Missinaibi River - Mattice to Moose River
|Route description submitted By: |
|Distance: 222 km|
Duration : 10 days
Loop Trip : no
|River Travel : advanced|
Lake Travel : not applicable
Portaging : Difficult
Remoteness : advanced
|No. of Portages : 7|
Total Length: 6130 m
Average Length: 876 m
Longest Portage : 2350 m
|Topo Maps (1:50,000)|
42 G/11 Mattice
42 G/14 Shannon Lake
42 J/3 Thunder House Falls
42 J/2 Friday Creek
42 J/7 Soweska River
42 J/8 Wawa Lakes
42 J/9 McCuarg Creek 42 I/12 Pickett Creek
42 I/14 Moose River
GPX Data for this Route
|Suitability : poor||no gpx data found|
|Town of Mattice on Hwy 11
P 180 m centre of island around Rock Island Rapids
P 580 m R around Black Feather Rapids
P 100 m R around Beam Rapids
P 400 m L around Kettle Falls
Rapid (CBR) after Alice Island
P 1645 m L around Thunderhouse Falls (don`t miss this one - extreme danger)
P 875 m R around Stone Rapids
P 2350 m R around Hell`s Gate Canyon
Long Rapids (CBR - lining / wading)
Four Mile Rapids (CBR - lining / wading)
Finish at Moose River Crossing
|For a key plan showing topo maps required for the entire Missinaibi River route, click here|
Trip Log / Diary
|Missinaibi River - Mattice to Moose River Crossing - Daily Journal|
by Gary Workman as edited by Milton F. Whitmore
Les Six Voyageurs de Michigan ...
Tom Workman, Milton Whitmore, Gary Workman, Mary Jo Workman, Mary Whitmore, Helene Plotka
Saturday July 17, 1992
Met at "The Place" for trip briefing, gear check, food list, food shopping and fishing tackle arrangement. Mary presented each of us with a T-shirt designed especially for the trip. It read: "Les Six Voyageurs de Michigan". We packed two food packs. Mary Jo, Tom, Milt, and Mary packed one personal pack per couple plus a smaller nap sack per couple for small stuff. Helene and I each packed a frame pack for their personals and carried camp gear, cook kit, water purifier, and first-aid kit. The goal was to make portages in one trip. Packs weighed in at 40-50 lbs. each.
Sunday July 18
Four thirty comes early and the alarm always rings louder. We loaded gear into Mary Jo`s Explorer with canoes on top, two 17` Grummans. A cooler for car food and the first night`s river dinner was also loaded. Drove to Whitmores where Milt had three slices of bacon ready for us that were one hour cold due to our late "Workman" start.
We departed Whitmore`s at 7:03 AM and arrived in Mattice at 9:30 PM 618 miles later. The drive was a leisurely one with speeds ranging between the limit and +6. We stopped six or seven times, twice for sit down meals.
The drive is beautiful up to White River and north up HWY 631 where the scenery changes to scrub brush. HWY 11 is downright ugly, flat and swampy. The town of Hearst is much larger than we expected with a lumbering town population of about 6000 and 600 restaurants, a slight exaggeration. Mattice, just to the east of Hearst, is a small community about the size of our Onekama, MI. Saturday night we stayed a Shallow Lake Missinaibi Outfitters owned and operated by Owen and Denise Korpela
We stayed in a double-wide trailer cabin, a part of Owen and Denise`s business. Milt and Mary were also renting a canoe from Owen. The place is perfect for paddlers like us. We were treated like family the moment we arrived. Denise commented that she would have made different accommodations in our double-wide if she had known that there were women along in the group. We laughed and wondered what other arrangements she would have made because it was already more than we expected, complete with hot showers and a TV that received TWO channels.....AAH! The last luxuries.
Monday July 19 ... The Initiation
Awake at 6:30 AM. We went to have breakfast at "Nancy`s Truck Stop" bar/restaurant, an outhouse sized roadside eatery. When we found it was closed and pulled back out onto the highway a man flagged us down and explained that they were moving and instructed us to, "Go to that building over there and follow me through the back door and we`ll fix you right up." Later we learned that Denise had called and told him that we were coming. The mostly French speaking waitress came to our table and explained that due to the move their menu was limited to eggs, as was her English vocabulary. Mary got a more detailed description of the situation by conversing in French which she teaches at the Freesoil (Michigan) Community Schools.
