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Day 3

The boys back at the Research Department at Keewaydin (Danny Carpenter Jr.) tell me that Lac Mistassini is named after a large boulder on the route to the Rupert from Baie du Poste [Mistassini]. The Cree would give offering here before leaving the lake.  Thus they gave the lake the name Mistassini that I am led to believe means “sacred place”.  I did not confirm this tale, but we did camp at the aforementioned boulder once. It is a significant landmark, and currently a brass plaque is affixed to it as a memorial to a young Cree who fell through the ice on his snow machine (if I recall correctly).  The portage takes out of the deep western-most bay below Presqu’île Louis Jolliet.  It is 250 yards.  We used this route in 1998.

There is a large building on the west shore of Ile Pelletier that was well inhabited in 1993.  We guessed that this was another fishing camp.

We made the crossing on glassy calm seas in a dense fog fallen from the doused fires. The fog lifted when we were within a mile of the west shore.  We had an early lunch at a park campsite with lean-to and picnic bench on the southern shore at the head of the Rupert in Radisson Bay.  The going is obscure through here.  Wind your way through the islands following the current.  The Cree at Baie du Poste [Mistassini] told me a tale of a German man who had gotten lost in among the islands and bays of the upper river the season before and nearly ran out of food before getting rescued.  It sounded like there was more to that tale than was told.

There is another fishing camp here called Louis Jolliet.  It is on the west bank in the NE-SW narrows just before the portage.  There are several Cree camps in the portage bay, and a freighter on a rack marked the portage on this side.  There is a camp on a small island at the Rupert’s egress from the large open body of water from which the DeMaures River flows out of the Rupert.  The camp is well used and we waited until dusk to pitch tents to be sure its occupants would not return form a day in the bush.

Woollett Falls where the East Channel enters Woollett Lake. This is the location of the ice caves.




Photo: Heb Evans

Day 4

The river meanders through “highlands” here.  The landscape is hilly and full to the brim with the glacial waters of Lac Mistassini.  We had only 1:250,000 maps for this stretch, and had no trouble picking out the route.  Paddle the east channel north past the islands out of the lake.

Just past the Natastan River fork (the route to the Marten River), we came across the first real rapids of the summer.  The river comes back together at the north end of a large island and narrows to a channel capped by an east-west island at its downstream end.  There are two possible runs.  The first on the right bank of the west channel past the small island; the second straight down the main, eastern channel, which is a bit rough, but perfectly straight and clear.  Bad weather and lack of experience with the lads led us to portage in 1993.  There is no formal trail but the right bank is clear.  We were able to sneak down the shore and make an easy 50-yard liftover at the bottom of the run.

There is an easy rapids that follows and a last park campsite on the left bank at 51° 07’ North.  We stopped for an early day here due to cold rain.  This site could easily have been reached the night before and would have made a more pleasant home.

Day 5

The river straightens out a bit here.  Follow the heavy current through a beautiful hilly landscape.  We ran the rapids at kilometer 10 (as the crow flies).  The first major obstacle on the river is at kilometer 14.  Approach this rapids from the river left — the west bank.  The trail walks the top of an esker.  We used the landing in the heavy current at the lip of the rapids.  There is a more placid landing at the end of the bay on the other side of the long esker point.  The portage marked on the F.Q.C.C. maps on the river right was not there.  There is a good-sized Cree camp at the far end of the portage where we had lunch.

My maps mark two more light rapids between here and Lac Capichinatoune.  They are found at the two narrowest points in the river, three and five kilometers downstream from our lunch site.

Lac Capichinatoune is a beautiful spot.  It is similar to Lac Baudeau to the northeast, although the hills are nowhere near as tall.  The Tichegami Mountains are visible to the east, and the surrounding hills stand 1500 feet above sea level.  There was a brand new winterized cabin on the west shore 2/3 of the way up the lake.  No other camping possibilities were found.

The portage around the falls in the channel between Lac Capichinatoune and Woollett Lake is on the right shore east of the cascade at the bottom of a small finger bay.  There is a nice campsite at the end.  My recollection is that it is in the bay “around the corner” to the east from the river channel.  The trail is cut deep into the sphagnum, and the brush had been recently cleared wide on either side of it in 1993.  Trout are abundant in the wash from the falls.  The kitchen is on the shore south of the portage landing.  Look up the hill for secluded tent sites.  We found very old wooden tent poles leaned against the spruce and jack pine around the tents sites.

Woollett Falls, looking southeast toward Lac Capichinatoune. Downhill from the position of the photographer are the ice caves. The portage cuts across the neck of land to the left. The campsite is downstream to the left and out of view.

Photo: Dan Carpenter Jr.

Day 6

Danny and Heb (both long-time trip leaders at Keewaydin) found ice in a shallow cave among the cliffs over the falls (on the river right).  Danny tells me that they found ice in 1967, 1975 and 1977, when they passed through Woollett Lake, including ice on the river left in 1975, indicating that this was not due to a meteorologically anomalous season.  We did not find any ice.  We found many Cree camps in the north arm of Woollett Lake, some abandoned, some active.  They were quite extensive and appeared to be hunting villages rather than family camps.  We had a leisurely afternoon visiting the camps as we meandered up the lake.  A large, active Cree village at the very top of the lake on the west shore at 51° 30’ North made a nice campsite.  No one was home but it looked as if the site was used year round.

Day 7

There are three easy walking portages in the stretch beyond Woollett Lake.  Follow the waterway west out of the north arm of Woollett Lake.  The route leaves Woollett Lake in a westerly direction for several miles before turning back north at about 73° 55’ West.  The first portage walks SW from the southern of two bays at the northwestern end of Woollett’s north arm into what we called “U-shaped Lake”.  It is about a thousand yards.  We encountered a brand new beaver pond smack dab in the middle of it but this was easily traversed as the water was not deep (though it was cold) and the footing underneath was solid.

The second portage is found at about  51° 30’ North in the western bay at the north end of the west arm of U-shaped Lake.  It walks 300 yards west to the creek east of the large round pound.  Paddle into the round pond and find a portage onto the watershed flowing north to Lac Thereau from its SW corner.  We had lunch at the far end of this portage.

Ten kilometers downstream follow the narrow west fork at 51° 34’ North.  Portage on the river right is at the top of a short, rocky rapids.  Danny had indicated a campsite here over the phone from Baie du Poste [Mistassini], but we did not find it.  We camped 2 kilometers downstream on the east shore of a wide section of the river on a terraced, rocky plateau amidst some jack pine.

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