Marten, Rupert, Natastan River

CanadaQuebec08 Lower James Bay
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
David Zechel
Trip Date : 
July 2021
Additional Route Information
Distance: 
224 km
Duration: 
12 days
Loop Trip: 
Yes
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
6
Total Portage Distance: 
3250 m
Longest Portage: 
1800 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Advanced
Lake Travel: 
Intermediate
Portaging: 
Moderate
Remoteness: 
Advanced
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Unknown
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

Much of this trip runs through the Albanel-Mistassini-and-Waconichi Lakes Wildlife Reserves, which is Cree controlled land. You will need to submit your trip for approval by the Cree run Nibischii Coorporation at least one month in advance (https://www.nibiischii.com/en/). There is a modest fee per person per day. You can also purchase a fishing license at the same time. Everything can be completed by email and credit card.

Gas up in Chibogamau as this will be your last chance until you return (400 km round trip from put in). From Chibogamau head NE on route 167 for 20 km then turn north onto the mighty Route du Nord. This is a wide and well-maintained gravel road. Cell service starts to cut out as you head north (although Telebec cell towers are found along the way). However, don’t worry too much if you break down, as we passed another vehicle every 30 min. Drive north on Route du Nord for 180 km. After crossing the Marten River, proceed another 700 m then turn right onto a narrow lane (51.13496, -75.22016). Follow the lane for 3.9 km to a wide gravel clearing next to Lac Courseron. There is plenty of space for parking. You will likely see one or two other vehicles from folks who drive in for the fishing.

Technical Guide: 

This region is best described as an archipelago formed by the Rupert River as it leaves Lac Mistassini and diverges into multiple channels and rivers. Add in countless lakes and you have a canoeing mecca, with endless route choices and short portages. This route forms a 224 km loop that ascends the Marten River, meanders north through the Rupert River and the Ile du Nord, descends part of the Natastan River into Lac Mesgouez, then follows a channel south to reach the starting point. The landscape is composed of black spruce interspersed with large open fields of Labrador tea and wonderfully fragrant bog laurel. Several old forest fire burns are in various stages of recovery, but this did not detract from the beauty of the place (and offered up great blueberry picking!). There are numerous sandy beaches, where we often camped. Moose and caribou are common, as are tracks from bears and wolves.

This loop is roughly 75% flatwater, 25% moving water. Intermediate to advanced white water canoe experience is required, including running, lining, and tracking rapids. Tracking and lining is made more difficulty by the slimy and rocky river bottom, so have good footwear for wading. This route will be hard on your canoe due as you drag your way upstream on the Marten River through some of the shallow rapids, so a Royalex or T-Formex hull is recommended. Several of the rapids we encountered were not marked on topo maps. You will need to have the ability to safely land above a rapid in current. Many of the rapids on this trip are runnable. The Rupert River demands respect and care due to its size and volume (on the scale of the Ottawa or the Winnipeg). The Marten River is quite narrow, while the Natastan is comparable to the Lower Madawaska.

You will need solid navigation skills. A detailed map of the Natastan is available at http://www.cartespleinair.org/Canot/cartes.html. We carried two sets of paper maps, a smartphone running Caltopo with our route, a back-up Garmin GPS, and a compass.  There are no marked campsites or portages. Ancient portages exist, as this is Cree land, but you’ll need a good eye to spy an old axe blaze or a 6” wide trail hidden in the bog laurel. The portages are short, but vigorous, because you will be bush-crashing and high stepping through Labrador tea. 

This is a remote trip, so help is a long way off. The nearest town is Chibogamau.  We did not see another person for 12 days. Take this into account when assessing risk, such as the potential for injury or becoming separated from your gear. We carried a locator beacon and a satellite communicator device (Zoleo). Be prepared for layover days due to the weather, especially the wind.

Our annotated maps are included as a pdf file at the end of this reprot (nibiischii_loop.pdf). A link to our route on Caltopo can be found here: https://caltopo.com/m/Q12T

Use the maps at your own risk. I can't attest to the accuracy of the annotations as these were often written in the evening after a shot of bourbon.