When breakfast came we learned that the eggs are served just one way, two of them over easy. We were delighted to see the eggs also served with bacon, potatoes, toast, and coffee. It was the perfect start to the first paddling day of our trip.
When we returned to Owen and Denise`s place, they showed us a video of the trip that Owen made in June when he paddled the river to clear the portage trails of the winter`s deadfalls. This preview of the trip helped whet our appetites for the adventure at hand.
We dilly-dallied around until about 1:45 PM before actually pushing off. Owen delivered us, our canoes, and gear to the river just downstream of the HWY 11 bridge crossing. With hand shakes all around we paddled off downstream. This section of the Missinaibi surprised us with its breadth, about 100 yards wide. The initial paddling is rather mundane which allowed us to get the kinks out of the muscles and bones before the real paddling caught up with us. It was amazing how rapidly civilization was left behind, with a power line crossing not far downstream from our takeoff point being the last sign for days.
Less than an hour into the trip it began to rain. Nothing serious, just light misty drops. We courted a loon as we lazily followed the watery trail towards James Bay.
When we stopped to scout Rock Island Rapids to scout torrential rainfall of monsoonal proportions overtook us complete with close lightning strikes, hail, and gale force winds. What an initiation. While we waited out the storm on the rocks, watching our canoes fill with water, with bug dope dripping into eyes, we knew that this was merely the give and take of all such adventures.
Rock Island Rapids is a rather straight forward set taken for the most part down the left side between the island and the three foot standing waves in the left-center channel.
Milt and Mary, in the mood for an adventure of their own lined their Old Town Discoverer down through the rocks to the left of the main river channel. Milt slipped early into the lining and sprained an ankle. Fortunately this being about the 10,000th sprain of said ankle during his forty-nine years, it was but a minor problem.
Two or three hours downstream we arrived at Black Feather Rapids, marked CBR, Can Be Run (more on this later), with a .36 mkle portage right. Upon scouting we felt that we could run it, especially since we were already soaked by the rain. This rock garden of rock gardens requires some tricky maneuvers to avoid the obstructions and three foot waves. I was worried about the others as we were first through and narrowly escaped disaster in the bodacious Class III waves. Mom and Dad made it safely to the eddy that we were in, and there being only room for two canoes, Helen and I moved on to a tricky set of lower rapids that caught us off-guard and almost tipped us. Later Milt and Mary told us that Mary lost her paddle in the big waves near the head of the rapids and Milt recovered it when it miraculously popped up next to him. They then broached on a rock, but because of the makeup of the Old Town`s hull they were able to slid off and find a safe eddy for a momentary respite.
It was shortly after this twisting run through the maze of boulders that is Black Feather that Milt informed me that CBR stands for "Check Before Running." Oops!
It was getting late and the moods of the voyageurs and daylight were taking a dive fast, so we searched for the first camp site. Everyone was looking forward to the baked potatoes and fresh green beans that we carried in special for our first night`s dinner. We skipped on camp without enough tent sites and settled for the second one next to Beam Rapids, along the portage trail. It added to the canoers initiation ceremony, a wet, nosy, small, insect haven with no fishing in the dark, poor swimming, and difficult dish washing. We set up camp and prepared an abbreviated peanut butter based dinner in the dark, rain, and bugs. I think the bugs ate more of us than we ate for dinner. We had to skip our "special" first-night dinner which meant that we would have to carry the heavy load for another day. One good thing is that we had fish that Helene and I caught at a creek upstream of Beam Rapids. Helene had caught a fallfish which we cooked, tried to eat and promptly renamed foulfish because it is filled with y-bones that you can`t see in the dark and can`t feel until they stab you in the back of the throat, to say nothing of the taste!
It rained that night and the wind was gusty, rounding out the day as a perfect initiation to the three first timers and a subtle reminder to the seasoned veterans. Despite the day no one was wavering, although Mary shared with us later that she considered paddling back upstream while she and Milt were standing on Rock Island in the rain, wind, hail, and lightning, each holding a rope on their canoe, watching it fill up with rainwater.
