Post Number: 67
|Posted on Thursday, September 19, 2019 - 4:05 pm: ||
Itís been a long time since Iíve put together a trip report. My last full report was for the Nettogami River, one of the little James Bay Rivers easily accessible from Cochrane, paddling straight to Moosonee. We had originally planned on paddling many of the little James Bay Rivers such as the Wak, North French, Partridge etc, but after seeing the landscape and the difficult to make campsites on the Nettogami, we abandoned the area and set out in search of new paddling opportunities with firmer ground!
Our next big trip came about from hearing of the demise of the Rupert River, and a desire to see Lac Mistassini in Northern Quebec. I wanted to spend some time on the untouched portion of the Rupert upstream of the diversion dams. Originally we had planned a shuttle trip that would start off the Route du Nord on the Des Maures River, paddle into the lower branch of the Rupert (Natastan) then south through the Marten River to our shuttled car nearly 200km down the Route du Nord.
Rupert Riverís Oatmeal Rapids before diversion
Rupert Riverís Oatmeal Rapids after diversion
It was a good plan until our 4th had to back out. Still wanting to explore the area, I was determined to make a loop trip that the 3 of us could do while still paddling north to spend at least one day on the lower branch of the Rupert. Days of scouring the topos led me to the realization that there is so much water in the area, that a virtually inexhaustible number of routes could be created by bushwhacking from lake to lake where they are closest; which is generally less than 500M between them.
So off we went nearly 10 years ago on that first trip to this area, and it instantly became my favorite canoeing destination. The land is gorgeous, true boreal forest, but with lots of beautiful topography, and the ability to hack a campsite out of the bush almost anywhere. There are also numerous eskers, and huge sand beaches that make for excellent camping and swimming. It didnít hurt that the lakes have good fishing, blueberries grow by the millions, and there are very few bugs late in the season. There is almost no evidence of people anywhere during the open water season. The Cree still access the area in the winter for hunting, but their camps are very spread out. Weíve found evidence of ancient portages between some lakes that are pounded down into the earth in a trail 6 inches wide by 6 inches deep, that may have been created when the Cree were still semi nomadic travelling through the area over the seasons. Some of the youth groups still travel through the area very intermittently as well to help keep those trails open.
Lac Canoticaine, Miskittenau Mountain
So all of that preamble to say that this paddlers Eden convinced me to be greedy and not invite others into the area by posting trip reports. Factors other than my greed play in as well, the area was a bit difficult to access, as it used to be part of the Sepaq wilderness reserves; which are not well suited to canoeists, but cater to drive-to fishing lakes. To further complicate it some of the area crossed into Cree territory, necessitating a second set of permissions to access. Last year the Cree have gained full control of the entire area under the new Nibiischii Corporation which is actively encouraging canoe tripping as part of their mandate. Iíve been providing them with known and possible routes so booking a trip in the future may be easier. The map below shows routes weíve done in yellow, ones yet to explore in green. The stars are the access points, red are easily accessed by car, black require 4 wheel drive and a sense of adventure!
Confluence of Lac Canoticaine and Natastan River
Finally onto this yearís trip report! I usually get antsy around February each year, so start planning the next yearís trip. Each year in the area weíve mapped out a different portion, and this year I wanted to explore the westernmost section on the very edge of the reserves. My email blast only yielded 1 confirmed accomplice for this trip, although a third joined in the summer. With 3 of us it meant I would solo paddle, and we could squeeze into 1 car to save gas. I wanted to start at Lac Courseron, just off the Route du Nord around the 200km mark, and paddle up to the Rupert, and loop back through a series of lakes. We agreed on leaving the morning of Saturday August 24th returning around Labor Day.
We met up at my workplace in Renfrew an hour west of Ottawa at 9AM and proceeded to squeeze all of our gear into the Prius; while somehow leaving room for 3 adults.
Shortly after we hit the road, destined to hit Chapais that evening, roughly 800km north. The drive was relatively uneventful, except for one time frantically searching for a gas station; the mileage computer struggled to adjust to the reduction two 17 foot canoes cause the Prius! We arrived at Chapais around 7PM, checked into the Motel Clossi for the night, then proceeded to hunt down some Quebec Poutine and Beer for dinner.