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

July 17th, Dorset to Chibougamau, 980 km, 11 hrs

We depart Dorset at 7 am and head North through Huntsville, Temagami, New Liskeard, Rouyn-Noranda, then ramble our way to Chibougamau, arriving around 6 pm. A neat little town set amongst scenic hills. We check-in at the Hotel Chibogamau, which had a good restaurant. Enjoyed blueberry infused beer (fitting!) and charcutier.

July 18th, Day 1, 180 km driving on Route du Nord then 20 km paddling.

We leave Chibougamau at 7 am and head east, and soon turn onto the mighty Route du Nord. This is a gravel road like no other we’ve seen; wide and sweeping, running through hills and around countless lakes. It is remarkably well maintained (we saw graders grooming the road on the way in and out). We easily maintain 70-80 km/hr. Relatively busy too, given the remoteness, with a car passing every half-hour or so. After 3 hrs we cross the Marten (Marte) River and soon turn right onto a narrow road leading to Lac Courseron. This is a single lane, not very well maintained, with some exposed boulders and unseated culverts that would pose a challenge to a car with low clearance. The track ends at a large field of gravel next to the lake (51.14864, -75.18764). We are surprised to see two trucks with campers, but no owners about. A short time later a third truck pulls up with a couple our age. They are as surprised as we are at the crush of vehicles next to the lake. Apparently, this is a key access point for adventurous fishermen. After some chit-chat we load up our canoe and shove off at 11:00 am. At 12:30 we are 7 km east on Lac Courseron and stop on a wide beach for lunch. Lac Courseron is a continuation of the Marten River. The immediate shoreline is flat, although large hills can be seen in the distance. The shoreline is mostly thick black spruce with some red pine as well, interspersed with many sandy beaches. We are surprised by the near absence of blackflies or mosquitos. At 2 pm we arrived at the Eastern end of the lake (12 km) where the Marten River narrows once again and soon, we hit some rapids. The river is low, with many exposed boulders. Over the next 5 km there are four sets rapids where we hop out and haul the canoe upstream. The river bottom consists of slimy, bowling ball sized rocks, and we quickly learn to use the canoe for support. The tracking is hard and slow work, but also fun, especially on a hot day. The horizon is hazy from the many forest fires in the northwest of the province. At km 17 the river opens to Petit Lac Loon. We paddle around a thin peninsula, turn south, and almost immediately, stop on a perfect beach to camp (51.11602, -74.99199). It’s 6:30 pm and we feel the effort of a long day.

July 19th, Day 2, 26 km

We sleep in a bit. The lake is calm, and the sky is a little overcast. While stumbling around the campsite, I hear some splashing and see the butt end of a caribou as it high tails it (literally!) down the beach. My first caribou! I see that the beach is littered with their tracks. Perfect, this is what we came for. By 10 am we launch and continue south on Petit Lac Loon for a short stretch before turning east onto another narrow section of the Marten River. We wade up two more shallow rapids. We are quickly gaining experience and confidence in technical upstream travel. I’m super happy with how the canoe, an Esquif Canyon, handles this type of river work, especially the abuse of being hauled fully loaded over rocks. The river opens into a small lake where, at the far end, we find a beach to stop for lunch at 1 pm. We see fresh caribou and bear tracks in the sand, the latter from a mother and a cub. Just as we’re finishing it begins to rain and the wind picks up, so we pull on our rain jackets and pants. We line up two more rapids then enter Lac Montmort, a massive lake running to the northeast. The rain and wind continue during our 10 km paddle up the lake. At the far end at the entrance to a narrow channel that leads to Lac de la Passe we find a beach to camp on at 6:30 pm (51.16513, -74.76059). We’re chilled from being wet all day and the constant wind. Thankfully the rain has stopped so we make a big fire on the beach as we set-up camp. Even though there are no bugs, we set up our Eureka ‘No Bug Zone’ shelter as hedge against the weather, as we’ve discovered that the fine bug netting is remarkably effective at blocking wind driven rain. Eventually the clouds break, and we watch the sun set in front of the fire. Wildlife spotted today includes a large merganser family, an eagle, loons, and several terns.