Day 2 Tuesday July 20 Bare Rock Point. It will have to be a better day......
A bad first day an awkward 1st camp led to a late 11:05 start. A short paddle to Kettle Falls revealed a beautiful rapids-side campsite++ that could have made day one a better day. We pulled over left, avoiding yet another portage (.25 miles, river left). I think the three first time voyagers were beginning to wonder why we were trying so hard to avoid a portage. We paddled through tropic-like mist squalls, gentle current and wind all day. Milt was making three day weather predictions based on cloud types, north winds, and the way the smoke rose from the campfire. I wasn`t sure if this was voodoo, Indian magic, or real, but the forecast was good, so for now I was believing it. Lunch was on the swampy shore of the south end of Isabell Island, a good lunch considering the mist storm and mosquitoes. It would be a good large campsite on a dry day.
We continued on the the right channel around Isabell and Alice Islands. Helen and I chased a couple of loons around Alice Island and noticed many sighs of beaver along the way. The campsite on the side of the river at the north end of Alice Island is a nice one, but difficult to access, high on a clay bluff. A short paddle further brought us to Bare Rock Point, a campsite+ with deep swimming, good fishing, and decent tent sites. We were visited by loons, a beaver, and an otter to remind us that we were far from home. Dad and I each caught large northern pike. My pike had been chewed on previously, probably by an even larger pike. When dad hooked his pike he was alone in a canoe and needed an emergency net run by Milt and I to land the fish. Upon cleaning it we found a mouse in its stomach.
The girls were getting used to the fact that the waters contained plenty of leeches. One of them commented how everything in Canada seems to want to suck your blood. The rain and mist combined with the brush that the tents were set up in made it into a mosquito haven. Helen said that one even bit her,"You know where" when she was "taking care of business." We had our first-day special dinner out on Bare Rock Point that evening under a colorful sunset sky. In the morning Helene would count sixteen mosquito bites on one hand.
Day 3 Wednesday July 21 ... First Portage
We were late getting out of the tents (8:30) and had a tasty fried fish breakfast. The added work associated with cooking fish along with looking for Dad`s lost knife gave us a late start on the river (11:30). I went for a swim with the dive mask and found Dad`s knife four feet under water next to Bare Rock. The day started with strong head winds and broken cumulus clouds, good current and periodic rapids. So far Milt`s weather forecast has been correct which is good news except that today he added that fishing is very poor during these weather conditions. If that is true, then Milt`s forecasting techniques correlate that way smoke rises from a campfire to the appetite of fish. For now I`ll believe the weather, but not the fishing forecast. Both Mom and Dad and Helene and I had near tip-over mishaps in the unnamed rapids in this stretch before the Thunder House Falls Portage trail. By 2:30 we reached the portage for Thunder House Falls. I think everyone had butterflies in their stomachs because of the tales of drowned canoers that we had heard and read about who missed the portage and were swept over the falls. But with Milt and I laying our trusted, water sealed, topo maps in front of us as we canoed, we were able to keep track of just where we were at any given point on the river. If one is to adventure out onto a wilderness river, beset of whitewater, this ability to follow a topo map along with extensive research, allows the canoer to know the enemy and with this knowledge the enemy becomes ones` friend.
This was our first portage, 1.1 miles long. It was Milt`s first experience carrying a canoe and the first time for Helene and Mary carrying 45 lb. packs. It only took about a third of a mile before everyone realized why we were trying so hard to avoid portaging. The smokey memories of bugs biting you in every place that you can`t reach with packs and canoes on your backs along with the soreness of muscles used infrequently outside of portages became vivid again for the experienced paddlers and were already permanent fixtures in the minds of the new voyagers.
I helped Milt lift the canoe to his shoulders and explained how to redistribute the pain as your walking by rolling the canoe forward and back on your neck. Milt was followed by Helene, then me. He made it as far as the first slippery log bridge where his boot slid between two the logs up to his ankle in muck and jammed. The canoe came down there without injury to Milt as he deposited it onto the nearest, soft looking bush he could find. It was at this point that I noticed that I put the canoe up on Milt backwards at first which must have been unbalanced and painful. Sorry Milt!
