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Day 13

The rapids into Weakwaten can be portaged in its entirety 750 yards on the right shore.  I suggest scouting and seeing whether you could run the top and cut 200 yards off of the trail.  There is a campsite just above the portage bay at the west end of the narrows preceding the rapids.

We were told in Némescau that the Cree believe that a spirit used to live on Weakwaten at the top of a bald hill on its north shore.  They told us that at night you could see sparks from the spirits conjuring in a large pit at the top of the hill.

One paddles under another set of power lines at the large island five kilometers below the portage.

The southwestern end of Lac Weakwaten is tricky.  The river braids again as it leaves the lake.  The braids are more complex than they appear on the 1:250,000 maps.  We stuck to the main channel, passing several good campsite possibilities, as we paddled to the main drop.  The shore is granite here, a long, flat, rock shelf for a campsite.  The river divides around a prominent island in two steep chutes.  The left or southern one is a steep three-foot ledge.  We lined a back channel one island south of the ledge to a short portage that takes out from a sloping granite campsite and is well walked.  The rain fell so hard on Lac Tésécau that we essentially felt our way across.

The channel between Lac Tésécau and Lac Poncet begins with a horserace, ends with a horserace, and flows with good current all the way.  The wind kicked up here so hard that it took all of our effort to paddle down the last rapids.  It was all we could do to get to a set of islands a mile off shore and huddle in their lee for shelter.  We ended up making an impromptu, and cramped, camp here.  A better place to stop would have been on the west shore of the outlet bay where several sloping rocks make good-looking possibilities.   

Natastan River just before the Marten Turn.

Photo: Bill Seeley

Day 14

We started the day with a snack of dried fruit and a paddle four miles across the lake to breakfast where we were treated to evidence of a recent wolf visit.  We crunched two days into one today by traveling something in the neighborhood of 55 kilometers.  I would advise doing this day in a day and a half or two.

There is a rapids to run out of Lac Poncet.  At the bottom look due east for a short creek that cuts off the long paddle around the first bend.  This creek does not appear on the 1:250,000 maps.  Lac Legoff is quite nice.  There were beaches in the first north bay and a Cree camp at 51° 08’ North, 76° 10’ West, on the east side of the long point that dips down from the north to form the narrows that separate the east-west from the north-south bodies of the lake.  Lac Legoff is called Lac Bruton in Heb’s book.  The east-west body of the lake has suffered some recent fire damage, but it did not extend beyond that part of the lake.

We followed the river north out of Lac Legoff, following the west/southern channel.  The rapids out of Lac Legoff was runnable starting left at the top and finishing off right at the bottom.  There were two campsites towards the north end of the lake-ish section below.  Remembering that we had started at 5:30, with a 45-minute break for breakfast, it was 2 p.m., when we reached the straight channel beyond Lac Legoff.

Heb says that a portage trail leaves the river well before the next cascade, in a willow thicket (I would guess at about 51° 12’ North, 76° 15’ West).  There was an obscure trailhead in the willows 800 yards upstream of the cascade.  But, we were game to check out the falls, and we were making great time.  I am going to guess that the trail connects up to the bay east of the second rapids, making it a good 900-yard walk.  In the end it would have been quicker to walk with the Cree, but the first rapids, actually a falls (14 foot by Heb’s calculation) is beautiful.  With a little creativity a campsite could be etched out here.  We ran the first chute down into a large eddy bay above a short falls.  This is classic James Bay, Quebec.  Tall rocky hills, craggy and forested in dense black spruce, encroach upon the river.  The sun was out and it was a gorgeous afternoon.

The first chute is a steep ledge that tumbles through a split in the short granite hills.  The run is no more than 50 yards.  Stay left below making your way to the lip of the falls 100 yards downstream.  We walked an easy 50 yards over a smooth granite spillway on the south/left side of the falls.  It is worth having a look at this as we had a low-water year and in higher water this terrain would look quite different.  In fact, Nishe checked it out in 1964, and he and Heb opted for the portage.

We lined the second rapids down the left shore.  This one looked impassable in any water, although a little more volume may have opened up a shore run on the left.  The banks are choked with thick willows.