July 20th, Day 3, 20 km

Another quiet and restful night. Cold too! The morning brings a clear sky and a warm sun, but the breeze still has a cold bite. We launch at 9:30 am and immediately line up a channel leading into Lac de la Passe, followed by another channel that we line into an unnamed lake. On the far side, on a gorgeous beach next to yet another channel, we find moose or caribou bones tied into the black spruce, a sign that this was a traditional Cree hunting camp. No question, I would camp here for the long term as well, just to take in the view! But the wind has picked up and the beach is cold, so we line up the channel then stop for lunch at noon on the leeward side of the trees. At 12:45 we head off. I try my luck at trolling, but soon realize my fishing line is a tangled mess. Rod stashed away again we head northeast through a long, narrow lake. After two long days, we are determined to stop early and have more camp time, but the shoreline is less welcoming with beaches. We finally find a very narrow beach at 3:45 pm (51.26610, -74.58447) and decide to make it work. We set the tent up in the bog laurel and Labrador tea, and the bug shelter on the beach (and partly in the lake). The bog laurel is a revelation, so fragrant! A few black flies and deer flies bother us, but not enough to bring out the bug jackets. Curried chicken and rice for dinner, accompanied by a rehydrated beat salad. I replace a broken latch on a Pelican box while dinner simmers. A sublime sunset around 10 pm with a loon calling - perfect!

July 21st, Day 4, 18.5 km, P600 m + P150 m

Another beautiful day that began hours before we got up. On the water at 9:20 am not long after we reach the first portage of the trip (51.27824, -74.56103), which we estimated to be 600 m from satellite imagery. The trail is grown over and not discernable at first. A few false leads send us stomping through knee-high bog laurel. We drop the first load on a boulder field – likely an old creek bed – and hunt around for the trail again. Finally, we find some very old tree blazes and a faint narrow trail in the moss on the left side of the dry creek bed. Eventually we string the whole trail together and engage in some bush clearing to make the way more obvious. It’s 11:15 am by the time we complete the carry and we’re quite hot. Thankfully, there the bugs are not bad at all. The put in is a bit mucky, but we manage to load the boat without falling into the swamp. The bay opens onto a lovely big lake. The bigger hills (mountains?!) of Ile du Nord Ouest start to appear on the horizon. We aim for a big sandy beach (51.30551, -74.53314) on the opposite side of the lake and stop for lunch, lingering for an hour in the warmth of the sun. We haven’t seen any other humans yet, or even signs of recent travelers. After paddling up a narrow arm of the lake we hit the next portage of 150 m (51.35060, -74.49144), which was recently brushed, likely in the wintertime for snowmobiles, judging from the height of the stumps. The next lake borders Ile du Nord-Ouest and was the inspiration for this trip. The five hills in view here are massive, looming 500 feet and more off the water. They resemble the scraggly green shoulders of some giant troll that merged with the land. We head north on the lake and find a perfect beach nestled in a small bay (51.37537, -74.45203), facing south towards the hills. It’s 4:30 pm, so we take our time making time, then I head out to try my luck at trolling, hoping to catch some dinner. I manage to catch a small pike, and as I reach to bring it into the boat, a thrash sends the fish onto my lap. Within seconds I’m covered in slime and my hand is raked by the hook. After releasing the pike, I paddle back to camp and patch up my hand, then wash my pants and the canoe. We make a fire and enjoy the scene, while enjoying fajitas for dinner. Two loons serenade us, while a full moon rises, and the sky turns pink.

