Opasatika/Missinaibi/Moose Rivers from Highway 11

CanadaOntarioJames Bay south
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Thérèse Ouellet
Trip Date : 
July 9 to 31, 2020
Additional Route Information
Distance: 
550 km
Duration: 
19 days
Loop Trip: 
No
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
12
Total Portage Distance: 
4000 m
Longest Portage: 
500 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Advanced
Lake Travel: 
Novice
Portaging: 
Difficult
Remoteness: 
Advanced
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Medium
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

Public dock of the small town Opasatika, off Highway 11, on River Opasatika

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

2020 Canoe trip down the Opasatika/Missinaibi/Moose Rivers

See attached PDF for report with pictures

This canoe trip was from July 9th to 31st, 2020. It was during a hot period, and between “wave 1” and “wave 2” of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the pandemic restrictions, there was a reduced number of seats available on the Polar Bear Express train going from Moosonee to Cochrane, our mode of transportation for the return; we had to buy our tickets to get on the train before starting the canoe trip, for a fixed date that gave us 21 days for paddling.

My partner and I used a 16 ft Dumoine (by Swift) canoe, loaded with two 60-liter, water and bear-proof barrels, one large backpack and a day pack, one spare paddle. We had enough food and gear to be self-sufficient for 3 weeks, and a Garmin SE+ satellite communication radio to send a brief message to our trusted contact every night. We did the Opasatika River from Highway 11, near Opasatika village to the junction with the Missinaibi, then continued on the Missinaibi and the Moose Rivers, up to Moosonee where we took the train back to Cochrane. This amounted to about 300 km of paddling.

As we found no trip reports before leaving for the section of the Opasatika River that we did, this report will be more detailed for that section. I will be much briefer for the Missinaibi and Moose River sections, as there are many reports and trip guides for those. 

Day 1:

We launched at the public dock of the small town Opasatika, off Highway 11, on River Opasatika. Our vehicle was safely parked at the municipal complex, with their permission, for the duration of the canoe trip. It was easy paddling on this nice winding narrow river, bordered by trees almost to the edge of the water, with sightings of fish eagles and of a female moose that let us paddle to about 30 feet of it before it took off! What a treat! There were lots of marshes and low lands that seemed to be flooded on each side of the river: the river water level is being kept high using a small dam further down the river, for recreational purposes (boating, fishing, access to cottages). There were about no camping sites until we reached Allen Lake, where there were cottages. We set camp on the front lawn of a cottage that did not seem to have been used in 2020. As it had rained earlier in the afternoon, everything was wet and some drying time was required. Once on land, mosquitoes and black flies were aggressive, a prelude to what was to come…

 

Day 2:

We paddle out of Allen Lake and through Zadi Lake. There is a small dam at the end of Zadi Lake, which we easily portaged around over a few hundred meters. It still took 3 trips to portage all of our stuff. There was definitely less water in the Opasatika River after the dam! We came across many series of swifts (small rapids) with lots of rocks and water flowing barely above them. We also paddled across the first few of the many beaver dams that we would see on the Opasatika! There were many times when my partner had to get out of the canoe to push it, lift it, and pull it! It was easy to get stuck on rocks as we could hardly see through the water: it was so full of tannins that it looked like strong tea!  We eventually got to a quiet part of the river and made it to Eleanor Lake where we set camp on a big rock/island. Our hope was that our stuff would dry faster there in the breeze once the afternoon drizzle would stop, which it eventually did by early evening.

 

 

Day 3 and 4:

We stayed in our rocky camp for those two days to rest, do maintenance and dry up our stuff. These days turned out to be the only inclement days of the trip, cold and windy enough to keep mosquitoes and black flies away.

Day 5:

We got back on the water, paddled out of Eleanor Lake, through Neshin Lake and up to the Opasatika Canyon Falls in 3 hours. The “falls” are 3 consecutive drops of 3 to 6 ft each, in a passage narrowed by big rocks which fell from the canyon walls a long time ago. With dangerous (for a canoe) rapids in between and after the falls for about 500 meters. We portaged our stuff on the left side (looking in the direction water flows) of the river, over rocks going up and down, with narrow footing at times. Not the safest thing to do. It took us about 5 hours to do the 3 trips required to portage all of our stuff. We paddled about 2 km after the portage and found a camp site at the edge of the forest. After dashing into the tent with some no-cook food, to avoid the hordes of mosquitoes, we realized that we had not drunk much water during the day and were short of it: big mistake on a hot and tiring day! As the days remained hot for the rest of the trip, we had to pay special attention to water supply and intake each day, to avoid dehydration.