Sun August 25th: 18km, 0 portages
Up and out by 7AM on our way to the last town before hitting the gravel hydro road: Chibougamau. We were surprised to find the Timmies closed, so backtracked to McDs for breakfast as everything else was closed. Topped up the tank as much as possible, then headed to the Route du Nord hydro road. The turn off onto the road is only 10 minutes past Chibougamau, then our destination was 180km down the gravel road. The road was in pretty good shape, however the car was still sandblasted by rocks for 2 and a half hours. We attempted the road into the boat launch on Courseron, but found it too rough this year for a car with little to no clearance, so had to turn around and park right off the main road and launch in the Marten River.
A quick unload, and carry down to the waterís edge and we were off on our 2019 adventure just after noon.
It was a very hot and windy day, but even so we still noticed some blackflies trying to feast on us. We proceeded upstream on the river, past the launch we tried to drive to earlier and into Lac Courseron. The lake is quite scenic with lots of islands and huge sand beaches. It is roughly a kilometer wide, and 10 long, however we were turning north into a deep bay after the first few kilometers. At the end of the bay we entered a 2km long navigable stream that meanders through a burnt out marsh.
After the stream we entered a good size lake that had a large beach at the end of it, our destination for the night. We reached the beach around 6, and started to setup our first campsite. There were enough blackflies and mosquitoes to convince us to setup the bug shelter for cooking and relaxing in. While I prepared the mashed potatoes, the guys got the fire going to cook up our lamb chops; delicious first dinner. We had a nip of Bruichladdich single malt scotch while watching the sky for some northern lights and shooting stars, then off to bed.
Mon August 26th: 12km, 3 portages: 300M, 300M, 750M
Woke up to another beautiful bluebird sky, had a leisurely breakfast of oatmeal and candy bacon along with a good cup of coffee and Baileyís. Got everything packed up and set off from our beach upstream into another nice creek. This one was navigable for the first kilometer, and paddled along a picturesque white rock ridge, but eventually the last 300m petered out into a jumble of boulders that the creek flowed under.
We prepared for our first portage of the trip, loaded up a light pack and found a path along the jumble of boulders. It was a bit of a rise to the next lake, and certainly tricky footing hopping along the boulders with off balanced loads and canoes, but it was a clear path. After reloading we pushed off in a small pond, then hopped a beaver damn into a small lake. Got a few small pike while trolling and casting across the lake. At the end of the lake was another creek, although unfortunately it was only navigable for the first 30 meters or so before it was swallowed up by the bushes. We tried to portage along the creek with packs, but the bushes were so thick we picked a different path along the edge of the marsh for our second trip. This was much better walking except for climbing over numerous spruce trees that had fallen down after the forest fire. All in all the 3 trips through this 300 meter portage were quite exhausting, especially as it was close to lunch, and getting quite hot. We paddled out into the small lake, and found a nice sand bottomed point where we stopped for lunch and jumped into the lake as our core temperatures were getting way too high. The cold water of the little lake was wonderfully refreshing and after floating around for 10 minutes or so we all felt much better.
After lunch and swimming, we checked out the next creek which looked to be another alder choked walk. After much deliberation we opted to hike a kilometer long overland route rather than another 4 alder choked creek portages. Aiding our decision was the fact that the long overland route was relatively clear as we could see on the satellite images how heavily burnt over it was, and confirmed with a quick scout at the top of the first hill. There was not a single mature tree for miles, and the fire looked to have gotten so hot that a lot of the rocks had fractured surfaces. Even the ground itself was still a mix of sand and ash.
It was very interesting terrain to portage through, nothing but small jackpines, alders and blueberry bushes. The blueberries were some of the thickest Iíve ever seen.