July 22nd, Day 5, 18 km, P300, P180, P220

On the water early at 8:45 am for a perfect morning paddle. Not as cold last night. We paddle a few kilometers through some islands admiring the sparsely forested hills. A short while later we hit our first portage of the day that we estimated to be 300 m (51.40345, -74.44116). We start on the right of a creek, crashed through some black spruce, then headed up and over a hill where the forest gave way to open terrain. It was a tough slog all the way through thigh deep bog laurel and Labrador tea. We paddle along a large esker before having to portage over a thin berm of land for 50 m (51.42099, -74.45245). Back in the boat, we slump as we see just to the north the berm has a small opening that we could have pulled through in seconds. Next time! Within a kilometer we hit our third portage of the day of 180 m (51.42496, -74.44133). Open terrain once again, so this time I try dragging the canoe using my webbing as a harness. What a difference! So much less energy than carrying, and safer with the uncertain footing. We stop for lunch at 1:15 on a tiny island (51.42515, -74.43789) with a beach just wide enough to pull out the food barrel. Our feet are still in the water as we sit on the sand. The paddle so far has been very scenic as we maneuvered through many islands and channels. Our last portage of the day is 220 m (51.43043, -74.43551). For most of the way we follow a shallow, boat-wide creek that has a firm gravel bottom. I pull the canoe again, which is even easier in creek. We see sun dews along the shore and then spot some pitcher plants. There are other new plants and flowers, and some small birch trees. In the muck at the end of the portage we find recent tracks from a wolf and a bear. Storm clouds start to build as we paddle out onto the mighty Rupert River. We pull on our jackets just as the rain hits, but fortunately the winds are not bad. On the north side of the river, we find a perfect rocky beach on a peninsula where we stop to camp at 4:20 pm (51.47491, -74.46222). At that moment the rain stops. It’s an awesome setting, with the river framed by large hills, and the distant roar of a rapid downstream. Dinner is turkey stew with dumplings and carrot salad with cranberries, roasted nuts, and seeds. I prepare some lunch bannock over a small fire. Smells so good! As we are finishing our evening chores, we are taken aback to see a caribou and her fawn strolling up the beach towards us. They don’t see us until the last minute due to the bug shelter blocking their line of sight. They dart off into the woods. Our chests are thumping with the rush of seeing caribou for a second time. We notice that the beach is littered with their tracks, so it’s clear we’ve camped on a major animal highway. I find a caribou antler as well, but it’s in rough shape so I decide not to take it as a keepsake. We turn in and quickly fall asleep. Around 11:15 pm I’m awakened by splashing along our beach. I realize something is walking towards us in the shallows. Occasionally the splashing stops, followed by a contented chewing. This pattern continues for several minutes until the beast is just outside our tent, and suddenly picks up our scent. Finally, it walks within view of our tent door and its silhouette is lit by the full moon. A bull moose! I carefully wake Corina, who is initially paralyzed by the scene. The moose sniffs a couple of times, then ambles down the beach.

July 23rd, Day 6, 22 km

Awoke to a perfectly still and blue-sky morning. On the water at 8:45 am and headed downstream on the Rupert. We felt from the power in the current that this was a larger river, on the scale of the Ottawa or the Winnipeg. Large hills flanked the shoreline. This was easily one of the most scenic sections of our trip so far. Within a couple of kilometers, we came upon our first major downstream rapid (51.46997, -74.48958), which is marked on our topographic map and can be seen with satellite imagery. We approached cautiously, looking for an upstream take-out to stop and scout. We stopped on river right. The rapid turns out to be C1 technical at the top, followed by a CIII volume at the bottom, then a calm pool. This wouldn’t be such a bad rapid to run on a group trip with more paddlers on hand to pick up the pieces. But as we don’t relish the possibility of an upset by ourselves, so we opt to line down the right side. Shortly after was an unmarked CI rapid that ran around both sides of an island (51.48876, -74.50765), which we ran on the RR channel. After paddling around a bend, we headed South, and the river widened. It was enchanting, with huge beaches everywhere. For a moment we toyed with the idea of simply following the Rupert to Lake Mesgouez, which our route would hit eventually, but finally decided to stick with our plan of ascending a connecting branch of the Rupert to the Natastan River. It’s a hot day with full sun and very little wind. The first time we’ve been scorched on this trip. As we paddle, we spot a caribou on the Eastern shoreline. We slowly drift closer, but it is unperturbed. Finally, we continue, and to our surprise, the caribou begins to follow us along the shoreline! It’s 12:45, so we stop for lunch (51.43761, -74.54159) and a swim, with the caribou observing us about 500 m away. The water is bracing, maybe 18C, but perfect for a hot day. At 1:20 we head off again and immediately take the wrong way around an island which turns out to be a thin peninsula. After doubling back, we find the channel, turn a corner, and immediately line up a short CI tech rapid (51.43828, -74.51043). The river widens again, the shoreline now lined with granite, interrupted with beaches. At 4 pm we stop at a small beach in a narrow channel, facing West (51.37967, -74.55038). The sun continues to hammer down on us and we struggle to set up camp. Pitching the bug shelter and the tent takes so much more time on a beach, mostly because the work required to anchor guylines in the sand. I mix Gatorade and whiskey and settle down to watch the sun cast a bronze glow to the landscape. Dinner is cheesy pasta with bacon accompanied by a beet-apple-cranberry salad. The sun begins to set at 8:45 pm and the temperature drops noticeably. A relief. Every night has been chilly and perfect for sleeping.