The question of "Why are we doing this?" was obviously running through our heads at this point. Mom suffered from a very sore knee and Milt`s was experiencing a pinched nerve and dislocated discs in his lower back for which he was scheduled to be operated one after returning from this trip. The doctor`s reaction when Milt informed him of this upcoming trip was, "You`re not going to injure your back any more than it already is so go ahead with the trip." All of these thoughts and aches ran through our minds and bodies. Despite these agonies we were rewarded with a momentous lunch spot over the third drop of Thunder House Falls. Words can`t describe the beautiful view of some of the oldest surface rock on earth being separated by 100 foot wide chute that was funneling the entire Missinaibi over three major drops. The falls were terminated by a single, monolithic pillar of rock aptly named by the Indians, Conjurers House, a place for prayer and mystic introspection where mere mortals can commune with the gods. I wondered if the Indians prayed because of its proximity to this god-forsaken portage trail.
Mist was rising from the falls. The sound was like thunder, the breeze was strong and clean, and the sun was buried in sea of blue and beginning to lay low in the sky. There wasn`t a pause or stutter by anyone when Dad suggested that this be the camp for the night. Ahh, this is what it is all about. An early camp at one of the most scenic and remote spots in northern Ontario. We hadn`t seen another person since we left Owen at Mattice and we know we`d be alone here tonight. The only other visitor was a very tame and hungry red squirrel. Everyone had a chance to take a bath, thank God. Helene and I fished the eddied in the chute downstream from Conjurers House, unsuccessfully. Milt`s predictions have been 100% correct, which assumes to be true, that there IS a correlation between the way smike rises from campfires and the way fish bite. The weather is beautiful, the sights and sounds are momentous and the fishing stinks.
Dinner was on the top of the 200 foot high cliffs just five feet from the ecgte, spaghetti. We had to watch our camp gear in the wind, because anything that found itself over the edge of the cliff would have been unrecoverable.
Day 4 Thursday July 22 ... Forever Memories
We woke to the thundering sound of the falls in the canyon. The sun was shining bright, something that the spectacular sunset had promised last evening. The sun illuminated the mist as it boiled out of the supper set of Falls. Everyone was refreshed and in notably better spirits after an early night and unspoiled sleep. I`m not sure when we actually got started, but I think it was around 9:30.
We had a short carry downhill to the end of the portage trail. The ominous reminder of a wrecked aluminum canoe lay on the far shore, the result of a fatal miscalculation by two canoeists earlier in the month.
Canoeing started with a tricky set of Class I-II sets of rapids and short paddle to the Stone Rapids Portage Trail. The sun was bright and the breeze was strong. We were much more organized on this portage as we worked out the details yesterday. The trial was .6 mile long, wide, and easy walking except for the 40-80 lbs. on our backs, bugs, and a steep drop at the end of the trail. The bugs were bad. They`re especially bothersome when we`re carrying a canoe in the breeze and forget to put on bug dop like me! The upside-down canoe provides a wind free haven for the mosquitoes, deer flies, black flies, and horse flies. Your face, neck, ears, and wrists provide an "all you can eat" smorgasbord for every six legged arthropod with a yen for human blood. At times there is nothing else you can do about the bugs` gnawing away at your flesh short of dropping the 70-80 lbs. canoe. That of course means that we have to expend the energy to lift it again.
Dad slipped and almost took a bad tumble with the canoe on his way down the drop-off at the end of the trail. Mom`s calf muscles were very tight due the corrective steps she was taking to relieve the pain in her knees yesterday. We left mom and the five of us returned for a second load. In good time we were back on the river again. We fished the eddy at the end of Stone Rapids from 12:20-1:00 unsuccessfully. Note that campfire smoke would not rise quickly if we had a fire going at this moment, according to Milt`s forecasting techniques.
Again we had a short paddle through a tricky set of rapids to the Long Rapids Portage Trail, river right. This is another portage trail that is at the head of the "Don`t Miss This One" list. Miss it and a severe, life threatening struggle, awaits you in the gorge ahead.
