The Journal of Canadian

Wilderness Canoeing

  AUTUMN 2002











In this issue

Front Page


Fall Packet


From the Editor


Back page





Part  1  2 

                        The boats are lined up at the portage.



However, we were able to find one or two of these fungi at just about every campsite. While the river became bigger and bigger as we traveled further downstream, the rapids remained runnable. Like most remote rivers, we found there were many more rapids on the river than were indicated on our maps. There is one large and beautiful waterfall not far downstream from the confluence with the middle branch of the Quoich. I don’t think we were able to fully appreciate the grandeur of this spot as we arrived at this waterfall just after huddling through a wet lunch on a day of cold, driving drizzle. The canyon below the waterfall was wild and deep. While it could have been run, due to the water level and weather conditions, we chose the half-mile portage. There is nothing like a good portage across the tundra to warm everyone up.

Most of the wildlife we encountered in the upper reaches of the Quoich was in the form of birds. Geese were everywhere. The Canada and Snow geese were molting and unable to fly. Whenever they saw us, the large flocks would scamper up on shore and run away as fast as they could. This was the most common wildlife sighting we had, long necks, and wagging tails, waddling  and disappearing among the rocks. We saw numerous Sandhill Cranes. Alerted by their strange warbling gobble, we would usually find them in pairs, poking about the marshes or gracefully flying overhead.

There was no sign of human use in these upper reaches of the river. While we were in the process of discovering the “untouched” wilderness, we knew that native people had been using this land for thousands of years. There are no permanent Inuit settlements anywhere in the interior of Nunavut. These are not called the Barrenlands for no reason. The native people were forced to be nomadic, following the food sources as they changed with the seasons. As we proceeded down the Quoich, however, the river valley became more pronounced, with larger areas of bright green tundra. We began to find signs of increasing human use. On the ridges we could see numerous ancient tent rings of stone, and piles of rocks that were probably food caches. As interesting as these archaeological sites were, we had to pay close attention to the river as well. The rapids were becoming more continuous, with large breaking, frothy waves, and powerful currents. Concentration was imperative, as a single mistake could have resulted in a long and dangerous swim. However, with careful scouting we were usually able to paddle along the edges of the river, right past most of these big rapids. With only a couple of short portages, and a little dexterous lining, we were able to stay in our canoes for the entire trip.

The confluence of the west branch of the Quoich River and the east branch (Lunan River), is a very high energy place. At the end of a long, major set of rapids, two big ledges empty into a huge cauldron lake. There are rapids from the east branch also, with the two currents meeting in a great swirling mass of boils and eddies.

We now began to see several inuksuit (plural of inukshuk) on just about every ridge and prominent point along the river. We stopped to explore a number of these interesting sites. These inuksuit are standing stones or rock cairns, some single, some in piles or structures resembling a human figure. The inuksuit are thought to have many purposes. Some mark inland traveling routes that lead to the sea, while some indicate fishing areas. Others point out the location of food caches, and may also have been used to assist in driving caribou.

In the lower reaches of the river, wildlife became more abundant. We saw a number of arctic hares. These little animals are perfectly camouflaged with grey upper fur, and are virtually impossible to see as they sit motionless among the rocks. With their white boots and underparts however, they are a delight to watch as the hop away across the tundra. In the upper sections of the river we had seen plenty of sign of caribou, hair and antlers, and narrow trails crisscrossing the tundra. However, we had only seen about a half dozen individuals scattered along the course of the river. About four days before the end of the trip, we woke up to find ourselves pretty much surrounded by caribou. They were all along the ridges behind our camp, and on the far side of the river as far as the eye could see. We would share the tundra with these beautiful animals until the last moments of the trip.

Too soon we heard the muted roar of the approach of St Clair Falls, the end of our trip on the Quoich River. Below the canyon and cascades of the falls, the river widens, and becomes part of the tidal flow of Chesterfield Inlet.

The site of St Clair Falls, has long been an important area for the Inuit people. The 600 yard portage around the falls passes endless standing stones, and many stone rings, large and small. There are numerous food caches, as well as many burial cairns, with the small domes of rocks covering the lonely remains. This area is known as “kiguit” in Inuktitut, which means “the place of starvation”. None of the locals could tell us how this name came to be, but it must refer to some very significant event in the past. It was suggested that this name might refer to the deadly years of the late 1940’s when there was widespread starvation due to decreases in the caribou herds.

We had planned to fly out of St Clair Falls, passing up on the paddle back to Baker Lake, to maximize our time on the river. It is about 85 miles to Baker Lake from the falls. While this can be paddled, given good weather conditions, you can also arrange to be picked up by boat. However, having arranged for the Twin Otter to come in and get us, it was now up to us to find a place for him to land. While there are a number of good landing sites at St Clair Falls, they are all on the top of the hills and ridges alongside the valley. We chose a large flat hilltop about 3 km downstream of the falls, at the upstream end of the first large bay. We had to carry everything about a half a kilometer in, and 70 metres up, to the top of the hill. While a little intimidating to look at, the carry wasn’t too bad, and two hours saw all our gear safely perched on the top of the ridge.

Before long we heard the roar of the Twin Otter as he swooped in over the hill. Soon we were loading gear and preparing to leave this magic valley. As we secured our seatbelts, we could look outside for one last view of the beautiful Quoich River. As we prepared to take off, a majestic bull caribou with an enormous set of antlers, casually sauntered across the tundra in front of the plane. He watched in unconcerned majesty as we lifted off and disappeared into the blue sky, out of his world forever.



Scheduled commercial airlines to Baker Lake via  Winnipeg-Churchill. Access to the river is by charter aircraft from Baker Lake.

120 miles: Baker Lake to headwaters.

160 miles: St Clair Falls to Baker Lake.

It is quite possible to paddle the 85 miles to Baker Lake from St Clair Falls.  Pick up by boat at St Clair Falls can be arranged in Baker Lake.


Plan on 18 days to St Clair Falls.


1:250,000 Scale:  56 -C,D,E,F,K,L. All 1:50,000 scale are available.


Equipment rentals: canoes, paddles, PFD’s, spraycovers, radios

Charter aircraft bookings, taxi service, lodging.

All are available through: Boris Kotelowitz

Baker Lake Lodge

867-793-2928 home   867-793-2965 fax  

867-793-2905 office




 Autumn 2002         Outfit 110 

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