July 24th, Day 7, 19 km

Another quiet night and beautiful morning. This would be our most technical downstream moving water day. But first some remaining upstream work to get to the Natastan. We’re on the water at 8:36 am and immediately begin lining 200 m up on the RL of a narrow channel (51.38169, -74.56970). The channel is deep, but the current is too strong to paddle against. The footing along the rocky granite shoreline is relatively easy and reminds me of the Bloodvein River. The channel opens into a small lake where we spot a cow moose and her calf. At the end of this lake the river divides into two channels (51.36928, -74.57478). The RR channel is a nasty CIV, while RL is a shallow stream, so we drag up the latter. Finally, we turn the corner and head west, downstream once again. But first we hit a 100 m long CII (51.36072, -74.58132), which we line down on RL. The wind has been building all morning from the southwest, so that we are greeted by whitecaps on the next series of lakes. The river narrows into a rapid (51.36441, -74.62959), CI at the top, then a friendly 50 m CIII with haystacks at the bottom. We line this one on RR, then stop for lunch at 12:30 pm. Less than 0.5 km downstream we hit two rapids in succession, CIII then CIII (51.36219, -74.64503 then 51.36230, -74.65361) which we lined on RR both times. We paddled north through a small lake, then west, where the river narrowed to form another pair of rapids. The first was a CIII, that we lined RR, followed by an easy CII that we ran down the middle. About two kilometers later another rapid formed around a pair of islands (51.38727, -74.69495). The main channel looked like a CII, while the RR channel was a CI. We ran the latter, and while taking a breather see swallows swarming over the river, diving for insects. Around the bend we hit the last rapid of the day (51.38355, -74.70889), a CIII with an interesting smooth ledge near the bottom. We lined this on the RR. We entered a long narrow lake running to the southwest, and directly into the teeth of a howling headwind. Fortunately, it’s a warm day and we’re still in T-shirts. It was past our official quitting time of 4 pm, so we looked for a beach. Slim pickings on this lake. We finally spot a very narrow sand strip (51.36857, -74.71630) and pull in for the day at 5 pm. This time we set the tent off the beach in the bog laurel. The beach is so narrow that one corner of our kitchen tent sits in the lake. We use the canoe as a windbreak, overturned in the water. It looks ridiculous, but after we settle down to dinner, we’re warm and comfortable. The tent-site is a revelation, warm and aromatic with the Labrador tea. A seagull takes up position next to eh beach as we cook and waits. Dinner is Thai peanut rice with chickpeas and green beans. A chill sets in as we watch a perfect sunset, then we head off to bed.