Our route through the burn was relatively straightforward, as we could see such a long distance it was easy to plan our path. However because everything looks much the same, on the second trip my fellow porteurs somehow ended up on the wrong side of a small pond, and had to cross back over to the main route. All the climbing over fallen spruce with heavy loads in blazing sun really takes its toll. I had a couple of nasty hamstring cramps on the second trip, convincing me that we werenít drinking enough water. Before going back in the barren baking wasteland of a portage for our final trip, we all jumped in the lake at the far end to cool off, and filtered and drank copious amounts of water. By the time we had finished portaging the last load, our wet clothes were again dry as a bone.
After a hard day of portaging, we were all in pretty good spirits knowing that we wouldnít have any more walking for a couple days. You can truly paddle for days on end up here as so many bodies of water seem to be endlessly connected together with creeks and rivers. We were now in a ranging lake that would eventually merge into the Rupert River, which would then dump into Lac Mesgouez. We paddled on until evening then looked for a potential campsite. We found a nice point on the edge of a large bay that had a small sand beach, a cobble beach, and just enough flat spot for our tent. Our screen house was pitched right on the point, even had to guy a few pegs into the lake!
We got everything setup, had another wonderful swim to cool off, then prepared for dinner. We made a small fire on the cobblestone beach, and cooked up some filet mignon, and another batch of garlic mashed potatoes to go with it. My aunt had provided me with a wilderness spice kit form silkroad merchants so I seasoned the steaks with some of their Inca fire salt blend, and it made for some of the tastiest steaks Iíve ever had.
While cleaning up after dinner in the dark we noticed a ton of movement in the waterís edge around us. The lake was full of leeches, toads, and minnows of all kinds. After dinner we enjoyed another dram out under the stars, then packed it in for a well-earned rest.
Tue August 27th: 16km, 0 portages
After waking to another bluebird sky, we had a leisurely breakfast, packed up and headed north through a long narrow channel. The channel was lined with a lot of scenic rocky cliffs, and had depths from 50 to 80 feet. I should have put on a diving lure and ploughed the depths for trout, but did get a few small pike trolling large spinners.
As we paddled down the channel, the wind kept picking up. By the time we reached a large open portion it was really starting to howl. We stopped at the end of the lake for a rest, swim and lunch. After lunch we continued on through more narrows, and noticed a small rapid dumping in through a channel on our right. This is where we merged onto the Rupert River. Not long after we had to run a relatively easy rapid with a good volume of water running through. The bay on the other side of the rapid had a channel that reached 150 feet deep in places!
Shortly after another narrows we took a minute to gather our energy in the lee of an island. We were now entering one of the large bays of Lac Mesgouez roughly 3km wide by 10km long and in a howling wind with 2 foot waves and whitecaps. We were heading for an island about 2km away with a huge sand beach on it. The wind was at least going our way, so if anyone was to capsize in the waves, we would still be pushed toward the island. Steeling ourselves we pushed off. It was a good paddle, I recall hitting nothing but air a couple of times as the boat was riding the peak of a wave, but only took on a small amount of water.
When we landed on the beach we were surprised to see some pole structures setup for erecting tarp shelters. The site is obviously used regularly as tarps were stored in the bush, and there were even a couple of box privyís; a true luxury on these trips! We setup camp behind the first row of bushes, giving us some respite from the wind.
Per usual, we still had a quick swim to wash off the grime from another days travel, and then proceeded to prepare dinner. I had kept one of the large pike caught earlier in the day, so we had delicious fried pike on a bun with mayo and onions. We had so much meat, that after a couple of sandwiches each, we still had leftovers for breakfast snack the next day. After dinner we had another nip of scotch, while lamenting the clouds that had moved in and spoiled our star gazing, and potential for northern lights. We also discussed rerouting our trip through a series of narrow channels and lakes if the wind continued to howl, rather than be exposed on the large bays of Lac Mesgouez.
