Seal River: South Indian to Hudson's Bay

CanadaManitobaNorth
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Tom Wolfe
Trip Date : 
2022 August 25 - Sept 5
Additional Route Information
Distance: 
500 km
Duration: 
20 days
Loop Trip: 
No
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
3
Total Portage Distance: 
700 m
Longest Portage: 
400 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Advanced
Lake Travel: 
Intermediate
Portaging: 
Easy
Remoteness: 
Advanced
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Medium
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

We drove to South Indian IR, picking up a shuttle driver (friend) in Thompson on the way. The next morning we got a motorboat to take us to the north end of Moss Lake. This meant about 120 km of reservoir paddling was avoided.

Technical Guide: 

Water levels for our trip were about 450 to 500 cms which is pretty typical despite being so late in the season. It was a high water year for the Seal, with levels up to 1300 cms mid-June. A perfect year for a late season trip. Why did we go so late? A few reasons, mainly logistical -- but look at our photos for a few convincing arguments why the end of August / beginning of September is the perfect time to go (winds notwithstanding).

We used Hap & Stephanie's guidebook description. It is adequate except, most notably, for the grading. Hap must put something more than just tobacco in that pipe of his. Much more accurate grading can be found  in this description. In short, don't be afraid of this river if you are comfortable on straightforward Class 3 whitewater and are capable in fast, technical rock-dodging Class 2+. You also need solid canoe tripping skills and experience dealing with bears. You should also have extra food in case you have to wait a really  long time at Hudson's Bay -- there are reports of people wating up to 10 days.

We didn't find anything like Class 3+ or 4 on this river. If you really tried you could get yourself into that kind of water I suppose. The trickiest rapid in our opinion was Deaf Rapid which we found to be challenging rock-dodging Class 2+/3 on hard RL.

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

We did the trip in 12 days including 2 windbound days. An average party will take longer, especially with weather. We moved at a fairly fast pace with custom-made Kisseynew canoes. While being some of the most expensive boats on the market, they are worth everypenny, with a well-deserved reputation for being fast, light and tough boats that manouever well in challenging whitewater. Like most shield rivers, the Seal is a good river for these boats as there's a fair bit of lake, so fast hull design is desireable. There's also a ton of fun whitewater on the last 200 km of fast-moving river, and these boats did great with the Northwater spray decks.

Day 1: We got dropped off by the boat after a 3 hr ride at about noon and worked our way north. Moss Lake to Snead Bay (south end of Lilttle Sand) is countless meanders with beaver dams. A couple of very short lifts / portages were required (5-10 m). A campsite on the north side of the peninsula that separates Snead Bay from the rest of the lake was a sight for sore eyes at the end of Day 1. It's tight but it works.

Day 2: The creek at the north end of Little Sand is a fun Bog & Slog. We found a handsaw to be useful. Most groups probably come through here at higher water levels as we only saw very old signs of cutting.

The portages into Earl Lake can be clearly seen on satellite imagery and are in very good condition.

We were tempted to try the creek that flows from Earl Lake into Morris Bay but we had been warned against it. Instead we headed north and then west along the long narrow lake that ends in another excellent portage to Morris Bay. A bird in the hand. That was the end of portaging for our trip, less than 700 m altogether, and all easy to find and in great shape. We found a good campsite at an old fishing camp on the north side of the channel leading out of Morris Bay, but there are other nice looking beaches if you want to look around for something with less junk lying around.

Day 3: Trout Creek is a blast. Downstream travel with only the odd bit of lining and a massive beaver dam to pull over.

We had a gentle SW wind and so did our only bit of sailing for the trip, about 8 km across to the north end of Chippewyan. We made camp on a west facing beach just before Fox Lake.

Day 4: The tug of current helped us out this day. Two rapids (Davenport and Porcupine) were Class 2-ish. We made camp on an esker at the south end of Tadoule.

Day 5: Moderate/Strong winds from the NW made for a very short day. We fought our way to a little island SE of Philips Island. It looks a bit like an inverted heart and has a lovely sheltered S-facing beach. There are other better beaches available on Tadoule but this one provided the best shelter from the winds.

Day 6: windbound

Day 7: We got a pre-dawn start and paddled about 75 km to the east end of Shethanai Lake. Lots of great beaches on this route. The rapid sets between Tadoule and Shethanai are easy. As you leave Negassa Lake towards Shethanai are two rapid sets. Hap mentions a Class 2 rapid around an island followed by a Class 3 rapid around a bend. The island & bend part of the descriptions is correct, but the first set is more like Class 2+ (maybe 3) rapid followed by an easy Class 1? rapid around the bend. Heads up. We read and ran almost all rapids on the Seal and these were no exception but you would be advised to scout the first one as it's fast and rocky. We camped in the esker terrain just as Shethanai swings northward again. We saw our first seals just after leaving Tadoule, almost 300 km from the bay. Love those seals.