We were organized and quick getting started. This portage was 1.2 miles long and we were warned that it was a doozy. Well, this is the second point in the trip that words can`t begin to explain.
This portage trail had everything; steep climbs, bugs, woodland paths, shin deep mud, slippery log bridges both width-wise and length-wise, rocks, gravel, and fresh bear tracks. It had all the ingredients of a memory making challenge. Mom`s knee and Milt`s back were still ailing them and the bugs were ailing all of us, but this time I remembered to put on bug dope. It sucked! There wasn`t much talking on the first trip over and almost none on the trip back. At times Milt set his canoe down and dragged it throught the mud down the trail. Being fiberglass it looked like a nice alternative to the smash-your-neck method that we stuck to. When we got back to the starting point for a second load, everyone filled their empty water bottles. We used the water purifier as a human powered drinking fountain to quench our thirst in a cold babbling brook flowing out of the hill next to the portage trail.
At one point we clearly defined the distinction between wind and breeze. Breeze is that wonderful, fresh smelling current of air that blows the bugs away and cools us off on the portage trail. On the other hand, wind, referred to as "S.O.B. wind" by Helene, is the exact same current of air thats blows us off course broadside into a rock as we try to pick our way through the rapids. Mom says that it`s like we have a love-hate relationship with air.
I reapplied the bug dope that was flushed from my skin by sweat, muck and foliage before heading back with a pack. In time the portage was over. Nobody took the side trail to view the gorge, much to our regret later on after the trip was over. Fatigue makes cowards of us all.
We enjoyed a small lunch on a cobble-stone point at the end of Long Rapids. It looked like an excellent fishing eddy, but no one seemed to have the energy to cast. I went for a cool dip with the diving mask and found a fishing lure. It was a refreshing event that I recommended to the others without response.
The day was already long, but it wasn`t over yet. We were at the head of Four Mile Rapids, described on maps as "very strong` with a "USE EXTREME CAUTION" notation and CBR, which I now know stands for "Check Before Runing". Well, as Milt and Mary will attest, we CBR`d by viewing the rapids from a standing position in the canoe at the head of the rapids to pick a good line, totally ignoring the "use extreme caution" warning. We all took in water at the second set that needed to be bailed in an eddy between sets. Milt and Mary were following Helene and I not knowing that I was feeling a bit cocky and interested in the biggest waves and challenges we could find. In the 4th of 5 sets I chose a chute far left that required some heavy duty paddling to avoid a long pour-over rock. As Milt was watching us from 50 feet behind he saw us disappear! He said that our whole canoe, excepting our heads, went out of view in the waves as we narrowly scaved the pour-over rock to the left. A great ride!
Either Milt felt tht he should avoid this chute or the river did, but his canoe only made it a third of the way over the pour-over rock (Mary`s third). They proceeded immediately into a Class II rapids twirl and dropped off the rock. To this day, Milt doesn`t admit it, but I think he was just trying to accumulate "style points", because they came out of it with only a few gallons to bail.
Although the maps strongly suggested lining Four Mile Rapids, we opted to run them based on the idea that more injuries seem to occur when lining than when running, even when a tip-over occurs. These rapids were deep enough to float down without bumps or broken ankles in the event that one of us were left in the drink.
The fifth set brought us into Bell`s Bay, a beautiful, calm, wide bend in the river where the Missinaibi shifts from a northern to a northeastern flow. What a wonderful sight to us all. We had left the pre-Cambrian outcrops of the Canadian Shield and were now in the glacial till deposits that marks the beginning of the Arctic Wilderness. The clay banks and gravelly outwash were evidence of this change in terrain. We now began to notice Devonian limestone fossils in the sediments along the river.
We selected a bay side campsite and fished a bit unsuccessfully after setting up camp. Dad caught a sturgeon on Milt`s pole that was set up on shore. We took a picture and let it go. The scalloped potatoes were just great doctored up with our evening ritual of shaking lemon pepper, minced onions, minced garlic, Lowery`s, chopped dried peppers, and crushed red peppers. Helene counted 23 bug bites on one of her hands that night and her hand looked great compared to her legs that were bug bitten and bruised beyond recognition.