July 25th, Day 8, 0 km

The alarm chimes a 6 am. We listen to the wind driven waves and steady rain on the tent fly. That’s all the excuse we need to go back to sleep. We hadn’t planned for a rest day, a foolish oversight, as we need one after 7 hard days. Our initial route would follow a 255 km loop, but it would be easy in this country to cut corners and distance, so we could still finish on time if we chose to. Corina is up at 8:30, but I stay in my sleeping bag until 10. Our cook shelter is still standing, guarded by our faithful, half submerged canoe. The seagull is gone, but the wind and rain continue to blow into our camp. We enjoy a leisurely breakfast and scroll through the pictures we have taken so far. Corina reads her book, while I try my luck at fishing again. Eventually I get bored and climb up the hill looming over our camp. The entire area suffered a burn many years ago, so the walking is difficult through the new growth and deadfall. I take some photos from the peak, overlooking the long peninsula that extends from our camp. It’s a wild and sparse scene. On the way down, protected from the wind and facing south, I find thick clumps of blueberries. I fill my toque with them, thinking about a book from my childhood, Blueberries for Sal, and hoping that I wouldn’t also surprise a bear. Back at camp we make blueberry bannock and save the rest for tomorrow’s breakfast. Around 5 pm the rain and wind stop. We’ve had 2 days of strong winds, and hope tomorrow is calmer. Dinner is Shepherd’s pie.

July 26th, Day 9, 17 km

We awaken to no wind and a heavy fog covering the lake. A family of four loons slip by during breakfast, calling. By the time we pack up and push off at 8:15 the fog has lifted, but the day remains overcast. From our camp we continue southwest down a long lake. Soon the rain begins again, so we climb back into our rain gear. At the end of the lake we find the first rapid of the day (51.33152, -74.78127). An island divides the river into two rapids, with the RR channel a CIII and the RL a curving CI tech. We line down RL. About a kilometer later we hit an easy CII (51.32683, -74.80350), which we run on the RR. We pass through a small lake then run another CII (51.31935, -74.86314) on the centre left. Shortly after we encounter another rapid divided by an island. We run the RR channel, a CI-CII. Finally, we run a CI and spill out into a large lake. It’s still raining, a wind has picked up, and we’re wet from the waist down from wading. Across the lake we spot a cabin set back from a massive beach. We head across, hoping that we can have lunch in the shelter of a porch. Pulling up at 12:40 pm we indeed find a porch and shelter. The cabin is relatively new and even has vinyl siding. We’re happy to be out of the wind and I pull on some dry base layers. The cabin is open, so we peek inside. It’s one open room, 20’ x 30’, with an oil drum stove, a kitchen table, and a couple of beds. The walls and ceiling are insulated and sheeted in plywood, as is the floor, which is painted grey. I wonder at how the owners managed to haul all the building materials this far back into the country. We finish lunch and push off, heading north on the lake. We don’t get far. Once out of the shelter of our bay, we run headlong into a sudden rush of wind and what feels like shotgun pellets on our faces as we face horizontal rain. The boat stops moving, reverses, then hangs up on a rock. Cursing while wiggling the boat free in the maelstrom, I call for a retreat to the cabin. We’re soaked again, and cold. Screw it. We enter the cabin, make a fire, and start to dry out. What a feeling as dry heat seeps into our legs while we watch whitecaps race by out on the lake. Corina isn’t happy, thinking we should have toughed it out, and that we shouldn’t be crashing in someone’s cabin. Fair point, but I’m soft and feeling selfish. I pull out the Thermarests and make camp on the floor. I nap for a couple of hours, floating in the warmth of the cabin, listening to the wind. Around dinnertime the clouds break, and we’re treated to a fiery orange sky as the sun sets. We prep dinner on the porch but eat inside. I start to dream of spending an entire year in a place like this. The view from the cabin is mesmerizing, with the beach, the lake, and the hills nearby. We sleep heavily this night.

July 27th, Day 10, 22 km

We’re up a 6:00, pack up, and fire up the camp stove for breakfast on the porch of the cabin. The cabin receives a good sweep and we leave some money along with a thank you note on the kitchen table. The sky is out, but the wind is building again. We push off at 7:45 and paddle North into a stiff headwind. We meander through channels and run a series of swifts and easy CIs. On the bigger lakes we try to stay on the lee side of islands and points. At the North end of a large lake we hop our way to the eastern side, following a chain of islands, and enter a channel (51.42391, -75.01803). This is our shortcut to make up for lost time, as we had intended to head further north to make a loop that would have been 34 km longer. Turning south in the channel we stop for lunch at 12:45 pm just before a large rapid (51.41872, -75.04023). The day is cool, especially with the wind, so we pull on our rain jackets. I wander over to a mossy, elevated shelf nearby, which turns out to be a very old campsite. The view and the setting are perfect, so I promise myself to camp here on our next visit. After lunch, we paddle up to the rapid (51.41335, -75.04722), a stout CIII, which we line on RL. At 3 pm we opt for to stop for the day and make camp on a perfect beach, tucked on a beach in a southward facing bay (51.40167, -75.06392). The clouds look to be threatening for a while, but eventually dissolve and the wind dies out by evening. Dinner is chili, corn biscuits, and red cabbage. Afterwards I bake four bannock over a fire. A gorgeous end to the day.