We ran the third and last rapids of this short east-west stretch easily down the right shore.  Now we were on the fly.  Worth and I bumped ahead to find the next obstacle.  We ran the first set of the long NW bend easily, starting left at the top and crossing over to the right at the island split for the lower half.  The run is shallow at the top for the top ˝ kilometer or so, culminating in a steeper drop of several hundred yards below.  My notes say that we worked back right for the lower half.  I surmise this is the same as the description of the island split I describe just above.  I remember this as a fun long stretch of horserace rapids.

The next set of rapids were shallower.  We were on the right bank.  The river bends left to meet the left channel around the island.  It then straightens out and flows NW into a small lake-ish section at the first cutoff (“The Link” in The Rupert That Was).  It looked as if we would have to line a bit so we hauled out for a look at the rapids. 

The tricky spot was just above the bend back to the right (where the channels meet and the river turned back NW).  There was some debate about the route through, but the guide was certain it could be run.  Worth and the staff, yours truly, offered to be guinea pigs.  We ran it close to the shoal of rocks sticking out of water in the center of the river (i.e. left side of our channel) and were able to squeak through. In higher water I imagine there would be no difficulty here but, be sure that you can get back to the right because the ensuing run is in deep water on the right bank, and the river is choked with boulders on the left below.

Heb’s 1964 notes say that Warren Chivers 1948 notes indicate that one can paddle through “The Link” here.  The Link is a shallow, creek-like channel that cuts across a long southwest bend in the river.  It is marked by a big boulder just past the SW turn in the river.  The Link was shallow with shoals in 1998, but I imagine it easily paddled most other years.

The Link rejoins the river just below a small falls.  There is an old and overgrown campsite at the end of the spit of land separating the last channel of the Link from the river (at 51° 15’ North, 76° 18’ West).  It would take some clearing to get a group of 12 in there now, but a smaller group would do fine.  The sun was low and the day long, but we elected to move on to Marten River Falls.

We eschewed the second link and followed the western braid five kilometers below the overgrown campsite.  Heb says that the second link was shallow, in higher water, in 1966.  There is a falls a couple hundred yards downstream.  We portaged the falls on the north bank of the river.  It is a 200-yard walk on a forgotten, but deep, path, followed by a beautiful paddle through a narrow, steep-walled gorge.

Marten River Falls (Rapides Kapimitapiskach) is two kilometers downstream.  The picturesque campsite Heb describes, on the right bank at the beginning of the chutes above the falls, is burned out now.  In later years I would stay at the portage around the falls just upstream.  Heb’s kitchen was intact on the narrow chute that separates the island from the mainland.  This would have been a White Mountains-like cascade prior to the burn, a narrow stream tumbling over granite ledges.  It was dusk when we arrived, sometime just past 9 p.m.  So we had been on the water almost 16 hours.  That was a day that a voyageur would have been proud of!

Day 15

The portage past Marten River Falls is still visible in the burn on the right side of the river.  It is 300 yards.  The portage at the ensuing falls, six kilometers downstream, is on the river left, at the lip of the falls.  It is a 200-yard walk past another postcard cascade, this one not affected by the burn above.

The next portage is on the right side of the river at what my notes call “the outlet of a granite-walled channel.”  I recall that it begins in some willows and walks several hundred yards to a creek, bypassing a section choked with rapids. 

The portage petered out at the top of the last set of rapids.  We found no easy way down.  I have to imagine that this was a by-product of the water level as the portage clearly went no further, and I have not found the path of the Cree to ordinarily incorporate lining.  I watched the river banks below the rapids for a portage landing on the west shore, but found nothing.  Heb and Nishe ran the rapids all the way down, avoiding the portage we walked.  But they too were unable to avoid a liftover where the river splits around a craggy island just below the creek confluence.  They lined on the left shore (with the exception of Heb who chose our island liftover with the same deleterious results).

The Rupert is wide and sluggish at the confluence of the Marten (although it is still ripping along at a significantly quicker pace than the, significantly smaller, Marten).  We had a ritual dip and, following the lead of the Brigades, offered the river tobacco for the second time.  There is a campsite on the east shore of the island just NW of the confluence.

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