 

 

 

Day 6:

Water filtration was the first order of the day, filling our personal water bottles (twice due to drinking them on the spot) and our 1-gallon water “reservoir”.  We got in the canoe, still feeling a bit tired. After less than 2 km and some swifts, we got to Indian Sign Falls which dropped about 30 ft over a few steps. On river right we found a reasonable portage trail that required only some clearing (we had an axel with us).  Thanks to a sharp turn in the river after the falls, the portage was only 200-300 meters long and it took just 1.5 hour to portage everything. Back on the river, we encountered a few rapid sections – they had a somewhat stronger water flow then on previous days- and lots of pleasant quiet water with pronounced meandering! All those quiet pieces of the river were favorable to incredible moose sightings; today we saw our 12th and 13th moose since beginning the trip! We filtered more water by the end of the afternoon, while still on the water; our water pump and filtering system is easier to use when on the water than on shore. We found a passable camp site early, around 5 pm (sun goes down after 9:30 pm here at this time of the year). My partner cooked a warm meal in the long grasses, fighting mosquitoes and black flies. Felt very good to have a real diner and more time to rest! We were starting to feel more hydrated and less exhausted.

 

 

Day 7:

After a bit of rain during the night, we had another sunny day. We paddled some quiet water then encountered a rapids too dangerous to run through. We portaged it easily over about 200 meters along river left. Then another dangerous rapids with a 2-3 ft drop in it and lots of big rocks. We portaged again using a side spring runoff, over 200-300 meters. Some more of the easy paddling then again a risky rapids. As we were getting tired, we decide to camp at the top of it, on a big flattish rock on river left. As it was still early in the day, we had time to rest and recover, do maintenance (there was a nice quiet pool at the bottom of the rapids on our camp side…) and have a good solid diner. Happily, mosquitoes and black flies were staying away from the breezy top of the rock!

 

Day 8:

Feeling fully rested, we woke up early, had pancakes for breakfast. We took the canoe, now rigged for “lining”, slowly through the rapids from river left. Then we paddled to Dike Falls (about a 20 ft drop, in steps).To our big surprise, we found an old portage trail, about 300-400 meters long, on river right. We cleaned up the messy part of it (trees down) and the rest, finding some evidences of past human use. After the portaging, we paddled to another rapids section with a drop of 3-4 ft, lined the canoe on river right for the first part of it, then portaged the last about 100 meters on river left over long flattish rocks. Our easiest portage so far! A bit more paddling and we arrived at Mareva Falls –at least 30-40 ft high and in 2 steps. Carefully looking, we found the remnants of an old portage trail on river left. We did a rough cleaning of the trail and some marking (using strips of an old pair of waterproof orange pants found in the Dike Falls trail). This trail was rougher to do than the one at Dike Falls, partly because it required to go up then down a steep hill. Getting quite tired after portaging, even though we had done only 5 km (as the crow flies) of river today, and being pursued by an imminent thunderstorm, we quickly found a camp site on a flat grassy point of land and just had time to pitch the tent and get in it with some no-cook food before the rain came on us. Although the rain did not last long, we decided to stay in the tent for the night, away from the hordes of black flies and mosquitoes that we encountered during today’s two longer portages. After snacking, drinking lots of water and writing in our logbooks, we fell asleep, tired yet satisfied when thinking about today’s challenges!

 

 

Day 9:

After a good night of sleep, we had a good warm breakfast with lots of liquid – we still have to make efforts to drink more as too little amount of liquid comes out of us compare to what goes in… Feeling restored, we got on the water on another beautiful sunny day. Water was fast, with many swifts. Then we got to that big rapids which looked as big as one of the early falls we encountered: a rocky rapids section followed by a drop then by a long section of rocky medium and small rapids, all of this in a strong bend in the river to the right. So many rocks everywhere in the water! Not having seen the drop in the river from a distance, we had stopped on river left to survey the rapids. Although the shore was mostly open on that side, the rocks were treacherous and included a drop of about 6 ft at the “falls” point. We crossed to river right in the top of the first rapids section, both walking outside of the canoe and using the many rocks in the water to keep the canoe from going down the river. Once on river right, we found a little bay to land and walked through the forest while carrying a first load of our stuff. No easy task as we had to go up a steep hill at least 60 ft high, walked through hundreds of meters of the flat top of the hill which was full of deadfall, then go back down the other side which was as steep as the first one. At least 400 meters to do and no sign of a previous portage! My partner did the load of the trail clearing from one end to the other. We hauled the canoe up the hill together, one step at a time, put it down and went back for the barrels which we carried all the way to the end point, then went back for the canoe which my partner carried over head to the edge of the downhill side while I was pointing the way by walking just in front of him. We slid the canoe down the other side of the hill. I was tired, he was exhausted. The trail cleaning and portaging had taken us close to 7 hours! We took a short break and drank some water, surrounded by thousands of black flies, then we got back on the water. River kept being fast, yet shallow and rocky. After a few more little rapids sections, we found a point of land at a turn of the river to pitch our tent. Most of it was rocky, swampy or muddy, except for one good spot on coarse sand/fine gravel. Once the tent was up, we did some face and neck washing with cold water, slowly drank some of my “magic potion” (water containing Eload –a dehydration and recovery powder that I used back then when training for marathon and half-marathons), had a bit of rest then found enough energy to carry to the tent some food, lots of water and equipment to spend the night. A close look at my burning neck revealed that it was covered with hundreds of black fly and mosquito bites from our portaging in the damp black spruce forest!  Deep-woods DEET is not that effective when it is hot and you are sweating like a pig…  A generous application of an antiseptic and analgesic cream made the burning sensation slowly disappeared before we felt asleep.