Wed August 28th: 16km, 0 portages
Woke up this morning to still howling winds, and ominous looking skies. The weather sealed the decision to avoid 2 days travel on large open bays of Mesgouez and we planned to explore another series of small lakes and channels instead. We had our usual breakfast ritual, after which we all planned to use the box privy while it was available. After packing up we donned some rain gear, or at least kept it handy, then pushed off into a fierce headwind. The first couple kilometers across the large open bay was very taxing, especially in my solo boat. After that we entered a long narrow channel roughly 6 km long, but generally less than 150 meters wide. Most of it was into a headwind, but the channel certainly moderated the force compared to being on the exposed bay earlier. At the end of the channel, a short creek brought us into a lake about a kilometer wide by 3 long. At this point the howling headwind made progress very slow. We opted to take a break on a beach roughly halfway down the lake. As we wandered around eating lunch and blueberries, we came across a rather large burl on a dead burnt over spruce tree. With a bit of effort it was liberated for a souvenir to be used for a winter woodturning project.
After lunch we battled the headwind through the second half of the lake before entering some more channels where the wind was much more manageable. We were privileged to come across a large bull moose on the edge of one of the bays in this section.
As we continued through a series of channels, we eventually squeezed through a short tiny creek into a larger lake with a large beach on the north end; our destination for the night. It was a thin strip of land separating 2 bodies of water. The sun made a brief appearance allowing a quick swim, followed by a challenging setup in howling wind. Eventually we got the tent and tarp setup, even having to use the canoes to guy to in the howling winds.
As we setup and prepared dinner in the tarp shelter we could see very ominous shelf clouds forming.
The crazy clouds eventually turned into a pretty fierce thunderstorm. The shelter and tarp held up well, and we prepared and started cooking a nice deep dish pizza while the weather did its best to wash us back into the lake.
After dinner, the storms finally blew away. It looked like we might get some more sun, but it eventually clouded over again to stay for the next few days. We could feel the warmth disappear with the storm, and were now in a much cooler pattern. We had our usual nighttime libation, followed by another well-earned rest after a hard days paddle.
Thurs August 29th: 20km, 1 portages: 400M
We woke up to a drizzly start, so after our usual morning routine, we all donned full rain gear. It wasnít as warm as previous days, but the wind was still blowing hard. We pushed off heading south into a headwind across the lake. At the end of the lake a short creek was to bring us into the next lake. Unfortunately there were 2 creeks about 100M apart and we started on the wrong one. This one simply meandered off into a never-ending marsh. Eventually we realized the mistake and backtracked to the right one. This creek was much shorter, and after a small beaver dam lift over brought us into a small lake where we surprised and upset a family of loons.
At the bottom of this lake would be our first portage in a while. The shortest distance was a 300 meter straight line through a small pond. We explored the takeout and found it was a steep climb to start, and tough walking through scrub and fallen spruce piled high at the top. We backtracked and decided to track through a swamp that would add another 100 meters or so, but was much clearer walking. We stayed on the edge of the swamp, where we could pick a fairly dry line, and after a bit of bush crashing near the end we reached another five kilometer long set of narrow channel like lakes.
By this point we were warmed up from the exertion, so I made the mistake of removing my rain pants that would catch me later. We pushed off into a picturesque channel flanked by high walls. After a half hour or so, the channel narrowed into a small winding creek. The creek was surprisingly navigable, except for a handful of lift overs. It started no more than 2 meters wide, and a foot deep, but picked up slightly more volume towards the end. At the end as it dumped into the next channel like lake we were greeted by howling winds again, which had now swung from the south to prevailing westerly which meant full on headwind. We took a short break for lunch at the mouth of the creek, then broke out fishing gear as I wanted pickerel for dinner, and the channel looked like a good spot.
At a narrow point down the channel I hooked my first nice pickerel, after returning a couple small pike earlier. By the time I had the pickerel safely stowed on the stringer, I had probably been blown back down the channel about half a kilometer. As I again paddled through the narrows another pickerel was on. I again lost half a kilometer while stringing up the pickerel. Satisfied we had ample meat for dinner, I proceeded back through the narrows. Another pickerel hit in the exact same spot, so this time I jammed the nose of the canoe up against the cliff, and packed up the rod as I could no longer see the other canoe as I lost so much ground releasing fish. Shortly after I started paddling again, the wind picked up intensity, followed by a deluge of rain with little warning it was coming. There was certainly nowhere, nor enough time to get my rain pants back on so I got drenched. The deluge blew away within five minutes. Thankfully it wasnít too cold, so the hard work of paddling into the headwind kept me warm even though my lower half was soaked.
