  The Woollett lake and the Neoskweskau Trade Route follow the main branch of the river due north along the eastern branch.  Our path, the old Brigade Route, follows the western branch northeast, which is called the Natastan River.  The branches do not meet again until Lac Mesgouez (although several channels flow between the branches along the way).

We had lunch at the Cree camp where we spent our first night on the Rupert in 1993 (see the Neoskweskau Trade Route, Day 3).  There are swifts and riffles in the channels below the lake.  We followed the northern channel into the Natastan River.  The channel was marked by an old piece of plywood hung in a tree at the elbow where the Natastan diverges from the Rupert.

The first rapids of the summer is a short ledge, probably runnable in higher water, where the river narrows and flows around an island just a kilometer past the point where the routes split.  There is an old campsite on the north shore here where we found a Keewaydin style fireplace and some “well-seasoned” cut-wood.  We lifted over the rapids through the old campsite.  In later years I would have stopped here for an early day as there are not really any good campsite possibilities within striking distance downstream.

Heb indicates that the route was “quite abandoned” in 1964.  We were hoping for some solitude and the condition of the previous campsite seemed a good omen.  Two kilometers downstream we encountered the first real obstacle of the summer.  There is a steep rapids marked by a slash on the 1:250’s where the river turns sharply southwest just above its confluence with the southern branch.  The portage must be in the bay, well before the river turns, behind the small island.  We did not find it though.  The Cree later told us that we had portaged in just the right spot, but there was no evidence of a trail.  The portage is easy enough though, just bump over the peninsula on the south side of the rapids.  It is about 150 yards.  Our guide took a swim running the wash of the rapids so we bushed a quick camp just below where the western channel flows back into the river at benchmark 1214 feet.  My notes say that the only thing to recommend this site was the lads’ good spirits.  A better bet would be to cross the river, find the portage past the next set of rapids, and camp on the far end.  But I would recommend the campsite back upstream as it is more picturesque and less soggy with springy sphagnum moss.

Across the river from our camp, on the north shore, in the bay just above the start of the next rapids there is a 450-yard trail.  My notes read, “It looks like our easy Marten River run won’t be so easy after all.  There are no trails.  The path of the Brigades is overgrown.”  My recollection is that this trail takes out from the base of a shallow bay 20 – 40 yards above the rapids.  The trail walks along the northeast side of a rise.  There was no foot path at the start, but one could tell where the trees had been cleared away in winters past by the 10-foot-wide swath that divided the spruce.  Eventually it does become a footpath as it walks over the rise at the far end where there is a campsite in the sphagnum moss.  It bypasses two rapids.

It is also conceivable that a longer trail bypasses both rapids to the north, and that this landing is the end of an overgrown trail that we only met midway.  I do not recall any evidence to this effect, but I would search the bay to the north of the “southwest rapids” for such a trail.

Day 5

We ran the chutes and riffles for the next 10 kilometers, and then portaged the island at about 51° 07’ North.  The approach is straightforward.  There is a small island that we ran around the left side if my recollection is correct.  It looks like a small liftover could be managed on the left shore, but the right chutes past the island are spectacular, so we were happy to portage the length of the island.  There is an extensive burn here so portaging is not difficult, but the footing on the island was not ideal.  Six kilometers downstream, in the east-west narrows there are two drops.  We ran the first and portaged the second on the slick shore rocks.  My notes say that the steep drop could have been run in higher water through a spillway channel.  Again, it looks as if a Cree portage should bypass the rapids from the deep bay to the north, but we did not look for it as it was a damp day and we were having fun with the light rapids.

We camped on a caribou moss rise at the northeast corner of the next lake-ish body of water at about 53° 12’ North.

Day 6

We ran a shallow rapids off the map (off of Lac Baudeau, 32P, and onto Lac Mesgouez, 32-O) and then paddled swiftwater to Heb’s July 24th site at 74° 05’ West.  Run this set of rapids on the right side along the shore into a channel on the backside of the island to avoid the heavy sweeping rapids.  The island channel was deep despite appearances our year.  The rapids are shallow below this so pick your patch carefully.

Where the river narrows again, and turns to the Southeast, 74° 09’ West, we lifted over some shallow rapids on the north shore and then ran the swifts and one short chute to the big run below.  We found Heb’s campsite on the north shore midway through the big rapids at 74° 10’ West.  My notes read,  “After two days of rain and cold the re-appearance of Heb’s mark upon the land lifts some weight off of our shoulders.”  Of course the mark was more likely Camp Wabun’s from more recent years, but there is something comfortable about reading the remnant of our own history into the land.

We caught our first trout here.

Day 7

No more than a mile downstream there is a 200-yard portage in classic Rupert fashion.  Run a short chute past a long spit of land that juts out from the south shore.  Be careful to keep to the south shore.  Then ease down the top of the rapids to the trail, on the south shore, at the lip of the first real falls on the Natastan.

There appeared to be ancient, overgrown Cree camps across the river below the falls.  There doesn’t appear to be much active use on this stretch of the river currently.  At the west bend in the river there is a rapids that we ran river-right along the shore.  It was still too cold to play in the waves.

The second falls is picturesque and would itself have made a beautiful campsite.  The portage takes out well into the right-most channel, along the north shore above the drop.  It is an obvious 100-yard trail that takes out well above the falls itself.  The rapids drops sharply over an exposed granite outcropping jutting out from the north shore.

The third obstacle of the day probably could have been run, but we did not even look until we were below.   The rapid is formed by two narrow points on the east shore that form a narrow spot in the river.  We lifted over each point and ran out the bottom of the rapids.

We lifted over the bottom 30 yards of the next rapids, but in higher water it could have been run.  We ran the remaining short rapids into the campsite lake.  The campsite is at about 74° 20’ West on the point just before the long northern bay.  This is the only point spared the burn at this end of the lake.  There used to be two cabins here.  This was the first sign of active Cree use.  The winter detritus was everywhere.  But all the same, it was a nice spot at the end of a good day.

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