 

 

Day 10:

A good night of sleep, a warm breakfast with lots of hot liquids (ginger tea followed by black tea), logbook writing and slowly taking the camp down contributed to us feeling somewhat rehydrated and recovered from the previous day. Once on the water, we quickly came to a field of rocks in the river as far as we could see, with water getting faster and faster as the ground sloped. We lined the canoe along the river up to what turned out to be Christopher Falls: a drop of 8-10 ft in two steps with big rocks forcing the water through narrow sections. The falls were followed by fast water going through another field of rocks as far as we could see in between river bends. After getting wet by a sudden bout of rain, we stopped our efforts at portaging our equipment on the large rocks of river left and decided to set camp at the edge of the forest, by the large rocks contributing to the falls formation. We progressed only 1 km on that day…

 

 

Day 11:

After breakfast, we completed the short portage initiated the day before to bypass the falls, on the large rocks of river left. The canoe was lined through the next rocky section, judging it still too dangerous to ride in the canoe. After another small portage (about 100 meters) on river left, to bypass a drop of a few feet in the river, we did our best to ride the next section, still very rocky and with strong water flow; my partner was often out of the canoe to get us off rocks – so many rocks that we could not see in the strong tea-colored water! Water briefly got into the canoe at one point, filling it to half before my partner could right the canoe up; our 2 cooking pots were used to bail the water out. We kept struggling and progressing slowly through the fields of rocks. We were doing the last bit of that fast rapids section when the canoe got wedged sideways in a strong current and filled up completely with water. In extremis, my dear spouse was able to move the canoe against the strength of the current and we floated to a quiet little bay where we bailed the water out and reorganized our wet equipment, which was mostly secured to the canoe. We got back on the water to face a shallow field of rocks (about 1 km long) where we were mostly out of the canoe, pulling it or floating it in inches to a few feet of water. Christopher Falls was really a 2-3 km long section of rapids and rocks with the river bed dropping, mostly progressively. Once out of that, we paddled another 1 km or so and found a flat “island” of grass-covered gravel and rocks to camp on for the night. Our efforts to dry our wet equipment in the sun lasted until the end of the afternoon. Then a strong breeze was interrupted by a strong thunderstorm that passed just over us and kept rolling around us for a long time. This was not a short rain! However we were happy to be dry in our insect-proof tent, feeling lucky to have all of our equipment, dry food in our barrels and not have been hurt by our day’s misadventures.

 

Day 12:

We had an early start on the water, being eager to find out about the last remaining falls on this river. A few kilometers of easy paddling with occasional swift or small rapids, then we got to a more serious series of rapids that we mostly bypassed by portaging over the flat long rocks that filled part of the river, with occasional short paddling between flat rocks. Then we realized that we were at the Breakneck Falls, so named because the river splits into 2 falls, one on each side of an “island”. These were definitively the highest falls on the river! And we never got a good view of them as the shores did not allowed us to walk to them. From the tree line, the drop was easily 50 ft, and the bottom of the falls was made of very rocky, fast rapids over many hundreds of meters. We had to cut our way through thick bushes, standing and fallen trees over about 500 meters! No evidence of previous portages. As the river turned right after the falls, my partner partly cleared a new trail on river right, up, over and down another steep hill. And the mosquitoes and black flies were eating us alive (even with repeated application of DEET!) It took about 7 hours to complete the portage. Across the water from our end point, at the bottom of the “island” separating the falls into 2, there was a little stretch of flattish land just big enough to pitch a tent. We camped there, too exhausted to go on. Another night of no-cook food. Although we could not see the falls, we could hear them roaring as we fell asleep. Done with the falls and the portaging! On a positive note, today we saw moose #14 to 18! Females with calf disappeared quickly when they heard us; however the single adults seem to be a bit curious about us, as if they had not seen humans in a canoe before, allowing us to get closer to them.

