Little Churchill and Churchill Rivers

CanadaManitobaNorth
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Ben Berthiaume
Trip Date : 
July 31st 2023
Additional Route Information
Distance: 
382 km
Duration: 
13 days
Loop Trip: 
No
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
10
Total Portage Distance: 
2000 m
Longest Portage: 
500 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Intermediate
Lake Travel: 
Not applicable
Portaging: 
Difficult
Remoteness: 
Advanced
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
High
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

This route is part of a larger expedition that spanned south into Quetico. We accessed the put in (Waskiowaka lake) through three days of portaging from Split Lake but it you would also be able to access this lake by flying into Dunlops Fishing Lodge. They were an amazing family that were able to give us some info about the river before sending us on our way. They told us that we had unseasonably high water. The route took us 13 days but may be able to be completed sooner. We took our time on the little churcill so we could reach the town of Churchill in time for our train reservations. 

Here is a map of our overall route:   https://caltopo.com/m/G8VK1

Technical Guide: 

The upper stretch of the Little Churchill is fast and filled with clear water, and rapids containing big waves and no established portage trails or campsites. It took us the first two days to travel 23K due to the bushwacking around large rapids. The water on this section is very fast so having well practiced manuevers is necessary. We had a spray deck which allowed us to run more of the rapids, but plenty of the rapids were too big to paddle and most weren't marked on the maps.

The following section of river will be slower, filled with sloughs, no rapids, and little to no camping oppourtunities all the way to Recluse Lake. Recluse has an old camp owned by the Split Lake Cree Nation on the south shore. There are plenty of beaches that looked like they would hold good camping. The outlet rapid also had a bedrock exposure which would make for a good site. 

The outlet rapids have two clear portages on river right. After the second portage there will be an easy CI set of rapids. The last major rapid is marked a few kilometers downstream of the Recluse outlet rapids and was portged on river left. This was the last portage on the whole river. The following section all the way to the Churchill river had frequent gravel bars producing swifts and fast water. There is also an increase in tall gravel banks. Camping was mediocre throughout this section. The whole river took six days.

There is one final shallow rapid at the confluence of the Churchill/Little Churchill rivers. The section of the churchill river before portage chute was very shallow. The marked rapids are present and were either paddled after a quick boat scout or lined down along the side. First portage happened at Poratge Chute. The rapids before portage chute were filled with boulders and moderately moving water. 

The first campsite that I liked on the river was at portage chute. We didn't stay there but it looked sweet. We portaged over the large island. The following 20K was scouted as we were paddling. The cliffs start forming on the north side of the river making it impossible to land there. The cliffs would switch between the north and south side in this section but there was never a time when both sides of the river were cliffed out. This gave us the option to get off the river if needed. We had two portages in the Kilnabad stretch. We first portaged on the right then portaged on the left. You can see these bigger drops from ariel imagery. Folloing the long stretch of rapids there is a exposure of limestone with fossils in it. That was a sweet campsite. There are a few named creeks worth exploring north of this spot. They have waterfalls and canyons worn through the limestone.  

The next major rapid was Red Head rapids which we ran on river right. There were some smaller rapids we scouted from the boat and ran easily with a spray deck. Some maps show a "limestone rapids" which isn't shown on the canmatrix maps but is real. We were able to paddle it after a quick scout. The is where we started seeing seals! 

The long island region had some private cabins but they were all locked. We couldn't find any remote lodging to guard from polar bears. The section where the river begins to widen is different from whats portrayed in the maps. There are more islands and the water gets VERY shallow. Increase in seals. Navigation was tricky but I just trusted my compass and kept paddling north. The Morrier and Thibaudeaux islands are actually one big island. river right was the best passage around them. We took out at the marina. It had a bearproof tower and was easy to locate since the tower is the tallest thing on the tundra. The wier was broken the year we went and would've been extra dangerous to traverse. I'd contact Manitoba Hydro if you want to find a way around the Weir. Our pickup brought us to town and we spent the next week going on tours and looking for polar bears. 

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