It is stories like the memories of this day that will make it impossible to answer the question of "Why?" when we`re telling these tales to our friends this winter in the comfort of home.
Day 5- Friday July 23 ... Slow Water Blues
It was a long laborious day of paddling. Helene and I weren`t able to move as fast which added to the misery of a monotonous long day of paddling. I caught two smallmouth bass at the mouth of the Coal River. A bush plane flew overhead as we were taking our break there. It was the first sight and sound of civilization in five days. Dad caught a walleye and lost another and Milt watched the biggest pike he ever saw jump in front of his canoe. (Actually this happened quite often and we after learned that these were sturgeon, not pike) The sun was shining bright. The wind was light and in our face when it blew. The fish tasted good for dinner with macaroni and cheese at a nice grassy camp next to the mouth of the Pivabiska River.
Day 6 will be another long one so we hit the sack at 9:445. Helene said that she had to pull the pencil out of my hand because I fell asleep writing. Dad heard a bear next to his tent that night. When Helene woke to our sounds to scare it away she asked what was going on. I responded, "We`re scaring a bear out of our camp." Her only reply was, "Well wake me up if I have to do anything." With this she went back to sleep.
Day 6 - Saturday July 24...White Spruce Island
I was up at 6:30. Milt and Mary soon followed. Everyone was up by 7:15. This allowed Helene and I to push off around 9?00, twenty minutes earlier than the others which helped us to move at our own paces. We paddled over glass-like water conditions with tannic foam bubbles floating on the water downstream of the Pivabiska River. The sun was pouring it on full, straight into our face at times and slightly over our right shoulder at others. At a short morning break, someone commented how nice it was when the sun ditched behind on of the little cumulus clouds in the sky. How true it was. We laughed because this was exactly opposite to our wishes during the first two and a half days. We had lunch, deviled ham on crackers at the Soweska River opening and paddled on for another two to three hours to a beautiful spruce haven campsite just upstream from the Opasatika River mouth. We were disappointed at the signs of inconsiderate campers who left initials carved into the trees and junk, including a full sized mattress at this campsite. The river was now big enough to land float planes and this is probably a sign of it.
Milt and I each caught two walleyes in the pools between the shallows upstream from this site. They tasted great with rice-a-roni as a side dish. Some tree frogs or crickets kept Helene awake for awhile that night. Twice they hopped on the side of the tent and slid down making a zipper sound spooking us for a moment. tomorrow would be a short day in comparison, so we went to bed later than normal and dreamed about pancakes for breakfast.
Day 7 - Sunday July 25... Main Sail
Milt and I were up early to get the fire going. Everyone else followed. We pushed off about 10:00; Helene and I a bit early again as to prevent holding the others up while paddling. We soon entered a set of shallow rapids just upstream of the Opasatika River. The wind was still and the sun was bright and shining on our faces and right side. The Missinaibi grew noticeably wider after the Opasatika entered. It also make a good fishing hole along the right bank. Milt and I both picked up a walleye there. Shortly after that, Helene and I pick up a snag ont the fishing line which put us back in last place. It is frustrating being last because you feel like you`re playing catch-up all day and any wildlife sightings are long gone by the time you get there. Helene and I have grown unfondly used to this position.
Lunch was peanut- butter on anything located on a nothing but stones island. My water purifier clogged so lunch was without liquid. As our spirits dropped, the wind picked up it was obvious that everyone wa going stir crazy with all the monotonous paddling. Mom started a trend by holding a rain poncho up to act as a sail in her outstretched arms. Mary followed with a similar act, while Helene and I strapped the lunch tarp to two paddles forming a sort of spinnaker sail and left the others in our wake, a new feeling for us.
Milt baked the three walleyes with the spices and dried vegees that we had. The walleye tasted great with spaghetti under the big white spruce on this island camp. just after we went to bed a strong wind storm with a bit of rain kept us awake for a short while. The wind spooked Helene and the rain soaked Mom and Dad`s sleeping bags.
Day 8 - Monday July 26... The Long Haul
Day 8 started like any other day except it was a bit earlier and everyone took a little water from the overnight rain. We were up and out between 6:30 and 7:00 and ready to push off at 8:30. It was at this site that I began to notice a trend in the daily routine of everyone.
