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Day 8

The first portage, eight kilometers from the campsite, takes out on the left well into the first rapids.  The approach is not harrowing.  The trail is old and obscure but under the Labrador tea there is a footpath.  We are off the beaten path here.  The second portage is just downstream, on the left, past a steep drop at the confluence of a channel joining the west and east branch (now north and south).  Neither trail exceeds 100 yards.

The next portage is five kilometers downstream at the next R marked on the 1:250,000 maps.  We found ancient blazes but no footpath on the north side of the river.  This one hadn’t been walked in a long time. 

There is one more obstacle a kilometer or so downstream.  It is an island rapids.  We lined the canoes empty through and portaged the gear on the right shore.  In higher water perhaps this can be run.

We ran the right/east side of the island into a long lake-ish section (oriented southeast-northwest) through a fun horserace.  This is a picturesque spot.  Mountains rise to the north and east, and it is the first wide vista-view in several days.  There is an old campsite on the west shore at the bottom of the rapids.

We pushed on and found the portage to Lac Wabistan at 51° 17’ North, 74° 34’ West, and camped on the north side of the long island just to the east of the portage.  The campsite was tight, set in a shallow granite bay, but we were glad to have easily found the route, and chomping at the bit to begin the next leg of our trip.

Day 9

We caught up to the chapter we were carrying from Heb’s book when we portaged off of the Rupert.  The portage leaves the west shore of the lakeish section at 51° 17’ North, 74° 34’ West, at the north end of the channel between the mainland and the long east west island.  This is the egress of what A. P. Low calls the Marten River Branch of the Rupert.  The trail flanks and then crosses a dried streambed.  But by our estimation and the 1:250,000 maps, the river itself does not begin until Lac de la Passe.  Since I do not have 1:50,000 maps of this region I will have to leave the mystery unsolved.  The portage has a soggy floating bog for a beginning but soon climbs to firm footing and a well-worn trail.  It is 600 yards.

A camp could have been made on the south side of the portage bay in Lac Wabistan.  The lake is picturesque with rocky shorelines and plenty of topography. Paddle through several small lakes as you wind your way towards the portage into Lac de la Passe at 51° 12’ North, 74° 43’ West from the southern body of the third lake.  I would imagine that the trail is in the long southwestern finger of this body of water and accompanies a creek we heard gurgling into the body of water immediately east of Lac de la Passe (maybe Albert Peter was right) when we reached the other side.  The forest was not thick so we bushed a trail from the larger western bay north of the finger to a long beach.  There are no fewer than four winter camps here.  There are no winterized cabins, but the tent structures are quite elaborate.[2]

The portage is short, maybe 300 yards.  We were met by a hazy sky streaked with distant fire smoke on the far end.  But there was no obvious fire so we decided to move on to Lac Montmort (“Death Mountain”) and hope for rain.  The portage into Lac Montmort is well traveled.  It is marked by two v-stem canoes on a rack at the eastern end, and it is a clear and well-worn path.  The portage landing is found at the far southwestern end of Lac de la Passe.   It rained that night and all the next day!!!  We spent two days at a winter camp on the north shore just before the main body of the lake opens up.

It is my understanding that a poorly maintained, two-track spur road reaches this part of the bush from the south, and is used by the Cree to reach these camps.  But this is hearsay from our time at the bridge over the Marten River.  I have not confirmed this.

                                                                                                           Photo: Bill Seeley

Natastan River near Miskittenau Mountain.

Day 10

My journal entry for this day begins, “Ah Bastille Day!!!! To celebrate LIBERTY in the bush, what could be better!”  We were hounded by a good southwest wind, making our paddle down the lake strenuous.  We lined the first rapids out of Lac Montmort.  There is a small winter camp here.  All of the rapids between the first rapids and Little Loon Lake were runnable, mostly just little technical swifts.  The river is picturesque.  Steep cascades tumble over granite ledges.  In another year this would be a nice stretch on which to take an extra day.  I would bet there are trout here.

We found Heb’s fireplace on high rocks just past the second lake on the south shore.  There is a Cree camp in the northwest corner of the second lake.

At Little Loon Lake, despite the wind, there were clouds of smoke nestled in the hollows to the south.  And the mountain beyond was shrouded in the thick of it.  But we could discern no flame with the binoculars.  All the same we decided to push on as quickly as we could. 

We paddled out of Little Loon Lake around the long point to the north.  There are numerous small chutes and swifts in the stretch of river between Little Loon Lake and Lac Courseron.  Our water was perfect for them.[3]  We ran all but the last three that we lined easily.  We found this to be a delightful stretch of river in which Garrett Kephart learned all of the rigors of sterning in whitewater – a trial by fire so to speak.