I finally caught up with the guys at the end of the channel where we entered into a small bay at the top end of a large lake (the large lake we would come back to on our last day). We grabbed a rest and snack here on a small beach, and were happy to see small amounts of sun peeking out; though the wind was still howling. It was nice to hear they caught some pickerel as well, including one that was barely bigger than the lure.
After crossing the bay we turned due north into more narrow lakes, which meant at least some respite from the wind. We had to run one small bony rapid between lakes, then carried on north for about 5km.
At the end of the narrow portion, the lakes opened up, but we turned to head northeast which meant we finally had some wind at our backs. At the end of another narrow section we entered our destination, a gorgeous near perfectly round lake about a kilometer in diameter that was nearly all beach shoreline on both sides.
We headed for the east side as the beach was deeper, and it was downwind paddling. When we landed we were on a very scenic narrow strip separating our lake from another small pond. By this point we had quite a bit of sun which prompted another quick swim, then we setup our tent and tarp at the top of the beach tucked in behind a few jack pines for some shelter from the still howling wind.
After everything was setup, I filleted the pickerel and we had an amazing couple of fish sandwiches for dinner.
As it got dark and we had our evening sip as the wind let off a bit, although it clouded back over. When heading out to the water to brush our teeth before bed, we were surprised to see the entire beach had glowing eyes of toads in our headlamps all lined up at the waterís edge. We went to bed hoping the weather would improve, as we knew it was back to the westward travel in the morning.
Fri August 30th: 17km, 2 portages: 150M, 400M, 100M
Up to another dreary looking day, with the wind already howling. After breakfast and packing up, we said farewell to the gorgeous beach and paddled across the small lake into a narrow bay at the north end of the lake. We anticipated carving a 150M portage through a swamp to a couple of lakes that would bring us to the bottom end of one of the large Lac Mesgouez arms. We were surprised to find a couple of fishing boats cached at the end of the bay, and a nicely carved trail across.
After the quick crossing (and gorging on more blueberries) we were heading due west into howling headwinds. We hugged the shore looking for some respite, but found little. It was an arduous paddle down one small lake, then some relief as we paddled through a good sized creek connecting to the next bay. After squeezing through another narrows we were now in Lac Mesgouez proper. As we travelled further west, the bay opened up even more and the howling headwind now came with breaking waves as well. I lost all forward momentum at one point as I rounded a point and hit shallow water with 2 feet waves crashing on the bow. I jumped out and took a rest on the sand/cobble beach of the point and the other guys pulled into shore just ahead of me. By now it was pouring rain as well as howling headwind, making for a very memorable paddling experience.
We were planning on crossing the large bay in front of us to check out what looked like a cabin on the satellite images. We did briefly discuss abandoning the idea in the awful maelstrom in front of us, but decided it was worth pushing on. The crossing was less than a kilometer, but the waves had a full 3 kilometers to build up at this point, so it was very challenging. We eventually made it to the cabin, and were surprised to see it looked like a fishing lodge. There were a large number of aluminum boats around, but the lodge itself while fairly new, didnít look to be well kept from the outside.
We took a look around, and ate some lunch before steeling ourselves to push off again. Briefly we were heading back the way we came, which meant a refreshing tailwind. Soon we turned south and headed to the bottom of the Lac Mesgouez bay, and entered a narrow marshy channel for the next 5 kilometers or so. Unfortunately the wind had swung to come from the SW so we largely faced headwinds again. At the bottom of this paddle it entered a larger lake where we would turn to head east back towards the channel we had been in the day before. We paddled to the east end of the lake to cut a portage and were surprised to find some kind of winter trail in the bush. There was no trail on the ground, but the trees were cut down in a relatively straight line about 10 feet wide. It was nice to have a clear line of sight, although we were largely walking through spongy peat moss and bushes which is still quite taxing.