Each evening when we arrived at camp, no matter how wet, whipped, or beaten we were, Milt always searched for a pile of dry firewood and cut it using a hand bow saw into 6-10 inch lengths. he always cut more than wa requested by Dad who was usually reconstructing the rock fire ring into a work of art that he called "the stove" with great pride. Soon a fire was burning and Milt was "smoking up" a ritual-like slow dance that he performed in the campfire smoke to deep the bugs off because he didn`t like using bug dope.
During this same time Dad prepared the cook kit and laid out the food for the night. Mom, Mary, and Helene selected tent sites, set up the tents and laid out the sleeping bads with periodic help from Milt, Dad, and I.
In the morning, Milt and Mary were first up and either Milt or I were first out to build the morning fire. Milt and I would have a cup of "Gary coffee" which was my recipe for espresso-like black coffee that Milt claimed to make his beard grow longer than ever. Once everyone was up and having breakfast, Milt would give the morning weather and new report. This daily routine took on the name of the "Chief Moose Jaw Report." One other daily occurrence happened as we pushed off shore each morning. Dad would sing out his one word song called "Granola." I think he extracted the music for it from a TV commercial. It was sung in the spirit of the oatmeal-granola concoction we call "canoers breakfast". It echoed through the hills when he sang it and may account for us not seeing much wildlife.
There were many other noteworthy routines, but I think it all meant that we had a good group on this trip. Three experienced and three newly initiated wilderness canoeists. A trip like this can be made miserable if one or more don`t take part.
We pushed off together on this 8th day knowing it would be the longest paddling day of the trip. We had to cover about 25 river miles with an increasingly wide and shallow river profile. The average river width has grown from about 600 feet at Mattice to about 800 feet in the parts we will be paddling today as measured off the topo maps). The weather was overcast and misty as Chief Moose Jaw predicted, with a 43.67% chance of rain.
Although it was somewhat gloomy, it was a nice reprieve from the bright sunshine that we paddled into the last three days. There was also much more current than we expected. The river was marked with shoals, shallows, and small sets of rapids that were separated by sporadic deep-water holes that would probably have been excellent for fishing if we though we had the time. One thing that we really wanted, but didn`t have was wind at our backs, referred to as "nice wind". Milt and I had improved on our sail designs and were hoping for an opportunity to try them out to save our strength for fishing in the evening. One and a half hours into the day, we encountered a set of rapids labeled the map "Use Extreme Caution". At this point it began to downpour for a short time, something that Helene had predicted. We scouted the rapids from our canoes, as usual, and Milt and Mary took the lead in finding a successful line through the rapids. It was obvious that either their paddling confidence was up, or they really wanted to get off the river, because this was the first time they took the lead in a noted strong rapids.
We stopped after two hours of paddling for a riverside stretch and after four hours for lunch on a very welcome rocky point. Lunch was cheese and salami on crackers, yumm! After lunch Helene and I got it together with a new paddling technique. Helene would take twenty hard strokes then rest for about six of mine. This helped to put us in the lead and stay there for the rest of the trip. Helene and I reached the camp at 4:30, a half hour ahead of the others. I turned the fire ring into a stove and cooked up a batch of everything left in the food pack and named it "long haul stew". Everyone washed up on a cobble stone shoal and called it an early night. My night was much earlier than the others as I fell asleep on the top of our sleeping bags and gear when I went to the tent for a change of clothes.
Day 9 Tuesday July 27 ... Finale
Day nine started with the sound of a wolf`s howl during breakfast. We were now boiling water to purify it and letting it sit overnight to cool. Helene tried one of her emergency iodine water purification tablets and tried to mask the taste with Crystal Lite to limited success. We missed having the water purifier, but had no problems without it. We pushed off the Portage Island campsite at 10:03, paddled into the strongest S.O.B. wind yet. The Missinaibi ends at Portage Island where the Mattagami River more than doubles it to form the Moose River which is over a mile wide at that point. Although we were paddling in a good strong current, the wind blew harder into our face testing our paddling patience for the final two hours. It was overcast and warm.