Day 8: Easy moving water. Our one truly rainy day of the trip. We stopped at the sheltered bay just past the esker south of Zayets Lake. You have a steep esker hill to climb but there are sheltered options up there believe it or not. Beautiful views. Had the weather been fine this might have been one of our best campsites of the trip.

Day 9: This was a beautiful day on the river. Lots of fun rapids, all read & run up to maybe Class 2+. We camped at the beginning of the Great Island on a lovely sandy beach with non-sandy campsites. A bit of old camp debris but nothing on the beach. We sighted in our rifle here with an old rusty oil can.

Day 10: Sweet rapids around the south end of Great Island. Bastion Rock rapid at these water levels would have been a straightforward read & run down the middle but we opted for going RR around the island and scouting first. Too bad, this takes a lot of the fun out of this set. 9-Bar rapids was also lot easier than it was made out to be but still long and fun. We took the hard left variation that ends in a bit of easy lining over the ledge. The second boat did have a little swim on this rapid, pretty much in an eddy fortunately. The bowsman was pretty new to whitewater and that, apparently, was what caused it. It's always good to have a bowsman to blame, especially an inexperienced one. Quick self rescue in waist deep water -- lucky I'd say. We camped at an excellent open tundra site at the mouth of the creek just before the end of Great Island and enjoyed spectacular, lively northern lights.

Day 11: Our first polar bear sighting of the trip this morning, on what Hap/Stephanie call the Peat Island 120 km-ish from the Bay. With more wind in the long term forecast we decided to push on the last two days. Tons more excellent rapids, again nothing harder than Class 2+, maybe easy 3 (bouncy waves, non-technical). We camped at a very fine beach on the west side of a little island about 5 km before the horseshoe bend the heads south again. This island has a couple of little lakes and is incredibly pretty. We chose to do a nightwatch this night as we were only about 70 km from the bay at this point.

Day 12: Dropping down the last 5 km of rapids into Hudson's Bay was one of the most memorable and exhilarating experiences of my life. In the distance is the deep blue horizon of one of Canada's most iconic bodies of water. The river has this amazing convex feeling about it, tundra on all sides, curving down faster and faster towards the salty sea. Each drop feels a bit more challenging and serious than the last one but you get into a groove and make it happen. Lots of rock dodging and standing waves culminating in Deaf Rapids. (The inaptly named Deadly Rapids, earlier in the day, is trivial -- a fun little Class 1+/2 on RR). Deaf is thundering and powerful down the middle and the "sneak" on the left is the fastest and most technical paddling we did on the whole trip (2+/3?) If you made it this far you'll make it through like everyone else has.We hit it exactly at high tide but still found the maze of channels and rocks that brought us to the sea engaging.

Jack Batstone -- the rumours are correct, Jack has pretty much packed it in and retired. He told us he would come out of retirement and pick us up but over the 4 days we waited there we saw several early morning high tides with calm weather (and one afternoon one) come and go -- no Jack. We gave up and got an airplane to come get us. We flew back to Chruchill but next time I'll get them to fly directly to Thompson, which saves days of travel and only costs a bit more when you run the numbers. Anyhow, don't count on Jack or Jack's young apprentice to get you out of there. If you are determined to use a boat you might contact people in Arviat -- I know it sounds crazy, but there are some people in Arviat with serious, big boats who might be willing to do the trip.

The Bat Cave -- Batstone's cabin was in a terrible state of filth and disrepair. Shame on the other canoe groups who passed through it this summer and didn't do their part. Over the 4 days we spent there we cleaned and tidied the cabin as best we could, burning huge quantities of garbage (rotting food, dirty clothing, plastic garbage, cardboard, etc. etc.) We also repaired the roof as well as possible, which was missing large pieces of shingling and had several large holes. Needless to say the inside of the cabin was wet, probably moldy, and disgusting. I got a minor upper respiratory infection after cleaning the cabin that was no doubt from inhaling the dust created by sweeping etc. No big deal, I was better by the time we got onto the train.

Bears -- lots of bears. Air horns have zero effect. Cracking two rocks together and throwing rocks at them are good, cheap detterents. Bear bangers are highly effective. All bears seems uninterested in us and very healthy.

Train -- just cough up the extra $250 and get a cabin. You won't regret it. Best first class deal on the planet. (Or fly to Thompson direct from the Seal...)

Churchill accoms -- Try Sarah's Dream Guesthouse. Taylor is great and will pick you up and drive you around anywhere you need to go. Good WiFi. A perfect place to gather after a canoe trip with space for canoes and room to spread out, laundry, etc.

TW / 2022 Sept 13 / Canmore

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
Contact Go Trekers (gotrekkers.com) for a great map set on waterproof paper for a good price. I plan to give Dan some more detailed notes with rapids, campsites, etc., that he'll add for future editions. If you're one of those people who just wants raw NTS maps without any markup then he can satisfy you too, just ask.
Photo Gallery