The wind was howling when we reached what Heb calls “The Beaches of Courseron.”  Heb describes a large Cree camp on a sweeping beach at the east end of the lake.  He found the camp marked by bear skulls in a tree.  He says they ate lunch on the beach out of respect for the bear skulls.  The camp and the bear skulls are now gone.  Victims of a burn that took all but the shoreline jack pines.  But the camp is still very comfortable, sheltered by well-established shore jack pines, and the white sand beach unforgettable.  We were windbound here for the evening and I couldn’t imagine a better spot for it.

Day 11

The Route du Nord, which connects Mistassini with Nemaska via the Albanel transmission station, crosses the Marten at the west end of the narrow lake between Lacs Courseron and Villon.  We spent the better part of a week here waiting for rain to dampen the fires and diminish the smoke that was often quite heavy.  I was able to get rides to Chibougamau twice to check on the location of fires as we were turned back by smoke on Lac Camousitchouane.

There are old Cree camps at the west end of Lac Courseron and I am sure there is a route out of the lake north to Lac Mesgouez and the Rupert (although this remains unconfirmed).

There are two Cree camps at the road.  We spent a considerable amount of time with Samuel and Harriet Trapper and their family, whose camp is on the west side of the road.  They were excellent company.  We always had hot cocoa for them and they taught the lads the recipe for “boutin” which seems to be essentially a sweet bannock.

We were a half-day to here.  One could easily make Lac Camousitchouane and camp at one of the Cree camps on its northeast shore.

Day 12

The boys had made friends with George Trapper (who was about their age) and his young nephew Stephan, who had taken to calling Todd Hunsdorfer Wapbow At-dūm, which is apparently also what the James Bay Cree called Henry Hudson’s son when they found him.  They told us it means “white dog.”  The young Cree claimed to have “invented” the name because of Todd’s nearly white hair. 

We met Mathew Wapachee here for the first time.  An elder at Nemaska, he would later join us for the last stretch of the Rupert.

Todd and also I got to hitch a ride on the Gold Mine Bus which took us half way back to our camp at the bridge from Chibougamau, where it turned off into the mine with the week’s crew.  It was a long 45 minutes that we walked on that lonely road north hoping for a ride.  But we got one from an older Cree heading off to his camp on the Eastmain with his great grandsons.  As is nearly always the case when we met an elder Cree in the north, he was intrigued by our summer plans.

The paddle from the road to Camousitchouane takes about two hours.  I have three camps marked on the swampy stretch of river:  One at about halfway on the south bank, two kilometers past the second pond, at the confluence of the creek that flows into the Marten from the lake between Lac Villon and Lac Camousitchouane; and two others three quarters of the way along, at something of a four-corners where two creeks come in from the north.

I also have several camps marked on the north shore of the east arm of Camousitchouane, including one right at the mouth of the river on the east shore.  The latter is the only one of all of these camps that I currently recall.

There is a portage route across the peninsula separating the two bodies of the Lac Camousitchouane that saves nearly 10 miles of paddling.  Sam Trapper told us to look for the first portage “just to the right/north of the big rocks in the [big] bay on the [west] shore” of the east body of the lake.  Sure enough, there it was, a 100 yarder, just up the shore to the north from two large boulders sticking out of the water. The second portage leaves the grassy northernmost bay of the portage lake.  It is 800 yards, the last couple of hundred of which cross a floating bog.

After lunch we ran one rapids of note between the first and second lake-ish sections, three kilometers from the portage, just below the “e” in “River” on the 1:250,000 maps.  The third lake-ish section runs more or less north-south.  There were several camps in this stretch.

At the rapids that flow north-northwest into Lac de la Cache there is a 150-yard portage on the left/west side of the river.  It begins just up a creek to the west of the top of the rapids. We ran the rapids below this portage into Lac de la Cache.  Heb camped on the west side of the peninsula dividing Lac de la Cache.  We pushed on, paddling through Lac le Cordier (under the second set of power lines of the trip) to the portage onto the stretch of river above Lac Weakwaten.  It had now begun to rain in earnest so the fire danger seemed set aside. We would discover later that the Cree, as Matthew Wapachee told us, say, “They never go out, they just go to sleep.” 

The river divides at its egress from Lac le Cordier.  The portage is on the north side of the southern channel, 900 yards through a burn.  Once the trail is located on the shore of the lake, 20 yards north of the river, it is easily followed.  We camped just downstream in the second widening of the river, at roughly 51° 09’ North, 75° 39’ West, on the northeast shore.  This is an old site with room to spare, a faded firepit, and some “seasoned” cut pine.  Despite the power lines and the road, there is a trace of history on this route.


[2]  It is my understanding that a poorly maintained, two-track spur road reaches this part of the bush from the south, and is used by the Cree to reach these camps.  But this is hearsay from our time at the bridge at the Marten River.  I have not confirmed this.

[3]  Heb describes this stretch of whitewater challenging.  Our water was very low in 1998.  It is possible that in higher (more average) water, it is a bit more formidable.

 

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