The paddling journey terminated at Moose River Crossing, a zero population blip on a railway map where the train tracks cross the Moose River. This was the first sign of human development, aside from a trapper`s cabin and MNR water station, that we encountered in nine days; a welcome sight. Once on the shore of Moose River Crossing we were still faced with a .3 mile portage down the trestle and tracks to the town of Moose River, population two, an eighty year old Indian and his sixty year old son. From Moose River we could catch a freight/passenger train to Moosonee which was forty miles north on the Moose River, just short of James Bay.
The portage started with a steep climb up a gravel embankment that caused Helene to fall and get turtled upside-down on her backpack. In the confusion and excitement, I forgot to help Milt hoist his canoe to his shoulders which I found out later he did by himself for the first time.
The only other travelers at Moose River were a threesome of solo paddlers who finished the same trip a day ahead of us. We shared highlight stories and dreams of civilized luxuries such as ice cubes and warm showers that we hoped to find in Moosonee. They told us about one paddler they met, an MNR ranger, who sprained or broke his ankle on the second day so bad that he had to finish the trip on camp-make crutches.
The train was right on time. We loaded our canoes and gear into a box car marked "canoe car" and boarded the passenger section agreeing with the conductor to pay for train fares by credit card in Moosonee. The train ride was fifty-eight minutes across subarctic terrain with dwarf spruce the most common flora. Upon arrival in Moosonee we left our canoes in the locked canoe car and headed into town.
Moosonee is a strikingly more touristy than expected. We were definitely in the minority to the average nonresident tourist-like travelers. Many of them took interest in us as we walked down main street dressed in our worn canoe garb and backpacks. Or maybe they were looking at Mom who was escorting us carrying a case of Molson X that we bought moments earlier.
Thank God Milt and Mary thought to make reservations for rooms because Moosonee was booked. Our rooms were at the Moosonee Lodge and provided us with luxuries such as ice, hot showers , dinner at a table, a real bed.
We had time to look around town before going to bed. It is a rather interesting place whose roads lead nowhere. One of the most unique features revolve around the three or four taxis that seem to cruise through town on regular intervals. These 1980`s beasts of the road seem to belie the fact that you can`t drive there from Moosonee. Where they were going as they dashed to and fro about town is anyone`s guess.
So ended our sojourn into the wilds of the Missinaibi. The joys and aches, the sweat and laughter remain with us to this day. This journey has become more than a mere adventure, it has become a part of who we are.
|Black Feather Rapids on the Missinaibi River.|
(Photo Credit : Mike Disley)
|Thunderhouse Falls (low water conditions).|
(Photo Credit : Robert Postma)
|Conjuring House Rock in low water conditions.|
(Photo Credit : Mike Disley)
|Hells Gate Canyon.|
(Photo Credit : Mike Disley)
User Submitted Information
|THIS IS AN OLD VERSION OF 'ROUTES' & THEREFORE IS NO LONGER OPEN FOR ADDITIONAL COMMENTS. |
please let me know if you came across native burial sites which seem no one visited for quite some tome ago.
We did the trip in late Aug (low water) in 6 days - 10 days as indicated above is quite generous (or may be realistic in a entirely headwind situation)
Here is a direct link to OMNR's realtime gauge on the Missinaibi at Mattice: http://scitech.pyr.ec.gc.ca/waterweb/FullGraph.asp?stnID=04LJ001 For comparison, here are the levels (and flow rates) during the whitewater part of the trip reported above: Day 1 0.498m (44.3cms) Day 2 0.504m (45.0cms) Day 3 0.507m (45.7cms) Day 4 0.505m (45.1cms)
Don't waste your time and money buying government topos for this route (they are too numerous, badly outdated and have no paddling info). Chrismar has 2 of just 3 map guides needed for this route (the 3rd is nearing completion). Far more detail, route descriptions, far less expensive, waterproof, etc., etc.
My buddies & I just ran this route in low water on the first week of July, 2012. I put a trip journal on my own website to add pics & video. Here's part one: http://stephenbarkley.com/2012/07/26/lower-missinaibi-river-part-1-mattice-to-thunderhouse-falls/
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