 Day 13:

We had an early start on the water. It took us a good hour to negotiate the about 500 meters of additional rapids, a tricky job as there were lots of long rocks in the river shifting the current constantly, in addition to the hundreds of other rocks that we could not see because of the color of the water. Then the rapids sections became progressively less frequent and easier as there was more water over the rocks. Finally, we got into quiet water with occasional swifts. It was so peaceful! We stopped mid-afternoon, to take advantage of the sun to finish drying our stuff; some was still wet from filling the canoe with water 2 days before. The recovery and restoration time was welcomed.

 

Day 14:

Another sunny day! We took camp down while watching a moose (#19) in the distance, got in the canoe still watching it feed on weeds in the river and paddled within about 30 ft of it before it decided to get out of the river! It was a male moose. Wow! What followed was a good and agreeable day of paddling. The river was getting a bit wider and there was still many swifts and class 1 rapids; however we could ride most of them without having to get out of the canoe as there was a bit more water above the rocks. We regularly saw fish jumping out of the river, some of good size, feeding on flying insects. Our limited attempts at fishing were not successful though. We made it to the end of the Opasatika River, at the junction with the Missinaibi River. We set camp on the Missinaibi, across from the junction point. Overall, it took us twice as long as planned to do the meandering and rocky Opasatika River from Highway 11!

 

Day 15 and 16:

We had 6 days left to get to Moosonee in time to take the train. With good weather, we knew that we could do it, based on a past experience. It meant paddling an average of 30 km per day, which is feasible on the fast flowing Missinaibi and Moose Rivers. Still a lot for people with gray hair that we are, after the 14 days that we just finished. In this section of the Missinaibi, the river is fairly large, the current stronger and the water in the rapids sections getting faster and deeper. However the number of rapids sections diminished as we got closer and closer to the Moose River. The tree line is further away from the river edges and the banks wider on the Missinaibi than on the Opasatika! Makes for much nicer camp sites with fewer biting insects...

 

Day 17 to 19:

We got to the Moose River in the morning.  A much wider river and it kept getting wider each day! Air was also more humid and little thunderstorms or simple summer rain bouts went over us or could be seen in the distance every day. One morning, we woke up with the water level having dropped by about 3 ft overnight! Too far for this being a tide effect, it had to be a reduction of the water coming out of one or more dams on one of the Moose tributaries, possibly the Abitibi one which we had passed the junction point the day before. We saw progressively more motorized canoe and boat traffic on the river, and cottages on shores. We got to the formerly managed Tide Water Provincial Park by mid-afternoon, with 2 full days to spare before taking the train! We made sure that the canoe was pulled high enough on shore as the tides are about 1 meter high here! Then we carried all of our stuff up the cliff to a camp site.

 

Day 20 to 23:

Weather was still humid and prone to short bouts of rain. We had set camp at the former Tide Water Provincial Park, across the river from Moosonee. We were disappointed by the condition of the place. Ten years ago, we camped here. The Park must have started its operations not long before that. It was a very pretty place with a very nice dock and ramp to get on top of the clay laden banks, nice camp sites and facilities, someone on site to manage it. All that was left in the summer 2020 were a few campsites that were still open and provided with firewood. And lots of cleanup not done around the two “bathrooms” and other open park spaces. Really too bad! We took those 2 days to rest and recover from our adventure. We had just enough food left for that. The surrounding islands could have been explored in canoe; however we felt like staying put, recovering, maintaining and reorganizing our stuff for the train ride. And watched the taxi-boats and ferry constantly traveling between Moosonee and Moose Factory. Moose Factory was in pandemic lockdown and could not be visited. On day 22, we paddled easily across the river to Moosonee as the tide was coming in, got a taxi to help bring the canoe to the train station (it could have been walked), did some shopping at the grocery store and waited for the time to load canoe, barrels and backpack on the train. The train left at 5 pm from Moosonee. Nice ride through forest and by rivers! We got to Cochrane at about 10 pm, got our stuff unloaded from the train and stored in a locked area (this had to be arranged by my partner). After a bit of wait at the train station, we got on the regional bus around midnight, heading for Opasatika. We arrived there just a bit past 2 am and crashed into our camper for the rest of the night. The next day, we drove to Cochrane, about 140 km, retrieved our canoe and equipment at the train station and headed for home.

 

 

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Comments

Post date: Mon, 12/07/2020 - 15:39

Comments: 

Think twoce before doing it!