At the end of the 400M portage we paddled across a small lake, then had a short 100M crossing to part of the channels we had been in the day before. Again the winter trail existed, so we used it and walked across the spongy ground.
We were now in a narrow section heading north and east with the wind at our backs for a couple of kilometers. At the end of this stretch was a decent sized beach destined to be our camp for the night.
It was a nice deep beach, with some good spots in the trees to setup sheltered from the howling wind. The rain had stopped and some blue was visible in the sky here and there, but the temperature was definitely plummeting. This would be our only beach landing that wasnít accompanied by a swim.
After setting up in the most sheltered spot we could find, we sat down to start dinner, but were all feeling frozen. Everyone dug out all their warm clothes, and wore rain gear on top to seal in the heat. One member had on at least 4 layers and was still cold, so we brewed up some nice hot Labrador tea, which helped thaw out the core. After tea, we made another pizza dinner, this time chicken bacon pesto which also felt good going down nice and hot. After dinner we were all so cold and exhausted, we skipped our usual dram and stargazing in favor of crawling into warm sleeping bags.
Sat August 31st: 23km, 1 portages: 3000M
Got up to nicer looking conditions, still howling wind, but a lot more broken up sky. After breakfast and packing up we set off into familiar waters. Just behind our beach was the north south channel we were in a couple of days ago. We paddled south through the channel, which was narrow enough to have some respite from the wind. I lined up the small rapid, while the other guys were able to paddle furiously and pole through it. As we continued south we entered the top end of a very large lake. The total lake was around 10km long, but only 2km at the widest. It also had some long narrow arms heading off to the east, but we would be travelling due south all day. The wind was still largely from the SW, so we stayed close to the west shore as much as possible to reduce the effects. I trolled much of the upper end of the lake, before we had to cross some of the larger open bays, and landed a few nice fish including this generously sized pike.
We took shelter on an island in the middle of one of the large open bay crossings for lunch and some rest. After lunch, we pushed on and had much more sheltered shoreline as we headed all the way to the south end of the lake.
At the end we went looking for what appeared to be a 4 wheeler trail on the satellite views coming from the road to the launch on Lac Courseron. We quickly found a couple of fishing boats stashed at the edge of the bush, but that was 100 meters away from the edge of the lake through a marsh. The marsh had a mishmash of old pallets, doors, and timbers thrown down for walking on so you wouldnít sink into fathomless bog. It was tricky footing, but we managed to get our boats and gear to the edge of the bush where there was a very good 4 wheeler trail. Except for 2 more marshy crossings balancing on old timbers and junk, the trail was very good. We hopscotched the 2km or so with a couple of rest stops in between. Then we finished our portage travelling another kilometer down the gravel road, which was nice walking even though slightly long.
After finishing the long portage, we took a quick rest to catch our breath before heading back into yet another headwind for our final leg of the journey. The last push into the wind was only 3km back to our vehicle, and it was a relatively enjoyable paddle as the clouds had mostly blown away and it was nice and sunny. When we hit the road, we ran through a small rapid in one of the large culverts to a small beach landing on the other side where we had stashed our vehicle. It was now around 4:30 in the afternoon, and it felt good to have completed exploring such a vast amount of new territory.
After squeezing all our gear and 2 canoes into the tiny car, we spent an hour or so picking blueberries and Labrador tea in the cut under the power lines. Afterward we hit the gravel road for the 200km back to the highway, then another hour down the highway back to Chapais and our usual Motel Clossi for the evening. After cleaning up we went in search of a beer and some wings to cap off our trip.
Sun Sep 1st
In the morning we headed out right away, and traveled for a few hours before stopping at Lebel sur Quevillon (the first significant town since leaving Chapais) for breakfast. There is a small restaurant there that does great breakfasts including my favorite hearty petit dejeuner poid lourds. It has a little bit of everything; eggs, bacon, ham, toast, sausage, beans, crouton, a very refreshing, if somewhat shocking to the system change from 7 days of oatmeal!
On the uneventful trip home we reflected more on the trip, and in my head I was already trying to determine which area to explore next year; canít wait to go back!