July 28th, Day 11, 29 km

It was a cool night, dipping to 6oC, but the morning sun quickly warmed our campsite. By the time we launch at 8:30 we’re in T-shirts. We paddle through the southern end of Lake Mesgouez before turning south. We pass through a maze of islands and then enter a channel, often referring to our GPS to stay on course. We stop for lunch at 12:00 on a beach (51.29391, -75.17095) having made 18 km. The beach is littered with caribou droppings and tracks. On our way again, the channel narrows, and a current begins to run against us. We are starting to ascend our way back to our starting point. Just before we enter, we watch as an eagle swoops down onto a family of geese. All hell breaks loose as the geese scatter about and the eagle flies away, failing to grab one of the younger ones. In two or three places we are forced pull the canoe upstream 30 to 50 m through shallow rapids. The high-water mark is far up on the shoreline, and I begin to worry that we’ll run out of water. At a boulder strewn narrows we spot a low wall of stones, arranged in circle. It’s a hunting blind, possibly to ambush caribou as they crossed the channel. At 4 pm we find a gorgeous beach campsite, the best one yet (51.23607, -75.19540), with a south facing view down a long lake. We camp up on a mossy area, just above the beach, a welcome change as it’s much faster to pitch the tent with pegs, rather than digging in anchors in the sand. We even have two trees to string a mainline for our kitchen shelter. Our entire camp is up in an hour, rather than two when camping strictly on sand. We enjoy the extra time to lounge about and savour our last evening on trip.

July 29th, Day 12, 9 km + 1.8 km portage

Our final day. It has rained most of the night, but stops before we awake, only to start again. It’s mostly drizzle as we pack up. I try a new way of packing up the tent, unclipping the interior body and packing it away under the shelter of the fly. It works! We head off at 8:30 and head south down the lake. In the last 3 km I get confused and we head down the wrong bay. For the first time on the trip I am completely disoriented, and for a moment was in complete disbelief with what my GPS was telling me. Such a strange sensation! Relenting, and trusting the electronics, we paddle back and find the bay with our final long portage. The landing (51.16483, -75.17729) is at the edge of a bog that runs some 200 m to the forest edge where, next to a couple of old boats, an ATV trail begins. The bog is firm and relatively dry, so we have no trouble hauling our gear to the forest edge. We begin the portage. Since we must double carry, we break the 1800 m portage into two stages of 900 m. The black spruce forest is beautiful, surprisingly open, and carpeted with thick moss. The ATV trail runs over some elevated and dry areas, then dips down into a couple of boggy sections, where old wooden pallets and plywood have been laid across the trail, all in various stages of disintegration. Our paddle had taken 2 hrs, and so does the 1800 m portage, which ends at the gravel road (51.15610, -75.19280) along which we drove in 12 days ago to reach Lac Courseron. We drop our gear and walk the remaining 1 km to our car. A truck is parked nearby, but no one is camping next to the lake this time. The car starts (thankfully!) and we drive back to our gear to load up. On Route du Nord, heading south, we once again pass a grader, and marvel at how well this road is maintained! At 4 pm we’re back in Chibougamau but decide to push on to Val D’Or.    

Reflections

If you’re tired of competing for canoe campsites in southern Parks, this is the place for you. It’s a blank canvas with a lifetime of tripping possibilities. The drive up is long, yes, but short of flying, this is as remote one can go by car for a canoe trip. The region has a scale and presence that makes one feel very small and insignificant. It will haunt your thoughts long after the finish!

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See the Nibiischii series in the Quebec Trip Report forum by myccr member sbaillie.

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